Vol. 60, No. 8 August/September 2017
Gary Wunder, Editor
Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, by the
The National Federation of the Blind
Mark Riccobono, President
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.
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Vol. 60, No. 8 August/September 2017
Illustration: Strutting Their Stuff
The 2017 Convention Roundup
by Gary Wunder
Presidential Report 2017
by Mark Riccobono
A Word of Thanks for Our Scholarship Partners
by Patti Chang
Meet the 2017 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class
Innovation, Blindness and the Emerging Pattern of Thought
by Mark Riccobono
Leadership in Literacy: How Do We Know What We Do Not Know?
by Marc Maurer
Transforming Dreams into Reality: The Fulfillment of One Blind Man’s Mission
by Ron Gardner
Transforming Hope into Action: A Report from the World Blind Union
by Fredric Schroeder
Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
Passing the ADA Education and Reform Act Would Be a Step Backwards for Equality and Justice
by Mark Riccobono
Awards Presented at the 2017 National Convention
Strengthening the Federation’s Heartbeat Through Resolutions
National Federation of the Blind Resolutions for 2017
Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class Action LawsuitConvention Miniatures
Copyright 2017 by the National Federation of the Blind
by Gary Wunder
What has four letters and never five? Replace the question mark with a period and you have your answer. Not so hard, was it? Let's try another. What event sometimes starts in June but always ends in July and causes blind people by the thousands to travel to one location to make policies for the blind of the nation? An easier question for members of the National Federation of the Blind and one of the high points of our year.
The 2017 Convention started on July 10, giving many of us our first Fourth of July at home in decades. My fourth was filled with the anticipation of family events to come during the day, the blast of fireworks, and the sharing of love. So too was the convention that started six days later, and both went well beyond my expectations.
The term I heard most in going through my email and talking with Federationists was excitement about the upcoming convention. Perhaps my perception is biased by my promise to bring fifteen-year-old grandson Ethan to Orlando, this being his fourth convention and his third in a row. Every few days he would ask me if I was getting ready, but the important thing he would ask is, "Are you excited?" Of course I said yes, but not just because it seemed the right thing to say. I am always excited to participate in the convention, but I admit that I was even more excited to see his enthusiasm, and he was excited to see mine. This shared anticipation resulted in feedback: not the whining, squeaking, irritating noise one wants stopped immediately, but the feedback that creates anticipation, causes one to dream about what will come, and starts the countdown clock that asks again and again, "How soon until we go? I wonder if I can stand the wait?"
The District of Columbia, Shawn Callaway, president; Tennessee, James Brown, president; Hawaii, Nani Fife, president; and Arizona, Donald Porterfield, president, served as our host affiliates. They were assisted by the National Association of Blind Students, whose president is Kathryn Webster. These hosts raised the bar for all future conventions, and the reaction from those who attended and who listened to the convention stream affirmed this throughout the week. The information table was a benefit to all of us, the welcoming presentations were first-rate, the luau was exceptional, and the door prize was well worth waiting for and delivered a dramatic ending to an exciting and moving convention banquet.
Throughout this report we will reference meetings of divisions, committees, and groups through which the Federation does much of its work. Mentioning these meetings will hint at some of our major convention activities, but to fully understand the breadth and depth of the meetings just held will require browsing the 2017 Convention Agenda which can be found at https://nfb.org/convention/2017/agenda. Also look in this issue and those to follow for reports of the meetings listed here, because each division, committee, and group has been invited to submit a few paragraphs to explain how they are contributing to bettering the lives of blind people.
The National Federation of the Blind Parents of Blind Children division activities began on seminar day and continued throughout the week. The Federation's commitment to children and seeing that they have unparalleled opportunities in their lives is perhaps the highest priority of the organization. The seminars, workshops, and discussion groups of this division testify to the commitment we have made, and its program offerings make it real. Activities included Tips, Tricks, and Tools for Success in Elementary School Math; Stress Management for Parents and Their Kids Too; A Parent's Perspective on Raising a Blind Child with Autism; Technology Basics in Five Steps or Less; Using Google Drive, Google Docs, and Other Google Products in the Classroom; You Are Your Child's First Teacher: Encouraging Play and Exploration in Early Childhood; Tips, Tricks, and Tools for Surviving Higher Level Math; It's Recess Time: Encouraging Kids to Participate in Recess, Sports, and Other Social Activities; Remote Technology Instruction: What Is It, What Are Its Advantages, and How Can My Child Receive It?; It Might Not Be a Braille Thing: Recognizing Possible Reading or Other Learning Disabilities in Blind Children; and Learning to Drive: Take Control of Getting from Place to Place When Driving Yourself Is Not an Option.
Seminar day was also filled with learning opportunities for adults, though activities for the youngest among us threatened to pull us away. We contented ourselves with previewing the newest JAWS features from VFO/Freedom Scientific; presentations on the BrailleNote Touch, the world's first Google-certified notetaker for the blind from HumanWare; and the newly released ElBraille, the only Windows 10 Braille notetaker from VFO. Adobe offered three sessions to discuss its suite of products which run not only on Windows but on iOS and Android. Google offered a seminar discussing enhancements in Android accessibility and the eyes-free Google Home, designed to enhance the home environment.
Then there were the presentations from our own NFB Jernigan Institute such as Cutting the Cord: Accessibly Watching TV without a Cable Subscription; Microsoft Office 365: Reinventing Everyday Productivity; Web Browsing in the Twenty-First Century; and Refreshable Braille Rumble: An Overview of Braille Display Support across OSs and Screen Readers.
The direction technology takes in solving problems for the blind requires our input, and what is developed must be evaluated and promoted if it is found worthy. A report from the NFB Committee for the Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology will appear in Convention Miniatures later in this issue.
But there is more than technology. What is technology if one isn't healthy enough to use it? So the sessions offered by our NFB Sports and Recreation Division in cooperation with WE Fit Wellness included learning about your health: Check out Accessible Activity Trackers and Other Health Devices; a chance to donate blood; and once all of that was done, what could be better than trying some fun activities like sword fighting, cardio drumming, goalball, and more. Then there was the session on essential oils, the benefits of which may include weight management, reducing stress, promoting quality sleep, reducing anxiety, and avoiding depression, pain, and sinus or allergy issues.
Employment is one of the biggest steps we take in becoming integrated into our communities. So it is no surprise that a convention attendee would see "Load up with Ammunition for Your Job Hunt: Expert Advice and Great Ideas from NFB Training Centers, Agencies, and Employers." After that training, what's next: "Set Your Sights for the NFB National Job Fair," an event sponsored by the NFB Employment Committee.
All of what we do is predicated on our ability to move from place to place independently, and we do this with guide dogs and canes. Not surprisingly one of our most active divisions is the National Association of Guide Dog Users. Its seminar featured sessions on maintaining optimal health throughout your dog's life, tips on preventative care, tips on grooming, and learning about the rights and responsibilities of guide dog users and the businesses they frequent.
It is both encouraging and amazing to see how many new people come to the national convention each year. The Rookie Roundup plays an important part in letting them meet one another, meet our leaders, and hear about what is to come in the sleepless week they are about to enjoy.
Because some excellent performers have emerged on the public stage, one of the stereotypes about the blind is that we are musically gifted. Karaoke Night puts this to the test, but the fun is not in the gathering of evidence but in the sheer joy of having a chance to be a rock star. For those singing a different tune, a meeting of blind students for getting acquainted, sharing common problems and possible solutions, and just having a good time was another opportunity offered at seminar night's conclusion.
Registration/resolutions day came early for those who met long into the night. The exhibit hall is a treat for many of us wishing to see what's new and to chat with the people we've met over the phone in purchasing and getting support for our devices. This year the hall was packed, and sadly we had to turn away exhibitors for lack of space. In 1996 our convention had fifty-three exhibitors from outside the NFB. This year we had eighty-three. Some of the specials at the convention featured significant discounts, and for convention sponsors the floor was theirs alone from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
Proudly sponsoring our 2017 Convention are these progressive companies: Platinum sponsors included Aira and AT&T; Google Inc.; Microsoft; Oracle; OrCam; UPS; Vanda Pharmaceuticals Inc.; VFO (Ai Squared / Freedom Scientific / Optelec). Our Gold sponsors for 2017 are Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP; iSenpai, LLC; JPMorgan Chase & Co.; Target; and Uber Technologies Inc. Silver sponsors include Amazon; Dropbox; HumanWare; Market Development Group Inc.; Pearson; and Sprint. Sponsoring at the Bronze level were Charter Communications; Facebook; National Industries for the Blind; VitalSource Technologies LLC; and Wells Fargo. Participants at the White Cane sponsor level include BAUM (USA) Inc.; C&P - Chris Park Design; Disability Relations Group; Duxbury Systems Inc; Educational Testing Service; Envision Inc.; En-Vision America Inc.; HIMS; iFactory; Lyft Inc.; OHFA Tech Inc.; Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld LLP; and TRE Legal Practice. These sponsors take seriously the work of the National Federation of the Blind, and we are grateful to and thank them for their financial and public support.
One challenge of being blind in a predominantly sighted world is coming to think of oneself as beautiful. While there are different definitions of beauty and different degrees of it, blind people have too often incorporated as part of our self-concept the idea that that we are flawed or broken. To really understand blindness and beauty requires a reset, and this is just what was provided by the style show that was sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
In the afternoon the resolutions committee met to propose policies that will guide the Federation now and in the years to come. A full report of the process, the resolutions presented, and those which passed is included in this issue.
Other meetings were held on this afternoon and evening. Among them was a meeting of the deaf-blind division, the blind musicians division, the professionals in blindness education division, the National Association of Blind Students division, and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille. To learn more about the meetings held and the topics discussed, continue to look in these pages and issues of the Monitor that will appear in the coming months.
Since showing the world what blind people can do is important to our mission, learning how to take and share audio and video content is a must. To address this the communications team sponsored a hands-on photo and video workshop. Amazon took the opportunity to demonstrate the tremendous progress it has made in addressing accessibility in its products. Highlighted were its tablets, its hardware device for connecting one's television to the internet, and its line of home products which include those on which Alexa responds to our requests and answers our questions.
Demonstrations and instruction in the use of the KNFB Reader and NFB-NEWSLINE® were a popular attraction, and these products demonstrate our role not only as advocates but as an organization that can and will provide a product or service when living the life we want requires it. The innovative spirit behind these offerings is a visible testament to the value of action through self-organization.
In the evening, members of the National Association of Blind Veterans held a reception to honor the brave women and men who have served our country, and that reception was followed by the division's business meeting.
Board meeting/division day began with the traditional meeting of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors. All members of the board announced themselves as present with the exception of Jeannie Massay, who was kept at home by her doctor. She plans to be with us next year and shared most of the convention through the live convention streaming done for the board meeting, all sessions of the convention, and the 2017 banquet. She was also active on Twitter, energetically participating in convention conversations from a distance.
After a moment of silence for those lost to death this year, President Riccobono called on Gabe Cazares for two important announcements. The first is that convention sessions are translated into Spanish and transmitted to special receivers provided to those who request them. Receivers operating on a different channel are also given to those who have trouble hearing convention business being conducted from the stage.
President Riccobono read the names of those board members up for election and those whose terms extend until 2018. Sam Gleese of Mississippi called for the floor. He said that serving on the national board has been one of the highest honors of his life, but he now believes it is time to relinquish his position so that a younger person might take up the leadership and responsibility he has carried for so long in the organization. President Riccobono thanked Sam for his service, and Sam received enthusiastic applause both from his colleagues on the board and members of the Federation who were present in the audience.
The President announced that our 2018 convention will be held at a Rosen property, but the hotel and specific dates will not be fixed until November. Given that it may be some time before we are back in Florida, we should do our best to see that the 2018 convention is well attended. The 2019 convention location remains a mystery except that we do know it will be held somewhere west of the Mississippi.
The building which houses the NFB Jernigan Institute is owned by the Jacobus tenBroek Fund. Given that we have more space than we currently need, it is likely we will rent out some of it. The NFBJI is located in an area where space is extremely valuable, and the income the tenBroek Fund will likely receive would be very helpful in maintaining and improving this property.
Patti Chang is the director of development for the organization. She encouraged us to advertise the NFB Vehicle Donation Program using the public service announcements available in English and Spanish. Materials for promoting the program are available at https://www.nfb.org/vehicle-donation-materials.
Much of the work of the Federation is conducted through committees appointed by the President, and President Riccobono would like to hear from Federationists who wish to serve. A list of committees can be found at https://nfb.org/divisions-and-committees.
One of the organizations we partner with is the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. A popular program it administers provides Braille books and magazines to children, and this year National Geographic has been added. If you know of children who can benefit from this service, have them contact Patricia Maurer by calling (410) 659-9314, extension 2272.
Everything we do takes money. Accordingly the board and those assembled reviewed some primary funding sources. The Preauthorized Check Program (PAC) is the way many Federationists and other highly committed members of the public give monthly donations from a checking account or card. Chairman Scott LaBarre told us this year $493,000 was collected, though more than half a million dollars was pledged at last year's convention. Our goal this year is to raise enough in new and increased pledges to sustain our yearly giving so that it remains above half a million dollars.
Chairman Everette Bacon reminded us that the Imagination Fund is supported not by members but by others who contribute to the innovative programs we run. To solicit that support requires us to reach out to family, friends, and people with whom we do business to tell them about the work of the organization and explain why they should be financially involved.
The Shares Unlimited in the National Federation of the Blind is the organization's savings account. It is a fund in which money is set aside for the catastrophe we hope never happens. Chairman Sandy Halverson reported that at the beginning of the convention ten states had made no contribution in 2017, but by convention's end that number had fallen to two.
The Kenneth Jernigan Fund raises money to help first-timers attend the national convention. Money comes from the sale of tickets for two drawings. One grants the winner and a person of their choice round-trip airfare to the convention, a hotel room, banquet, registration, and a thousand dollars. The winner of the second gets $2,500 in cash. But the real winners from the drawings are the men and women who can be a part of the transforming experience we call the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Chairman Allen Harris reported that this year the fund brought fifty-seven people, and the cheer from present and past winners proves its value.
Tracy Soforenko is the chairman of the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund committee. This committee encourages contributions to the Jacobus tenBroek Fund which maintains the grounds and buildings at 200 East Wells Street in Baltimore that have become known the world over. Tracy welcomes suggestions about how to raise the money we need to maintain and enhance our facilities so we can continue to operate the stellar programs that bring credit to the work of the organization.
The merit scholarships offered to thirty blind students from across America are second to none, and the students we invite as finalists represent the finest blind students in America. They are introduced at every preconvention board meeting and are given a chance to speak. Their remarks appear elsewhere in this issue. Following these, the board of directors voted unanimously to authorize a scholarship program for 2018.
Much of what we do in the area of civil rights requires top-notch legal talent. No one exemplifies this more than our friend and colleague Dan Goldstein. He is retiring and has moved to New Hampshire, but his interest in our organization, our struggles, and our successes mean enough to him that he continues to join us at our convention. His presence was recognized with cheers and applause, representing not only our respect for this man but our admiration for the heart that drives him.
Our legal work must continue, and our longtime friend Eve Hill, formerly employed by the United States Department of Justice, has returned to the law firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy. In her remarks to the board she quickly reviewed some of the legal priorities she is addressing at our direction. One is the accessibility of websites run by the government and the private sector. We are focusing on the design of web-authoring programs that result in inaccessible webpages, our commitment being to get these tools to produce content that is accessible. Our commitment knows no limits when it comes to protecting the rights of blind parents. Then there is our longstanding focus on seeing that blind workers are not inappropriately placed in sheltered workshops and that, when this is their preferred place of employment, they receive the benefits that should be given to all workers: the right to be treated with dignity and respect, the right to advancement, and the right to be paid at least the minimum wage. Eve said that a friend who writes books on disability rights said that, of the top ten cases in 2016 and 2017, the NFB was the lead in four of these.
Valerie Yingling is the legal program coordinator for the NFB. She reminded the board and the audience that we have a rideshare program to monitor the activities of Uber and Lyft. We have a system in place for reporting both good and bad experiences, particularly those involving the use of guide dogs. She said we have filed a lawsuit against Greyhound in which we are requesting class certification because of its systems that cannot be used by blind people. She encouraged those who have had trouble using the website or the mobile app to contact her. The same is true if you have been charged a convenience fee for making reservations by telephone. People with experiences to share should write to her at [email protected] or call her at (410) 659-9314, Extension 2440.
Two affiliates were recognized for substantial bequests they received this year and are sharing with the national treasury. California presented a check for $21,671.67. In that same spirit, Nebraska presented a check for $122,898.54. These affiliates exemplify generosity, the understanding that we are one movement, and the importance of abiding by our longstanding policy of dividing bequests received by chapters and affiliates with our national body.
The board meeting adjourned seven minutes ahead of schedule, a relief to those wanting to grab food before the afternoon and evening called them away to discuss issues specific to their job interests and aspirations.
More than twenty divisions, committees, and groups met to conduct their business meetings, hold seminars, and receive presentations in the field of interest they represent. In addition to the formal meetings, one could attend an equally large number of gatherings. Those who love art attended the gathering entitled "Inspiring Artists, Beginners to Pros." Some of us attended the 1Touch Self Defense Workshops that occurred throughout the convention. Then there was the event that blind children look forward to all year: The Braille Book Fair made possible thanks to the help of hundreds of donors and volunteers.
On Thursday morning when the gavel fell, the crowd of more than 2,400 applauded, and the convention was underway. Assisting with the opening gavel was seven-year-old Oriana Riccobono. Each of the host affiliates gave a welcome from their state, and this was followed by an address recognizing the fiftieth anniversary of the National Association of Blind Students. This stellar speech will appear in the Braille Monitor later in the fall.
The songs that were sang by Blessing Arthur got the convention jumping, and everyone was engaged when Briley O'Connor, Tom Page, and Ryan Strunk concluded the ceremony with the song "Live the Life You Want."
The convention recognized our veterans with a ceremony in which, for the first time, the color guard was composed entirely of blind people. In the tradition of past ceremonies, all veterans in attendance are asked to come to the stage, introduce themselves, and given a ribbon and a pin. This year Melissa and Oriana Riccobono offered these tokens of our gratitude. The event concluded with music performed by members of the performing arts division, and the warm applause let our veterans know they are appreciated for the patriots they are and the service they have given.
Delegates were introduced as the convention moved to the roll call of states. Alabama said it would be holding its first BELL Academy; Arizona was rightly proud to have thirty-five first-timers at the convention, and it too will have a BELL Academy that will serve thirty-one students. Illinois proudly announced the passage of a parental rights act, and Indiana followed with the good news that it has secured one million dollars in support of NFB-NEWSLINE. Maryland proudly announced it would be holding not one, not two, but three BELL Academy programs. Minnesota loudly cheered as President Dunham was introduced, and an even louder cheer erupted from the convention when she asked it to remember the loyalty and hard work of Joyce and Tom Scanlan who could not be with us because of poor health.
New voices were heard throughout the roll as new leaders take on the job of carrying forward the work of the Federation. One new voice was Shelia Wright from Missouri. She said that Missouri is involved in the National Fitness Challenge, is one of thirteen organizations working with the United States Association of Blind Athletes, and is the only statewide consumer organization to be involved in the competition.
President Frank Coppel from South Carolina gave a shout-out to longtime leaders Don and Betty Capps and told the convention about a new program called Successful Transitions, which serves young people ages thirteen to twenty-three. Since the fall of 2016 this program has served more than 200 young people as they find their way through the education system and seek employment.
This session of the convention ended with President Riccobono asking the audience to indicate in which decade they attended their first national convention. We had no one present from our founding decade, but in each of the succeeding ones we heard loud and enthusiastic cheers, the loudest being from those attending their first NFB National Convention.
The afternoon session began with a presentation that would be referenced again and again throughout the Convention. This was the annual Presidential Report, and its theme was the heartbeat of the Federation and the rhythm of the movement. It appears in this issue, and those who listen to or read it will understand why it was followed by a prolonged standing ovation.
The Federation and UPS have been working together for twenty-five years. UPS has been a tremendous source of volunteer help to us. Kim Wyant is the president of the Florida district of UPS, and she came to the podium to acknowledge our relationship and to present the Federation with a check for $90,000. You guessed it—another long ovation both for the volunteer service and a contribution that will help us carry on with the programs that mean so much to blind people.
Leadership in Self-Driving Automobiles: the Blind and the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets was presented by a man who has long been a friend to blind people as we have worked with the United States Department of Transportation to solve the problem of cars too quiet to hear. He is David Strickland, who now serves as General Counsel and Spokesperson for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets. The world is moving toward vehicles that drive themselves, and the challenge we face is to see that they are ones we can operate. Mr. Strickland and his organization are committed to this, and we will work hand in hand to see that we can go where we want to go, when we want to go, and we will soon join the rest of America in taking to the open road.
What would a convention be without a presentation from our Immediate Past President, Dr. Marc Maurer? When he writes and delivers a speech, we are the beneficiaries of his intellect, his wisdom, and his enthusiasm. Perhaps as important as these are the other things he brings: his curiosity, his sense of wonder, and his willingness to dream. “Leadership in Literacy: How Do We Know What We Do Not Know,” was the title of his presentation. In it he explores the way we get information and the way it differs from how people with sight get it. He also discusses the language we use as it relates to sight and the experience of coming to know what we do not know. His remarks appear later in this issue.
For many blind people the written word has been the primary means through which we have learned and the way in which we express ourselves. Though there is beauty in language and what it allows us to learn and share, it is not the only way people learn. Pictures communicate in ways that words cannot. They touch our emotions where poetry begins, but they can convey so much more. Financial and scientific concepts difficult to explain in words are made clear using charts and graphs. For far too long these ways of communicating have been primarily visual. Tactile representations have been few in number, and we are just now coming to understand that interpreting drawings is not innate; it is learned, and many of us have been left out of that learning. But this is changing, and the next presenter is part of why we are finding more information that has traditionally required vision appearing under our fingertips. He and his company are giving us unparalleled opportunities to create this information ourselves. Josh Coffee is the president of E.A.S.Y. LLC, and the address he delivered is "Engineering Tools for Tactile Fluency: A Partnership with the Organized Blind Movement." This instructive and inspirational address will appear in full later in the fall.
Continuing with the theme of creating opportunities in STEM education and the employment it can make possible, our next presentation was "Empowering STEM Education through Technology: HumanWare's Commitment to the Future." Its chief presenter is a friend of the National Federation of the Blind, Gilles Pepin, chief executive officer of HumanWare. He said that today the computer world is working on artificial intelligence and deep machine learning. The goal is to give machines problems human beings are now solving, give them the answers humans come up with, and see if they can learn to take on tasks that can currently be done only with human intelligence. So excited is HumanWare about deep machine learning that it is doubling what it spends on research and development. HumanWare believes we will see the initial results of its work at our 2018 Convention. In furtherance of its promise to work with us in promoting STEM, HumanWare also announced its plan to offer a STEM internship in 2018 at HumanWare’s headquarters in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind.
Greg Stilson is the senior blindness product manager at HumanWare. He said that forging new paths in STEM education is personal for him. Because of barriers in the studying of STEM subjects, he wanted to avoid math and science in high school. Luckily for him and for us, pressure from a teacher of the blind who believed in him kept him from running away from learning the skills that now fuel his life's work. He said that attending a convention of the NFB is more than the opportunity to show and sell products; it is the opportunity to get the ideas that will result in products to solve real problems. He offers as an example the BrailleNote Touch, the world's first Google-certified tablet for the blind. KeyMath is included in the latest update of the product and now makes it possible for a student to do her work in Braille, print out that work for her teacher, and show not only the answer but the steps used in arriving at it. No longer must the blind student turn in late work because a human transcriber had to convert it into something the public school teacher could read, and no longer does the student's grade depend both on her own understanding and the reliability of the transcriptionist helping her. Greg ended his presentation with a request and a promise: that we keep our awesome ideas coming, and that HumanWare will continue to make awesome products.
Betsy Beaumon is the president of Benetech. This company is best-known by blind people for spawning the creation of Bookshare, but their work has not stopped just because they have the largest library for the blind in the world. “Building New Paths to Accessibility: Powering the Next Generation of Accessible Educational Materials” is the title of the presentation she delivered, and it focuses on the "DIAGRAM Center" that Benetech has created. DIAGRAM is not only the right word to describe its work, but it is also an acronym: Digital Image and Graphic Resources for Accessible Materials. Mastering STEM subjects requires more than words; it requires access to diagrams, graphs, and even pictures. Solving a problem this large not only requires a committed company; it requires a community of really smart people, and the National Federation of the Blind is one of fifty organizations that are a part of it. Two clear challenges must be addressed: making images that are already available accessible, and creating standards that will aid in making certain that new images are born accessible. Making math more accessible is being enhanced by MathML Cloud, a repository where math images are stored and an environment in which conversion tools are developed and shared. The goal is that content from different software tools used in the subject can be made readable by the blind. Of course there are other images of interest to us, so, at the urging of Immediate Past President Maurer, Benetech is creating a new service called ImageShare. It is currently being piloted at several schools for the blind. The service contains or has links to two-dimensional and three-dimensional images that are described, and Benetech hopes to have a beta version in the spring of 2018. For more details on this and other exciting projects at Benetech, go to http://diagramcenter.org.
When the afternoon session concluded, some of us wished humans could be omnipresent. There was so much to do but no way to attend events that happened at the same time. One could learn about the Ski for Light program, the future of wearable technology, or the future of autonomous vehicles and the way we ensure they are usable by the blind. Being a student in higher education means knowing something about advocacy, and, to borrow from and substitute one word, "There's a meeting for that." Seeing that admissions tests treat the blind fairly is something that the Federation and the Educational Testing Service have been working together on for some time now, and getting our philosophy and life experiences into academic journals is critically important. Again, how to be in two places at one time was our dilemma.
When states are considering adopting new technology to assist in voting, how do we make sure the blind are included? How do we maximize the use of social media to reach blind people and to help sighted people understand that we are blind but we are just like them? We need outside contributors to help with our programs, so where do we look for grants, and how do we go about writing them? There was at least one meeting on each of these subjects and more that space limits us from covering. Watch these pages for further information as sponsors and coordinators of these and other meetings share their message.
If you needed some downtime, were hungry, and wanted the opportunity to socialize, the host affiliates sponsored a luau. If feeding the mind was more important than feeding the body, the Community Service Division sponsored a trivia night to see who would be the 2017 trivia champions.
On Friday morning the gavel fell promptly at 9 a.m., and President Riccobono said that at the close of business on Thursday, our registration figures stood at 2,465. At the end of the 2017 Convention that number increased to 2,481.
He presented the organization's financial report. The 2016 year was a good one, showing that income exceeded expenses by about two million dollars. In the first six months of 2017 the figures are disturbing. While past trends indicate that income in the last six months tends to be higher than in the first, we must increase our efforts to fund the programs we run and the new ones we need.
Pam Allen presented the report of the Nominating Committee, offering seven candidates to fill expiring positions on the board. The report was accepted and elections followed. Everette Bacon was elected to fill board position one. In his acceptance Everette quoted Cesar Chavez: "Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot un-educate a person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore." Everette's request is that those who are not a part of the NFB join and that we who are increase our efforts so that the social change we work for will not be stopped.
Norma Crosby was the next to be elected. In her acceptance speech she said she grew up being told that she didn't see very well, and there were things she just shouldn't try. At the same time, the rehabilitation agency where she lived kept telling her she was not blind and should not ask for quality training in Braille and cane travel. When she came to the Federation she met a loving group who didn't tell her she was wrong for carrying a cane or wanting to learn Braille. Being a Federationist has meant finding a family and no longer feeling alone. Her leadership is the evidence of her commitment to share this with others.
Ever Lee Hairston was the next nominee elected to the board. Though civil rights was her passion and got her jailed in the 1960s, it wasn't until 1987 that she found that the struggle for civil rights also extends to the blind. She said that when she slept she dreamed about having the opportunity to live a life of service, but when she awoke, she found joy in living that life through the National Federation of the Blind.
Cathy Jackson was elected and said that once again she feels humbled and honored. In 2002 the National Convention was hosted by the Kentucky affiliate, so when she was called to the presidential suite by then President Maurer, she was certain something was terribly wrong. Her heartbeat was so loud that she almost missed President Maurer's request that she allow her name to be placed in nomination for a position on the board. She is delighted to serve and to do whatever she can so that blind people can live the life they want.
Joe Ruffalo was elected to board position five. He is motivated each day by the realization that the first two letters of member are the word me. He had to be invited six times before attending a meeting, but that meeting convinced him that losing his sight did not mean losing his vision: his vision to be a good father, a good husband, a good leader, and a person who cares about people. This is what the Federation means to him and why he will continue to carry the torch and share with others his belief that the acronym NFB not only stands for National Federation of the Blind but also "Never Felt Better."
Denise Avant was elected to board position six. She said that she knew of the NFB long before she joined in 2005. Who didn't know that the National Federation of the Blind was the largest organization of blind people in the world? But she didn't think of herself as a joiner and had little interest in being a part of an organization that was made up of mean-spirited, radical extremists. But the people she met and the organization she came to find was nothing like what she had heard. "I attended my first Chicago Chapter meeting in 2005, and I've missed very few since then," she says. Denise being newly elected to the board, readers can expect to learn more about her when we update her biography in "Who are the Blind Who Lead the Blind."
Amy Ruell was elected to fill the last board position. Amy said that when growing up she had little contact with blind people, the exception being a camp for the blind she attended as a child. Getting her education in a public school, she got no instruction in cane travel, and the Braille she learned came through the work of her mother and a volunteer, both staying a lesson ahead of her as the instruction proceeded. She came to the Federation when her job required that she attend the conventions of several national organizations of the blind, and at the NFB’s gathering she found people doing for themselves and at the same time helping others get around the hotel, read menus, and do so many other things in a wonderful spirit of cooperation. When she joined, her intent was to be a good member but not to become overly involved. But, when she saw things that needed changing, she realized her choice was to lead or to shut up; she concluded that leading was a task more suited to her character and temperament. More about Amy will also appear in a biography that will be found in “Who are the Blind Who Lead the Blind.”
After a cheer for the newly elected board of directors and a fit break conducted by the sports and recreation division, the convention moved to three presentations focusing on fitness and the role it plays in physical health, mental health, and the development of a positive image and self-concept. The first presentation was from a CrossFit trainer who lives in Des Moines, Iowa, Ms. Bettina Dolinsek. The title of her presentation was, "Leadership in Fitness: A CrossFit Trainer Living the Life She Wants." She has traveled a road familiar to many of us: loving sports as a spectator but being excused from physical education because nobody knew how she could compete. Bettina Dolinsek has used CrossFit training to move from spectator to participant, has learned how to take control of her life, and has learned the value of sharing that empowerment with others. Her inspiring remarks will appear in a future issue of this magazine.
Warmed up by Bettina's presentation, the convention was ready for the next program item titled "Running Across America: A Blind Ultra-Athlete's Challenge to Change.” It was delivered by Jason Romero, an Ultra-Athlete who lives in Denver, Colorado. At an appointment with his doctor at age fourteen, Jason was asked what he wanted to do with his life. He said he wanted to be the first person in his family to go to college, but the doctor would have none of it. He interrupted to tell his young patient that by thirty he would have no light perception, that blind people did not work, and that the doctor had five minutes before his next appointment and asked if Jason had any questions. But Jason took his degree, achieved significant success in several Fortune 500 companies, but one day found himself without a job, without blindness skills, and without hope. The story he relates explains how one hits bottom and climbs out, and that story will appear prominently in an upcoming issue.
“Breaking Blind: Staying Fit with a Dose of Federation Love, Hope, and Determination” was our next presentation. Its presenter was Maureen Nietfeld, the home management instructor at the NFB Colorado Center for the Blind. Maureen is blind as a result of brain tumors caused by von Hipptel-Lindau syndrome (VHL), a disease that creates both cancerous and noncancerous tumors in all of her organs. She went blind at age seventeen, and it took her ten years to come to terms with this. Maureen's moving presentation about the importance of health as she faces the challenges posed by VHL is available at https://nfb.org/convention/2017/bb. Maureen concluded her remarks with these moving words: "Each and every one of us is capable of making big changes for ourselves and for those around us. So with love, hope, and determination, let's defy expectations and turn our dreams into reality. Thank you, everyone. I love you all."
As President Riccobono remarked, "If you're not inspired to get up and get moving after those three presentations, I don't know what else we can do."
The last presentation of the morning was delivered by Scott LaBarre, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and the National Association of Blind Lawyers. Its title: “A Worldwide Revolution: The Marrakesh Treaty, the Accessible Books Consortium, and Global Literacy for the Blind.” Creating accessible books is often time-consuming and expensive. Cross-border sharing of accessible materials will help blind people throughout the world, but the United States has not yet signed the treaty negotiated in 2013. The process, the problems, and the progress we are making are all addressed in these remarks, and they will appear in an upcoming issue.
The afternoon session began with President Riccobono introducing our guest and presenter: "To start off the afternoon we have a presentation which features an organization which has not been on our agenda in at least a decade. The American Foundation for the Blind has sometimes been at odds with the National Federation of the Blind, but there is a new direction for the future of the American Foundation for the Blind [applause]. Here to talk with us about it is a gentleman who used to direct the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind, where he demonstrated an openness and willingness to work with the organized blind movement, and he's bringing that perspective to the work of the AFB. So here to talk to us about the future at the American Foundation for the Blind is its president, Kirk Adams.”
Mr. Adams began by saying that listening to the acceptance speeches of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors was well worth the price of admission and that it is always a pleasure to witness strong leadership in action. He says that he wants to work with us, that our advice to the foundation in its development of a strategic plan has been very helpful, and that his organization wants to help in confronting the most significant problems faced by the blind today and in the future. President Riccobono asked Mr. Adams if the foundation would support the elimination of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. His answer was that this section is an antiquated law that should be replaced, but his concern is that repeal doesn't suggest how those with significant developmental disabilities in addition to blindness will be served. The President also asked whether the foundation would support the Aim High Act, and Mr. Adams said the foundation would support a higher education bill that was released earlier in the week but that it has concerns about the safe harbor provision in the bill we are supporting. President Riccobono said that we must be realistic about the times in which we live, the mood of Congress, and the need to pass something now and not ten years from now. A copy of Mr. Adams' remarks and the dialogue that followed will appear in full later in the fall.
Dr. Fred Schroeder was elected as the president of the World Blind Union in August of 2016. His presentations are always thought-provoking, moving, and persuasive. His speech this year has all of these characteristics. Its title is: “Transforming Hope into Action: A Report from the World Blind Union.” In this presentation President Schroeder discusses the suffering we encounter as blind people. It is not the physical or psychological suffering that is so often assumed to be synonymous with blindness. Instead it is the suffering that comes when those in authority take away our children because they believe we are incapable of giving them a safe and loving environment. It is the suffering that comes from the fear that taking our children to the doctor may get us investigated by social service agencies. It is the suffering that comes from knowing that far too many people see us as broken human beings who are incapable of meeting the day-to-day challenges of the world. Dr. Schroeder's concluding remarks capture a pledge we have made to blind people in the United States and throughout the world: "Together we will continue changing the world until we are able to free ourselves from the tyranny of the good conscience standard, limitations not imposed by blindness but imposed on us by the misguided, well-intended beliefs of others. Together we will continue to change the world until we are finally able to live the lives we want, free from low expectations and discrimination." President Schroeder's address will appear elsewhere in this issue.
President Riccobono introduced the next item on the agenda with these words: “I'm particularly enthusiastic about our next speaker, because I believe his being here presents a great opportunity for this organization to offer our expertise and our authentic experience as blind people to the United States Department of Labor. Our next speaker has served in three presidentially-appointed and senate-confirmed positions. In 2002 he was appointed to serve as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, where he participated in or authored more than 125 opinions. In 2003 he was appointed assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice. From 2005 to 2009 he served as the US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. Please give a warm Federation welcome to United States Secretary of Labor, the Honorable Alexander Acosta."
Secretary Acosta said he appreciated the opportunity to once again address the convention of the National Federation of the Blind, having done so when he served in the Department of Justice. His remarks focus on today's economy, the administration's commitment to grow that economy, and the importance of bringing people with disabilities into the workforce. What he said to the 2017 Convention, the remarks made by President Riccobono, and the question posed to the secretary by Immediate Past President Maurer will appear in full later in the fall.
"From Knowledge to Power: A Report on Advocacy and Policy Programs” was delivered by John Paré Jr., executive director for advocacy and policy for the National Federation of the Blind. He said we have four bills currently introduced in the Congress and briefly described them. He also reminded us that bills we do not support are receiving congressional attention, and they threaten hard-won gains that have taken more than seven decades to achieve. Director Paré's remarks will appear in the October issue.
The last item of business during the afternoon session was the reading of twenty-four resolutions submitted for consideration as policy for the National Federation of the Blind. Chairman Sharon Maneki's report and the full text of the resolutions passed appear elsewhere in this issue.
On Friday evening Microsoft sponsored two sessions on the usability of its products with a number of screen reading programs and on several popular operating systems. A seminar to help advocates and recipients of benefits from the Social Security Administration was held, and so too was a session on Braille proofreading for parents, teachers, and others looking for employment in the field. People wanting to know how to use social media to find better jobs attended yet another seminar sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind Employment Committee.
Do You Dream in Color? is a documentary about four blind students and the obstacles they face in getting an education and in interacting with family, friends, and peers. It highlights the work we must do to see that the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of these and other young blind people are realized. We are encouraging chapters to host screenings and to discuss how each of us can contribute to the success of young people in our communities.
On the final day of convention, President Riccobono's stretch of twenty-one conventions without a door prize came to an end when he won one hundred dollars. This demonstrates once again that even President Riccobono and the Chicago Cubs cannot indefinitely maintain their losing streak.
The program began with a focus on technology. Giving the first presentation was the president and CEO of VFO, Tom Tiernan. His address bore the title: “The Future of Access Technology for the Blind: Progress at VFO.” A year ago when he was approached about heading VFO, he knew nothing about assistive technology, but he did have members of his family who were blind or who had limited vision. He evaluated the company and concluded that the climate is right for significant change and advancement that VFO can bring to the community. VFO is committed to directing more revenue into cutting-edge development, to building on the expertise and the commitment of its staff, and to continuing as an industry leader in assistive technology to make more of the world accessible to the blind. At the conclusion of his presentation President Riccobono asked if VFO was looking not only at the equipment it distributes but at its functionality for children and how they learn to use it. The answer was indeed that VFO has a renewed focus on education, and serving younger children is a part of the company's focus. The remarks delivered by Mr. Tiernan can be found at https://nfb.org/convention/2017/vfo.
We have had a longstanding relationship with Microsoft and have watched as it has progressed from thinking about accessibility to speaking about accessibility and now to actively doing a great deal in enhancing accessibility. The work on accessibility is no longer just in one department dedicated to it. Engineers who know and care about quality access are spread throughout the company, and this is due in large part to the work of the person who next came to address the convention, Jenny Lay-Flurrie. She is the chief accessibility officer at Microsoft, and her topic was "The Future of Equal Access to Technology: A Commitment to the Journey at Microsoft.” She said that accessibility at Microsoft has had moments in which spectacular brilliance was displayed and moments of ugliness. This rollercoaster ride is not what she wants Microsoft to demonstrate. Rather, accessibility must be something that will be long-term, durable, and sustainable. To deliver consistently accessible products, Microsoft wants people with disabilities, is actively looking for them, and is finding them in such short supply that it is joining the community that encourages blind people to enter into science, technology, engineering, and math. Her address will appear in an upcoming issue, and it is well worth reading and hearing because of the information, enthusiasm, and commitment it communicates.
One company that exemplifies a real commitment to accessibility is Expedia. As President Riccobono said in introducing Bhala Dalvi, the vice president of technology and the executive sponsor of accessibility, "For Expedia it's not just about crossing a finishing line of accessibility, but it's about making a real commitment to going further." Mr. Dalvi's presentation was "Worldwide Excellence in Travel: Accessibility in Partnership with the Blind.” He began by saying that as of June 29, 2017, Expedia handed its website for booking hotels, flights, cars, and other travel products over to the NFB for testing. He said that four years ago when Expedia invited the NFB to evaluate its website and the services provided there, the experience was very uncomfortable; more than 50 percent of the functions provided by the site were not usable by someone who is blind. "Anne [Taylor] did a live demo using our website to our leadership team. During that demo, Anne couldn't even get past our homepage. That was when we realized that, even if we were 90 percent compliant, if a legally blind person cannot get past the homepage, how can they complete their travel? . . . We did not just want to follow the letter of the law. We wanted to go deeper ... we were interested in doing the right thing." These brief quotations hint at the journey Expedia has taken to make its offerings usable by the blind, and the remarks which will appear in an upcoming issue will shine a much-needed light on the pitfalls that come from acting on incorrect assumptions and the path to success that comes in working with the National Federation of the Blind.
A much-respected agency doing work for the blind is the American Printing House for the Blind. It has a new president whose background includes working with young people and partnering with the blind. The perspective he brings, and the keen interest he has in partnering with us promise a bright future. With these paraphrased remarks from our President, Craig Meador took the stage to discuss "Educational Leadership and Product Innovations: The Future of the American Printing House for the Blind." He discussed four ongoing projects at the printing house. The first is the Orbit Braille display in which the NFB has made a substantial investment. Production delays have all of us waiting for more units to be produced, but the result is a reliable and affordable Braille display that will place information under the fingertips of blind people around the world. Second is the Graphiti, the tactile graphics display board. The intention was to create the equivalent of an iPad which blind people could use to see and create tactile images. Having a math book on a tactile tablet would be a dream come true for a blind student, and this is their goal. Field testing will begin in the fall, and the product is expected to be available late in 2018.
The third offering APH is working on is a Braille translation program called BrailleBlaster. This product will be free to anyone who wants it, and the printing house believes it is faster than any Braille translation product on the market. The beta version is currently available, and version 1 will debut in October.
The last product on which APH is currently working is intended to enhance indoor navigation. The product under development is called Indoor Explorer, and one of the goals of the printing house in attending our convention was to understand what we mean by accessibility and what information an indoor navigation system should provide. "Tell us what accessibility is. What are the hangups, what are the problems? Because we knew if we came to you with those questions, we would get it right the first time." Mr. Meador's remarks can be heard by going to https://nfb.org/convention/ 2017/aph.
“Excellence in Technology Led by the Blind: A Report from the Jernigan Institute” was the topic for our friend and fellow Federationist Anil Lewis. In his service as the executive director of the Jernigan Institute, he said he was more interested in having a conversation than in giving a presentation. But in his conversation one finds as much distilled wisdom as could be found in the most meticulously prepared speech. Anil Lewis's message was not only about forging relationships with the big players in technology. It was about making choices when it comes to what we want technology to do for us and what we want and can do for ourselves. It was about being a part of an organization with diverse opinions and building on them to make meaningful decisions about our futures as blind people. This message was delivered in that part of our agenda devoted to technology, but it could have as easily been placed in a section where we have a heart-to-heart discussion about who we are, what we want, and how, together, we will go about getting it. Director Lewis's remarks will be found in a later issue, but the mood and the flavor is best captured by listening to his presentation because anything less is like a song without its melody; the message is there, but the passion that gives it meaning is sorely missed.
One of the more intriguing topics found on the agenda is “Supporting Equality for Blind Americans: A New Sheriff in the United States House of Representatives.” It was presented by the Honorable Val Demings, a member of the United States House of Representatives from the Tenth Congressional District of Florida. Many have observed that we make the deepest connections when we share our stories, and this is the way Congresswoman Demings started the speech that Diane McGeorge was later to refer to as a “real stemwinder.” The essence of the congresswoman’s message was that success takes motivation and hard work, but it also takes the cooperation of others, the trails blazed by others, and the knowledge that those others have your back. Everyone in the house was stirred by her remarks and the parallels she drew between her life and the lives of those of us who are blind. Her speech will appear in the latter part of the year, and it will be well worth the wait.
When the general public thinks about blind people, most believe we are singularly cursed and moderately blessed. The curse is what they believe we cannot do, the blessing what they believe we are better at. Dr. Marina Bedny is an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University who studies the mind using both psychology and magnetic resonance imaging. It is with this background that she spoke on the topic “The Power of the Mind: Research Exploring the Capacity of the Blind.” Science confirms that the part of our brain that would normally be used in processing vision does not die but is reassigned to other functions. There is some indication that we benefit in the form of greater tactile recognition, stronger memory, and the ability to process complex sentences. Mostly the research bears out what we have said for a long time; our differences are far less than our similarities, and the research clearly indicates that those differences should not steer us away from the fields that are now so lucrative in the twenty-first century. Dr. Bedny’s remarks will be one of the articles you won’t want to miss when they appear in a future issue.
Ann Cunningham is a hard-working member of the National Federation of the Blind. She works at the Colorado Center for the Blind as its art instructor, and her passion for sharing art with the blind is beyond measure. President Riccobono not only invited her to appear on the convention agenda but has asked that she head up a group within the Federation to take art to the next level. She addressed the convention on the topic “Touching the Imagination: Unlocking the Creativity of Blind Artists.” Ann began her career as most all artists do, creating art intended for sighted people. When she began creating tactile art, she realized that there was more to art appreciation than that which was taken in by the eye. Her work with our organization has convinced her that there is a world of richness to be found in tactile art. Unfortunately, many of us who are blind were never given the opportunity to learn what young sighted children do when they are taught at an early age to look at and interpret drawings and pictures. She looks forward to the day when exposure to art will be as common for the blind as it is for the sighted and when blind children say, “What do you mean there was a time when blind people had no access to art?” These moving, eloquently constructed, and passionately delivered remarks concluded our morning session and will appear in a future issue of this magazine.
One of the highlights of our last afternoon session has been the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin awards. This convention marks the tenth year that we have recognized outstanding individuals and organizations in work with the blind who exemplify the drive and the spirit of Dr. Jacob Bolotin. James Gashel is the chairman of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee, and his remarks and those of the Bolotin Award recipients are found elsewhere in this issue.
Jim Gashel remained at the platform because his next job was to briefly discuss the expansion of the KNFB Reader technology to Windows 10 and our work to incorporate this technology into other products, services, and even wearable technology. In his demonstration Jim was assisted by Joel Zimba, who works at our Jernigan Institute as the reading project innovation manager. The demonstration and the comments about upcoming features can be found at https://nfb.org/convention/2017/knfbreader.
Attending his forty-third convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Ray Kurzweil came to the podium to discuss “Exploring the Future: Disability, Technology, and Partnership.” Over the years presentations made by this futurist, inventor, thinker, and the current vice president of engineering at Google have had an undeniable consistency, but the change in emphasis is worthy of note and consideration. The story of how Ray Kurzweil came to meet the National Federation of the Blind is well known, and the same is true for what it took to invent the first Kurzweil Reading Machine. He had to work on the invention of the flatbed scanner. With the images he was then able to acquire he had to write the routines that would do optical character recognition that could handle the variations in font, size, and color that are inherent in print. Next came the task of refining speech synthesis that could turn recognized characters into the spoken word. Over the years the emphasis on the power of computers, the way that power would increase as predicted by Moore’s Law, and the resulting benefits to blind people has slowly transformed to a more philosophical approach that indicates just how far the development of hardware and software has come. Now the presentations he delivers focus more on the workings of the mind: it’s biological construction or its hardware, its hierarchical construction or the way it organizes memory and decision trees, and how this understanding can be used to harness the power of machines to do what we have traditionally considered to be things only humans can do. What Dr. Kurzweil said to the convention can be found at https://nfb.org/convention/2017/ kurzweil.
President Riccobono introduced our next presentation and its presenter in this way: “In his presentation Ray Kurzweil mentioned Michael Hingson, and in the spring of last year he came by the national office and said he wanted to introduce someone to me who would talk about technology. He brought with him our next speaker who said a lot of interesting things about technology, but I admit I was skeptical. We hear about a lot of technological schemes, but I said that he should come to our convention, which he did in 2016 (he had been there in 2015). I said that I’m going to come out and visit you at your office in San Diego, and while I was out there I asked all sorts of questions. I noticed that the questions that I asked had answers, but, more importantly, the feedback that I gave was always thoughtfully internalized. I came to understand very quickly that our next speaker was thoughtful about technology, but he recognized the value found in the users of the technology. I think he exhibits some of the same traits that Dr. Kurzweil emphasized in his presentation in terms of interactions with the National Federation of the Blind. As a technology CEO he brings passion, intelligence, and personality; he’s always studying to make sure that he understands what we’re about, where we want to go, and where our hopes and dreams are. It is my pleasure to introduce for the first time to the stage the cofounder and CEO of Aira Tech, Suman Kanuganti.”
Mr. Kanuganti said that Aira is a company whose mission is to provide instant access to information when it is requested and provide it in a way that is personalized by the customer who uses it. Put in a more concrete way, this company wants its agents to act as a pair of eyes and not as a brain. This has tremendous implications in the way Aira provides information to its customers and even extends to how it perceives the ability of those it serves. Mr. Kanuganti’s remarks will appear in full later in the year.
Christine Hà is an author of cookbooks, a chef, and the winner of the season three show Master Chef. Her mother died when Christine was fourteen years old, and she never learned to cook the food that she found so pleasurable. When she got to college and decided that she needed to learn to do more than scramble eggs and eat frozen pizza, she went to the library for cookbooks and started teaching herself. But the challenge she faced in learning to cook paled in significance to the one she faced when she found herself paralyzed and blind. In her search for resources, she turned to the President of the National Federation of the Blind, and his letter of response led her to the resources that allowed her to get a master’s degree in creative writing. The story she relates in her address is one of taking on adversities that life sends our way and figuring out a way to live a life full of opportunity despite them. Ms. Hà’s remarks can be found at https://nfb.org/convention/ 2017/ha.
“Transforming Dreams into Reality: The Fulfillment of One Blind Man’s Mission” was movingly presented by our friend and Federationist Ron Gardner. Ron is the past president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah, and his long service to the Federation both as a volunteer and a staff member testify to his sterling character and the depth of his commitment. In his address to the convention Ron talks about the obstructions placed in his path by low expectations and how he overcame them through involvement in the Federation. Achieving his life’s goals, Ron watched as much of what he built fell apart and described the steps he took to rebuild it. His honest and moving presentation can be found elsewhere in this issue.
“Leadership through Action: A Champion for the Blind in the United States Congress” was the message brought to us by the Honorable David Young, a member of the United States House of Representatives who serves the Third Congressional District of Iowa. Monitor readers will remember that Representative Young came to visit the headquarters of the Federation at the request of Jim and Sharon Omvig, and he has joined with us in pushing for the passage of our bills by sponsoring one and adding his name as a cosponsor to three of them.
At the conclusion of the afternoon session, the crowd quickly made its way out of the room so that the hotel staff could ready it for the 2017 banquet. Immediate Past President Maurer was the master of ceremonies at this event, and I believe from the joy in his voice that one of the high points of his convention is giving out the many door prizes offered there.
Sam Gleese is not only a leader in the National Federation of the Blind, but he is also an associate minister of the Hill Baptist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. Reverend Gleese offered thanks to God for all He has allowed us to do, for the dreams He has helped us to dream, and the progress He will help us achieve in the future.
In his capacity as the chairperson of the Preauthorized Check Program, Scott LaBarre presented awards to affiliates, divisions, and individuals who made substantial increases in providing monthly support for our movement. We end the 2017 convention with pledged amounts higher than ever before. Members and supporters have pledged $517,756.82 per month, a significant indicator of how seriously our members take the work we do and supported from their pockets.
The National Federation of the Blind Performing Arts Division serenaded the crowd with three wonderful songs: the first was the battle song of the NFB otherwise known as “Glory, Glory Federation,” the second was “Braille Is Beautiful,” and the concluding song was “Live the Life You Want.”
A video created to thank the donors who make our scholarship program possible was debuted, and an article recognizing those donors will be found later in this issue.
The master of ceremonies recognized the sponsors of the 2017 National Convention and thanked them for the tremendous support they give, not only to the convention through their donations but to the work of the Federation through their public support.
Aira, a platinum sponsor and one of the companies we have partnered with to further independence for blind people, was next invited to present $30,000 in subscriptions to students in the National Federation of the Blind. Two recipients expressed their gratitude to Aira and the Federation in song, and we recommend these to readers who can hear them at https://nfb.org/convention/2017/airasongs. John Berggren served as the chairman of convention organization and activities, and the assembled took this opportunity to wish him happy birthday in applause and song.
After introducing the head table, it was time for what everyone in the room came to hear: the banquet address that would be delivered by our President, Mark Riccobono. The address is found later in this issue, and it certainly is in line to be considered a Federation classic. The 2017 speech addressed the role of technology, challenging the all too frequent assumption that to be blind is to be broken and that the only fix possible is to be found in technology that will make the blind whole. This is not how our President sees it, and though we welcome the benefits that technology brings for all of us, we look to ourselves for the transformation that must occur if we are to feel like, act like, and live like first-class citizens.
Ray Kurzweil was invited to the stage and spoke briefly about the remarks made by President Riccobono. He said that they expressed quite well the perils and possibilities offered by technology and exemplify the need for leaders like President Riccobono to see that technology plays the role we want it to play in our lives. He reminded us that he was involved in the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, and when he came to his first convention of the National Federation of the Blind in 1975, he realized that there was another civil rights cause that would touch his heart and be worthy of his energy. He saw in attitudes about the blind the same kind of prejudice that has held back so many. “The most pervasive and pernicious implication of these prejudices is that they become self-fulfilling prophecies. If society sees a single group is less capable and less valuable, it inevitably sets up expectations and institutions and laws that make these outcomes a reality. I would say that overcoming these negative perceptions of blindness is, in my view, the greatest contribution of the National Federation of the Blind.” The convention was moved by what he said and expressed its emotion in cheers and applause.
Patti Chang was invited to the stage to award the most prestigious scholarships in the field of blindness to the thirty most deserving blind students. The presentation she made and the remarks of the winner of the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship appear elsewhere in this issue.
Dr. Maurer was appointed by President Riccobono to serve as the chairperson of the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee. The next order of business was the presentation of that award, and both his remarks and those of the winner/winners are found later in this issue.
The banquet concluded with President Riccobono thanking the convention for its strength, its passion, and its discipline. Immediate Past President Maurer gave the gavel presented to him by Dr. Jernigan to President Riccobono. With the dropping of this gavel, the 2017 convention of the National Federation of the Blind came to an end.In the aftermath of the convention, the reports received confirmed that this meeting is best characterized by the words excitement and change. As Ramona Walhof reports, “Idaho had more than twice as many members at convention this year compared to recent conventions. Sixteen of these had never attended a convention before. Two more have not attended for more than twenty years. This changed the experience for all of us, and our new conventioneers are excited as they look ahead. This is just one small state's experience, but it shows why our organization is growing.” I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment, so very soon now I will start counting down the days until we begin our 2018 Convention. Until then, keep reading, keep writing, and keep building the Federation.
An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono
National Federation of the Blind
July 12, 2017
During the past year, the heartbeat of our organization has grown in strength and intensity. Our heartbeat is a rhythm created from bringing the diverse stories of blind people together with a unifying belief that blindness is not the characteristic that defines our future. As more blind people hear our message and join our march, the rhythm grows stronger. The rhythm carries us through times of challenge and refuels us in times of celebration. As the tempo of society changes, we adjust to keep pace, and often our rhythm sets the standard of excellence. Steady, determined, and full of optimism for our future, we contribute to the heartbeat through local chapters, state affiliates, and our national organization. Individually we seek to live the lives we want, and collectively we transform our dreams into reality. We are the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind.
As the primary organization of blind people in the United States of America, we express an authenticity that can be hard to find elsewhere. Although our primary work is within the borders of our own country, the impact of our heartbeat—our sharing spirit—is felt around the world. In August 2016, the National Federation of the Blind hosted the quadrennial general assembly of the World Blind Union in Orlando, Florida—the first time this meeting has been in the United States. Our involvement in international matters impacting the blind goes back more than fifty years, and we have been active in the World Blind Union since its beginning in 1984. However, our hosting the world meeting was a unique opportunity to share the Federation spirit around the world.
The WBU General Assembly was held jointly with the meeting of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairments. The joint assemblies spanned eight full days of conference activities and included 857 registered participants from 124 countries. Although this gathering was smaller than our own convention, there were more complexities in the logistical arrangements. However, the complexities were successfully managed by the Federation leaders who volunteered their time to serve as greeters, marshals, information workers, and general problem solvers during the assemblies. Encountering blind volunteers was a new experience for most of the assembly delegates, but they will never forget the rhythm of the Federation heartbeat. By the end of the assemblies, blind delegates from around the world were joining Federationists in marshalling—especially in languages our members do not speak—and were providing their own mentoring in the “each-one-teach-one” style of the National Federation of the Blind. Our heartbeat is carried in the ideas and actions those delegates now bring to their home countries. Essential to the success of this undertaking was the skilled leadership of our host committee chairman Marc Maurer, Immediate Past President of the National Federation of the Blind, and the dynamic coordination of the volunteer team director Pam Allen, the Federation’s first vice president. What will happen when all 285 million blind people around the world come to share the Federation heartbeat? For the first time, the World Blind Union has elected a president who lives the Federation philosophy every day and whose leadership has grown out of the Federation experience. The work of the National Federation of the Blind is expertly represented by the president of the World Blind Union, Dr. Fred Schroeder.
Blindness is not the characteristic that defines us or our future, but that is not how some see it. Stacy Cervenka is a member of the National Federation of the Blind. Stacy and her husband Greg are both blind parents who seek to be active in their community as they raise their family—blindness is not what holds them back. Last summer Stacy came across a campaign by the Foundation Fighting Blindness that was perpetuating misunderstanding about the capacity of blind people in order to raise money for medical research. The campaign challenged sighted people to capture themselves in a video performing an ordinary task while wearing a blindfold. While the suggested tasks ranged from boring to ridiculous, they all sent a harmful message. The most offensive suggestion asked blindfolded participants to attempt to supervise their children. The fearful message that effective parenting is not possible without sight was further emphasized by a video entitled, “What Would You Do If You Could Not See Your Children?” Stacy attempted to raise concerns about the campaign in social media, but her posts were ignored by the foundation. When others rallied to support Stacy, she was blocked from commenting on posts to the foundation’s Facebook page. The heartbeat of the Federation, however, cannot be blocked. Members of the Federation mobilized in social media and quickly took over the #HowEyeSeeIt campaign. After ten days of concentrated action, sharing the truth about blindness, the foundation closed phase one of their campaign early and well short of their funding goal. More importantly, they publicly acknowledged the concerns of the National Federation of the Blind. We support funding for research on blindness but not at the expense of the lives we live today. We will not tolerate low expectations creating obstacles between blind people and our dreams—that is how we see it.
The misunderstanding that exists about blind people does real harm to families. Blind people face discrimination that interferes with their ability to be parents, grandparents, and caregivers for other family members. We have continued to advance model parental-rights legislation to protect blind people from discriminatory actions of former spouses, judges, and departments of social services. We have strengthened the laws in Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah. Legislation has been introduced in other states, and we will not rest until equality is the standard for blind parents and caregivers in every state in our nation.
We continue to provide support to blind parents through the family network that is the National Federation of the Blind. Through our technical assistance, sharing of resources, mentoring efforts, and public education, we are supporting the bonds of love that make families thrive. Sometimes blind people do not come to know us before the discrimination happens. In the worst cases we need to involve our legal team to help. This year we have provided legal support to blind parents in California, Indiana, Massachusetts, and New York.
We have also come to the aid of a mom in Nevada. In the spring of 2016, we learned about a blind mother on the eve of a hearing to terminate her parental rights. This young single mother had her one-month-old child removed from her custody by protective services based upon claims of health and safety concerns arising from her blindness. When the claims arose, the mom did not know any blind parents, she was not connected with the National Federation of the Blind, and she had all of the same doubts that every new parent faces—blind or sighted. When we learned about the case, we secured local counsel, and our local affiliate swung into action. Under the leadership of Terri Rupp—a blind mother and president of the NFB of Nevada—we established a local support network for the mom, paired her with other blind parents, helped her get training at the Colorado Center for the Blind, and began educating the court about the techniques blind parents use. The daughter is now two years old, and the mom is still fighting to overcome the challenges caused by low expectations for the blind. Our heart beats with hers, and we will not let the bonds of love be broken—we will not quit until mom and child are reunited.
When we seek careers working with children, discrimination also occurs. In 2015 I shared with you the story of Jeanine Rockwell Owens, a member of ours from California who worked providing direct care to children. She had over thirty years of experience as a childcare provider and educator when suddenly her blindness became an issue. A parent’s complaint about a blind woman taking care of her child caused Jeanine’s employer to send her to a doctor who knew nothing about blindness. The doctor opined that a blind person could not safely take care of a child in a childcare-type setting, and Jeanine was fired. We filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charge against both the doctor for aiding and abetting discrimination based on disability and against the employer for terminating Jeanine in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although the fight has taken some time, I am pleased to report that this matter has been settled in favor of Jeanine, granting her a substantial amount of lost wages and recovering our attorney fees in full. The doctor has received training on how to properly assess the effect of blindness in the workplace, and the employer will develop policies to ensure that employees with disabilities are evaluated on their ability rather than their perceived limitations. The discriminatory tag team of doctor and employer are no match for the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind.
Safety concerns about blind people in the workplace are not limited to childcare situations. Jacob Struiksma is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington. Through the Apollo employment agency, he applied for an information technology position with Zones Inc.—a contractor for Microsoft. He was immediately hired. He reported to work for two days before being fired without any notice. He later received an email indicating that his termination was due to the safety risk of his being inside the busy warehouse environment and his inability to read small labels on wires. Zones did not ask Jacob about these concerns, what techniques he might use, or what accommodations they might offer. Zones took the risk of running into the National Federation of the Blind, and in return we did not ask Zones before filing a charge of employment discrimination. We know the law is on Jacob’s side, and soon Apollo and Zones will learn this too. They will be held accountable for violating the law.
As we work to raise expectations for blind employees, we also seek to improve opportunities to apply for work. Many state and local governments use Governmentjobs.com—a private employment website—as the exclusive means to post and accept applications for open positions. Governmentjobs.com is a goldmine of public sector jobs, unless you are blind. We wrote to Governmentjobs.com to share our experience with accessibility barriers on their site, and they initially refused to engage with us. Maybe they believed that there were not blind people who wanted to work. Maybe they believed equal access was a standard that did not apply to them. Whatever the reason, they now know the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind. We spoke to government officials in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington, and we filed an EEOC complaint. We are now engaged in meaningful negotiation with Governmentjobs.com. We will continue to pursue equal access to job applications, equal treatment in the workplace, equal pay for equal work, and to knock down the other barriers that stand between blind people and their employment dreams.
Effective movement around our communities and from city to city is critical as we pursue our goals. Our organization is providing leadership to the growing community of automobile manufacturers, technology companies, and policy makers discussing the revolution that autonomous vehicles will bring to our nation. In 2011 we built a car that blind people could drive before some of these companies even began to work on their cars of the future. In recognition of our leadership, earlier this year I presented the perspective of the National Federation of the Blind at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. We are a founding partner in the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, where our goal is to ensure autonomous vehicles are available to the blind at the same time they are available to everyone else. Our authentic leadership in this new area of transportation will innovate solutions that will benefit all riders.
Ridesharing services are the fastest growing segment of the transportation industry—Uber and Lyft being the most well known. We have received hundreds of complaints of discrimination about these two companies from blind people who use a guide dog. In response, the National Federation of the Blind secured long-term, nationwide agreements with both Uber and Lyft to protect the rights of blind riders with service animals. Our case against Uber is the first successful application of the Americans with Disabilities Act to the sharing economy. While we should celebrate the establishment of these agreements, our work is not done until we have fully eliminated the patterns of discrimination. In May we launched a nationwide, rideshare testing program to monitor the progress of Uber and Lyft in implementing new policies and procedures that prohibit discrimination. We are aggressively monitoring these agreements and enforcing penalties for compliance failures. The active participation of Federation members across the country will be critical in this effort over the next five years.
A major provider of intercity bus transportation—and in some places the only option—is Greyhound, which uses a website and mobile app to provide riders with scheduling and booking services. Greyhound has failed to make its website accessible and has taken the position that mobile apps are not required to be accessible under the law. We disagree and believe that systemic discrimination against the blind should never get a green light. We have filed a class-action suit in California that seeks to compel Greyhound to make its online services fully and equally accessible and to recover monetary damages.
In sharp contrast, one major travel-related website is not only putting a stop to accessibility barriers, they are trying to exceed expectations in access to online travel. A number of years ago Travelocity—who had previously agreed to work with us on accessibility—was bought by Expedia. When we raised questions about our existing agreement, Expedia eagerly welcomed a new collaborative agreement to make the extensive, online Expedia platform accessible and to subject the site to testing by the National Federation of the Blind. In April of this year, Expedia held a lunch to discuss the importance of accessibility with technology companies in Seattle and broadcast a lecture and discussion on accessibility to the entire Expedia Worldwide engineering group. The featured presenter for these important gatherings was the President of the National Federation of the Blind. We will hear more about Expedia’s accessibility journey and commitments later in this convention.
Beyond websites, we are aggressively pursuing equal access to the use of touchscreen kiosks, which can be found in government offices, schools, hospitals, restaurants, stores, and even on street corners. Many of these touchscreen devices are built upon the Apple iOS or Google Android operating system, both of which have screen-reading applications to provide nonvisual access to the blind. Yet frequently kiosk developers do not enable this important functionality for equal access.
The Social Security Administration, for example, has check-in kiosks at nearly all of its offices. They tell us that these kiosks have been designed to provide access to the blind, but our experience is that they only provide frustration and disappointment. We reported the extent of the inaccessibility to Social Security, but rather than recognizing that a systemic problem existed, they chose a second-class fix hoping that we would go away. We intend to file suit against the agency shortly, and we will have first-class access to the kiosks.
In most Walmart stores, you will find a kiosk near the pharmacy that provides basic information about your health: your weight, blood pressure, body mass index, and other important data points. These kiosks, manufactured by Pursuant Health, were not designed to be used by blind people. The Massachusetts attorney general and the National Federation of the Blind joined together to gain equal access to the kiosks. To Walmart’s credit, they indicated that if the kiosks were not made accessible to our satisfaction, it would remove them. Pursuant Health, to its credit, recognized the importance of making these kiosks accessible and available to everyone. In August of last year, Pursuant Health entered into an agreement with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the National Federation of the Blind, and they are making progress in fulfilling their commitment to make the kiosks fully accessible by the fourth quarter of 2018.
New York City is the largest municipality in our nation. Recently, city officials have undertaken a project to replace New York’s thousands of payphone booths with kiosks featuring Wi-Fi, battery charging, access to police and fire departments, map information, and other services. As these kiosks were deployed to street corners, they did not include accessibility for the blind. Shortly after last year’s convention, we filed suit against the city and the kiosk manufacturer, and by January of this year we had an agreement to ensure equal access. Most of the functions of the kiosks are now accessible, and at this time next year, all of the functions must be accessible. New York sets the pace, and other cities will be seeking to find innovative applications for these kiosks. Thanks to the work of the National Federation of the Blind, all cities should know that accessibility must be included from the beginning.
Our goal is to make accessibility the standard of our nation, and we are actively working on technology in many other places of public accommodation. This includes touchscreen devices used in retail chains such as Applebee’s, Chili’s, and Panera. Additionally, we have worked with the Avanti company whose kiosk is used in micro-market facilities that are replacing many traditional vending machines. This work benefits not just blind people seeking a quick snack but also the blind entrepreneurs who wish to grow their business opportunities. Similarly, we continue to provide leadership in ensuring equal access at retail checkout counters where inaccessible point-of-sale devices have prevented blind customers from privately and independently entering their financial information. In the last two years, we have reached agreements with several large corporations, such as Children's Place, J. Crew, and Williams-Sonoma, among others, resulting in a significant increase in the availability of accessible point-of-sale machines.
Negotiation has not always worked. We have sued the Container Store for their inaccessible devices. The Container Store has attempted to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that each blind customer has agreed to settle their complaint out of court through binding arbitration. Consider the fact that the only way one can agree to the arbitration clause is by reading and agreeing to it on the inaccessible flat screen that is the subject of our complaint. The federal district court in Massachusetts denied Container Store’s motion, but they have appealed the ruling. We will not be bound by inaccessibility, the law is on our side, and we urge the Container Store and other retailers to think outside the box of unequal access. Our heartbeat is strong and we plan to participate fully in society—we are the National Federation of the Blind.
We also seek equal access to American democracy with the goal of all blind people having a fair opportunity to participate in electing those who represent us in the halls of power. Last year we brought suits in Ohio and New York with the hope of preventing inaccessible websites from diminishing the ability of blind people to register and access voting. In Ohio, the trial judge ordered the secretary of state to make the secretary’s website accessible but declined to order the secretary to make an accessible absentee ballot-marking tool available. The website ruling was an important victory, but equal access does not yet exist, so we have appealed the ruling on the absentee ballot-marking tool to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In New York the state has dug in its heels and continues to fight our attempt to ensure that the websites for the New York State Board of Elections and the Department of Motor Vehicles are accessible. We expect positive results before the end of this year.
Despite the existing barriers, we continue to expand our outreach to blind voters. We have added a Spanish version of our "Blind Voter Experience" video to the online resources we already make available. On November 8, we operated a toll-free, nationwide Election Day hotline for blind voters, poll workers, and protection and advocacy personnel to assist with barriers faced by blind voters. In addition, we again conducted post-election surveys, and we presented the results to the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Election Law. Our data reveals our progress as demonstrated by the positive trend in the number of blind voters who successfully cast their ballots at the polls with an accessible voting machine. However, the survey results also illuminate persistent barriers due to the attitudes and lack of accessibility knowledge among poll workers. There is still more work to be done in voting; and our desire for full participation in our democracy fuels our determination.
Consider also the participation of blind people as candidates for political office. Tim Nonn was running for one of five seats on a contentiously divided school board in Sonoma County, California, in the 2016 election. In the midst of the campaign, Tim suddenly became blind as a result of ocular surgery. Notwithstanding a lot of questions about how to function with blindness, Tim continued with the campaign and was elected to a school board position by a landslide of votes. In order to independently manage his responsibilities, Tim requested permission to bring his personal reader to public board meetings at no cost to the school district. One would think that attendance of a reader at a public meeting would not be controversial. However, three politically opposed school board members—representing the majority—voted to exclude Tim’s reader from public meetings. They did not stop there. They went as far as publicly mocking their political opponent and suggested he was faking blindness for his political advantage even after Tim provided a letter from his doctor. The National Federation of the Blind will not tolerate the use of blindness and unequal treatment against the blind for political gain by any public official in the same way that we should not tolerate discriminatory politics based on other characteristics. We assisted Tim Nonn in filing a lawsuit in federal court. Today, school board member Tim Nonn has a reader during board meetings, our costs have been recovered, and Tim can be counted as another member in the strong heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind.
Our organization continues to provide leadership to our elected representatives in Washington, DC. While many disability advocates viewed the outcomes of the 2016 elections as something to fear, the National Federation of the Blind has sought opportunities to advance the understanding of blindness and strengthen the future for the blind. In the 115th Congress we are pursuing and monitoring more legislative issues than ever before. In all that we do we seek support—not from a specific party but from everyone in a position to make a difference. Blindness impacts all segments of our society, and we continue to find success in working with those interested in equality for the blind. This is best observed in our effort to eliminate the discriminatory practice of unequal pay for people with disabilities that is embedded in Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Support for our position was included in both the Democratic and Republican platforms last summer, and our Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment legislation has support from members of both parties. Similarly, our efforts to provide tax credits to the blind to make it easier for those seeking work to secure critical access technologies, to establish accessibility guidelines for instructional materials used in postsecondary education, and to knock down the barriers to sharing accessible works around the world are all gaining increasing support by leaders from both sides of the aisle. During our Washington Seminar we held our second Congressional Reception, where six members of the United States House of Representatives and four members of the United States Senate—representing both political parties—came to join with the blind of America in raising expectations for our participation in society. We will hear from members of Congress from both parties later in this convention. From local communities across the country we come together to speak for ourselves. Our voice, our heartbeat, carries an authenticity that is unmatched in the halls of power.
Education is essential to our full participation and our ability to achieve our dreams. This year, our organization negotiated on behalf of several blind college students who faced horrendous accessibility barriers at their respective universities. The result was broad systemic agreements with Wichita State and Southern Oregon University. Additionally, after more than two years of battle, we resolved claims for Aleeha Dudley, who was a pre-veterinarian major at Miami University of Ohio. Our efforts were successful in expunging the low grades that she had received as a result of being denied equally effective communication, compensating her for the unequal treatment, and reimbursing part of the Federation’s expenses to assist in the case. The historic agreement between Aleeha, the United States Department of Justice, and the university is now the blueprint for ensuring accessibility for the blind at schools across the nation.
With some schools we have found opportunities to work collaboratively to implement best practices in accessibility. One significant partner is found in Harvard University, where we are supporting their efforts to make accessibility a priority. We initially approached Harvard about barriers faced by individual blind students, and we challenged the leaders at Harvard to set a high standard that other schools might strive to meet. Harvard has accepted the challenge and is now providing leadership in discussions about accessibility. Harvard opened the door for the National Federation of the Blind to provide featured presentations to the fall symposium of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the annual conference of the National Association of College and University Attorneys. We continue to collect resources and best practices from the schools seeking to be leaders in accessibility, and we share them through our Higher Education Accessibility Online Resource Center found at nfb.org.
Successful completion of high-stakes tests is often required to gain entry into educational programs or to advance in a career. We continue to knock down the barriers that threaten to bar our participation in these tests. One example of our work is found in the story of Iowa resident Kristen Steele, who was seeking a career as a massage therapist. In order for her to practice, she had to pass the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination. Kristen has been a Braille reader since age three, so she requested the use of refreshable Braille for the exam. The Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards denied her request and told her she had to use a human reader. Kristen could have elected to say nothing, attempted the exam with a reader, and only she would have known the difference. She understood in her heart that the denial was discriminatory and that if she did not stand up it would hurt the Braille readers that came after her. She heard the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind, and with our help she bravely filed suit to gain the equal access she deserved. Last month, Kristen Steele took the exam using refreshable Braille, she passed the exam, and today she is here at this convention as a certified therapist. We continue to reach out to testing companies to advance accessibility in high-stakes testing, and we will not stop until each of the testing companies receives an A for accessibility.
We create opportunities to ensure blind children have the best access to education as early as possible. We partner to distribute free Braille books, slate and stylus sets, child-sized white canes, and the Future Reflections magazine to thousands of families annually. Through our Braille Certification Training Program—which we operate for the Library of Congress—we maintain a high standard for individuals seeking to be transcribers and proofreaders of Braille, working with hundreds of trainees each year. Yet our network of skilled role models who serve as advocates for the next generation of blind youth and their families is what makes the real difference. Examples of our advocacy during the past year include securing relief for an eighth-grade student in the Chesterfield, Virginia, school district who faced an inaccessible technology platform that made it impossible for a blind student to access any of the materials their sighted peers were using. We negotiated an agreement on behalf of a blind elementary student in Kansas whose mother’s requests for desperately needed Braille instruction and tactile graphics were being ignored by the school district. And we assisted a four-and-a-half-year-old child who was brutally beaten by his father, which resulted in his blindness. There are more families who do not yet know us. There are other blind children who are held down by low expectations. We must find imaginative ways to secure greater funding and build a more robust network so that no blind child lives without the National Federation of the Blind.
Through the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute we test the limits of blindness and develop innovative programs to create a future full of opportunities. Our research and training institute is a tool for sharing information and building programs throughout our fifty-two affiliates across the country. This will be our tenth summer offering independence and opportunity to blind youth through our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy. We expect thirty-five of our affiliates to offer fifty academies by the end of the summer with the theme of “Growing Readers. Growing Leaders.” The NFB BELL Academies feature blind mentors, a fun and engaging curriculum, and training for parents. Most importantly, the academies are sharing the Federation heartbeat with the teachers, children, and families who participate.
We continue to create opportunities for the blind in science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Through our National Center for Blind Youth in Science initiative we are developing the future innovators of our nation. Last summer we empowered forty blind youth by teaching them engineering design, and we extended the impact by providing forty educators with four days of professional development on access to STEM. This summer we will go even further through our tenth anniversary National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam on the campus of Towson University where blind students and blind mentors will explore some of the most cutting-edge aspects of STEM education. Additionally, we have applied our expertise to science museums across the country. Through our work, Baltimore’s Port Discovery implemented BlindSquare for indoor navigation; San Francisco’s Exploratorium created a tactile map of their building; COSI in Columbus implemented a fully accessible planetarium show; Boston’s Museum of Science enhanced accessibility of its theater of electricity; and the Science Museum of Minnesota hosted a webinar for museum educators about making learning activities and environments accessible to blind learners.
We are building the capacity to ensure that accessibility is the rule rather than the exception in the design, development, and implementation of technology. We have concentrated our expertise into an initiative known as the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Information in Education, Public Information, and Commerce. Accomplishments from the past year include hosting more than three hundred visitors and responding to over 1,600 calls to our International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind in Baltimore; facilitating training on everything from the accessibility of Google and Amazon products to wearable technologies and accessible gaming; providing accessibility expertise to major projects like the complete redesign of the web-based platforms used by the New York City Public Schools; and infusing more blind people into the testing and evaluation of technologies through our Blind Users Innovating and Leading Design pilot program. In addition, we have launched an online community of practice for industry practitioners, employees, and consumers to stimulate accessibility initiatives within organizations and corporations. The National Federation of the Blind Accessibility Switchboard—found at www.accessibilityswitchboard.org—creates an open forum for sharing of best practices and case studies in accessibility. The exchange of effective practices for building a culture of accessibility should not be a trade secret. Our switchboard will accelerate equal access to technology for all and ensure that the National Federation of the Blind is part of the innovations at every stage.
We continue to innovate technology solutions to solve the real problems of blindness. Earlier this year we brought our industry-leading KNFB Reader mobile application to the Windows platform, giving unprecedented access to this powerful technology on tablets, phones, and desktops for less than one hundred dollars. We also launched KNFB Reader Enterprise, which gives users the ability to utilize the application on multiple operating systems. KNFB Reader is also available to users of HumanWare's BrailleNote Touch. Giving blind people powerful access to information anywhere they need it is our goal. What is our next dream? To bring the power of KNFB Reader to wearable technology platforms. Today we are announcing our plan to bring KNFB Reader to the Aira platform, which uses smart glasses to equip blind people with powerful access to information tools. What if you could just look toward a printed sign and ask your glasses to read it? Through the power of KNFB Reader and the Aira platform, this dream will become a reality.
The NFB-NEWSLINE program is the longest running and most extensive technology project we have undertaken—now spanning more than twenty years. Available in 46 states and the District of Columbia, the service provides, at no charge to its 115,491 subscribers, access to 366 newspapers, 24 breaking news sources, 17 international newspapers, 60 magazines, television listings, weather alerts, job listings, shopping ads, information about candidates for political office, and resources from the National Federation of the Blind. Accessible via touchtone phone, web browser, mobile application, email, or Wi-Fi-enabled device, NFB-NEWSLINE equips blind people with timely information in the most suitable format to meet their needs. This year we have launched the availability of all available publications in downloadable Braille files. We want NFB-NEWSLINE, like KNFB Reader, to be in all of the places where it is needed and to be as easy to access as possible. At this convention, we are widely rolling out beta testing on a device that you do not have to touch in order to get access to all of the rich NFB-NEWSLINE content—you need only ask for it. We are now seeking NFB-NEWSLINE users to beta test our NFB-NEWSLINE skill for the Amazon Echo. This is the first time the service interface is enabled through the spoken word. We will need to learn what works, what does not, and what innovations blind people will imagine through this new interface. Our future is only limited by our ability to imagine and build the solutions we seek.
The stories in this report are only a representative sample of our accomplishments this year, and there is much more that we plan to achieve in the future. The scope of our work is impressive, the depth of our efforts is complex, and the spirit of our movement is unbreakable. I am proud of what we have done together, and I am moved by the difference it makes in the lives of blind people, including my own, every day. Without you, these accomplishments would not be possible. The energy, time, imagination, money, and heart you put into our movement at the local, state, and national levels power us forward to a future where we know anything is possible. Thank you for pledging to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind, and accept my humble appreciation for the heart you share with our movement.
It has been my deepest honor to coordinate our work as President of this great organization. I am inspired and challenged to do even better by the love, hope, and determination you put into this family of ours. Despite our record of success, I am well aware that there are those we have not yet found, there are barriers that still cause us real pain, and there are dreams that we have not yet realized. You have my commitment to give to our movement all that is required, to make personal sacrifices so that tomorrow may be better for all of us, and to grow our organization in ways that we have not yet imagined. I will do these things and more, and I seek your help and support in those efforts. The next phase of our movement starts today, and it will require the heart of each of us to achieve all that we imagine.
As I come to the close of my report for 2017, I acknowledge the bond of faith we share and call us to action: Together with love, hope, and determination, let us transform our dreams into reality.
by Patti Chang
The National Federation of the Blind scholarship program is the largest in the United States. Each year we award more than $120,000 in cash prizes. Our generous partners add to both cash awards and prizes.
We want to take this opportunity to recognize the partners who contribute to our scholarships and those who add cash and prizes to help make this the dynamic program that it is. Our young winners are living the lives they want, and we sincerely thank those who believe in the capacity of the blind. You help make dreams come true. Thank you so very much.
Many NFB scholarships are made possible in part through the support of the Jesse and Hertha Adams Charitable Trust. Through the trust, Jesse and Hertha Adams wanted to help people with disabilities lead productive and meaningful lives. Some scholarships are supported by the Lillian S. Edelstein Trust. All scholarships that are awarded to blind women and are not otherwise endowed are made possible by a generous bequest from the estate of Dorothy R. Olson.
Before we thank specific scholarship donors, we need to thank several partners who add cash and prizes to each of our winners’ packages. The Kurzweil Foundation and Ray Kurzweil add $1,000 to each recipient’s award. Ray Kurzweil is a long-time friend of the Federation and deserves our special recognition. Google adds another $1,000 to each winner’s scholarship. Our students receive a Chromebook from Google as well. Cary Supalo and Independence Science give a generous certificate toward the purchase of a Sci-Voice Talking LabQuest. From the Federation each student also receives a license for the KNFB Reader app, the leading app designed for low-vision and blind people giving access to print on-the-go.
As to our specific scholarships, we begin by expressing our gratitude to the collective membership of the NFB for funding many National Federation of the Blind Scholarships. These awards recognize and honor achievement by blind scholars.
We have one NFB Science and Engineering Division Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded to a student studying in a STEM or related field. The science and engineering division is a group of blind students, professionals, and individuals committed to the success of the blind in the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, or a related field. The science and engineering division wishes to encourage the success of blind STEM students in their chosen field of study.
We thank Expedia for two awards. These scholarships are awarded to students studying in STEM fields or any other field of study relevant to Expedia’s business.
The E. U. and Gene Parker Scholarship honors two longtime leaders of the National Federation of the Blind whose participation stood for strong principles and strong support of the Federation's work.
We are also thankful for the $3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship. In funding this scholarship Charles wrote, “There shall be no limitation as to field of study, except that it shall be directed toward attaining financial independence."
Thanks go to Betty Allen for funding the Charles and Betty Allen Scholarship. This scholarship is given by a longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky. Betty and her late husband Charles began this scholarship prior to his passing to support young people in attaining higher education. Charlie, who was extremely successful, left school at an early age to care for his family, but he retained a strong belief in education.
Our Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship is next. Federationist Larry Streeter worked tirelessly to ensure quality education for blind and disabled children inside and outside of the classroom. His wife Sandy and their daughters Erin and Jennifer, along with friends and colleagues, sponsor this scholarship to carry on Dr. Streeter’s promotion of higher education that will assist blind students to elevate their quality of life, equipping them to be active, productive participants in their family, community, and workplace.
Our next contributors remain anonymous. You know who you are, and we all thank you very much. The Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship is given in loving memory of Dr. Adrienne Asch, a consummate scholar and a longtime member of our scholarship committee.
We also have four $5,000 awards for which we are thankful. The Pearson award is funded by Pearson Education and is given to a student who plans a career in education. For Pearson, learning is a never-ending road of discovery.
The Mimi and Marvin Sandler award is funded by longtime friends of the Federation, Mr. and Mrs. Sandler. Marvin Sandler served as president of Independent Living Aids for more than thirty years. His wife and he wish to further academic excellence by sponsoring this award.
We have two $5,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarships. First established by Charles Owen in loving memory of his blind wife, these awards are now endowed by his last will and testament to honor the memory of both. In founding the scholarships, Charles Owen wrote: "There shall be no limitation as to field of study, except that it shall be directed toward attaining financial independence."
This year we have two $8,000 scholarships, both donated by Oracle. Thank you, Oracle. The first is the Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science. Oracle seeks to hire the best and brightest talent to build its products. They recognize the significant impact that their products and technologies can have on people with disabilities. This scholarship is for a student in the field of computer science, computer engineering, user experience, or related field.
The second is the Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in a STEM Field. This scholarship awards academic excellence and leadership in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Oracle wishes to promote excellence and funds this scholarship based on Oracle’s understanding of its impact on disabled employees and customers throughout the globe.
Our $10,000 scholarship is the JAWS for Windows Scholarship. This scholarship is funded by the developers of the JAWS screen reader, part of VFO Group. The developers of JAWS (Job Access With Speech) have been committed to expanding the opportunities of both education and employment for the blind with both speech and Braille since the late 1980’s. In establishing this award VFO said, “On behalf of all the individuals responsible for the development and support of this product over the years, we are honored to establish this scholarship for students recognized by the Federation.”
Finally, we have our most prestigious award the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship for $12,000. This scholarship is given yearly by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, a nonprofit organization that works to assist blind people and that creates Twin Vision publications and distributes them through the Kenneth Jernigan Library. Kenneth Jernigan is viewed by our field as the most important figure in the twentieth century in the lives of blind people. The Action Fund wishes to keep fresh and current in the twenty-first century the understandings he brought to the field and thus has endowed this scholarship dedicated to his memory and to the continuation of the work he began.
These scholarships award academic excellence and promote leadership in the blindness community. They are possible because of the contributions of many individuals and partners. We sincerely thank each and every one of you.
The head of the scholarship committee, Patti Chang, introduced the 2017 Scholarship Class with these words:
Thank you, Mr. President. I love the fact that we just talked about bringing money in; now we're going to talk about sending it out.
Now, I want to tell you just a bit about this class. This class is especially interesting; we certainly have a variety of people in it. We have very few lawyers in it, for one [laughter]. We have a whole lot of people who want to be psychologists or therapists—don't see that very often—wishing Jeannie was here to mentor all of them, but I'm sure she will over the year. This is a class that I have to dub as The Class Who Does Not Know How to Be Brief, so I'm hoping that they'll prove me wrong. But when we asked them to briefly describe their career goals, one of them did it in less than three lines, and I think a third of them went way over their time. So please, please, please guys, prove me wrong on this one.
Each scholar was introduced with their name, the state that they are from, and the state in which they will be attending school. “tenBroek” indicates that they have previously won scholarships from the National Federation of the Blind. Here is what they have to say about their hopes, plans, and the lives they want to live:
Jackie Anderson, Georgia, Georgia, tenBroek: Through my involvement with the first BELL Program in Maryland in 2008, I've learned the importance of parental involvement in developing Braille literacy. This is what I will continue to study as I pursue my doctoral degree, where I'll be focusing on parental involvement and its impact on Braille literacy. I want to thank the Federation for believing in me. Thank you.
Lindsay Ball, Maine, New York: I will be attending SUNY Brockport [State University of New York] this fall to earn my second bachelor's degree in adaptive physical education. I was a Paralympic athlete in Sochi, so I will be helping other blind and visually-impaired students learn that they can be athletes and physically active. I do that as a volunteer right now—I'm the vice president of the main organization for blind athletic and leadership education.
Cricket Bidleman, California, California: First I'd like to thank Patti Chang, President Riccobono, and the scholarship committee for believing in me and awarding me the scholarship. Life is about sharing stories, so here's mine. I was adopted from China when I was three. China, where if I had been unlucky enough to have a career, it would have been in prostitution. In America I have so many opportunities, but I still recognize the unique problems that blind people face every day because I am one of you. The NFB has taught me to advocate for myself and to teach others to live the lives that we want. Next year I will be attending Stanford University with the goal of attaining a PhD and becoming a college professor so that I can teach other people to live the lives they want. Thank you.
Katherine Brafford, California, California: Good morning. I'm fascinated by the intersection between science and religion. I'm majoring in plant sciences at the University of California-Davis and minoring in religious studies. I hope to become an Episcopal priest specializing in ecological issues. I'm really thankful to the NFB for all the decades of work that have gone on before I was born, as well as the specific support I have received. Without the NFB my dreams would just be fantastical impossibilities, but instead they are tangible. I want to pass on the help that I have received. As part of that I have become vice president of the Southern Oregon chapter and president of the Oregon Student Association. I'm having a wonderful time at my first convention and learning a ton from all you amazing people. I'm so honored to be a scholarship finalist and look forward to continue learning here.
Aneri Brahmbhatt, Illinois, Tennessee: Hi, everyone. This is my first convention, and this fall I will be starting my freshman year at Belmont University in Nashville. I am pursuing a degree in music and entertainment business, so if you want a record deal, hit me up in four years[laughter]. I am so excited to be here at my first convention. This place is amazing. I love everyone's enthusiasm for our cause here, and I look forward to getting to know all of you over the next many, many decades.
Shannon Cantan, Hawaii, Hawaii: Hello, fellow Federationists. Thank you, Scholarship Chair Patti Chang, President Riccobono, and the scholarship committee. What does, "Live the life you want," mean? At seventeen years old I believed it meant girls, junk food, sports, and accepting that blind people could never be parents or ever have a job. At twenty-seven years old I'm helping raise my baby nephew, I'm reading him Braille books almost every single day. I'm pursuing my master's degree in business administration, and I am an active member of the National Federation of the Blind, and I am living the life I want and living the life I deserve [applause].
Melissa Carney, Connecticut, Massachusetts: Hi, everyone. I'm a rising junior at Mt. Holyoke College, double-majoring in English and Psychology. I want to start by thanking the scholarship committee for this honor. This is my first national convention, so it's been a great experience, and I'm taking every opportunity to further my independence. Ideally in the future I want to become a clinical psychologist, and I feel that the NFB has given me chances to be more of a leader, so thank you.
Trinh Ha, Arkansas, Arkansas: Hi, everyone. It is a huge honor to be here today. I moved to the US from Vietnam in 2012. I'll be going into my second year at the University of Central Arkansas, studying nutrition. I want to be a registered dietician or a chiropractor. Yes, I'm blind, and yes, as Ms. Chang said, I'm a little shy, but I have not and will never let my blindness or my fear stop me from making my hopes and my dreams become reality. Thank you everyone, and have a great convention.
Afton Harper, Missouri, Missouri: Well, I'm fresh out of high school. I will be going to Missouri State University in the fall as a freshman with some college credits, and I will be pursuing a major in journalism with a minor in photography. I've had a lot of struggles with my photography career, but I've found adaptive technology that I'm actually able to use for my camera, so that's wonderful. I hope to meet some more of you throughout the week. Thank you.
Qusay Hussein, Texas, Texas: Thank you, everyone. Thank you, Ms. Patti, thank you, Mr. President. As I mentioned before, when I lost my vision in 2006 I was studying to become a plastic surgeon. But I lost my vision, and I switched to psychology, and I am studying right now to become a psychologist. I study at Austin Community College. I serve on the board for the Austin Chapter, I serve on the board of the student affiliate in Texas, and I am a mentor in the College Prep program in Texas.
Catherine Jacobson, Minnesota, Minnesota: I just graduated from Hamlin University with a double major. I am really proud of my 3.9 GPA, but I believe that most of my growth came from outside of the classroom. I've held ten leadership positions in my university, including being editor-in-chief of our literary and arts journal. I've had life-changing internships at the Jernigan Institute and the United States Senate. In the fall I'll be starting my master of public health at the University of Minnesota, and I hope to conduct nonpartisan health care policy analysis. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Cassandra Mendez, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, Federationists. This fall I'll be continuing my bachelor of science at the Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, in the computer science engineering program. I've been honored to serve in the National Organization of Albinism and Hyperpigmentation as a writer for the quarterly magazine for three years. Ultimately I would love to go into the field of access technology to help us all live the lives we want. Thank you.
Tabea Meyer, Colorado, Colorado, tenBroek: Good morning. Thank you, scholarship committee and national board. I am a master of social work student at the University of Denver to serve youth and marginalized communities. I am honored, grateful, and humbled to be here. I've served the Colorado Association of Blind Students and the Denver Metro Chapter. I deeply appreciate you, our leaders, on whose shoulders I stand, benefiting from your sacrifice, learning from your wisdom, and continuing your legacy as an activist on whose shoulders I truly hope future generations stand with confidence. Thank you.
Ibeth Miranda, Texas, Texas: Hello, everyone. I would like to begin by thanking the scholarship committee again for giving me the opportunity to be here today—thank you. I am currently working on a doctoral degree in developmental education at Texas State University. My goals for the future are to be an educator and a researcher to help students in postsecondary education persist and complete their educations. Thank you.
Regina Mitchell, Nevada, Nevada: Thank you, Patti Chang, and thank you, scholarship committee for investing in me. I really appreciate it. Currently I am a nontraditional college student attending the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, and I am majoring in psychology as well as neuroscience. My goal is to become a cellular immunologist. I would like to research and have a treatment for autoimmune deficiency diseases. Thank you so much for investing in me, and I hope to have a lifetime fellowship here with the Federationists, and I'm just so proud to be here. Thank you so much.
Maureen Nietfeld, Colorado, Colorado: I had no confidence in myself as a blind person before receiving the message of the National Federation of the Blind while receiving my training at the Colorado Center for the Blind [cheers]. I am now able to share that message with my students at CCB and also through my YouTube channel BreakingBlind, where I have over 15,000 subscribers. I am studying human nutrition and dietetics at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and I hope to empower others through health and wellness. Thank you to the committee and to the National Federation of the Blind.
Efose Oriaifo, Virginia, Massachusetts: Good morning. I would like to thank Ms. Patti Chang, the scholarship committee, the NFB, and the board of directors for giving me this wonderful opportunity. For a long time my life has been all about overcoming the odds from my racing and taking part in my school's mountain bike team to leading my high school's science Olympiad team. Just like my fully sighted peers, like Nelson Mandela said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." In ten years time I see myself in a research lab investigating therapies for cancer and other genetic diseases. Once again I'd like to thank the scholarship committee for believing in me so much.
Chelsea Peahl, Utah, Utah: Hi. I first want to start out by thanking both the scholarship committee as well as my own affiliate, who has pushed me to be the person that I am today. I am a junior at Utah Valley University, studying behavioral science with an emphasis on family studies, with the ultimate goal to go into law and advocacy. I know how it feels to feel like I don't have a voice, and I plan on spending the rest of my life being a voice for those who need one. I read a quote once that said, "Great leaders don't start out with the mission to be a great leader; they just start out wanting to make a difference." That's all I want to do. I thank you so much for investing in my future; I promise to show you that you won't regret this. Thank you.
Gloria Rodriguez, Washington, Washington: Maxine Hong Kingston once said, "In a time of destruction, create something: a poem, a parade, a community, a school, a vow, a moral principle; or a peaceful moment.” Positively positive. This is the quote I live by, and maybe I take it a little too literally, because I seek to study destructive natural disasters, prep, and recovery. I grew up as low-income, first-generation, and blind. Absolutely nothing was expected of me. But I quickly learned that anybody can create something and create their own legacy, no matter who they are. Thank you very much. I love you all.
Luke Schwinck, Kansas, Kansas: Thank you, everyone. Thank you to the committee. Thank you for everyone in the NFB who has taught me that it is in fact respectable to be blind. This has led me to a career in what I think I excel at; that is, talking a lot. That talking is used for sport marketing. I love going out and making new relationships, I love facilitating needs that I can discover, and you can't discover those needs unless you talk to people. I am routinely yelled at by my wife and my superiors that I stop and talk too much. I would encourage you all to stop me and talk to me because I don't care. Thank you.
Carla Scroggins, California, California: Good morning. First of all, thank you to the scholarship committee, to the board, and hello Federation family. I will be attending the University of California-Davis in the fall as a junior, political science major. I intend to then continue with a concurrent degree program to reach a law degree and a master's in political science, ultimately reaching my goal of a PhD in international relations. I hope to work in the international community, potentially—hopefully—policy analyst, something like that. I appreciate very much the investment that's been made in me by this fantastic organization, and I look forward to spending a long time just giving back. Thank you so much.
Alyssa Shock, New Jersey, New Jersey: Go New Jersey! Good evening—or good morning—oh my goodness! I want to thank the scholarship committee for giving me this opportunity, because I'm studying to be a mental health counselor. I'm studying psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and to that end I am also currently answering calls on a hotline for people who are suffering from struggles with sexual violence. Also, recently I have been tutoring a student in fourth grade, helping her. I'm hoping that those opportunities will help me live the life I want as a mental health counselor, and thank you to the NFB for helping me along to this goal. Thank you so much.
Heather Simmons, California, California: Good morning. I would like to extend my gratitude to the President and scholarship committee for bringing me to my first convention. I just graduated with my bachelors in English from CalState-Bakersfield, and I will enter the master's program at CalState-Stanislaus this fall. I am quite active in both journalism and theater in my community and on my campus. And one day I hope to be a literature professor. Thank you.
Thomas Smith, Maryland, Maryland: Morning, everyone. I would like to first thank the board of directors, Patti Chang, and the scholarship committee for this wonderful opportunity. I am going to the University of Maryland hoping to—or I will—gain a bachelor's degree in both computer engineering and electrical engineering. I hope to work with people like Cassandra to increase the technology that we have at our disposal to help us with accessibility. Thank you very much.
Andrew Sydlik, Ohio, Ohio: Hi, everyone. I am a PhD student at the Ohio State University studying disability studies and American literature. I teach students about the misconceptions and prejudices toward blindness and other disabilities. When I graduate next year, I hope I continue to do that working with students. I've presented my research all around the country and world, including recently in Paris, France. I have been involved in founding a student disability group. This is my first convention, and hopefully the first of many. Thank you.
Sophie Trist, Louisiana, Louisiana: A few of my fellow scholarship finalists have come to you with wonderful, inspiring quotes and words that have been passed down. I am going to be a rising sophomore at Loyola University New Orleans, where I'm pursuing a degree in English with a focus in writing. I hope to use my words and my talent to make the dreams of the National Federation of the Blind a reality. I want to thank the NFB for helping to make my dreams a reality.
Rachel Wellington, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning, everyone. I just graduated high school. In high school I served as captain of my school's dive team for three years, and for two years I was the leader for a student-lead youth group. I'm entering the University of Georgia with a major in biological engineering with a focus in assistive technology, and I hope to enter law school to study patent law. This is my very first convention experience, and my very first experience with the NFB. That being said, I am ready to join the ranks of blind people who overcome obstacles and shatter expectations. Thank you.
James Yesel, North Dakota, North Dakota: Hello, everybody. I would like to say thank you to the scholarship committee and the Federation in general. I'm going to be attending Dickinson State University. I will be a senior this semester. I'm going to be majoring in business administration and human resources, and my goal is to be an entrepreneur. Many entrepreneurs will tell you that you should do what you want to do; the more you hesitate, the more the opportunity could be missed. I think the NFB would agree with that. I think we should do what we want to do, and we can do what we want to do. Thank you.
Zeynep Yilmaz, Arizona, Arizona: Good morning, my Federation family. I am originally from Turkey and am still hoping that we would have a convention in Istanbul [laughter]. In Turkey, unfortunately, we do not have many opportunities for blind people to have core blindness skills and even career options. But I was really lucky to have my blind mentors who believed in me and really supported me to become an independent person who does not listen to others, especially the ones who have low expectations like my teachers. In 2011 I came to the United States. I received my master's in rehabilitation psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Right now I am pursuing my PhD in rehabilitation counselor education at the University of Arizona, and my ultimate goal is to train future rehabilitation counselors who will not have low expectations. Thank you so much to the scholarship committee for giving me this wonderful opportunity. I am really honored to be one of the scholarship recipients, and thank you so much.
Ayoub Zurikat, Texas, Illinois: Good day to all of you. I am originally from the Middle East. I am Jordanian. I got my undergraduate degree in theology and philosophy and then a master's degree in human services. I intend to get another master's degree in clinical psychology from Wheaton College, and I hope it will lead to a PhD. For the past twelve years I have had the honor of serving troubled teenagers and university students all over the Middle East, and I hope to be able to do that here as well through my master's and then leading to the PhD. I want to quickly thank two groups of people: in this movie called The Shawshank Redemption, there is this one line that I had carved on a plaque, and the line goes like this: "Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." So first, I want to thank the NFB for teaching me how to turn a disability into a hope. And the second group of people I want to thank—by disability I am family, but by race I am an outsider—so I want to thank Americans. I have lived here for two years. And I have been welcomed by nothing but kindness and love and honesty. Thank you, NFB, and thank you, America, as well.
At the banquet Maureen Nietfeld won the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. Here is what she said:
Oh my God, this is a surreal moment for me [cheering]! When I lost my sight I dreamed of being confident, and I dreamed of being independent and successful. I dreamed of being able to go back to work and go to school. Thank you to the Colorado Center for the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind—my dreams became a reality! Thank you so much to my husband David, for your love and support. Thank you to the scholarship committee for your mentorship and your investment in all of us. Thank you to all the members of the National Federation of the Blind for giving me love, hope, and determination. Let's go build the Federation! [cheers, applause]
Following is a complete list of 2017 scholarship finalists and the awards they received. In addition to the awards listed below, each finalist also received: $1,000 and additional prizes personally donated by Dr. Ray Kurzweil; $1,000 from Google and the newest Chromebook; and a $1,000 certificate to the purchase of Independence Science technologies, specifically the new Sci-Voice Talking LabQuest.
$3,000 NFB Scholarships (14): Lindsay Ball, Aneri Brahmbhatt, Melissa Carney, Trinh Ha, Afton Harper, Qusay Hussein, Catherine Jacobson, Ibeth Miranda, Efose Oriaifo, Gloria Rodriguez, Alyssa Shock, Sophie Trist, Zeynep Yilmaz, and Ayoub Zurikat.
$3,000 Expedia Scholarships (2): Cassandra Mendez and Thomas Smith
$3,000 Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship: Andrew Sydlik
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Carla Scroggins
$3,000 E. U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: James Yesel
$3,000 Charles and Betty Allen Scholarship: Cricket Bidleman
$3,000 NFB Science and Engineering Division Scholarship: Rachel Wellingon
$3,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship: Heather Simmons
$5,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship (2): Shannon Cantan and Tabea Meyer
$5,000 Mimi and Marvin Sandler Scholarship: Luke Schwinck
$5,000 Pearson Scholarship: Chelsea Peahl
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in a STEM Field: Regina Mitchell
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Katherine Brafford
$10,000 JAWS for Windows Scholarship: Jackie Anderson$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship: Maureen Nietfeld
An Address Delivered by
Mark A. Riccobono, President
At the Banquet of the Annual Convention
Of the National Federation of the Blind
July 15, 2017
Consider with me technology and the human experience. Technology is defined as the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. Science has its roots in philosophy—the field of study we now know as science once was called natural philosophy. The great Greek philosopher-scientists Plato and Aristotle said the natural order could be explained through rigorous reasoning and investigation. Philosophy—a pattern of thought—therefore has an important role to play in the innovation of technology.
Social historian Arthur M. Schlesinger noted, “Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition, and myth frame our response.” The inventor Nikola Tesla once said, “The universe is simply a great machine which never came into being and never will end. The human being is no exception to the natural order. Man, like the universe, is a machine.” Technology entrepreneur Steve Jobs shared his optimistic view that “technology is nothing. What's important is that you have a faith in people, that they're basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they'll do wonderful things with them.” The futurist Ray Kurzweil writes, “artificial intelligence will reach human levels by around 2029. Follow that out further to, say, 2045, we will have multiplied the intelligence, the human biological machine intelligence of our civilization a billion-fold.” He further notes that “The emergence of machine intelligence that exceeds human intelligence in all of its broad diversity is inevitable. But we still have the power to shape our future technology, and our future lives.”
We live in a time in which technology is constantly a part of our human experience, but of course we’ve always lived with technology. However, the difference today is the speed with which technology is becoming increasingly important in our lives. The changes that occur as technology alters the pattern of our lives take place not in decades but in days. The increased velocity of change will soon demand altered patterns of thought and behavior from us hour by hour or minute by minute. Technology has changed the way we work, play, and even the way we think. We know this is true because we can use technology to study our own minds. Technology is changing our patterns in society, but we maintain the power to shape those changes, Ray Kurzweil tells us. If we are to control the change, what is required of us?
For centuries a pattern of thought has existed that has had a harmful impact on blind people—a pattern that we the blind did not create and have not been entirely able to control. This pattern—the vision-centered approach—has exploited the application of technology to perpetuate the central premise that vision is a requirement for success. In the vision-centered approach the blind are understood to be severely limited by the inability to see—we are merely broken sighted people—and something external like technology is required to bring the blind closer to the normal human experience. This pattern of thought went mostly unchallenged and was poised to grow into an unstoppable force with the technology revolution of the twentieth century. However, when blind people bonded together in 1940 to organize the National Federation of the Blind, a new pattern emerged that has influenced the hearts and minds of hundreds of thousands, illuminating the capacity of the human experience and transforming the nature of innovation in technology. We have altered the pattern of human thought and thereby modified the blueprint for technology in the foreseeable future.
We, the blind, again assemble this evening to consider where we have been and what our future might be as we live in the most dynamic time of technological innovation in the history of civilization. We come together to refine a pattern of thought. We stay together to share and expand our authentic intelligence as blind people. We move forward together to create the tools for our future with the resolute faith that we can make them work for us. We are the National Federation of the Blind.
The Federation philosophy, or pattern of thought, has only existed for a short time compared to the centuries of low expectations and misconceptions that preceded our founding. Yet our pattern is being adopted at an accelerating pace. Although the application of our philosophy has evolved, our principles are the same as they were at our founding. We think for ourselves, we speak for ourselves, and we act for ourselves to create understanding through our authentic experience. Individually we seek to live our lives fully, and collectively we mobilize the machinery to transform our dreams into reality.
The founding President and leader for the first generation of the National Federation of the Blind was Jacobus tenBroek. A thoughtful leader of the blind and a brilliant scholar of constitutional law, Dr. tenBroek firmly established the foundation for our philosophy about blindness and rallied the blind to understand we deserve equal treatment under the law and in society. As blind people internalized the Federation pattern—that blind people are normal people who happen to be blind—it became clear that our biggest obstacle was not blindness itself but rather the impact of the vision-centered approach.
Dr. tenBroek’s understanding of blindness was clarified and tested by the growing ranks of Federation members across the country. A young man from Tennessee would emerge in the 1950s, and he would immediately start putting the Federation pattern to the test for the second generation of our movement. Kenneth Jernigan, who would become the second great President of the National Federation of the Blind, was a teacher who understood that the Federation’s discipline in thought would only have a lasting impact if it led to concentrated action and rigorous testing by blind people. For decades Dr. Jernigan tested and expanded the Federation philosophy along with a corps of blind people who lived it in their lives every day. The concentrated pattern of thought and action that came to characterize "Federationists" dramatically shifted the balance of power from the agencies for the blind to the organization of the blind.
The dynamic growth of the second generation of our movement occurred during the time period when advances in science and technology accelerated the pace of innovation in the United States. As a result, we, the organized blind, came to measure the value of technological innovations against our authentic understanding of blindness. This stood in sharp contrast to the vision-centered approach, which used the perceived limitations of the blind as its measure of value.
While the work of the second generation was critical in accelerating our pattern of thought, it was the third generation of the Federation that set the standard of innovation we know today. The dynamic leadership of our next great leader and longest-serving President, Marc Maurer, brought greater diversity to our movement and used our pattern of thought to explore the perceived limits of blindness in imaginative ways. Dr. Maurer’s sharp intellect, understanding of the tools of law, and ability to personalize and test our philosophy were essential in taking our movement to the next level. Blind people living the Federation’s pattern of thought now emerge from the most innovative training programs available to the blind anywhere in the world. These programs can be found in our training centers in Colorado, Louisiana, and Minnesota. They can also be found in each of our fifty-two state affiliates, where the pattern of thought gains strength and authenticity. This pattern has been internalized and tested by both blind and sighted people of different ages, backgrounds, talents, and perspectives. Furthermore, we have applied our pattern of thought to partnerships with outstanding technology developers to create the most powerful access-to-information systems ever imagined.
With every generation of our Federation, our philosophy has led us to raise the standard of excellence for blind people. This brings us to the current fourth generation of our movement, one in which technology influences our lives more than at any time in our history. You and I are challenged to raise our own expectations, just as those who preceded us raised theirs for themselves and for us. We have the power to shape our future lives, and we must not fail to use that power. We must command the attention of the inventors, and we must insist that they recognize our right to be involved in the decision making that determines our use of the systems they invent. When we are in the room, patterns of equal access change; and we must demand that we be there.
The vision-centered approach has promoted the idea that vision is a requirement for success. It has said, “use your vision, use it whether it works or not, if no other method will enhance the ability to see, use technology that gives you something—no matter how little.” When these technologies make it possible to use whatever limited vision is available, no matter the cost, no matter the difficulty; they are celebrated as the answer to a prayer. The closed-circuit television system, for example, emphasizes vision and diminishes alternative techniques for gathering information. This technology for the educators and rehabilitation professionals says to the blind, “use your vision; stop being lazy; if you try a little harder, you’ll be able to see.” This approach continues to hold blind people back even today.
Am I against vision? Of course not. Do I think closed-circuit television is good? Only when it works. What I believe is intolerable is the theory that learning in nonvisual ways is inferior to the vision-centered approach. Some teachers and some counselors have enough sense to understand that the range of educational systems should be explored, but many emphasize vision to such an extent that nothing else is tried. Does this happen everywhere and every time? It does not, but the pattern is broad and deep.
Technologies based on the vision-centered approach have also focused on creating a perception called vision through other senses. If these devices produce basic results, no matter how few or how limited they may be, they are celebrated for their success. The assumption of those who created them is that the technology is responsible for any productive capacity. The blind people who use them are not given credit for their abilities. The technology is the important thing. The blind are thought to receive, but not give value to the human-computer interaction.
Take for example the BrainPort—not a new technology but one with a mildly exotic and somewhat highfalutin name. Is the BrainPort a slot to connect the internet to your skull? A recent article describes the device this way, “The BrainPort device mounts a small video camera to sunglasses that are connected via an electrical cord to a square-shaped, lollipop-like mouthpiece with a grid of four hundred electrodes. The video feed is translated into digital signals expressed by the electrodes as light electronic pulses on the tongue.” Reports about the utility of the BrainPort claim exaggerated benefits that do not match our authentic experience as blind people and that do not take into account its effectiveness compared to other tools. They tell us the BrainPort has “helped blind people navigate sidewalks without a guide dog or cane, helped blind children in China learn to recognize Mandarin characters and play games of darts,” and my favorite, “aided a blind rock climber to more confidently pursue his passion.” The rock climber mentioned is Erik Weihenmayer who, years before trying the BrainPort, successfully became the first blind person to summit Mt. Everest with the support of the National Federation of the Blind. I have not asked Erik, but I believe it is no exaggeration to state that his confidence was pretty high before he decided to experiment with this novel approach to accessing information. In the vision-centered approach the value of technology is often generated by diminishing the capacity of even the most talented people who happen to be blind.
Another damaging premise of the vision-centered approach is the notion that the blind cannot travel effectively. Inventors come to the National Federation of the Blind with the technologies they are sure we need. They don’t ask us before they build them. They imagine how they would feel, and they give us the benefit of their brilliant ideas.
One man came to our center in Baltimore with a novel white cane. In addition to the tip on the end, it contained broom bristles to permit blind travelers to sweep objects from their path. The man asked us to help him patent the broom cane and to suggest methods for having it produced for the blind.
Another man came to our office with an electrical device that looked much like a pistol with a very short barrel. He said that if a user pointed the barrel of this electronic device toward the ground and moved it from side to side, it would be possible to identify the transition from the concrete sidewalk to the grassy strip next to the walk. The device was powered by a 9-volt battery. When the beam of light that came from the end of the short barrel identified the grass, the palm of the user would receive an electrical shock. This inventor asked us to market the device. How much better it would be if the inventors ask us if the devices they are thinking of making add any benefit to our lives. When the users are part of the inventive process, the design improves dramatically. However, those who believe in the vision-centered approach begin with the premise that without vision no contribution can be made to the inventions that might be needed. Consequently, they do not invite the blind to participate because the blind have no value—nothing to contribute.
There are too many other examples of technologies premised upon the vision-centered approach to cover here. It is sufficient to say that they have covered everything from helping blind people eat, dress, manage personal communications, live more safely in the home, explore fitness, use bathroom fixtures, and almost anything else you can imagine. These technologies have been harmful to us as blind people, and they have expended resources that could have been better used elsewhere.
In contrast, the technologies that have had the greatest impact on blind people have been effective because they incorporated an approach that was consistent with the Federation pattern of thought. An area where our philosophy has had significant impact is the intersection of Braille and technology—Braille being a powerful innovation itself. Many vision-centered technologies have been introduced with the premise that there is a better way for the blind to read than using Braille. The people who invent these technologies are convinced that technology itself, any technology, will be beneficial to the blind. Consequently they expect us gratefully to accept whatever they have devised. Rather than adopting technology as unquestionably helpful, our pattern of thought gives us a framework for testing technology with our authentic experience. As a result, we have contributed significantly to the development of computerized Braille production systems and refreshable Braille devices—dramatically increasing the speed of production and availability of materials. Our recent involvement in Braille-related technologies has stimulated the development of low-cost Braille displays, innovative methods for producing tactile images, and research into technologies to improve Braille instruction.
The most widely recognized of our technology efforts is our work with the inventor of the first reading machine for the blind, Ray Kurzweil, a relationship that now spans more than forty years. The partnership that produced the first Kurzweil Reading Machine demonstrated the vital importance of our involvement at the initial design phase of technology. It also emphasized the value of our serving as an objective evaluator of technology solutions. In our own publications we admired the innovation of the Kurzweil Reading Machine while expressing concern about its then limitations, including portability, technical performance, and affordability. Today, that reading machine has transformed from being a specialized device to a mobile application widely available on smart phones and tablets—an evolution driven by the application of our philosophy to the advances of technology.
Over the past four decades, we have continued to strengthen and expand our engagement in the development and objective evaluation of technology. This includes establishing the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, the National Center for Nonvisual Election Technology, and our next-generation technology effort known as the Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access. Over the years our organization has worked on innovating technology products spanning the areas of education, travel (including driving), consumer electronics, employment, finances, and recreation. Today we provide guidance and consultation to major companies, emerging start-ups, and university engineering-design programs all based on our tested pattern of thought.
Technology plays an increasingly interactive role in today’s society. The computers get smaller and more powerful. As this happens, specialized uses for them increase. Some are wearable such as the Fitbit and the hearing aid. We hear within a certain spectrum, but there are other ranges of sound that can be detected. The hearing aid of today lets us appreciate the auditory range of sounds that an ordinary human ear can hear for those of us who have diminished capacity for this sense. However, the hearing aid of tomorrow will give us access to an auditory range that human beings do not now know. The hearing aid will not restore hearing but enhance it. The same is true for our other senses. Immersive technology being developed today blurs the line between the physical world and the simulated one. Perhaps this type of technology will create experiences that we cannot comprehend today. This deeply embedded use of technology in our daily lives requires that, in the fourth generation of our movement, we think much more broadly about access to technology than we have in the past.
In the past, the significant majority of the Federation’s time, energy, and imagination was spent on specialized access technologies for the blind. Although this area remains important, today the significant majority of our effort is focused on equal access to the technologies that are used widely by all of society. In case the reason is not obvious, if accessibility is not included in the general consumer technologies, then the number of artificial barriers to our participation will be too great for us to overcome. We know from our prior experience that it is always smarter, less expensive, and more functional to build accessibility into technology at the beginning rather than as a second-class add-on. The expectation of the fourth generation of the Federation is access to the same technology, at the same time, and at the same price.
Even with that as our standard of excellence, we must recognize that the technical details of providing equal access to the blind, although sometimes complicated, are easier than overcoming the persistent patterns of low expectations and misunderstanding about our capacity as blind people that are at the core of the vision-centered approach. Bad philosophy leads to bad technology. This is where the continued and aggressive application of our Federation pattern of thought is essential.
The general technology and design literature includes many recent examples of technologies being calibrated to include bias. At least one facial recognition system could not identify different shades of skin, and at least one automated picture classification system thought human beings of certain races were gorillas. The designers of such systems permitted them to reflect bias. What bias might be reflected in technology due to an overemphasis on the visual interface, a lack of involvement with the blind at the design phase, or simply a lack of expectation that the technology will ever be used by a blind person? Moreover, what problems might we encounter from using technologies that incorporate visual bias?
Take the example of electronic copies of books—an innovation pioneered to provide blind people access to printed works. Once commercial ebooks became popular, we were required to fight for years to establish equal access in the digital publishing industry. We have worked to help establish strong standards for ebook accessibility, to get publishers to produce books to those standards, and to ensure that the technologies are available to read those books without vision. We now have access to tens of thousands more books than ever before, but the bias against us continues. We have discovered that one of the barriers to ebook accessibility is that the authoring tools are inaccessible. We have often been met with surprise when we suggest that blind people need and want to author their own publications. Is it really news that blind people might have something to say? If you have met some of us, you probably know that we can be as opinionated as any sighted person. Why is it acceptable for us to read the books but not author them? The artificial limits placed on our role in the digital publishing world are just one example of the bias built into technology that negatively impacts the blind.
Far too frequently and enthusiastically, the media, the general public, and even many blind people talk about technology as though it is the thing that gives us capacity and freedom. The most commonly used cliché to describe the impact of technology on the lives of the blind is “life changing.” The problem is that use of this term oversells the difference that technology makes in our lives as compared to our sighted peers. Technology has changed the pattern of life for all humans—not just the blind.
Technology has changed the way we communicate. We need not use a telephone for an extended conversation with distant friends as we can share thoughts instantly through text messages. If we are short on words we might only use emoticons to express our ideas.
Technology has changed our patterns of travel. We all have been passengers with drivers who follow the instructions of the GPS even when the directions are obviously wrong. On the other hand, you need not wait out in the rain hoping that the bus is on time that day, because you can track it in real time and carefully plan your arrival at the bus stop.
Technology has changed the way we consume food. You need not stick to the same-old neighborhood diner because you can easily discover new places, learn which ones your friends like best, read the menu before you get to the door, and even monitor your place in line.
Technology has changed our access to knowledge. If you are curious about something, you can instantly look it up using your favorite search engine. However, you still need to make the judgment as to whether the source presents real or alternative facts. These are life-changing patterns for all in our society. As blind people, we should not buy into the idea that technology is life changing for us but is simply a normal part of the evolution of human experience for the sighted. Technology is influencing the human experience, and it is our belief that blindness is a normal characteristic within the human experience.
Every year a large number of articles is written about the life-changing technologies for the blind. With titles such as "Five Amazing Gadgets that Are Helping the Blind" or the seemingly more inspiring and vision-centered "Four Innovative Technologies to Help Blind People See Again," authors attempt to educate the public that technology is the defining factor in making us normal people. To those who do not know us and our capabilities, these articles perpetuate a pattern of thought that is misguided and harmful.
Consider an article from the online magazine Slate that was published in February 2016. In the article entitled “How Technology Is Helping the Blind Navigate the Physical World,” the author describes the ways that technology is changing the lives of blind people and opening up new possibilities. One example given is the story of a man who began experiencing blindness at age thirty-two, and how he benefits today because “everything” he needs is available through his phone. It summarizes the breakthrough this way: “He couldn’t keep up with his paperwork-intense real-estate business, but he transitioned to a job impossible for a legally blind person a generation ago: bartender.” Thank goodness for us the mystery of mixology has been revealed to the blind through the wonder of technology. The article does not say if there were any drinks that blind people could mix before mobile-app technology. Even if the labels on the bottles were not readily identifiable, most blind people should have been able to figure out the classic rum and coke, gin and tonic, and the more contemporary gin and juice. Are they serious or is this just an example of Slate’s witty style? Either way, it falsely represents our capacities and overemphasizes the impact of technology in our lives compared to the lives of others.
That same Slate article touts “a low-cost fix to help visually impaired people exercise more effectively.” The approach is a drone that can be used to guide blind runners around a track. The article notes that while the commercial unit costs approximately $300, you can get a used one for about $225. The premise of the project is that technology will be the change agent to get blind people out and exercising more. The premise will most certainly have harmful impacts on blind people who do not yet understand that blindness is not the characteristic that defines their future. While it is probably obvious to most in this audience that a person who does not believe that the blind have ability will not be likely to go running after the sound of a used drone, this project perpetuates the idea that technology is required for greater independence of the blind. Technology is not the answer to the real problems we face. Building understanding of our pattern of thought, creating faith in our capacity for full participation, these are the driving forces in every solution we seek.
If we are to compete in the twenty-first century, if we are to achieve the equal treatment and equality of opportunity we deserve, then we must put more faith in ourselves than we do in technology. The essential element in our ability to utilize our capacity to the fullest, to overcome the artificial barriers in society, to create understanding in the hearts and minds of the sighted is the love, hope, and determination that flow from our philosophy about blindness. If we do not possess the internal belief in ourselves as blind people, if we do not continue to test the limits of blindness as a characteristic, if we do not build our organization due to the mistaken belief that technology will solve all of our problems, we will not reach the independence, equality, and opportunity that we seek. We must not fear technology, but we must also not believe that it is our greatest hope. We must especially prevent the newly blind from placing all their hope in technology and neglecting their internal human capacity. We know today that we have the power to shape our future technology and our future lives, and we intend to use that power to share our pattern of thought.
We cultivate a bond of faith among blind people. We believe that if you give blind people tools, they will do wonderful things with them. However if the designers of the tools, the marketers of the tools, and most importantly the users of the tools do not believe in the capacity of the blind, those tools will only serve to perpetuate the vision-centered bias that has held us back for centuries. We will not let that happen. We come together to refine a pattern of thought. We stay together to share and expand our authentic intelligence as blind people. We move forward together to create the tools for our future with the resolute faith that we can make them work for us. We are the National Federation of the Blind.
Do not misunderstand what I have said as a rejection of technology. In fact, it is our deep understanding of the truth about blindness that fuels our enthusiasm for the tools that technology provides us. Technology has significantly changed the patterns throughout society, and we view ourselves as full participants in that society. We reject the bias that positions technology as the defining factor in our independence. Yet we seek all the advantages of technology, and we intend to innovate using technology to solve the real problems of blindness. This is why we have sparked the creation of powerful access-to-information tools and explored technologies to enhance our participation in society. In the same way that we should not accept the idea that technology defines the limits of our capacity, we should not close our minds to the idea that technology can be used to enhance our capacity. While we seek equal access to the technologies used by the sighted, we should continue to explore areas where specialized technologies for the blind will better serve our interests. Furthermore, we ourselves should take a hand in building the technology we need, not just for the blind but also for sighted users of the products we invent.
In the past we have taught each other how to effectively compete as blind people using a variety of tools and techniques. We must continue to teach each other, but we should explore the effectiveness of new technologies to perform some of those same tasks. We must do so not out of a belief that one approach is better than another but to learn which approach works under which conditions. There are many variables that must be weighed in our evaluation: cost, time, ease of use, effectiveness, portability, flexibility, and a dozen other factors.
We must use our pattern of thought to go even further into areas where we can play a critical role innovating approaches for all of society. We must bring our perspective and talents to the development of nonvisual interfaces, natural language systems, self-driving vehicles, standards for the Internet of Things, tools for perceiving in realms that cannot be seen, sensors and haptics for things that today cannot be touched, and dozens of other areas where we bring perspective that the current designers do not yet possess. The inclusion of our perspective will benefit everybody in society. The most meaningful way for us to reduce bias and contribute to innovation is to inspire qualified blind people to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. This is why we have been leading educational programs to engage blind youth in these subjects and innovating tools to eliminate the artificial barriers that stand between blind people and our dreams.
For the fourth generation of the Federation, it is not enough for us to merely carry the Federation pattern of thought; we must teach it to others in ways we have not yet imagined. We must do this so that we have the certainty of living the lives we want in the twenty-first century and to make it possible for the next generation of the Federation to raise the expectations even further. In our teaching we will get ever closer to eliminating the vision-centered approach that persists in limiting society and the exploration of human-computer interaction. Our pattern of thought explores the capacity of blind people while leveraging the advantages that technology provides. Our pattern of thought has driven the most powerful technologies used by the blind today, and that pattern will allow us to participate in the design, development, and implementation of the most powerful technologies used by everybody tomorrow. If we are to enjoy the equality and opportunity we deserve, our philosophy about blindness must be woven into the fabric of the human-biological-machine intelligence of our civilization.
My brothers and my sisters, as much as I love what technology brings to us, I love what we bring to us infinitely more. It is not the technology that defines us. It is not the technology that makes us capable. It is not the technology that determines our future. It is the bond of faith that we hold with each other. It is the pattern of thought that we have established and use to test the limits. It is the unwavering determination that allows us to transform our dreams into reality. Let us go forward in sharing our pattern of thought. Let us go innovate with technology grounded in our love, hope, and determination for our future. Let us go fuel the most powerful machine for collective action ever built. Let us go build the National Federation of the Blind.
by Marc Maurer
From the Editor: One of the great blessings we have had in the National Federation of the Blind is that our leaders and particularly our presidents have been thinkers, innovators, people who have been willing and able to apply theories about the way the world works to problems affecting the blind. Marc Maurer is just such a person, and we are the beneficiaries of his reading, his thinking, his speculation, and his ability to articulate the way we get from where we are to where we want to be. He is the Immediate Past President of the National Federation of the Blind and currently serves as the executive director of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. Here are remarks he delivered on Thursday, July 13, to the convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, Florida:
How do we know what we know? Philosophers have had many answers to this question, but a great many thinkers believe that the basis of knowledge is the experience of our senses. However, René Descartes and Ebenezer Scrooge, along with many others, have opined that sense impression alone without contemplation and imagination is insufficient for knowledge. Consequently, they urge that we take proper steps to stimulate the imagination.
John Quincy Adams wrote “To furnish the means of acquiring knowledge is . . . the greatest benefit that can be conferred upon mankind. It prolongs life itself and enlarges the sphere of existence.”
Learning something new is a great idea. However, theorists have not always felt this way, and some cultures do not value learning, especially with respect to certain groups. It may be fair to say that all cultures (or almost all cultures) resist change, and learning implies change. If the blind are the intended audience, education has often not been a high priority. Indeed, competent, inclusive, accessible, high quality education for blind students is today sometimes very hard to get.
Let us begin not with the blind but with society in general. Alexander Pope said that “a little learning is a dangerous thing.” If this is so, how much is required for safety? When students finish the third grade, are they more of a threat to society than they were when they finished the second? Will they be more or less of a danger when they have completed fourth grade? What about graduate students or the professors who teach them? Current scientific research offers speculation that artificial intelligence can be built that will be able to hold more ideas than any human mind has ever possessed. Will the artificial intelligence add to the safety of our world? If so, whose safety will it protect? The debate rages with some futurists recommending that we invent new thoughts as fast as possible and others urging that limits be placed on scientific advancement. Regardless of the arguments, we in the National Federation of the Blind have a commitment to education; we believe that the blind have minds capable of learning whatever is to be known; and we intend to be in the midst of the educational process—participating in the learning for every discipline, teaching others, and pursuing the most imaginative research. Tell us that learning is dangerous if you like, but don’t try to keep us out because it can’t be done.
Although theorists have complained about the disadvantage of knowledge, societies have been stratified based upon the possession of it. In many places the priestly class could read, which gave this group an enormous advantage. Shakespeare said that we should kill all the lawyers. What advantage did lawyers have that caused such enmity? At least part of it is that they could read in a very specialized field.
Teaching slaves to read in many parts of the United States was regarded as a criminal act. Furthermore education for women in the United States has only comparatively recently become required by law. Despite the restrictions we have placed upon its acquisition, we in the United States have adopted the policy that knowledge is valuable and that we must encourage its acquisition. We follow this policy despite vituperative arguments that the path we tread is dramatically dangerous—that the things we learn may create events from which humanity itself will not survive. In the National Federation of the Blind we also follow this policy, and we encourage our friends to do likewise. We believe that we the blind have the ability to learn, and we honor those who demonstrate this capacity among us. Do others share our commitment for the education of blind students? Are imaginative methods of education for the blind being invented? Is there a widespread effort by agencies of government or the private sector to foster the latent potentialities of the blind?
Not so much.
For more than forty years federal law has declared that students with disabilities have a right to a public education. When the law was adopted, the language it employed was revolutionary. Prior to its enactment public schools had discretion about whether they would permit students with disabilities to be in class. Some disabled students were welcomed, but many were not. When the law came into effect, students with disabilities had a right to attend. Some of the judges who interpreted the law felt outrage that members of Congress could believe that children (they would call these children normal) could be required to be in class with students who possess disabilities. These judges decided that although the Congress had declared the law to be that disabled people had a right to attend class, this did not mean that the students who possessed these disabilities had the right to get anything out of the education other than presence in the room. The school districts were under no obligation (said these judges) to provide specific services, materials, or educational programs designed to assist in meeting the demands involving the disability itself. Blind students could come to class, but the school district was not required to provide training in Braille. Blind students could study geometry, but the school district had no obligation to offer a line drawing of the angles that the sighted students could observe in their books. It is almost as if some of the judges took the position “You can make the school district take you, but you won’t like it when they do.”
In March of this year, the Supreme Court reconsidered the rights of students with disabilities in the public schools under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The court said that disabled students have a substantive right to educational programs that are likely to provide a realistic education. This decision appears to restore the promise that students with disabilities have an equal right to an education.
Within the National Federation of the Blind we know that blindness is not a debilitating disability. Instead, it is a characteristic that many of us have. Many of us have wondered what the limitations of blindness are. We have speculated that this condition indicates an inability to perform certain functions. More than forty years ago some of us said that blind people could not fly a plane, drive a car, or serve as medical doctors. Since that time, we have created a way to drive a car, and some of us have come to be medical doctors. The airplane waits to be conquered, but I feel certain that it can be and that it will be. Which leaves the question, what are the limitations of blindness?
How do blind people learn? How do we stimulate the mind to be the medium in which the patterns of observation are implanted? How do we expand the range of such patterns, or cause the intuitive leap that connects one seemingly unrelated thought with another to bring new comprehension? Children are instructed from the time that they are born not to touch. Blind children are instructed to listen, and often they are expected to do nothing more. Although it seems intuitively obvious that learning will be faster when sound, touch, and perhaps other senses are combined, blind children with some remaining vision, or their parents, are sometimes required to choose between Braille and print. The argument goes, demanding that a student learn in more than one way will be overburdensome and detrimental to education. Does education advance more rapidly by listening or touching? Our experience suggests that both together are better than either one separately.
To learn effectively it is necessary to learn how to learn. Just as a birdsong may seem, when it is first heard, to be a jumble of unrelated notes and unmelodic racket, a polysyllabic word may appear to be incomprehensible upon first acquaintance. Visual imagery must also be learned before it has meaning, and the tactile sense must receive its own training if knowledge is to be gained through it. All methods of knowing are learned, except the innate knowledge that comes from being human. When knowledge becomes the goal, it is best for us to employ the widest range of methods for securing it that we can invent.
What does color signify? One tiny piece of the answer to this question is the wavelength of reflected light. The rest must include context, imagery, history, and culture. What does light signify? Only a part of the answer is an observable medium in the electromagnetic spectrum. The rest must involve context. Moonlight may be nothing more than a presentation of waves with certain characteristics, but its meaning is much more complex. How can these concepts be presented in nontraditional forms—auditory, tactile? How can these nontraditional patterns be implanted in the minds of the blind? We have very little experience in testing alternative methods of knowing to the ones that have become most common. We must explore this kind of knowing, and we must expand it. Enormous amounts of intellectual energy have been spent on visual representations, and the language has been created to favor this form of learning, although a substantial segment of knowledge is represented by music. Nonetheless, touch is by far the most important sense we possess. It puts us in constant contact with the world around us, and it keeps us safe. Without touch the constant danger of injury would be devastating. However, our usage favors the language of the eye. When we speak with each other, although we sometimes say “get in touch,” we more often use “I’ll see you.”
We must imagine a way to emphasize the nonvisual methods we use for learning, and we must create the language to support such alternatives. Can you hear a line? Can you touch a sound? Does the hue of a summer sky with the storm coming in from the north have an identifiable aroma? Let us begin with tactile imagery.
A significant part of the task before us is to change the perception that 83 percent of all knowledge comes through the eye. This idiotic statement came from an advertisement by Thomas Edison in 1923, I am told. Thomas Edison had invented the projector, and he wanted to sell it to school systems. He created this misleading line to get the school boards to buy his product, and we have been stuck with the false advertising ever since. Some people may learn 83 percent of all they know by looking—though I doubt this. However, there are other ways to learn, and we must demonstrate that they are as good as the visual method.
We are creating a project for children to learn tactile imagery. We are offering raised-line pictures along with the tools to make more of them. The Tactile Art Kit is a box containing examples of tactile images along with the tools and supplies to perform tactile drawings. Both print and Braille instructions are included along with directions to the website of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, the inventor and sponsor of this program, where audible and visual descriptions of how to create tactile art may be found. Five hundred of these kits are available for distribution to blind children ages two through eight. Half a dozen ways of making tactile representations are included in the suggestions about how to use the supplies in the Tactile Art Kit. Lines, two dimensional solid forms, and three-dimensional images can be created. A leaf, two-dimensional; a tree, three-dimensional; and an object at a distance with the imagery to show that there is intervening space between the observer and the object being observed—all of these can be made. What is the difference in a tactile image of a dog standing still and one racing after a rabbit? Can the images be shown in ways that illustrate the calmness of a peaceful afternoon or the uneasiness of an impending storm? All of this will be in our first effort at capturing the ideas transmitted through the tactile imagery of art.
Can blind people be artists? Some of us are. Can blind people engage in the tasks of architecture? Some of us do. Can blind people convey knowledge through the tactile imagery associated with science? Some of us have invented methods for doing exactly that. Can we identify color and represent its meaning? In many respects, we have. How can we expand our knowledge in these areas? We will ask the children and the teachers of the children what works, and we will honor those who expand the range of what we know.We intend to create artistic experiences with vibrancy, fascinating shapes, and sometimes intense colors. We intend to show other people how the blind do art. At the threshold of learning is a sense of wonder. We do not know what limitations exist for us in the creation of new forms of knowledge, but we are absolutely certain that whatever these limitations might be, we have not reached them. With our sense of wonder we will explore unknown horizons, and this will bring us to new frontiers. In the meantime, as I encounter you at this convention, I do not look forward to seeing you—I anticipate with pleasure hearing you; I anticipate with pleasure touching my hand to yours. I know I could have said touching you, but such expressions are currently easily misunderstood. The sound and the touch will help me to know your spirit and to share mine. Together we will build a better knowing.
by Ron Gardner
From the Editor: Ron Gardner is a past president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. He was a staff member of the National Federation of the Blind who actively helped to recruit many new members through his example of love, caring, and commitment. His work strengthened many of our existing chapters and affiliates. He continues to evidence the kindness and wisdom that are demonstrated in the speech he delivered to the 2017 National Convention on July 15, 2017. With the candor for which he is known, Ron explains how bumps in one’s life can shake what we think of as our foundational beliefs and that the way to once again regain the higher ground is to work for the good of one’s fellow human beings and find oneself incalculably better off. Here are his remarks:
Thank you, President Riccobono. You may recall that last year at our convention President Riccobono asked me to offer a prayer. I offered a prayer, and this year I'm giving a speech. So the first take away I have for you is that, if he asks you to pray, turn him down! [laughter]
President Riccobono, we all felt the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind as you delivered the presidential report on Thursday afternoon. I know I did.
There is a modern proverb or an adage or a saying that states, "he who cuts wood is twice warmed." That first appeared in print in 1819, and Henry David Thoreau later published it in his book Walden. I think the meaning is straightforward. He who cuts wood is twice warmed—once when he cuts the wood and once when he burns it in the fireplace. I'd like you to keep that in mind as we go through my remarks today.
I want to remind you that a few years ago David Capozzi was at this podium. David Capozzi had been invited by Dr. Maurer to come and speak at our convention. Mr. Capozzi is the executive director of the United States Access Board. He uses a wheelchair. The Access Board is a government agency with responsibility to identify and remove barriers that prevent people with disabilities from competing on terms of equality. The board attempts to ensure that there are ramps for wheelchairs and works to ensure that technology is accessible.
In the meeting following Mr. Capozzi’s attendance at our national convention, he reported his experience to the Access Board, on which I was serving at that time. He said, "Many of you know I visited the National Federation of the Blind, and I am of the opinion that, without a doubt, it is the best organized and most powerful organization advocating for people with disabilities in our country today."
What is it that makes our organization strong? I believe it is, as we heard yesterday, that collective action that we all participate in as members of this organization. It is the work that we do when we are feeling the heartbeat as referred to by President Riccobono on Thursday.
Yesterday we were told that collective action can also be called collective compassion or collective service. In other words, we are all working together. This is why so many doors were opened when I first met the National Federation of the Blind. I was a young man—blind—trying to go to college, being told that I couldn't. But I had blind mentors that showed me the way, and I got into college and did just fine. I was told I couldn't go to law school. Well I met some people in the National Federation of the Blind who had been to law school, so I knew it was possible, and I went to law school. During my career as an attorney, I had the responsibility to litigate tax cases before the United States Tax Court. I also served as the legal director at a legal center in Utah. I was the director at Louisiana Tech University in our master’s degree program. So, can you imagine how I felt in the year 2014, not so long ago, when I realized that I did not have a job; I was afraid in my own home; I was struggling with panic and anxiety; and I kept wrestling with the question of what I was going to do. I had a life to live, and yet that life had been interrupted.
You see, I was flying home from Washington DC one day in January 2011, and I sat down in my first-class seat—not that I purchased a first-class seat, but I flew a lot, and the airline upgraded me to first class. I walked on with my briefcase, in my coat and tie, and carrying my long white cane, and I sat down in first class. Soon thereafter I was assaulted by a passenger from behind me as I tried to put my seat back.
We've heard a lot recently about the airlines in the news media, but on this occasion, it was happening to me. After hassling me, the person behind me threatened the lead flight attendant. The lead flight attendant told him to back off, that the person in front of him was a first-class passenger, and that he needed to mind his business. Later the lead flight attendant told me that the passenger behind me was a federal air marshal. Can you imagine what went through my heart and my mind when I realized that the guy that's now ticked off because I turned him in for being a jerk is a federal air marshal, and he's now probably going to lose his job? Keep in mind that he has a big shiny badge and a really big gun. I'm telling you that the panic started welling up inside me, knowing that federal air marshals can determine when I fly, know when I'm away from home, and know where I live. All of this was exacerbated when, at the end of the flight, the lead flight attendant said, "Stay in your seat; I'm going to walk you off this plane." So I did stay in my seat; the lead flight attendant didn't come and didn't come and didn't come. I finally gathered my white cane and my coat and my briefcase and stood to get off the plane, only to find that the federal marshal was blocking my exit.
Something happened in my mind. I can't explain it, but I know that when I was a legal director and one of my attorneys showed up and said he didn't get his brief done because he had anxiety, I thought to myself, "Suck it up." Now I was the one having that type of anxiety, and I didn't like it. What was I going to do?
Well, in 2014 I had been in counseling—therapy for three years. I had been taking anti-panic and anti-anxiety medication. Man, I was tired of all of this; I wanted to do something else, but I didn't have a job, and the job I had tried to get for sixteen months and thought was mine fell through. This happened because a person on the decision-making committee decided that a blind person would really have a difficult time doing the administrative work and checking on people's sick leave and vacation time. So, I didn't get that job because I was a blind guy, and I didn't like it much.
President Riccobono, I'm sorry to tell you that at that time I was not feeling the heartbeat of the NFB; I was feeling the drumbeat that ravages us when we forget who we are! But we do know who we are, and we will never go back.
The philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind has as one of its principle tenets that we give back. It's in the book Freedom for the Blind by Jim Omvig. Joanne Wilson has taught many of us at the Louisiana Center for the Blind—and others have taught at our other two NFB centers—that in order to be an independent and confident blind person, you do need to give back and serve others. I learned that in the Koran Allah says, "Do not forget to do good to others." It also says that Allah is with those who serve one another. The Old Testament says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and the New Testament tells us that when Jesus was talking with his disciples, he said, "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; naked, and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
“Then his disciples asked him, ‘When saw we thee an hungred and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?’ And then Jesus said unto them, ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’”
So what did all that mean? It meant that it was time for me to quit feeling sorry for myself and start listening to the heartbeat of the Federation instead of the drumbeat that ravages us when we forget who we are. Jan and I put in an application to serve as missionaries. We didn't know where we would be called, but we were called to the Caribbean. It was really hard duty. We were called to serve in the Caribbean in the legal office because on my application it showed that I was an attorney. I wasn't sure I wanted to do a lot of legal work down there or sure at that moment whether I could, but I was called to help locate local attorneys to help with the legal issues that come up from time to time such as land acquisition, visas, immigration, and so forth.
What was so interesting to me is that God knows us and He loves us and He puts us in that place where we need to be at that time. So, we were called to serve in the Caribbean, and within one week, people came into our office to talk with Jan and me, and they said, "In today's headlines it talks about a blind woman who is starting a foundation here in the Dominican Republic."
I thought, "Well, I'm certainly not getting away from the blindness aspect of life—here it is, right here in the Caribbean." President Riccobono, I had a little glimmer of that NFB heartbeat again. I, along with Jan, was also asked to visit the Patronato Nacional de Ciegos. In other words, the nonprofit organization that delivers rehabilitation services to blind people in the Dominican Republic. And it felt good to be there in that environment. I can tell you that I found lots of energy along with lots of low expectations.
Within a few weeks after that I needed to fly to Barbados, so Jan and I went there to take care of a tax problem with the government. We scheduled three days for that trip because we didn't know how long it would take to get into the government offices, so what joy we had when, after awakening on the first day, we went to the government office, got right in, and the problem was solved within the first hour and a half of being on the island of Barbados.
Now what were we to do? We have aqua blue, clear warm water, we have white sand beaches and blue skies, so, of course, we went to look for a blind person. We found a blind person. We had been told that there was a high-level politician in Barbados who is blind. Her name is Senator Kerryann Ifill. She is the president of the parliamentary senate. We called upon her and were told that she was very busy, and I thought to myself, "This is no problem! I'm in the NFB. I know what it takes to get into the offices of high-level politicians. We've been doing this for years." So I called her, and she said that yes, we could have fifteen minutes, which turned into forty-five minutes and an invitation to come back the next day. The next day it was a three-hour meeting, and the day after that we went to a nice social dinner with her. She explained to us that the country had only one orientation and mobility instructor who was seventy-two years old and wanted to retire. Could we help to identify somebody and train them to teach O&M?
It was a few weeks after that, when Jan and I were serving in the temple back in Santo Domingo, and I quite by accident ran into a blind guy from Jamaica. Now I have to stop right here and say—isn't the name Jamaica just an interesting word? What a beautiful name for a country. And, as I say to Jan, "Jamaica me crazy!" [applause] So anyway we ran into this blind person, and after our service in the temple I gave him a white cane—the first one he had ever had. I gave him a Victor Reader Stream and taught him how to use it. I taught him how to use the little SD card that my brother Norm Gardner had prepared. Norm put on the card the Bible, the Scriptures, and other holy books, not to mention some of the speeches from our leaders in the National Federation of the Blind about positive attitudes and collective action and the heartbeat of the NFB.
We met another person in Guyana who had been an artist until three years before, when he went blind. He was discouraged and depressed. Needless to say, each of these encounters helped me start feeling that heartbeat of the Federation. We went to work. We wrote some grants, decided that if they were approved we could create two or three seminars—maybe three seminars in each of three countries. So we chose Barbados, Dominican Republic, and, you got it, Jamaica me crazy. We knew that we could call upon teams of blind people to help us—teams from the Louisiana Tech program—master’s degree students, and others in the NFB. We called some of them, and you may recognize their names: Conchita Hernandez, Deja Powell, Adam Rushforth. We had several people who went to the Caribbean to help us complete these grants.
In the first week that we had a seminar in Barbados, Deja Powell was there and was working with a man who lived within one half mile of the beach. The country is only fourteen miles wide, and it's an island, so nobody lived very far from the beach. But he lived half a mile from the beach and told us that he was too afraid to go to it. After working with Deja, he reported, on the last day of our one-week seminar, that he had been to the beach the night before and had made it home just fine, thank you very much. [Applause]
We knew that we could not do in one week what is being done in our NFB centers. It was impossible, and we didn't try. But what we did do was give hope and raise the level of expectations in blind people and in the staff of the agencies that were trying to serve them. There were two young women, seventeen and eighteen years old, and Corina Trujillo Tanner worked with them in Barbados. On the first afternoon that we were there I was going out the front door and down the steps when a man passed me coming up the other way. He got to the top, met his daughter, took the cane out of her hand, put her in the car, and drove away. And I thought to myself, "Why don't you just undo everything we tried to do for your daughter today?" But Corina was undeterred. Corina said that neither one of these young women had ever cracked an egg before, at least not purposely. They had never cooked, they had never been allowed in the kitchen, so Corina promptly had them light a gas oven, mix up the dough, crack the eggs, put them in the right bowls, and on the last day of that seminar this same young woman went down the stairs by herself with her cane, met her father at the car, and handed him a batch of warm cookies. [Applause]
Senator Kerryann Ifill, the blind president of the Senate in Barbados, has a chauffeur who drives her around the island when she's on official government business, and I could tell that she was nervous about using a cane. So here is one of the highest political officials on the island, who is inviting us to help in blindness, who was herself very frightened of crossing the street alone. I decided she was my project, so we took a long white cane (she is totally blind), and we went out on a little O&M session. We went to downtown Bridgetown, and it was fascinating to hear the responses from the people on the street. Madam President, Madam Senator, the Honorable Senator—they knew who she was, and she was walking around town with a white cane. It was wonderful!
She said she had never walked to the parliament building before, so, of course, I said that was exactly what we were going to do. We walked to the parliament building, we found it--we got turned around a couple of times, but we found it—no big deal. As we walked up to the door, the chauffeur who usually drives her around spoke with a catch in his voice as he said, "Madam President!" He had never seen her walk around outside the building with a cane before, and there she was, in comfortable jeans and sneakers and a white cane—he had never seen her that way before, and yet, once she crossed through the front door, she became that same president of the Senate.
She was no different on the inside of the building than she was on the outside of the building, and it made an impression on her. I got an email from her at the end of the week. It said that she had gone to a grocery store by herself, purchased a few items, and had walked home for the first time in her life. [Applause] She also invited us to attend a session of Parliament and watch her in operation. It was fascinating; I've never been in parliament before, and none of the blind people from Barbados who went with us had ever been in parliament before. So what do you think it did to them to see one of their blind sisters sitting in the president's chair of the Barbados parliamentary Senate? It was fascinating. [Applause]
In Jamaica we had a teacher who was so bored on the first day that she decided not to come the second day, so I knew we had a problem. She returned on the third day and agreed to work with me on O&M. After all, she was a teacher of blind children. As we began, I handed her a pair of sleepshades. She said, "Oh no, I'm a teacher. I don't do sleepshades." Now we've all been there. We talked a little while; she asked lots of questions; she put on the sleepshades; and off we went. At the end of that day she had her calendar out, trying to schedule an exact date and time when we would come back to Jamaica.
Amber Holiday, another one of the tech graduates, taught Braille. Now how much Braille can be taught in one week? I'll tell you how much. She taught enough Braille in one week so that every student was actually reading with their fingers under sleepshades—reading with their fingers a few letters and words, and writing with a slate and stylus a few letters and words. Were they proficient in Braille? No. But had their hopes been raised and their expectations been raised? That was our goal, and Amber accomplished that.
Brook Sexton went with us (another tech graduate), and she had a pretty difficult time with O&M on that street because, you see, the people who came had been to that center. I believe Conrad Harris is here from Jamaica, and he's the director of their blindness program. Welcome Conrad Harris. But he and several of the blind people had come to the blind center many times, and they knew that street like the back of their hand. Brook didn't. What was she to do to teach them O&M? I'll tell you what she did: she took them to the nearest bus stop, they all got on the bus, and they went to a place in town that the other people didn't know. Now, on terms of equality, Brook began teaching them a few of the finer points of O&M.
My older brother Norm Gardner went with us. He took some Victor Reader Streams because they wanted to read the Bible, and this is one of the things they had asked us for. Norm has the scriptures on a little card. While he's teaching them how to use the Victor Reader Stream and how to navigate the scriptures, he is also preparing them for something else. He was preparing them to be able to navigate in textbooks, along with other books and materials.
In the Dominican Republic we wrote another grant that allowed us to purchase high-speed scanners, and Adam Rushforth started teaching and preparing some of the staff in the Dominican Republic to put navigation marks in a scanned copy of a textbook. That project was closed last week as Adam finished up the training with two people from the Patronato and from the Fundacion Francina (Francina Foundation) in Santo Domingo on how to scan, how to convert the scanned file into an HTML document, how to insert the navigation marks into it, and I've told you much more than I really know about the process. All I can tell you is that it works, and they are thrilled because they have dozens of blind university students who are struggling with the same things we struggle with in college, and that is inaccessibility. Adam's work has gone a long way toward solving that, at least for those who are participating with us. [Applause]
I would like to tell you just a couple of stories quickly because I'm running out of time. The Dominican Republic presented an interesting challenge because, of course, they speak Spanish, and most of us don't. My brother Norm does, I do, but who else could we get? Well, of course, we called another Louisiana Tech graduate, Conchita Hernandez, who happens to speak Spanish. She went to the Dominican Republic and taught O&M. The teachers had lots of enthusiasm but were very helicopter oriented, very hands-on, very hovering, very close to their students. Conchita solved that by taking her students around the corner, stepping on a bus, and waving goodbye to the teachers who were on the sidewalk trying to catch up. In other words, those who came down to help us used the philosophy and the techniques of the National Federation of the Blind to improve the lives of others.
One more, President Riccobono. Yadiel Sotomayor. We had a student come one morning who said that he had left his white cane at home because it couldn't fit in the small, makeshift taxicabs used for public transportation—it just didn't fit. Yadiel took that problem on, and everybody was able to get their white canes home and bring them back the next day and the day after that. I'm pleased to tell you that my understanding is that Yadiel is now going to be a mobility instructor in Utah. How great is that!
So, at the end of all of that, I found myself feeling the heartbeat of the Federation, the same thing that rejuvenates and motivates and keeps us going—the collective action in which we are all engaged. I believe that when wood is cut in the Federation, it warms not twice but three times: once when we do the work by cutting the wood, once when we burn that wood, and once when we share that wood with others. [Applause]
My mother taught me an important lesson using an important scripture when I was very young. She said, "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God." Thank you very much.
For more than seventy-five years the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality, and with your support we will continue to do so for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by adding the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary in your will. A gift to the National Federation of the Blind in your will is more than just a charitable, tax-deductible donation. It is a way to join in the work to help blind people live the lives they want that leaves a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of blind children and adults.
With your help, the NFB will continue to:
Plan to Leave a Legacy
Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear creating a will or believe it’s not necessary until they are much older. Others think that it’s expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2422, for more information. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.
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In 2016 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.
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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, and complete the Pre-Authorized Contribution form, and return it to the address listed on the form.
by Fredric K. Schroeder, PhD, President
World Blind Union
July 14, 2017
From the Editor: Dr. Fred Schroeder is a longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind, having served for some time as the first vice president of the national organization. He now serves as the president of the World Blind Union, and he continues to be a concerned and active participant in seeing that collective action is brought to bear on the problems faced by the blind of this nation and the world. Here is what he said to the 2017 convention on Friday, July 14:
Tenzin Gyatso, better known as the Dalai Lama, once said: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
But what is compassion? The English word compassion combines an archaic form of the Latin word “com,” meaning “with or together” with the word passion, derived from the Latin word “passus.” Hence, compassion means with passion or to share passion but not the passion of physical desire. Instead it is passion in the sense of suffering, as in the passion of Christ. To show compassion means to suffer along with another person, to share his or her suffering, to experience it together with that person.
So, what does this have to do with blind people? Does blindness make us suffer? Well, certainly not in the way society imagines. We do not suffer the inability to learn or to attain an education; we do not suffer the inability to work; we do not suffer the inability to raise a family or to contribute to the welfare of our community. But we do suffer the negative consequences of stereotypes about blindness and the presumed inability of blind people.
None of us will ever forget Baby Mikaela. Mikaela’s parents, Blake and Erika, are blind. While all new parents are a bit uncertain about what it will mean to bring a new life into the world, most parents have no reason to fear the state taking away their newborn child. After all, a child is only removed from the home when the parents are unfit—when a baby has been neglected, abused, or abandoned—right? Blake and Erika learned otherwise. Just four hours after Mikaela’s birth, a social worker took Mikaela away saying: "I just can't, in good conscience, send this baby home with two people who are blind."
I am certain the social worker meant well. I am sure she was genuinely concerned for Mikaela’s safety. It is not surprising that a social worker would wonder whether blind parents could care for their newborn child. It is not surprising that she would need to gather information about how blind people raise their children, but that is not what she did. Based on nothing more than her assumptions about blindness—her “good conscience” standard of care—she concluded that since Blake and Erica were blind, they were incapable of caring for their newborn infant. Accordingly the social worker, acting with the crushing authority of the state, removed Baby Mikaela from her blind parents and petitioned the court to make the removal permanent.
The right of parents to raise their children without state interference is a fundamental right under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It is a serious right, yet, for fifty-seven days the state had custody of Baby Mikaela. For fifty-seven days Mikaela and her parents were separated—fifty-seven days that can never be recovered. Did Blake and Erika suffer? They most certainly did, but they did not suffer the heartache of inability. They suffered from having their fundamental right to parent—a constitutionally protected right—stripped away based on nothing more than the assumptions of a social worker acting on the basis of her good conscience standard of care.
Fortunately, with the help of the National Federation of the Blind, Baby Mikaela was returned home, but the underlying problem persists. Sadly, the problem is neither new nor uncommon. All too often we encounter people who assume they know better than we what we can and cannot do, what is reasonable and unreasonable, what is safe and unsafe. And far too often they seem to feel perfectly free to take charge of our lives and to decide for us what we may and may not do, according to their assumptions about us and our abilities—the good conscience standard applied to virtually every aspect of our lives.
My wife Cathy and I are blind, and as many of you know, we have two children. We are truly grateful that we did not suffer the devastation experienced by Mikaela and her blind parents. Still, like all blind people, we daily encounter others who would decide for us what we can and cannot do.
When our daughter Carrie was born, Cathy wanted to keep Carrie alongside her in the hospital room. This was called rooming in and was recommended to help the mother and the baby bond. As Cathy was being taken to her hospital room, she reminded the nurse that she wanted to keep Carrie in the room with her. The nurse said it would not be safe since Cathy would not be able to see the baby in the crib and would not know if she stopped breathing. What mother lying in a hospital bed can see a baby sleeping in a bassinette? And, more to the point, what mother holds a twenty-four-hour vigil, constantly watching the newborn to make sure the baby is breathing? Fortunately, our doctor put an end to the discussion by directing that Carrie be kept with Cathy. Still, the good conscience standard loomed large when we were faced by a nurse who assumed she was better able than Cathy to judge what would be safe and unsafe for our newborn baby.
Two years later, when our son Matthew was born, he was slightly jaundiced, meaning he had a yellow tinge to his coloring from too much bilirubin in his little body. The doctor, a different doctor from the one who delivered Carrie, said it was common and nothing to worry about, but just to make sure, she said she would visit our home the next day to see how Matthew was doing. I told her we would be happy to take Matthew to her office, but she said she would stop by instead. Did our doctor stop by our house just to check Matthew’s skin coloring, or did she want to see for herself whether Matthew’s blind parents were able to provide a fit environment for a newborn baby—and based on what? The good conscience standard? Perhaps she had both in mind, but there is no way to know, and, again, there was that moment of dread, that moment of apprehension, wondering why she would want to come to our house rather than have us take Matthew to her office; and wondering, if something were to happen, what in the world could we do about it.
Fortunately, nothing did happen. Our children were not taken away, but we experienced that chilling dread, the feeling of helplessness, knowing that, if the doctor had felt Matthew was in danger, a social worker would have given much more credence to the doctor’s judgment than to ours; and that is at the heart of the problem—the good conscience standard—others believing they are better able than are we to judge what we can and cannot do.
Another example of the problem involves cases of divorce. During divorce proceedings, far too often the sighted spouse will argue that the blind spouse is incapable of caring for the couple’s children. Never mind that the blind parent has been a primary caregiver all along. The judge is told that the children will be in danger if the blind parent is given custody or even shares custody; and in far too many cases, the judge agrees. The best interests of the child, determined by applying the good conscience standard, demands that custody of the children be awarded to the only parent who can provide a safe environment, the sighted spouse. But don’t worry. In most states you will still be allowed to talk with your child over the phone and attend your child’s school performances.
And then there is adoption. Despite a growing need for adoptive parents, blind people and others with disabilities regularly face discrimination. Often they are precluded from becoming adoptive parents based on the assumption that their disability renders them unable to care for a child—another manifestation of the good conscience standard at work.
Discrimination against blind parents and others with disabilities is real; it is not an exaggerated concern, not a rare and isolated problem. A survey, conducted by Through the Looking Glass, a National Center for Parents with Disabilities, found that 15 percent of parents with disabilities reported attempts to have their children taken away. Altogether, 42 percent of parents with disabilities reported discriminatory treatment, including being pressured to submit to sterilization and/or being pressured to have an abortion. And, this is not just a US problem.
In Canada a report titled Bridging the Gaps: Violence, Poverty & Women’s Shelters—An Update on Non-Resources for Women with Disabilities revealed that, as incredible as it may sound, in child custody disputes there have been cases in which government workers have recommended to judges that, rather than awarding custody to a parent with a disability, custody be granted to the nondisabled parent, even when the nondisabled parent has a documented history of violence and abuse.
So, we have a US problem and a Canadian problem, but there is more.
In Turkey, the law provides that in the case of unmarried parents custody goes to the mother, that is unless the mother is dead or has a disability.
In Australia a 2015 report by the Office of the Public Advocate titled Rebuilding the Village: Supporting Families where a Parent has a Disability found that children are removed from parents with disabilities at a rate many times greater than the children of nondisabled parents.
Compassion, true compassion, requires us to do more than wring our hands in helpless, hopeless, impotent despair; it requires us to take action—affirmative, collective action. That means changing the public mind, and it means consecrating our rights in law.
On December 13, 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD is the first UN treaty to enumerate specific rights for people with disabilities.
Article 23 of the treaty, Respect for Home and the Family, prohibits discrimination against parents with disabilities. It affirms the right of people with disabilities to have children and to be free from discrimination in matters of child custody and adoption.
Unfortunately, as you know, the United States Senate has not yet ratified the CRPD, and there is no indication that it will do so anytime soon, but that does not mean we can be complacent and simply wait.
President Riccobono typically receives one new request each and every month from a blind parent seeking help with a child custody dispute. The problem has gone on far too long, and the time to end discrimination against blind parents is long overdue. And, it is up to us to do something about it.
Because of the work of the National Federation of the Blind, today eight states have statutes protecting blind parents from discrimination in child custody matters: Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and Washington State, but that is only a beginning. We must redouble our efforts and work until all states have adopted our model parental rights for the blind bill. No one will do it for us; we must do it for ourselves.
So, do blind people suffer? Well, not in the way society imagines. We do not suffer inability or helplessness; but we do suffer the consequences of social misconceptions about blindness. When a blind mother has her newborn infant taken away, not because of neglect or abuse, but because of the misconceptions and misapprehensions of others, she suffers, and so do we—so do you and so do I, and so do blind people everywhere. Compassion, true compassion, requires us to take action—collective action—here in the United States and in every country around the world.
Here in the United States we must continue to press the Senate to ratify the UN CRPD, and we must continue to press the legislatures in all of the states to adopt our model parental rights for the blind bill.In the words of the Dalai Lama: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Or to paraphrase: If you want other blind people to live with dignity and self-respect, engage in collective action. If you want to live with dignity and self-respect, engage in collective action. Compassion is at the heart of collective action, and collective action is the foundation of change. Together we have changed the world, and together we will continue to change the world until we have freed ourselves from the tyranny of the good conscience standard—limitations not imposed by blindness but imposed on us by the well-intended yet misguided assumptions of others. We will continue to work together until we are finally able to live the lives we want, free from low expectations and discrimination.
Presented by Jim Gashel
Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, fellow Federationists. This marks the tenth year the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards have been presented by the National Federation of the Blind, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. To date we have presented $530,000 to forty-eight award winners in honoring the memory of Dr. Jacob Bolotin. By the way, a biography entitled, The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story by Rosalind Perlman is available in print and in CD formats from Amazon, but it’s also free if you qualify for the Library of Congress NLS program. This book is your must-read for the coming year. Why don’t you applaud that? [applause] Read that book! Read that book!
Dr. Jacob Bolotin only lived for thirty-six years. He lived from 1888 to 1924, but he still proved to everyone, blind or sighted, that you can live the life you want. He dreamed of becoming the world’s first medical doctor who was blind from birth. He made it happen, and he made it happen without really much support from anyone. After he attended the Illinois School for the Blind, Bolotin sold kitchen matches, brushes, and typewriters door-to-door in Chicago and the surrounding area. He used the money to support his family and to save enough to go to medical school. There was no rehabilitation to help him at that time. The hours were long, the work was hard. But in the spirit of Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, Marc Maurer, Mark Riccobono, and all of you here, Bolotin was in spirit—if not in name—a Federationist [applause].
In part supported with a bequest left to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind, these awards include an amount of money to each recipient—and I’ll specify that. But they also include an engraved plaque and medallion. Here’s the text that goes on the plaque:
[name of the recipient]
by the National Federation of the Blind
and the Santa Barbara Foundation
The text on the obverse side of the medallion suspended above the plaque says: “The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award" and then below that the logo of the National Federation of the Blind. And immediately below the logo this text: "Celebrating Achievement, Creating Opportunity." Then on the reverse side of the medallion above Dr. Jacob Bolotin’s bust it says, "Dr. Jacob Bolotin," and then immediately below that it shows his birth and his death years, and then below the bust it says "Celebrating his Life/The Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust."
Now for the 2017 Jacob Bolotin Awards.
American Bar Association, $5,000. Now with its headquarters in the heart of Chicago—the home of Dr. Jacob Bolotin—the ABA was founded ten years before Bolotin was born. And its mission is to serve equally its members, the profession, and the public by defending liberty and delivering justice as the national representative of the legal profession. Today the ABA has over 400,000 individual members and 3,500 affiliated entities. Therefore it doesn’t exaggerate the point to say that the ABA is the foremost representative of the legal profession in the United States and around the world.
Beginning in 2017 the ABA will not just be the leading organization of the legal profession, but it is also leading the way in making accessible participation an imperative on behalf of blind lawyers and lawyers with other disabilities [applause]. That’s worth a little applause, and it’s also worth the Bolotin Award. This organizational imperative comes from the ABA director as well as the ABA president, Linda Klein. Just imagine how far ahead we would be today if the medical profession had opened up its arms to welcome Jacob Bolotin a century ago.
Although the ABA came to the party a little later than we wish they had, they have come to the party big time [applause]. By meeting the equal opportunity standard set by Dr. Bolotin, the ABA is using its leadership position to stand tall with the blind on behalf of our first-class status--this in furtherance of Jacob Bolotin’s mission and the compelling story of the blind doctor. We can live the life we want. Here to receive the award is Ms. Linda Klein, president of the American Bar Association.
Linda Klein: Thank you very much. This prestigious award from an organization that’s not primarily law-related underscores an important point: many if not most of the issues our society grapples with and the challenges we resolve, in essence, are legal issues--issues that benefit from, and indeed require, the full engagement of lawyers. This is the foundation of the American Bar Association’s decades-long commitment to justice and the rule of law for all, including persons with mental, physical, and sensory disabilities. And our lawyer members are equally committed to the full and equal participation in the legal profession and in society as a whole of people with disabilities. At the ABA we want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to take full advantage of the benefits, services, and activities we offer, including members with disabilities. That’s why we’re taking steps to make sure we have a more inclusive, accessible, and sensitive workplace. The ABA could not be the advocate we are without our dedicated member-volunteers, including outstanding lawyers like my friend Scott LaBarre [applause]. Scott is a member of the ABA Board of Governors, chairman of the Board of Directors of the Disability Rights Bar Associations, and president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers. We are proud that Scott is a leader of our team at the American Bar Association [applause].
The ABA looks forward to continuing the work of lawyers to defend liberty and pursue justice with allies like the National Federation of the Blind. I thank you for the important work that you do and for this most impressive honor. Thank you [applause].
Jim Gashel: National Federation of the Blind of Illinois for its Freedom Link Project, $10,000. Now, if there was ever a project designed to further the values and the mission of Jacob Bolotin, that is the project of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois called Freedom Link.
Just like when young Dr. Jacob Bolotin—before he was a doctor—actually acquired skills and confidence on Chicago’s city streets working as a door-to-door salesman, Freedom Link uses the streets of Chicago as a classroom for teaching young blind people the ropes of navigating the city and beyond. This project was launched in 2008 and pairs blind people with experienced blind adults who are living the lives they want in the Chicago area. Participants meet one Saturday a month in downtown Chicago, and they use the streets of Chicago and the entire surrounding area as a classroom. They go to places of interest using busses and trains; they learn things like how to define or understand parallel traffic, moving on escalators, looking out for the edge of the subway platform, etc. This is the blind reaching out and teaching one another. By meeting the standard of reaching and teaching others set by Dr. Bolotin, the NFB of Illinois Freedom Link project is paving the way for the blind from this generation to the next. This is in furtherance of Dr. Jacob Bolotin’s story and the compelling message: you can live the life you want. Here to receive the award on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois is Denise Avant, president of the NFB of Illinois.
\Denise Avant: Good afternoon, Mr. President and fellow Federationists. On behalf of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois, we want to say that we are truly honored by receiving this award. We thank the Bolotin Committee for recognizing Freedom Link. As you might imagine, Freedom Link is a very important program to us in Illinois. We strive to show young teenagers what they can do when they use long white canes and nonvisual techniques to travel throughout the city of Chicago on public transportation to various field trips. We have some of our Freedom Link people with us at Convention. Emma Myer, Amy Bosko, Aneri Brahmbhatt, and Batool Arastu have all been in our Freedom Link program and are now all members of the National Federation of the Blind, and we are so proud of that [applause].
We thank our mentors like David Myer, Mary Lou Guenwald, Marco Giannotti, as well as Patti Chang for giving up their Saturday afternoon to come and show and demonstrate to young blind teenagers how to live the lives they want. We especially appreciate Charlotte Lindon, who has funded our program since the very beginning. Our desire is that young blind teenagers can live the lives they want and fulfill their dreams. Thank you [applause].
Jim Gashel: Next is the organization Rooted in Rights, a project of Disability Rights Washington, for its film Bottom Dollars, $10,000. Don’t you just love that name, Rooted in Rights? You know that’s just exactly what Jacob Bolotin and the National Federation of the Blind are all about. Rooted in rights, that’s where we started and that’s where we still are today, seventy-seven years later.
For more than fifty of those seventy-seven years, we have fought on behalf of blind industrial workers for the right to be paid at least the minimum wage, putting an end to legal exploitation of the blind. Welcome to the battle Rooted in Rights with its feature-length documentary that reveals the exploitation of workers with disabilities and shows them to be successfully working on their own either in other industrial jobs where they’re paid better wages or in starting their own businesses. There was no excuse for paying the subminimum wage. Through interviews with our president, Mark Riccobono, and these workers, the film Bottom Dollars takes the veil off of exploitation and shows it to be exactly what it is: wrong, and it must end now [applause].
By meeting the no-nonsense advocacy standard set by Dr. Jacob Bolotin, Rooted in Rights is advancing our cause. By exposing the myths and misconceptions about blindness and replacing them with truth and facts, this is in furtherance of Dr. Bolotin’s mission and the compelling story of the blind doctor. We can live the lives we want. Here to receive the award on behalf of Rooted in Rights is Jordan Melograna, the organization’s creative director [applause].
\Jordan Melograna: Thank you to everyone who’s here today, and thank you very much to the National Federation of the Blind for this prestigious award and also for all of the support and help they gave us in actually making the film Bottom Dollars. I also wanted to thank specifically Marci Carpenter from the great state of Washington, to my right, for nominating us for this award. The award money is going to go right back into producing the creative and accessible content that Rooted in Rights is known for.
I learned a lot about Dr. Bolotin when I heard that we were getting this award, and I realized that he was a groundbreaker because he was the first blind doctor. But when he became successful and became a doctor, he didn’t stop there, because he knew his personal success was not good enough, the change he was looking for needed to be systemic. Others in the community needed to advocate for that change itself. That’s why he went out into those communities and created all-new advocates who could carry on the charge.
In addition to advocating for other blind people, Dr. Bolotin spoke out against the living conditions inside the tenement houses where his family grew up and where my grandfather grew up. He did that because he knew that no issue exists in a vacuum. Eliminating discrimination without alleviating poverty is not good enough. At Rooted in Rights we believe the same thing. Bottom Dollars calls for the end of the subminimum wage, but that’s not good enough. When the unemployment rate for disabled workers is no longer twice that of nondisabled workers, that won’t be good enough. When we finally have fully-accessible hotel rooms and accessible restaurants and accessible movie theaters, that won’t be enough. And when we finally enforce the most important civil rights law of my lifetime twenty-seven years after it was passed, that still won’t be enough.
Ensuring equal rights is a moving target. It takes vigilance and hard work by advocates everywhere, including by all of you in this room. And that’s why we created Bottom Dollars, not only as a film but as an advocacy tool. We’ve given it away to individuals and organizations to hold their own screenings across the country—270 of them as of today. And the good news is you can, too. If you go to bottomdollarsmovie.com you can find out how to host your own screening and for the first time get the film streaming and download it online.
Before I go I just want to say thank you one more time to the National Federation of the Blind and all of you for being here today. This award is an enormous honor for the work. Thank you [applause].
Jim Gashel: Dr. Paul Barlett, $10,000. Now, Dr. Barlett is dean of the preclinical education and professor of anatomy in the basic sciences department at Cleveland University Kansas City. This is one of our nation’s premiere schools of chiropractic medicine. It’s located in Cleveland Park, Kansas. Jacqueline Ouellet is here today—in fact she’s on the stage; she’s one of our members. She nominated Dr. Barlett. In nominating him she said, “You know, this guy is intuitive as far as being willing to work with a blind person so I can become a chiropractor.” [applause] She said a lot of other great things about Dr. Barlett which convinced our committee that we really needed to recognize this wonderful individual. But one of the things that convinced us most is the knowledge that not too far from Overland Park, Kansas, is the Palmer Chiropractic College in Iowa who told Aaron Cannon that, because he was blind, he couldn’t practice as a chiropractor. It took the Iowa Supreme Court to tell Palmer Chiropractic otherwise. They should’ve known Dr. Barlett [applause].
By meeting the equal access to learning standard set by Dr. Jacob Bolotin, Professor Barlett is showing that prejudicial barriers in medicine and other professions can and will be removed. This is in furtherance of Jacob Bolotin’s mission and a compelling story of the blind doctor telling us all we can live the lives we want. Here to receive his award is Dr. Barlett.
\Paul Barlett: This is like the Academy Awards [laughter]. I want to thank the National Federation of the Blind for this award. I am truly humbled and honored. This award is not just for me, though. I work with a team of individuals to provide support and assistance to Jackie, who is Cleveland University’s first visually-impaired chiropractic student.
One of the first hurdles that Dr. Bolotin had to navigate in medical school was anatomy. The same is true with Jackie; however, I am happy to say that she is doing very well in her anatomical studies, as we have developed tactiles and models for her to use [applause]. Though other options were available to Jackie, she proved her dedication by choosing to participate in the cadaver dissection lab. With the support of her fellow students and myself, she dissects and is tested on the cadavers. She always is allowed to make the first cut by her dissection group.
In the book The Blind Doctor, Dr. Bolotin is quoted as saying, “The major problem for us is not our affliction, but the wall of ignorance, injustices, indifferences, and misconceptions that separate us from you who can see. We must break down that wall, but we cannot do it alone. We need your help.” I am priviledged to work with Jackie and provide her the support and help she needs to achieve her dream of becoming a chiropractor. Thank you once again.
Jim Gashel: Abigail Fuller and Sarah Ivy, for their award-winning film Do You Dream in Color?, $15,000. Now Carina, Connor, Nick, and Sarah—not Sarah Ivy, she’s one of the producers, this is a different Sarah—were four teenagers wanting to live the lives they want, but not able to do so because they were being held back by the misconceptions largely of the educational professionals that they had to interact with. Through watching Do You Dream in Color?, you can tell that their motivations, drives, and activities as teenagers were definitely age-appropriate, but their ability to achieve their goals was being blocked. As film students at the University of Southern California, Abby and Sarah learned about the compelling story. They wondered whether blind people did dream in color, but then they learned that we dream essentially the same way everybody else does. We dream of futures of equality and opportunity just like everybody else does [applause]. And they learned that the thing that these people had in common were not those dreams—they had those dreams in common—but the thing they had in common were the restrictions being imposed on them because of artificial barriers due to blindness. Do You Dream in Color? tells that story in spades. If you don’t believe it, get it on iTunes, get it on Amazon, get it on Google Play, and get it on Xbox Live, too. By meeting the tell-it-like-it-is standard about blindness which was set by Dr. Jacob Bolotin, Abigail Fuller and Sarah Ivy have produced a film that is being used to kick down the walls of prejudice, ignorance, and discrimination [applause]. This is in furtherance of Jacob Bolotin’s mission and the story of the blind doctor. We can live the lives we want. Here to receive their joint award are Abigail Fuller and Sarah Ivy.
\Abigail Fuller: Hello. Thank you. I’m so excited to be here today, and it’s really quite an honor to be recognized by the NFB in such a meaningful way as the Bolotin Award, and to be in the same category as the other award winners who we share the stage with today who are all incredible movers and shakers. I wanted to thank the extraordinary students and their families who agreed to share their very intimate and personal stories with us on film—the highs and the lows. That’s an incredibly brave thing to do, so thank you to Connor, Sarah, Carina, and Nick [applause]. Also, thank you to the NFB for all the work that they are doing to promote the film and to help put it in front of as many young blind people and educators as possible and society at large to see the documentary. They really have shown that they’re embodying this incredibly powerful idea to live the life that you want to live, which I believe in, myself, and I think the film hopefully shows that as well [applause].
\Sarah Ivy: Hi, ya’ll. Thanks for having us, I just made a few notes. First, I think the most important thing is—and I know Abby already said this, but I’ll say it again—thank you so much to Carina, Nick, Connor, and Sarah and their families for sharing their stories with us. Because honestly, without amazing, inspiring, and these wonderful human beings, we’re just a bunch of film nerds with cameras running around just kicking it. There wouldn’t be an amazing story without them; they’re the real inspiration.
Sorry, I’m really nervous in front of big groups of people. Originally I want to say I didn’t know how I actually felt about being a sighted person receiving this award. I was incredibly nervous about it; I was excited, but then I questioned whether or not it was something I should be receiving. Then Chris Danielsen told me something on the phone when we were having a conversation. He said, “If the NFB would have made a movie about teenagers who are blind, this is the movie we wish we would have made.” I can’t tell you a greater compliment I have received about this film [applause].
I know Jim mentioned that the film was about overcoming obstacles, but what Chris’s comment touched on which I think—at least for me as a filmmaker—this film was really about how we as a community, as a people, are more alike than we are different. And we should recognize and celebrate that [applause]. I was really inspired by Dr. Bolotin’s story, and his pursuit of education and knowledge really did feel in line with the goals of our film, and I hope that you guys get the chance to watch it. I’d like to really thank the NFB for coming on to support the film and getting it out for the world to see (they already made that lovely statement.) Another person I would like to thank is Michelle Bruns Miller, she was one of the first advocates who teamed up with us; she had Society for the Blind in Sacramento partner with us, and we wouldn’t be here without her. Thank you so much; it’s an honor. Have a great day.
by Mark Riccobono
From the Editor: This article first appeared on July 26, 2017, in The Hill, a political journalism newspaper published daily when Congress is in session. Here is what President Riccobono had to say about what passage of this proposed legislation would do to one of the cornerstones of the legal foundation of disability rights:
Exactly twenty-seven years ago, the United States took another in a long series of steps toward actualizing our founding principles of equality and justice for all. On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became the law of the land. With its signing by President George H.W. Bush came true progress in the fight for equality and opportunity for the nation’s blind.
The National Federation of the Blind, the country’s oldest and largest nationwide organization of blind people, has always been determined in our efforts to break down barriers that hinder us from transforming our dreams into reality and living the lives we want. The ADA, while not the only means through which we achieve these goals, has been and continues to be indispensable. Specifically, Title III of the ADA provides legal remedies for the blind when we encounter accessibility barriers as we work, study, shop, travel, and generally avail ourselves of the things that society has to offer. Such barriers are daily occurrences in our lives, and, in the worst cases, threaten our employment, education, and ability to function in our communities.
It is therefore incumbent upon us to defend against the many assaults upon the ADA. Using a tactic deployed by critics of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, opponents of the ADA falsely accuse us of wanting special privileges or treatment. But we demand only equal treatment and opportunity; no more, no less.
The latest misguided attempt to undermine civil rights and equality for the blind and other Americans with disabilities is the ADA Education and Reform Act, a House bill that would purportedly mitigate the scourge of “frivolous” lawsuits brought by shady lawyers and “serial plaintiffs.”
The crux of the argument in favor of this bill is that people with disabilities, such as the fifty thousand members of the National Federation of the Blind, are abusing the ADA in order to make a quick buck by unfairly targeting small businesses. There are several things wrong with this thesis. First, there is no systematic evidence that large numbers of illegitimate complaints are being filed. Proponents of this legislation, which would insert 180 days of unnecessary lag time between when a violation is encountered and when redress can be expected, can only point to anecdotal and extreme cases. For example, a report that analyzed all Title III lawsuits filed in 2016 found just twelve “serial plaintiffs.” Given that 6,600 suits were filed in total, claims of abuse are exaggerated.
Second, this bill cannot and does not make any distinction between meritorious and frivolous complaints. Therefore, legitimate complaints would be discouraged because of a tiny number of bad actors. The blind are disgusted by any abuse of the ADA for personal enrichment, but we do not believe that the problem is pervasive enough to weaken the most critical tool that we have to protect our rights.
Third, the number of violations that we encounter daily dwarfs the number of lawsuits. Lawsuits are expensive and time consuming, and we do not pursue them lightly. In most cases, we find acceptable work-arounds and move on.
In short, this bill is a solution in search of a problem. While it is true that Title III complaints have risen substantially in recent years, it is also true that awareness of our rights as blind people and the mechanisms of redress available to us have risen in equal measure. It is also true that new opportunities driven by technology bring with them new accessibility challenges. Whether we are attempting to engage in e-commerce, book travel plans using digital platforms, or conduct banking activities using mobile applications, we are consistently met with roadblocks that clearly violate the ADA.
The National Federation of the Blind strongly opposes this bill. On this day we commemorate a milestone in our nation's history. We acknowledge that passage of the ADA was another move toward a more perfect union. To support a bill that would undermine the ability of the blind and others with disabilities to ensure equal access and opportunity would be to repudiate that project and dishonor our shared legacy. As we use this anniversary to reflect on what the ADA means, we will also take concerted action to buttress it against those forces that would undermine it. The National Federation of the Blind calls on those who have already signed on as co-sponsors of this bill to withdraw their support and for those who may be asked to support it in the future to refuse. To do otherwise is to scale back hard-won gains and hinder our progress toward true equality.
From the Editor: Recognizing the work that is accomplished on behalf of blind people is a critical part of the mission of the National Federation of the Blind. For this reason we present a number of awards. Some are presented annually; others are presented only as often as the Federation determines that a deserving candidate merits their presentation.
This year the awards presented were the Distinguished Educator of Blind Students and the Jacobus tenBroek Award. The Distinguished Educator of Blind Students was presented at the annual board meeting held on July 12, 2017. Here are the remarks of the chairman of the committee, Carla McQuillan, and the winner, Amy Lund:
Distinguished Educator of Blind Students
Presented by Carla McQuillan
Blind children are the future of the National Federation of the Blind. And while technology has made information access easier, technology in and of itself is not enough to ensure the success of our blind children. It requires the basic skills of blindness: cane travel, the skills of daily living, and most of all, Braille. Let’s give a cheer for Braille, you guys [cheers]. Thank you!
Every year the National Federation of the Blind recognizes a teacher of blind students who has not only embraced the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind but also incorporates it every day in teaching the students in their caseload.
Before I begin with discussing this year’s winner, I’d like to thank the members of the committee who helped sort through the applications and determine who was going to be the Distinguished Educator of Blind Students this year: Laura Bostick, Michelle Chacon, Kathy Jackson, Carlton Walker, and Dan Wenzel were all members of the committee this year. Let’s give them applause for that [applause].
This particular individual received her bachelors of science in low vision and blindness from Illinois State University and also received her masters of science from Illinois State University. She began her teaching in 2001, and in 2009 she was a chaperone for our law program, bringing one of her blind students. So Natalie Shaheen said, “I was a little skeptical, because this is a VI teacher I don’t know.” But then she said, “Once I got to know her, this woman really got it.” One of her student’s parents who wrote a letter in support said that she was an expert in her field. She was professional, friendly, kind, and fun. She’s very good at motivating her students.
So I would like to announce Amy Lund from Illinois as this year’s Distinguished Educator of Blind Students [applause]. For Amy we have a plaque that has the logo of the National Federation of the Blind, and it says:
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION
OF THE BLIND HONORS
DISTINGUISHED EDUCATOR OF BLIND STUDENTS
FOR YOUR SKILLS IN TEACHING
OTHER ALTERNATIVE TECHNIQUES OF BLINDNESS,
FOR GRACIOUSLY DEVOTING EXTRA
TIME TO MEET
THE NEEDS OF YOUR STUDENTS,
AND FOR EMPOWERING
YOUR STUDENTS TO PERFORM
BEYOND THEIR EXPECTATIONS.
YOU CHAMPION OUR MOVEMENT.
YOU STRENGTHEN OUR HOPES.
YOU SHARE OUR DREAMS.
JULY 12, 2017
And along with that beautiful plaque, Amy receives a check for $1,000 [applause].
Amy Lund: Mr. President, board of directors, and members, I am so honored by this recognition. I’ve been so fortunate to be involved in Federation activities throughout my career. I’ve met the best, strongest, and most skilled mentors that my students could have. I’ve been lucky to be involved in the LAW Program, Youth Slam, and the BELL Academy. The NFB student programs have helped shape my teaching philosophy to facilitate my students’ living the life they want. Thank you for this recognition; I am truly honored. Thank you.
The Jacobus tenBroek Award
Presented by Marc Maurer
I serve these days as the chairperson of the Jacobus tenBroek Award Committee. I have some members of the committee who are very good people, and they give me suggestions. Pam Allen does, Jim Gashel does, and Barbara Loos does. I thank them for their suggestions and their support. We’ve decided that we have people tonight who should get an award in the name of our founding president and of the driving force behind the National Federation of the Blind. He was our political leader during much of the Federation’s formative years and our spiritual leader during the first twenty-eight years while he was alive. He is our spiritual leader even today, based on his thoughts and his opinions and his writings. That’s Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, who was our first president and who was also a professor and who was a lawyer and a constitutional scholar and a man who helped to write documents that changed the nature of the interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.
Dr. tenBroek could be discouraged. All of us have been discouraged, but he could never be defeated because his spirit survived, revived, and brought him the kind of courage that does not ever give up. The people that we have to consider tonight have the same kind of courage. I want to invite them—for it is a couple—to come to the podium so that we may remember what they’ve done and admire what they’re planning to do and tell them how much we know the spirit they carry is the spirit of our founder.
So I call upon two of our number, specifically Norma and Glenn Crosby [cheers, applause], to come forward. Now, as it happens I met Glenn Crosby—I believe for the first time—in the early 1970s. He may have a better memory of the meeting than I. But I knew he was part of the Federation as I came to be a part of it myself, as I came to be a member of our student division (what we now know as the National Association of Blind Students). Glenn here was from Texas [cheers]. When I got to know our Texas affiliate, Glenn was not our president. We had other presidents—they weren’t as interesting as Glenn—but he was not our president.
I came later to learn a good deal about Glenn, and I start with him because I met him first. He was helping to build our affiliate by the latter half of the 1970s. He was then our president in Texas, and he was a good president. But I learned from some of the history that he’d been our president before in Texas, but he wasn’t very good at it then; he had to grow and he had to learn. But he didn’t quit; he did grow, and he did learn.
In those days Norma was there, but she was not Norma Crosby, and she kept telling Glenn what to do. And lo and behold, Glenn paid attention. After a while the two of them came to marry one another, and that helped both of them and helped our organization as well.
Now Glenn has been not just our leader in Texas, but he was also a member of our board of directors. He’s been a vendor in Texas and elsewhere. He spent time in other states; he even did some work in South Dakota and then Louisiana, and now he’s back in Texas.
Glenn and Norma are working together to bring leadership to our Texas affiliate, where Norma is now our president. Now she is giving direction to our affiliate, and Glenn is telling her what to do [laughter, applause]. So, what goes around comes around, as they say.
The two of them together bring energy and commitment to the organization, and they have shared in that energy and commitment over the years. They are good friends to those who are strong in the Federation spirit. They are committed workers, and they are joyful people. I want to first—I mean, Glenn, you were on the board first but Norma is now. And you were president first, but Norma is president now—so I’m going to give this plaque to Norma, and I feel confident that she will let you hold it with her [laughter, applause]. This plaque says:
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
JACOBUS TENBROEK AWARD
NORMA CROSBY AND GLENN CROSBY
FOR YOUR DEDICATION, SACRIFICE, AND COMMITMENT
ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND OF THIS NATION.
YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED NOT IN STEPS, BUT IN MILES
NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES BUT BY YOUR IMPACT ON THE LIVES OF THE BLIND OF THE NATION.
WHENEVER WE HAVE ASKED, YOU HAVE ANSWERED. WE CALL YOU OUR COLLEAGUES WITH RESPECT. WE CALL YOU OUR FRIENDS WITH LOVE.
JULY 15, 2017
I want to give to you the Brailled text of this plaque, and I invite you to address this gathering, you, the recipients of the highest honor based on what is meant by our founder and first president, the Jacobus tenBroek Award. Here are Norma and Glenn Crosby [applause].
Glenn Crosby: Normally it’s ladies first, but my wife says I go, so . . . My first convention was in Des Moines, Iowa in 1968. My wife tells me this is my fiftieth convention [applause]. I must tell you that it is I who should be giving Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, Dr. Maurer, and President Riccobono, my wife, and all of my Federation family an award. Thank you very much [applause].
Norma Crosby: You know, I used to wonder sometimes when people won the tenBroek Award if they knew in advance, if they had a clue. I can tell you, personally, I had not a clue. There are so many more deserving people in the audience. We don’t work in the Federation to win awards; we work in the Federation out of love. I feel that strong bond and that strong connection to each and every person in the audience tonight. I know so many of you, and I love you so much. I’m truly honored by this award, and I would say one last thing: I couldn’t have been honored with a better partner than Glenn Crosby. Thank you guys so much [applause].
President Riccobono began his 2017 Presidential Report to the convention as follows:
During the past year, the heartbeat of our organization has grown in strength and intensity. Our heartbeat is a rhythm created from bringing the diverse stories of blind people together with a unifying belief that blindness is not the characteristic that defines our future. As more blind people hear our message and join our march, the rhythm grows stronger. The rhythm carries us through times of challenge and refuels us in times of celebration. As the tempo of society changes, we adjust to keep pace, and often our rhythm sets the standard of excellence. Steady, determined, and full of optimism for our future we contribute to the heartbeat through local chapters, state affiliates, and our national organization. Individually we seek to live the lives we want and collectively we transform our dreams into reality. We are the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind.
How do resolutions contribute to the heartbeat of the Federation? Since resolutions are statements of policy that reflect our priorities, they help to focus our efforts so that we can continue to raise expectations every day because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. The objective of a cardiologist is to make sure that the human heart has a steady beat. Resolutions perform a similar function for the Federation’s heartbeat. Some of our resolutions are proactive and call for new solutions to problems. Others are reactive and call on government, business, and educational entities to change policies or cease destructive procedures. Through resolutions, we develop a steady course of action for the future. The convention, the supreme authority of the Federation, considered twenty-four resolutions. The convention chose to pass twenty-two of these. Let us examine these resolutions to see which ones are proactive, which ones are reactive, and how they achieve a steady heartbeat for the National Federation of the Blind.
Any individual may submit a resolution for consideration by the resolutions committee. The resolutions committee is one of the largest committees in the Federation and is made up of leaders from across the country. This year the resolutions committee met on July 11 and considered and passed twenty-four resolutions. I was privileged to be the chairman of the committee and was ably assisted by a longtime member of the national staff, Marsha Dyer, and a newcomer to the national staff, Melissa Kroeger. The draft resolutions passed by the committee were placed on our website so that members could review the proposed policies before they went to the convention floor. These resolutions were considered by the convention on Friday, July 14.
As I mentioned earlier, the convention chose to defeat two resolutions that dealt with technology. In Resolution 2017-13 Gary Allen, president of the NFB of Connecticut, proposed that we “call upon developers to adopt the long established keyboard interface conventions that have served the blind well for many years.” The convention agreed that having to learn different interfaces for each application creates barriers for users. The resolution was defeated because these conventions are not written down in a central place such as Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, level AA. Greg Aikens, president of the Georgia Affiliate, proposed in Resolution 2017-21 that we encourage the VFO Corporation to be more proactive in providing access to popular applications. Once again, the convention agreed that this was a problem, but objected to some of the language in the resolution. Since there was general agreement about the problems addressed in these resolutions, I am sure they will be restructured and resubmitted for consideration again next year.
The convention passed seven resolutions that are clearly proactive responses to problems. Two of these resolutions were about air travel, two concerned congressional action, and the remaining three covered accessibility issues.
Michael Hingson, a longtime leader in the Federation who currently serves as vice president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, sponsored Resolution 2017-02. Discrimination against the blind by airlines continues to be a vexing problem. Resolution 2017-02 offers a reasonable solution. The Resolution reads in part: “this organization demand that the United States Congress amend the Air Carrier Access Act to include a private right of action for violations of the law that permits compensatory and injunctive relief, as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees, in order to deter future acts of discrimination.”
The second resolution concerning discrimination by airlines was 2017-17. The resolution listed various discriminatory behaviors such as aggression toward blind travelers’ service animals from other passengers’ pets or emotional support animals. The three proponents of this resolution use guide dogs. Two of the proponents, Jessica Snyder and Aleeha Dudley are members of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Guide Dog Users. Aleeha also won a national scholarship in 2011. The third sponsor, Julie McGinnity, is president of the Performing Arts Division and first vice president of the NFB of Missouri. Julie won national scholarships in 2011 and 2013. In this resolution we urge “all airlines to develop continuous and effective personnel training programs in consultation with the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of Guide Dog Users so that the discriminatory treatment of blind passengers will come to an end.”
Blind people have great difficulty purchasing access technology. Since Congress plans to reform the tax code, we have suggested the excellent solution of creating a refundable tax credit for the purchase of screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, embossers, etc. In Resolution 2017-09, “this organization strongly urge the United States Congress to enact the Access Technology Affordability Act immediately.” Tracy Soforenko, president of the Virginia Affiliate, proposed this resolution.
Braille literacy has been a priority of the National Federation of the Blind for decades. Resolution 2017-12 promotes a new way to get more Braille into the hands of blind people. In this resolution we urge the US Congress to authorize an appropriation of five million dollars to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to purchase refreshable Braille displays. Lillie Pennington, a 2017 summer intern at the Jernigan Institute who is studying social work at Northern Kentucky University sponsored this resolution.
The three proactive resolutions on accessibility contain both commendations and calls to action. David Baggett, an intern at the Jernigan Institute who is working on an MBA degree at Shenandoah University and is a member of the board of directors of the Winchester Chapter in the NFB of Virginia, sponsored Resolution 2017-08. “The World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 level AA (WCAG 2.0 AA) have become the internationally recognized standard for ensuring the accessibility of web technologies.” In this resolution, we commend all those who follow these standards and urge “web accessibility testing organizations, browser and access-technology manufacturers, and web developers to continue to make conformance to these standards a priority in order to further interoperability across devices and services for all users.”
Rachel Olivero, a longtime Federationist who is the director of organizational technology for the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored Resolution 2017-18. Drupal is a content management system for websites. In this resolution we commend the Drupal community for its commitment to accessibility. In the resolution we also call on “module and theme developers building components for Drupal to follow the guidance provided by the Drupal Accessibility Team to ensure their add-ons will be as accessible as Drupal Core.”
Blind people appreciate and have benefited from the increase of audio description for movies, TV broadcasts, theater productions, and other media. In Resolution 2017-23 we commend those who already provide audio description of visual content and urge those who do not provide it to make it available. We look forward to the day when presentations on such platforms as YouTube will automatically contain audio description. Vee Gaspa, an intern at the Jernigan Institute who also serves as the president of the New Jersey Association of Blind Students, sponsored this resolution. Vee is a junior at Seton Hall University who is majoring in English.
Some readers may view with alarm the fact that I am calling fifteen of our resolutions reactive. Organizations that merely react to situations normally do not demonstrate leadership. The NFB and its resolutions are unique, because they represent consistent positions that we have taken for many years. Resolutions 2017-01, 2017-03, 2017-06, 2017-10, and 2017-16 are perfect examples of our leadership and consistency.
The National Federation of the Blind was the first organization to sound the alarm about the dangers of quiet cars to all pedestrians, especially to those who are blind. We began our campaign to bring about change in 2003. In 2011 the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act was signed into law. This act requires hybrid and other electric vehicles to emit an alert sound at low speed to warn the pedestrians of their presence. In Resolution 2017-01, we “condemn and deplore the Department of Transportation for three and a half years of delays, extensions, and postponements to the final regulation for the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act.” Maurice Peret, a longtime leader in the NFB of Maryland and chairman of the NFB’s Committee on Automobile and Pedestrian Safety, sponsored this resolution.
The National Federation of the Blind has been advocating for civil rights since its inception in 1940. The writings of our founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, were the foundation for the principles that were included in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law in 1990. His article “The Right to Live in the World: The Disabled in the Law of Torts” is still considered an important reference for lawyers and others in the civil rights field. The NFB has always maintained that the ADA addresses access to new technologies. This law does more than provide the right to physical access. In 2010 the US Department of Justice began the process of drafting web access regulations under Titles II and III of the ADA but never finished the process. Donald Porterfield, president of the NFB of Arizona, introduced Resolution 2017-10. In this resolution we “strongly urge the current administration to expand access for blind Americans by demanding that the United States Department of Justice immediately finalize and release web access regulations under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act that are consistent with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA.”
Kenia Flores, a summer intern at the Jernigan Institute who also serves as president of the North Carolina Association of Blind Students, sponsored Resolution 2017-06. This resolution demonstrates our continued commitment to enforcement of the ADA. Congressman Ted Poe introduced H.R. 620, The ADA and Education Reform Act of 2017, a bill that will seriously weaken the ability of disabled persons to use the courts to protect our rights. In this resolution we “call upon Representative Poe to withdraw this bill from consideration and instead to encourage the business interests who are pushing this legislative initiative to meet with and listen to the concerns of people with disabilities.”
Since the 1980s the NFB has been working to promote Braille literacy for the blind. The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act is the latest threat to Braille literacy. Of course, we are opposing H.R. 1120 and have listed our reasons for this opposition in Resolution 2017-03. The amendments to IDEA suggested in this legislation will weaken the Braille presumption clause, making it even more difficult for students with limited vision to receive instruction in Braille reading and writing. Terri Rupp, president of the NFB of Nevada, sponsored this resolution. Terri did not receive instruction in Braille when she was a child. She wants to make sure that her blind daughter and all blind children get the instruction in Braille that they need.
The Randolph-Sheppard program has been providing employment opportunities to blind people since 1936. The latest threat to this program is H.R. 1990, and of course we are voicing our opposition and speaking out for the program as we have for decades. Joe Higdon, a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Merchants and president of the Indiana Association of Blind Merchants, sponsored Resolution 2017-16. In 1982, Congress gave the Randolph-Sheppard program the priority to operate vending machines at interstate rest areas. H.R. 1990 will commercialize interstate rest areas, thus jeopardizing the livelihood of 400 blind entrepreneurs. We urge Congressman Jim Banks to immediately withdraw this damaging legislation in Resolution 2017-16.
Monitor readers will not be disappointed, because their expectations of reading resolutions about accessibility are met again this year. The convention passed six resolutions that are reactions to access barriers. More and more restaurants are replacing wait staff with Ziosk, a tablet-based tabletop system used to order food and pay bills. Unfortunately, the Ziosk system is not accessible to the blind. Ashley Neybert and Tom Anderson were tired of this annoyance, so they introduced Resolution 2017-05. In this resolution we “call upon all blind Americans to publicize the inaccessibility of restaurants where Ziosk is used through social media and by other means.” Ashley Neybert is vice president of the Kansas Association of Blind Students and also serves as vice president of the Science and Engineering Division. Tom Anderson is president of the Communities of Faith Division, and a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Kansas. Tom was an instructor at the Colorado Center for the Blind for twenty-seven years and retired from this position in 2015.
Janice Toothman and Everette Bacon proposed Resolution 2017-07. Janice is second vice president of the Deaf-Blind Division and a member of the board of directors of the Sligo Creek Chapter of the NFB of Maryland. Everette is president of the NFB of Utah. He represents the Federation on the Disability Advisory Committee of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). FCC regulations require that emergency broadcast systems be accessible to blind people and to deaf people. The regulations do not specifically extend the accessibility requirement of these systems for deaf-blind people. In this resolution we strongly urge the FCC to immediately correct this serious omission.
Blind students and professionals in the STEM and social sciences fields face serious barriers because of the lack of access to research and reference management software. In Resolution 2017-11 we insist that developers of research and reference management software not only take steps to immediately make their products fully accessible, but also urge developers, “to engage knowledgeable screen reader users to provide in-depth testing so that their VPATs [Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates] will be accurate.” Justin Young, a doctoral candidate in Higher Education Administration at the University of Rochester proposed this resolution.
Liz Wisecarver who serves as the NFB-NEWSLINE coordinator for the Texas Affiliate introduced Resolution 2017-15. Home appliances are becoming more difficult for blind people to operate due to complex menu-driven interfaces. Traditional marking methods used by blind people no longer work because of these touchscreen-based menus. In this resolution we “call upon the United States Congress to pass legislation requiring accessibility standards for home appliances.”
In Resolution 2017-19 “this organization hereby condemn and deplore testing entities that have told blind test takers that computer-adaptive tests cannot be made accessible with screen access software and that have offered testers a human reader and scribe as their only accommodation option.” One of the sponsors of this resolution, Tarik Williams, explained how he was required to take his math final on the computer, even though the test was inaccessible. The other sponsor, Kevin Whitley, described difficulties blind people face when they are required to take computer tests in screenings for potential employment. Tarik is a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Blind Students, and Kevin is president of the NFB of Alaska. In this resolution we also “demand that testing entities design computer-adaptive tests in accordance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA so that these tests are fully and independently accessible to the blind.”
Ronza Othman, chairman of the NFB’s Federal Employees Committee and a leader in the NFB of Maryland, sponsored Resolution 2017-22. Federal employees have been extremely frustrated because the Microsoft Corporation broke its promises to make its SharePoint software fully accessible. The resolution reads in part: “this organization strongly urge that Microsoft Corporation make SharePoint fully accessible in all versions, including future releases and previously released versions since SharePoint 2010 of the server-based platform to its blind users.” We also “demand that federal agencies stop procuring and deploying SharePoint until Microsoft incorporates accessibility solutions in all versions.”
The last four resolutions that I will discuss in this article are reactions to plans by the federal government and by Uber Technologies Inc. These plans will seriously hinder the ability of blind people to live the lives we want.
The convention passed three resolutions concerning the proposed federal budget. In Resolution 2017-04, “this organization condemn and deplore any effort to cut funding for the Medicaid insurance program.” Bre Brown, president of the Texas Association of Blind Students, who won a national scholarship in 2015, described how Medicaid was helpful to her as a blind student. Further, cuts to Medicaid will cause this segment of the population to suffer, because most students are on a fixed income and have no other means for healthcare. The second sponsor, Trudy Pickrel, second vice president of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the NFB of Maryland, is the mother of several severely disabled children. She fears that cuts to Medicaid will lead hospitals to reject treating her most fragile child, because some hospitals already reject Medicaid patients. Further cuts will increase these incidences.
Steve Hastalis, who serves as president of the Chicago Chapter of the NFB of Illinois, and Jemal Powell, who serves as its second vice president, are also longtime advocates for public transportation. They were appalled by the proposed cuts to both Amtrak and the Federal Transit Administration. Consequently, they sponsored Resolution 2017-14. In this resolution “this organization strongly urge the Administration and Congress to recognize that mass transit and rail transportation are integral parts of this nation’s infrastructure and should be supported by increases in federal funding.”
The Library Services and Technology Act is an important source of funding for state libraries for the blind throughout the country. In some cases, these federal funds are the only source of revenue for the state libraries for the blind. In Resolution 2017-20, we express our opposition to any cuts and urge the US Congress to fully fund the Library Services and Technology Act. Shelia Wright, the newly elected president of the NFB of Missouri, proposed this resolution.
Resolution 2017-24 is our response to the communication from Uber Technologies entitled “New changes for better pickups.” This communication outlines Uber’s plan to charge a wait time fee if the ride has not started two minutes after the driver arrives. In this resolution we “call upon Uber to suspend the implementation of any wait time fees until an accessible means of locating a driver can be implemented.” Kevan Worley, a longtime leader in the NFB of Colorado and in the National Association of Blind Merchants, sponsored this resolution.
This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the convention. The complete text of each resolution that was passed is reprinted below. Readers should analyze the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. These resolutions demonstrate our consistent leadership which strengthens the heartbeat of the National Federation of the Blind.
WHEREAS, silent hybrid and electric vehicles are becoming increasingly popular on roadways across America; and
WHEREAS, since 2003 the National Federation of the Blind has expressed deep concerns about the safety of the blind and other pedestrians due to the silencing of motor vehicles, particularly those hybrid and other electric vehicles that use batteries instead of combustion engines; and
WHEREAS, in 2009 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that these vehicles were twice as likely to be involved in a pedestrian collision as the internal combustion engine counterparts; and,
WHEREAS, the threat is increased for blind Americans, who rely on the sound made by motor vehicles to determine when it is safe to cross streets and driveways, traverse parking lots, and otherwise be aware of moving vehicles that are present; and
WHEREAS, on January 4, 2011, in recognition of the dangers posed by silent hybrid and electric vehicles, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, requiring these vehicles to emit an alert sound at low speeds, was signed into law; and
WHEREAS, the initially scheduled publication date for the final regulations of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act was January 4, 2014, but the regulations were not published in the Federal Register until December 14, 2016, with an effective date of February 13, 2017; and
WHEREAS, since that publication in the Federal Register, the effective date has been further delayed no less than four times, most recently to September 5, 2017: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore the Department of Transportation for three and a half years of delays, extensions, and postponements to the final regulation for the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that the current administration cease all delays of the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act and put the final regulations into effect immediately.
WHEREAS, in 1986 Congress passed the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Act, clarifying that “no air carrier may discriminate against any otherwise qualified handicapped individual, by reason of such handicap, in the provision of air transportation”; and
WHEREAS, in enacting the ACAA, Congress did not expressly authorize a private right to sue an air carrier that engages in discriminatory acts, but only authorized the creation of an enforcement mechanism requiring each air carrier to “implement a complaint resolution mechanism, including designating one or more complaints resolution official(s) to be available at each airport which the carrier serves;” and
WHEREAS, in creating the administrative enforcement mechanism, Congress delegated authority to the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) to investigate all complaints alleging violations of the ACAA; and
WHEREAS, although an aggrieved person may file a petition for review of a DOT determination to a United States Court of Appeals, these courts must give substantial deference to DOT's interpretation of its regulations unless the aggrieved person can demonstrate that the decision was plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation; and
WHEREAS, while the DOT has expertise in air carriers and air travel, it does not have sufficient expertise in disability discrimination or civil rights issues, nor do its employees receive sufficient training to be considered experts on disability discrimination or civil rights issues; and
WHEREAS, under the ACAA, Congress authorized the Department of Justice, a federal agency with substantial expertise and training in the protection of disability and civil rights, to bring civil actions to enforce the ACAA only upon request of the Secretary of Transportation; and
WHEREAS, the current ACAA enforcement scheme has led to a lack of accountability among airlines and their personnel, resulting in shocking acts of discrimination against the blind and other passengers with disabilities, including the forcible or threatened removal of these passengers from aircraft merely because the passengers asserted their settled rights under the ACAA; and
WHEREAS, in contrast to the current process, a private right of action would allow an aggrieved individual to seek redress in the courts with the assistance of counsel of his or her choosing, allowing for an unbiased and independent review of the alleged discriminatory acts and the law pertaining to them; and
WHEREAS, an award of reasonable attorney’s fees under the ACAA would motivate attorneys to assist aggrieved air travelers who otherwise could not afford to vindicate their rights: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand that the United States Congress amend the Air Carrier Access Act to include a private right of action for violations of the law that permits compensatory and injunctive relief, as well as reasonable attorneys’ fees, in order to deter future acts of discrimination.
WHEREAS, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), originally passed by the United States Congress in 1975 as the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, supports special education and related service programming for blind and other students with disabilities, by guaranteeing students with disabilities a “free appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment”; and
WHEREAS, for students who are identified as having “visual impairments including blindness,” (20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(3)(B)(iii)) commonly referred to as the “Braille presumption,” current law guarantees them instruction in “Braille and the use of Braille” unless, after an evaluation of the child’s “reading and writing skills, needs, and appropriate reading and writing media (including an evaluation of the child’s future needs for instruction in Braille or the use of Braille),” the IEP (individualized education program) team determines that instruction in “Braille or the use of Braille” is inappropriate for the student; and
WHEREAS, according to the American Printing House for the Blind’s 2015 Annual Report, 61,739 students were identified as having “visual impairments including blindness” in the United States, and of this number only 5,333 students, or 8.6 percent of all students identified, were identified as having Braille as their primary reading medium; and
WHEREAS, Title II of the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, which seeks to amend substantially the IDEA, will, as currently written, further exacerbate the Braille literacy crisis in the United States by shifting the current narrow and specific, yet often unenforced, mandate of the “Braille presumption” to include a host of areas that fall outside Congress’s original intent in drafting this provision, reducing Braille as the central focus of this provision; and
WHEREAS, Title II of the Cogswell-Macy Act also introduces the term, “visual disabilities,” to describe students with “visual impairments including blindness,” the law's current terminology, which will further dilute the terminology already being used in the field of blindness--the term “visual disabilities” is an undefined term that is otherwise not commonly used by most professionals in the field of blindness, nor is it used consistently throughout the proposed act; and
WHEREAS, Title II, Subtitle B of the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act seeks to establish the creation of an “Anne Sullivan Macy Center on Visual Disability and Educational Excellence,” funded by the United States Department of Education and composed of a consortium of nonprofit, academic, and national consumer entities in the field of blindness to provide services to blind students, as well as blindness professionals, without sufficient requisites for the entities described to ensure that the services will meet the highest academic, professional, and empirical standards for students and professionals alike: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon Representative Matt Cartwright to withdraw the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act (H.R. 1120) from consideration in the 115th Congress and to work diligently with the National Federation of the Blind to strengthen the “Braille presumption,” and the IDEA as a whole, to better meet the needs of blind students, blindness professionals, and parents of blind children; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the United States Department of Education vigorously to enforce the IDEA, specifically the “Braille presumption,” to ensure that blind students are given access to the greatest key to literacy so that they may live the lives they want.
WHEREAS, pursuant to the Social Security Amendments Act of 1965, the Medicaid Social Insurance program has provided critical economic and family security for blind Americans for over fifty years, and today, there are an estimated 1.4 million blind people in the United States who rely on Medicaid for health insurance, economic stability, and family security; and
WHEREAS, blind people comprise an estimated 17 percent of disabled people currently using the Medicaid program, and thus Medicaid has provided millions of blind Americans since 1965 with peace of mind in the knowledge that they will have access to vital healthcare services without incurring prohibitive expenses and decimating household budgets; and
WHEREAS, the United States House of Representatives recently passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which contains $839 billion in proposed cuts to Medicaid, and the current administration recently released a budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 that contains within it an additional $610 billion in cuts to Medicaid, for a total of $1.4 trillion in cuts to the program; and
WHEREAS, if the cuts to Medicaid set forth in the American Health Care Act were to be implemented, an estimated one hundred twenty-four thousand blind Americans would lose their health insurance, and such loss of health insurance represents a catastrophic strain on the resources and stability of households that rely on Medicaid for insurance: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore any effort to cut funding for the Medicaid insurance program; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon both houses of the United States Congress to oppose cuts to Medicaid and to incorporate the concerns of blind Americans in the future when considering any similar reforms.
WHEREAS, since 2013 many restaurants, including but not limited to, On the Border, Outback Steakhouse, Chili’s, T.G.I. Fridays, and Olive Garden have contracted with Tabletop Media LLC to install Ziosk, a tablet-based tabletop system in which food can be ordered and bills can be paid; and
WHEREAS, the purpose of Ziosk is to minimize the time that is needed for wait staff to take food orders and for restaurant patrons to pay their bills; and
WHEREAS, Ziosk uses an operating system that is currently inaccessible to blind users; and
WHEREAS, restaurants that employ inaccessible technology and services for blind patrons not only violate Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act but also display a callous attitude toward customer service to all patrons: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand that Tabletop Media LLC make the Ziosk system accessible to blind patrons; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge all restaurants to cease using Ziosk until it is made accessible to blind patrons to ensure that they will have the same dining experiences as the general public; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon all blind Americans to publicize the inaccessibility of restaurants where Ziosk is used through social media and by other means.
WHEREAS, beginning in the latter half of the twentieth century, Congress worked to codify the rights of people with disabilities by ensuring equal access to education, employment, and community-based opportunities; and
WHEREAS, the ultimate expression of this effort was the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, a comprehensive civil rights law that revolutionized the inclusion and integration of people with disabilities in the United States in all aspects of American life by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of a disability; and
WHEREAS, over the last twenty-six years of the ADA’s existence, public and private entities have had access to substantial resources to assist them in complying with the law, but despite this Americans with disabilities still confront persistent physical and, increasingly, digital access barriers; and
WHEREAS, to assist Americans with disabilities in asserting our rights under the ADA, Congress included a private right of action under this law, which has assisted Americans with disabilities to secure landmark victories that have opened doors in employment, education, commerce, and other arenas; and
WHEREAS, this private right of action is now being jeopardized by a small group of attorneys and plaintiffs who are abusing this provision of the law, emboldening restaurant, commerce, and lodging special interest associations to attack this provision by backing federal legislation that will hinder the right of Americans with disabilities to file suit against businesses that are violating the ADA; and
WHEREAS, in the first session of the 115th Congress, Representative Ted Poe from Texas introduced H.R. 620, the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017,” which seeks to amend the ADA to require Americans with disabilities first to send a letter to the business in question informing it of the specific title and section of the ADA it is violating; next to give the business sixty days upon receipt of the letter to acknowledge it, and subsequently another one hundred twenty days to “remedy” the violation; after which, should the business not comply, only then can a person with a disability file suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act; and
WHEREAS, this approach wrongly shifts the burden of compliance with the ADA from the business sector to the people the law is intended to benefit, while creating a greater incentive for businesses engaging in new construction or renovation to ignore the requirements of the ADA since they would have to comply with the law only if and when a specific person with a disability attempts to access their facility or service: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization condemn and deplore the introduction of H.R. 620, the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017,” by Representative Ted Poe; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon Representative Poe to withdraw this bill from consideration and instead to encourage the business interests who are pushing this legislative initiative to meet with and listen to the concerns of people with disabilities and to identify any common ground that may exist, while simultaneously eliminating the adverse consequences the bill, as currently drafted, has on the majority of disabled Americans who are not abusing the law.
WHEREAS, emergency alert broadcasts are public announcements that provide immediate and critical information about weather, security or national crisis, or local events; and
WHEREAS, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), as well as state and local authorities, have implemented routine testing on the emergency broadcast system on television and radio stations; and
WHEREAS, critical information about emergencies is often conveyed visually or audibly on television and radio, formats that are inaccessible to deaf-blind people; and
WHEREAS, like everyone else, deaf-blind individuals need information not only about the type of emergency, but also about how to stay informed in the likelihood of being displaced, as well as procedures for how to deal with the aftermath; and
WHEREAS, deaf-blind people have the capability to use adaptive technologies to independently access this time-sensitive and important information but are currently forced to depend on family members, friends, or coworkers to relay that information because it is not directly conveyed to them in accessible formats; and
WHEREAS, current FCC regulations (47 C.F.R. 79.2) require that emergency broadcast systems be provided in an accessible format for blind and deaf persons, but not specifically for deaf-blind persons; and
WHEREAS, in 2015 the FCC created the Disability Advisory Committee, which brings together representatives from industry and advocacy organizations to address issues such as accessibility in communications for all disabled persons, but the Committee has not yet issued recommendations concerning access to emergency alerts and broadcasts for the deaf-blind; and
WHEREAS, the FCC provides eligible deaf-blind people with adaptive technology through the National Deaf-blind Equipment Distribution Program, also known as the ICanConnect program, which allows deaf-blind people to receive text messages through smart phones, Braille displays, tablets, etc.: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge the FCC to immediately promulgate accessibility standards for the communication of emergency information to deaf-blind persons in a timely and effective manner so that these individuals have the necessary information needed to make appropriate decisions during a crisis and in the aftermath.
WHEREAS, the internet is necessary to access education, commerce, recreation, and communication for blind and sighted people alike; and
WHEREAS, blind users employ a variety of devices, browsers, and screen-access packages to access the internet; and
WHEREAS, the wide interoperability of websites, browsers, operating systems, and assistive technologies is made possible only through robust adherence to widely recognized standards and guidelines; and
WHEREAS, the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 level AA (WCAG 2.0 AA) have become the internationally recognized standard for ensuring the accessibility of web technologies; and
WHEREAS, the United States Section 508 Refresh directly references WCAG 2.0 AA as its accessibility guideline for all relevant technologies; and
WHEREAS, other major standards including the Accessible Rich Internet Application (ARIA) Authoring Practices, Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines, and User Agent Accessibility Guidelines further ensure that blind users can trust that their preferred tools will allow them to use accessible content; and
WHEREAS, these W3C standards are the product of collaboration among many stakeholders, including users, consumer organizations, government, and business; and,
WHEREAS, the adoption of these standards by all stakeholders increases the ability of users to choose the tools that best meet their needs: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend all web developers, browser manufacturers, access technology producers, and others who have worked to improve the quality of web accessibility through adherence to the guidelines outlined by the W3C; and,
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind call upon web-accessibility testing organizations, browser and access-technology manufacturers, and web developers to continue to make conformance to these standards a priority in order to further interoperability across devices and services for all users.
WHEREAS, blind consumers use access technology tools such as screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, and embossers to participate in school, succeed in careers, and live independently; and
WHEREAS, public and private entities responsible for providing these tools struggle to meet the current demand of blind consumers, which results in prolonged delays in the delivery of necessary technology to the blind; and
WHEREAS, access technology is highly specialized technology designed and manufactured for a relatively small population, leading to the high cost of these tools; and
WHEREAS, approximately 72 percent of blind Americans are unemployed or underemployed and do not have the financial resources needed to purchase these tools; and
WHEREAS, on March 27, 2017, Senators Boozman and Cardin introduced S. 732, and Representatives Young and Roybal-Allard introduced H.R. 1734, the Access Technology Affordability Act; and
WHEREAS, this legislation provides a simple solution that empowers blind consumers to procure these items for themselves by creating a refundable tax credit in the amount of $2,500 to be used over a three-year period: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Senators Boozman and Cardin and Representatives Young and Roybal-Allard for introducing the Access Technology Affordability Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge the United States Congress to enact the Access Technology Affordability Act immediately.
WHEREAS, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) revolutionized the inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of American life, opening doors to employment, education, commerce, transportation, and the like, doors previously thought to be out of reach for Americans with disabilities; and
WHEREAS, since the passage of this landmark civil rights legislation, the World Wide Web has blossomed as the main vehicle by which personal, commercial, and professional transactions occur, where increasingly, academic tasks are performed, and where ideas, opinions, and information are conveyed through a broad range of internet-based outlets; and
WHEREAS, the inception and passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act preceded the mainstream use of the World Wide Web; and
WHEREAS, Congress made clear when enacting the ADA that it addressed more than physical access and was supposed to incorporate access to new technology; and
WHEREAS, in 2010 in an attempt to bring definitive clarity to this matter, the United States Department of Justice began the process of drafting web access regulations under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a process that it was not able successfully to complete; and
WHEREAS, both the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education continue to have enforcement responsibilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act, regardless of the existence of web access regulations: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge that the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education vigorously enforce Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act to protect and preserve the rights of blind and other Americans with disabilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge the current administration to expand access for blind Americans by demanding that the United States Department of Justice immediately finalize and release web access regulations under Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act that are consistent with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 Level AA, enabling blind Americans to fully live the lives we want.
WHEREAS, students and practitioners in the science, technology, engineering, mathematics, (STEM) and Social Sciences fields are frequently expected to use software packages to design surveys and experiments, analyze quantitative and qualitative data, and create and share bibliographies and citations; and
WHEREAS, an astounding number of software packages, such as SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences), SAS (Statistical Analysis System), Minitab, and Mplus used to analyze quantitative data; NVivo, ATLAS.ti, MAXQDA, and Dedoose used to analyze qualitative data; and Endnote and Mendeley, used to manage references, are inaccessible to the blind; and
WHEREAS, some software manufacturers generate Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPAT) that claim accessibility, but these VPATs are often inaccurate because the developers did not include in-depth testing by screen reader users who know how the software package is supposed to operate; and
WHEREAS, blind people have the desire and the capacity to study and work in these fields but face discrimination due to inaccessible software; and
WHEREAS, blind students cannot compete academically with their sighted peers when they cannot complete courses on time or must withdraw completely from courses because the alternatives to inaccessible software are inefficient and the universities fail to provide adequate technical support; and
WHEREAS, blind people face unemployment and under-employment in these fields, even when they have successfully completed their degrees, because their productivity is compromised by inaccessible software; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization insist that developers of research and reference management software packages immediately take steps to make their products fully accessible; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge software developers to engage knowledgeable screen reader users to provide in depth testing so that their VPATs will be accurate; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge universities to discontinue the purchase or the deployment of inaccessible software.
WHEREAS, there are currently 119,487 libraries of all types operating in the United States, and of these only the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) is specifically tasked with distributing Braille books across the nation; and
WHEREAS, the distribution of these Braille books by the NLS and a network of cooperating regional libraries primarily occurs through the mailing of hard-copy offerings, but new, low-cost devices (known as refreshable Braille displays) can produce electronic Braille, saving money, saving paper, and using a small electronic device instead of multiple and large volumes for just one book; and
WHEREAS, in April of 2016 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) recognized the potential that refreshable Braille displays offer to increase the availability of Braille materials to NLS patrons, while simultaneously saving the NLS approximately ten million dollars annually; and
WHEREAS, in July of 2016 Congress affirmed the GAO’s findings by amending the Pratt-Smoot Act, (2 U.S.C § 135a), to allow the NLS to “provide books published either in raised characters, on sound-reproduction recordings, or in any other form,” thereby opening the door for the NLS to distribute refreshable Braille displays: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon the United States Congress to authorize a one-time appropriation of five million dollars to the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, which will enable the NLS, through the bidding process, to purchase a minimum of ten thousand low-cost refreshable Braille displays, jumpstarting the distribution of these devices to the 11 percent of NLS patrons who are already accessing the library’s electronic Braille files and increasing access to refreshable Braille.
WHEREAS, if blind persons are to achieve full integration into all aspects of community life, we must have access to efficient reliable public transportation; and
WHEREAS, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) uses federal funds for a wide range of its operating and capital activities to provide a national system of passenger rail service, including regional service through several corridors and service to smaller communities that have no other passenger transportation; and
WHEREAS, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) provides financial and technical assistance to local public transit systems, including fixed route systems (buses, subways, light rail, commuter rail, trolleys, and ferries) as well as on-demand systems; and
WHEREAS, the president’s current budget proposal includes sweeping cuts in federal subsidies for transportation services, reducing Amtrak’s budget by $630 million and reducing the FTA’s budget by 13 percent; and
WHEREAS, these budget cuts would have a detrimental impact on the ability of the blind as well as other people with disabilities to travel to school, work, doctor’s appointments, community meetings, civic events, worship services, and recreational activities: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge the Administration and Congress to recognize that mass transit and rail transportation are integral parts of this nation’s infrastructure and should be supported by increases in federal funding.
WHEREAS, many major home appliances are becoming increasingly smart and feature-packed; and
WHEREAS, these features often are accessed by increasingly complex interfaces; and
WHEREAS, these interfaces are commonly menu-driven and/or touchscreen-based, preventing blind consumers from using traditional marking methods to make appliances operable; and
WHEREAS, manufacturers have not included on-device methods for increasing accessibility; and
WHEREAS, app-connected devices can provide some benefit, but do not provide equal access: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon major appliance manufacturers to develop and promote universally accessible interfaces for their appliances; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the United States Congress to pass legislation requiring accessibility standards for home appliances.
WHEREAS, Congress, in 1936, enacted the Randolph-Sheppard Act to “provide blind persons with remunerative employment,” to “enlarge their economic opportunities, and encourage their self-support through the operation of vending facilities in federal buildings,” and subsequent amendments to the Randolph-Sheppard Act have further clarified Congress’s intent and have continued to expand economic opportunities for blind entrepreneurs; and
WHEREAS, in 1982 Congresswoman Barbara Kennelly of Connecticut recognized the opportunity that existed for blind entrepreneurs at interstate rest areas and subsequently introduced the “Kennelly Amendment” to the Surface Transportation Act, which authorized state licensing agencies designated to administer the Randolph-Sheppard Program the priority to operate vending machines at interstate rest areas; and
WHEREAS, because of the passage of the “Kennelly Amendment,” today, 20 percent of blind entrepreneurs who participate in the Randolph-Sheppard Program operate vending machines at interstate rest areas nationwide; and
WHEREAS, the livelihood of these approximately four hundred blind entrepreneurs is now being jeopardized by Congressional efforts which seek to commercialize these interstate rest areas, most recently with the introduction of H.R. 1990 in the 115th Congress by Congressman Jim Banks of Indiana, which seeks to amend Title 23, United States Code, to allow food concessions at state-owned interstate rest areas; and
WHEREAS, the result of commercialization of interstate rest areas would be directly felt by blind entrepreneurs, who would then be forced to compete with well-established and well-recognized franchises, essentially putting these blind entrepreneurs out of work almost overnight: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge that Congressman Jim Banks withdraw H.R. 1990 from consideration in the 115th Congress until the concerns of the blind entrepreneurs who earn their living from vending machines in our nation’s interstate rest areas are adequately addressed.
WHEREAS, air travel is the fastest and most convenient method of long-distance travel; and
WHEREAS, blind passengers, like our sighted peers, use air travel for business, pleasure, visiting loved ones, and many other purposes; and
WHEREAS, the Air Carrier Access Act, passed in 1986, provides for the fair and nondiscriminatory treatment of blind and other disabled passengers by airlines; and
WHEREAS, airline staff, both in the airport and on the aircraft, regularly treat blind passengers poorly by asking for identification for service animals, demanding that passengers sit in wheelchairs or in certain locations on the aircraft, and taking long white canes from passengers; and
WHEREAS, blind travelers’ service animals increasingly experience aggression from other passengers’ pets or emotional support animals; and
WHEREAS, the law provides clear guidance for all issues mentioned above and the remedies for any issue that might arise during air travel, but the behavior of airline personnel demonstrates that they have little training or knowledge of what the law says with regard to these issues; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge all airlines to develop continuous and effective personnel training programs in consultation with the National Federation of the Blind and the National Association of Guide Dog Users so that the discriminatory treatment of blind passengers will come to an end.
WHEREAS, Drupal, an open source content management system used to power thousands of digital experiences across the web, has the potential to impact the daily experience of many blind computer users; and
WHEREAS, the Drupal accessibility statement declares, “As an inclusive community, we are committed to making sure that Drupal is an accessible tool for building websites that can also be accessed by people with disabilities”; and
WHEREAS, the accessibility statement further indicates Drupal has committed to ensuring all features of Drupal Core conform with the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) version 2.0 and the W3C Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) version 2.0; and
WHEREAS, the Drupal Accessibility Team and other Drupal community members have provided excellent documentation for module and theme developers to make their third-party components accessible as well as a specific tag in the module and theme search systems allowing these developers to indicate that their components are accessible; and
WHEREAS, the commitment to accessibility was firmly demonstrated when at its launch, Drupal 8 (the most recent major version of the platform) provided an out-of-the-box accessible experience; and
WHEREAS, the availability of accessible content management platforms not only benefits end users, but additionally enables blind developers, authors, and editors greater access to a tool used in a myriad of organizations, decreasing the likelihood of barriers in certain employment opportunities; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind and a number of its affiliates have chosen to power their own websites with Drupal: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend the Drupal Association, the Drupal Core maintainers, the Drupal Accessibility Team, and the Drupal community as a whole for their demonstrated commitment to producing a content management system that is accessible to visitors, content authors, and administrators; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization commend the above listed groups for committing to an accessible product early in the development of Drupal 8, but also for making accessibility improvements in existing code for Drupal 7; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call on module and theme developers building components for Drupal to follow the guidance provided by the Drupal Accessibility Team to ensure their add-ons will be as accessible as Drupal Core.
WHEREAS, computer-adaptive testing has become increasingly integrated into high-stakes tests at the K-12, higher education, and professional licensure level; and
WHEREAS, computer adaptive tests adjust dynamically to a tester's ability level by providing a series of questions dependent upon whether the tester answered previous questions correctly; and
WHEREAS, Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits testing entities from discriminating against individuals with disabilities and stipulates that tests must be delivered in a manner that measures an individual’s mastery of the subject matter, as opposed to reflecting his or her disability; and
WHEREAS, technology exists to provide blind test takers with full and equal access to computer-adaptive tests using screen-access software paired with pre-embossed tactile graphics, Braille supplements, and/or Braille displays; and
WHEREAS, rendering a computer-adaptive test in an accessible format does not constitute a fundamental alteration of the test: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization hereby condemn and deplore testing entities that have told blind test takers that computer-adaptive tests cannot be made accessible with screen access software and that have offered testers a human reader and scribe as their only accommodation option; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that testing entities design computer-adaptive tests in accordance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 AA so that these tests are fully and independently accessible to the blind.
WHEREAS, the 119,487 libraries in the United States serve as vital centers of community engagement, literacy, learning, and access for Americans in every locality across the country; and
WHEREAS, libraries in rural areas are often the only source of free internet access, thereby providing critical avenues for residents to seek out employment opportunities and engage with the broader world; and
WHEREAS, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) provides funding to libraries in regions and states specifically dedicated to serving the blind and other print-disabled people; and
WHEREAS, the Library Services and Technology Act is the legislative vehicle through which the IMLS receives that funding, which is the primary source of funding for libraries for the blind in some states, and partially contributes to the funding of other state libraries for the blind: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly support the provision of full funding in the amount of $186.6 million for the Library Services and Technology Act as a component of the broader fiscal year 2018 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon Senator Roy Blunt and Senator Patty Murray, the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, as well as Representative Tom Cole and Representative Rosa DeLauro, Chair and Ranking Member of the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, to support the full funding amount of $186.6 million contained in the Library Services and Technology Act.
WHEREAS, SharePoint, a Microsoft product, unites content management, document management, and intranet management, as well as offering business intelligence and business solutions functionality; and
WHEREAS, SharePoint has been widely deployed among federal government agencies enterprise-wide, and the federal government is one of Microsoft’s largest clients; and
WHEREAS, federal agencies are legally prohibited from procuring, deploying, and using electronic information technology (EIT) that does not comply with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act; and
WHEREAS, Microsoft claims that SharePoint is Section 508 compliant, which is a basic accessibility standard applicable to the federal government; and
WHEREAS, the primary determinant by the federal government of whether a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) product is Section 508 compliant is whether or not the product seller characterizes its product as adhering to Section 508; and
WHEREAS, many SharePoint features are in fact not 508 compliant or accessible, including some navigation, collaboration, dynamic, and developer features, such as checking documents in and out, editing documents, collaborating on documents, creating and managing document approval routes, adding tables and charts, creating SharePoint pages, wikis, and resources, generating dynamic content, and aspects related to back-end development of SharePoint environments, which result in individuals who are blind and otherwise use access technology being unable fully or independently to use SharePoint; and
WHEREAS, Microsoft has publicly stated to members of this organization that it is not interested in improving accessibility and 508 compliance to server-based and previously released versions of SharePoint and intends only to focus on improving accessibility for cloud-based versions of SharePoint; and
WHEREAS, federal government agencies are either prohibited from or very slow in being able to change from server-based to cloud-based SharePoint platforms because of national and cyber security reasons, infrastructure limitations, and funding constraints; and
WHEREAS, the cost to apply a third-party accessibility module to SharePoint is prohibitive and may cost an agency upwards of $40,000 for each individual user; and
WHEREAS, third-party accessibility modules must be modified each time an entity upgrades to a new version of SharePoint or makes a developer change, resulting in additional development of the third-party module, gaps between the time when SharePoint is upgraded and when the upgrade to the third-party module is deployed, rendering the third-party module inoperable and SharePoint unusable by the blind during that period and adding significant additional expenses; and
WHEREAS, the wide-spread deployment of inaccessible versions of SharePoint among federal agencies has caused blind federal employees who previously performed work tasks independently prior to SharePoint to lose the ability to do so; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge that Microsoft Corporation make SharePoint fully accessible in all versions, including future releases and previously released versions since SharePoint 2010 of the server-based platform, to its blind users; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the federal government to demand the same of Microsoft; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demand that federal agencies stop procuring and deploying SharePoint until Microsoft incorporates accessibility solutions in all versions, including future releases and previously released versions since SharePoint 2010 of the server-based platform, thus ensuring that the blind and other employees using access technology have equal access to SharePoint’s business functionality features as do other employees.
WHEREAS, video description can provide substantially improved access for blind viewers of many types of video content, including those used for educational, vocational, and recreational purposes; and
WHEREAS, some content cannot be understood non-visually without additional description or other resources; and
WHEREAS, the majority of major American theatrical releases now offer a description track; and,
WHEREAS, the Federal Communications Commission has called for an increase in the availability of video description for over-the-air broadcasts; and
WHEREAS, many DVD and Blu-Ray releases contain description tracks; and
WHEREAS, blind users certainly appreciate and use these services, but like many others increasingly use digital and streaming services for viewing video content; and
WHEREAS, several streaming, digital rental, and content stores offer some described content, but the selection may change based on provider, device employed, content licensing, and other factors; and
WHEREAS, many of these providers offer unique content, available through only one platform: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that we commend those organizations which have worked to ensure access to described content using their digital distribution channels, including Apple’s iTunes Store, Amazon, and Netflix; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we call on providers that have not offered described videos to work toward providing this functionality to all blind consumers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we ask all such providers to continue to work with blind users to ensure that video description is widespread, easy to employ, and effective, and that these entities provide content creators with an easy method to include description, including on platforms which focus on user-generated content, such as YouTube.
WHEREAS, rideshare services have increased and simplified independent mobility for blind people; and
WHEREAS, blind people regularly use the Uber app and service as a means of transportation; and
WHEREAS, a July 5, 2017, email from Uber entitled "New changes for better pickups" outlines changes to Uber's fee structure including a "wait time fee" which is incurred if the ride has not started after two minutes of the driver's arrival as indicated by the Uber app; and
WHEREAS, the Uber app and associated services do not currently include an accessible means for one to determine a driver's current location; and
WHEREAS, these and other limitations can result in it taking longer than two minutes for a rider to find the vehicle to begin an Uber trip; and
WHEREAS, the fee described in the above email has been verified to have taken effect and is now being charged in these instances, regardless of whether the rider is making a good faith effort to locate the driver: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fourteenth day of July, 2017, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon Uber to suspend the implementation of any wait time fees until an accessible means of locating a driver can be implemented.
ATTENTION: ALL LEGALLY BLIND INDIVIDUALS WHO
ATTEMPTED BUT WERE UNABLE TO ACCESS OR WHO WERE DETERRED FROM ACCESSING THOSE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES AVAILABLE AT REDBOX
KIOSKS IN all FIFTY states and the District of
Columbia except California DURING the PERIOD STARTING ON SEPTEMBER 17, 2014, AND CONTINUING THROUGH THE TERM OF THE AGREEMENT.
YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO OBJECT TO THE SETTLEMENT DESCRIBED BELOW; READ THIS NOTICE AND INSTRUCTIONS CAREFULLY:
This notice is to inform you about the proposed settlement that would resolve the class action lawsuit Jahoda, Nguyen, and National Federation of the Blind v. Redbox Automated Retail, Case No. 2:14-cv-01278-LPL (W.D. Pa.). The lawsuit asserts that Redbox Automated Retail, LLC (“Redbox”) violated federal law under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., by offering video and video game rental services at self-service, touchscreen kiosks that are not fully accessible to, and independently usable by, blind and visually-impaired people. Redbox believes that the kiosks are compliant with the ADA and denies all liability in the case. The settlement, which must be approved by the Court, would resolve the lawsuit.
I. THE CLASS
Solely for purposes of effectuating this settlement, United States Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania has certified a settlement class of all legally blind individuals who attempted but were unable to access or who were deterred from accessing those products or services available at Redbox kiosks in all fifty states and the District of Columbia except California during the period starting on September 17, 2014, and continuing through the term of the agreement (the “Class”). Redbox kiosks located in California are excluded from the settlement because Redbox has already settled a separate class action lawsuit in California. Legally blind individuals include all persons with visual impairments who require the use of alternative techniques to accomplish tasks for which people without disabilities use sight. Some people who meet this definition have limited vision. Others have no vision.
II. SUMMARY OF THE PROPOSED SETTLEMENT
The settlement results in injunctive relief that will provide accessibility solutions for Redbox kiosks in all fifty states and the District of Columbia except California (because of a separate settlement in California under California law).
The settlement requires Redbox to modify kiosks in all fifty states and the District of Columbia except California so that legally blind customers will be able to browse, select, pay for, and return media (including DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and video games) without the assistance of another person. The modifications will include the addition of a standard headphone jack, a tactile keypad, and text-to-speech output that will read texts and commands aloud. Redbox will modify kiosks throughout the country so that, generally, in geographic areas where kiosks are spaced more than two miles from each other or it takes on average more than five minutes to drive from one kiosk to the next (measured by Redbox’s route time software), all kiosks are modified. In contrast, generally, in geographic areas where multiple kiosks are placed within two miles of each other or it takes on average five minutes or less to drive from one kiosk to the next (measured by Redbox’s route time software), a modified kiosk will be within the two-mile radius or five-minute drive time radius approximately 90 percent of the time. Redbox will ensure that any new locations have modified kiosks.
These modifications will begin no later than 180 days after Final Approval, or by April 28, 2018, and be completed within 36 months of Final Approval, or by October 30, 2020. The National Federation of the Blind will monitor compliance with this settlement by testing kiosks which have been modified, and Redbox will provide quarterly reports to Class Counsel, commencing on December 13, 2018, listing the locations where the kiosks have been modified during the preceding quarter.
The settlement also requires Redbox to update its website and its mobile application so that customers can identify the locations that have been modified. These changes will be made to Redbox’s website and mobile application by December 31, 2017, and Redbox will update it every sixty days after this date to reflect which kiosks have been modified. Redbox will continue its remote customer service assistance program until modifications are complete. Its remote customer service assistance program allows Redbox customer service agents to remotely assist settlement class members with browsing, renting, paying for, and returning movies or other media from Redbox kiosks by remotely operating the kiosks.
The settlement provides for a Plaintiff incentive payment to be made to Plaintiffs Robert Jahoda in the amount of $5,000.00 and to Plaintiff April Nguyen in the amount of $5,000.00. Class Counsel will be paid $400,000 for all attorneys’ fees and allowable litigation costs and expenses. The fees would pay Class Counsel for investigating the facts, litigating the case, negotiating the settlement, and monitoring compliance. Class Counsel’s Motion for Attorneys’ Fees will be available at www.redboxadasettlement.com by October 16, 2017, or can be requested from Class Counsel (contact information below) after October 16, 2017.
III. THE EFFECT OF THE SETTLEMENT ON THE RIGHTS OF CLASS MEMBERS
All Class members will be bound by the terms of the settlement relating to the accessibility of Redbox kiosks in all fifty states and the District of Columbia except California if the settlement is approved by the Court. In other words, once the settlement is approved, all Class Members will release and forever discharge claims they may have for injunctive relief related to the accessibility of the Redbox kiosks for people who are legally blind or visually impaired.
IV. OBJECTING TO THE SETTLEMENT
If you are a settlement Class member, you can ask the Court to deny approval of this settlement by filing an objection with the Court. You can give reasons why you think the Court should not approve it. You must do so in writing. The Court will consider your views. If the Court denies approval of the settlement terms, there will be no settlement and the lawsuit will continue. You must object in writing and in accordance with the instructions below.
To object, you must file the objection with the Clerk of the Court either in person or by first class mail at the following address:
Clerk of the Court
U.S. District Court
700 Grant Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
Any objection must be received by October 9, 2017 for it to be considered. All written objections and supporting papers must clearly set forth: (i) the name of the litigation, Jahoda, et al. v. Redbox Automated Retail, Case No. 2:14-cv-01278-LPL; (ii) the Class member’s full name, address, and telephone number; and (iii) the specific reasons for the objection, and any evidence or legal authority the Class member believes supports the objection.
Class members who fail to properly or timely file objections in writing with the Court and in accordance with the procedures set forth above shall not be heard during the fairness hearing described below. Nor shall their objections be considered by the Court.
V. FAIRNESS HEARING
The District Court will hold a fairness hearing to decide whether to approve the settlement. The fairness hearing will be held on October 30, 2017, at 9:30 am EST at the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, 700 Grant Street, Courtroom #7B, Pittsburgh, PA 15219. At this hearing, the Court will consider whether the settlement is fair, reasonable and adequate. If there are objections or requests to be heard, the Court may consider them at the hearing. The Court may also decide the amount of attorneys’ fees and costs to be paid to Class Counsel.
If you file an objection, you may also appear at the fairness hearing. You may appear at the hearing either in person or through your own attorney. If you appear through your own attorney, you are responsible for paying that attorney. To be heard at the hearing, you must ask the Court for permission to speak at the same in advance of the hearing. To do so, you must file, in writing, a Notice of Intention to Appear with the Clerk of the Court. Be sure to include your name, address, telephone number and signature on the notice. Your Notice of Intention to Appear must be postmarked no later than October 9, 2017, and be sent to the Clerk of the Court:
Clerk of the Court
U.S. District Court
700 Grant Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15219
The date of the fairness hearing may change without further notice to the class. You should check the settlement website at www.redboxadasettlement.com, or the U.S. Court’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system at https://ecf.pawd.uscourts.gov to get the most current information concerning the date of the hearing.
VI. FURTHER INFORMATION
This notice summarizes the proposed settlement. You may seek the advice and guidance of your own private attorney, at your own expense, if you desire. For the precise terms and conditions of the settlement, please see the settlement agreement available at www.redboxadasettlement.com, contact Class Counsel using the information below, access the Court docket in this case through the Court’s Public Access website at PACER.gov, or visit the U.S. District Court, 700 Grant Street, Suite 3100, Pittsburgh, PA 15219, between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding Court holidays.
To obtain a copy of this notice in alternate accessible formats, contact Class Counsel using the information below.
VII. CONTACT INFORMATION
Please do not contact the Court, the Court Clerk’s office, or Redbox’s Counsel with questions about this settlement. Any questions must be directed to Class Counsel at 1-800-467-5241, or the address below.
Report from the NFB Lions Group:
On Monday evening the NFB Lions Group met with about twenty-five people in attendance. Our primary speaker was Lion Robert Littlefield, past International Director and currently a member of the board of the Lions Charitable Foundation. The Foundation is the arm of Lions that distributes much of the money outside the separate districts. Lion Littlefield had just returned from the international centennial convention in Chicago where approximately 30,000 Lions participated. The group was very attentive. We are thinking about building closer partnerships between NFB and Lions.
Report from the Cash and Caring Network:
The Cash and Caring Network met Friday at lunchtime. We discussed a program in which an affiliate can hold three events in a calendar year and raise $30,000 to $50,000. For example, in Idaho we have a bike-a-thon, an online auction, and a concert. This year we expect to raise about $35,000. Any of these events could be replaced with a different one, and they take planning and work. There are many benefits besides funds when events grow and the participation increases.
Our second topic was how to promote the NFB and its events on social media. Stephanie Eller led this discussion. We recorded this meeting and hope to be able to share recordings with those who are interested.
A Report on Rookie Roundup from Pam Allen:
Rookie Roundup was a wonderful night. We loved having Oriana Riccobono there with us as well. She drew the first door prize winner. (I had a couple door prizes this year so people could practice yelling.) We had over 200 rookies—ran out of bags, first-timer guides, and door prize tickets.
I’m always so thankful to all the veterans who help out, too! I love the energy and welcoming spirit in the room! Joe Ruffalo is always a big help as are our LCB staff and students along with many other NFB members.
This year I had several rookies from last year who came up after the event to say hello and to introduce me to the rookie they invited this year. That always makes me smile. We also had several international rookies, and this too is exciting.
The Riccobonos all spoke, as did the Maurers. Joy Harris welcomed our Jernigan Fund winners, a loud and proud group! Alex Castillo greeted all our Spanish speakers in Spanish and gave a brief overview of the details about translation for the week.
We played some of our Rhythm of the Movement music as people were coming in. I and those who attended are already looking forward to next year.
Report from the Exhibitors Showcase from Chairman Mark Jones:
The exhibitors showcase of the National Federation of the Blind Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology Committee was well attended again this year, and we heard from nearly thirty exhibitors about what they were going to show in the exhibit hall. One exhibitor commented that he really liked to attend our meeting because he could find out what other exhibitors had in their booths. Of course he is always in his when the exhibit hall is open.
We heard about a number of new products this year. RAZ Mobility told us about its new phone that has lots of feelable buttons. It's not a smart phone, but almost anyone can use it to make calls and receive messages. The phone, called the Endeavor, claims to have a battery life of about ten days.
Next, A T Guys, LLC told us about its new E5 Smart Stereo Speaker. It also has buttons and is connected to Amazon's Alexa. It can perform many fun tasks and sounds good, too. They told us about a new simple voice recorder with tactile buttons and forty-five hours of recording time.
HumanWare discussed its new Brailliant BI14, a fourteen-cell Braille display which sells for less than $1,000, and one can synchronize files from it to an iPhone. Coming soon is the Victor Trek with all the Victor Stream features plus GPS.
HIMS told us about its new BrailleSense Polaris, an android-based notetaker that doesn't use a touch screen and has stereo microphones to do stellar recording.
VFO is the company comprised of several names you know coming together as one: Ai Squared, Optelec, Paciello Group, and Freedom Scientific. The company talked about its new ElBraille, a Windows 10 computer disguised in notetaker clothes; the notetaker also runs the newest version of JAWS.
Triumph Technologies talked about all the Handy Tech products, which include a Braille display that advances on its own so one can read a whole book and never have to push a button.
The National Library Service talked about its upcoming program to put a refreshable Braille display in the hands of any patron who can use one. The American Printing House for the Blind talked about its new portable magnifying device and the new Orbit Reader, a twenty-cell refreshable Braille display selling at its booth for just $449. Kurzweil Educational System spoke about its latest version of a product that has been a standard of excellence in helping to read printed materials for years, the K1000, of course.
Harbolt spoke with us about its website full of products that people love, but which are hard to get these days because they aren't made any longer. They include vibrating watches, talking caller IDs, and calculators. iFactory talked about making websites more accessible for us.
Tap Systems talked about texting with ease using its new device, a wearable Bluetooth keyboard, which they claim to be two to five times faster than other methods for texting.
Aira talked about smart glasses that can be tethered to a phone and connect you to a human assistant who can read you just about anything you want as long as the camera can see it. It's a subscription service that promises to provide a new independence. AT&T also spoke with us, talking about its partnership with Aira and other things it has been doing quietly to help with accessibility.
If you are not interested in the full services Aira can offer, but want a little help with some of the more visual elements of life, CyberTimez can augment eyeglasses to read text in over 100 languages, identify colors, and read barcodes. OrCam is a device with a camera worn on glasses that can identify money, faces, barcodes, and printed material. There's a new version with more features coming soon.
Turning to products created for blind youth and education, COBRIX wants to make computer science more accessible to the blind by creating a physical computing interface for blind students to construct physical code using LEGO bricks. The creators of this interface feel that blind students should be active participants rather than passive users in the learning process. We also heard about TAPTILO, a product from OHFA Tech, that makes learning Braille a fun game for children. Obscura Roadside Oddities is a game that anyone can play, be they blind or sighted, and it teaches one interesting facts about fascinating places throughout the country.
In general health and daily living, Second Sight is the developer and manufacturer of the Argus II, the first and only approved implantable device to help those with retinitis pigmentosa. It does not fully restore vision, but some object recognition is restored. We also heard about BlindAlive, which helps keep one fit with audio tutorials that one can follow along with when working out.
BAUM USA came there to talk about the VarioUltra which now can wake up a smart phone and has hardcopy Braille command summaries. It also has a new handheld magnifier.
Storm Technologies told us about its keyboards that make kiosks accessible. The Company Key 2 Access has a new point-and-click system which it believes will help blind people more easily cross streets. It relies on cities to provide the infrastructure needed for the system to operate. 3DPhotoWorks, the company that helped to create the tactile talking timeline of the Federation that was displayed at the 2015 convention, is continuing to work on turning works of art into tactile graphics.
Our committee and the audience learned a lot from those who presented. Our public meeting helps direct people to the exhibit booth to see what they want to see.
A Report from the Community Service Division:
The National Federation of the Blind Community Service Division had another eventful convention. On the morning of seminar day, ten members of the Federation, including some of our division members, participated in a service project with Green Up Orlando, a program run by the city. People on this project pulled weeds, mulched, and planted trees, among other activities. The group we brought participated in all aspects of the work to be done as a team to solve any problems we encountered.
In the afternoon, members of the division assisted the three- to five-year-olds in Kids Camp in creating signs with positive messages on them. These messages were given out by the children so that they could understand the power of giving and feel the joy in performing a random act of kindness. These messages were originally supposed to be ones placed on the windshields of cars in the parking lot of the hotel, but Mother Nature forced the group to think on its feet. Undaunted, the children gave the signs to bell staff and other employees of the hotel.
On July 12, the division had its annual meeting. Its theme was “Shining in Service.” We heard from Patti Chang about her experience helping Asian immigrants prepare for the naturalization test to be US citizens and how what she did to help others still has a benefit today. Some of our national scholarship finalists shared the valuable lessons learned through their service. Their messages spanned the many facets of what it means to serve, from volunteer fire fighting to improving the lives of folks with disabilities to teaching latchkey kids how to cook healthy meals. We even heard from one finalist about how difficult it is to give of your talents if you have a disability and live in another country. We were the ones learning from these bright students.
Chris Danielsen talked with us about the ways we can get our community service activities into the media and how to leverage our national communications team to do this. This means we will help in a direct manner and also change the perception that we are takers and not the givers in a world which too often discounts what we have to offer.
On the evening of July 13, we had our trivia night. The theme was music, with energy and enjoyment filling the room. Categories included TV/Movies, Artist, and Song. A cash bar was present, and a silent auction was held. The winner took home four bottles of wine.
On July 14, a brainstorming session occurred. Carol Castellano lead this session, and many great suggestions for ways to improve on the things we did this year and programs for next year came from this assembly. We can’t wait for next year and the good that will come from our efforts—good that is reflected in the communities we serve, good in the media coverage we generate, and good in the heart of each of us as we come to see ourselves as vital contributors.
A Report from the National Organization of Blind Educators:
The National Organization of Blind Educators met on Wednesday, July 12. We were privileged to hear some excellent presentations from the folks at Adobe and Bookshare, and had two fantastic rounds of breakout sessions. In the first, we met in small groups based on the age level of the students we teach, from early childhood all the way up to the college level. During our second session, we broke down by areas of professional practice, such as lesson planning, monitoring assessments, using technology, and creating classroom visuals, with a focus on strategies and techniques used by successful blind educators. At our business session we held elections, and we would like to congratulate Harriet Go, our new division second vice president, and Valaria Paradiso, our new division secretary. The division will meet again in November on a conference call, at which time we will continue our discussion of professional practice as blind educators.
Report from the NFB Seniors Division:
For the past several years the Seniors Division has sponsored a seminar before the official opening of the convention. This year was no different. On Monday, July 10, Diane McGeorge with Duncan Larsen and others spoke to about forty convention attendees. They shared techniques about living with blindness as a newly blind senior. “A Day in the Life of a Newly Blind Senior” gave tips, ideas, and demonstrations of techniques to use when transitioning from using only vision to developing skills with tactile and audible cues. For example, a white cane user establishes that he/she is blind with the public but more importantly, the sound the cane makes as the tip comes into contact with a variety of surfaces informs the user of many factors in the environment being traversed. Some technology such as the Pen Friend, a fancy recorder to make audio labels was one of the demonstrations. The audience asked questions and learned that often a variety of methods can be used. Good ideas and techniques were shared as well as discussion about social occurrence dealing with family and the public in general gave new insight to these conventioneers.
On Wednesday we kicked off our annual meeting with items being auctioned from our "not-so-silent" auction. Ruth Sager and Shelley Coppel spoke about the newest initiative of the division, a senior retreat to be held at Rocky Bottom, South Carolina, October 8 through 14. This retreat is designed for seniors who are losing vision and want to hone nonvisual skills such as using a computer with screen-reading capabilities; walking confidently with a white cane; and developing daily living skills of cooking, shopping, and cleaning. Shelley described the physical surroundings of the buildings and grounds at the site.
New members, Linda Melendez from New Jersey and Dan Vrata from Minnesota spoke about their interaction with fellow Federationists and how this has changed their perceptions about losing vision. Linda noted she thought her life was coming to an end, and now she is running, actively engaged with her chapter, and the head of New Jersey's sports and recreation group. She has found meaningful relationships and lost over 100 pounds by running. She feels great and encourages other seniors to find something they are passionate about and go for it! Find your dreams, she says: "You can do anything you want to, just get out there and do it!" Dan is a student in the senior program at BLIND Inc. He notes how beneficial his training has been and acknowledges several important groups. He credits the friendships he has made with fellow students; equally important in his learning has been observing how the staff interact with their students, guiding each to want the very best for him or herself. He says he is grateful for the Federation and the opportunity it has given him to learn the truth about living as a blind senior.
Two gentlemen from the Helen Keller Center came to introduce their new program for seniors losing both hearing and vision, the ICanConnect program. Mr. Cory Parker, outreach coordinator of the Southeast Region described how the Center has regional offices throughout the country where consumers can address specific issues and learn about equipment. “Bapin,” as he is known, is the adaptive technology trainer and spoke more specifically about seniors in Florida who can receive specialized equipment from telephones to computers to meet their telecommunication needs if they qualify for services. He had handouts for anyone interested in learning more specifically how to engage with the Center.
Duncan Larsen presented the Colorado Center for the Blind’s new video "Seniors in Charge," which describes CCB’s senior program.
Amanda Tolson from En-Vision America spoke about its audible medical reader ScripTalk and noted that September 9 through 15 is National Health Vision Awareness Week. She has flyers and special kits with information that, if seniors are willing to sponsor activities during this week to showcase using nonvisual techniques to read medical labels, she will be happy to lend a ScripTalk for this purpose. Lisa Wadors from Bookshare noted that new changes are expanding the collection which now contains books in foreign languages. She donated two Bookshare subscriptions for the auction.
Finally, Carol Braithwaite from Alabama and Nancy Yeager from Virginia described how they gathered Federationists together in their states and formed new senior divisions. They both have frequent conference calls and are planning other activities for the coming year. We welcomed them into the family of state senior divisions and groups.
At its meeting at the NFB National Convention in 2017, the National Association of Blind Students elected its board of directors: president, Kathryn Webster; first vice president, Michael Ausbun; second vice president, Syed Rizvi; treasurer, Cody Beardslee; secretary, Chelsea Peahl; and board members Shannon Cantan, Tarik Williams, Luke Schwinck, and Bryan Duarte.
The seniors division election of officers remains the same as it is a two-year term, but both of our board members were up for election and were reelected: Glenn Crosby from Texas and Jane Degenshein from New Jersey. Our officers remain in place until 2018. They are: president, Ruth Sager; first vice president, Arthur Schreiber; second vice president, Judy Sanders; secretary, Shelley Coppel; and treasurer, Diane McGeorge.
At the National Association of Blind Veterans annual meeting the following officers were elected for two-year terms: president, Dwight Sayer; first vice president, Jack Rupert; second vice president, Vernon Humphrey; secretary, Patty Sayer; treasurer, Allen Bornstein; national chaplain/board member, Brother Jeff Bradshaw; and board members, Nancy Hester, Brad Loos, James Knight, Roy Stinson, and Cheryl Echevarria.
We are encouraged that the division seems to be growing in such a way that more members are eager to take up leadership roles. During the community service division business meeting the division had, in lieu of a presidential report, the individuals who headed up committees take a moment to explain/recap the work that they have been undertaking over the past year. After this, the division held elections.
Four of the seven positions up for election were contested elections, with the winner of these contested elections doing so by a narrow margin. This signifies, at least to us, the level of growth the community service division is experiencing.
The new officers and board that resulted from the election are as follows: president, Darian Smith, California; vice president, Ronnie Bellomy, Texas; secretary, Janae Burgmeier, Iowa; treasurer, Kyra Sweeney, Colorado; and board members Chris Parsons, Colorado; Johna Wright, Georgia; and Jeanetta Price, Texas.
Here are the results of the election in the Amateur Radio Division: president, Rachel Olivero, AD9O; vice president, David Chan, NC6D; secretary, Karen Anderson, KE0CDQ; and treasurer, Scott Van Gorp, K0NFB.
Screening Opportunities for Do You Dream in Color?:
Convention attendees and readers of the Braille Monitor will know that the joint winners of the top prize in this year’s Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award class were Abigail Fuller and Sarah Ivy. They are the co-directors of a documentary film entitled Do You Dream in Color? This film is a beautiful and powerful chronicle of four blind young people striving to achieve their goals and live the lives they want in the face of the low expectations and misconceptions that too often erect barriers between blind people and our dreams. In particular the film accurately portrays the ways in which our public education system all too often fails blind students. Individuals can see the film by finding it on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox Live, and other streaming services in the United States and Canada. The producers and distributors of this movie are also making it available to affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind to screen in their communities. Screening this film is a great opportunity to inform the public about issues faced by blind youth and what the Federation is doing to help. We are hoping to have the NFB in every state host a screening during October as part of Meet the Blind Month. It is a great way to bring people in the community together and introduce audiences to the stories of these blind individuals.
For more information, including a toolkit to help organize and promote a screening and engage the audience, contact: Jenivieve White, Assistant to the Director of Community Relations, National Federation of the Blind, 200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, MD 21230; by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2236; or by email at [email protected].
You can view the film's trailer, find links to the movie on streaming platforms, and learn more at www.doyoudreamincolor.com.
Apply to Become a National Federation of the Blind BUILD Team Member:
Technologies are being developed every day that affect the way we all live, work, and play. In order for us to ensure access to the ever-evolving technologies that make it possible for blind people to live the lives we want, we need blind users to innovate and lead the design process. The NFB is establishing a database of Blind Users Innovating and Leading Design (BUILD) to evaluate websites, products, and services for accessibility. Apply to become a member of our BUILD team at: https://nfb.org/build-team.
At the general membership meeting of the Timonium, Lutherville, Cockeysville (TLC) chapter of the NFB of Maryland on July 20, 2017, elections were held with the following results: president, Scott White; vice president, Jesse Hartle; secretary, Jenivieve (Jen) White; treasurer, Mary Jo Hartle; and board members Eileen Rivera-Ley, Scott Soldan, and Jim McCarthy.
We look forward to the upcoming year in working on integrating blind people into society on the basis of equality and educating our community that blind people can live the lives we want; blindness is not what holds us back.
On June 10, 2017, the East Central Indiana chapter of the National Federation of the Blind elected a new slate of officers. They are as follows: president, Sarah LaRose; vice president, Sarah Meyer; secretary, Kevin LaRose; treasurer, Zach Lee; board member, Daniel Lowry.
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.
Get Eight New Braille and Print Picture Books from Seedlings:
Seedlings Braille Books for Children has eight new picture books available in print and Braille. Two are in uncontracted UEB: Animal Friends and Frozen: Anna's Best Friends. Six are in contracted UEB: Biscuit's Pet & Play Bedtime, Five Stinky Socks, My First Mother Goose, Paw Patrol: Rubble to the Rescue, Spot Loves Bedtime,and The World of Sharks.
Prices range from just $4 to $8! Order today at http://www.seedlings.org/order.php. For more information about the books, go to http://www.seedlings.org/whatsnew.php. Seedlings now offers more than 150 print-and-Braille picture books for ages zero to five, all at our low, low prices.
To see the complete selection, go to http://www.seedlings.org/order.php.
Ski for Light 2018:
The forty-third annual Ski for Light International Week will take place from Sunday, January 21, through Sunday, January 28, 2018, in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Participants will ski at the Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Area in Truckee, California. One of the top cross-country ski areas in North America, Tahoe Donner has a 100 km trail system with terrain for all ability levels, and an average annual snowfall of 360 inches.
Participants will stay at the Nugget Casino Resort outside Reno in Sparks, Nevada. Ski for Light Inc. is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization founded in 1975. Each year Ski for Light conducts a week-long event where blind and mobility-impaired adults are taught the basics of cross-country skiing. The event attracts upwards of 250 participants and guides. During the week each disabled skier is paired for the entire week with an experienced, sighted, cross-country skier who acts as ski instructor and on-snow guide.
The visually- and mobility-impaired adults who attend each Ski for Light week come from all over the US and from several foreign countries. Many come to Ski for Light with a desire to become more physically active. Through the process of learning how to cross-country ski, most discover that they can accomplish much more than others have told them, and much more than they themselves believed. Many leave Ski for Light with a sense of accomplishment and motivation that carries over to every aspect of their lives.
If you have never before attended what many have called the experience of a lifetime, please consider Ski for Light’s 2018 International Event.
The cost for the week is $950 per person for double-occupancy. This includes room and all meals, round-trip transportation between the Nugget and Tahoe Donner, all trail fees, and all afternoon and evening programs and activities. Skis, boots, and poles will be provided free of charge to first-time visually-impaired participants. Partial stipends based on financial need are also available for first- and second-time visually-impaired participants. While there is no formal deadline for the submission of applications, please note that applications submitted after November 1 may be accepted only on a space available basis.
Additional information, including the application, can be found at www.sfl.org and Facebook. Additional information may also be obtained by contacting Visually Impaired Participant Recruitment Committee Chairperson Melinda Hollands by email at [email protected], or by phone at (231) 590-0986. We hope you can join us in the Sierra Nevada mountains!
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.
The piano tuning kit that Joe Shaidnagle received after training, never used, is available to anyone who wants it. It is mostly intact save for a few screwdrivers. It is heavy, but can probably be mailed freight rate. I assume that $50 will probably cover the charge.
I also have a copy of Floyd Matson's Walking Alone and Marching Together in two volumes on eight cassettes. Serious readers only: no collectors.
Contact Barbara Shaidnagle at [email protected], or call (832) 818-1560.
I have a HIMS Braille Sense U2 qwerty for sale. It comes with its original box, its charger, a USB cable, a carrying case, and a Braille manual. Version 8.6 most recent firmware is installed. Some Braille dots are faint, but the unit is in excellent condition. I am asking $850. Shipping within the US is free. Interested buyers may call my cell at (903) 946-1459, or email me at: [email protected] or [email protected].
I have a Braille Sense U2 mini with executive case, compact disk in excellent working order. It has the latest software updates. I am interested in selling it. It does not have a maintenance agreement, but it has been recently checked out and found to be in good working order. I would be interested in selling it for a reasonable price, around $1,000.
In addition, I have a Romeo RB40 with Radio Shack USB-to-parallel-print cable for sale. The device is in good working order, but I have found that I cannot use it with my Windows 10 laptop. It worked well with the Windows 8.1 operating system. I am willing to sell it for best offer.
I can be reached by email at [email protected], or by phone at (703) 971-0745.
New Music App:
SD Radio is the world's simplest music app for Android. It plays all of the music that is stored on your SD card inside your Android phone or tablet in a random order each time the app is loaded. Not only that, but when the app is loaded the music automatically begins playing just like you had turned on the radio. There are no complicated menu structures, no setting up to do. Just simply launch the app and let the party begin! The app is accessible and can be used with Talkback on all Android devices. It is only $2.99, and you can go here to get it: http://www.sdradioapp.com.
For those who have some vision there is cover art capability, along with the song title and artist name. Using this app is as easy as turning on a radio and listening, and it will handle SD cards of any size. If you really love music, then SD Radio is exactly what you need to get the party going. It can even be launched with your voice too, making it even easier to get the party started.
Affordable Electronic Magnifiers:
The Bierley Vision Club makes magnification as easy as possible. Bierley electronic magnifiers have been helping people with vision loss, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and RP for more than a decade. Starting from just $14.95 per month, members can borrow any product from the Bierley range. For more information, please visit www.bierley.com or call us at (800) 985-0535.
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.