Braille Monitor                                     August/September 2017

(back) (contents) (next)

Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards

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:

Presented to
[name of the recipient]
by the National Federation of the Blind
and the Santa Barbara Foundation
July 2017

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

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 AvantDenise 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 MelogranaJordan 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 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.

Dr. Paul BarlettPaul 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 FullerAbigail 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 IvySarah 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.

Media Share

Facebook Share

(back) (contents) (next)