Braille Monitor                                     August/September 2017

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Convention Miniatures

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.

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