Braille Monitor

Vol. 60, No. 11                                      December 2017

Gary Wunder, Editor

Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, by the

The National Federation of the Blind

Mark Riccobono, President

telephone: (410) 659-9314
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Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about forty dollars per year. Members are invited,
and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be
made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:

National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998


        ISSN 0006-8829

Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick or USB flash drive). You can read this audio edition using a computer or a National Library Service digital player. The NLS machine has two slots--the familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again. (Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive, the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges, when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.

You can transfer the recording of each issue from the thumb drive to your computer or preserve it on the thumb drive. However, because thumb drives can be used hundreds of times, we would appreciate their return in order to stretch our funding. Please use the return envelope enclosed with the drive when you return the device.


Vol. 60, No. 11                                     December 2017

Illustration: Technological Team-Up: The Federation Sponsors Its First Hackathon

Convention Bulletin 2018

The Wall-to-Wall Thanksgiving
by Barbara Pierce

Merchants’ BLAST Conference Soars to New Heights
by Terry Smith

Why Not Hire Yourself?
by Mike Bullis

The Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship
by Cayte Mendez

Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2018
by John Paré

The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
by James Gashel

National Federation of the Blind and Automakers Host Conference on the Promise of Autonomous Vehicles and the Disability Community

The 2018 Blind Educator of the Year Award
by Edward Bell

Confrontation at the Capitol: The Fight to Stop H.R. 620
by Kyle Walls

The Blind Can Participate in Worship and Bible Study
by Susan Povinelli

Running to Catch the Elusive Dream of Fitness and Accomplishment
by Jessica Beecham

The Power of the Mind: Research Exploring the Capacity of the Blind
by Marina Bedny

Preparing His Granddaughter for a Life Without Sight
by Jon Tevlin

Teachers Talk: Working with Parents Who Happen to be Blind
by Melissa Riccobono

The Story of Ele
by Naomi Mills

Make a Difference
by Patti Chang and Anna Adler

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund
by Allen Harris

The 2018 Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award
by Carla McQuillan

The Holman Prize Sets Sail: Who Won This Year’s Prize for “Blind Ambition,” and Why
by Sheri Wells-Jensen

Supporting Equality for Blind Americans: A New Sheriff
in the United States House of Representatives 
by Val Demings

Independence Market Corner
by Ellen Ringlein

Meet the Blind Month and White Cane Awareness Day in Cincinnati
by Annie McEachirn Carson


Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2017 by the National Federation of the Blind

Technological Team-Up: The Federation Sponsors Its First Hackathon

I have heard of hacking, but what in the world is a hackathon, and why would the National Federation of the Blind be involved in it? According to Wikipedia, a hackathon is “a design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, and others, often including subject-matter-experts, collaborate intensively on software projects. The goal of a hackathon is to create usable software.”

Sigaccess is a special interest group of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). The ACM brings together computing educators, researchers, and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources, and address the field’s challenges. Sigaccess promotes the interests of professionals working on research and development of computing and information technology to help people with disabilities.

The National Federation of the Blind in partnership with Sigaccess hosted a hackathon. The theme was accessible tracking, both of one’s physical location and one’s physical condition. One team focused on accessible mapping, and the other focused on accessing information about heart rate and other information while exercising.

Convention Bulletin 2018
Rosen Shingle Creek Resort

It is time to begin planning for the 2018 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We will again meet in Orlando and will once more be staying at the beautiful Rosen Shingle Creek Resort. This will be Federationists’ last opportunity for a while to enjoy the Rosen hospitality we have come to love and the myriad activities that the Orlando area has to offer. The dates for the 2018 convention are July 3 through July 8.

Our hotel rates are enviably competitive for a resort hotel such as Shingle Creek. For the 2018 convention they are singles and doubles, $88; and for triples and quads, $93. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 12.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. Please note that the hotel is a no-smoking facility.

For 2018 convention room reservations you can call the hotel at (866) 996-6338 after January 1. You may also write directly to the Rosen Shingle Creek, 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida 32819-9357. The hotel will want a deposit of $100 for each room and will want a credit card number or a personal check. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $100 check. If a reservation is cancelled before Friday, June 1, 2018, half of the deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.

All Rosen Shingle Creek guestrooms feature amenities that include plush Creek Sleeper beds, 40″ flat screen TVs, complimentary high-speed internet capabilities, in-room safes, coffee makers, mini-fridges, and hair dryers. Guests can enjoy four outdoor swimming pools, a full-service spa, and fifteen dining/lounging options from fine-dining and elaborate buffets to casual dining both indoors and poolside.

The 2018 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement. Make plans now to be a part of it. Preconvention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Tuesday, July 3, and adjournment will be Sunday, July 8, following the banquet. Convention registration and registration packet pick-up will begin on Wednesday, July 4, and both Wednesday and Thursday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Thursday morning annual meeting, open to all, of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

General convention sessions will begin on Friday, July 6, and continue through the banquet on Sunday, July 8. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, you must make reservations early. The hotel will be ready to take your call or deal with your written request by January 1.

Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a general rule we ask that prizes of all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not include alcohol. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a grand prize of truly impressive proportions to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you or send them ahead of time to Paul Martinez, 11902 Rose Harbor Drive, Apt. 113, Tampa, FL 33625.

The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made—all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2018 national convention. We’ll see you in Orlando in July.

The Wall-To-Wall Thanksgiving

by Barbara Pierce

From the Editor: We have been highlighting some of the spectacular articles that are found in the thirty books we refer to as our Kernel Books. Given the time of the year, it seems appropriate to run a story about the holidays, and who better to write it than Barbara Pierce, a longtime editor of this magazine. Here is how she was introduced when her story was published in the Kernel Book named for her article, the thirteenth in the series:

Barbara Pierce is no stranger to Kernel Book readers, having appeared in these pages frequently. The remarkable thing about her current story is that it records truly unremarkable events—the sort that occur regularly in any typical family. Read Barbara’s heartwarming account of her young family’s efforts to celebrate traditional American holidays while living in London and see if you don’t come to believe that we who are blind are people—just like you in more ways than not. Here is what she has to say:

Almost twenty years ago now my English-professor husband Bob; our three children (Steven, nine; Anne, six; and Margaret, just four); and I packed up and moved to London for the school year. Bob was to teach our college’s London semester program during the fall semester and spend the spring doing his own scholarship during his sabbatical leave. The children, including little Margy, would all attend school, and I planned to keep house, try my hand at writing a book, and spend time getting to know the members of the National Federation of the Blind of the United Kingdom.

We were lucky to find a small house to rent in one of the outlying suburbs. The elementary school was nearby, as were the shops where I would spend a good deal of time and the tube station from which Bob would leave for central London every morning. Best of all, our next-door neighbor had a niece around the corner who was willing to baby-sit for us during the evenings when Bob and I went to the theater with his students.

We settled in easily, and the shopkeepers became accustomed to my long white cane, American accent, two-wheeled shopping trolley, and occasional gaggle of children. Expeditions to the butcher, greengrocer, chemist, and grocery shop were easier and faster without the youngsters, but so were cleaning the house and writing. Besides, the girls especially loved to “go to the shops” with me, so we quickly became an institution in the neighborhood.

By late October the whole family had become acclimatized to life in London. The children had made friends and were developing English accents. I was resigned to washing school uniforms in the bath tub on the days when I didn’t go to the laundromat. And Bob had established a warm relationship with his students. We decided that on the Saturday before Halloween we should invite the whole class to supper. They had tickets to a Saturday matinee performance of a Shakespeare play, so it would be easy for all of them to come back to the house together at the close of the afternoon.

I didn’t even consider attending the play that day. After all, somebody had to prepare supper for that crowd, and I didn’t think that the baby-sitter and the children would get very far picking up the living room, much less setting out the food I had prepared.

Steven had been somewhat disappointed at missing Halloween at home with its costumes and trick or treating, so we decided to do what we could to celebrate this important annual rite of American childhood with our party. I made a big chocolate cake and let the children tint the butter frosting a shocking shade of orange. We managed to find candy corn and witches with which to decorate our masterpiece.

But the real triumph of the meal was to be the loaf of home-made bread. I had decided that, considering the small rooms of our house, I would have to settle for feeding the students sandwiches and potato chips—crisps in London. I arranged a large tray of sliced meats and cheeses and another of fresh vegetables and dip. I bought several sorts of rolls and small interesting loaves. But in the center of the table was a large loaf of potato bread in the shape of a jack-o-lantern, complete with eyes, eye brows, ears, nose, and mouth full of snaggly teeth. Anne was regretful that I would not agree to make the bread orange or allow her to frost the finished loaf with the left-over icing from the cake. But despite its shortcomings in the eyes of the children, our pumpkin was the hit of the evening.

Bob and the students were late getting home from the play, and in the interim a glass of liquid got spilled by one of the children, but it hardly dampened the upholstery or the spirits of the party.

The students were delighted to be in a home with children to play with. And you would have thought I had prepared a banquet for them instead of a simple supper. When I saw them at the theater during the early weeks of November, they continued to talk wistfully about the fun they had had with our family.

As Thanksgiving drew closer, I began to realize that I was going to have to do something about the holiday. It isn’t celebrated in England, of course, and the students were beginning to feel homesick at the prospect of being so far away from family for the holiday. But having sixteen students in for sandwiches and finger food on paper plates and doing a complete Thanksgiving dinner for them were two very different things. For one, we had six plates and about as many sets of silverware. There was almost no counter space in the kitchen, and though the stove had four burners, the oven was half the size of my oven at home. But it was clear that, problems or no, Thanksgiving was going to be celebrated in memorable style in our home that year. I asked each student to bring a plate and silverware for each person that he or she was bringing to dinner, and I invited them all to bring along some contribution of food.

Meanwhile I had managed to find one of those large foil disposable roasting pans in a local department store. Much to my relief, when I got it home, it actually fit into my oven. I took it off to the butcher and asked him to get me the largest turkey that would fit into the pan. He did so, and he even agreed to keep it in his freezer for me until I was ready to cope with it. The day before the Feast, as the children began calling that Thanksgiving, I stopped to make sure that the butcher had moved the turkey from the freezer into his cooler for me. He assured me that he had and that it would be thawed for me in the morning. Relieved of that nagging worry, I went home to get on with my preparations.

When I went into the kitchen to begin dinner, I discovered to my horror that the oven would not light. Here was a nightmare indeed. Luckily the Gas Board was not about to shut down for a long holiday weekend, so they promised that someone would be around first thing in the morning to see about the cooker.

My dreams were filled that night with catastrophes in which I was trying to roast turkeys over matches. But in the morning we experienced a whole series of miracles. First, the Gas Board man turned up early. Second, he discovered that there was nothing seriously wrong with the stove, and he could and did fix it immediately. The third event took a little longer to resolve itself into a miracle. It began by looking remarkably like a catastrophe.

While I stayed home to deal with the stove and the other preparations, Bob took the children with him to do the last-minute shopping, including picking up the turkey. I was busy finishing the stuffing when I realized that in the distance I was hearing Margy crying as the Pierce parade drew near our house. I raced to the door to see what the trouble was. I could hardly believe the news; the butcher had not in fact transferred the turkey to the cooler as he had alleged; when Bob handed it to me, it was eighteen pounds of rock-hard meat—giblets and neck firmly tucked inside the body cavity. Though Margy was the only one actually in tears, all three children were certain that Thanksgiving had just crash landed in the butcher’s freezer.

There are moments when a parent has no choice but to set aside anger, frustration, and anxiety and simply rally all available reserves in the emergency. I dried Margy’s tears and assured everybody that the day could be saved. Then the turkey and I retired to the kitchen sink for some close communion with warm water. It was not the correct way to defrost poultry, but I told myself that, if I could just pry the giblets out and pack the stuffing in quickly, I could get the bird on to roast before anything nasty began growing in the meat.

It worked. By late afternoon we were ready for the Feast, and the students began to arrive, bearing an unusual collection of dishes. Including several strays picked up by various people along the way, twenty-three happy Americans eventually sat down to Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, we sat down all over the house. The living and dining room floors were covered with bodies, and six of us sat on the steps to the second story. We had a marvelous time! The food was delicious, and the fellowship was unforgettable. I don’t even remember the clean-up.

Everyone had so much fun that we decided to do it again the following year when we were all back in the United States. By then many of the students had graduated, but they returned to Oberlin for Thanksgiving and a reunion of the London semester group. In some ways the two celebrations were very different. There were no crises the second time around. I managed to come up with enough dishes and silver to serve everyone without asking people to bring their own utensils. And the clean-up was a snap with an electric dishwasher on the job.

But the underlying spirit from the year before was still there. The young people were delighted to be in our home and grateful to us for inviting them. My recollections of these happy and deeply satisfying events are filled with remembered warmth and gratitude. They are for me, as they would be for anyone else, the very stuff of pleasant family history.

But there is one element of these celebrations which is uniquely precious to me. My blindness, which to me has become nothing more than one more of my characteristics, went virtually unregarded by the students. I don’t mean that they pretended that it wasn’t there. They made an effort to move out of my path when I came through carrying food or drink. But the fact of my blindness was as unimportant to them as it had become to my husband and children. I remember times like these and renew my hope that the time will come when all blind people will know the freedom for which I am so deeply grateful.

Merchants’ BLAST Conference Soars to New Heights

by Terry Smith

From the Editor: For a very long time blind merchants focused exclusively on their state’s legislation and its programs, and getting them to see the value in unified action nationally was much like the challenge Dr. tenBroek faced when trying to bring a small number of state organizations into the fledgling National Federation of the Blind. One thing that has helped blind merchants to see the value in working together nationally has been the BLAST conference, and readers of the Braille Monitor have been offered too little in these pages about the conference and the good it brings to our blind men and women who run businesses under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. Here is a report of the 2017 conference:

One doesn’t have to venture too far into the past to a day when blind vendors were not viewed as major players in the vending industry. Blind vendors had a tiny share of the market and were more or less tolerated by an industry that was evolving from mom and pop operations to large corporate businesses. Some in the industry even resented blind vendors because of the priority they enjoyed to operate vending facilities on government property pursuant to the Randolph-Sheppard Act.

The blind vendors who operated under state Business Enterprise Programs often lacked quality training, were forced to operate with outdated equipment, had little exposure to modern advancements in the field, and suffered due to a lack of leadership in the Randolph-Sheppard community.

But almost two decades ago, some visionaries in the National Federation of the Blind set out to change that. The Merchants Division had held small annual meetings for several years, but the leadership, the board of directors, and the blind vendor community wanted more. The idea was to have a national conference that would afford blind vendors the opportunity to experience the same caliber of training as others in the industry. “We wanted training that focused on business and leadership,” says Don Morris, a Maryland blind vendor and president of the National Federation of the Blind’s Merchant Division in the 1990’s. “We didn’t want to bring people together to complain. We wanted to bring them together to learn.”

With that, the idea of the Business Leadership and Superior Training conference, better known as BLAST, was born. Today, BLAST is one of the most recognized names in the vending industry.

Kevan Worley, a blind vendor from Colorado, was part of the brain trust that created the vision for BLAST and had ascended to the presidency of the Merchants Division by the time the first BLAST was held at Circus Circus in Las Vegas in 2002. He echoes Morris’ sentiments, stating that the goal was to offer training in modern business, customer service, and leadership practices. But there was another goal that was just as important. “We felt the need to strengthen the Randolph-Sheppard Program while building the National Federation of the Blind and using a national conference as the catalyst,” recalls Worley.

For the next dozen years, Worley and Nicky Gacos, a New Jersey blind vendor who was elected president in 2005, artfully managed the evolution and growth of the conference. A shrewd negotiator, Worley struck deals with state agencies who were anxious to bring BLAST to their states. Tennessee was the first state to offer financial incentives. Indiana and Texas followed. Worley and Gacos sought sponsorships from companies that were profiting from blind vendors and those that wanted to establish relationships. These deals with state agencies and sponsorships guaranteed numbers of attendees and provided a financial safety net that allowed them to bring in the caliber of speakers they desired.

What was the recipe used by the Worley-Gacos tandem that has led to such success? “It starts with a high-quality trade show,” explains Worley. He turned to his friend Gacos to lead that effort. “I couldn’t have done it without Nicky,” Worley says, reflecting on those early days and how far BLAST has come. Today, the trade show is the centerpiece of the annual conference. It features equipment manufacturers, product suppliers, service providers, potential teaming partners, and technology companies.

The second ingredient is quality training. BLAST brings in top tier speakers in the areas of business, leadership, and motivation. Whether it be a riveting keynote speech, a workshop by industry professionals, a message from a top flight motivational speaker, or a highly informative breakout session, attendees have grown accustomed to high quality presenters.

Almost as important is the opportunity to network. Blind vendors have a lot to offer, and learning from each other is a critical ingredient to the success of the conference.

Next, mix in something for the state agency staff. In 2002 you could count on your fingers the number of state agency staff in attendance. “How could we honor the work the state agencies do and empower them to continue that work?” Worley asked himself at the time. “We began an exclusive state agency roundtable which was a safe place where state agency folks could go to exchange ideas without any fear of criticism,” he continued. The numbers of state agency representatives attending BLAST began to slowly grow.

And, for the final ingredient, stir in a splash of fun. After all, the name of the conference is BLAST, so there is an expectation of having some fun. BLAST broke from traditional models of blind vendor training conferences and infused some entertainment. Lively music and other entertainment are staples of BLAST conferences today.

Business obligations led to Worley stepping away from his BLAST responsibilities after the 2014 Conference. He left, knowing that he and Gacos had created something special. But President Gacos put together a new team and was determined to continue the momentum BLAST had established. He knew there was still room to grow. Gacos didn’t change the recipe. He just added greater portions of each ingredient.

There are varying estimates on how many people attended the first BLAST in Las Vegas. It is safe to say that it was a fraction of the numbers attracted to BLAST conferences today. In 2016 in Chicago and 2017 in Nashville, BLAST set records with almost six hundred in attendance. The conference has averaged over eighty exhibitors in the last two years. State agency participation has doubled as the roundtable has expanded to become a full day of training, with eighty-five state staff in attendance this year in Nashville. In 2016 nationally known Navy Seal Leif Babin delivered the keynote address, and the National Association of Blind Merchants brought in the Disney Institute to provide a full day of its world-renowned training on customer service. This year the Michigan State University School of Hospitality did a half-day workshop specifically designed for those in the vending industry. And the entertainment piece has been amplified with the Blues Brothers rocking out in Chicago and country music impersonators adding a taste of Nashville tradition to the 2017 conference. There have even been comedians to make folks laugh. The recipe for success is clearly still working.

BLAST has evolved into the premiere training conference in the country for all blind entrepreneurs. One vending industry insider said the Nashville BLAST was the best conference of any kind she had ever attended. The Vending Times Magazine recently featured the Music City BLAST on its cover.

In the vending industry, BLAST is synonymous with quality training. “BLAST is a great event that brings together the entrepreneurial spirit of blind operators from every corner of the country to provide education and networking that strengthens their businesses and enhances their professionalism,” explains Eric Dell, senior vice president of the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), which is the national trade association for the vending industry. Dell is a regular presenter at BLAST.

“I am very proud of what BLAST has become,” says Nicky Gacos, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants. “We are changing what it means to be a blind entrepreneur by providing a quality training and networking experience and by elevating the perception of the blind in the larger vending industry.”

Nothing demonstrates the changing perception better than Gacos’ election to the National Automatic Merchandising Association’s Board of Directors in 2014. He is the first blind owner of a vending business to ever serve in that capacity. “It’s an honor for me,” admits Gacos. “But I represent 2,000 blind entrepreneurs, and it’s important to me to change the way the vending industry views blind people and what we have to offer.” He pauses and then adds. “It’s all about raising expectations.”

Eric Dell understands the important role blind entrepreneurs play more than anyone. “Many of the members of the National Association of Blind Merchants are NAMA members and participate in advocacy efforts at every level of government,” he notes. “Their participation is valuable and has assisted in creating advocacy successes for the industry at large.”

BLAST has been the driving force behind these changing perceptions and a greater appreciation for the contributions of the blind. BLAST originally launched as a conference for Randolph-Sheppard blind vendors, but that is changing. “We are expanding the tent to let more people in,” says Gacos. “We will never abandon our ties to vending and blind vendors, but we are designing BLAST these days for any blind entrepreneur.” He encourages any current or aspiring blind business owner to attend a future BLAST conference.

It isn’t lost on folks that this is an NFB function. “We always want to expose attendees to the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind,” adds Gacos. “The NFB changed my life, and I want people to see firsthand what we are all about.” The Music City BLAST in September featured presentations by John Paré and Gabe Cazares from the national office. First Vice President Pam Allen gave the keynote at the women’s breakfast. Second Vice President Ron Brown was on hand, and Fred Schroeder delivered a sterling speech at the luncheon.

So, what’s next for BLAST? Plans are already underway for the Lone Star BLAST November 13 to 16, 2018, in San Antonio. Having barely recovered from the Music City BLAST in September, Gacos already has his sights set on 2018. “It will be our biggest and best BLAST ever,” he predicts with great confidence. In the spirit of full disclosure, he says that every year, and every year he has been right. BLAST continues to soar to new heights.

For more information about BLAST and the Merchants Division, go to www.blindmerchants.org.

Why Not Hire Yourself?

by Mike Bullis

From the Editor: Mike Bullis loves to help people start businesses or get jobs and has been doing so for most of his professional life. He has owned a motorcycle shop, several restaurants, and now works throughout the US as a disability employment consultant.

Frustrated with employers who won’t hire you? Well, there’s a possible answer: hire yourself. In other words, go into business. No, it’s not easy, but neither is hearing no after no from employers. Yes, you have to have a service or product to sell, and you won’t be able to blame the boss when things go wrong, but the upside is that when you make money, you can give yourself a raise. The other upside is that you can start out small and build your business to the level that works for you. If you need an extra four hundred dollars a month or four thousand, it’s your choice. If health only allows you to work five hours a day, or different hours each day, build your business around those requirements.

You’ll hear lots of stories about how start-up businesses fail. That’s usually because the person starting the business didn’t learn the basics. I failed miserably in my first retail business because I was sure that all it took was a dream and the will to make it come true. What I learned was that it takes understanding the basics of business. Blind folks are lucky in this regard because there are two places where you can get excellent free training.

My first recommendation is the Forsythe Center for Employment and Entrepreneurship training course sponsored by the Hadley Institute. They have an online series of courses that will teach you everything you need to know to start a small business, go to https://www.hadley.edu/fce.asp to check it out. For the past two years they have held a competition for new business ideas and awarded fifty thousand dollars in prizes. One more upside is that the courses are free!

My second recommendation is the Business Enterprise Program in your state. These programs have been around since the 1930’s to help blind people learn to operate snack bars and cafeterias. No, you may not ultimately want to operate a snack bar or cafeteria, but the training you can get from the program will help you understand the business fundamentals you need to know to be successful. These two programs are worth tens of thousands of dollars in training you don’t have to pay for.

It’s difficult to tell how much blindness will play a part in how you operate your business. Some of it depends upon how much you intend to hire other people to do and how much you will need to do yourself. Many small business startups find that they don’t have the money to hire employees, so the burden falls to you to have practical electronic access skills through screen enlargement or speech software. The nice thing about starting small and doing all the work yourself is that as you grow, you’ll be able to explain the details to new people, and you won’t be one of those clueless bosses who doesn’t understand. The other thing that’s nice about doing it yourself is that you can work any time, day or night, not having to wait for a pair of eyes to show up.

Finding solutions to blindness challenges in business shouldn’t have to be a lonely process. Whether you take the Forsythe courses or the Business Enterprise training, meet the people who are solutions finders. Blindness is just a problem waiting to be solved. When you meet those solutions finders, grab on to them and steal every good idea you can. You’ll be happy you did.

Business ownership isn’t for everyone. It requires discipline, and in some ways your business can be the worst boss you ever had. It doesn’t care whether you’re sick or tired. It tells you what to do, and you either do it or you don’t. On the other hand, your business will never tell you that you shouldn’t try something because you’re blind. It doesn’t really care about your blindness. It will never pity you, speak in a condescending manner, or help you find stairs that you were perfectly able to find for yourself. In that sense, it’s the ideal boss.

I’ve spent twenty-five years in business. Some times were good, and some times were bad. But, through it all, being in business can teach you self-reliance and a personal pride of accomplishment when it works. So, if you’re frustrated by hearing all those no’s from would-be employers, just hire yourself.

The Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship

by Cayte Mendez

From the Editor: Cayte Mendez is the chairperson of one of the most important committees of the National Federation of the Blind. She and her committee are charged with advertising our scholarship program and choosing thirty students who demonstrate academic success, leadership, and commitment to helping others. Here is Cayte’s announcement about the 2018 scholarship program:

Each July at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, our organization awards a broad array of scholarships to recognize achievement by blind scholars. Our thirty scholarships, of which the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship is the largest, are all substantial and prestigious enough to inspire any student to complete a competitive application. The NFB Scholarship Program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. I encourage every blind college student to apply.

What exactly is the secret to winning an NFB scholarship? Over the years I have heard quite a bit of speculation regarding the answer to this question. To be sure, there are some non-negotiable eligibility requirements. All applicants for these scholarships must:

While these are the concrete requirements, what exactly is the secret to becoming an NFB scholarship winner?

Many think the single key to becoming a scholarship winner is a high grade point average. While an applicant’s GPA certainly has value because it demonstrates his/her ability to learn and be successful academically, this is by no means the only attribute that influences the decisions of the scholarship committee. Likewise, others believe that the secret to winning is abundant participation in extracurricular activities. Recognizing an applicant’s willingness to take on commitments outside of school and/or work can help the committee develop a portrait of a well-rounded individual; however, this is also not sufficient in itself to justify a scholarship award.

Still others think the magic scholarship winning ingredient is an applicant’s level of commitment to the NFB. It is certainly true that the scholarship program provides our organization with a tremendous opportunity to develop future leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, but scholarship awards are by no means restricted to members of the organization. The National Federation of the Blind is dedicated to creating opportunities for all blind people. Recipients of NFB scholarships need not be members of the National Federation of the Blind. Many of our past winners were not even aware of the NFB before they applied for our scholarships.

Finally, there are those who speculate that the committee looks for winners among applicants from specific fields of study or specific demographics. However, over the years, students of all ages and in widely differing fields have become finalists. The class of 2017 included students entering their freshman year, as well as older students who were nearly ready to write their PhD dissertations. Past scholarship winners are working toward credentials for employment in many diverse fields.

So what exactly is the secret to becoming an NFB scholarship finalist? It is just this—you must apply! Each November the new, updated scholarship application forms are posted on the web at www.nfb.org/scholarships, along with important information about the contest, links to information on past winners, and a page of frequently asked questions. The application form for 2018 is already online. It will remain up until March 31. The process can be initiated with an online application, which we prefer, or students can ask for a print application by contacting our scholarship office at [email protected] or by calling (410) 659-9314, ext. 2415.

A complete application consists of the official application form and a student essay, plus these supporting documents: student transcripts, one letter of recommendation, and proof of legal blindness. The student must also complete an interview with the president of the applicant’s state of residence or the state where he or she will be attending school. High school seniors may also include a copy of the results of their ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams.

Unfortunately, some applications are incomplete, so the committee is unable to consider them fairly. Applicants must ensure that all of the required information and supporting documentation has been received by our scholarship office either online by midnight EST, March 31, or by mail postmarked by March 31. Students should carefully consider who can do the best job of writing their letter of reference. A letter should support the application by being full of facts and observations that will help the members of the committee see the applicant as a smart, active student and citizen. Students can write their essays using word processing software. They should remember to use the spell checker (or a human proofreader) before uploading, printing, or copying and pasting it into the online application form.

In an effective essay the applicant will talk about his or her life in a way that gives the committee insight into him or her. The essay should cover the ways in which one lives successfully as a blind person and describe the applicant’s personal goals for the future. Information about positions of leadership is especially helpful. Committee members give the essay a great deal of attention.

The NFB scholarship committee is comprised of dedicated, successful blind people who will review all applications and select the top thirty applicants who will become the scholarship class of 2018. Note that students submit just one application to the program; the scholarship committee will choose the thirty finalists from all applications received. These thirty scholarship finalists will be notified of their selection by telephone no later than June 1.

Finally, during the annual convention held July 3 through July 8, 2018, in Orlando, Florida, the scholarship committee will decide which award will be presented to each winner. Attending and participating in the entire NFB national convention is one of the requirements to become an NFB scholarship winner. Of course, attending the convention is also a significant part of the prize.

The National Federation of the Blind’s national convention is the largest gathering of blind people to occur anywhere in the world each year, with 2,500 or more people registered. Those chosen as scholarship finalists will have the opportunity to network with other blind students, to exchange information and ideas, and to meet and talk with hundreds of blind people who are successfully functioning in many occupations and professions. Our past winners often comment that the money was quickly spent, but the contacts they made and the information they gathered at convention have continued to make their lives richer than they ever imagined.

Often students apply more than one year before winning a scholarship, so applicants are encouraged to reapply. The NFB may award three or more scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if their scholarship and leadership merit another award. Individuals receiving a second NFB national scholarship are recognized as tenBroek Fellows.

So now you know the secret. The key to success for the NFB scholarship program is as straightforward as carefully reading the application on our website and then providing all of the required information and supporting documentation before the deadline of March 31. I look forward to receiving your applications!

Social Security, SSI, and Medicare Facts for 2018

by John Paré

About this time each year, we provide you with details regarding annual adjustments in the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicare programs. In 2018 approximately 65 million Americans will see a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase of 2 percent in their benefit amounts. Thus, come January, monthly checks will be a few dollars higher.

The 2018 amounts appear below along with some concepts which are always good to know about the Social Security and Medicare programs if you want to understand your rights. The COLA adjustment (if any) is based upon the consumer price index (CPI-W), which measures the inflationary rate against the wages earned by the approximately 173 million workers across the nation over the previous four quarters starting with the third quarter of the previous year. Okay, here are the numbers:

Tax Rates

FICA and Self-Employment Tax Rates: If you have a job, you know that you do not bring home everything you earn. For example, 7.65 percent of your pay is deducted to cover your contribution to the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (OASDI) Trust Fund and the Medicare Hospital Insurance (HI) Trust Fund. Specifically, 6.20 percent covers OASDI, and 1.45 percent is contributed to the HI Trust Fund. Additionally, your employer is required to match this 7.65 percent for a total of 15.30 percent.

For those who are self-employed, there is no “employer” to match the 7.65 percent. Thus, a self-employed individual pays the entire 15.30 percent of her income. These numbers will not change in 2018 whether an individual is employed or self-employed. As of January 2013, individuals with earned income of more than $200,000 ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) pay an additional 0.9 percent in Medicare taxes, not including the above amounts.

Maximum Taxable Earnings

For the OASDI Trust Fund, there is a ceiling on taxable earnings, which was $127,200 per year in 2017 and will jump to $128,700 in 2018. Thus, for earnings above $128,700, there is no 6.20 percent deducted for OASDI. As for Medicare, there is no limit on taxable earnings for the HI Trust Fund.

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)

Quarters of Coverage

I always like to compare the OASDI Trust Fund to an insurance policy. You have to pay a premium to participate. Therefore, to qualify for Retirement, Survivors, or Disability Insurance benefits, an individual must pay a minimum amount of FICA taxes into the OASDI Trust Fund by earning a sufficient number of calendar quarters to become fully insured for Social Security benefits.

In 2017 credit for one quarter of coverage was awarded for any individual who earned at least $1,300 during the year, which means that an individual would have needed to earn at least $5,200 to be credited with four quarters of coverage. In 2018 the amount increases to $1,320 for one calendar quarter or $5,280 to earn four quarters of coverage for the year.

A maximum of four quarters can be awarded for any calendar year, and it makes no difference when the income is earned during that year. Basically, the taxes you pay into the OASDI and HI Trust Funds are your premiums to participate in the Social Security and Medicare programs.

The total number of quarters required to be eligible for benefits depends on the individual’s age. The older the individual, the more quarters are required. Furthermore, a higher average income during an individual’s lifetime means a higher Social Security or SSDI check when benefits start. Remember the above quoted numbers for quarters of coverage to become fully insured are only minimum amounts.

Trial Work Period (TWP)

This concept is often misunderstood. The amount of earnings required to use a trial work month is based not upon the earnings limit for blind beneficiaries, but rather upon the national average wage index. In 2017, the amount required to use a TWP month was only $840, and this amount will increase to $850 in 2018.

If you are self-employed, you can also use a trial work month if you work more than eighty hours in your business, and this limitation will not change unless expressly adjusted.

Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA)

The earnings limit for a blind beneficiary in 2017 was $1,950 per month and will rise to $1,970 in 2018. Remember this is not the TWP amount. This is to say that the TWP can be exhausted even if your income is well below $1,970 per month. See the above information about the TWP.

In 2018 a blind SSDI beneficiary who earns $1,971 or more in a month (before taxes but after subtracting unincurred business expenses for the self-employed, subsidized income for the employed, and impairment-related work expenses for both) will be deemed to have exceeded SGA and will likely no longer be eligible for benefits.

Social Security Benefit Amounts

In January of 2018, the average amount of SSDI benefits for a disabled worker is estimated to rise by about $24 to $1,197. Pursuant to the Social Security Act, a cost-of-living adjustment occurs automatically when there is an increase in inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). The CPI-W indicated an inflationary rate of 2.0 percent between the third quarter of 2016 and the third quarter of 2017. Thus, there is a corresponding COLA increase in 2018 and an increase in monthly benefit amounts.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The federal payment amount for individuals receiving SSI in 2017 was $735 and will increase to $750 in 2018, and the federal monthly payment amount of SSI received by couples will rise from $1,103 to $1,125.

Student Earned Income Exclusion

In 2017 the monthly amount was $1,790 and will increase to $1,820 in 2018. The annual amount was $7,200 and will be $7,350 in 2018. The asset limits under the SSI program will remain unchanged at $2,000 per individual and $3,000 per couple.


Signed on December 19, 2014, the ABLE Act will have a significant impact on resource limits associated with the SSI and Medicaid programs for those who were blind or disabled by the age of twenty-six. Traditionally, SSI beneficiaries have been required to adhere to strict resource limits such as a maximum of $2,000 in the bank for an individual receiving SSI benefits. Under the ABLE Act, however, the amount on deposit in an ABLE Account can be much higher.

ABLE Account contributions must be designated specifically for purposes such as education, housing (with a cautionary warning to follow), employment training and support, assistive technology, health, prevention and wellness, financial management, legal fees, and funeral and burial expenses. The required implementing regulations are being enacted in most states. Check with your financial institution of choice for a status of ABLE Act regulations in a specific state.

As to the warning about ABLE Account contributions for housing, it is important to note that SSI beneficiaries may still face the traditional $2,000 resource limit for ABLE Account funds designated for housing. Thus, SSI beneficiaries should consider the many other purposes not subject to the traditional resource limits when making ABLE Account contributions. Because there are also tax advantages associated with ABLE accounts, both SSDI and SSI beneficiaries should consult a financial advisor about establishing an ABLE Account.


At this writing, the Department of Health and Human Services has not released updated information regarding deductibles, coinsurance amounts, and premiums for 2018. Updated Medicare information will be provided in an upcoming issue of the Braille Monitor. But for illustrative purposes, here are details regarding the numbers from 2016 compared to 2017.

Medicare Deductibles and Coinsurance: Medicare Part A coverage provides hospital insurance to most Social Security beneficiaries. The coinsurance amount is the hospital charge to a Medicare beneficiary for any hospital stay. Medicare then pays the hospital charges above the beneficiary’s coinsurance amount.

The Part A hospital inpatient deductible was $1,288 in 2016 and increased to $1,316 in 2017. The coinsurance charged for hospital services within a benefit period of no longer than sixty days was $0 in 2016. From the sixty-first day through the ninetieth day, the daily coinsurance amount was $322 per day in 2016 and rose slightly to $329 in 2017. Each Medicare beneficiary has sixty lifetime reserve days that may be used after a ninety-day benefit period has ended. Once used, these reserve days are no longer available after any benefit period. The coinsurance amount paid during each reserve day used in 2016 was $644 and in 2017 was $658.

Part A of Medicare pays all covered charges for services in a skilled nursing facility for the first twenty days following a three-day in-hospital stay within a benefit period. From the twenty-first day through the one hundredth day in a benefit period, the Part A daily coinsurance amount for services received in a skilled nursing facility was $161 for 2016 and rose just slightly to $164.50 in 2017.

Most Social Security beneficiaries have no monthly premium charge for Medicare Part A coverage. Those who become ineligible for SSDI can continue to receive Medicare Part A coverage premium-free for at least ninety-three months after the end of a trial work period. After that time the individual may purchase Part A coverage. The premium rate for this coverage during 2016 was $411 monthly and increased to $413 in 2017.

The annual deductible amount for Medicare Part B (medical insurance) in 2016 was $166 and rose to $183 in 2017. The Medicare Part B monthly premium rate for 2016 was $121.80 per month and rose to $134 in 2017. For those receiving Social Security benefits, this premium payment is deducted from your monthly benefit check. Individuals who remain eligible for Medicare but are not receiving Social Security benefits due to work activity must directly pay the Part B premium quarterly—one payment every three months. Like the Part A premiums mentioned above, Part B is also available for at least ninety-three months following the trial work period, assuming an individual wishes to have it and, when not receiving SSDI, continues to make quarterly premium payments.

Programs That Help with Medicare Deductibles and Premiums: Low-income Medicare beneficiaries may qualify for assistance through four Medicare Savings Programs. We will discuss three of them here and leave the fourth one alone because (to qualify for it each year) you must already be on it, and you know who you are. Note: the amounts below may change in 2018. We begin with the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary program (QMB) and the Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary program (SLMB). To qualify for the QMB program in 2017, an individual’s monthly income could not exceed $1,025, and a married couple’s monthly income could not exceed $1,374. To qualify for the SLMB program in 2017, an individual’s monthly income could not exceed $1,226, and a married couple’s monthly income could not exceed $1,644.

Both the QMB and SLMB programs are administered by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in conjunction with the states. The rules vary from state to state, but the following can be said: As of 2017, resources (such as bank accounts or stocks) could not exceed $7,390 for one person or $11,090 per couple.

Under the QMB program, states are required to pay the Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Part B (Medical Insurance) premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance expenses for Medicare beneficiaries who meet the program’s income and resource requirements. Under the SLMB program, states pay only the full Medicare Part B monthly premium. Eligibility for the SLMB program may be retroactive for up to three calendar months.

The third program, known as the Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (QDWI) Program, pays Part A premiums only and has resource limits of $4,000 for one person and $6,000 for a married couple. As to these programs, resources are generally things you own. However, not everything is counted. Examples of things that don’t count include the house you live in, one car, a burial plot (or $1,500 put aside for burial expenses), and furniture.

If you qualify for assistance under the QMB program, you will not have to pay the following: Medicare’s hospital deductible amount, the daily coinsurance charges for extended hospital and skilled nursing facility stays; the Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) premium, the annual Part B deductible; and the coinsurance for services covered by Medicare Part B, depending on which doctor you go to (these services include doctor services, outpatient therapy, and durable medical equipment).

If you qualify for assistance under the SLMB program, you will be responsible for the payment of all of the items listed above except for the monthly Part B premium, depending on your circumstances.

If you think you qualify but you have not filed for Medicare Part A, contact Social Security to find out if you need to file an application. Further information about filing for Medicare is available from your local Social Security office or Social Security’s toll-free number (800) 772-1213.

Remember that only your state can decide if you are eligible for help from the QMB or SLMB program and also that the income and resource levels listed here are general guidelines, with some states choosing greater amounts. Therefore, if you are elderly or disabled, have low income and very limited assets, and are a Medicare beneficiary, contact your state or local Medicaid office (referred to in some states as the public aid office or the public assistance office) to apply. For more information about either program, call the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on its toll-free number (800) 633-4227, or visit Medicare.gov.

The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards

by James Gashel

From the Editor: James Gashel is secretary of the National Federation of the Blind and chairs the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee. Here is his announcement about the 2018 Bolotin Awards program:

The National Federation of the Blind is pleased to announce that applications are now being accepted for the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. These prestigious awards, granted each year as funds permit, seek to honor initiatives, innovations, and individuals that are a positive force in the lives of blind people and advance the ultimate goal of helping them transform their dreams into reality. Award winners will be publicly recognized during the 2018 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Orlando, Florida. Each recipient will be given a cash award in an amount determined by the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee and will also be honored with an engraved medallion and plaque.

Dr. Jacob W. Bolotin (1888-1924) was a pioneering blind physician, the first in history who achieved that goal despite the tremendous challenges faced by blind people in his time. Not only did he realize his own dream; he went on to support and inspire many others in making their own dreams a reality. The awards which bear his name are made possible through the generosity of his late nephew and niece. Their bequest, the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust, allows the National Federation of the Blind to present the annual cash awards.

As chronicled in his biography, The Blind Doctor by Rosalind Perlman, Dr. Bolotin fought ignorance and prejudice to gain entrance to medical school and the medical profession. He became one of the most respected physicians in Chicago during his career, which spanned the period from 1912 until his death in 1924. He was particularly known for his expertise in diseases of the heart and lungs. During his successful career Dr. Bolotin used his many public speaking engagements to advocate for employment of the blind and the full integration of the blind into society. Interested in young people in general and blind youth in particular, Dr. Bolotin established the first Boy Scout troop consisting entirely of blind boys and served as its leader.

Jacob Bolotin’s wife Helen had a sister whose husband died suddenly, leaving her to raise a son, Alfred Perlman. The Perlmans moved in with the Bolotins when Alfred was eleven, and for four years (until Jacob Bolotin’s untimely death at age thirty-six), "Uncle Jake" became Alfred's surrogate father. Alfred later married Rosalind, and the couple worked on a book about Dr. Bolotin's life. After Alfred's death in 2001, Rosalind dedicated the rest of her life to completing and publishing the book. Then, upon her death and as part of her will, Rosalind left a bequest to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind to produce Dr. Bolotin's biography and establish the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award program. Her book, The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story, has been published by and is available from Blue Point Books, www.BluePointBooks.com.

Past award winners have:

1. Broken down a barrier facing blind people in an innovative way.
2. Changed negative perceptions of blindness and blind people.
3. Pushed past existing boundaries to inspire blind people to achieve new heights.

Award Description

In 2018 the National Federation of the Blind will again recognize individuals and organizations that have distinguished themselves in accordance with the criteria established to receive a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. The committee will determine both the number of awards and the value of each cash award presented. The Federation determines the total amount to be distributed each year based on income received from the trust supporting the award program. The award categories for each year are blind individuals, sighted individuals, and organizations, corporations, or other entities. Individuals may apply on their own behalf or may submit a third-party nomination, or the committee may also consider other individual or organizational candidates.

Who Should Apply?

Individuals: Only individuals over eighteen years of age may be considered for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. Applicants must demonstrate that they have shown substantial initiative and leadership in improving the lives of the blind. Examples of such initiative include but are not limited to developing products, technologies, or techniques that increase the independence of the blind; directing quality programs or agencies for the blind; or mentoring other blind people. All individual applicants or third-party applicants nominating other individuals must demonstrate that the work to be recognized has been conducted within the twelve months preceding the application and/or that the work is continuing. Applications by or on behalf of individuals must include at least one letter of recommendation from a person familiar with or directly affected by the work to be recognized.

Organizations: Organizations may apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award in order to further programs, services, technology, or techniques of unique and outstanding merit that have assisted and will continue to assist the blind. Applications from third parties nominating an organization will also be considered. The organization category includes corporations, nonprofit organizations, or other entities, such as a specific division within an organization. Organizations or third-party applicants must demonstrate that the programs or services to be recognized include substantial participation by blind people as developers, mentors, administrators, or executives, and not merely as clients, consumers, or beneficiaries. For example, an organization operating a program for blind youth might demonstrate that a substantial number of the counselors, teachers, or mentors involved in the program are blind. The organization or third-party applicant must demonstrate that it has substantially aided blind people within the twelve months prior to application and that an award would support efforts to build on previous successes. The application must also include at least one testimonial from a blind person who has benefited substantially from the programs or services.

To qualify for an award both individuals and organizations must be headquartered in the United States of America, and their work must primarily benefit the blind of the United States.


More information, including an online application, can be found on the National Federation of the Blind website at https://www.nfb.org/bolotin.

Online submission of nominations, letters of support, and other relevant materials is strongly encouraged, but applications sent by mail and postmarked by the deadline will also be accepted. The 2018 deadline for application submission is April 15. Recipients chosen by the committee will be individually notified of their selection no later than May 15. Receipt of all complete applications will be acknowledged; only those applicants chosen to receive an award will be contacted by May 15. All decisions of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee are final.

The awards will be presented in July during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Individuals selected to receive an award must appear in person, not send a representative. Organizations may send an individual representative, preferably their chief executive officer. Recipient candidates must confirm in writing that they will appear in person to accept the award at the National Federation of the Blind annual convention. Failure to confirm attendance for the award presentation by June 1 will result in forfeiture of the award.

Ineligible Persons

Those employed full-time by the National Federation of the Blind may not apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for work performed within the scope of their employment. Students may not apply for both a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award and a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship in the same year.

National Federation of the Blind and Automakers Host Conference on the Promise of Autonomous Vehicles and the Disability Community

From the Editor: Transportation has always been at the top of the list when it comes to problems blind people want solved. The loss of the ability to drive is one of the problems that newly-blinded people grieve most, and it is the American rite of passage that has been denied to those who have been blind since birth. In most places in America, easily engaging in many social activities is predicated on the idea that one can come and go at will. With all of the options we have, from busses to cabs to Uber, there are times when the places we live lack these crucial services, and only when we too have control over a vehicle will we experience what drivers take for granted. Here is a press release discussing the role of the National Federation of the Blind in hosting a conference focusing on autonomous vehicles, one that involved major stakeholders, and one which will shape the self-driving vehicle we will soon see on America’s streets and highways:

Diverse Group of Attendees Focus on Accessibility of Autonomous Vehicles for the Disabled

Baltimore, MD (October 26, 2017): Yesterday the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (“Auto Alliance”) hosted a conference titled “The Promise: Autonomous Vehicles and the Disability Community.” The event was hosted at NFB’s Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

The conference brought together representatives from government, the automotive industry, and advocates for the disabled to discuss the advances, challenges, and path forward for autonomous vehicle development.

“Historically, accessibility has been a costly post-purchase vehicle modification for most people with disabilities, and nonexistent for the blind,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “The National Federation of the Blind was therefore pleased to co-host this first-of-its-kind gathering of disabled consumers, automotive industry representatives, ride-sharing providers, and policymakers, laying the groundwork for accessibility to be included in the development of promising new vehicle technologies rather than as an afterthought. Discussion between industry and disabled consumers has already had a positive impact on the Senate’s AV START legislation, and our continued work together will pave the way for autonomous vehicles to become tools that will truly enhance independence and opportunity for the blind and other disabled travelers.”

“Automakers have been developing self-driving technologies for years. We are motivated by the tremendous potential for enhanced safety for everyone and the opportunity to provide greater mobility freedom to people with disabilities and the elderly,” said Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO of the auto alliance. “Given the enormity of the social benefits, we are anxious to work with stakeholders and government leaders to develop the policy framework to realize these benefits as soon as we can.”

The conference was a key step in the ongoing conversation about how autonomous vehicles can be developed and deployed safely, while considering the needs of those 57 million Americans with disabilities. Autonomous vehicles offer disabled Americans opportunities for increased mobility and independence, as well as reliable transportation that could vastly increase employment opportunities. The National Federation of the Blind and Auto Alliance urge Congress, the Administration, and original equipment manufacturers alike to consider the needs of the disabled as they continue to develop the laws, regulations, and technology that will bring autonomous vehicles to the masses.

The day’s speakers included representatives of the disability community (including the National Association of the Deaf, National Federation of the Blind, Paralyzed Veterans of America, American Association of People with Disabilities, United Spinal Association, American Council of the Blind, and National Down Syndrome Society); the automotive industry (including General Motors, Audi of America, Daimler North America, and Volvo Car Group); government (including representatives from the office of Senator Gary Peters, D-Mich., the US Department of Labor, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and other stakeholders (including representatives from Uber and Securing America’s Future Energy).

The 2018 Blind Educator of the Year Award

by Edward Bell

From the Editor: Dr. Edward Bell is an experienced educator in his own right. He was named Blind Educator of the Year in 2008. He chairs the 2018 Blind Educator of the Year Award Selection Committee. This is what he says:

A number of years ago the Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators (the educators division of the National Federation of the Blind) to pay tribute to a blind teacher whose exceptional classroom performance, notable community service, and uncommon commitment to the NFB merit national recognition. Beginning with the 1991 presentation, this award became an honor bestowed by our entire movement. The change reflects our recognition of the importance of good teaching and the affect an outstanding blind teacher has on students, faculty, community, and all blind Americans.

This award is presented in the spirit of the outstanding educators who founded and have continued to nurture the National Federation of the Blind and who, by example, have imparted knowledge of our strengths to us and raised our expectations. We have learned from Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and Immediate Past President Marc Maurer that a teacher not only provides a student with information but also provides guidance, advocacy, and love. The recipient of the Blind Educator of the Year Award must exhibit all of these traits and must advance the cause of blind people in the spirit and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

The Blind Educator of the Year Award is presented at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Honorees must be present to receive an appropriately inscribed plaque and a check for $1,000.

Nominations should be sent to Dr. Edward Bell, director, PDRIB, by email at [email protected], or by mail to PDRIB, Louisiana Tech University, PO Box 3158, Ruston, LA 71272. Letters of nomination must be accompanied by a copy of the nominee’s current résumé and supporting documentation of community and Federation activity. All nomination materials must be in the hands of the committee chairman by May 1, 2018, to be considered for this year’s award. For further information contact Edward Bell at (318) 257-4554, or [email protected].

Confrontation at the Capitol: The Fight to Stop H.R. 620

by Kyle Walls

From the Editor: Kyle Walls works as a program assistant for advocacy and policy at the Jernigan Institute. He is a fantastic communicator, knows how to write, and does so with passion and conviction. He is supervised by John Paré, and anyone who works for John can’t help but feel the passion, conviction, and outrage he feels when the blind are placed at a disadvantage. Here is Kyle’s article, and let us use it to recommit ourselves to stopping the passage of this bill:

On a beautiful October afternoon in Washington, DC, members of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) arrived at the western steps of the Capitol to take a group photo in celebration of their annual Fall Advocacy Conference. However, they were met by a group of about thirty National Federation of the Blind members from all across the Washington metropolitan area. With their white canes proudly displayed, the NFB members stood defiantly facing west across the National Mall in the exact spot where AAHOA typically takes its photo.

Seemingly wanting to avoid a direct confrontation, the AAHOA photographer prompted the approximately one hundred association members to move to another set of stairs a little farther away, but still with the Capitol building as the backdrop. Like a field general mobilizing troops, John Paré moved our members en masse to a spot right behind them. If the photographer was going to get the Capitol dome in the picture, we would be in the photo as well. We made it clear that we were there for a reason and that we refused to be ignored. These events eventually lead to a direct engagement between John and Chirag K. Shah, AAHOA’s vice president of government affairs and counsel, on the Capitol steps.

It may seem unusual for the NFB to engage a group with such specific focus as the Asian American Hotel Owners Association, but as it turns out, AAHOA is one of the leading proponents of H.R. 620. As you probably already know, H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, is a bill that we have vehemently opposed since its introduction to the House floor in late January. If passed, H.R. 620 will allow alleged ADA violators sixty days to respond to a notice of violation with a proposed plan to remove the access barrier. Following this response, the business in violation will then have an additional 120 days to remove the barrier or to make “substantial progress” in the removal of the barrier. When added together and expanded to the maximum allowable time, these response and compliance periods total approximately six months.

Naturally this approach creates a number of problems for people with disabilities. First and foremost, allowing for a six-month delay in the removal of an access barrier that has been in violation of federal law for nearly three decades is outrageous and more than a little insulting. Businesses that existed prior to the passage of the ADA should have remedied these violations long ago, and for those that were constructed after the passage of the ADA, there is no excuse for the inclusion of access barriers at all. Additionally, if H.R. 620 is passed into law, it will provide no incentive for business, new or old, to become ADA compliant. If there is no swift and immediate consequence for violation, what reason would a business have to become compliant? Realistically, they have no incentive to obey the law until they are found to be in violation of it. This opens the door for businesses to knowingly violate the accessibility mandates of the ADA, a standard of American law for twenty-seven years, until they receive a complaint. In no way is this an appropriate mechanism to mete out justice.

Another aspect of this bill that creates severe cause for concern is the introduction of the standard of “substantial progress.” The bill states that the owner or operator of a business will only face the threat of civil action if they fail to “remove the barrier or to make substantial progress in removing the barrier,” but does not include a definition by which substantial progress can be measured. If a hotel were to post Braille room number labels for two of the ten floors in the building following a complaint, would the “substantial progress” standard be fulfilled? Would this hotel then be free from the threat of civil action until someone else complained that the other eight floors weren’t labeled in Braille? This is an extreme example, but it is certainly not outside the realm of possibility for a statute so vague.

Finally, there is no guarantee this bill will stop overly-aggressive attorneys looking for a quick payout, its intended purpose according to supporters. If an attorney sets the settlement amount at less than the cost to remedy the violation, what would stop a business owner from just paying the settlement amount? In that case, the business is still inaccessible, the business owner has still paid the settlement, and the unprincipled attorney has still received money.

The fact that unscrupulous individuals have found a way to pervert and exploit the intentions of the Americans with Disabilities Act is a sad and sickening revelation. However, weakening and eroding the protections set forth in this landmark legislation will only increase the number of barriers that people with disabilities face every single day.

We hear and understand the concerns of business owners and operators, and we are more than happy to work with them to find a genuine solution to the problem. But if they continue down this path in support of this dangerous bill, we will continue to show, just as we did on the steps of the Capitol, that we will not be stopped, we will not be ignored, and we are not going away.

The Blind Can Participate in Worship and Bible Study

by Susan Povinelli

From the Editor: Susan Povinelli and her husband Larry are members of Lamb of God in Madison, Alabama. Her article was originally published in the church’s special ministries publication His Hands on May 5, 2017, and can be found in its online version here: https://wels.net/the-blind-can-participate-in-worship-and-bible-study/. Many blind people struggle with the way to be active in the parts of their church service that involve reading: Bible verses, hymns, and leading in readings to the congregation. Some of us have felt the discomfort that comes from being passive, but others have been more proactive and have found ways to participate fully. Here is just such an example:
As a sighted child I can remember flipping through The Lutheran Hymnal during church. As my eyesight began to deteriorate during my college years, I had to find other ways to read the hymnal and devotional materials. For many years I received meditations and sermons on cassettes produced by the volunteers of our WELS Mission to the Visually Impaired (MVI).

But studying the Bible using a cassette tape was extremely difficult because you could not easily jump between books, chapters, and verses. Then I began using a device called the Victor Reader Stream. This device allows me to quickly and efficiently move between Bible books, chapters, and verses. For details on the Victor Reader Stream, please visit humanware.com.

Today I am able to download countless Bible applications to my iPhone. The iPhone is completely accessible to a blind person because of its VoiceOver feature, which allows a blind person to translate printed words into speech. Our own Northwestern Publishing House is e-publishing most of its books, such as the People’s Bible series, and they can be bought at the Kindle store. In addition, I am able to read Forward in Christ and other periodicals through the wels.net website or using the WELS app. For the price of a subscription, I am able to enjoy daily devotions through the Meditations app. A free option is to sign up for daily email devotions at wels.net/subscribe.

Most worship materials are also accessible using my iPhone. Since our worship folders and the majority of our pastor’s Bible studies are available electronically, he sends me these materials via email. I can access them through my iPhone by connecting a Braille display or listen audibly through a headphone. This enables me to participate fully in worship and Bible study.

Finally, there are many scanning applications that can take a picture of a printed page and convert it into different formats, such as PDF, Word, Text, etc. This software will read the converted page on your smart phone. The number one application, which was developed by the blind, for the blind, is the KNFB Reader Application. Go to knfbreader.com for more information.

As the population ages and their vision decreases, congregations should accommodate all visually impaired people so that they can fully participate in worship and Bible study. For those who have some vision and don’t read Braille, Northwestern Publishing House has Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal available in large print. In addition, your church secretary can print out a few worship folders in a large font (fourteen-point or greater).

With modern technology, which is not difficult to learn, and pastors willing to work with visually impaired congregants, there is no reason why a blind person cannot participate fully in worship or Bible study. As technology improves, blind people will have more and more information readily available to them.

To God be the glory for such advancements!

Running to Catch the Elusive Dream of Fitness and Accomplishment

by Jessica Beecham

From the Editor: Jessica Beecham is a highly motivated, intelligent, and committed member of the National Federation of the Blind who is expanding the possibilities for all of us by her athletic endeavors and her willingness to share the way she has achieved what many of us have written off as impossible—significant athletic competition. Here is a speech she gave at the 2017 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. In transcribing it I was moved emotionally--not only by what she did, but by the courage and inventiveness she employed in reaching her ambitious goals. I am not likely to do the runs she highlights here, but I am uplifted by knowing that it can be done by a blind person. Here is what she says:

Arthur C. Clarke said that “The limits of the possible can only be defined by going beyond them into the impossible.” Although Kevin Kovacs says that “The most important Arnold Schwarzenegger quote is, ‘I’ll be back.’ Arnold also said that “In our society, women who break down barriers are those who ignore limits.” T.S. Eliot said that “Only those who are willing to go too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

The National Federation of the Blind believes that with love, hope, and determination, we transform dreams into reality. For seventy-eight years the National Federation of the Blind has boldly broken down barriers and defied expectations to show the world that there is no limit to the capacity of blind people.

Our organization is full of leaders who have never been afraid to break down barriers. Dr. Marc Maurer often tells the story of the time that he taught Fred Schroeder to use a chainsaw. Dr. Schroeder was a little nervous at the beginning of the lesson, but he knew that Dr. Maurer was a very capable teacher. After the lesson was over Dr. Schroeder could successfully use a chainsaw, and no human limbs were lost in the process. Dr. Maurer confessed that before teaching Dr. Schroeder, he himself had never before used a chainsaw.

President Mark Riccobono was hired to develop educational programs for the Jernigan Institute. Dr. Maurer tasked him with the chore of developing a science camp for blind youth. When newly hired Mark Riccobono asked, “So, what is the plan?” Dr. Maurer responded, “Well, isn’t that what I hired you for?”

Remember that in the early 2000’s science programs for blind people were very limited. President Riccobono’s willingness to blaze new trails has allowed many of the youth who’ve participated in those first science programs to go on and blaze trails in STEM careers—notably Jordan Caster, one of the first Youth Slam participants who is now a software developer at Apple. Just a little side note: President Riccobono also went on to become the first blind person to drive a car independently on the Daytona Speedway.

Our very own Diane McGeorge saw that the rehabilitation services being offered by most state agencies just wasn’t cutting it, so she founded the Colorado Center for the Blind. Thanks to Diane, Joyce Scanlan, the founder of BLIND Inc., and Joanne Wilson, founder of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, (three phenomenal women) the Federation has transformed the face of blindness rehabilitation. When we are surrounded by all of these great leaders and heroes, it is easy to see that we as blind people determine our own futures and that we also have the obligation to set a high bar for those who will follow in our footsteps.

As president of the National Federation of the Blind Sports and Recreation Division, I am honored to know blind people who have completed pretty amazing adventures. Erik Weihenmayer became the first blind person to summit Mount Everest, a dangerous and daunting feet. Although thousands attempt it each year, only a handful of skilled climbers actually reach the summit. Jason Romero ran across the United States in less than two months. Only three hundred people have crossed the United States on foot. His speedy crossing puts him among the fastest of those to complete this epic journey. This month Erich Manser set the world visually impaired Ironman record by completing a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run in ten hours and forty-two minutes. Amy Dixon became the first blind female to complete an XTERRA triathlon, which is an open water swim followed by a very technical trail, bike, and run. Rhonda-Marie Avery is the first blind woman to compete in the Barkley Marathons, in fact the first blind person ever to compete in this marathon. The Barkley Marathons is the toughest foot race in the world, and it has only been completed by sixteen people. If you’ve never heard of this grueling and quirky race, check out episode thirty-seven of Find Your Fit, or watch the documentary about the Barkley Marathons on Netflix. It is truly a race like none other. Bettina Dolinsek is the first blind CrossFit instructor, and Maureen Nietfeld is the first Zumba instructor. Let’s give it up for all those blind people who blaze those trails so that we can live the lives we want.

Everyone in this room has the opportunity to be a trailblazer. Isn’t that what the National Federation of the Blind is all about? I mean, Jim Gashel has just blown it out of the park this morning showing us how, over the past fifty years, we’ve done nothing but blaze trails. We’ve blazed trails so that blind students can have access to STEM curriculum, so that parents who are blind can raise their children without question. We blaze trails so that future generations will not have to experience the same discrimination that we have when looking for employment or getting accessible technology.

Recently I have taken my running off road to try a little trailblazing. In 2016 I became the first blind person to complete the Pike’s Peak Marathon, a round trip up and down Pike’s Peak Mountain. My blind friend Luanne Burke was along for the journey and was the first blind person to complete the Pike’s Peak Assent, a trip all the way up Pike’s Peak Mountain, a race all the way up. This summer I tried my hand at my first fifty-mile race, the Pike’s Peak Ultra, one of the ten toughest foot races in the United States, featuring over 11,000 feet of elevation gain and loss going up and down Pike’s Peak one-and-a-half times over very technical terrain.

Today I want to share a few of the lessons I have learned while trailblazing: every trailblazer needs a solid team. When I found the National Federation of the Blind, I found a group of people who believed in me more than I believed in myself. This was not because they knew me; most of them didn’t. But they believed in the abilities and the dreams of all blind people. A solid team provides a sound support structure for our success.

In the months leading up to the Pike’s Peak Ultra, the National Federation of the Blind, Colorado Center for the Blind, and countless friends and family displayed their belief in me by supporting my WE Fit Fifty fundraising campaign to raise money for WE Fit Wellness, a cause very near and dear to my heart. Because of my team we were able to raise over $8,000 for the continued work of WE Fit Wellness.

Leading up to the Pike’s Peak Ultra, my travel schedule was grueling, beginning with national convention and ending the day before the race with my flight back from the 2017 Youth Slam program. My WE Fit Wellness team made sure everything was in place so that all I had to worry about when I got home was taking a nap, or so I thought. They actually had found time to come up with a really fun surprise. The guy in the video I am about to show is my dad: [Jessica’s father was there to meet her at the airport, and when she entered the car to take her home, he knocked on the window and in a high-pitched voice asked, “Excuse me, ma’am. May I share this Huber with you?” The video reveals Jessica screaming with excitement, surprise, and pleasure. The convention applauded.] The video can be found at https://youtu.be/NEeC3p6vxZg8.

On race day the WE Fit Wellness team and my Achilles Pike’s Peak team went above and beyond to ensure they were at every aid station to make sure that I would have the nutrition and supplies I needed to finish the race. This included standing outside in the pouring rain, offloading on trails that were probably not meant for vehicles, and putting up with my emotional ups and downs that inevitably come with an ultramarathon. Without my entire team I wouldn’t have been able to make it to the starting line let alone to the finish.

Do things that scare you. One of the best ways to grow as a person or an advocate is to do those things that are a little scary. Think back to the first time that you crossed a busy intersection independently or the first time you sat down with a member of Congress to advocate for a cause that was important for blind people. When we do these things that are scary day after day, they become second nature, and they expand our horizons. One of my scariest runs came on Easter Sunday. I was exploring a new part of the Pike’s Peak Fifty course. It started out okay; we were in this part of the trail called Seven Bridges. It was a little technical, but it was fine. And then it wasn’t. I was having to scramble over big rocks; I was running over narrow trails that had slick drop-offs on either side, and the whole time I was crying very quietly behind my guide because I didn’t want her to know how scared I was. I didn’t know how this scary thing was ever going to become second nature, and I went home feeling like I was never going to be able to complete the race. But, after months of training, I was able to develop some alternative techniques that helped me get through the race easier. In the following video you will see some of the alternative techniques I used for trail running, and my favorite thing about this video is that it was actually taken on the same part of the Pike’s Peak Ultra course as my very frightening Easter Sunday run. [The second video can be found at https://youtu.be/Lm-6crZYYhI.]

Now as you could see from that video, I gained a little bit in confidence, but it ain’t all flowers. Sometimes you’re going to find thorns. On race day it rained on and off all day. When I got to my course nemesis, Mount Rosa, there was thunder and lightning, and the course was rerouted because of the lightning. Rosa was a big, bad, beast; she was tall, she was slick, and I never ran on her without falling three or four times. But I practiced and practiced, and every time I ran Mount Rosa, I got a little faster, and I was ready to own her on race day. I was a little heartbroken when I had to skip that part of the course, but that didn’t diminish my feeling of success when I crossed the finish line, and it didn’t change anything about the accomplishment I felt after running fifty-one miles. [applause]

The little bumps in the road, the pitfalls, and even the defeats that we experience help us to savor our successes—being consistent and persistent. The little things that we have to do are not always as glorious as putting on the big conventions, but if we don’t do the little things, then we can’t have the big conventions or win the big victories. So selling the raffle tickets and making phone call after phone call to invite members to meetings oftentimes feels cumbersome, but it is the tedious and inglorious tasks that we do over and over that build our strong foundation for success.

One of my toughest running weeks came at the national convention when I had to run up countless flights of stairs to get to the treadmill. My longest day was a twenty-four-mile treadmill run and an hour running up and down the stairs. [At this point Jessica shows a video of her longest training day, it can be found at https://youtu.be/7I6sl1GuhSo] It is doing those tedious things over and over again that yields the best results. Savor your success, celebrate your success, but before the celebration dies, don’t forget to start planning your next big adventure. This is a lesson I have learned repeatedly from the leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, and it’s one that I hold very near and dear to my heart. When I’m done with a race or achieve any other personal victory, I’ll cry a few happy tears, share some war stories, raise a toast with friends, but before the celebration dies down, I’ll begin planning my next big adventure.

As we gain energy through sharing time, ideas, and dreams with one another this weekend, celebrate the successes of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. As Scott LaBarre just reported, they have been many, but before you leave, don’t forget to start planning your next big adventure. Let’s go blaze some trails!

The Power of the Mind: Research Exploring the Capacity of the Blind

by Marina Bedny

From the Editor: We have heard a lot of speculation about how learning takes place and how the minds of blind people adapt. Some have speculated that what is known as the visual cortex dies when it fails to be stimulated by visual information. Other studies have suggested there is nothing special about this part of the brain and that it takes on other functions. Still others have suggested that not only does it take on other functions but that these are functions similar to what it was intended to do had vision been present, namely shape recognition that is so crucial in reading.

At the 2017 National Convention we were addressed by Marina Bedny. She is an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University and a neuroscientist who is actively looking at the brains of blind people. Here’s what she has to say:

Good morning—getting to the afternoon. I am very honored to be here today to talk with you. It’s quite an act to follow: I don’t know what’s worse—following the honorable congresswoman or Anil Lewis. But I’m going to take you down to the world of scientific nerdiness. So for all you self-proclaimed nerds out there, let me hear you; I’m going to need your support. [cheers]

Thank you for that introduction. My name is Marina Bedny, and I’m a professor at Johns Hopkins University in the department of psychological and brain sciences. My time is split between two things: some of my time I spend teaching undergraduate students at Johns Hopkins University and grad students; that’s about a quarter of my time. The rest of my time I run a research lab. I run a lab called the Neuroplasticity and Development Lab. My lab is interested in questions about nature and nurture, where does the human mind come from, and in particular how does our experience in the world shape the way our brains work and shape the way our minds work and shape who we are? So that’s the question we’re interested in. It’s a very, very old question. It’s been of interest to philosophers and psychologists and humans for thousands of years. But we’re pretty lucky to be living at a time when science and technology allow us to study this question using neuroscience and psychology. So we can use scientific methods and techniques like functional magnetic resonance imaging and quantitative measures of behavior to study the mind and brain. That is what my lab does, and I’ll tell you a little bit about that as we go along.

My lab specifically applies these methods to study the question of how life experience shapes our minds and brains. We base these studies on the fact that we believe in order to understand who we are, we have to pay attention not to the differences among us, but that we can learn about who and what humans are by looking at the breadth of experience. There used to be this idea in science—or there used to be this idea, sometimes still is—that you can learn everything that you need to learn about people and how their minds work by studying white, ivy-league-college student males, right? Does that sound like the right idea of the way to do science? [chorus of no’s] Right. So there’s a problem with that. Because in reality, of course, there is no such thing as the generic person, right? Because the inherent part of being a person is the differences between us: some of us grew up on a farm, some of us grew up in the city, some of us grew up with lots of siblings, some of us grew up alone. My family immigrated to this country from Ukraine when I was eleven years old, and I believe that that’s part of what shaped the kind of person I am. Some of us live with vision, some of us live without. And part of understanding what it means to be a human is understanding all the ways in which humans live: blind, sighted, immigrants, women, men: all the diversity that exists.

So that is what my lab does. We work with individuals with different developmental histories and different experiences to understand how the mind and brain works. Some of the methods that we use I mentioned; one is functional magnetic resonance imaging (I’ll tell you about that in a bit), and some is behavior. Today one of the things that I’d like to do is to share with you some of the discoveries that scientists have made over the past—I would say decade—about blindness and about cognition and brain function in blind individuals. I am very honored to be here and grateful to be invited. I think it’s important for the scientific community to be engaged with the blind community so that science is done better and the science delivers to the blind community and the blind community has a say in how to interpret scientific findings. [applause] Thank you.

Today I’m going to talk to you about three things quickly: some things that stay the same in blindness and cognition, some things that improve, and some cool things that the brain does in individuals who are blind. The first thing I’m going to start with, which might sound like it’s the least exciting thing, which is what stays the same in blindness. But I actually think that this is a really important topic. Over the years psychologists and philosophers have had some very confused and extreme ideas about what the mind is like in blind individuals. And we have scientific methods to dispel these kinds of ideas and to find out what some of the things that actually stay the same are, so probably it will not come as a surprise to you that people who are blind know what the words “peek, stare, yellow, sparkle” mean. I regret to say that this comes as a surprise to some segments of the scientific community, and we’ve been able to use cognitive and neuroscientific methods to show that what sometimes people refer to as “visual concepts” are actually known very well by people who are born blind.

Perhaps more importantly, one of the things that we’ve studied is numerical cognition and mathematical reasoning in individuals who are blind. There’s sometimes this idea in the educational field that mathematics is particularly challenging for children who are blind. Well, one of the things that we did is we studied numerical understanding in blind individuals, both how blind people estimate number when you present them with tones and you ask them, “How many tones did you just hear?” That’s a basic kind of numerical ability that actually ends up being important for mathematic learning early on. We also measured mathematical behavior, and one of the things that we find is that the cognitive building blocks and the tools of math are exactly the same in people who are blind and sighted. Unfortunately what is different is access to math education. One of the things that we found when we asked blind people is that blind children in high school get shuttled out of math courses. I’m sure that this is not news to anyone, but one of the things that this research is showing is that there is absolutely no excuse for blind children not to be achieving the same way as sighted children in math and science. [applause]

Another thing that we’ve been studying is some things that improve, some things that get better with blindness. So scientists have been interested in this question for a long time; it often comes up in the context of “Do blind people hear better? Do blind people have better sensory perception?” And the answer to this question is, of course, very complicated. There are some things that blind people get better at with practice, and some don’t change at all. One of my favorite examples of this is tactile perception. It turns out that proficient Braille readers are better at tactile perception with their fingers [applause] but this varies; the more proficient at Braille reading they are, the better they are at this skill, and it is specific to their Braille-reading hand and their Braille-reading finger. So they’re no better—for example—at somatosensation on their lips, they’re just better with their Braille-reading finger.

It turns out that there are other things that blind people are better at that are not actually sensory. Our recent research shows that blind people are actually better at understanding sentences that have complex grammatical constructions, and I’ll talk to you a little bit about why that might be in a second, but we can do a little bit of an experiment right now. I’m going to tell you a sentence, and then I’m going to ask you a question about it, and I want you to shout out yes or no, ok? Here we go: while the old cat licked the puppy with floppy ears chased after the squeaky toy. Was the cat licking the puppy? Shout it out. Yes? Okay, so this is a very hard question. The answer is actually no. Some of you probably got it; some of you didn’t. It turns out that on average, it kind of leads you down the wrong path. But on average blind people are much better at answering these kinds of questions—obviously blind people are just as different from each other as sighted people are, so there’s lots of variation among blind people—but on average blind people are better.

Another interesting thing that turns out to be the case is that blind people are better at remembering lists of words and letters—actually almost twice as good as sighted people are—and they’re particularly better at remembering the order of words in a list and the order of the letters. So it seems like being blind actually improves your memory. Why this is is not clear. One potential reason is that you just have to practice more, right? When you go to the restaurant and when there is no Braille menu available, what do you have to do? You have to remember what was on the menu, whereas the sighted person sitting next to you can just glance back at it. So here’s some of the ways the mind changes and adapts in blindness.

One of the interesting things that my lab does is actually study brain function. People change as their environment and their lives change, and our brain changes too. So one of the main things that my lab does is study the function of the so-called visual cortex in blind individuals. This is the part of the brain that in the sighted does vision, and about thirty years ago if you’d asked a neurologist or neuroscientist what happens to this part of the brain in a blind person, they’d say it does nothing or maybe it atrophies, right? No. What research has shown is that the visual part of the brain takes on new functions in blind individuals: it responds to sound, it responds to touch. One of the things that my lab has been working on that I think is pretty exciting is showing that the visual part of the brain in blind individuals is actually involved in higher-level cognitive functions. So one of the things we find is that blind individuals use this so-called visual part of the brain during language processing—for example, when understanding those complex sentences I told you about before—use it during memory tasks, and when solving math equations. So this part of the brain is being used like a flexible machine to do other things when it’s not doing vision. Anil Lewis talked about the power of technology, well the best technology we’ve got is our brains, and it turns out that everybody’s brains adapt to being the best for their life and can be used in flexible ways.

So in conclusion, I’d like to say that I hope my being here is part of a broader dialog between the scientific community and the blind community. In particular it’s important for the blind community to be aware and in charge of the scientific insights that are available and also to give back and give their insights for making science better. One of the things that I would love to see more of—it’s already getting there, but I would like to see more of it—is leaders in the scientific fields who are blind. [applause] Students who are coming to work in our lab becoming the next generation of blind scientists, because the only way that science is going to reflect all the right things about people is if everyone participates in science and becomes leaders in the field. Thank you. [applause]

Preparing His Granddaughter for A Life Without Sight

by Jon Tevlin

From the Editor: This article first appeared in the Star Tribune on June 27, 2017, and is reprinted with its kind permission. David House is sixty years old and totally blind, having had retinitis pigmentosa his whole life. He is a retired commercial real estate broker and has been happily married for more than thirty-three years to his lovely and loving wife Theresa. The Kernel Book Like Cats and Dogs contains a story about their family by his wife titled, “A Wife’s Story.” David joined the NFB in 1993 and is active in his church. He has four adult children and two beautiful grandchildren. One of those grandchildren is eight-year-old Lily, who is in third grade at Valley Christian School in Missoula, Montana. Along with her general education classes, she takes Braille three times a week and uses her talking computer at school. Her afterschool activities include weekly gymnastics and piano lessons, swim team practice at the YMCA, and earning a blue belt in Tae Kwon Do. Lily was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at age five and has been learning blindness skills ever since. Here is the story of a grandfather helping his granddaughter to get a solid footing in the blindness skills she’ll need because of their shared condition:

David House brought his 8-year-old granddaughter, Lily, to Minnesota this month for a three-week stay. She got to visit the Mall of America and a petting zoo, and on Tuesday she even got to play softball with some new friends. It was a chance for the two to bond and, more important, a chance for David to help teach his granddaughter how to be blind.

Lily is attending the Buddy Summer Program at BLIND Inc., housed in the former Pillsbury mansion in Minneapolis’ Whittier neighborhood. Blind or sight-impaired kids come from all over the country to work on both the practical and emotional aspects of being blind.

David, fifty-nine, learned he had retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative disease, when he was five years old. The disease is inherited, but the gene is recessive, so both parents have to have the gene in order for their children to have the disease. David’s wife does not have the gene, and none of their four children has the disease. David and his three sisters, however, all have the disease, which is rare.

“When Lily was young, I was certain she didn’t have it,” said David. “It was a long shot. When it was diagnosed, I was pretty shocked and depressed. Lily is at the onset stage, so I wanted to get her here as soon as possible to start to deal with being blind. [BLIND Inc.] is one of the top places in the country.” The agency let Lily into the program even though she’s a year younger than its youngest participants, mostly because her grandfather also came to take adult refresher courses.

In an upstairs room Tuesday, Lily was learning to use a talking typewriter to craft sentences. She wore a Pokémon T-shirt and, at times, a blindfold. Students who can still partly see wear blindfolds to get them used to not being able to see at all. Lily took commands from the computer, successfully writing out, “I ate a fish salad.”

It wasn’t easy. “Agh, that tortured me,” Lily said. “Get me away.”

Another student, Charles, stopped by to visit. He had just taken the “travel class,” learning to get around the neighborhood with a cane. He named all the adjacent streets and their direction from the building. I asked him how he knew the difference between north and south. “You go outside and face the building,” said Charles. “That’s north. Never Eat Soggy Worms—north, east, south, west,” he said, pointing to each direction.

In the afternoons, the kids have “talk times” where they can discuss their frustrations, uncomfortable situations and strategies to overcoming life as a blind person. They also take field trips and engage in activities such as rock climbing and horseback riding. “My favorite was actually the Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America,” Lily said.

David was downstairs, working on his computer skills. “She’s probably better at computer skills than I am,” he said. “I’m better at Braille. Just wait until you see me in the fire juggling class.”

It’s that persistence, humor, and positive outlook that he hopes to pass on to his granddaughter this week and from now on. Lily lives with her grandfather part time in Missoula, Montana.

Despite losing his sight over a number of years, David graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in public administration. He got married and had children and built a very successful business, running cafeteria vending machines.

“My goal is I just want her to have her skills exceed her blindness,” David said. “I have to get her prepared for a life without sight. My goal is to have her take over my business someday.” Back home, Lily is on a swim team, is on her way to a black belt in karate and takes piano lessons. “I don’t want her to have a different life just because she’s blind,” David said. “Even as busy as my business is, I thought it was important to be here with her.”

Lily wanted her grandfather to go on the MOA field trip with her. He said if she’d let him skip the field trip, he’d take her someplace special. “She outfoxed me,” said David. “After she went to the mall on Saturday, I asked her where she wanted to go that was special. She said, ‘Back to the mall.’” 

“I want to teach her that nothing is insurmountable,” David said. “With the blindness itself, if you have the right psychological and emotional attitude, you can conquer anything.”

Teachers Talk: Working with Parents Who Happen to Be Blind

by Melissa Riccobono

One of the most rewarding things I do on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind is to help in leading our Blind Parent Initiative. The National Federation of the Blind has created a website, http://www.blindparents.org which we hope will be the place all parents who are blind will go when they are looking for information on any aspect of parenting as a blind person. If you have not done so already, please check out this site. It has little content right now, but we want to build it into so much more! To do this, we need your help and feedback. Included on the blindparents.org website are bonus episodes three and four of The Nations’ Blind Podcast. In these episodes, I once again interviewed Serena Harris and Laura Koler, a first grade and pre-k teacher at Patterson Park Public Charter School in Baltimore. In these interviews we discussed the techniques Laura and Serena use in order to communicate with all parents to insure they are able to be active participants in their children’s education. We also discuss what techniques these teachers use in order to meet the needs of parents who happen to be blind—President Riccobono and myself. Parents who are blind can and should be active participants in their children’s education. This is absolutely possible with a little forethought, some teacher cooperation, and low and high tech solutions.

I have structured this article a bit differently than my last interview article. In this article, I tried to capture some of the conversational back and forth that took place between the teachers and me in the actual interview, especially the conversations surrounding the various apps the teachers use to disseminate information. Again, I have added some words in brackets for clarification, and I have also paraphrased in some instances to save space. To listen to these interviews in their entirety, search for bonus episodes three and four of the Nations’ Blind Podcast.

Melissa Riccobono: What techniques do you use in order to communicate with the parents of all students in your class?

Serena Harris: I use ClassDojo, http://www.classdojo.com, which is an app to send class messages and pictures.

Melissa Riccobono: I was pleasantly surprised. There are some apps that are great, but not great for a blind person to use. So, when I got the note that said you were going to use ClassDojo, I thought, oh, this could be excellent, or this could be a nightmare. I think there was a little bump in the road as far as actually signing up; there was a button that wasn’t labeled correctly. But once I was signed up and signed in, it’s been wonderful. It’s been really nice to get the messages and pictures.

Serena Harris: I also use email a lot. We have a class website where we try to list current events and a copy of the homework for the week. I give out my phone number to parents as well.

Melissa Riccobono: The first grade team also uses something called Permission Click, http://www.permissionclick.com. This has been really helpful. It’s the first time as a blind mom that I have been able to read and sign a permission slip [in the same way as all of the other parents.] I have gotten permission slips emailed to me before, and the school has been great about letting me sign them electronically, but Permission Click has just been such a seamless process. I think it helps [you and your team] as well, right?

Serena Harris: I love Permission Click because it’s less paper. We give the same link out to all first grade families, so it’s very easy to get accurate counts for the number of students attending each field trip. It’s also an easy thing [for a parent] to complete even the day of the trip. Everything’s easily accessible [even when we are on the trip], and we keep track of emergency contacts, allergies, etc. for each child.

Laura Koler: In general, I send notes home in folders that are on paper. We send updates, permission slips, newsletters… Usually every day there is something that needs to be looked at or signed. I also use an app called Remind, http://www.remind.com. It’s a free app that lets teachers send text messages, photos, and announcements to anyone in your class. I really love that tool because it allows me to communicate with parents without giving out a personal phone number. It lets me send updates about field trips, special dress up days, report cards, etc. So I do both paper messaging and electronic messaging.

Melissa Riccobono: The remind app was actually very easy [for me as a blind parent] to set up and use. It has been wonderful to get reminders as text messages on my phone.

What things have you done in order to make sure Mark and I, as parents who happen to be blind, have access to information?

Serena Harris: I have definitely tried to have the office send home things, [such as progress reports and report cards] electronically to you.

Melissa Riccobono: The office is still working on that, but thank you for trying! I appreciate that.

Serena Harris: I send spelling words home [via email.]

Melissa Riccobono: Another thing you have done is allowed me to report on what homework activities Oriana completes via email instead of insisting that I fill out the paper homework log sheet each week. This has been a very easy solution for both of us, and it proves that sometimes solutions that are not complicated are very workable for both the parent and the teacher.

Laura Koler: I email you copies of all of the papers I send home in folders every day. It’s really not an extra step for me because I already have the majority of the documents electronically. With email being as widespread as it is, no parent should feel as if it is a burden on a teacher to send an email [with information or documents.] And, if [a teacher] ever forgets to email something, please don’t feel bad about reminding him or her that you need the information. Most teachers will not be upset about getting a reminder.

Melissa Riccobono: The other thing that you do really well is to send emails letting me know what papers are coming home in Elizabeth’s folder that you do not have access to electronically. This is extremely helpful because it lets me know to be on the lookout for these things so I can handle them in another way [have a person read them to me, use an app on my phone to read them, etc.] I think in some ways having this constant communication is an advantage to me as a blind parent. I feel as if I have a connection with all of the teachers my kids have had because I have had to communicate with all of them in a slightly more personal way in order to make sure Mark and I are getting all of the information we need to be as involved as we can in our children’s education.

What advice would you have for parents who are blind? Are there things these parents can do to help teachers communicate with them?

Serena Harris: Parents should definitely let the teacher know the best way to contact them—email or phone—and the best times they can be reached [via phone.]

Laura Koler: At the beginning of the year, schedule a conference and talk about the best ways to communicate.

Melissa Riccobono: Are there other ways parents who are blind might be able to get involved in their children’s classrooms, understanding, of course, that this will vary slightly school to school?

Serena Harris: I always encourage parents to come and volunteer in their kid’s classroom. Parents might sit and read with a group of students or have students read to them. I know one thing I have been excited about, both when Austin was in my class and now this year that Oriana is in my class, is the fact that you have been very open about speaking to the kids about being blind. This helped establish a relationship between you and me, but, more important, it helped increase the children’s understanding of blindness. Kids are curious. They have questions. They might never have met anyone who is blind before. Explaining what being blind means and the tools you use is great to increase their understanding, but it was also great for me since I didn’t know anyone who was blind before either. Your visit definitely made things more comfortable.

Laura Koler: I think coming in to be a guest reader is a great way to meet the other students in the classroom. Kids love to have other people besides their teacher read to them. [My class] was fascinated watching you read Braille. I think it’s a great way for them to meet new people and see another way of reading. I think most teachers are open to having parents come in to their classroom to share unique things the students would not be exposed to ordinarily.

Melissa Riccobono: I think there are instances when parents who are blind are worried about creating extra work for teachers or worried about asking too much of teachers who might already be over worked. How would you respond to these types of concerns?

Serena Harris: I guess I don’t think of anything as being extra work because it’s establishing that relationship that will help support the student. I feel that any materials that can be sent home to further explain something or give the parent a better understanding of how their child is doing in class [will only be beneficial for both the parent and child.] That’s what teachers should do. I create progress reports [and other materials] for all of the kids in my class, so getting these things to you and Mark is not extra work. But even if it was, my first priority is always what’s in the best interest of the child, and if a parent needs more resources or information to better support their child, then I’m just happy to do that.

Laura Koler: Part of the territory of being an early childhood teacher is having constant communication with parents. The parents of all the kids I teach want to know what’s going on [in the classroom] and how their children are learning. I don’t think any parent should feel bad about wanting to be in communication. I love when parents want to talk back and forth because it’s the teacher, the school, and the home who are working together to help each child grow and learn. None of us can do this alone; we have to be a team. I think being in constant communication only makes that relationship stronger and will only benefit the child. To be very honest, I would rather have a parent who wanted to talk with me every day than a parent who is very difficult to reach.

Melissa Riccobono: Do you have any advice for other classroom teachers who are working with parents who are blind?

Serena Harris: I would say, ask. Ask the parent, “What can I do to better support you? What can I do to help you better support your child? What kind of information do you need from me, and what would be the best format to give you that information?”

Melissa Riccobono: It’s not bad to ask. How else are you going to know? I think sometimes teachers might be worried about asking because they want to be politically correct. [So they wonder] do I ask? Do I not? I think it’s always better to ask, as long as you are asking in a respectful way. I think it is definitely up to the parent as well. Parents should feel free to reach out to the teachers. I recognize however, that although I am very comfortable with this type of reaching out, other parents who are blind might not be as comfortable, so teachers need to open the lines of communication as well.

Laura Koler: Always talk to the parents. I know you and I had a very long parent teacher conference, and that was great. That’s when I learned the most. If we could have had that meeting more toward the beginning of the year, that would have been helpful.

Melissa Riccobono: What would you say to a parent who is blind about what to do when a teacher forgets to give necessary information? Should the parent “bother” the teacher to get what he or she needs?

Serena Harris: Definitely! Things happen. You set reminders and make lists, but things still happen. Teachers forget things or overlook things.

Melissa Riccobono: Is there anything else about working with parents who are blind that you would like to share?

Serena Harris: I think it is very important to have a conversation about how the child is doing in class and how the child feels about coming to school. A child might tell his or her parents things he or she is scared to tell the teacher—not because the teacher is mean and scary, but because the child is simply more comfortable communicating with a parent. I think it is important for teachers to make sure the child is getting all of the support needed and that things are not slipping through the cracks simply because a parent is blind and might not have seen a paper come home in a folder.

Closing Thoughts

Obviously these are very caring teachers who are extremely willing to provide information and support to all of the families with whom they work. Communication with teachers goes a very long way, but it only works if a teacher is reachable and willing to engage in this type of back and forth communication. Not all teachers are as willing to do this. If you have stories about how you have had success getting information from more difficult teachers, I would love to receive them. Or, if you have other techniques you use to get involved in your child’s classroom, learn what is going on in the classroom, or get information from the school about your child’s progress, I would love for you to share them. As parents who are blind, we all need as many tools in our toolbox as possible, and what you have to share might very well help someone else. Please email me at [email protected] with your own school experiences. Also, if you are having a difficult time communicating with your child’s teacher or school, the National Federation of the Blind would be pleased to help you if we can. Please email me at the address above, or call me at (410) 659-9314, extension 2466. I will certainly not have all of the answers, but the National Federation of the Blind is a fantastic network, and I will be pleased to connect you with other parents who can help you navigate educational waters.

Story of Ele

by Naomi Mills

From the Editor: Naomi Mills is a nine-year-old Northern Virginia BELL student. She created and Brailled this story herself. Naomi’s mother sent this story to share Naomi’s creativity and enjoyment of the BELL Program, and her note to Nancy Yeager follows the story. We have refrained from editing to preserve the authenticity of the piece:

Far away across the Atlantic Ocean in Africa an elephant was born. Her name was Ele. At the age of five she complained about her eyes. Her mother suggested resting for a little bit.

The next day Ele’s eyes hurt even more than yesterday. Finally her mother took her to the doctor. The doctor said that Ele has to go to an eye doctor. It was a couple of hours until they got there. The eye doctor said that Ele has an eye disease that could worsen. Ele was sad. Ele’s birthday is January 25 and it is January 24. So Ele’s birthday is tomorrow.

It was Ele’s birthday and one of her presents were glasses! Ele was so excited. She wore them everywhere. She even wore them in bed. Only her family knew that Ele was blind.

When she showed up to school all her friends were shocked. They were all confused. Even the teacher was confused. Ele didn’t care though.

Description of Ele

An elephant named Ele. She is blind. She uses a guide dog that is always scared of Ele’s trunk. Ele has pink ears and a pointy nose, so pointy that to people it’s like a knife. Ele lives in Africa with her mother, father and her brother named Jason. Ele’s favorite color is yellow. Her body is plain yellow. She has blue eyes. She loves to wear just one color.

Her hobbies are cooking with her mom, looking at her cell phone, and playing with Jason. Ele is thirty-five years old. Ele wishes she could see but the ophthalmologist said that there is no cure for her disease. But she kind of likes being blind. She can do many things that her friends can’t do, like learn Braille and other stuff. Ele is so happy that she’s a part of this world.

The End

Miss Nancy,

I typed it the way Naomi read it. I did not add punctuation, nor change verb agreements. I really like this story. It reminds me of Naomi.

She loved BELL this year, and two years ago. We would love it if Arlington can do one next year, too! We would go!!!

Thank you, Nancy. You are a sweet blessing!

Kathie Mills

Make a Difference

by Patti Chang and Anna Adler

We know that the NFB changes lives. We know that we foster high expectations. Recently the mom of a blind student sent a thank you note to us which we believe tells the story of just how much impact NFB can have on an individual family. We hope that stories like hers and many others will inspire people to support our efforts to turn dreams into reality. Here is what Angela Rask said about our Illinois Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Academy:

Dear BELL Supporters,

Please allow me a moment to express my sincere gratitude as a mom for your ongoing support of the BELL program. My son, Isaac, age eleven, attended the BELL program this year for his second time. He was so excited to do it and looked forward to it from the moment he was accepted. There are many things that Isaac and I value about this program. From Isaac’s perspective, it gives him a chance to hang out with peers who are blind/VI and also experiencing the same challenges/situations. This provides him with support, knowing that he is not alone as a blind young person trying to make his way in the world. He is excited to go every day. He really enjoys learning and practicing his skills that grow his independence. He loves the field trips they take where they learn valuable life skills and have fun while they do it. This year, a highlight was going kayaking. He was so excited, and it went beyond his high expectations in fun! He came home happy and proud of himself!

He also likes having time with adult mentors. This encourages him with what is possible for him in his future. This year he came home and told me about an adult mentor who had a guide dog with her. Before this, he has always been adamantly against having a guide dog someday, but after interacting with this adult and her dog, he came home feeling different and like it was a possible option for him in the future. Now, whether or not he someday uses a guide dog is up to him, but what he came away with was the model of a blind adult who had found her preferred and successful ways of living independently—another great example for him.

Isaac also enjoyed the wide range of ages in the other students…being around the younger students reminded him of how far he has come, and the older students gave him excitement for his future. Although our car ride to and from BELL was sometimes close to 1.5-2 hours each way, Isaac never wavered in his excitement, and in fact, told me many, many times “Thanks Mom for taking me to BELL.” I am so thankful for what the BELL program gives to him.

From my perspective, BELL gives Isaac a much-needed opportunity to grow in confidence and acceptance of himself as a blind person. As he has gotten older, he has really struggled with his identity as a blind person. He really does not like to feel “different” from his peers, very normal for any 5th grader, but even more complicated when there is something such as blindness. Isaac is mainstreamed into his school, so this opportunity to be around other blind kids (and adults) where blindness is normalized is priceless. It gives him a much-needed break from feeling “different.” It gives him equal playing ground to make friends and have fun and learn. He never feels like he is missing out on any part of the experience when he is at BELL because it is tailored FOR the blind student. The rest of his year, he is in a sighted environment and continually faces challenges and other people underestimating, judging, or sometimes dismissing him. At BELL, he doesn’t have to fight those daily battles, and it is like he can really “exhale” for a few weeks and just enjoy life instead of constantly having to prove himself.

Isaac has struggled to see future possibilities for himself as a blind person—as someone who can have independence and meaningful work. He knows he is smart, but he struggles to believe that his blindness will not prevent him from having a great life. The chance for him to know older students and adults who are living full and meaningful lives is critical and something that sighted people (even the best-intentioned parents) cannot give him. He needs that real-life example with flesh on—not just a mom or dad or teacher telling him what is possible. The BELL program provides this.

The BELL program is essential in showing Isaac that he CAN be independent—when they work on simple life skills such as grocery shopping and preparing food/cleaning up, to the more adventurous skills such as how to use public transportation in a big city like Chicago. They don’t just talk about it—they DO it, and this shows him he is capable. As a parent, I can do my best to show him how to do these things, but the professionals and mentors at BELL know the best techniques for all these tasks and take him beyond what I as a parent can do.

During the school year, Isaac receives a certain number of hours per week of specialized training on Braille and VI technology and O&M. These are wonderful and necessary; however, the immersive 2-week experience for Isaac is an important time of concentrated training and growth that cannot happen during the school year. He can solely focus on his blindness training skills, which lead to a deeper learning experience and also greater confidence.

Finally, the BELL program is not only critical for the students, but also important to their families as well. As a sighted parent, I do all that I can to educate and equip myself so I can equip Isaac well. But I can never put myself fully in his shoes. At BELL, he gets this from his blind peers and mentors. This proves to him—and to me as his parent—what is possible. I can be the best mom I can be, but I am not a VI professional such as the staff at BELL…they can equip Isaac in ways that I cannot, and I cannot overstate the importance of this. It gives us insight and renewed motivation as parents to continue working hard at independence so that Isaac will someday be ready to go to college, find work he enjoys, and build a life for himself. We as parents also need BELL so we can be reminded once again of all the possibilities for our blind children.

The BELL program is a very important part of Isaac’s growth. It moves him beyond limitations that are placed on him by others and sometimes himself. It shows him new possibilities and opens up new dreams and goals for him. Isaac has a lot to offer the world, and the BELL program is an important part of Isaac seeing and believing that truth for himself AND learning how to make it possible!

Thank you, BELL supporters and the BELL team, for investing in our kids!

Angela & Isaac Raske


Want to help families like Angela’s? You can make a difference.

With a $50 donation, the National Federation of the Blind can send a long white cane—free of charge—to a blind person and give back mobility. With the same amount the Federation can provide early literacy materials to families including a book with both Braille and print which empowers parents to help their blind child get an early start to Braille literacy. With a larger donation we can train our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning Academy teachers, show blind youngsters that they can do science too, and so much more. Be a part of this future and everything the Federation does with love, hope, and determination.

We can’t change lives without you. Please help by making an end-of-year gift—and it’s easy to do. You can mail a donation or give online at https://nfb.org/donate.

To mail your donation, simply make out your check to the National Federation of the Blind, and send it to 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Attention: Outreach, Baltimore, MD 21230.

To give online visit our web page, https://nfb.org/donate2017.

We all know that the Federation affects blind people’s lives every day. Please be a part of our movement with an end-of-year donation. It will be sincerely appreciated.

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund

by Allen Harris

From the Editor: Allen Harris is the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund Committee and was one of the people who came up with the idea of honoring our former president and longtime leader by establishing a program to promote attendance at the national convention, where so much inspiration and learning occur. Here is Allen’s announcement about the 2018 Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Program:

Have you always wanted to attend an NFB annual convention but have not done so because of the lack of funds? The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund invites you to make an application for a scholarship grant. Perhaps this July you too can be in the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel in Orlando, Florida, enjoying the many pleasures and learning opportunities at the largest and most important yearly convention of blind people in the world.

The three biggest ticket items you need to cover when attending an NFB national convention are the roundtrip transportation, the hotel room for a week, and the food (which tends to be higher priced than at home). We attempt to award additional funds to families, but, whether a family or an individual is granted a scholarship, this fund can only help; it won’t pay all the costs. Last year most of the sixty grants were in the range of $400 to $500 per individual.

We recommend that you find an NFB member as your personal convention mentor, someone who has been to many national conventions and is able to share money-saving tips with you and tips on navigating the extensive agenda in the big hotel. Your mentor will help you get the most out of the amazing experience that is convention week.

Who is eligible?

Active NFB members, blind or sighted, who have not yet attended an NFB national convention because of lack of funding are eligible to apply.

How do I apply for funding assistance?

Your letter to Chairperson Allen Harris must cover these points:

The body of your letter should answer these questions:

How do you currently participate in the Federation? Why do you want to attend a national convention? What would you receive; what can you share or give? You can include in your letter to the committee any special circumstances you hope they will take into consideration.

When will I be notified that I am a winner?

If you are chosen to receive this scholarship, you will receive a letter with convention details that should answer most of your questions. The committee makes every effort to notify scholarship winners by May 15, but you must do several things before that to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:

How will I receive my convention scholarship?

At convention you will be given a debit card or credit card loaded with the amount of your award. The times and locations to pick up your card will be listed in the letter we send you. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist you by obtaining an agreement to advance funds if you win a scholarship and to pay your treasury back after you receive your debit or credit card.

What if I have more questions? For additional information email the chairman, Allen Harris, at [email protected] or call his Baltimore, Maryland, office at (410) 659-9314, extension 2415.

Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention on the national level and join several thousand active Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world. We hope to see you in Orlando.

The 2018 Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award

by Carla McQuillan

From the Editor: Carla McQuillan is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, a member of the national board of directors, and the owner and executive director of Main Street Montessori Association, operating two Montessori schools. She is the chairman of the Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award Committee, and she has written this announcement seeking applications for the 2018 award:

The National Federation of the Blind will recognize an outstanding teacher of blind students at our 2018 annual convention, July 3 through July 8, in Orlando, Florida. The winner of this award will receive the following:

The education of blind children is one of the National Federation of the Blind's highest priorities. We are committed to offering and supporting programs that enhance educational opportunities for this group. Please help us recognize dedicated and innovative teachers who provide quality education and meaningful experiences and opportunities for their blind students.

Q: Who is eligible for this award?
A: Anyone who is currently a teacher, counselor, or the administrator of programs for blind students.
Q: Does an applicant have to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind?
A: No, but attending the national convention in Orlando is required.
Q: Can I nominate someone else for this award?
A: Yes. Applicants can be nominated by colleagues, parents, supervisors, or friends who have first-hand knowledge of the individual’s work with blind students.
Q: How would I apply?
A: You can fill out the application at the end of this article or find it on our website at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/documents/pdf/distinguished-educator-of-blind-students-award-form-fillable.pdf
Q: What is the deadline to submit an application or make a nomination?
A: All applications must be received no later than May 1, 2018.

Please complete the application and attach the required documents specified in the application. If you have questions, contact Carla McQuillan at (541) 653-9153.

National Federation of the Blind
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
2018 Application
Deadline: May 1, 2018

Name: _______________________________________________________
Home Address: _________________________________________________
City, State, Zip: _________________________________________________
Phone: (H) ____________________ (W) ____________________________
Email: ______________________________________________________
School: ______________________________________________________
Address: _____________________________________________________
City, State, Zip: _________________________________________________

Use a separate sheet of paper to answer the following:

List your degrees, the institutions from which they were received, and your major area or areas of study.

How long and in what programs have you worked with blind children?

In what setting do you currently work?

Briefly describe your current job and teaching responsibilities.

Describe your current caseload (e.g., number of students, ages, multiple disabilities, number of Braille-reading students).

Email is strongly encouraged for transmitting nominations; letters of support and other relevant materials should be included as attachments. Applications sent by mail and postmarked by the deadline will also be accepted. Send all material by May 1, 2018, to Carla McQuillan, chairperson, Teacher Award Committee, [email protected] or by mail to 5005 Main Street, Springfield, OR 97478; (541) 653-9153.

The Holman Prize Sets Sail: Who Won This Year’s Prize for “Blind Ambition,” and Why

by Sheri Wells-Jensen

From the Editor: Sheri Wells-Jensen is a linguistics professor at Bowling Green State University, a curious connoisseur of insuppressible blind living, who served on the judging committee for the inaugural Holman Prize for Blind Ambition, held in San Francisco in June 2017. Unlike our own Bolotin Award, which recognizes past accomplishments by individuals and organizations, the Holman Award is granted to those who have an idea that, if funded, will expand the possibilities for blind people. The Holman award committee was comprised of a number of people from around the nation and the world, among them Federationists Chancey Fleet, Sheri Wells-Jensen, Brian Miller, Debbie Stein, and Gary Wunder. Here is more about the man in whose name the award is presented:

James Holman was not your average nineteenth-century blind explorer. Safe to say, “nineteenth-century blind explorers” is not really a reliable dataset. Traveling the world alone is not unusual for blind people today, so today we view James Holman as an outlier—a sign that we’ve made some progress in these couple hundred years. In the future, the strivings of today’s outliers will seem similarly achievable, and we will thank them for breaking the mold. This year, we saw the launch of The Holman Prize, dedicated to pursuing and promoting the passions of blind people everywhere, and it’s my pleasure to introduce you to the prize’s first three winners. First, though, you need to know a bit about James Holman.

James Holman was born an unremarkable middle-class baby in Exeter, England, in 1786. The second son of a local merchant, he was more or less expected to lead an unsurprising life, making himself a career in the British Navy, and like a dutiful second son of the time, he eventually set about doing just that. That was just about the last unsurprising event of his life. He first surprised himself in 1812 by becoming very ill and later going blind. Later, he surprised the rest of England (and possibly himself again) by ignoring the usual sorts of restrictive expectations placed on blind people and setting out to do marvelous things. After recovering from his illness, he wriggled out of a stultifying religious order for disabled military men (which was supposed to keep him safely at home and out of trouble) and set forth on a series of solo adventures. He began by booking passage for himself on a ship, not worrying much about where it went. From there, in a time before paved roads and reliable vehicles, he traveled alone through Europe, was run out of Russia (suspected of being an international spy), and returned to England to publish his first set of detailed books describing his adventures. He later circumnavigated the globe, noticing everything, restlessly trying to be everywhere and to do all there was to do. Holman's fame spread; eventually Charles Darwin himself referenced observations of the natural world made by the "blind traveler."

You can (and should) read about him in the exquisitely detailed biography by Jason Roberts (available on both NLS and BookShare). I sincerely promise that it will reshape your assumptions about what blind people could accomplish in the early nineteenth century.

So when the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco announced a competition for the first annual Holman Prize at the beginning of this year, they must have known they were setting a pretty high bar.

It was a prize clearly intended to reward the doing of splendid things: audacious things that startle, delight, and challenge.

As hoped, the announcement brought forth a glorious deluge of entries literally from around the globe. Asked to submit ninety-second YouTube videos describing an ambitious project on which they would like to spend $25,000, over 200 blind people responded with entries which ranged from the adorable to the impressive and from the truly beautiful to the unapologetically weird.

Once you finish reading the Holman biography, I heartily recommend that you spend a long, fascinating evening streaming some of those videos. We are, it turns out, a pretty audacious group of people.

But, in the end, only three could be chosen: the "Holmanest" of this year's "Holmanesque" entries, if you will. It is my delight to introduce them to you here:


Let's begin with Penny Melville-Brown. You would know immediately if you were in a room with Penny, the mastermind behind the "Baking Blind" project, because you would hear her signature laugh. Gregarious and confident, Penny has no doubt about what she wants to do. Like James Holman, she is a native of Great Britain, and like James Holman, Penny went blind while serving in the British Navy. She also shares Holman's urge to travel. Penny intends to conquer the world kitchen by kitchen, exploring the cuisine from Costa Rica to China and filming cooking shows with local chefs as she goes. But this isn't only about, maybe isn't even mostly about, adaptive cooking techniques.

Penny’s project is about community and about the generous and welcoming spaces that open out when people share food. Penny's positive nature and her humor draw people around the dining table where she presides, and the gastronomic wonders she creates make them sit down and stay put. As people break bread together, (and such bread you have rarely tasted) barriers fall, and they talk. With her recipes in hand, (and perhaps wielding a wooden spoon if necessary) Penny will weave these communities together as she goes. The chefs will learn from the blind cook, the blind cook will learn from the chefs, and everyone at table and watching on the videos will learn to trust one another just a little bit more.


Ojok Simon is a gracious, dignified man from Uganda whose gentleness and soft-spoken demeanor at first seem strangely at odds with his project. Ojok is a bee keeper: not just any keeper . . . Ojok Simon is a keeper of Africanized bees. Where many of us skitter anxiously away at the near approach of even a single honeybee, Ojok regularly sinks his hands and arms into billowing swarms of them, moving them about, adjusting their hives, and deftly making off with quantities of their honey. When I asked (admittedly in some alarm) about how this was done, another blind bee keeper from Northern California, Aerial Gilbert, helped make sense of it for me. Bee keeping, she explained, is a gentle endeavor; the keeper becomes known to his bees and learns to move deliberately and easily among them. It's not a contest; it's a dance. Ojok does wear protective gear and he does get stung, but he explains that he is not afraid of his bees because they have no desire to hurt anyone. If approached calmly, they will react calmly. This is remarkable enough, but Ojok's Holman Prize was not awarded because of how handy he himself is around an apiary.

In a country where jobs are hard for blind people to find, Ojok's project is to teach other blind Ugandans what he knows. At this writing, he has thirty-eight blind students ready and willing to learn from him, and he has established a small foundation to help purchase the startup gear each will need to become his or her own boss, selling beeswax and honey. Ojok nimbly avoids the problem of convincing Ugandan employers to hire blind people by setting these blind people up as their own bosses. In what has become the Holman tradition, his method is both startling and extraordinarily clever.


The third Holman prize winner, originally from Turkey but now living in San Francisco, is a special education teacher named Ahmet Ustunel. Ahmet is that high school teacher who wins the kids over with a combination of steady confidence and a touch of playfulness: the kind of teacher who's cool without making too much of it. He exudes an insuppressible, quiet joyfulness. Still, because he is actually a little bit shy, you might walk right by him at a party without knowing he's there. If you want to draw him out though, I suggest leaning over and whispering "ocean!" or "fishing boat" or better still "pirate," and you'll have his full attention.

He becomes very animated quickly, and will delight you with his stories about his times on, beside, in, and (sometimes temporarily) underneath various kinds of boats. Ahmet happily tells the story that his first career choice as a child was to become a pirate. When his parents described the standard eye-patch-sporting pirate to him, he was delighted; to quote four-year-old Ahmet: "If this is a successful pirate, and he has one blind eye, I'm going to be the best pirate ever . . .because I have two blind eyes!"

Ahmet's project involves a kayak, a ton of very cool high tech equipment, and the Bosphorus Strait: a narrow body of water that separates Europe (on the west) from Asia, on the east. Ahmet plans to paddle his kayak solo across the strait: no mean feat when you consider the currents, the wildlife, the traffic buoys and, not to put too fine a point on it, but also the merchant ships (which are larger than most houses) that thunder along the Bosphorus on their way to the Black Sea. Ninety percent of his project, he says, undaunted, is in the preparation: the physical training, the testing of the technology, and working out logistics.

His kayak will be outfitted with all the cool gear a geek could dream of: GPS, radio, and all manner of obstacle detectors. That along with his sense of the sea, his hands in the current, and his knowledge of the wind direction will guide him safely across. And, if our own cool tech doesn't let us down, we'll get to follow along when he makes the crossing in July 2018.

The thing that distinguishes this first set of Holman Prizewinners is not their jobs or mastery of blindness techniques or their eloquence in discussing philosophy of blindness. Like all the rest of us, they sometimes drop things or come up short when a stranger on the street asks them some ridiculous blindness-related question. The spark that they all share is their conscious, enduring belief in blind people and their willingness to share that belief as part of their community, offering and accepting strength along the way. They reminded me that we all have a bit of James Holman in us. Over the next few months, we'll cheer them on as they embark on their adventures. Next time, it will be someone else.

So, heads up, all blind adventurers, inventors, dreamers, artists, musicians, scientists, builders, healers, troublemakers, and all the rest of you daring, merry, audacious believers: it's not too early to start thinking about next year. Applications for the 2018 Holman Prize open on January 16, 2018. Visit www.holmanprize.org to learn how to apply.

Supporting Equality for Blind Americans: A New Sheriff in the United States House of Representatives

by Val Demings

From the Editor: This speech was what some in the South would call a barn burner. It brought the house down. After a long day of words, sometimes we may find our heads falling forward, catching twenty winks in the hope we don’t miss anything important, but no one slept during this speech, as the audio version will make abundantly clear. Here is the speech given by Congresswoman Val Demings:

Good morning everybody! [applause] I’ve spent the last week in Washington, DC—c’mon—good morning everybody! [louder applause and cheers] What a joy it is for me to be here with you today. And it is my honor to welcome you to the Tenth Congressional District, the district that I represent. [applause] Boy, I love the sound of that! I want to thank you, National Federation of the Blind, for this awesome opportunity. And I do congratulate you on your seventy-seventh annual convention—you’ve been around seventy-seven years, you gotta be doing something right! To your president, to your chairman, to my Florida connection Denise, thank you so very much.

I just got home late last night, but what an amazing week that you’ve had. From education to keeping up with the ever-changing technology, to financial workshops to workshops for cancer survivors to blind musician support groups to surviving social media and the unforgettable Showcase of Talent, it appears that you’ve had a productive and a fun convention; am I right about that? [applause] I also want to take just a moment—we’re here at the Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel, and I do want to take just a moment to recognize—I know you’ve probably done so this week—to recognize Harris Rosen. We thank him for his amazing contributions to our community.

There is a scripture that says—just work with me for a few minutes here—there is a scripture that says, “I must do the work of him that sent me while it is day: for night cometh when no man (or woman) can work.” [John 9:4] Now I believe these words really have little to do with night and day as we know it, but I believe these words have more to do with time and with a sense of urgency to do good works. Another passage says, “Don’t tell your neighbor to come back tomorrow if you can help him (or her) today.” [Proverbs 3:28] And Dr. Martin Luther King said this, “The time is always right to do what’s right.” [applause]

You see, these words have special meaning to me because of my own story. I never wanted someone to do the work for me, but I did need a community that created an environment for me to be able to do the work myself. For me to be able to succeed, so thank you so much National Federation of the Blind, for allowing me to share just a little bit of my story. For you see, my story provided the foundation and the motivation for what I do every day in the United States Congress.

I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida; I’ve been in Florida all of my life and in Duval County in the House. I am the youngest of seven children. My mother cleaned houses for a living, which means yes, she was a maid. And my father was a janitor: he picked oranges, he mowed lawns—you see my dad used to go to work seven days a week to make ends meet for our family, to keep a roof over our head, and food on the table. I grew up in a two-bedroom wood-frame house that I remember being very hot in the summer and pretty cold in the winter. You see, Jacksonville, Florida, is very similar to South Georgia—gets pretty cold there. But in spite of who I was and the challenges that I faced, there were people along the way who encouraged me, pushed me, leveled the playing field for me, and worked to give me every opportunity to succeed. I was the first in my family to go to college, and I decided a long time ago that I wanted to work hard to improve the quality of life for persons in my community.

After college I worked as a social worker, and I want you to know I’ve taken three oaths in my lifetime: the first oath I took in 1984—yes that was a good while ago, I understand that—but that was my first oath I took as a young police officer with the Orlando Police Department [applause]. The second oath I took was in 2007 when I was sworn in—you’ve already heard it, but I’m going to say it again because I like hearing it—when I was sworn in as the thirty-sixth chief of police and the first woman to hold that position. [cheers] And the third oath I took on January 3 of this year, which just happened to be my mother’s birthday, was when I was sworn in as a member of the United States House of Representatives. I want you to know, National Federation of the Blind, that I’ve taken every oath very, very seriously. And I remember every oath because they all stated that I would protect and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. You see, I know for a fact—I know you know it too, but I came just to remind you today—that we do live in the greatest country in the world! [cheers, applause] And I believe with all of my heart in the Constitution of the United States. I believe in the promise of America--that we are all created equal. Yes, we are created equal regardless of the color of our skin, our ethnic backgrounds, our religious belief, our sexual orientation, how much money we have in the bank, or if we can see or if we are blind! [cheers] You see I know, I know, National Federation of the Blind, that blindness does not define you! I know that you believe in the full capacity of blind people. In other words, you believe that blind people, too, can reach their full potential. The writer Myles Monroe said that, “Potential is untapped power; reserved strength is all you can be but have not yet become, all you can do but have not yet done, how high you can reach but have not yet reached.” Blindness does not define you. You see, I know that you can live the life that you want.

I have spent my adult life working to improve the quality of life for other persons, and, as a member of Congress, my focus has not changed. You see, I’m still in the same business. I can assure you that I will fight for equality for the blind, that I will fight for effective rehabilitation, that I will work to make technology accessible to the blind, and yes, I am a proud sponsor of H.R. 1734, the Access Technology Affordability Act. [cheers, applause]

I believe in the promise of America, that all persons are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that does mean that you can live the life you want.

Helen Keller said this, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” You see, I dream in color. I dream of an America where every person, regardless of the color of their skin, their ethnic backgrounds—I’ll say it again—religious beliefs, sexual orientation, how much money they have in the bank, whether they can see or blind—I believe they should have every opportunity to succeed. I believe that you should be able to live up to your full potential. I do believe that you should be able to live the life you want. That’s the vision that I have for the America that I believe in. [applause]

So, National Federation of the Blind, continue to take care of your business. I thank you so much for this great opportunity. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America! Thank you. [cheers, applause]

Independence Market Corner

by Ellen Ringlein

The National Federation of the Blind Independence Market is the conduit through which our organization distributes our empowering literature to our members, friends, and the general public. As a service we also operate a blindness products store, which sells mostly low-tech items, designed to enhance the everyday independence of blind individuals.

Here are a few items available from the Independence Market which would make great gifts for a blind person on your list. During the holidays many of us spend time with family and friends, so games make fun gifts. Our offerings range from a variety of Brailled card games like UNO, Skip-Bo, Phase 10, Quiddler, and Five Crowns to board games like Checkers, Chess, Dominoes, Backgammon, Tic-Tac-Toe and more. Perhaps our new, popular Micro-Speak Plus Talking Digital Voice Recorder, the PenFriend 2 audio labeling system, a Color Identifier, a Talking Tape Measure, the inTACT Sketchpad and Eraser, a 2018 Large Print Planner, or a Braille or talking watch might be just the thing. Of course, the Bradley Timepiece was created for both blind and sighted users alike; in fact it has won a design award. Anyone wearing this fashionable timepiece is bound to garner compliments.

Perhaps you are shopping for a sighted family member or friend. We have some more items that may be of interest. The Louis Braille Silver Dollar may appeal to coin collectors. The US Mint honored Louis Braille with the release of this commemorative proof coin, which shows the word Braille in standard-sized tactile Braille among other images. Someone interested in biography, history, or travel may enjoy Crooked Paths Made Straight by Dr. Isabelle Grant, in which the author, a blind school teacher and longtime member of the NFB, describes her 1959 solo journey around the world. Someone who has a closer relationship with the NFB may enjoy The Power of Love: How Kenneth Jernigan Changed the World edited by Ramona Walhof. This collection contains essays by longtime Federationists and others whose lives were touched through Dr. Jernigan's work with the National Federation of the Blind.

We have items to fit any budget, and our staff will be glad to assist with more gift ideas. If you would like to obtain a gift from the Independence Market but aren't sure what your family member or friend could use the most, you may wish to consider purchasing an Independence Market gift certificate instead.

For more information about the products and literature available from the Independence Market visit us online at https://nfb.org/independence-market. Our catalog and supplement are available for download as Microsoft Word and BRF files. You may also request a catalog in Braille or in print by contacting us using email at [email protected] or by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216, Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM eastern time. Our staff will be glad to assist.

Meet the Blind Month and White Cane Awareness Day in Cincinnati

by Annie McEachirn Carson

What follows is the story of the Meet the Blind Month and White Cane Awareness Day event held by the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio Cincinnati Chapter. I am the recreation chairperson/ event coordinator and was assisted in the planning of this celebration by Sheri Albers, Ohio state vice president, member of the Cincinnati chapter; Walter Mitchell, chairman, fundraising committee; and Kim McEachirn, member, recreation and fundraising committees. The organizing of this event began in the summer of 2017. During this time, Kim McEachirn came up with the idea to produce a t-shirt consisting of a special design: a blue eye with “Meet the Blind” above the eye and “Mind to Mind” below it. With the support of the fundraising committee, Kim and I met with a designer, Tommy Rueff, director of Happen, Inc. and a local t-shirt manufacturer who transformed Kim’s dream into reality, completing the order of one hundred t-shirts. These unique t-shirts would be sold as a fundraiser for the local chapter by request and during our event.

In September I arranged for Sheri Albers and myself to participate in a thirty-minute interview conducted by Robert Lee Harris with Cincinnati City Cable. A summary of the National Federation of the Blind, the Cincinnati Chapter’s Meet the Blind Month, and White Cane Safety Awareness Day event were discussed. You can see that interview by going to https://vimeo.com/234562206.

After the success of the video on cable TV, internet and Facebook, the planning committee became more excited about our vision for the Meet the Blind Month and White Cane Safety Awareness Day event scheduled on October 2. Over the following weeks, invitations were sent to the Clovernook Center for the Blind, The Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and to the general public through a variety of social media outlets. Traditionally, the opening ceremony for the Meet the Blind Month and White Cane Awareness Day had begun at City Hall, therefore, as in previous years, we felt it important to involve a city official in reading the Meet the Blind Month and White Cane Safety Day proclamations. Vice Mayor David Mann, who took honor in reading the proclamations to a crowd of more than fifty attendees, spoke passionately about his own personal connection between family and community. As a father of a hearing-impaired daughter and as a husband whose wife Betsy volunteers her time in doing audio description for the blind at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, David Mann is well aware of the individual’s need to achieve and one’s willingness to serve.

Leading up to the event on October 2, the planning team focused on all of the intricate details in order to bring the event to fruition. Several volunteers from organizations such as Cincinnati City Cable, Happen Inc., Cancer Justice Network Inc., Clovernook Center for the Blind, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Davis Cookie Collection, Chick-fil-A, Graeter’s, and the Friends of the African Union supported the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio Cincinnati Chapter by donating their skills, talents, and resources.

With the use of excellent sound systems at both City Hall and Fountain Square, the team had the ability to share their message with those near and far. Beautifully designed programs were created and handed out to sighted friends and to David Mann.

Due to the tragedy in Las Vegas, I started the ceremony with a moment of silence for those killed or injured during the mass shooting. After this I officially welcomed everyone to our celebration with the purpose of sharing that blind people desire to use their skills and talents and to be independent to go and come at their convenience. NFB Cincinnati Chapter Vice President Lisa Hall read (in Braille) a brief history of Meet the Blind Month and White Cane Safety Day, David Mann read the proclamations, and Lillie Pennington, Cincinnati Chapter member, sang “Glory Federation” as the crowd enthusiastically joined in with the chorus. As I thanked David Mann on behalf of the NFB, I presented him with a t-shirt. The program finished with Sheri Albers inviting the crowd to join in the White Cane Walk to Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati. 

The walk to Fountain Square, led by Sheri, was pleasant and well organized. Several sighted volunteers walked alongside NFB members. Upon arrival at Fountain Square, friend and volunteer Cassy Kohs took several pictures to commemorate the special event. I then introduced the recreation committee and fundraising committee. Lisa Hall read a Braille copy of each of the proclamations. Sheri and I then led the group in the one-minute message of NFB. For the next two hours Walter Mitchell and Kim McEachirn helped share the organization’s message by continuous announcements over the sound system while NFB friends/volunteers Lisa, Julie, and Cassy helped sell t-shirts. Jean Selvidge, a sighted member of the NFB, was very diligent in providing literature to the public and also assisting in the sale of the t-shirts.

The Cincinnati Chapter is truly grateful for the fifty-plus attendees that participated in the event on the beautiful Monday afternoon of October 2. Some of these attendees included many of the Cincinnati Federation family: Dr. Carolyn Peters, president of Miami Valley Chapter and state board member; Gloria Robinson from the same chapter; Sam Foulkes and several blind coworkers from Clovernook Center for the Blind; the community relations team from The Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired; volunteers; and visitors. Together we did it! With love, hope, and determination, we achieved our goal!


Recipes this month come from the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois.

Potato Salad
by Patti Chang

Patti says about this recipe, “We have an annual fundraiser called Oktoberfest in September in Illinois. In recent years it happens at the house of the Changs. It is a fun time which brings in some money. We have a volunteer DJ and people bring their instruments, so it is full of music and food. I make a potato salad as follows. This will serve fifty people so adjust down at need.”

10 pounds potatoes (Idaho are fine)
2 large green peppers
18 eggs
1/2 large onion or more to taste
1 cup mayo, approximate
1/2 cup mustard, approximate
1/2 cup milk, approximate
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Boil potatoes until they are cooked but firm. Thoroughly boil eggs, six to eight minutes should be sufficient, let cool. Mix dressing by adding mayo, mustard, milk, and sugar together. Stir in salt and pepper until the dressing alone is both salty and peppery. You should adjust the mayo and mustard to taste. It should be a little mustardy. If you substitute soy or lactose-free milk do not add the sugar.

Chop potatoes into bite-sized pieces. Chop onions small. Chop eggs into about 1/2-inch pieces. Chop green peppers. Combine potatoes, eggs, peppers, and onions. Add dressing. Adjust salt, pepper and onions to taste. Sprinkle paprika atop your salad. This recipe is forgiving so adjust to what you like.

Honey Chicken
by Deborah Kent Stein

3 pounds chicken, cut up (or legs and thighs)
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup prepared mustard
1 tsp salt (optional)
1 tsp curry powder (or substitute ground ginger)

Method: Skin chicken pieces and set aside on paper towels or a clean cloth. In a large saucepan, melt butter and add remaining ingredients. Place chicken in the mixture, bony side down, to coat one side. Arrange in a baking pan, meaty side up, and pour the remaining mixture over the pieces. Bake at 375 degrees for one hour or until chicken is tender and glazed. Goes well with rice, peas, and green salad with mandarin oranges.

Holiday Honey Treats
by Leslie Hamric

1 cup honey
1-1/2 cups powdered milk
1 cup peanut butter
1-1/2 cups wheat germ
1 teaspoon nutmeg
Crushed wheat flakes

Method: Mix everything together except wheat flakes. Shape into small balls. Roll in crushed wheat flakes. Makes 20 balls or more.

Eclair Cake
by Leslie Hamric
3 3.5-ounce boxes instant vanilla pudding
3 cups milk
1 8-ounce container Cool Whip
Graham crackers

1/3 cup cocoa
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Method: Combine pudding mix and milk, beat. Stir in Cool Whip. Place a layer of graham crackers in bottom of thirteen-by-nine-inch dish. Spread half of the filling mixture on top. Repeat with another layer of graham crackers, add rest of filling, top with final layer of graham crackers.

For topping: bring cocoa, milk, and butter to a rolling boil for a full minute, stirring frequently.

Remove from heat, cool one minute. Add butter and vanilla; stir till butter is melted. Pour topping over graham crackers and refrigerate overnight.

Crisp Sugar Cookies
by Deborah Kent Stein

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
2-1/2 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
Nut halves, raisins, or sprinkles for decoration

Method: Cream shortening. Add sugar, vanilla, and unbeaten eggs one at a time. Beat until light. Sift dry ingredients and mix well. Add gradually and blend thoroughly. Chill for two hours.

Remove dough from refrigerator and roll thin on a floured board. Cut with cookie cutters dipped in flour and then sprinkle with sugar. Decorate as desired. Bake on greased cookie sheets at 400 degrees for ten minutes. Makes about five dozen.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

The National Federation of the Blind of Hawaii held convention elections on October 1, 2017, and the new board is as follows: president, Nani Fife; vice president, Virgil Stinnett; secretary, Katie Keim; treasurer, Dean Georgiev; and directors Tammy Robar, Doug Moises, and Sally Hammond.

The New and Improved NFB Connect App Awaits Your Download:
The improved mobile app from the National Federation of the Blind is here! As you’re celebrating the seventy-seventh birthday of the National Federation of the Blind, take a minute to download or update the NFB Connect app from the Apple app store. Put the power and inspiration of the nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind people in your pocket. You can:

If the link above didn’t work, you can download the improved NFB Connect app by copying and pasting this link into Safari on your iOS device:

Fully accessible with VoiceOver, the NFB Connect mobile app for iOS keeps you plugged into the Federation while you’re out living the life you want! Enjoy, and let your Federation family and friends know about this great way to stay connected with all things NFB!

NFB Pledge

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.