Vol. 61, No. 1 January 2018
Gary Wunder, Editor
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The National Federation of the Blind
Mark Riccobono, President
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Vol. 61, No. 1 January 2018
Illustration: A New Home for the Records Center
Ending Accreditation without Authenticity: A Call to Action for the
Fourth Generation of the Federation
by Mark Riccobono
Accreditation: The Pros and Woes of Credentialing
by Edward Bell
Of Little Faith: A Troubling Trend with Blindness Professionals
by Lisa Ferris
To Teach is to Touch a Life Forever: Jerry Whittle: Cherished Teacher,
Mentor, Author, Advocate, and Leader
Our Fight for Literacy
by Lyn Petro
Building the National Federation of the Blind Brand
by Kirsten Mau
Tax Deductions for the Blind: Are They Something We Deserve,
and Should We Fight for Them?
by Mark Riccobono
Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway—The New and Improved Rules of the Road
by Amy Mason
National Convention Reflections
by Alyssa Shock
Copyright 2018 by the National Federation of the Blind
On a cold December day in Baltimore, a large group of the NFB staff came together to complete what was truly a herculean task. Their goal was to move the NFB Record Center from the 4th floor to its new home on the 2nd floor. A team of nearly thirty enthusiastic staff members moved 110 filing cabinets, containing the Federation’s history spanning from the early 1940s all the way to the early 2000s. These cabinets contain almost everything about the NFB during this time period, from the files of the first user experience study with the Kurzweil Reading Machine in 1977, to the records of every single Washington Seminar ever held, and to the correspondence of every NFB affiliate stretching back in time to the early days of the Federation.
However, it was not just the size and scope of the materials being moved that proved to be challenging, nor even the sheer weight of so much collected paper. But the contents of about sixty filing cabinets had to be unloaded into boxes, moved to the new location, and put back, all while carefully maintaining their order. Another challenge, this one unexpected, was the discovery that many of these cabinets had been bolted together from the inside and needed to be separated before they could be moved.
Yet, undeterred, the amazing team rose to the occasion, put their backs and their brains into it, and completed this humongous job in under just 6 hours! Once again, the NFB proves that it has some of the best staff in the world. But what else would you expect from an organization as committed and inspired as the National Federation of the Blind?
From the Editor: When I first came into the Federation and started receiving the Braille Monitor, I read about a battle with an agency called NAC, then the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped. NAC said its goal was to bring standards to work with the blind and to improve the services the blind received, so the question I needed answered was why my newly-found Federation would object. It didn’t take much reading of the correspondence between President Jernigan and officials of NAC to understand why. It was made abundantly clear that the organized blind were not a part of the process; we might be blind, but we weren’t “professionals” in the field and shouldn’t pretend to know the first thing about quality services. The Federation would articulate a concrete concern, and someone from NAC would respond by saying that as consumers we could not be expected to understand the work of this accrediting body, the standards it used, or the reason for those standards; nor did we have the education and experience to make a determination as to whether they had been followed. The Federation was told, sometimes gently and sometimes not, that our error was in presuming to speak to standards and to service. Indeed we were blind, indeed some of us were articulate, indeed some of us had impressive credentials in other fields, but this did not make us qualified to participate in the process of service delivery, let alone accreditation. In NAC’s pronouncements it was clear that, no matter what we might write or say or do, our opinions were not needed or sought. We might parrot the language of the professionals and ape their behavior by dressing well, showing up for meetings, and addressing the press, but the fact was that being blind meant only that we suffered from the condition. We certainly could not know anything about how to serve or take care of those who were blind, let alone administer the agencies that directed their lives.
With this reaction to our worthiness as full-fledged human beings whose very opportunities were being influenced by those who would not listen, many of us for the first time decided to do the unthinkable—we would take to the streets and protest. By marching and chanting outside gatherings of NAC, we earned the ire of some who would give us names that did not fit with our mission or self-concept. We were called “radical,” though we did not advocate revolution or even thorough and complete social reform. Our straightforward and eminently reasonable demand was to have some influence over the agencies designed to serve us. Sometimes we were called “militant,” but we were not combative, aggressive, or violent in our call to be heard and recognized. Though the rallying cry “nothing about us without us” had its origins in fifteenth-century Poland and certainly was found in our own country’s revolution when angrily we denounced taxation without representation, the slogan did not gain popularity for people with disabilities until the early 1990s, two decades after the blind demonstrated our commitment to the concept on the streets of many cities in our nation.
The National Accreditation Council has been offensive to blind people not just because we were left out in its construction, its standards, and its administration. NAC has let itself be used in ways which have given agencies a free pass when accused of the misuse of agency money or even the abuse of blind people, especially blind children. When the Federation brought legitimate concerns about bad behavior to agency administrators and their governing boards, these were dismissed. When we took those same concerns to the press, they were often published, but the agency’s defense began and ended with the assertion that they were accredited by the National Accreditation Council for Agencies Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped. These assertions were verified by NAC, and the charges of bad conduct and abuse were never investigated by the so-called accrediting agency. Sometimes the word accreditation was so powerful that in the press coverage, legitimate concerns of consumers finished a distant second to the idea that the people in charge of these agencies were professionals who were being watched over by other professionals. The blind who complained were portrayed as malcontents who just didn’t understand the complexity of service delivery and who seized upon small incidents and tried to turn them into significant issues.
Over time our persistence paid off. The American Foundation for the Blind, which had given hundreds of thousands of dollars for the creation and maintenance of NAC, withdrew its funding. The United States Department of Education, which had been persuaded that accreditation would ensure quality education, eventually withdrew its funding and its strong push to have every blindness program in the country accredited by NAC. The number of agencies accredited by NAC fell each year, the best agencies being the first to withdraw, and the worst being those who clung to NAC as their single best defense against accountability and change.
For more than two decades NAC has existed in name, but has not been a significant player in the blindness field. Its annual reviews have been self-studies, and we have never known any of its member agencies to be rebuked or removed from the NAC family. Agencies wanting meaningful evaluation have turned to the organizations that represent the consumers they serve and have relied on other accrediting bodies which deal with education and rehabilitation. They have decided that nothing in the annual dues paid to NAC enhances their service and that the satisfaction of their consumers is the real test of quality service and genuine partnership.
So imagine our surprise when, after twenty years of relative inactivity, we learn that NAC has been newly named the National Accreditation Council for Blind and Low Vision Services and is being maintained on life support by the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER). Here is what president Riccobono has to say about the attempt to resurrect NAC and its continued failure to seek out the input of the organized blind:
This is a call to action for the blind of America to ensure that the struggles of our past do not resurface in a manner that impedes our future. As the fourth generation of the Federation has come into leadership, we have brought with us a perspective that has been shaped by our history but has not been significantly influenced by some of the most contentious struggles of our civil rights movement. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage. For the leaders of my generation, we grew up in a time when the National Federation of the Blind was emerging into the position of true leadership in the field of work with the blind. In many situations during the past thirty years, we have worked collaboratively with key professionals in the field to advance issues of significant concern to the blind.
In this call to action I will not recount the well-documented history of NAC. However, for those of my generation who did not live through the NAC-tracking period of the Federation and for those who need a reminder, I offer the following excerpts and provide a few references to previous Monitor articles for background.
“Through 1966 articles appeared in the Braille Monitor condemning a lack of consumer participation in the planning process and the regressive nature of many recommendations being proposed for the future NAC. The Commission was criticized for institutionalizing practices resulting in dependency. To many blind people as well as to several agency directors, a small group of professionals with similar and overlapping institutional affiliations were trying to dominate the field of rehabilitation through a new inclusive organization which was saddled with negative and regressive assumptions about blindness (Vaughan, 1993).”
“In a 1971 convention address Dr. Kenneth Jernigan made clear that the NFB's quarrel with the National Accreditation Council was neither over the concept of accreditation nor because of efforts to improve services to blind people. In this same speech Jernigan explained his perception of NAC and the way it operated. Consumer participation was minimal—tokenism.”
“Over the next twenty years an average of seven articles per year appeared critiquing and exposing alleged and documented shortcomings of NAC-accredited agencies. Up until 1990 the annual NAC board meetings were picketed by two to three hundred blind people who traveled from all over the United States to meeting sites (Rabby, 1984). In almost every state Federation members continually tried, often with success, to persuade agencies to disassociate from NAC.”
Although my generation of Federationists did not live through the right to organize battles of the 1950s, the use of an accreditation system to protect agencies doing harm to blind people, and active efforts to prevent blind people from being eligible to teach travel, we should not act as though those events are not relevant to who we are today and the dreams we seek for blind people. The history matters, and we the blind are determined to shape the future. It is said that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, but I think Mark Twain’s perspective might be more appropriate: History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme.
On the eve of the seventy-seventh anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind, I participated in conversations regarding the field of work with the blind that sounded very familiar to the stories I have read about the past—a familiar tune by a new set of performers. Specifically I am talking about the recent announcement by the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) that AER has brought the accreditation program previously managed by the National Accreditation Council for Blind and Low Vision Services (NAC) under the executive management of AER. In AER’s own words, “This represents an extraordinary opportunity for AER and the clients who are served by agencies committed to delivering high-quality services.”
My personal history with NAC might give you some insight as to how I approached the conversation that appears below. In June 2000, I was appointed to serve as Director of the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired (a state agency that has responsibility for providing a number of statewide services for children and adults in Wisconsin including operating a residential school). In that position I worked on the accreditations the agency was required to have as a K-12 school operating in the state. In 2002 I learned about the NAC Summit meeting that was planned for Florida in December. As a member of the Council of Schools for the Blind [COSB], I provided my concerns about the failed NAC accreditation program to the individual who would be representing NAC at the summit. As a member of the National Federation of the Blind, I wanted to be with Federation members protesting the meeting itself, but my schedule would not allow me to be away at the time of the meeting in Florida. Therefore, I settled for urging COSB to encourage NAC to close its doors and go out of business—an opinion that was shared at the summit meeting by others as you will find in the February 2003 issue of the Braille Monitor. NAC was never a topic of discussion at any of the conferences I attended related to the education of blind children, so I rarely gave it much thought.
In November of 2003 I moved to Maryland to work for the National Federation of the Blind. In 2004 Lou Tutt left the presidency of the Maryland School for the Blind, and I was surprised to learn that the school was accredited by NAC. When a new president was appointed to lead the Maryland School for the Blind (a woman I knew from my time participating in the Council of Schools for the Blind), I approached her about dropping NAC accreditation. I thought I might be able to convince her that the students at the school were not better off because of the NAC accreditation. She decided that the matter required more study even though the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland urged her to drop the useless accreditation. Eventually the Board of Trustees for the Maryland School for the Blind dropped the accreditation and found a new president to administer the programs of the Maryland school. Since that time the Federation and the Maryland School for the Blind have found opportunities to work collaboratively on a number of projects, including a Braille conference in October 2017. NAC was not providing Maryland with any value, and eliminating it saved the school dollars that could be put into programming and improved its ability to partner with blind consumers. Based on my experience, I have always believed that NAC would eventually close its doors when the small number of agencies still paying NAC for the privilege of doing a self-assessment of their services got tired of receiving no value for their dollars.
In September a Federation leader forwarded the announcement below from AER:
From: AERBVI Member Services [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf of AERBVI Member Services
Sent: Thursday, August 31, 2017 3:28 PM
Subject: Update to Members
A message from AER's Board President Joe Catavero & Executive Director Lou Tutt...
A few short weeks ago we wrapped up an extraordinary AER conference. A conference that served as a valuable educational event for Orientation & Mobility specialists and other professionals in the field; and one that reflected our strong commitment to you as members. Over the last months, we have listened carefully to our members. In addition, we have studied the last few years—examining our operations, member services, and the professional environment in which we work. As a result, the AER Board President appointed a Strategic Planning Team. An analysis was conducted that pinpointed AER's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). This data served as the framework that drove a process that spanned several weeks and led to the creation of an operational plan to move AER towards elevated excellence by 2020—The AER Strategic Plan 2017-2020.
We adopted a new mission: The mission of AER is to serve and empower professionals to deliver standards-based practices that lead to improved educational and rehabilitative outcomes for individuals with visual impairment and blindness. This mission embodies what we do and the importance of our work and will serve as a guiding light for the services and support that we will provide to you. We have a set of new operational goals that will better position AER to realize our bold new vision, which is to be a dynamic and thriving professional membership community with innovative practices and standards that result in responsiveness, recognized leadership, and improved outcomes for individuals who are blind and visually impaired. And, we will at all times hold true in all that we do to our four core values:
AER deeply and actively cares about the success of its members and those who are served; and provides resources and support to help them exceed their own expectations.
AER respects the worth and uniqueness of each individual and embodies a culture where diverse backgrounds, experiences, approaches, and ideas are revered.
AER is committed to ensuring that everyone, regardless of circumstances will achieve the greatest level of independence and success.
AER adheres to the highest ethical standards and promotes an environment complete with honesty and transparency.
In addition, we are pleased to announce that effective July 1, 2017, the accreditation program previously managed by the National Accreditation Council for Blind and Low Vision Services is under the executive management of AER. This represents an extraordinary opportunity for AER and the clients who are served by agencies committed to delivering high-quality services. We are working steadfastly to ensure that this change will reflect an even stronger focus on quality and service delivery. Over the next few weeks, we will complete our assessment and make adjustments as necessary to strengthen the overall program. There is a new Accreditation Council that has chief [responsibility] for setting and enforcing the standards. This body will be tactically examining the current program and will make strategic modifications that will result in a guarantee of high merit and excellence in service delivery.
Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to email:
Our commitment to you is immediate; and we cannot emphasize strongly enough your value to the field. Our promise is to listen, build on our strengths, make improvements, and work to provide the services and resources that you need. These are extraordinary times at AER; and we sincerely thank you for the life-changing work that you do and for being a part of AER.
AER Board President
In October 2017, I attended the meeting of the North American Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, which was held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). Lou Tutt was in attendance for some of the meeting and never mentioned AER’s plans for the NAC accreditation program. Since it did not get mentioned, I wondered if AER had decided to let the accreditation fade away. However, in other meetings during the APH conference, Mr. Tutt mentioned AER’s great excitement about the NAC accreditation. This raised concerns among other members of the Federation, who asked me what I knew about AER’s plans and whether or not we were asked to be involved in the accreditation council that was mentioned in Mr. Tutt’s presentations. I advised these Federation members that we were not invited to participate, that it had not even been mentioned to us directly as an organization, and that I would follow-up with AER.
I sent the letter that appears below to the executive leadership of AER:
October 30, 2017
Joe Catavero, Board President
Lou Tutt, Executive Director
Association for Education and Rehabilitation
of the Blind and Visually Impaired
1703 N. Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA 22311
Dear Mr. Catavero & Mr. Tutt:
I am writing to you regarding the announcement that the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) is taking responsibility for the programs previously offered by the National Accreditation Council for Blind and Low Vision Services (NAC). I am requesting a meeting with you as soon as possible to discuss the concerns of the organized blind movement regarding this unfortunate action. From my previous work with Mr. Tutt, I know that he is personally aware of the history of the problems that this accrediting entity has caused in the field. One of the early announcements from AER regarding this matter (from late August) states, “This represents an extraordinary opportunity for AER and the clients who are served by agencies committed to delivering high-quality services.” The fact that the National Federation of the Blind has not been invited to discuss this matter raises questions about the commitment to quality for the clients of agencies serving the blind under AER.
For decades the National Federation of the Blind has raised concerns about the philosophy, work, and direction of NAC. This is well documented in the Braille Monitor, and I would be pleased to send you direct links if you are not yet aware of this information. A great number of organizations have come to recognize the problems with NAC and stopped their support. Even the American Foundation for the Blind, which originally sponsored NAC, pulled its support. In 2002 the president of AFB said, "This board needs to face the reality that, no matter how good NAC is or could be, it's not going to be effective, and I strongly urge its board of directors to dissolve the organization." That AER has decided to recover this brand and its practices sends a very disturbing message. More significantly, to bring the NAC brand of operation into the AER program priorities without even openly dialoguing with the organized blind movement tells blind people that their concerns are second class to the professionals.
I am prepared to meet with you regarding this matter at your earliest convenience. I expect that this letter is not a surprise to you. However, I approach the conversation as if this was a genuine oversight—although a rather significant one. Although I am very interested in a meeting, I am also aware that our concerns are well known by the AER leadership. Therefore, I will assume that lack of a prompt reply suggests that AER has no time or interest in a meeting.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind
I was pleasantly surprised to receive a prompt reply from Mr. Tutt even if the reply avoided the question of why the Federation had not been contacted about the accreditation program sooner. Here is the response:
From: Lou Tutt
Sent: Monday, October 30, 2017 5:54 PM
To: President, National Federation of the Blind <OfficeOfThePresident@nfb.org>
Cc: Joe Catavero <firstname.lastname@example.org>; Lou Tutt <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: From Mark Riccobono: Meeting Request Regarding Accreditation
Dear President Riccobono:
On behalf of AER, I would like to thank you for your candid comments about NAC, and for contacting AER.
It was with great consideration that AER accepted the opportunity to manage the accreditation program. We accepted with a commitment to individuals who have vision loss. Our commitment is holistic, and we are committed to ensuring that services are provided under the most appropriate conditions and generate the best results for those who are served. We recognize that there have been concerns in the past.
However, we fully recognize the value of having a system in place that evaluates both operations and services. AER wants to hear from you. We want to speak with you via conference call and will schedule at a time that is convenient for you. In advance of the call, please send me your specific concerns. I would like to have a list of specific problems that you believe exist with the accreditation program.
Our goal is singular, and that is to operate in solution mode. We are dedicated to having a high quality accreditation program and would value your input. We would like to schedule the conference call this week. Next week, President Catavero and I will be attending an annual conference away from both our central offices.
Louis M. Tutt
Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER)
It is worth noting that Mr. Tutt’s response suggests that AER needed me to explain to them the “specific problems” with the NAC accreditation program. This is despite the fact that our history with NAC has been well documented in the Braille Monitor. This question also presumes that the NAC accreditation program has operated with transparency—it has been impossible to find a list of accredited agencies for many years. Even more surprising is that Mr. Tutt is asking this question. He served as president of the Maryland School for the Blind for fourteen years (departing in 2004), and during that time leaders of the Federation explained to him on many occasions the problems with the NAC accreditation program.
Nevertheless, I responded to Mr. Tutt via email on October 31 as follows:
Dear Mr. Tutt:
I appreciate your prompt response. I am asking Beth Braun in my office to work with you on finding a time that we can meet by telephone as you suggest.
You have asked me for “a list of specific problems that you believe exist with the accreditation program.” This presumes that the plan of AER is to continue the program as it has run for decades. If this is the case, laying out concerns is a fairly easy thing to do. It strikes me that AER cannot really be considering continuing the same failing process that has existed since the 1960s, but I should not make assumptions. In other words, we cannot raise concerns until we know the details of what is being planned. The goal here was to have a dynamic conversation rather than a static response based on little to no information. My hope was that we would begin a discussion that is likely many months overdue.
In the spirit of offering questions, here are a dozen that come to mind (with a 13th in honor of Halloween):
- What are the plans for the new accreditation?
- Will existing agencies be permitted to roll into the new accreditation?
- Will the formerly published NAC standards be used, or will new ones be created?
- If new standards are being developed, what role will the National Federation of the Blind be invited to play in the development?
- Will the decision about accreditation be based on self-study or an on-site review?
- What role will the National Federation of the Blind have as a consumer advocate in the accreditation process?
- Given the history of NAC, what assurance do we have that this process will not be used in an attempt to invalidate the expressed concerns of consumers, and how does AER plan to alleviate the problems discovered in the past? (We are all for solutions, but ignoring the history suggests that the concerns of the past have no place in shaping the future—that is not acceptable.)
- How does this accrediting body plan to fund itself?
- What pressure will it bring to bear on other agencies to become involved? And will it try to paint agencies negatively if they choose to be accredited by some other entity such as CARF?
- Will accreditation cover services for adults, services for children, guide dog schools, medically oriented programs, all of these, or a subset?
- Will accreditation require membership in AER or is it distinctly separate?
- Who is leading the accreditation process, and what partners are currently at the table?
- Will AER be promoting or supporting legislation to make state or federal funding contingent on its accreditation?
I look forward to our meeting and to learning the answers to some, if not all, of these questions. Please let me know if the above is not sufficient to understand the concerns we have about AER’s recent announcement.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind
On November 9, 2017, I had a call with Mr. Tutt and the AER staff member responsible for managing the accreditation process. Participating in the call with me were Anil Lewis, executive director for the Federation’s research and training programs, and Everette Bacon, a member of the Federation’s board of directors. For more than an hour, we attempted to get AER to explain to us what value they found in the NAC accreditation and what plans they had for the accreditation going forward.
We received no clear answers on why AER made the decision to take over the accreditation, except that a logic model was used by the AER board to determine that the NAC accreditation program had value. We were told that they were well read on the history related to the Federation’s concerns about NAC, yet we were asked on many occasions to articulate our concerns—which are well documented in the history. We explained that the entire NAC accreditation program is flawed and should be shut down. I urged that AER explain what value they find in specifically reviving NAC rather than simply building something new from the ground up. Although it was suggested a number of times that AER is starting over, no justification was given for why they are building on the previous NAC program, and no specifics were articulated for what role the National Federation of the Blind might play in the accreditation process. We were told that it was still early in the process, and they had fully intended to reach out to us. Keep in mind that we reached out to AER on October 30, a full two months after the August 31 correspondence to the AER membership which stated, “Over the next few weeks, we will complete our assessment and make adjustments as necessary to strengthen the overall program.” At many points in the conversation, it was stated that they want to move forward and wish not to dwell on the past. I explained to them that they chose to embrace the past by making a decision to carry on the NAC accreditation program and that ignoring the history was offensive to the blind of America. To his credit, Mr. Tutt began the meeting by attempting to address some of the thirteen questions I shared with him in advance. The most important question—why continue a failing accreditation program—remains unanswered, and certain questions were left open for the future such as the possibility that AER may seek to incorporate the requirement of NAC accreditation into state or federal law.
After our meeting I wrote to Mr. Tutt as follows:
Thank you for the call today with you and Angela regarding AER’s administration of the NAC accreditation program. I appreciate your attempt to address the questions we posed in our email of Tuesday, October 31.
During our call you explained that all existing NAC accredited agencies will retain their accreditation under AER. You explained that the NAC standards were being revised and that they will be vetted by a committee of experts. You further explained that the accreditation process will be voluntary, will not be tied to membership in AER, and undue pressure will not be placed on agencies that choose not to seek accreditation. You left open the possibility for future legislative action which may or may not tie funding at the state or federal level to successful NAC accreditation under AER.
We advised you that AER is making a mistake by attempting to refresh the NAC accreditation program. We explained that the NAC accreditation is flawed in a number of ways, but especially in its lack of substantive engagement and direction by leaders of the National Federation of the Blind. We further emphasized that a better approach would be to start with a blank slate, building an accreditation program with clear ties to elected leaders of the blind. On a number of occasions, we asked what value the AER board found in NAC beyond what is provided by other accreditation programs. We never received a clear answer to the question except to learn that AER found value in the NAC accreditation program. A logic model was referenced, and it was suggested that an opportunity might emerge for us to learn more about the model that was used to make this decision.
I have agreed that we would be willing to host a meeting in January to further discuss accreditation, assuming that AER comes prepared to explain how the organized blind movement will play a substantive role in the process and outcomes. We are prepared to engage in substantive conversations regarding accreditation in the blindness field, where it is needed, and what the measures of high performance might include. We are not prepared to talk about ways that the previous NAC accreditation can be improved. If the goal is to build something completely new or, in your terms, build the airplane while it is still on the ground, then we have the potential to make progress together, especially if you are prepared to detail the significant ways blind people will have influence in the process. If the goal is simply to remodel the plane that we have kept grounded for decades because of its inability to take blind people to new heights, I do not expect us to find more common ground in our next meeting.
If you are prepared to meet in January based on my summary of the understandings of the meeting, please follow-up with Beth Braun in my office. I again wish you the happiest of holiday seasons and a happy 2018.
Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind
Mr. Tutt responded saying that AER looks forward to meeting with the National Federation of the Blind in 2018. It is worth our speculating about what decisions will have already been made without us. AER began managing the NAC accreditation on July 1, 2017. They tell us they want us to be involved, but they made no effort to reach out to the Federation, and even after the first six months of AER’s administration, we will have hardly any information about their plans.
History may not repeat itself, but we are smart enough to recognize a familiar rhythm. The NAC accreditation has been harmful to blind people, has not improved agencies for the blind, and has perpetuated the myth that there are two classes in the blindness field—the first-class professionals and the second-class blind. The previous generations of the Federation were effective at putting this harmful accreditation system in its place. It is now up to the fourth generation to end it once and for all. Now is the time for us to put an end to this failed idea. Let AER know that it is not acceptable to create systems for agencies for the blind without the blind. Let AER know that the consumers matter and that we urge them to close down the NAC accreditation program once and for all. Let AER know that the blind are not opposed to accreditation itself, but we are opposed to repeating all of the sad songs of the past. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to voice your disappointment with AER. Respectfully let them know that we share the principle “nothing about us without us” and that it is time for NAC to go. You should also make your voice heard in social media by sending a Tweet naming @AERBVI and using the hashtag #GoodbyeNAC. Make your voice heard on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AERBVI/.
I do not know when another meeting with AER will take place. I do know that we will continue to seek ways to improve agencies for the blind by bringing an authentic consumer perspective to the leadership of those agencies. Today the National Federation of the Blind works in partnership with many outstanding professionals and agency leaders. We are successful in raising expectations, and we have worked together to create the most dynamic programs for the blind ever imagined. We will continue to seek those partnerships and to raise expectations. The existence of NAC has never stopped us, and AER’s attempt to recover a failing program will not stop us in the future.
Why Accreditation Failed Agencies
February 2003 Braille Monitor
by Edward Bell
From the Editor: In 1995 Eddie Bell received a scholarship from the National Federation of the Blind. With his innate intelligence, persistence, and passion to help blind people, he has given back in ways that are exemplary. Dr. Bell is the director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. He has extensive experience in rehabilitation for the blind and visually impaired and has presented widely throughout the United States and Europe. He has degrees in rehabilitation education and research, educational psychology, and human development. In addition, he possesses certification in educational statistics and research methods, rehabilitation counseling, and orientation and mobility. What distinguishes him, however, is the work he does to tie together teacher training, certification, and the evaluation of programs with the needs of consumers in search of quality programs leading to lives of success and independence. Here is what he has to say about training, certification, licensure, and accreditation and the way all of these should relate to services that lead to positive outcomes:
In the field of blindness education and rehabilitation, the terms accreditation, certification, licensure, competency, and evaluation are used both to describe good and bad practices. While most recognize the value of having an accredited college or university, a certified teacher, or a licensed physician, blind people have also found that these terms have brought with them negative consequences. So what are these concepts, and are they something to be embraced or fought? The answer is that it depends on what value these processes serve in helping people who are blind to live the lives they want, free from custodial practices and discriminatory policies.
At their core, all of these concepts have largely to do with ensuring that individuals receive quality training and education and are protected from negligence and incompetence. These are principles that I believe all members of the National Federation of the Blind would embrace and hold true. But where the departure begins is in how concepts like quality, training, competence, negligence, and incompetence are defined, which at a deeper level comes down to the values and expectations that one holds for the services provided.
Accreditation is the process of one agency or organization certifying that other organizations that are in the business of certifying professionals are doing that job in an ethical, systematic, and objective manner. Think of accreditation as the people who certify the certifiers. The certifiers, on the other hand, are the organizations that provide assurance that professionals are performing their duties in a competent, ethical, and professional manner. Many people need to be certified in order to do their jobs, including teachers, lawyers, doctors, special education personnel, and rehabilitation teachers—not to mention plumbers, electricians, contractors, and school bus drivers.
While we are on the subject, the terms "certification" and "licensure" are used interchangeably but often confuse the layperson in their meaning. For the purpose of this conversation there is little difference between these concepts, but for clarity’s sake here is the distinction. Licensure is handled state by state and contains legal ramifications for violations. Typical professions that are licensed by the state might include general contractors, licensed professional counselors, plumbers, electricians, physical therapists, real estate brokers, nutritionists, teachers, and medical practitioners. Certification, on the other hand, is governed by professional organizations that define the scope of practice for professionals, set the minimal criteria for demonstrating competence, and can revoke that certification if violations to the code of ethics or practice are violated. Certification does not have the same legal ramifications as licensure; however, it should be noted that many state licenses are based on professional certification and/or hold professional certification as a prerequisite to licensure. In both cases the purpose of certification or licensure is to set a minimal standard for acceptable practice, determine the appropriate fee structure, and bar entrance to the profession for those who do not meet the agreed-upon professional standard—in other words, to be the gatekeepers over that particular professional practice.
Certification, then, is the systematic process by which an organization establishes standards of practice, rigorous evaluation criteria, and methods of measuring performance in an objective manner. The certifying body will then set a minimum criterion for competence, and all applicants must meet at least this minimal standard in order to be deemed competent in that skill or profession. Today, most certifying organizations also establish some sort of ongoing professional development, continuing education, and/or a requirement to renew certification on a periodic basis. As a process then, certification seeks to establish reasonable standards, the means to measure whether individuals can live up to those standards, the roles and responsibilities for those who are deemed eligible under those criteria, and the mechanisms by which individuals who cannot meet the standards are barred from practicing in that profession.
As a principle, these certification practices have worked well across many professions. However, in the blindness field they have not always worked to serve consumers. Take, for example, the profession of orientation and mobility. The Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) created the Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS) credential back in the 1960s as a means of certifying that those interested in teaching cane travel were competent in teaching the skills to blind people. However, several of the organization's criteria for certification were based on visual acuity. Arguably, visual acuity is an objective measure and one that can be evaluated for each applicant. However, visual acuity is not a valid requirement for teaching mobility skills at all. One case in point: Dr. Fred Schroeder graduated from the O&M program at San Francisco State University with high marks but was subsequently denied certification as a COMS by AER based on his blindness. While the COMS certification has now been transferred to the ACVREP [Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals] organization, many of the certification principles continue to be based on visual efficiency and visual reference and are therefore not viewed by everyone as the most appropriate means of certifying competence in teaching orientation and mobility.
In 1999 the National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC) was created specifically to (1) serve as a non-discriminatory certification avenue for blind and sighted people; and (2) to be based on the Structured Discovery method of cane travel, which is a nonvisual approach to teaching which capitalizes on the individual’s self-efficacy and self-awareness. The NOMC certification, being based on Structured Discovery, set as its criteria for competence the ability to teach individuals nonvisual mobility skills, increase their confidence, and promote the personal attitudes and public awareness of expectations surrounding blindness. Those who were not able to demonstrate these skills were not deemed competent using the NOMC certification framework.
In 2001 the National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) was incorporated to govern the NOMC credential and its recipients. In its articles of incorporation the NBPCB purpose was established as: “To promote services of the highest quality for individuals who are blind or visually impaired through standards and certification to assure that professionals who serve such individuals are qualified; To establish, publish, and administer standards used to determine the qualifications of such professionals; To implement a process of certification and re-certification of professionals, based on the published standards; To continue, revoke, or suspend certification, based on findings relating to adherence to the standards; and To undertake other projects, programs, and activities.”
The first class of NOMC applicants was officially credentialed in July of 2001. Most of these have obtained and maintained employment for more than two decades, lending credibility to the methods and principles undergirding this certification practice. NOMC men and women maintain that certification for five years and then have to undergo recertification either through retesting or continuing education. Through continuing education, NOMC certificants are put in the position of continuing to work together, to learn together, to uphold a common standard of excellence, and to ensure that certificants remain true to their code of ethics.
In 2006, after more than twenty years of work by the National Federation of the Blind and the National Library Service and other constituents, a national standard for Braille competence was established, and a test of teacher proficiency was created. This exam was then pilot tested and validated by the National Federation of the Blind through rigorous field testing. However, other certifying organizations were not sufficiently interested in Braille proficiency to take on this responsibility. Consequently, in 2007 the NBPCB took on the literary Braille test and created the National Certification in Literary Braille (NCLB). As with other certification processes, those seeking NCLB credential had to apply to the NBPCB and complete a test of their ability to produce Braille using a Braillewriter and slate, proofread a passage, and know the rules of Braille. If minimal competence was demonstrated, those women and men were endorsed with the NCLB credential for a period of five years, after which time they would again need to retest in order to maintain their certification.
This practice was in keeping with mainstream certification principles and was the only means by which any organization could attest to the Braille proficiency of its certificants. The need for this test in the first place was due to the fact that no national standard ever existed for teachers to demonstrate that they in fact knew Braille. Having no national standard, the all-too-frequent result was that teachers would pass a Braille test at their university, with some tests being appropriately rigorous while others would be woefully inadequate. This single exit exam would then serve as the only assurance that the teacher knew Braille, with no need to again demonstrate this skill throughout their career. In fact there have been court cases and due process hearings because students were not being taught Braille even though they had a certified teacher of the visually impaired. In these cases, schools could state that their teacher of the visually impaired knew Braille because he or she passed a Braille test prior to starting their job, even if that was decades ago and the teacher did not remember any Braille. Today, as Braille competency tests are gaining steam, significant push-back has been observed in a number of states by TVIs who have held their jobs for many years and who know they do not have enough remaining Braille knowledge to be deemed proficient. Yet, these TVIs still work with children who are blind, many of whom should be taught Braille.
Certification, then, is the most promising protection against these types of injustices, so long as the certification practices are valid and consistent with the purpose for which they were created: (i.e., Braille proficiency) and that procedures ensure that professionals maintain some level of proficiency throughout their years of practice. How many of us would go to a surgeon who graduated medical school thirty years ago but who hasn't performed a single surgery in twenty-five years?
In 2012 the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) announced that Unified English Braille (UEB) would become the standard in the United States, which meant that every aspect of Braille would change. This change would involve everyone from the Braille reader to the publisher. While panic overtook many in the field, the NBPCB took on the task of writing professional competency standards, and by 2014 the National Certification in Unified English Braille (NCUEB) had been created. Between January and July of 2015, more than eighty-five people across eleven unique testing venues nationwide participated in a pilot test of the NCUEB. Individuals were eligible for the pilot test if they had participated in a UEB workshop and had made a commitment to learn the UEB code. Those data were analyzed, and strong evidence demonstrated that the NCUEB exam was equally as valid as its NCLB predecessor, that it appropriately identified those who were proficient in UEB versus those who were not, and thereby set the stage for the standard that should be followed for teachers and others who wish to demonstrate their proficiency in the UEB code. The full validation report was published in the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, and those wishing to obtain more information about the procedures that were followed should refer to that publication. The valid NCUEB exam, coupled with the five-year recertification period, made the NCUEB the first valid proficiency test of the new Braille code, and it was in place and ready for operation in advance of the January 2016 date set by BANA as the official UEB adoption date.
Meanwhile, other organizations have worked to catch up in testing competence in UEB. Instead of working with the organized blind, some professionals in the field of education of the blind sought out Educational Testing Services (ETS) in order to create a Braille proficiency test for teachers. Since ETS is a long-established testing company and since ETS provides the PRAXIS and GRE exams (which are required by most university programs), it was somewhat logical to seek them out for this task. However, by the admission of officials at ETS, they do not know much about Braille itself, have no vested interest in Braille, don't know the distinction between EBAE [English Braille American Edition] and UEB, and do not have qualified people on staff who are proficient in Braille.
As a consequence, the resulting Braille proficiency test that was created by outside consultants looks rigorous and comprehensive on the surface, but it is not all that it promises. Two fundamental problems exist with the ETS Braille test. First, while ETS maintains responsibility for the grading of the Braille exams, they leave it to each state to establish the minimal passing score for teachers. So, regardless of how rigorous the exam itself is, a state department of education can determine that getting 60 percent of the answers correct is sufficient to declare a teacher competent, while another state could set the standard higher or lower. Why would any state set such a low standard? They might because there is a significant teacher shortage in this country, the vast majority of personnel preparation programs are not holding students to high levels of Braille proficiency, and failing a high-stakes test would make the teacher ineligible for employment. And, to prevent lawsuits and unhappy parents, most state departments of education would rather dumb down the minimal competency standard for Braille proficiency than to tell parents they don't have a teacher to serve their children. So the vicious circle continues, with no single organization holding individuals accountable for being competent in the skill that they are hired to teach and no consistent metric for what constitutes reasonable competence. That is, except for the NCUEB, which to date is the only nationally representative measure of Braille proficiency that has been developed to serve this purpose.
Perhaps of greater concern is ETS's track record of providing accommodations to blind people. Any blind college student who has had to take the PRAXIS, GRE, or other ETS test and who has had to obtain accommodations can attest to the nightmare of qualifying for and obtaining reasonable accommodations through ETS. While it is true that most teachers of the blind are sighted, an increasing number of professionals entering the field are blind. Now, some of you may be thinking, "But why would a blind person who is a Braille reader need accommodations on a test of Braille proficiency?" And, this is perhaps the best question that you could ask and one that should be asked of the officials at ETS. Yes, it should sound ludicrous to you that a blind person would need to seek accommodations such as a sighted reader in order to take a test of his or her Braille proficiency. But that is exactly what you must do if you are a blind person and wish to take the ETS Braille proficiency test. If you are a blind person, you cannot take the ETS Braille competency test without a sighted reader as an accommodation. In keeping with ETS tradition, a sighted applicant can walk in off the street and take their Braille exam, receive a passing grade by some state department of education employee who likely doesn't know Braille, and maintain this endorsement for the rest of her/his career, even if he/she never touches Braille again. On the other hand, a blind person who may have been a proficient Braille reader from childhood must undergo rounds of red tape in order to get the accommodation of a sighted person in order to take a Braille test.
And this is the credentialing world in which we live. So, whose responsibility is it to ensure that testing companies and certification organizations are creating standards and tests that are valid and appropriate for the consumers it serves? This is where accreditation comes into play. Accreditation ensures that a certifying organization's practices are acceptable, meaning that they are competent to test and certify third parties, behave ethically, and employ suitable quality assurance. In practice, however, this all-too-frequently means that the organization in question is following the basic principles of establishing some standard, creating an evaluation around that standard, and ensuring that individuals can meet the standard. However, accreditation does not account for what is actually being certified or whether that certification has meaningful outcomes for the consumers who are affected. ETS, for example, could be said to be following all recommended standards for certification and would thereby be eligible for accreditation. But any third grader understands that a blind person should be able to take a Braille test without having a sighted person to serve as the reader.
When will those who wield authority in agencies and organizations that serve the blind finally determine that involving the consumer perspective is a key factor in any certification practice that will ultimately affect blind consumers? Not soon enough. Readers of the Braille Monitor know well the controversial history of the National Accreditation Council for Blind and Low Vision Services (NAC). Many pages of the Braille Monitor have been dedicated to protesting the reckless practices of NAC and the detrimental impact that NAC-accredited agencies have had on people who are blind, yet the input of the blind is still not a priority for these organizations. The proof is in the pudding. And, when consumers find that the pudding leaves a bad taste in their mouth, they will quickly discard that pudding in favor of something more satisfying.
The National Blindness Professional Certification Board (NBPCB) was incorporated in 2001 to govern the NOMC certification. In 2007 the NCLB Braille certification test was created and was successfully implemented until it was replaced by the NCUEB test of Unified English Braille in 2015. In 2015 the National Certification in Rehabilitation Teaching for the Blind (NCRTB) was created to certify rehabilitation teachers for the blind.
In 2009 the NBPCB created the agency certification process for training centers operating under the Structured Discovery approach. Using this process, a training center can be evaluated in six areas, and, if deemed competent, that center can be certified as a Structured Discovery center for immersion and training. While this process is not accreditation in the strictest sense of the word, it does operate under established criteria for demonstrating a minimal level of competence, using objective measures for evaluation, setting a criterion for acceptable practice, and providing strengths and weaknesses in a written report. Such agencies must undergo this evaluation every three years in order to maintain this designation and are provided reports of continuous improvement. Evaluations are conducted on-site by members of the NBPCB, who assess all areas of the curriculum, including the administration, instructional staff, student body, core curriculum, facilities, and involvement with consumer organizations. Currently, the centers who are recognized by NBPCB as meeting Structured Discovery standards include BLIND Inc, Colorado Center for the Blind, Louisiana Center for the Blind, Hawaii's Ho`opono New Visions Program, Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the New Mexico Commission for the Blind.
The NBPCB has continued to work to meet the needs of the constituents who are the ultimate beneficiaries of its service—people who are blind. The NBPCB was recognized by the National Federation of the Blind in 2014 with a Dr. Jacob Bolotin award for excellence. This honor was bestowed on the NBPCB for its focus on high-quality training and certification—training and certification that is based on rigorous evaluation criteria and one which shares the values of its consumers.
How can an organization whose job it is to accredit the certification programs for professionals who serve the blind do this job effectively without consistent and comprehensive work with the organized consumer organizations? The answer is they cannot. For this reason, the NBPCB proudly has members of a consumer organization on its board of directors, NBPCB leadership attend the annual convention of the NFB, and its leadership has consistent and ongoing communication related to certification standards.
But there is also a cautionary tale here. As we know from history, members of the AER and AFB were also closely aligned with the members of NAC, served on each other's boards, and worked behind closed doors to agree on common practices—all of which had detrimental consequences for blind people. The NBPCB, however, guards against this threat by working not only with the consumers it serves, but also by conducting evaluations of its certificants and by obtaining professional feedback from the employers of those individuals. It is a fact that the current demand for NBPCB-certified professionals continues to outstrip the available supply. This does not happen unless an organization has rigorous standards, valid measures for assessing applicant competence, procedures for continuing to strengthen its training, consistent and productive communication with its consumers, and a world view that is based on a simple principle—to create highly qualified professionals whose mission is to help blind people live the lives they want.
From the Editor: Lisa Ferris was first introduced to the NFB when she was a student at the Nebraska Commission for the Blind Training Center. The philosophy she learned there has informed her life ever since. She went on to get a Master’s in Education, with a concentration in multiple disabilities and deafblindness. She is deafblind herself and works alongside her husband at Miles Access Skills Training, their assistive technology consulting and training business. She is a member of the Portland Central Chapter of the Oregon affiliate of the NFB as well as the Oregon Parents Division. Here is her story about traveling through an education system that often offered messages that made her bite her tongue to get through. It is also a story of taking the best that the system had to offer, enhancing and correcting its message when it wasn’t consistent with her life and her experience with other blind people, and creating a business that provides the kind of service that enriches the lives of blind people and helps them raise the bar for us all:
Attending college courses in my special education major as a deafblind person was a bit of a trip. I was always the only one who was disabled in my classes. I would sit there and listen to third-person descriptions of people like me, deafblind or otherwise disabled people, as my face turned flush and the hairs on my neck stood on end. I could feel people averting their gaze. The class grew silent and uncomfortable if I disagreed too vocally. At the same time, I had to fight for a semblance of professional belonging. I had to carefully balance my strong urge to speak up on behalf of my disabled peers while trying to maintain a professional distance in order to fit in and not be "the gimp with a chip on her shoulder."
So I listened as I was told that blind and deaf people could only hope to be as literate as a third-grade reader and that it was certain that we would face isolation, depression, anxiety, and a low quality of life. Most of us—or "them" in the vernacular of my classes, "those people"—would live a life below poverty level, be un- or underemployed, and only be able to live independently with lifelong services and supports from professionals. It was very bleak for "them," but how wonderful it was that there were saviors like us! We were the special people who were going to come in and intervene and improve the lives of this poor lot. They were to be pitied, and we were to save them.
Once I sat through a guest lecture from one of these saviors. She was a teacher of the vision impaired (TVI) who was hailed as a wonderful, special person who was helping the blind in her district so much. At the time I was a volunteer in a mainstream organization that focused on adult literacy. I was asked by the organization to work with one of her former students. He was eighteen years old, couldn't read, spell, dish up a plate, or tie his shoes. He was not cognitively disabled; he was very intelligent and well-read, using talking books. I taught him how to read and write Braille in six months and how to tie his shoes in fifteen minutes. No one had ever taught him before, he said. This was when I learned to be cautiously critical of every single thing I learned in college.
The content of the courses that earned me a bachelor's and master's degree in special education were not totally without merit. I did learn some things. I learned about statistics, standard deviations, and assessment basal and ceiling scores. I learned about laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and how to comply with its required tedious IEPs. I learned some useful skills like how to break down a task into its smallest components and how to make a multimodal communication system for nonsymbolic or nonverbal communicators. I learned about methods of functional assessment and positive behavior supports for students with violent and difficult behaviors. Some of this has been worthwhile and useful over the years.
What I didn't learn, at least from my college courses, was anything useful about actual kids and adults with disabilities. All the descriptions of third-grade reading levels and poverty rates and the prevalence of depression may have been statistically true, but the implication was that this was just inherent to the disability itself. The pathology of disability was that it was bad, a deficit that could be mitigated somewhat but never completely overcome. There was only so much anyone could do to really help a blind person. Those few really successful disabled people we knew about were the outliers—supercrips who had, through sheer grit and incredible talent, achieved amazing things such as having a career, a family, an independent lifestyle. Basically, what is considered average for everyone else was considered outstanding for the disabled.
Even now, in my career as a skills trainer/consultant for people with vision loss, I see this attitude. The talk has gotten more upbeat and less bleak. Now when I go speak at conferences for TVI teachers, I hear words like independence, exemplary outcomes, and high expectations. It all sounds wonderful. How things have changed! But then, during the lunch breaks and hall discussions, I hear it. You do not have to scratch too far below the surface to find that these high expectations have a definite limit in the minds of many TVIs. "Oh, you know never to go out in the dark without a person to help you!" I hear a teacher telling a college student who has night blindness. "We can't teach these blind people anything! They won't learn," says a tech teacher to another group of teachers as they nod their heads in frustration. "I had to do my two hours of CEUs [continuing education units] under blindfold," says an orientation and mobility instructor. "I hated every minute of it and was scared to death to cross a busy street. Thank goodness I only have to know how to teach it and not do it," she continues to the nods and empathetic laughter of her colleagues. It is hard for me to sit and silently observe that we have changed the public talk but not the deeply-held feelings about the people we teachers and rehabilitators are educated and paid to serve.
My partner and I teach adults with vision loss and sometimes other disabilities to use assistive technology. Many of our clients are older, private-pay clients who do not qualify for state services because they are retired. Newly blinded, they wish to stay independent and maintain their homes and relationships. Some of them are not tech savvy, but they tend to learn quickly. We also have contracts with many different organizations to teach working-age blind people the assistive technology that will help them become employable again. Some of these clients are newly blind due to accident or disease. Others have grown up with vision impairment and came out of the special education system.
We started to notice a pattern: the ones who came out of the school system and grew up blind were more likely to lack a fundamental level of proactivity and—I'll call it "wherewithal" with their skill building. Now, some will say learning is easier for those who used to be able to see—and there is truth to that. Having some visual references, even if fuzzy and long ago, does help when communicating learning material in a visual world. It can take more effort, more descriptive language, more tactile interventions, and other strategies to teach a visual concept to someone with no visual experience. But that isn't what I'm talking about. I'm talking about a lack of initiative, a dependence on task-analyzed lists and steps, and the teacher to turn to at every instance of frustration. Of course, this is a generalized observation, a trend. There are people who have been blind since birth who don't display these traits.
At first I thought this was a mistake in teaching method—an overemphasis on task analysis and an under-emphasis on problem-solving. Task analysis is the method of breaking down a task into very specific subtasks and providing step-by-step instructions to each one in a routine. This can be a very effective method to teach some students with developmental disabilities who need really concrete and consistent instruction. It can also help in the initial learning of brand new, unfamiliar material to get started up the learning curve. Learning how to create task-analyzed learning programs is big in special education. Maybe, I thought, the use of task analysis has been overgeneralized to the extreme with students who have vision impairments.
But then, when I started working with and watching TVIs more closely, I started to realize that they weren't overusing task analysis as a learning strategy. Instead, they were task-analyzing skill sets because they themselves knew the skill only on a very basic, step-by-step, look-at-the-user-manual level. Most TVIs and orientation and mobility instructors seem to have only a cursory or very basic knowledge of the skills they are teaching. Because they are only at a sort of beginner's step-by-step level with blindness skills, that is how they teach them. There is no teaching to full expert mastery at a problem-solving, synergistic level because they never got there themselves. Now again, this is a trend I see. I also know both blind and sighted TVIs who are highly skilled at what they teach and have achieved mastery and automaticity with blindness skills.
Blindness skills—or alternative techniques of blindness—are nonvisual methods to accomplish the same things others commonly do with vision. With a few exceptions, there is a way for the average blind or low-vision person to accomplish pretty much everything a sighted person can. These skills range from Braille to using screen readers on computers, cooking and sewing, home maintenance, traveling and transportation, managing health, and advocating for accommodations and fair treatment for oneself. All are good, solid, dependable skills that do take practice to learn. And most are completely mistrusted and misunderstood by the general public and by many blindness professionals.
When you are blind, not a day goes by when you don't get told that what you do is amazing, and no one knows how you do it. There is no way they could ever do what you do. The flip side is that not a day goes by when you've done something normal, like gone to the store, cooked dinner, gotten dressed, whatever, and you get told that you couldn't have done that by yourself. Where is your sighted helpmate who helped you? You need a sighted person. The skills of blindness are not truly trusted or believed in by most sighted people. Many sighted people have only had just seconds or minutes of experience under nonvisual conditions and have had no instruction in blindness skills. TVIs and O&M instructors often have had only a few hours or days. It's not surprising that the skills are not well understood. But it is difficult that, unlike other unique skills, people often refuse to take your word for your competence in them and how effective they are.
Think of a skill that is a little unusual to have. Maybe being able to figure skate well enough to do some jumps and spins, or playing a harp or piano, or running a marathon. Most people realize that these skills take years of practice, but if you put in the time, they are not impossible. Sure, only an elite few will get to the Olympics in figure skating, but at any local public rink you will find figure skaters who can skate impressively and do jumps and spins. The same goes for playing the harp or running a marathon. These skills take time, dedication, good instruction, and commitment. But if you put the time in and have a good coach, it is not surprising that you will become very good at them.
The same is true for blindness skills. People with good blindness skills have put in lots of time and practice and have often had very good coaches and mentors in other blind individuals. It's a skill set that not a lot of people have, but anyone can acquire blindness skills with practice, practice, practice. Traveling around town without sight is not especially amazing and superhuman. It is not foolhardy and scary, either. It's just a skill you learn with some work and dedication. Give yourself six to twelve months without sight, and with lots of good practice and instruction, you are going to be a decent traveler. Keep working on it a few more years, and you will be an expert. It will become so second nature that you will not think about it.
Good mentorship and coaching always helps. And herein lies the problem. TVIs and O&M instructors get so little practice under blindfold in blindness skills that they never truly believe in the skills as a real, viable alternative to sight. They often see the techniques as a poor substitute that only provides barely adequate functioning for a blind person. They don't really believe in what they teach. It would be like learning figure skating from a coach who still has to hold on to the sides of the rink, or a piano instructor that only knows how to play "Chopsticks," or a running coach who's maybe jogged a couple of times but has never run a 5K, much less a marathon. Part of teaching is imparting the skills, and the other part is helping someone believe they can do it. This is very hard to do if you've never learned the skills beyond the basics yourself.
Here is an example: Braille is probably one of the best skills for literacy, employability, and learning that is available for blind people. There are two basic parts to learning Braille—there is memorizing the code, and there is building up tactile awareness and speed. And for prereaders, there is also learning phonetics and reading comprehension to go along with that. In many TVI programs, teachers learn to read visual Braille. This is a print version of Braille that completely ignores the part in which you have to feel the code, keep track of where you are, develop a flow, understand Braille syntax, etc. Maybe they have a class where they try their hand at tactile Braille, maybe they read a chapter about how to teach it, but they never master this skill. (To their credit, some TVIs have gone on to master Braille on their own, but most cannot read Braille much past visually looking at the code.) It is very discouraging to be a student and to be the only one you know who reads Braille, including your teacher! It would be a powerful mentorship moment to be able to ask your Braille teacher to read Braille and have her just sail away on it. But when asked, most TVIs cannot read Braille with their fingers with any speed. This matters.
Independent travel, too, is one of the most powerful equalizers for blind people to work and be included in their communities. But many orientation and mobility instructors have limited experience traveling on their own. The most dangerous thing I have noticed that travel instructors sometimes do (unintentionally, I'm sure) is to instill such a level of anxiety in their students about travel that the students literally develop what appears to be not unlike an anxiety disorder or phobia in regard to travel. Blind kids don't usually start this way. They learn it from everyone constantly telling them how unsafe it is for them to go anywhere without lots of tedious instruction. If you don't know—really know—that these travel skills can and are trustworthy and effective, you cannot instill that confidence in your students. Travel skills are almost entirely in your head. Both as a problem-solving exercise (Which direction am I going? What are the clues around me to give me information about my surroundings? Where do I need to go next?) and, more importantly, having confidence in the ability to travel safely without sight. No one will ever say that traveling without sight is as easy as having sight. It takes more thought, attention, and ability. But it is not unsafe or unreliable. Many O&M instructors task analyze travel so much that blind students get afraid to go anywhere that hasn't been approved and routed out with explicit directions and deemed safe by their sighted instructor. This makes for a very limiting existence.
Assistive technology is another area where I see this. A low vision specialist told my partner a "funny story" about how she was teaching a student about using Blind Square, an app that assists with mobility and mapping using GPS. When with a student, she got lost in a downtown area. What a great opportunity to model problem solving to get re-oriented! But instead, she panicked and called her husband (this was after hours during a night walk lesson). And her husband was able to find her using his phone's tracking technology and came and rescued them. My partner said to her, "You know if you just shake your phone, Blind Square will tell you where you are, right?" No, she had no idea. She did not know the app well enough. Not only does this show a lack of tech knowledge, but it also demonstrates a lack of faith in the ability to use real, solid skills (both high and low tech) to get yourself out of a fix. This is one of the most important skills a blind person needs for independent travel.
And this is also where I see a dependence on task-analyzed steps instead of thinking through problems and using a variety of different skills to solve them. Many adaptive tech instructors we see have only a basic understanding of the tech they teach and thus can only teach using very scripted steps in a sequence. It’s okay to start here, but to really get comfortable and competent with tech, you need a teacher who is really comfortable and competent with tech and believes in it instead of seeing it as a frustrating substitute to sighted methods. Tech is ever changing and quirky. And there are always five ways to do things. Knowing these five ways gets you out of messes. If you only know how to use a limited set of scripted steps, tech is going to be so frustrating that it’s almost useless.
Because TVIs and O&M instructors only get a limited amount of instruction in blindness skills, they tend to deprioritize them. They often overly rely on vision maximization strategies (magnification, lighting, etc.) because they are easier to teach and they are more comfortable with them. Although sometimes vision enhancement strategies are appropriate to have in the tool belt, many students miss out on blindness skills and are never able to achieve their full potential with magnification alone. Overall, without real ability in blindness techniques, it is almost impossible to believe in the skills and model and teach them effectively to students. This translates into generalized low expectations and poor outcomes for many students. It reinforces the idea that the poor quality of life issues mentioned in my special ed classes are inherent to blindness, not inherent to poor educational opportunities and attitudes. It offers a nice excuse for not doing better.
The TVI and O&M professions would be richly enhanced by including more competent blind instructors in their ranks. Historically, blind professionals have been excluded from the profession. Just a couple of decades ago, official policies of professional and licensing organizations excluded professionals with vision impairments. It was a powerful statement on the outlook and expectations of the profession responsible for the education of our blind youth that they did not believe any blind person was competent enough to teach blind people. Though laws and lawsuits made explicit policies illegal, it is still extremely difficult for blind people in some blindness professional programs today. I recently heard of a program that could not accommodate a blind student in its Braille class because all of its Braille instructional materials were in printed Braille, and they did not know how to translate all of those graphic representations of Braille to Braille dots. I'm not making that up. In another instance, blind students complained to a university office for students with disabilities about poor blindness accommodations in TVI programs with testing and written material. The office, as well as the state agency for the blind, offered to assist the TVI program to step up their accessibility level, but their energy and expertise were declined, and the students continued to struggle through the program—a program that was to teach them how to accommodate blind students but couldn't accommodate them. If they saw the irony, they did not admit to it. There has been a level of tension through the years between blind and sighted professionals in the field to the point where a conspiracy theorist might wonder if these programs weren't intentionally making it difficult for blind professionals to get through the program.
But I don't discount that sighted teachers can have the ability to become highly competent teachers of the blind with high expectations and outcomes for their students and strong faith in the skills they teach. I have met many such TVIs and O&M instructors over the years. These instructors have often taken it upon themselves to go the extra mile to really learn and understand blindness skills. They spent hours under blindfold learning skills on their own, often with the help of the blind community. They brush up on their blindness skills on a regular basis and keep up with technology trends. They spend time with blind leaders and professionals, go to self-advocate conferences, and come to understand the issues in the community. These teachers have gotten past the learning curve and have knowledge and faith in the skills and students they teach.
A large part of the resistance to learning blindness skills under blindfold for an adequate period of time seems to be, at its base, that doing so is hard and scary. Well, sure, at first. But if a professional can't get past this, maybe it's time for them to ask themselves whether it will be fair and effective for them to expect their students to or whether their fear and trepidation might rub off on their students in a negative way. Maybe another profession might be a better fit for their skills. There is no substitute for really knowing and experiencing what you teach.
University programs and also employers could help to facilitate this by providing opportunities for long-term blindness skills training at immersion centers or by creating their own semester or year-long full-day immersion experience. Employers could support sabbaticals to these centers and provide funding or at least time off and CEU credits for self-advocate conferences and opportunities. There is no real reason why sighted instructors should be teaching chopsticks to a pianist who dreams of playing Rachmaninov. It is not too much to expect that teachers know how to play Rachmaninov as well. With work, mentorship, and time, anyone—blind or sighted—can become highly competent at navigating the world without sight.
From the Editor: Unlike most articles that appear in the Braille Monitor, this one does not begin with a byline. The person who helped put it together chose to express her love for Jerry Whittle by organizing the heartfelt tributes that follow, and Rosie Carranza should know that we see her handiwork in this article and the love it represents. One other person has worked to coordinate this collection of the tributes that spring from love, and you will not be surprised to learn that this silent contributor is none other than Pam Allen. I am taking the liberty of including the remarks she sent in forwarding this article in the tributes that follow this introduction.
What is abundantly clear is that many of Jerry's starfish have returned to the sea. They have not taken their new lease on life for granted; they have taken the time to say thank you. They have recognized the blessings received and have made a conscious choice to pass on and add to those blessings with their own commitment of energy, love, dedication, and passion.
Jerry and I shared one thing in common; we both enjoy reading and writing. Debbie and I had the joy of vacationing once with Merilynn and Jerry, and both of us spent a lot of time on benches while our wives searched the stores of North Carolina looking for treasures that begged for a new home. I hope you enjoy reading this tribute to Jerry Whittle as much as I have enjoyed editing it. Thank God for this man, and thank God for the people who cared enough to stop and say thank you.
In 1985 the Louisiana state legislature gave funding to the NFB of Louisiana to establish the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Inspired by my own life-changing rehabilitation experience, I wanted to replicate the ground-breaking training model that Dr. Jernigan used to teach me and countless other blind people in Iowa. My search for Center staff led me to Jerry and Merilynn Whittle, whom I heard about through the "blind grapevine." I called them up, explaining that we were only awarded one year of funding and that we had no building, no equipment, and no students. Essentially our empowering NFB philosophy and our nonvisual training methods were the two forces pushing our dream forward.
Jerry and Merilynn did not hesitate; they immediately agreed to become part of our pioneering team of instructors. Jerry came first, and when her job concluded, Merilynn arrived in Louisiana. They brought with them an unwavering belief in blind people, a deep loyalty to the Federation, a joyous energy, and a willingness to sacrifice and give to others. They were dependable and so hardworking; they worked day and night to launch the Center.
Soon we had our inaugural group of students. Our first training center operated out of a four-room house. Mismatched donated furniture and lively chatter filled the space. The Braille classroom that Jerry and his students occupied had a large table that was made by attaching legs to an old door.
Even in the early years of his teaching career, Jerry recognized that his job as Braille instructor was just the beginning. He fulfilled the roles of counselor and mentor. He spoke with students about their futures, what jobs they could do, and what they could become as blind people.
With great enjoyment, Jerry also dispensed love advice to those seeking a partner. For instance, he warned, "You should never marry someone unless you have traveled with them on a trip. You learn a lot on these trips that might influence your decision." More broadly, he told students "If you want to succeed in life, you must look at your fatal flaws and change them. We all have them." Jerry had such a tremendous sense of humor. When crossing a street, you could hear Jerry shouting, "Oh, feet, don't fail me now!" And, oh my, did Jerry get after students if they were slacking or not fulfilling their potential. These are just some of the phrases and techniques that I witnessed Jerry using as tools to create bridges to the lives of his students.
The most significant thing that Jerry gave us was the "minor ingredients," the invaluable elements that made our dream of creating a fun and productive training center come true. Jerry developed many traditions and pursued projects that engaged the varied interests of Center students. He started a garden, devised creative fundraising activities, and organized many trips to festivals, movies, concerts, flea markets, and sporting events. He formed a blind football team and wrote many plays. He started a Toastmasters group to provide students the opportunity to enhance their public speaking skills. He planted trees with the students to beautify the city and to memorialize students or staff who had passed away. Jerry also awarded "Whittle sticks" to recognize the Braille achievements of his students. He carefully selected tree branches that he lovingly made into beautiful walking sticks that his students eagerly worked to earn.
Jerry started our freedom bell tradition. He began ringing the bell whenever a student conquered a challenge or met an important milestone—crossing a busy street, reading at a certain speed in Braille, getting married, or becoming employed. He would say, "When the bell sounds, all blind people have gained new ground."
Yes, Jerry, you have and will continue to help the blind gain new ground. Your life is a real tribute to our dream.
Jerry Whittle's life was changed when he found the National Federation of the Blind, and the lives of thousands of blind people were changed as well. I first met Jerry while organizing a chapter of the NFB of South Carolina near Jerry's hometown of Central located in the northwest corner of the state. Jerry served in numerous leadership roles both nationally and in the NFB of South Carolina and was integral in the development of programs at the Federation Center of the Blind (the NFB of South Carolina headquarters) and Rocky Bottom Retreat and Conference Center of the Blind. His penultimate (Jerry's favorite word) achievement, however, was his over thirty years of service as the Braille instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.
As a young man, Jerry played his beloved sport of baseball. He discovered his blindness while playing one night in a lighted stadium and finding that he could not see the ball as it sailed to him at second base. This was a whole new world to Jerry and one in which he struggled to adapt. Early on, he found little encouragement about his future from his vocational rehabilitation counselor who, as Jerry once told me, suggested that he go into a workshop or janitorial work. But Jerry knew intuitively that he could do more with his life. He responded to a public service announcement by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, and thus began the journey to realizing his dreams for a literary career. He graduated from Clemson University, and his academic success led to graduate school at the University of Tennessee where he earned a masters in creative writing.
Jerry and I shared so many memorable times as friends and colleagues. I remember most vividly our NFB work and the adventures around our pioneering establishment of the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston under the leadership of Joanne Wilson. Always at his side, Merilynn shared in all of our triumphs as we celebrated the accomplishments of our students and the growth of the Center. From the acorn grew the strong oak of Jerry Whittle.
He brought the gift of Braille literacy to thousands of blind people, sprinkling his lessons with philosophy and high expectations. Throughout his tenure as a teacher and beyond, Jerry continued to pursue his love of writing, producing plays to inspire and engage blind actors and publishing a number of fictional and autobiographical works. Jerry was Godfather to my oldest son, Nicholas, and we are blessed to have many of his original manuscripts of his plays. How grateful we all are that Jerry did not succumb to the low expectations of the early guidance about his career choices. How fortuitous that he found the NFB, and how truly fortunate that the world and thousands of blind people found him. By knowing Jerry and loving him, our lives have been enriched beyond measure, and he will always reside in our hearts and minds.
It is so hard to describe adequately the impact Jerry Whittle had on me. When I enrolled at the Louisiana Center for the Blind shortly after my high school graduation, I did not consider myself to be blind, and I was not sure what to think about the idea of blind instructors. Jerry had a unique way of meeting people where they were and helping them to discover themselves, conquer their fears, and build self-confidence—to realize that it was respectable to be blind. Regardless of a person's life experiences, he would find a way to connect. I knew early on in my training how important the National Federation of the Blind was to him, how it had changed his life in ways he shared with us. Though we certainly worked on Braille, and I learned to read and write with confidence, we also tackled other philosophical topics in Braille and outside of class. Jerry and Merilynn were always ready for an adventure and encouraged all of us to join in, even if it was something we might never have experienced before. They showed us how to seek and find beauty in the small miracles of life and how to live each day to the fullest. Jerry was always honest and genuine. He listened and gave advice and was not afraid to challenge me and my fellow students to push the boundaries imposed by society and the low expectations about blindness we faced.
Like Jerry, I have retinitis pigmentosa, and I was reluctant to travel in unfamiliar places, especially at night or in dimly lit venues like movie theaters. Jerry and I had discussed this at length, and he knew that I would always go to the movies with a friend or sibling. He invited me and some other students to the movies one evening. Before the movie began, he showed me how to use my cane to navigate around the theater and find my seat. Because of his encouragement and belief in me, I applied what he taught and independently found my own seat. I can remember the pride I felt as I turned to yell to him from several rows ahead "I did it!" Jerry knew that accomplishing this "little thing" in life would be one of the many building blocks that allowed me to grow and achieve those "big milestones" later in life. I had no idea then that I would ultimately become a cane travel instructor helping people overcome their fears and replace self-doubt with hope as he did for me. Jerry was, and still is, an amazing role model for me in the ways he gave above and beyond the call of duty. He always took time to listen, to give without counting the costs, to share his love of the Federation, and to find ways to cultivate talents in others. Later, when I began to work at the Center, I continued to learn from him as a colleague and peer. He kept dispensing advice and wisdom and even gave a toast at my wedding.
Most importantly, Jerry was my beloved friend! I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I could count on him. And I know today that he knows he can count on me to continue to challenge myself and push myself and my students beyond what we thought was possible, to share the lessons he taught me and so many, and to continue his legacy through my work at LCB and in the National Federation of the Blind. Every time Pam and I see a movie, one of our favorite pastimes, we will smile and think of him. I will forever be indebted.
While attending my church service tonight, my priest said that we know God loves his children because he always provides for them. If that is true, then I can only assume that it is also true that Jerry Whittle loved his students, because he always gave to them. When we had concerns, he gave us his counsel. If we were having a rough day, he gave us his humor. When we thought we would never improve our reading or writing skills, he gave us encouragement. When we accomplished a goal, he gave us a pat on the back for a job well done. If we were slacking off, he gave us a swift kick in the pants. He gave us knowledge through Braille. He gave us Austen, Brontë, Dostoyevsky, Hemingway, Faulkner, Tolstoy, Steinbeck, and many more. Jerry Whittle was never just an eight-to-five instructor. He gave us his time.
Students were always welcome to join the Whittles for a Friday night trip to the movies, a Louisiana Tech football game, a night at the theater, an afternoon at the flea markets, or a myriad of activities outside of normal class time at the LCB. He gave us challenges that would make us better the next day than we were before, whether that meant stepping out on stage or stepping on to the football field. He gave us a view of his faith, and he certainly showed us his love for Ms. Merilynn. Every single day, Jerry Whittle gave us his all so that we might succeed.
When I was twelve years old, I was a quitter. I was accepted into the Louisiana Center for the Blind's Buddy Program, but after three weeks I decided to quit. Frankly, it was just too hard to learn the nonvisual skills my counselors were trying to teach. This decision of course was a mistake, but from mistakes come opportunities to learn. While waiting on my parents to come and take me home, I was invited to go to lunch with Mr. Whittle. Knowing what I now know about Jerry Whittle, this was not just a kind gesture. It was another opportunity to do what he loved—to do his best to teach blind people that blindness did not have to dictate the terms of their life. That day I heard the story of someone who had experienced all that I was experiencing at that moment. Mr. Whittle had been told by sighted people about the limited jobs available to a blind person. Only he had a different plan which did not include settling for such low expectations. He discussed the important role that the training he received played in accomplishing his goals. I remember admitting to him at some point in the conversation that I could understand how the cane could be useful for me, but I could not see the point in learning Braille. He explained that a blind person had to develop a well-rounded set of skills to maximize chances for success. For example, if you were the best traveler in the world, but you could not read, you would probably not be able to get a job. Likewise, if you had great technology skills, but you did not have the ability to match your own clothes, you probably were not going to keep a job. While I now understand this thought process, to a stubborn twelve-year-old boy, this man clearly did not realize that he was talking to me, the exception to the rule.
However, during the next year his words would come back to me. I began to question myself when certain situations came up. Was I choosing not to go to the movies like other people my age because I really didn't like movies or because I did not have the travel skills to maneuver in dark places? Was reading just stupid, or did I not like it because I could only read around twelve words per minute on a CCTV? An honest self-evaluation told me that in most cases I was letting blindness dictate the terms of my life. I knew that the annual NFB of Louisiana student seminar in Ruston was approaching, so I began to put a mental list of questions together about how blind people could accomplish certain tasks. I remember getting off the bus and walking into the activity center, where dinner was already underway. And there at the front of the line, waiting to show those of us who did not know how to serve our own plate, was Jerry Whittle, once again leading by example. If you have been privileged to know Jerry Whittle, you know that my story is not unique. All I had to do was scroll through my Facebook feed on the days around his passing to see the affect that this man had in the lives of blind people. We may not have cleared every bar that he set for us, but it was not because he did not expect us to! What a world it would be if we all lived like Jerry Whittle taught us, by striving to be better tomorrow than we are today. I will miss you Dr. Dots, but I will never forget our lunch on that Monday afternoon in July 1991. The food the waiter brought was generally forgetful, but the food for thought you served was life changing.
I first met Jerry Whittle in June of 1988 when I arrived as a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I last spoke with him at length by phone in April of 2017. In those three decades I never stopped marveling at what he had to teach me. It was so much more than Braille.
The greatest teachers are not great because of what they teach. They are great because of what they give. Jerry Whittle gave so much to so many. He gave us his words through the books, plays, and stories he wrote about the blind and our struggles for dignity. He gave us his wit through his corny humor, puns, and word plays. He once quipped that old Braille teachers never die; they just get de-pressed. He gave us his wisdom; that nothing is ever granted freely to the blind. If we want equality, we have to earn it. We have to help our blind brothers and sisters as well; he showed that through his work in the NFB. Sometimes, it's not fair, but gritty determination sure beats self-pity and sloth.
Above all he gave us his warmth through the love he ceaselessly showed to those around him. He would stay late at work to help a student finish reading his first Braille book or write her first Braille sentence with a slate and stylus. He would organize a literary night at his home with his wife Merilynn to instill in us a love of reading. It seemed to me that he knew no off-hours. Quietly, reliably, selflessly, he simply offered what he had. I hope he knew how much we profited from all the gifts he gave. Thank you, Mr. Whittle. We miss you beyond words.
I was introduced to Mr. Whittle through a dear college friend. I needed some extra cash, and Mr. Whittle needed a reader. The friend who introduced us said Mr. Whittle and I would become fast friends; however, little did I realize that my part-time gig would grow into a genuine friendship that would have a lasting impact on my future.
Anyone who knew Mr. Whittle knew about his aversion to technology. Part of my job was to bridge the gap between the world of computers and the world of Jerry Whittle. My first project was to help him type and edit a manuscript for one of his plays. I quickly came to realize that our business relationship was atypical, because our work tasks often veered into witty conversations about Mr. Whittle's life. He certainly didn't mind that our paid hours of reading time usually descended (or ascended) into colorful stories of his past and present.
On occasion Mr. Whittle would have me read through Braille book catalogs, from which he selected literature for the Louisiana Center for the Blind library. When I became curious about Braille, Mr. Whittle eagerly put a Braille block in my hand and began to teach me. This was, as well, on his time. He didn't mind.
I also assisted him by going through his numerous emails. Mr. Whittle had a social network before social networking was cool. He received countless emails every day from friends, family, colleagues, coworkers, and strangers. He answered every single one. I learned a lot about a lot of people I didn't know—the NFB, Federationists, the LCB, the Braille Authority of North America, former students, and many more. Mr. Whittle and I spent hours engaged over the content of all those emails. I asked Mr. Whittle one time if he knew he was paying me to hang out with him. And he said, "I know that Mandi...don't you?"
During my time spent as Mr. Whittle's reader, all of the misconceptions I had about blindness and Braille vanished. After graduation I went home for a while and tried to begin my life as a college graduate. But in the back of my mind I knew what I wanted; I wanted to teach blind kids. I didn't realize it at the time, but Mr. Whittle had been molding me with his stories and with his passion for Braille.
I applied for the O&M and TBS programs at Louisiana Tech University and went back to Ruston. And in the year and a half that followed I gained invaluable experience, achieved my master’s, met my husband, and received multitudes of opportunities that got me to where I am now. Today I am teaching Braille and encouraging my students to live the lives they want. My job as Mr. Whittle's reader became secondary to what I gained from knowing him. Much of who I am now I attribute to the influence that he had on my life. I can say with all honesty that if not for Mr. Whittle, I would not have the fulfilling life that I have today.
I first met Jerry Whittle in 1988. I was on a tour of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, where I became a student in 1989. I was immediately impressed with his commitment and passion for the importance of Braille and also with his encouragement that I set goals that push me outside my comfort zone in all aspects of life. It was during this tour that I first heard Jerry say, "If you want to kill time, you have to work it to death." And "We're not running a happy home for the blind here."
During my training, Jerry helped me build my Braille reading speed and taught me to make the slate and stylus a working tool. As valuable as these lessons were, I found that I learned some of the most important things about myself, my blindness, and what it meant to live the life I wanted to live outside Braille class. These informal life lessons occurred during many conversations that we had after hours, over a burger, or over a glass of muscadine juice. It was during these discussions that Jerry suggested that a few of us get together and produce and act in a play. Two fellow students, Jamie Lejeune and Jennifer Dunnam, and I along with Jerry, produced and performed John Brown's Body, a play based on the epic poem by Steven Vincent Benét. We performed this play for the Ruston community at the Louisiana Tech University Theater.
This experience served as the foundation for the subsequent plays that Jerry Whittle would write and direct, casting Center students like myself to perform at national conventions for more than twenty-five years, with the proceeds going to support the Buddy Program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. He believed so strongly in giving our blind children the skills for success and immersion in the positive philosophy and mentoring of the National Federation of the Blind. Because of these experiences, I auditioned for and was selected as a lead player in a musical presented at the Promise Valley Playhouse in Salt Lake City in 1993 and 1994. I would never have had the courage to attempt such a thing without Jerry's encouragement. Needless to say, I learned my lines for all these plays with a Braille script. Jerry continued to be a good friend and mentor in the years since I graduated from the Center. I value all the times we had together talking, joking, playing poker, and solving the world's problems. I will miss him greatly, but I will always value his wisdom and strong values.
How does one begin writing about a man who was such a powerful influence on the lives of his students? Of course, I immediately think of the gift of Braille literacy and the love for reading and writing Jerry Whittle gave to his students. But it was the special way he offered this gift that made Mr. Whittle such a force for change in his students' lives. Mr. Whittle had a unique way of recognizing the core of his students and offering them a version of literacy which spoke to that core. "Oh, you're interested in presidential history" he would say. "I have an amazing book about Abraham Lincoln for you."
I am a sociologist now. My life's work is teaching, researching, and writing in the academy. I can trace much of my love for reading and learning to Jerry Whittle. The beautiful Braille library he built at the Louisiana center was the first library I entered that felt like it was built for me. During my summers I spent at LCB as a teenager and young adult, I would spend hours looking through his vast collection of books. I would have to stand on chairs to reach the top of the mountains of pages he created along the walls of the Braille Room and the center library.
As a young person growing up in Louisiana, I was desperate for information about the larger world. One of the most well-read people I had met, Mr. Whittle's presence felt like a gateway to something bigger for me. I always tried to finagle my way to sit next to him to soak up all of his wisdom. And I would always find myself gravitating to the Braille room, where I knew some kind of lively conversation would be happening between Mr. Whittle and his students.
Jerry Whittle had a unique capacity to love you dearly and scold you, all in the same breath. He didn't hesitate to give you the world's greatest compliment or take you down a notch, depending on his assessment of what you needed to hear that day. In between explaining how to remember the Braille letter E and telling his infamous jokes to keep us on our toes, Mr. Whittle would offer his students little nuggets of life wisdom in the LCB Braille Room. And one nugget of wisdom he offered me as a young adult has stayed with me for decades, "Truly smart people can create the world they want to live in." We love you, Mr. Whittle.
First there was Louis Braille, and then there was Jerry Whittle. Doubtless there were some in between, but that was the sequence for me. If there were a Braille hall of fame, Mr. Whittle's face, complete with grey beard, would be up on the wall, larger than life. Between Braille lessons he would tell stories of his college escapades and more about his early days "beating the bushes" to find blind people and organize NFB chapters. During one of my Braille lessons, he mentioned he had been thinking a lot about how blind people don't tend to play much football, and it wasn't many weeks after that we all found ourselves measuring up for uniforms. That's how the first blind football team was formed. We were a motley crew, but you better believe none of us were sitting on the sidelines. We were in the game.
Mr. Whittle was coach on the blind football field and coach in the classroom. We were always strategizing on how to get better and faster at reading Braille. He would regularly time all his students, and on those days when you were really zipping along, he might praise you with one of his signature Whittle phrases like "Wow, you are really tearing up the pea patch." That was when you knew you could be proud. Or if you were really lucky, he might hand you a can of his favorite Buffalo Rock ginger ale. Or on one of your not-so-hot days he might say, "You sound as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs." Then you could have a laugh and get back on the job.
I remember him telling me once about how as a young blind adult he would give himself daily travel assignments. Although he had no orientation and mobility instructor at the time, he would hone his cane skills just by getting out there with a stick and doing it. I'm sure there were many setbacks and a lot of discovery, but in the end, it was his decision to act rather than to be acted upon, that set the upward trajectory for his life.
He encouraged all his students not to be afraid of a little dot five W. That's Braille shorthand for work.
I was just one of the thousand or more students who sat across the table from him during one of his thirty years of teaching Braille, but any one of those students would tell you that it wasn't just Braille that he taught; he taught us to believe in blind people, to believe in ourselves. This brand of belief had little to do with platitudes, the kind of empty words you might read on some website. No, his belief was soul deep. Whether you were there sitting across the table from him surrounded by those floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of Braille that he was so proud of or in a raft shooting down whitewater in Tennessee or rehearsing one of the many plays he wrote and directed or donning the helmet for a game of Coach Whittle's no-kidding-around blind football or just sitting with him in a diner chatting over a bowl of grits, you would know that you were somebody, and here was a man who believed in God and believed that whatever might knock you down, you could get right up again. It might be inconvenient, but it's okay to be blind. You learned that you had blind brothers and sisters around the country in the NFB who were there for you. Get yourself a good mentor like Mr. Whittle if you can, but just get yourself out the door.
When I met Mr. Whittle in 2011 as a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, he was incredibly welcoming. He made class challenging and entertaining. Yes, we did Braille, but we learned so much about life. He was always sharing stories and educating us about various things, such as how to live on your own as a blind person or how to navigate at a football game or Mardi Gras. He strongly believed every person should go and live independently at least once, in order to set in stone the fact that a person was truly able to be successful and trust themselves. He often shared his passion for nature, flowers, trees, and plants. His love for students was palpable. He always found ways for people to be involved in activities such as plays and cultural events. He also spent time with students to discover what motivated them. For example, Mr. Whittle gave me opportunities to try new things, such as directing one of his plays.
Earlier this year, he asked me to help direct his play, All Shot, performed at this year's national convention. I never could have imagined it would be his last one. In October he asked me to direct Santa Rides Again, the play he wrote about Santa Claus losing his vision and receiving training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Directing the play also involves supervising the choir. I love to sing, and this is a fun and challenging way of using my skills. I really love how he showed everyone, including me, that you can do whatever you desired, including loving life despite blindness. I am thankful for all of his thought-provoking questions he had for me, his encouragement even when I doubted myself, and his way of living life as a pure example—open and honest, loving and caring, with every imperfection acting as a learning opportunity, not a downfall.
Six years ago I had no idea that I would be a Braille teacher. I have always loved Braille, and the National Federation of the Blind showed me that I could be a teacher. As a student I learned so much about teaching Braille from Mr. Whittle through observation. He showed me that just because you know Braille, there are still things you can learn or upon which you can improve. Over the years, he answered any question I had about teaching Braille as I was working in the LCB summer programs. He also instilled in me a belief that Braille class is not just about Braille; there are many important life lessons to learn. Some of it is life skills like budgeting and list creations, discussing student perspectives on blindness, motivating people to continue no matter their circumstance, and truly listening and empathizing with students. I saw from his example that the learning did not stop, even after five.
As we all know, Mr. Whittle was not a fan of technology, but he enjoyed learning about his iPhone. He did learn how to text with dictation. A few years ago, we started texting with each other almost every day. Some days it was just simply saying hello. It was sharing stories, him encouraging me as I continued through college and started my career, talking about vacations, just anything. He often said, "Go get ‘em," even if it was just going to class, teaching Braille, or doing something totally new.
These exchanges and life lessons meant the world to me as a student and are just pieces of what Mr. Whittle gifted me. He taught me so much that it is difficult to narrow it down. Today, I have the incredible honor of continuing the legacy that Mr. Whittle has built. I am so thankful to keep giving the gift of literacy, the gift of Braille, and to find ways to keep students involved in the National Federation of the Blind to which he gave so much, their communities, and their own lives. "Read until you bleed!"
It is so hard for all of us to capture what Jerry meant to each of us. Words just don’t seem sufficient. I think the suddenness of his passing has made it even more emotional for all of us to absorb. You will see the common thread in these words. The hard thing is there are thousands more where these came from. Jerry was humble and hardworking, loyal and loving, humorous and creative, steady and trustworthy, and not afraid to admit when he was wrong and make amends as needed. He and Merilynn set such a wonderful example as a blind and a sighted role model. The ripples they made will be felt forever! So many whom Jerry taught are now teachers and leaders in the field of blindness. So many are using Braille and his life wisdom to propel themselves forward in other careers outside of blindness. So many are part of our Federation family because of his love and encouragement! He never had biological children but raised many children throughout his time with us.
Jerry always said, “Time is not eternal.” This is just another reminder of how we can never take the time we have for granted nor fail to share our love and appreciation for the people we have in our lives. Jerry always did this!
Jerry Whittle was not only quite knowledgeable about literature, history, philosophy, and education; but he was also a quiet, understated, and most jolly human being. He could find humor in most things, and he was friendly in showing you where it was.
I met Jerry Whittle first in South Carolina, where he was working to bring blind people into our movement. I came to know him even better in Louisiana, when he was teaching Braille. I visited the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and I sat in his classroom with him and students. He asked me if I could read poetry, and I admitted that I could. He said he wanted to record me doing so. I agreed. He turned on the recorder and handed me a copy of “Jabberwocky.” I had never before read “Jabberwocky.” It is a poem that contains many words that do not appear anywhere else in the English language. One of the simpler lines is, "The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!" I did my best. I have no idea what the recording sounded like, but I read the “Jabberwocky.”
Jerry Whittle talked me into doing many things I did not expect to do. He called me to say that football was needed by the blind, and he asked me for money to get the equipment together. I wanted to know what he meant. He said that blind people were going to play football with some rules that he had devised for the game. He said that when you run onto the field and smack into a guy on the other team and knock him flat, this is fun. I, who am smaller than he was, wondered if he could really mean it. I wasn't as sure that I would enjoy it as he was.
Jerry always believed that he could do something to bring joy to people's lives, and he was prepared to go the extra mile to do it. He thought that there was not enough literature depicting the reality of blindness. He was helping to solve this problem by writing plays that brought the daily experiences of the blind to life. He worked with his mind, but he also worked with his hands. He made me a walking stick from a piece of blackthorn that I carry still. I love the feel of my Whittle Stick. My life is richer because I knew Jerry Whittle.
by Lyn Petro
From the Editor: This article is taken from a presentation given at the 2017 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas. It describes the struggle two parents must endure to see that their daughter gets to learn to read and write. It is moving for what it has to say about the commitment of two fine people to help their child be successful; it is disgusting in what it reveals about some school districts and their total disregard for helping their students become happy, productive, and contributing citizens. This story is about the fight to get a child Braille, but it is also about what our system does to force a parent to become an advocate and sometimes at significant financial cost. As Lyn says, “My biggest passion in life is my children, but Braille literacy is a close second. Most people really don’t understand how little instruction and materials blind and visually impaired students receive. It’s my choice to educate others. I will not let others make the choice about whether or not my child will be able to read, learn, or succeed in life. It will happen for Brooke!” Here is the article:
Thank you for asking me to share our family's journey with you. Our daughter Brooke is a bright and beautiful eleven-year-old who also happens to be legally blind. She is a Braille reader, but does utilize her limited vision. My husband and I feel blessed to have been chosen to be her parents.
While our family has been fortunate to be able to provide for and fight for Brooke's educational rights, other families are not as fortunate. This is why we have made our fight for Braille literacy as public as possible. This is not just about Brooke. There truly is a Braille crisis in Kansas.
We know of six students across three different Kansas school districts who have stopped receiving Braille in the last two years. Four of the six kids receive services in the school district that we pay taxes in. We are familiar with two other students across the state line in Missouri that the same thing happened to. For some of these students, this was temporary until the parents threatened legal action. For others, Braille was taken away permanently. Less than 10 percent of visually impaired people are Braille readers. Sometimes it's because individuals lose their sight at an older age. More likely, it's because they aren't offered proper time with a trained teacher of the visually impaired to learn Braille. Or maybe the school district refuses to pay for Braille materials. While some educators say that audio books or paraprofessionals can make up the difference in not having Braille materials, it's not true. You can't learn how to spell or use punctuation properly from audio books. Audio books are great for pleasure reading, but not as an educational tool. You can't complete your schoolwork if you don't learn how to use technology. If your aide fills in the answers to your work after you verbalize the answer, you become dependent on someone else. In short, you are illiterate. You will not be independent in school or in life.
When we went to enroll Brooke in preschool, we were told by the Blue Valley School District that she did not need Braille instruction. Brooke has a degenerative eye condition. We knew her prognosis would not allow her to be a print reader for long. Blue Valley refused to help pay for any specialized instruction, so we paid privately for Brooke to go to the Children's Center for the Visually Impaired so that she could start learning Braille at age three. My background as an occupational therapist made me realize that the best time to have the sensory and touch fibers in her hands expand their abilities was at a young age. The brain is plastic. You can mold and change your neurologic abilities much more easily when you are younger. This includes learning another language, including a written tactile language such as Braille.
We met with the school district multiple times before deciding where to send Brooke to elementary school. At Blue Valley Brooke was offered minimal time with a TVI [teacher of the visually impaired], but we were assured that she would get paraprofessional support—a paraprofessional who does not know Braille, that is. As is quoted on the TSBVI [Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired] website, "When simply assigned to a student without proper preparation, paraeducators may act as a barrier between the student and peer involvement, improperly direct instruction away from the teachers, or reduce independent skill acquisition. Over-reliance on a paraeducator over time can lead students to develop passivity and dependence on prompts from others." Dependence on others is not at all what we wanted for Brooke.
Because Brooke was not offered a free and appropriate public education, we chose to compromise with the school district. They agreed to pay for her Braille materials at a private school as well as offering her Braille instruction, assistive technology instruction, and occupational therapy for a total of four hours per week in the public setting. In turn we paid for her weekly orientation and mobility training because they refused to take her off the public school campus. We also provided her with three to five extra hours of TVI instruction at the private school each week. Trust me, it has been expensive to say the least. But, we have said from the beginning that Brooke deserved a chance to be independent in life. Illiteracy does not lead to independence.
This was the arrangement until January 7, 2016, when we were told by Blue Valley officials that they would no longer provide her with Braille materials for the next school year. The special education director told us, "I'm sure it feels like the rug has been pulled out from under you." Kind of an understatement, don't you think? They had been advised by an attorney at the Kansas Department of Education that they could change Brooke's Individual Education Plan (IEP) without our consent. Brooke's IEP was changed by a prior written notice. In Kansas, a material change of 25 percent in an IEP requires parental consent. Blue Valley states that because they offered Brooke Braille materials of the Blue Valley curriculum, they did not change her services. They call it a "site change."
The only site change that occurred was when they moved Brooke from one elementary school to another to receive services. The new school had numerous ADA violations specific to visually impaired students according to federal regulations. Brooke was also not offered any O&M training prior to starting at this new building. To get that, we had to refuse to send her to the new school without safety training for emergency evacuation routes and sue the school district to be able to get that done.
We also had to file due process again due to the fact that the school district changed our child's IEP without our consent. While the Blue Valley School District states that we have no reason to sue them since they don't have to provide our child with Braille materials because she goes to a private school, that's not even part of our lawsuit. We didn't sue them to provide Braille for Brooke. That's another matter entirely. But, what cannot continue to happen is that school districts are allowed to sidestep the laws in Kansas. Just last week we found out that Blue Valley had removed the screen reader, screen magnification, and Braille translation software from the computer that our daughter uses at her school, despite the fact that they are legally obligated to provide those according to her education plan. Brooke could not complete her work until this was reinstalled on the computer. Families should not have to be constant watchdogs over school officials that we pay taxes to support.
Blue Valley told us that they spent $72,000 producing Brooke's Braille materials in third grade. Last year we were able to provide her with Braille materials for about $24,000. That includes the cost of purchasing a new computer, an embosser, updating Duxbury software, and buying paper and office supplies to produce the needed classroom materials. We borrow some textbooks from the Kansas Instructional Resource Center or other libraries for the blind. I type the rest of her required materials. I adapt a math workbook for her to use with her CCTV. Her private TVI produces her tactile graphics. Last year we spent almost $4,000 for a Braille prison program to produce her math materials because we aren't able to do that. We also outsource most of her maps since those can be difficult for us to produce.
That's a lot of materials to cover with $24,000, but I know it can be done. Instead of spending taxpayer's money providing children with Braille materials that statistics say make them much more probable of finding employment, the Blue Valley School District claims to have spent $130,000 of taxpayer's money to avoid paying for our daughter's books. $130,000 is only what they say they've spent on legal costs. Others claim that is not even close to what has actually been spent.
Is it a struggle for us to be able to provide Brooke with what she needs for the classroom? Yes. I cannot work outside of the home because I have to type materials for Brooke. It's financially draining. Is it cheating on the part of the school district? Yes. Is all of this worth it? Absolutely! Brooke is a straight-A student whose dream is to work at NASA. She is also a three-time defending champion of the National Braille Challenge. Since first grade, Brooke has won the highest score in reading comprehension once and twice has had the highest score in the spelling portion of the National Braille Challenge tests. People can say this is because Brooke is bright, but the only way it's possible is because of intense instruction with a teacher of the visually impaired. School districts choose to persecute the most vulnerable students. If textbooks weren't offered to a child who reads print, there would be a public outcry. Teachers who aren't certified aren't allowed to teach mainstream students. Laws protect those kids. But the blind kids can do without books and materials as well as having teachers that aren't certified. I know because that's what my daughter deals with every day. These kids are already blind; why rob them blind when it comes to an education on top of their disability? When I checked the Kansas legal statutes on Braille instruction, there were seven sentences in total. The TSBVI website has a document that is thirty-two pages long. Something has to change in our state. Braille instruction is critical.
The unemployment rate for visually impaired people is 74 percent. School districts and colleges in Kansas are directly contributing to this high rate of unemployment when kids are shuffled through their system without proper support, materials, and instruction. Let me share with you some sobering statistics about blind or visually impaired people in the United States from nfb.org:
With statistics such as these, you can guarantee that visually impaired kids are destined to require public assistance. Why not promote Braille and ensure that these kids can be productive citizens who are able to be employed? School districts in Kansas hide behind loopholes and cheap legal tactics in an effort to justify their failure to educate these children. As a family, we have proven that it can be done. With the help of a tremendous TVI and a school that allows us to provide Brooke with what every blind child should receive, it can be done. I just want to reiterate that the Blue Valley School District has chosen to spend $130,000 of taxpayer's money instead of the $24,000 that it would take to provide Brooke with Braille. At the very least, it's the definition of incompetence; it's certainly negligence, and it's evidence that there truly is a Braille crisis in Kansas. We will continue our fight not only for Brooke, but also for all visually impaired students in Kansas. It's not an exaggeration to say that we are changing the world one dot at a time.
For more than seventy-five years the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality, and with your support we will continue to do so for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by adding the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary in your will. A gift to the National Federation of the Blind in your will is more than just a charitable, tax-deductible donation. It is a way to join in the work to help blind people live the lives they want that leaves a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of blind children and adults.
With your help, the NFB will continue to:
Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear creating a will or believe it’s not necessary until they are much older. Others think that it’s expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2422, for more information. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. A donation to the National Federation of the Blind allows you to invest in a movement that removes the fear from blindness. Your investment is your vote of confidence in the value and capacity of blind people and reflects the high expectations we have for all blind Americans, combating the low expectations that create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.
In 2016 the NFB:
Just imagine what we’ll do next year, and, with your help, what can be accomplished for years to come. Below are just a few of the many diverse, tax-deductible ways you can lend your support to the National Federation of the Blind.
The NFB now accepts donated vehicles, including cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, or recreational vehicles. Just call (855) 659-9314 toll-free, and a representative can make arrangements to pick up your donation—it doesn’t have to be working. We can also answer any questions you have.
General donations help support the ongoing programs of the NFB and the work to help blind people live the lives they want. Donate online with a credit card or through the mail with check or money order. Visit www.nfb.org/make-gift for more information.
Even if you can’t afford a gift right now, including the National Federation of the Blind in your will enables you to contribute by expressing your commitment to the organization and promises support for future generations of blind people across the country. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call (410) 659-9314, extension 2422, for more information.
Through the Pre-Authorized Contribution (PAC) program, supporters sustain the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind by making recurring monthly donations by direct withdraw of funds from a checking account or a charge to a credit card. To enroll, visit www.nfb.org/make-gift, and complete the Pre-Authorized Contribution form, and return it to the address listed on the form.
From the Editor: Kirsten Mau is the director of marketing and communications for the National Federation of the Blind. She started her work with us when we developed the messages that would better explain and put more focus on our brand. This is the first in a series of articles to explain how best to use the tools we have to explain who we are, what we stand for, and the kind of culture we live in the NFB. Here is what she says:
What is a brand? What do I have to do with building the National Federation of the Blind brand?
There are many ways to define a brand. One of my favorite ways to think about a brand is that it is the sum of many parts. These parts include all the beliefs, experiences, perceptions, and interactions one has with a product or an organization. Take Nike for instance. For me, the Nike brand represents the first blue Nike tennis shoes with a yellow swish I owned as a kid, elite sports figures sponsored by Nike, years of ads featuring the “Just Do It” motivator, and athletic gear that helps me get out the door. But certainly the Nike brand means more than that. Ultimately, Nike is about an individual’s “authentic athletic performance.” Its goal is to inspire me to be my best physical self.
With nonprofits it helps to think of an organization’s brand as its reputation. Does it make good on its mission, and do I trust it to do the work it promises in an ethical and reliable way? While products and organizations strive to present a unified brand to the outside world, every individual has their own perception of those brands based on many factors, including personal experience.
Having worked in advertising and communications for the duration of my career, I have had both personal and professional experience with lots of different brands. Most I respected; some not quite as much. Quaker Oats is one of my favorites. When I was a kid, Quaker Oatmeal meant a cozy, warm breakfast made by my mom as I headed out to school on a cold morning or a nourishing meal with lots of butter and brown sugar when I was home sick. The cylindrical red and blue packages became doll beds or fodder for other crafts. The “Quaker man” has been a familiar face in my cupboard all of my life.
When I started to work with Quaker Oats as a client, I learned lots of new things about the brand. For instance, that the “Quaker man” is actually named Larry, about the real health benefits of oatmeal, how the organization is committed to finding ways to grow organic oats (and lots of their trade secrets I can’t share here!) Over time my perception of the Quaker brand shifted and grew. As I became a parent, I shared my experiences with my daughters. Now the round Quaker box is a fixture for them as well. I won’t buy the cheaper store brand of oats because I believe in this brand. Even though the instant versions aren’t any healthier than most cold cereals, I have bought into the idea that a warm breakfast is better. I am certain my perception of the Quaker brand shares similarities and differences with yours.
What does Quaker Oats have to do with the National Federation of the Blind?
In understanding the importance of a brand, it is critical to accept that we can only control a portion of it. People make their own decisions about the brands they trust and support based on all the information available to them. That is why it is so important for everyone who represents our NFB brand to bring it to life in a consistent way. Every member, every leader, and every staff person is a critical building block in the National Federation of the Blind brand.
The National Federation of the Blind brand is defined by our brand architecture. The brand architecture is the internal framework that explains the components of our brand: our values, our personality, our positioning, our value proposition, and our brand promise. It is important that each of us understands and embraces these components so those outside the organization will know who we are, what we value, why we exist, and what we intend to achieve.
Over the next several months we will feature several articles in the Braille Monitor with the goal of defining our brand and bringing it to life. If we all understand the important elements of our brand and live by them, those who identify with our brand will support us in transforming our dreams into reality.
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.
by Mark Riccobono
From the Editor: We live in a time of significant political change, and each issue we examine confronts us with two questions: Does this affect blind people, and will our advocacy to see that the blind do not lose hard-won victories be perceived as a partisan stance by the organization? President Riccobono gets a number of letters asking these questions, and here he shares a recent one regarding legislation to change our nation’s tax system. Here is the letter he received and his response:
Dear President Riccobono:
Over the past few days I've noticed that the National Federation of the Blind has really been pushing for the legislature to keep the tax deduction that is granted to all blind individuals, and I'm curious as to why this is. It seems to me that allowing us to pay fewer taxes just because we cannot see goes against NFB philosophy, just as cutting in line at amusement parks and pre-boarding airplanes goes against our values. Giving blind people a tax deduction seems to imply that we are not as capable of working as our sighted peers and thus require special treatment. We don't want to be seen as entitled just because of our disability, and this tax deduction seems to do just that.
I understand that blind people can incur expenses that our sighted peers do not, such as screen readers and other assistive technology. But I can't help feeling that when blind people purchase these types of items, they should receive a tax credit, just as people do when they buy an extremely expensive vehicle. I feel that if we manage to pass the law granting tax credits for the purchase of assistive technology, this blanket tax deduction would be rendered obsolete.
All that said, I don't know much about how and why this tax deduction for blind people was implemented. There could very well be information I don't currently have that completely justifies this. I thought it would be prudent to email an expert before deciding whether or not to start lobbying my legislators. Thank you for your time and consideration in reading this message.
Thank you very much for your thoughtful message.
You have made a very reasonable observation: "It seems to me that allowing us to pay fewer taxes just because we cannot see goes against NFB philosophy, just as cutting in line at amusement parks and pre-boarding airplanes goes against our values. Giving blind people a tax deduction seems to imply that we are not as capable of working as our sighted peers and thus require special treatment. We don't want to be seen as entitled just because of our disability, and this tax deduction seems to do just that."
I agree with you completely about our own sense of entitlement and being viewed as less capable especially in the work context. We also have to balance that against whether we have equality of opportunity in society and whether we need certain supports to compete on terms of equality. You compare the increased standard deduction to cutting a line or pre-boarding an airplane, and I think this is not a fair comparison. Blindness does not prevent a blind person from following a crowded line or walking effectively down a jetway and boarding a plane. Yet, when I go to a store to buy products, I do not have equal access to the labels on the food boxes or the tags on the clothing. When I go to inquire about a job, I often do not have equal access to the application, and I rarely have equal access to the job listings themselves. My examples are instances where society is built in a way that it prevents equal access by those who do not use vision as a primary method of gathering information. Weighing whether we need some additional advantage to compensate for those inequalities is a question worth examining regularly. I believe that there are still enough artificial barriers that we need to give blind people methods of overcoming those obstacles in order to compete on terms of equality.
If that argument is not enough, let us examine the current politics. Even if you believe that we have enough advantage, that we have all the equality we need, Congress decided to eliminate the increased standardized deduction, and blind people were not consulted. Since when does Congress get to speak for us without us? As you know we offered the Access Technology Affordability Act earlier this year knowing that Congress would be discussing taxes. The ATAA was built on the idea that the increased standardized deduction was in place. These are different means of providing a basic level of support to overcome the artificial barriers so blind people have a fair shot at competing in the marketplace. The ATAA is a limited measure that will benefit blind people making little or no money when they spend their own dollars to purchase technologies. The increased standard deduction that the U.S. House of Representatives proposes eliminating helps blind tax payers get a little bit of benefit to overcome all of the other inequalities we face. Most importantly, both of these tax provisions, even added together, are a very small slice of the overall tax picture in the United States. We should not support throwing something out until we absolutely need to do so. It is much harder to get something new than it is to keep something we have. Since the ATAA has not yet passed, we also do not know how effective it will be in helping blind people move to a stronger position in society.
We also must think of this not as a specific element in isolation. We should think of the proposal to eliminate this benefit in the context of other proposals being considered in Congress. Most significantly, proposals to water down the Americans with Disabilities Act and weaken the civil rights protections we have gained. Should we accept elimination of a benefit meant to compensate for the lack of equal access in society at the same time that some are saying we have pushed too far with our movement for equality? One proposal feeds into the other. If we make the argument that, in fact, society has advanced enough that we do not require some additional support to overcome those artificial barriers, we may actually find ourselves in a worse place once the entire wave of disability elimination proposals washes away.
My friend, you have raised a very important question and, in principle, I agree with you about the disconnect with our philosophy. We must always keep in mind that our philosophy has to operate in the world where we are today and with a diversity of people. Many blind people do not need the increased standard deduction because they have achieved a level of success that overcomes the benefit that the deduction provides. However, many blind people are not even close. Our challenge is to continue to raise expectations every day but not be so idealistic that we hold ourselves back in the process. That is the challenge that you and I must continue to meet together in the coming decades of the Federation. I appreciate that we have you to ask these thoughtful questions. I hope that my response has provided some better context for the conversation. If not, I anticipate more questions from you.
In closing, let me say that the National Federation of the Blind is always free to make up its mind. If you think our policy is wrong, you can work with your Federation colleagues to get the organization to adopt a different position.
Thank you for all you do.
by Amy Mason
From the Editor: Amy Mason hails from Nebraska and brings her considerable intellect and people skills to the Jernigan Institute International Braille and Technology Center. For a blind person there is a lot to know about the World Wide Web before he or she can use it effectively. Things that are intuitive visually are not obvious when using the web with a screen reader, and what are simple mouse clicks for the sighted person must be done with keystrokes that the blind person must learn so well that they become second nature. The evolution of the web requires screen readers to evolve, and this means ongoing learning for blind people. The task is doable, but it requires more explanation than we can get in one article. Here is the first of several in which we try to take some of the mystery out of surfing the web, make it as fun to use for people who are blind as for people who have sight, and to do it as comfortably and efficiently as our friends and neighbors. Here is Amy's advice:
Back in the dark ages of computing (the 90's) the world was fascinated and confused by Sir Tim Berners-Lee's 1989 invention: the World Wide Web. We didn't really know what to do with it, why or how to use it, or even what to call it. Before settling on the more commonly known terms of "the web" or "the internet," we tried out some very unusual and unique terms. One of my personal favorites has always been "The Information Superhighway." The idea of a road trip, with its breathtaking opportunities for discovery, silly sing-alongs, car games, and yes, real dangers and risks, has always seemed an apt metaphor for what the internet makes possible.
According to Berners-Lee, "The power of the web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect." Sadly, on our more frustrating days, a more overused and untrue phrase has seldom been uttered.
When viewing the web and its history with a cynical eye, a blind person may conclude that we have always and will always trail behind in access to technology, and, by extension, the internet. For instance, in 1995 JAWS for Windows 3.1 was released, while at the same time sighted users were humming "Start Me Up," and exploring Windows 95 with all the excitement of a child on Christmas morning or an Apple fan on iPhone launch day. We gained access a year later. We have seen many products fall into this mold. By the time many notetakers make their way through development, they seem comically behind mainstream devices, and somehow, more than twenty-five years on, we still have to educate developers on the importance of labeling graphics, buttons, and form fields.
Even so, the internet has changed the lives of millions of blind people for the better. Tools like Bookshare have unlocked more books than ever before. As we deal with correspondence and other business using print-reading technology and online applications, many of us have cut our time with human readers from an hour or two a day or perhaps two to four hours per week to an inconceivable hour or two each week. Even shopping and transportation have been transformed.
When the web was new, it was like we had set out in a Model-T. We couldn't go far or fast, but everything was new and exciting. Today we are driving on an eight-lane interstate highway. In many ways, using the web, like driving the interstate, has lost some of its thrill of adventure. To others it's still marvelous and exciting in all new ways. The road is flatter, smoother, and generally in better repair. The speeds are faster. The perils have changed. New road side attractions, amenities, and pitfalls exist. On-ramps, off-ramps, seedy motels, gas stations, and restaurants have transformed our expectations while travelling. Even the cars we drive are unrecognizable when we compare them to those we used twenty years ago.
To get the most out of this faster, busier, more complex internet, we need to learn what the signs mean, understand the strengths and weaknesses of our browsers and other tools, and have a proper understanding of what accessibility and access to the web means. Therefore, today, I'm going to start by taking you to school—driving school, to be exact.
Greetings, class. In today's lesson we are going to discuss what you need to know before you get behind the wheel of your shiny new car—I mean browser. If you've been using the web for a while, you may be rolling your eyes at the idea of learning anything new in a definitions and concepts course, but I'm going to ask that you play along, just so we have a shared vocabulary going forward.
If you are very new to the idea of browsing the web, you will probably want to spend some time with a one-on-one coach or, barring that, some very good tutorials on how this whole web browsing thing works. But I want to at least lay out the general terms you will hear throughout the rest of these articles. If you are more experienced, please feel free to skim past this section, but do so at your own risk. Now for the definitions:
The internet: The network made up of all computers and other devices that are connected in order to allow them to communicate. Everything you do that involves your computer talking with another computer outside of your home network involves information traveling across this network in one form or another. This includes email, the bank statement you downloaded yesterday, and videos of kittens purring on YouTube.
The World Wide Web: This is often what people mean when they say they were on the internet. It is made up of many unique locations, known as web pages or websites, that are put up by government entities, companies, organizations, and individuals.
Web pages/websites: These are individual locations on the worldwide web or web for short. Some websites you may know about include www.nfb.org, the National Federation of the Blind's website; www.google.com, the world's most heavily used search engine (a site to search for information from the web); www.facebook.com, a large website where people can communicate; and www.amazon.com, a big online store.
Web browser/browser: The software you use to view and interact with web pages. Common examples include Chrome, Safari, Firefox, and Internet Explorer.
Links: These are the connections from one website to another or from one piece of information to another. When you activate a link, you will be taken to the information it connects to.
Buttons: These perform actions, such as submitting a form or rearranging information when you activate them.
Headings: Information on websites is laid out so that people can skim for the information most relevant to them. In print, headings are bigger, bolder, or otherwise more noticeable than other text on the page. Blind users can use a screen reader to jump among headings in order to find information more quickly as well.
Landmarks: A new way to organize websites, you can think of Landmarks as big buckets that separate large parts of a website from one another, like the links at the top (sometimes called navigation) from the article in the middle.
Text Fields: This is where you can type a piece of information onto the web; some screen readers announce these as "text area" for large ones and "text field" for small ones.
Radio Buttons: Like the buttons on an older car radio, only one of these can be selected from a group at a time.
Checkboxes: Like radio buttons, they allow one to answer a question, but more than one can be chosen for any given question.
So what makes an accessible website anyway? I'm so glad you asked. Accessible is a difficult term to define, so we are going to break it down for this series in a few different ways. In its most basic form, a website, piece of software, book, home appliance, or other device can be called "accessible" for any given user if he or she can gain access to its features and operate or use it without assistance. Unfortunately, everyone has different criteria for determining if something works for them; so this definition, while clear, does not actually help us to define the term in a way that we can all agree on. Therefore, I am going to propose a few definitions we will use in these articles to better describe how blind people interact with lots of everyday objects, including the web.
Inaccessible: The device or product has one or more essential features that someone cannot use independently and are not likely to find a workaround, adaptation, or alternative that will allow them equivalent access.
Usable: A state in which the item or device can be used by someone, but is not as blind friendly—it may not be as efficient or straightforward as it is for others or as a blind user would wish it to be. Many websites fall into this category for a large number of blind users, even though they will present accessibility challenges that would make them inaccessible for others. The usability of a device or website will depend on both the nature of that item and the user's flexibility, knowledge, or resources.
Functional Accessibility: This is the gold standard. If something is functionally accessible, it is easy and straightforward to use. A person can get done what he or she needs to without undue hardship. Once again, this is a subjective measure.
Technical Accessibility: Accessibility based on agreed-upon standards.
Websites that meet these standards will usually be usable and functionally accessible for many more people than those that do not. Technical Accessibility is not a perfect guarantee that something will be usable for everyone, but it is a pretty good indicator that it is more likely to be.
At the end of the day, usability, functional accessibility, and inaccessibility are states that are only partially based on the technical accessibility of a site. Instead, these states are made up of that site's technical accessibility, the browser and screen reader (or other access technology) conveying enough information about the site, and the user's training and experience. So, you see, we actually have quite a bit of control over the experiences we have on the web.
The web community has spent a lot of time in the past debating what technical accessibility really looks like. Today, however, they are largely reaching an agreement. The technical standard that is far more popular than any other is the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 at the AA Level (WCAG 2.0 AA, for short). These standards are referenced directly and indirectly by many governments crafting their own accessibility guidelines. This will officially include the United States beginning in the first few months of 2018. The US has had an accessibility standard called Section 508 since 1998, but these rules were difficult to test, and therefore they were difficult to enforce. Consequently the federal government has recently completed a refresh process for Section 508 which directly references the WCAG Guidelines going forward. This is good news for the accessibility of the web since these guidelines are easier to test for, and because it means that government and public websites are going to be held to the same standard.
There are four overarching principles which WCAG calls on websites to meet. Each of them contains a number of guidelines that expand upon that main idea. The four principles are:
Perceivable: a user needs to be able to tell that there is something there and make out what it is. Examples of this include graphics having descriptions that can be read with a screen reader, videos offering captions and audio descriptions, and websites having enough contrast that they can be read.
Operable: An operable site can be navigated and interacted with. Items in this section include ensuring that the site can be navigated using only a keyboard, making sure that there is nothing flashing that might cause a user to have a seizure, and ensuring that the purpose of a link is easy for users to understand.
Understandable: Success criteria and guidelines under this major point include ensuring that the webpage tells the user's computer what language it is written in (so that screen readers can use an appropriate voice or accent and computers can load the correct characters and fonts on screen), a user's focus won't be moved without warning, and that when filling in forms, the user is provided with all the information they need to finish the form successfully.
Robust: This is the hardest to understand. Criteria under this heading essentially boil down to the idea that a website is going to work across a wide number of devices and in a lot of different environments. This includes telling screen readers and browsers what different controls are and how to expect them to behave so that information can be provided to the user.
The discussion of web standards is a much bigger and broader topic than we can cover in detail here, but it's helpful to understand the idea of what constitutes "technical accessibility" so that you can determine what you should expect to know to use the web effectively and what you should be able to expect from web developers (whether or not they meet those expectations).
Let's take a moment here and be very blunt. The state of the web is really mixed. That's why we are having these lessons. It's sometimes hard to figure out when a problem you are having is because you don't understand something that should work, or when the problem isn't you but that the website was created badly. The bad news is that this is the case for all of us—sighted people too have this question as they surf the web. However, there is plenty of good news. More web developers are coming to recognize the value of accessible and intuitive design and are trying to implement it in their products. We are seeing some very powerful and very functional sites. Increasingly because of work done by the National Federation of the Blind and many others, through legislation, education, and (when nothing else works) litigation, more sites than ever before are working with varying levels of success to reach proper technical accessibility as described in WCAG. Even better, there are some true leaders in the field who are moving beyond concern for "technical accessibility," and are working on ways to create truly functional accessibility for as many users as possible. These organizations are testing with blind and other disabled users, hiring specialists, and working hard to innovate in the field. They want to build the best web they can for everyone.
Many developers are pushing the envelope of what is possible in designing accessibly for the web, which means that we users will find lots of new information being presented by our screen readers. Think of it almost like road signs. Initially we only had a few: links, buttons, edit fields, etc. Now there are some really wild bits of work like calendars that allow you to choose the date from a grid or autocomplete programs that will offer suggestions for what's next even before you hit enter. Therefore, we users must realize that we can no longer pull our Model A out of the garage and tootle down the road, expecting gravel lanes and a twenty-miles-per-hour speed limit. To make the most of the highway on which we find ourselves, we need to learn how to read the signs and make sure we know what to do to get the most out of our car/browser. If we don't, we're going to be left in the dust.
Initially I was intending this project to be a single article discussing how to improve one's web browsing experience as a blind user, but as I outlined it, I realized that this is far too much information for a single piece. Instead, over the next several months new installments will be published here in the Braille Monitor. Topics in this series will include:
Browsers: Choosing the Right Vehicle for the Journey
Screen Readers: Efficient Driving Requires the Right Sensors
Basic Navigation: Hitting the Road and Finding Your Way
Defensive Driving: Strategies for More Complex or Less Accessible Journeys
Browser Tune-Up: Customizations that Can Increase the Pleasures of the Journey
Social Media: Making the Most of Some of the Web's Finest Roadside AttractionsSo, class dismissed—for now.
by Alyssa Shock
From the Editor: This article originally appeared in the fall 2017 issue of The Sounding Board, the official publication of the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey. Here is the way it was introduced:
As a psychology major I've been asked: Isn't psychology just common sense? The fact is, no, psychology is not just common sense. One thing a psychology major quickly learns is that he or she will be looking at a lot of scientific research in the course of his or her education. Psychology majors also learn basic skills to design and answer research questions. I applied for the NFB scholarship because I had a sort of "research question" of my own: Can someone with my qualifications and experience win a scholarship and a great opportunity to attend a convention from the biggest scholarship program for the blind in the United States? I proceeded to submit my application.
I was out to dinner on a Sunday when I got a call from an unknown number. I usually don't pick up calls from unknown numbers because of all the sales and scam calls promising things such as discounts on my electric bill. If it was important, I thought, the caller would leave a voicemail, and this caller did. Because I volunteer for a sexual violence resource center, I was worried that an emergency had come up, and someone from there was trying to contact me. So, in the middle of dinner, I proceeded to listen to my message. When I discovered the call was from a member of the NFB Scholarship Committee, I couldn't help but call back immediately.
I spent the rest of that meal celebrating the fact that I had won an NFB scholarship—and wondering how in the world I would manage to make it through the convention by myself. I had been to convention once before with my mother and an aunt, but I knew this time I would be on my own. The thought of that was a bit scary.
Before I knew it, I was inside the hotel on the first day of convention. Since I am easily overstimulated, I did find it overwhelming. One of the first things I learned was that to keep calm I was going to have to break everything down into small steps and focus on the action I was taking at the moment. For example: if I wanted to get to a meeting from my room, first I would have to get to the first floor, then find my way around the rotunda, and so on. I would need to focus on each step and try to keep everything else out of my mind.
Once I figured out how to cope with the environment, I was able to gain a lot of information from the meetings. I learned about forms of discrimination and access barriers that blind people have faced and how the NFB helps overcome these issues. For example, I learned that the NFB has fought for blind people who have faced low expectations from teachers and how these students lacked necessary accommodations to gain the same knowledge as their sighted counterparts.
To be honest, I have personally faced little discrimination and few access barriers thus far in my life. I was shocked to hear about the terrible ways in which blind people have been slighted and times when they have been cheated out of opportunities and experiences. I believe that continuing the fight to overcome discrimination and access barriers is extremely important. With all of this in mind, I want to take a moment to thank those who have been extremely accommodating and given me wonderful experiences throughout my life, including, especially, my family, the Dumont (NJ) School District, Fairleigh Dickinson University, and the YWCA of Bergen County.
At convention I also learned about technologies intended to help overcome access barriers, such as the awesome development of a Braille display that makes images tactile. I also learned about Aira, a new technology that helps blind people have easier access to information. I would be lying if I said that I have come home from convention without the desire to invest in some new technologies for myself.
Probably the most important thing I learned is that blind people all over the nation and the world are overcoming barriers and getting the degrees, finding the jobs, and having the experiences they want. In other words, they are living the lives they want.
My mentors during convention were people I will never forget. They affirmed my belief that I can obtain my career goal of becoming a mental health counselor. Even more significantly, they affirmed that I can do anything I put my mind to and truly want, even if doing so does require me to overcome discrimination and access barriers. Speaking of that, I learned that the NFB will do everything they can to help blind people with these kinds of struggles.
Of course, I did not spend all of my time in convention activities. I used my spare time meeting new friends and visiting with old ones. When things became too overwhelming, my friends helped me relax and find some peace. Learning did not stop when I was outside the convention. I learned and shared perspectives even in my spare time. All of this learning was fun and certainly did not feel like work.
With all of this in mind, I would definitely recommend that everyone who is blind or visually impaired try to go to an NFB convention. There is so much to experience and so many great people to meet. However, I do have one word of caution regarding convention: sleep may be hard to come by. There is so much to do that getting the normal six to eight hours per night may not be possible.
Looking back from home, I cannot believe that one small "research question" could lead to such awesome results. A final thanks is due to the NFB Scholarship Committee for making possible the awesome experience I had at convention.
Recipes this month are provided by the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana.
Buffalo Chicken Dip
by Cori Wills
Cori is an up-and-coming leader in the Federation in Indiana. He also works for Bosma Enterprise for the Blind and does a lot of work in our local Lions Club.
1 pound chicken breast, shredded
1 8-ounce brick of cream cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2/3 cup buffalo sauce
1/4 cup bacon bits
1 cup ranch dip
Method: Mix all ingredients in sauce pan and heat through. This can also be microwaved. Do not overcook. Enjoy with corn scoops or tortilla scoops.
Cream Cheese Ball
by Cori Wills
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese
garlic salt (to taste)
8 green olives
1/3 cup of shredded cheese
4 slices of chipped beef, chipped honey ham or combination (sometimes I add 4 or 5 pieces of pepperoni)
1 onion (if desired)
Method: Take your cream cheese and set it out for about one hour to get room temperature. Take your meat, olives, cheese, and onion (if using one) and chop it in the food processor or small pieces by hand. Open cream cheese and put it on a plate and flatten it with a fork. Sprinkle garlic salt on cream cheese. Add your chopped meat, cheese, olive, and onion. Mix together (you can use a fork or your fingers). I like to add a little bit of the olive juice for flavor, but that’s up to you. Refrigerate. This will keep for five to seven days if you don’t eat it all the first day.
by Cori Wills
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
2 to 3 pounds pork butt
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup BBQ sauce
Salt and pepper
Method: Place onion on bottom of crockpot. Rub the pork with salt and pepper; place pork on top of onion. Pour chicken broth over pork. Pour BBQ sauce over pork. Cook on low for eight hours. Pull apart with forks, then serve.
Single-Serve Apple Pies
by Cori Wills
These are really good; however only make what you are going to eat right away, because they are not good reheated. The instructions have been broken down so that you can make only one at a time if you wish.
1/3 teaspoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
apples (I bought apple slices in a package, and they come with either peanut butter or caramel; that way if I only want to make three, I could eat the rest and have dip.)
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Take one crescent roll, which is going to be triangular in shape. Mix the cinnamon and brown sugar together. Take the crescent roll with the wide end toward you. Sprinkle the cinnamon and brown sugar mixture on the crescent roll, leaving a pinch to dust the top. Take one slice of an apple (if it is really thin you can use two slices). Put the apple slice on the wide end and roll it, then sprinkle the rest of the cinnamon and brown sugar on top. Bake this for eleven to thirteen minutes.
by Jean Brown
Jean Brown is the first lady of the Indiana Affiliate. She has been the state fundraising chair for over thirty years, and she is known in the affiliate for her famous fried chicken.
1 pound ground beef
1 8-ounce can of Campbell’s tomato soup
1 8-ounce can cut green beans
3/4 cup of grated cheese (more if desired)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 box of potatoes (follow box instructions or use your favorite mashed potato recipe, using 4-5 potatoes)
Method: Preheat oven to 360 degrees while the ground beef is cooking over medium high heat. Use a fork or spatula to break up the pound of beef. When the beef is cooked, drain the fat from the meat and transfer the meat to a glass baking dish or pan. Stir in the tomato soup and seasonings. Drain the green beans and add to the dish; make sure all ingredients are covered with the soup. Use a large cooking spoon to put four or five heaping spoons of potato on top of the pie. Sprinkle the cheese on top of the potato mounds. Bake about twenty-five minutes or until the cheese is golden brown. Serve with a side salad, garlic bread or rolls; makes four to five servings. Enjoy!
by Susan Jones
Susan is a longtime member of the NFB of Indiana. She is retired from the Social Security Administration. She also is one of their BELL project teachers and does a lot of volunteer work in the community.
1 pound lean ground beef or turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
1 16-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 15-ounce can kidney beans
4 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup whole wheat flour, sifted
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons shortening
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
Method: Brown meat and onion, add tomatoes, beans, and seasonings, and simmer on low ten minutes. Grate cheese and set aside. Lightly grease a four-quart casserole dish and pour the meat mixture into it. Top with the grated cheese.
Mix up the cornbread, and spread evenly over the top. Bake at 425 degrees for twenty minutes. Cut into wedges, and serve upside down on plates.
Eligible Sprint Customers Can Get a KNFB Reader Enterprise License for Free:
Starting November 20, 2017, Sprint customers who purchase a new line of service or eligible upgrade through Sprint Accessibility will receive a free license to download the KNFB Reader Enterprise app on up to two mobile devices.
If you are a new or upgrading Sprint customer, you may be able to get the power to convert printed documents into speech or Braille instantly and accurately at no extra cost!
All you need to do is:
Please be sure to download the KNFB Reader Enterprise app, not KNFB Reader for $99.99. The KNFB Reader Enterprise app is listed free in the app stores and can be activated with your free KNFB Reader Enterprise License from Sprint. KNFB Reader Enterprise allows users to enjoy the power of KNFB Reader on multiple devices. Make sure that KNFB Reader Enterprise is the app that you download onto your devices to take advantage of this offer. KNFB Reader Enterprise works on Apple, Android, Windows 10 devices, and Windows 10 laptops and PCs.
You’ll be able to use KNFB Reader Enterprise on up to two devices with the KNFB Reader Enterprise license that Sprint provides. Just download KNFB Reader Enterprise on both devices and use the same username and password. For example, you can download KNFB Reader Enterprise onto your Sprint phone and also to your Windows 10 laptop. Alternatively, you can use the product on both your Android phone and Android tablet.
To learn more about what the KNFB Reader Enterprise can do, visit www.knfbreader.com.
Happy reading from the National Federation of the Blind and Sprint Accessibility!
At the Sixty-first Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind of New York the following officers were elected: president, Mike Robinson; vice president, Chancey Fleet; second vice president, Catherine Mendez; secretary, Lucy Marr; treasurer, Kate Carroll.
The 2017 White Cane Banquet—A White Cane Day Celebration:
The atmosphere was tinged with enthusiasm as Federationists filled a private room at the El Patron restaurant. This event was planned and hosted by the West Mesa Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico. The occasion was the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the White Cane Law. New Mexico played a high-profile role in this historical event as then Governor David Cargo signed the law into effect in 1967.
West Mesa Chapter President Don Burns shared the fact that he had obtained White Cane proclamations from the mayors of Rio Rancho and Albuquerque as well as from Governor Martinez. The highlight of the event was the guest speaker, Stephanie Kean, field representative for Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham. She brought regards from the Congresswoman and commended the NFB for our positive work in protecting the rights of the blind population who use a white cane or guide dog. Her comments were well received. Caroline Benavidez, first vice president of the NFBNM and retired school teacher, shared her thoughts on the importance of her white cane as a professional woman. Tara Chavez, a mom, working woman, and president of the Albuquerque Chapter told about the importance of her guide dog.
Arthur Schreiber, president emeritus, recounted the difficulty in obtaining this important law. Curtis Chong, treasurer of the NFBNM, read the proclamation from his Braille copy. All of these presentations were given before Ms. Kean had to leave for another event. We thanked her for attending and expressed our appreciation for bringing comments from Congresswoman Lujan Grisham.
West Mesa Chapter members had decorated the tables with miniature white canes and provided two door prizes. This event highlighted the history and importance of the White Cane Law and the important role played by the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico. The White Cane Law plays a key role in allowing us to live the lives we want.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
I have one never-used HP netbook which includes Window-Eyes, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and a wireless headset. I will provide free shipping. I am asking $499. Please call Steve at (517) 347-7046.
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.