Vol. 61, No. 2 February 2018
Gary Wunder, Editor
Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, by the
The National Federation of the Blind
Mark Riccobono, President
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.
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The 2018 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Orlando, Florida, July 3 to July 8, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida 32819-9357. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Shingle Creek staff only. Call (866) 996-6338.
The 2018 room rates are singles and doubles, $88; and for triples and quads $93. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 12.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $100-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2018. The other 50 percent is not refundable.
Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2018, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our room block for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
All Rosen Shingle Creek guestrooms feature amenities that include plush Shingle Creek Sleeper beds, 40" flat screen TVs, complimentary high-speed internet service, in-room safes, coffee makers, mini-fridges, and hairdryers. Guests can also enjoy a swimming pool, fitness center, and on-site spa. The Rosen Shingle Creek Resort has a number of dining options, including two award-winning restaurants, and twenty-four-hour-a-day room service.
The schedule for the 2018 convention is:
Tuesday, July 3 Seminar Day
Wednesday, July 4 Registration and Resolutions Day
Thursday, July 5 Board Meeting and Division Day
Friday, July 6 Opening Session
Saturday, July 7 Business Session
Sunday, July 8 Banquet Day and Adjournment
Vol. 61, No. 2 February 2018
Illustration: A Day for Unity and Growth
The Superhero Hangs Up Her Cape
by Sophie Trist
by Justin Salisbury
A Really Sharp Knife
by Chris Kuell
Driving Blind on the Information Superhighway: Browsers—Choosing the Right Vehicle for the Journey
by Amy Mason
Why Human Readers are No Substitute for Accessible Software
by Sabra Ewing
Lessons in Blindness Inspire Insight
by Scott McKinney
The Library Leadership Forum: An Introduction to Open Libraries
by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer
Priscilla Ferris Dies
by Gary Wunder
Disney Research Creates Tactile Fireworks Display
by Grace Warn
Independence Market Corner
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: A Shining Example of the Value of Diversity in Employment
by Dick Davis
Copyright 2018 by the National Federation of the Blind
The National Federation of the Blind is an organization on the move, and it demands a lot not only from its members but from its staff. Each year we try to recognize the hard work of the men and women whose paid employment is directed to helping us achieve our goals.
In 2017 our staff team building day was on Monday, November 15, and what an opportunity it was to team up with people who work in other programs and to learn more about them than their name and their job. After President Riccobono outlined the activities for the day, we moved to our team tables and started the friendly competition that would continue throughout the day. One of our simpler tasks was to take words we were given and to figure out the Federation message they comprised. We played a Federation trivia game that included important facts from history and humorous facts from the present – how many people attended the first meeting in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and how many toilets are there in the Jernigan Institute? Some of the tasks were physical, and some of them were mental. We were given a solo cup, a balloon, and the instruction that we knock the cup off the table without touching it. The most difficult challenge of the day involved solving complicated word clues that led us to even harder word clues and objects, all of which would guide us to the successful conclusion of the game. Of course, what would any teambuilding day be without the sheer physical challenge of a team relay race in which the challenge is to be the first to carry your egg on a spoon across the finish line.
The day concluded with a wonderful meal and the many stories that were shared during it. As the pictures make clear, all of us had a wonderful time and are anxiously planning for the celebration that will come in 2018. It is a distinct honor to work for the National Federation of the Blind alongside such dedicated and inspired men and women.
by Sophie Trist
From the Editor: Sophie Trist is the winner of a 2017 national scholarship. She is intelligent, energetic, introspective, and articulate. In this piece she contrasts the experience of winning two different awards during her lifetime: The Inclusion Alliance’s Adult Spirit Award when she was nineteen, and the National Braille Challenge when she was eight. Her narration of the events alternates between the two awards, really letting her reader see what a difference the criteria to win the award makes to the value of winning it. Here is what she says:
I’ve always loved the limelight. The sound of applause is music to my ears. That’s why I answered the email I got from Mrs. Sarah Cordet in August of 2016. “Dear Miss Trist,” it read, “The special education coordinator for St. Tammany Parish has nominated you for Inclusion Alliance’s Adult Spirit Award. After much consideration, we have chosen you as a finalist. The ceremony will take place on Thursday, September 28, 2016, at 7:00 PM in the Long River Hall.” I’d never heard of Inclusion Alliance in my life; a quick Google search told me it was a local organization that helped special needs people become involved in the community. I had no idea what an Adult Spirit Award was, but I told Mrs. Cordet that I would be delighted to attend her ceremony.
I sat in a classroom with eleven other eight-year-olds at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles. I forced myself to stay still, remembering all of Mom’s prohibitions against fidgeting. I was one of twelve finalists in the Apprentice division (ages eight to ten) for the National Braille Challenge. We would now take a test, and the first, second, and third place winners would win trophies and money. Nervous, excited sweat broke out all over my palms as a grown-up called for quiet. “We will now begin the test,” she said. “I’ll be passing out the booklets, but no one is to open them until I say so. As you all should know, you’ll be competing in the categories of Braille reading, spelling, and proofreading. Good luck!”
All of the Inclusion Alliance award finalists, including nineteen-year-old yours truly, had companions (read, chaperones) assigned to them for the evening. My companion was an older, extremely nice lady named Ms. Linda. I actually knew Ms. Linda’s family pretty well; her younger daughter Alyssa had been in Advanced Placement classes with me in high school, and her older daughter shared my name, Sophie. At the reception that took place before the ceremony, Ms. Linda and I stood beside a poster containing numerous pictures of me that Mom had emailed to Mrs. Cordet. I was skiing, I was playing the piano, I was reading Braille, I was meeting Taylor Swift. I was the belle of the ball. Tons of people, most of whom I knew at least vaguely, came to talk to me. I was a fountain of laughter and smiles. Everyone from my hometown’s special needs community was dying to know how my freshman year of college was going. The fact that I had pledged Delta Gamma the week before was especially interesting in a town where Greek affiliations are almost as important as church and football.
“How do you think you did?” Mom asked the second I walked out of the classroom. All around us, other parents were asking their kids the same question. I told them that I thought I did pretty well. That was an understatement. I felt like Santa Claus had just told me it would be my birthday every single day for the next year. All I could think about was the adrenaline that shot through my veins as my fingers flew across the keys of my Braillewriter. I had been fast, and the questions had been easy. I thought about the judges who were even now scoring everyone’s tests. Let me win, I prayed silently. Let me be one of the winners. I thought about what everyone at school would say when they found out I was one of the top three Braille readers in America. I was quivering with excitement as we walked back toward our hotel to get ready for the awards banquet.
The Inclusion Alliance ceremony started out with the pledge and the national anthem. The first award presented was to a business that hired special needs people. As the three finalists for the Student Spirit award were presented, each walking onstage with his or her companion, an image of a superhero, standing tall and glorious in a flowing cape popped into my mind. Everyone always said it must be great to be a superhero, but I thought it must be a lonely life, living with extraordinary powers. Sure, superheroes have sidekicks, but the reason we make movies about them and plaster their pictures on t-shirts, posters, and everything else we can think of is because they’re exceptional. They stick out from the crowd. These people think I’m some kind of superhero, I realized as a troop of girls went through a dance routine onstage. But they’re wrong. I’m just a normal nineteen-year-old girl. I took AP classes in high school, I got a full ride to college, I advocate on social justice issues that are important to me, and I’m proud of all those accomplishments. But they don’t make me a superhero. When sighted kids achieve those same things, they get some praise and a pat on the back, but no one would ever dream of giving them an Adult Spirit Award.
Disabled people are often crowned with laurels for doing things that don’t get noticed when done by “normal” people, such as excelling in school, getting a college scholarship, or using a fork. (Seriously, one of my blind friends was once lavishly praised for using a fork properly.) I could invent a new superhero, I thought, struggling not to laugh out loud. Forkman would be right at home in the Justice League, swinging his Terrible and Awesome Silverware of Justice to save America! But my mirth didn’t last long as I started to think about why disabled people who live full and productive lives and refuse to let our disabilities stop us are treated like superheroes. I think non-disabled people do this to feel better about themselves. While the brokers of the disability superhero mentality mean well for the most part, they can’t see how their actions are demeaning to disabled people. Congratulating someone for the ability to eat without making the table look like the scene of a Civil War battle implies that you don’t believe that person capable of truly great things. It perpetuates the low expectations that hold disabled people back much more than blindness, deafness, or any other physical or mental handicap. Treating disabled people like superheroes allows organizations like Inclusion Alliance to ignore the discrimination faced by people with disabilities, such as the payment of subminimum wages to disabled workers and the inability of many blind college students to gain accessible materials for their education. The superhero mentality surrounding independent disabled people is holding back true and meaningful change.
Of course, the winners from the Apprentice division were the last to be announced. My friend Tiffany, who was twelve, had won second place in the Sophomore division. “For the Apprentice division, we have Emily Necker from Paradise, Ohio in third place!” The lady with the microphone announced. I clapped with everyone else; Emily had struck me as nice and smart. Once she received her trophy, the woman called, “In second place, we have Sophie Trist from Louisiana!” The cheering in that hall sounded like the best kind of thunder. For the first couple of seconds I was too shocked to move. I’d imagined myself winning, but I couldn’t believe it was actually happening! A dreamlike calm stole over me as Dad took my hand and led me to the stage. Someone thrust a trophy into my hands; the thing felt almost as big as me. “Congratulations!” someone gushed. I tried to say thank you, but I couldn’t speak. My smile was too big. As cameras flashed, I basked in the applause like a cat basking in the sun. I’d never been happier in my life. Being recognized as the second-best Braille reader in America was a huge accomplishment.
The three Adult Spirit Award finalists were called up in alphabetical order. Owen Hart, whom I’d known since childhood, had Downs syndrome, loved riding horses, and worked two jobs, one as a janitor at Clear Lake Middle School, and another as an assistant at the weekly farmer’s market in the next town over. Mary Katherine Church was a schoolteacher who was mostly deaf. And then the MC announced, “Sophie Trist graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA. Several years ago she started her own business Brailling menus for local restaurants. Sophie’s hobbies include reading, writing, and singing. She is a freshman at Loyola University New Orleans and recently pledged Delta Gamma sorority.” Once we were all introduced, the MC presented Mary Katherine with the third-place award. Owen won second place. My heart rate sped up; I knew what was coming next. “For the winner of the 2016 Adult Spirit Award, Miss Sophie Trist,” the MC exclaimed. Applause thundered through the Long River Hall. I beamed as Mrs. Cordet handed me a plaque and a certificate.
As cameras snapped pictures that would appear on Facebook by the next day, I thought about the other times I’d stood on stages to receive awards. Many of them had been earned. But this wasn’t my first night as a superhero. In sixth grade I’d received the Principal’s Award, and just last year, a few days before graduation, I received the Dare Award at the seniors’ assembly. This award was for a student who “showed tremendous courage in the face of adversity.” I’m a white, middle-class girl from the suburb; the only adversity I’ve encountered is blindness. And while I have to do some things differently from my sighted peers, my life isn’t hard by any definition of the word. I have always been encouraged to pursue my dreams and been given every tool and opportunity necessary to do so. I felt like a China doll someone had placed on a high shelf, something to be admired but not necessarily understood, something designed to make others feel better about their supposedly perfect lives. I felt more pride when I won second place at the National Braille Challenge than when I won first place at this empty ceremony.
On the way home that night and for many nights after, I tried to push thoughts of the ceremony out of my head. But I couldn’t forget the revelation I’d had while sitting in that auditorium. I’ve always been a writer, and a few months after that evening in November, I decided to write about it in the hope that it would help me process my thoughts and feelings. The result is the piece you’ve just read. I’ve hung up my cape. I won’t—no, I can’t—accept any more awards for simply being myself and fulfilling my own high expectations. I won’t take part in this superhero culture any longer. I want to be acknowledged for true accomplishments such as starting my own business or writing a novel that makes the New York Times bestseller list, a lifelong dream of mine. I bear no ill will toward Inclusion Alliance or my school principals or anyone else who gives disabled people awards for doing mundane things. They do this out of ignorance and misunderstanding, not out of any malice toward the disabled community. They have big hearts, but they do not understand our struggles. I do hope to educate people, blind and sighted alike, on the harmful nature of these low expectations and misconceptions. I want to change the laws and our culture so that disabled people can truly shine, with no barriers in their way.
by Justin Salisbury
From the Editor: Justin Salisbury is a frequent contributor to these pages, and we are the better for his thoughts. He is committed to helping blind people receive good rehabilitation and challenging his students to go beyond what is comfortable. Here is an article in which he shares with us a new word that was added to his vocabulary while on a travel lesson and how the word describes something he thinks important for those who work in or receive services from our nation’s rehabilitation service:
When I meet my new students, I take the time to talk with them to get to know them a little bit. I like to learn their story, family structure, hobbies, career goals, motivations, and things like that. I enjoy getting to know people anyway, but it tends to improve the quality of instructional time, too. Here in Hawaii we have a very high immigrant population. When I meet immigrant students, I often ask them what has brought them to the United States. Frequently I get answers about leaving areas of civil unrest or pursuing greater educational or economic opportunity. One student told me that he came to the United States to get better at speaking English. It turned out that he spoke many languages, and he had worked as a private language tutor for many years. When working with him, I always had to be on my toes to hear when he would drop a new word which I needed to add to my vocabulary. At the end of such lessons, when we would debrief in my office I would write down these new words and their definitions. For the sake of this story I will refer to this student as Jim.
One day on a group travel lesson, he coined a new word which captured an important concept. I took Jim and another student to find the post office in downtown Honolulu. I gave them the directions myself and wanted to see how well they could follow them. When we got on the number 4 bus, Jim sat somewhere down on the bottom level but behind the disability seats—we don’t use those during training. The other student and I went to sit near the very back of the bus. When we got to King and Punchbowl, the stop where we had agreed to get off the bus, only Jim and I did so. The other student, it appeared, had lost his focus and had inadvertently given himself an entirely different kind of travel assignment. Upon exiting, Jim began calling the name of his classmate to regroup with him on the sidewalk. We both realized that his classmate was not there.
Jim became noticeably upset and passionately declared that his classmate had been ecorched. For pronunciation, this word begins like “ecosystem” and rhymes with “scorched.” I had to slow him down to help him relax and focus, but I also wanted to know what this word meant. He explained that a sapling tree which has been ecorched has had all of the bark stripped off from it so that the tree is still alive but will inevitably dry out and die. Such a sapling tree would never survive to reach its potential. I could not help but laugh at the imagery. Jim asked if I was going to call the bus company to see what they could do. I told him that I was sure his classmate would figure something out, and I suggested that we proceed to find the post office without him.
Sure enough, after we had walked about fifty yards down the sidewalk, I received a call from his classmate. He sounded a little stressed out. He told me that he had realized that he had missed our stop and then gotten off the bus. He was at the Alapai Transit Center, a major transit center which was also completely unfamiliar to him. Someone had given him directions to the post office from there, but I told him not to worry about finding the post office and just hop on a number 13 bus to go back to the training center. I figured this would fall within his optimal level of challenge.
During our trip back to the training center, Jim and I had some time to debrief. I asked him how he spelled the word “ecorched,” which he explained to me. Since he spoke so many languages, I asked him about the etymology of the word. He explained that it was derived from a French verb, écorcer, and he was making an English word out of it. He told me that another use of the word was to describe a military strategic move where a commanding officer would assign a disliked subordinate to a maneuver that was sure to get him killed. In other words, a commanding officer could ecorch a subordinate by sending him into a battle ill-equipped against much stronger forces. Jim told me it was almost a form of human sacrifice. He said that he coined the word out of his strong emotion. I was so excited to finally have a word for an instructional transgression of which we are so often accused.
This experience and newly-coined word encapsulate many important themes in blindness rehabilitation, especially some misperceptions about Structured Discovery, a model developed by members of the National Federation of the Blind. The National Federation of the Blind operates three training centers on this philosophy, and there are three state-run training centers which are accredited on this model as well. I am proud to work at one of them. Structured Discovery is based on a belief that blind people are normal and that we must do more than simply learn alternative techniques. We must take the time to achieve an emotional adjustment to blindness so that we truly come to think of ourselves as normal. We must develop confidence in our own ability to function and compete. We must learn how to blend into sighted society. Good practitioners take an active role in the organized blind movement to help us move toward full equality and inclusion. Sometimes we use teaching methods which demonstrate that we expect much more of students than they expect of themselves and more than those around them have expected.
Why did I leave that student on the bus instead of making him get off at King and Punchbowl? He had struggled with paying attention to stop announcements on buses many times before. He was advanced enough in training that he would be able to problem-solve to make it back to the training center. After all, it was easier than a drop route. If I had told him that we were at our stop, it would have taught him that it was not necessary for him to pay attention for stop announcements because somebody else would do it for him. I am writing this article about two months after this experience, and I am pleased to report that he has been on his game with stop announcements ever since and shows no nervousness about going to unfamiliar transit centers. He had a valuable problem-solving experience that day when he arrived in a completely unfamiliar transit center and had to find his way back. I told him what bus to take in order to help him have some direction and keep him from stressing out too badly, but, if it had happened today, I would probably just tell him to figure it out. As a student progresses in training, the challenges get harder. We do not set people up to fail or be overwhelmed, but we always push them to that next level. We need them to understand in their hearts, based on experience, that they can function on their own and that blindness does not necessitate an instructor to help them travel.
There are some professionals in the blindness field who might contend that it is unsafe or mean to allow a student to have those kinds of experiences. There are some who would say that I did ecorch him that day. I am proud to be a part of a training center whose staff and students have cracked jokes about that word ever since that day because we understand that students can and should be allowed to make mistakes. There are some blindness professionals who are afraid to let their students make mistakes and who contend that mistakes break a student’s confidence. On the contrary, we demonstrate every day that the process of learning to overcome mistakes can build a student’s confidence. I do not allow the risk of getting lost or students being challenged to prevent me from pushing them to their limits. This is a necessary part of finding the frontier and then advancing it further. Some days my students do fail, but we talk about the problems and conquer them another time.
I would never be able to teach the way that I do if not for my training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and I feel bad for those blindness professionals who are attempting to teach alternative techniques and understandings of blindness which they do not possess themselves. It is not necessary that I be a blind person to do this; I know some sighted cane travel instructors who are proficient travelers under sleepshades and can hold a great philosophical discussion. I have no problem letting students make mistakes because I know from experience that correction is possible. When we let students make mistakes, they learn not to be afraid of making mistakes on their own. This opens the door for experimentation and innovation. Yes, blind people are capable of these things, too, and these abilities make us better contributors on the job and in society in general. I am glad that I now have a word for the thing that I never do to my students: ecorch.
by Chris Kuell
From the Editor: Chris Kuell is an articulate, reflective man who manages to capture what he feels, grows from integrating what comes from his head and his heart, and shares that through his writing. Here is his most recent offering:
Earlier this week I took a cab to a doctor’s appointment. We passed The Sesame Seed, a Middle Eastern restaurant around the corner from where I live, and the driver commented on how fat he’d be if he lived that close. We chatted about the great hummus, baba ganoush, kibbe, and wonderful fish dishes served at the restaurant. This led us to talk about our favorite local restaurants, how his son was a CIA (Culinary Institute of America) graduate, and some of our favorite dishes. When he told me his girlfriend wasn’t a vegetarian but would only eat seafood and chicken for protein, I described my original seafood chowder and lettuce-wrapped chicken recipes. He told me about a pork dish he makes when his girlfriend isn’t around, and then I described how, after many attempts, I’d finally figured out how to make an authentic shrimp pad Thai. Around this time we arrived at my appointment, and I wished him a good day.
All went well at the doctor, and when the cab I’d requested to go home arrived, it was the same driver who brought me there. We drove in silence for a few minutes. Then he said, somewhat uncomfortably, that he hoped I didn’t mind, but how, uh, could a guy with my—ummmm—handicap, cook sophisticated dishes?
I assured him that I didn’t mind his question, then answered that I believed I could cook anything, I’m experienced in the kitchen, and I have a really sharp knife. I’m totally blind, but I’m fairly certain his jaw dropped at that last one.
I told him that a few years ago I invested in a couple of really nice chef’s knives and a sharpening stone, and I keep the knives sharp enough to shave the hair off my arm. This is a trick an old lobsterman taught me when I was a kid.
While your average sighted person would probably feel very uncomfortable with the thought of a blind guy wielding something that could easily lop off a finger or two, a sharp knife makes slicing everything so much easier and faster. I love when the blade easily glides through a tomato rather than hacking and mashing it. And really—it’s no more dangerous than the various saws and power tools or deep fryer that I use regularly.
I’m extremely fond of my fingertips, so I am always careful when doing anything that could endanger them. Yes, I’ve received the occasional burn when a pan wasn’t on the stove exactly where I thought it was or when flipping something in hot oil and a little splatters, but those are the marks of a cook—reminders to always be aware of your surroundings and what you are doing.
Belief that I can do anything comes relatively easy to me. Call it confidence or arrogance or good parenting—whatever. All I know is that it is a key to successful endeavors. When I first lost my sight at thirty-five, I fell into a short-lived despondency. Then my wife convinced me to attend an NFB national convention. There I was with thousands of blind people who did whatever they wanted, and I knew that if they could do it, I could as well.
You need to either be shown how to do something or figure it out yourself, then practice. The experience you gain will not only improve your skills but your confidence in tackling other tasks. Nobody is good at cane travel right away. It takes a lot of practice, some getting lost, some figuring out what to do next, and some sighs of relief when you make it to your destination. Learning Braille takes practice. Learning how to navigate a computer with screen reading software takes practice, confronts you with some stressful moments when your computer freezes up, and requires the assistance of friends who can help you figure things out when you are at your wits end.
Cooking, or whatever you want to undertake, is similar. I’m always asking my friends who are good cooks how they do this or that. I pay attention to the details, to what herbs and spices they use, and what helpful tricks or techniques they know. Of course, the internet is an invaluable resource. Although I can’t see what people are doing in the millions of YouTube cooking videos out there, I can get enough information to make a go of it in my own kitchen. And while some of my meals don’t come out the way I wanted, I can usually figure out what I did wrong and make it better the next time.
I’ve won a local chili cook-off the last three years in a row, and the entries are anonymous, so I know people aren’t just voting for the blind guy. I’ve made great Italian food, Greek food, Asian food, Spanish food—anything I can think of. Last spring a woman at church asked me to cook Korean pork rolls (a dish I invented) for a special event, which I was happy to do.When I was a teenager, I used to help my Dad work on his old ’56 Ford. He had a special wrench that was bent at a certain angle for adjusting the carburetor. He told me that having the right tool makes every job easier. You can bang in a nail with a rock or a brick, but a hammer is the right tool for the job, which is why I like a really sharp knife for my cooking. When it comes to blindness, Braille, a long white cane, screen reading software, an accessible smart phone, and blind friends you can call on when you have questions—these are essential. With these tools, there isn’t anything you can’t accomplish.
by Amy Mason
From the Editor: This is the second article in a series intended to help users of assistive technology learn to use and get the most out of the World Wide Web. Navigating the web is possible, productive, and enjoyable, but there are many parts to the puzzle, and this series of articles is intended to let readers examine each piece and decide how they will put together the system that gives them the access they desire to the vast resources of the internet. With her analytic mind, her vast knowledge of resources, and her command of language, here is what Amy Mason has to say:
Welcome back! It’s great to see you all again. In our last class we touched on the history of using the web, the terminology of web browsing today, and defined “accessibility” at least for the purposes of this series. If you missed our first session, it can be reviewed in the January 2018 Braille Monitor.
When people talk about using the internet, they are usually referring to accessing websites or web applications (programs that mimic software usually found on a local computer, but built to run remotely using the programming languages used on the internet). Each computer is built to understand several different programming languages, but each type of computer system (Mac, Windows, Android, iOS) is pretty exclusive about what they understand. Because the internet is built to allow all sorts of devices to share all the same information, it has been built with several languages of its own that are made to allow lots of machines to communicate freely. Our computers don’t understand these languages by default, so we need programs that can translate the shared languages of the web into information our computers can natively understand. That is the purpose of the browser.
In its role as a translator, the browser will read the information coded onto web pages and other internet resources and rephrase that information so our computers can understand and present it to us as readable text, images, videos, and controls. The W3C (the folks who built the technical accessibility standards we discussed last month) and other governing bodies have created guidelines for the language of the web. They have created rules for how things should be written and what the browser should do to appropriately translate that information. However, browsers do not all follow the guidelines perfectly, and even when they do, they tend to do so in their own way with their own unique voice, (think of it as an accent, or a regional dialect). They make sure that we can all basically understand the language of the web, but each browser does so in its own way. Returning this to our driving analogy, each browser is like a vehicle. They can all be used on the road, but each one will take curves differently, handle differently, and provide a slightly different driving experience. Once you’ve learned one, they all work similarly, but each has its own quirks you must understand to get the most out of them and even to “drive safely.”
As blind computer users it’s important to think through our browser options and be open to using more than one. There are three major reasons for this. First, we are adding an extra layer of “translation” in the form of screen readers, to access information that the computer is representing. We will discuss this layer in more detail later, but suffice to say that each layer plays its part in our ability to understand and access information. The web page is the road, the browser is the car, and the screen reader is the blind driver interface. For the best driving experience, the road must be smooth and well maintained, the car needs to be in good working order, and our blind driving interface needs to be receiving and passing on all the information provided by both the road and our vehicle. Therefore, we want to find the car that will handle best for the type of road we are driving on and will speak most clearly with our information gathering tools. Sometimes the ways these vehicles/browsers handle will affect our ability to access different sites so greatly that they can make the difference between a usable and functionally accessible page or even determine whether we can access some pages at all.
Furthermore, as we also discussed earlier, there are dangers to be found on the road. Not all roadside attractions are what they seem. Some are fun and diverting, others a little seedy, but if you are careful you’ll be ok, while still others… ideally your car is fast, and has good automatic locks. Otherwise, you may find that it, and your luggage (personal information, computer files, etc.…) could be hijacked. For these reasons it is important to use an up-to-date and modern browser. They contain fixes for known security flaws and provide you with an additional layer of safety over older models.
Finally, Henry Ford once said of his Model T, “Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.” Despite this early pronouncement, today we can customize our vehicles in nearly endless ways. Browsers are the same. Early browsers didn’t offer much in the way of personalization, but today most offer the user a great scope for customization, which we can use to make our lives easier on the net. As a more advanced topic we will cover customizations later, but it’s useful to know that some options are tailored to the tinkerer, and that even modest customization can improve your experience immensely.
As we discussed above, browsers all do approximately the same job but offer different advantages and disadvantages for the intrepid internet traveler. Therefore, the rest of this article will focus on comparing the different options available and providing some context on which of the browsers are likely to provide you with the best experience.
Operating Systems Supported: Windows Only
Screen Readers Supported: JAWS/NVDA/Narrator
Obtained from: Included with Windows Installation. Default browser on all versions prior to Windows 10
In the song, “Classified,” C.W. McCall tells an (amusing) story of his purchase of an unforgettable vehicle. Here’s how he describes it:
And settin' right there in a pool of grease was a half-ton Chevy pickup truck with a 1960 license plate, a bumper sticker says, “Vote for Dick” and Brillo box full of rusty parts, … Well, I kicked the tires and I got in the seat and set on a petrified apple core and found a bunch of field mice livin' in the glove compartment. He says, ‘Her shaft is bent and her rear end leaks, you can fix her quick with an oily rag. Use a nail as a starter; I lost the key. Don't pay no mind to that whirrin' sound. She use a little oil, but outside a' that, she's cherry.’
As the song concludes we see our intrepid hero taking life and limb into his own hands to get this relic out of the farmyard and down the road. Sadly, our reliable old friend, Internet Explorer, has come to resemble this pickup truck. Once upon a time it did most of our heavy lifting on the net. It was never fast, but by brute force and persistence we were able to use it to get an awful lot of work done. At the time, we didn’t have a lot of other accessible options, so we put a lot of miles in on IE.
For this reason, many blind people continue to use Internet Explorer as their primary, or even only browser. It’s comfortable and familiar. We know all the quirks and lots of little secrets to keep it rolling another couple of miles, but it’s just not fit for the road any longer, and we really need to be looking to retire it.
Microsoft has stopped active development of Internet Explorer. So new features of websites aren’t well supported (when they are supported at all). This includes accessibility features. New websites increasingly rely on behavior that we can’t get out of IE, so our screen readers aren’t provided with the information we need to review them. Beyond this, it’s just not very stable on Windows 10 and tends to hang with alarming frequency.
Long story short, the only features of IE that Microsoft is putting any energy into at all are security patches, and even that will come to an end in the next five years or so. You don’t want to still be reliant on it when that day comes.
As such, it is my strong recommendation that you consider one or more of the other browsers on this list as your primary, and only use IE as a last resort.
Operating Systems Supported: Windows/Android/iOS
Mac OSX support is available, but very poor for VoiceOver users. Best to find a different option on the Mac.
Screen Readers Supported: JAWS/NVDA/Narrator/TalkBack/VoiceOver (iOS)
At the time of this writing, recent updates to the underlying engine in Firefox have temporarily degraded support for Windows screen reader users. If Firefox is your preferred browser, you may wish to use the extended support version of the software for best results. This version will not be updated with new features as regularly as the primary version of Firefox, but it will receive security updates. The download page notes that it is intended for large organizations; however, individuals are also able to download and use the software for their own purposes.
Obtained from: Current https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/ Extended Support: https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/organizations/all/
Honestly, I don’t know that much about cars, so I can’t say what exactly we should be comparing Firefox to, but it exists. There are some cars that are known for not what they are, but what they can be. Firefox is the browser equivalent.
A fresh install is… fine. It will competently get you where you are going. It is engineered to be reliable, if not overly fast, secure, and very good at following web standards. As it has offered real, robust accessibility support for quite some time, many blind folks have chosen to make it their primary or secondary browser.
Firefox is an open source project from the Mozilla Foundation. Its goals are largely to play nice with standards bodies and other open source projects. As such, it works especially well when paired with NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access), and Mozilla has even provided direct support to NV Access to continue active development.
Furthermore, it is widely supported across different operating systems, and it is possible to sync bookmarks, autofill, and tabs across Firefox installs on multiple devices. If you use several machines, these features may be of interest.
If this is where your interest ends, Firefox will serve you perfectly well, but you can take it quite a bit further. Many users choose to install extensions and custom elements which will extend the Firefox experience far beyond that which is available in a fresh download. We will come back to these customizations in a later article, but for now, know that it is possible to make some extreme changes to the way this browser works. In fact, more than a thousand of the supported extensions mention “accessibility.” I can’t promise the quality of any of those extensions, but at least a few are bound to be helpful. As such, if you like to play, it may be the right choice for you.
Even if you don’t like to play, Firefox may be a solid choice since it is overall well supported across multiple screen readers, websites and devices. Unless you are running a Mac, Firefox would be one of my top picks for a safe and reliable primary browser.
Operating Systems Supported: Windows/Android/iOS/Mac
Screen Readers Supported: JAWS/NVDA/Narrator/TalkBack/VoiceOver (both iOS and OSX)
Obtained from: Included as default browser on Android. Otherwise can be downloaded from https://www.google.com/chrome/browser/desktop/index.html
Chrome is that browser that everybody seems to have and use. It’s reliable, easy to come by, and can provide a very nice experience. It’s relatively fast, secure, and available on just about every computing device out there. The Toyota Prius is that car that tons of people have for pretty much all the same reasons… except for its cross-platform compatibility. (Strangely enough, most people don’t care if their Prius works with Windows.)
Tons of people have it just because it’s better than the default browser their system came with, and that’s good enough for them. Many others have it because it is created by Google, and that’s a name they have come to know and trust.
Its support for screen readers (particularly on Windows) is a more recent development than with Firefox, so there may be occasional hiccups you will notice if using this browser that you won’t find in others. But on the flip side, there are times things work better here as well.
Like the Prius and Firefox, there are lots of ways to take your browsing experience with Chrome a bit further, though the out-of-the-box experience is perfectly adequate for many users, so you can decide just how much customization is right for you. Extensions are available to add all sorts of features to the browser, including some which promise accessibility enhancements. Furthermore, as a truly cross-platform option, with very tight integration into Google’s ecosystem, it can make traveling from one computer to another very easy. Like Firefox, Chrome allows for syncing of bookmarks and autofill information. In addition, many extensions will carry across when you are signed into the browser, so when you get things just the way you like them, you can carry the experience across to all your other machines. Chrome even allows you to set up your own custom keyboard commands, so if you want to take the time, you can get it feeling just right. Even if you don’t, you should find it will adequately meet many of your needs.
I want to point out a couple of technical notes which may be helpful as you consider your browsing strategy. First, Chrome can be a bit of a resource hog because of how it keeps track of the different tabs you keep open. Each one is given its own separate chunk of memory to run in. Sadly, this means some resources end up being wasted because each tab needs things that on other browsers might be shared. But on the up side, it also means that if things go sideways in one tab, you can just close it and not affect the others you have open in the browser. Second, Chrome is the only viable third-party browser for the Mac. As we’ve discussed, it’s always good practice as a blind user to have a couple of options available, so you will probably want this if you use OSX.
Overall, like Firefox, I would argue that Chrome is a keeper. Most people will find that one or the other suits them a bit better, and either can be a solid choice, so give them both a test drive and see what you think.
Operating Systems Supported: iOS/Mac
Screen Readers Supported: VoiceOver (both iOS and OSX)
Obtained from: Default browser on Apple products. Installed by default on both iOS and OSX (Mac) devices.
Safari, like Internet Explorer, is an exclusive. Unlike Internet Explorer, it is still being actively maintained and improved. If you are a heavy Mac or iOS user, you are probably already familiar with this browser. It’s what your device comes with out of the box, and for the most part, so long as you play by Apple’s rules, it works fairly well.
That’s really the main point when it comes to Safari. Apple devices, like BMWs, are something of a “lifestyle” product. An iOS device, or a Mac, are meant to be as much a fashion statement as a computing device, and as such, there is a certain expected way that things will behave.
The consistency born of this tight design control is part of why so many blind people love their iPhones, and more than a few would fight anyone who tried to pry their Macs out of their hands. The predictability born of this high level of control has made for an environment where accessible software can be tightly integrated with a screen reader (VoiceOver) to very powerful effect. The BMW Mini feels very similar. It has some unique advantages and is pretty iconic, but the moment you want to start doing things in a way the creator didn’t intend, things get much trickier. For example, the Mini Cooper is known for its handling; in part, this is because the company requires special nitrogen filled tires. Mac and iOS are known for extremely tight integration, but you must use their browser and follow lots of other rules to get the best effect.
There are a few extensions available for Safari, though the list is much shorter than for Chrome or Firefox. Like those browsers, it is possible to sync autofill data and bookmarks between Apple devices, but Apple takes this one step further. When using Safari on an iOS or Mac system, you can send the page you are reviewing to another device. Therefore, you can start an article on your Mac, realize that you need to leave, and send that page to your phone to continue reading on the bus. The other unique Safari feature is the inclusion of a native “reader” mode. In this mode, the page is simplified and restructured so that only the article is present on a page, while all the noisy “clutter” of ads, comment sections, and navigation are removed.
One technical note to keep in mind for Safari is that, for best results as a VoiceOver user on the Mac, you might find it beneficial to enable full keyboard accessibility. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, some items that should normally receive keyboard focus when tabbing do not in a default installation; as heavy keyboard users, we probably are going to want to rectify that issue.
Otherwise, if you are already invested in Apple’s ecosystem on Mac or iOS, Safari will do most of what you need on the web and can even provide some useful additional features so long as you like the way that Apple does things.
Operating Systems Supported: Windows 10 only
Screen Readers Supported: Best support with Narrator. Partial support with very recent versions of JAWS and NVDA
Obtained from: Default browser on Windows 10
This brings us to the final browser in our lineup today. Microsoft is not simply retiring Internet Explorer. Instead, they are working to replace it with a new browser: Edge.
Edge is… interesting. It’s built to be fast, light, and clean, but nobody really cares. Very few people use it, and for our purposes, there are still some real disadvantages when compared to other browsers. In many ways, it is like the Tesla. It is intended to be the “future,” and there has been quite a lot of work put into its appearance and performance. But something is still not quite right for mass appeal. Tesla and other electric cars just haven’t been perfected yet. They take a long time to recharge, so unlike fueling up, a pit stop on the highway is going to require an actual time investment. This will affect what you are able to do with the car. Much in the same way, Edge is on an experimental platform. This means that things don’t work the same, and we face real tradeoffs in the way that features behave. There are even problems in speed and responsiveness given the current interaction with screen-reading software.
It’s only available for Windows 10, which further shrinks market share. With Firefox and Chrome readily available on the same platform, it’s hard to imagine that it will ever claim the dominance once held by Internet Explorer over the browsing experience on Windows.
Edge is likely to improve. Microsoft is dedicated to improving the compatibility between it and screen readers. They want it to be adopted, but even they know there is still more to do. We don’t have a great deal of knowledge about the future of browsing with this application, so it’s out there and available to try if you are feeling adventurous, though I wouldn’t expect to count on it for now. NVDA and JAWS support are both improving, but neither are as robust as they are on other browsers, (including IE) which makes it an awfully hard sell right now.
In short, play with it if you like; the experimental nature of the browser may provide you with access to things you couldn’t use in the past, but I’d keep something more reliable in the garage just in case.
I mentioned at the beginning of this series that we were going to driving school, didn’t I? Well, you know how school is… you can almost never escape a bit of homework. In that spirit, I invite you to pick a different browser than you’ve been using from the list, and give it a spin for a couple of days. If you already are using these browsers… what are you doing throwing spitballs in the back of the classroom? Get up here and help me teach this stuff! We blind users who are comfortable with technology are in the best position to educate developers and other blind people on what good access looks like for blind people and how to make the most of these tools.
If you want to learn more about which browser may best suit you or you have other general access technology questions, feel free to contact the Access Technology Answer Line at (410) 659-9314, option 5, or email us at [email protected]. We want to help empower you to live the life you want by helping you understand the accessible technology available now.
by Sabra Ewing
From the Editor: Sabra Ewing is a newly graduated college student looking for a job. She is a person who has many interests, among them universal design, inclusive education, canine nutrition, and the Tutor monarchy.
On a number of our lists, especially those frequented by students and computer enthusiasts, there is a long-running discussion about the way inaccessible software can keep a blind person from achieving his or her goals. In these discussions the use of a human reader has been suggested, and a surprising number of respondents have rejected the idea. Some say that a human reader is too expensive, too limiting, and too inconvenient. Some go further and suggest that using a human reader is actually selling out by failing to press immediately for accessibility, which is our right as blind people. Many of us have suggested that the human reader is a far better solution than not taking a class or the abandonment of a career goal. While the human reader is no long-term substitute, we should consider using one rather than being thwarted by technology. Some of us who have used human readers for decades even assert there are times when using the eyes and the brains of human beings is superior to technology, though all of us hope that one day technology will be good enough that we will no longer need to rely on someone else in working efficiently with print. At a minimum, those who consider using a human reader believe it should be another tool in our toolbox.
Sabra believes this is bad advice, and she asked me whether there was a place in the Braille Monitor for dissenting opinions. I assured her that there was, so here is what she has to say about the inadequacy of using a human reader to deal with inaccessible technology:
The Accessible Instructional Materials Act creates guidelines for the use of accessible, education-based electronic content. The act also has a provision for alternate equal access that allows schools to provide access through other means when the current materials are not sufficient. Both school officials and blind people believe that a human reader can serve as alternative access. They fail to realize that use of a human reader creates diminished access by distorting cause and affect relationships in virtual environments, demanding impractical knowledge of a visual interface, and promoting dependence and distortion throughout the data analysis process.
Let us imagine that a district serving a blind student is short of mobility instructors. They cannot provide one for this student, but they have the perfect solution. An instructor working with someone else will call the student, who will listen as she describes pertinent features of the lesson like intersections, safe street crossings, and proper cane technique. As the student listens, he will mentally participate in the lesson. Okay, so maybe it isn’t the perfect solution, but schools do a similar thing to blind students by providing a reader in place of accessible software. A virtual environment has cause and effect relationships just like a physical one. When you press a button or move to another area on the screen, the environment changes. When you enter data, the environment will respond. Because the process is very interactive, allowing a human reader to control software for a blind student will hinder that person’s learning, similar to incomplete participation in a physical environment.
Some might argue that schools could minimize this effect by having the reader serve as a proxy, following the student’s exact instructions from the beginning of software activation down to the last mouse click. The problem is that a blind student interfaces with the computer nonvisually. The student would have difficulty telling a reader how to locate and click on an envelope or green arrow for example. Many blind students process information in such a way that they could not direct a reader to such icons on a constantly changing screen. Then there is the meaning. You can explain to a blind student that an envelope is what you click on to check your email and that a green arrow means next or forward like a green light, but this process could potentially apply to every icon. For someone who has always used a screen reader, it is not very intuitive or practical. The school should encourage the student to focus on blindness skills that take less effort and allow more independence instead of asking them to master a skill that would take years of study and leave them dependent on a reader.
One more problem exists with using a reader instead of accessible software, which is that information will become distorted and less available. A reader, even a trained one, becomes a control and a filter for how to present information and what is important. This becomes especially true with software simulations because it will take too long for a reader to describe every changing screen, but the principle applies to all instructional media including textbooks. Blind people have learned through experience and training what information they can get with a screen reader and how to ask for it. Further, the information is available when they need it the way it is for sighted students. Blind students are not receiving equal access when they have to learn at a slower pace, wait for recordings or work around a reader’s schedule, and create notes from scratch from what a reader tells them when the school can provide alternative software and file formats.
In short, forced use of a reader in place of accessible instructional materials will severely stunt a student’s learning and success. They must use software themselves to fully understand concepts. Additionally, schools should expect them to perform from a blindness skill set rather than mastering the counterintuitive skill of operating a visual interface. Equal access also means that both blind and sighted students should have the same independence and ease of use. We must therefore demand that where a school cannot reasonably switch to accessible software, it must provide alternative instructional materials to blind students that do not require the use of a human reader.
by Scott McKinney
From the Editor: This article first appeared on October 4, 2017, in the Kanabec County Times. It reminds those of us who have been blind a long time that getting to where we are wasn’t easy, and it tells those who are on the journey that they are not alone in their experiences and that there is hope. Here is the article:
I’m in a narrow winding stairwell, and I can’t see a thing.
The stairs are steep and make ninety-degree turns. Sometimes it seems like there are two steps to a landing, sometimes eight, and sometimes a dozen. There’s no way to tell. I can’t see anything, and the sounds I hear echo in the empty stairwell, so I can’t rely on them for direction. I edge cautiously toward what I think is a stair—but instead, I step into thin air and tumble, landing flat on my butt. No one is near, so I pick myself up, say a few choice words, and start edging cautiously forward again.
Excluding the choice words (maybe), in these fifteen minutes, I experience what many people who are newly blind and learning nonvisual techniques deal with in the early stages. You see, I’m wearing a blindfold, using a cane, and learning what it’s like to suddenly be blind.
My new day job is at Minnesota State Services for the Blind (SSB), supervising its Radio Talking Book (RTB) network. RTB broadcasts current newspapers, magazines, and best-selling books to thousands of visually impaired listeners throughout Minnesota and across the country. As part of my orientation, I’m attending a six-week “Adjustment to Blindness” training. SSB is Minnesota’s only public statewide organization providing services to those with visual impairments and thus has an obligation to train staff on the essential aspects and experience of blindness.
People with blindness have access to education, vocational training, and recreational opportunities in their move toward first-class citizenship. They not only participate but thrive in almost every imaginable vocational field. Surprisingly, their biggest challenge is overcoming the perception of blindness held by the sighted community.
BLIND Inc. is a nonprofit organization that provides training for adults, children, teenagers, and seniors with various visual impairments. Located in the historic Charles S. Pillsbury mansion in south Minneapolis, BLIND Inc. teaches the skills blind people need to live independently and secure employment. Just as important, the organization builds the confidence students need to put these skills into practice. BLIND Inc. also offers a six-week “Adjustment to Blindness” course for professionals working with the visually impaired. This allows me a unique opportunity to meet and talk with potential RTB listeners, our “target market.”
I’m halfway through my six-week training, and there are two things I know for sure:
One, I will never again take any of my senses for granted.
Two, I will never again think of people with visual impairment as helpless, powerless victims of their disability.
Most of the students at BLIND Inc. are young adults in their mid-twenties to early thirties. Many of them are University of Minnesota students residing in an on-campus apartment building. They deal with the same issues as other students: weighing career paths, exploring interests, and developing independence from families who sometimes “care take” too much.
On my first day of training, I was fitted with a mask and a white cane which I must use during and between all my classes. The mask is the more daunting of the two, as it eliminates all sight. In fact, all students at the center must also wear the same mask, regardless their level of visual impairment. This way, skills taught in classes are learned similarly by all participants.
Though I’m sightless with the mask on, it was tempting to “cheat” when it occasionally slid up, uncovering part of my eyes. I’m embarrassed to admit that my sudden loss of vision so disoriented me that I was compelled to peek outside the mask a couple of times for a brief glimpse of sight. But I’m no cheater—I haven’t peeked since, despite hitting walls and tumbling on steps.
I’m told that relying on one’s other senses, especially hearing, is a normal adaptation when wearing the mask. But when students are milling around between classes like in any other school, I become disoriented by the wall of sound. When things get quieter, I’m better able to find my way.
The white cane is much taller than the ones seen on TV and in movies. Everyone uses one. Mark, the instructor of mobility who is also blind, teaches his new recruits proper cane use—a light “pencil grip” for indoors, and a more secure “open palm” grip for outside. “Your cane will help you,” Mark says. “If you use it right and have no fear, it will tell you what you need to know.”
While most other students glide effortlessly throughout the ornate four-story mansion, I plod along, losing my way. Sometimes I stand for at least fifteen minutes trying to locate a stairway that is literally right behind me. “I’m frustrated,” I tell Mark one afternoon. “I’ll never get this. I know this is just a sliver of what people with visual impairments go through, but I’m terrible at this.”
Mark nods. “You’re having the true blindness experience,” he replies.
BLIND Inc. students are extraordinarily understanding toward us newbies and willing to help. Although dealing with visual impairments themselves and wearing the same mask that I wear, they offer directions and guidance. After one precarious misstep I quipped to a student, “Stairways are my downfall.” She didn’t get it.
“By the end of six weeks many of these challenges won’t be so ‘challenging’,” says Dan, who is BLIND Inc.’s executive director. “The stairs get easier, the sounds get easier. Veterans don’t struggle as much as rookies.”
School begins at 8:00 a.m. with a daily meeting, followed by a session of light calisthenics. Then, classes are held throughout the building: Braille, Technology Training, Home Management, Career Building, Travel (mobility), and Industrial Arts. BLIND Inc. also provides a language learning lab to those for whom English is not a primary language, where currently a number of blind Somali students are learning English. The day wraps up with a discussion session called “Seminar” that addresses current events and day-to-day issues.
Classes are a challenge. Expectations are high, and students are given opportunities to try, fail, and try again. Most students complete the program in six to nine months. During my first three weeks, I sat in on graduation ceremonies for four students. The ceremonies are filled with laughter and some tears. Classmates and instructors share stories and encouragement, and each graduate receives a “Freedom Bell,” symbolizing the freedom and independence each has achieved.
Each class has a requirement for graduation. In home management, students must plan, prepare, and serve a meal for fifty guests. In Braille class, students must organize an activity or adapt a board game for the visually impaired. In Industrial Arts, students must design and complete a woodworking project using traditional shop tools, with some adaptations.
Even the most routine daily activities require some adaptation. “You know what’s really challenging about being newly blind?” I say to Mark. “Going to the bathroom.”
Mark nods. “Ah, just sit down,” he says. “No one’s gonna see you.”
It’s interesting how we “Minnesota Nice” people try to “help” those with visual impairments. “I’m passing on your left,” we say, or “I’m holding the door for you,” or “You’re going to run into a bench,” or “There’s a car coming down the street.” One BLIND Inc. student says, “If I seem to need help, introduce yourself to me, and ask me if I need it. If I don’t, I’ll say ‘No thanks,’ and go on my way. Don’t feel hurt if I reject your offer of help, and don’t insist that I accept it. I appreciate your offer. Just say something like, ‘Okay, have a nice day,’ and go on your way.”
I learned my own lasting lesson one afternoon. Mark and I embarked from the center to practice outdoor cane use. The day was rainy, windy, and chilly, and I stumbled back and forth to find the elusive door and return inside to comfort. Finally I’d had enough. “That’s it,” I say. “I give up.”
Mark whirls around. “Never say that,” he replies. “Never give up. That’s not an option. I can’t give up, and neither can you. Never give up. No fear.”
I’ve stricken “I give up” from my vocabulary. I don’t say it anymore. I’m not blind, but I’m less afraid of blindness than I was before. Blindness changes how we do things, but doesn’t stop us from doing them. As Helen Keller famously said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight and no vision.” Halfway through my training, I’m beginning to “see” that.
To learn more about BLIND Inc. and its mission, visit them online at www.blindinc.org. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have a stairwell to tackle.
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 2017 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.
by Amy Mason and Anna Kresmer
From the Editor: Readers will know this dynamic duo from other articles, the longest and most recent being a fictional visit from the future by a ship of curious aliens happening upon the Jernigan Institute. Their work is stellar, and so too is this article:
The National Federation of the Blind was recently invited to participate in the Library Leaders Forum of 2017, a two-day conference bringing together librarians, lawyers, educators, technical experts in accessibility, and representatives of the print-disabled community, which was hosted by the Internet Archive. The Internet Archive is a San Francisco nonprofit with lofty goals. It is working to create a comprehensive digital library. According to its website, “Our mission is to provide Universal Access to All Knowledge.”i It pursues this ambitious goal by working to preserve the artifacts of multiple spheres of culture in digital form, including software, audio and visual news clips, music, video games, and even the internet itself through the Wayback Machine. In addition to all of this, the Internet Archive has now turned its sights toward the humble print book.
The Internet Archive has a dream. It wishes to ensure that everyone in the United States and the world can access all the paper books in libraries, many of which are out of print. Unfortunately, the vagaries of US copyright law have left a gaping void in the availability of books in digital format which extends through most of the twentieth century. Due to public domain laws, a large portion of the surviving materials published before 1923 have already been digitized, and the majority of books published since the late 1990s have been “born digital,” meaning that they were initially created in an electronic format. However, those books published in the span of years between 1923 and about 1995 are largely unavailable due to copyright concerns, low commercial interest for republication, and outright confusion. Effectively this locks the knowledge they contain between their covers. Many of these books now reside only on the shelves of libraries, and in the current digital-minded world, if something isn’t available online, it is effectively invisible. This is the enormous problem that the Internet Archive wants to solve and the reason for hosting the Library Leaders Forum.
Of course, gaining access to print books has always been of interest to blind people, and the NFB has long been a leader in tackling this challenge. Over the years, the Federation has been instrumental in the work of ensuring access to information in both print and electronic form. Projects in this space have included:
Therefore, it is clear that although the project championed by the Internet Archive may be a new way of looking at the problem, its efforts are an obvious extension of the work the NFB has been doing for decades.
In addition to the Federation’s already lengthy history of work in this area, the NFB has also collaborated with the Internet Archive through our Jacobus tenBroek Library. From 2010 to 2012, the tenBroek Library worked with the Internet Archive to digitize all issues of NFB publications that had previously been unavailable online, as well as a significant portion of our main research library collection. Titles digitized during this project, which were either published by the NFB or were already in the public domain, were made available to all users immediately and can still be accessed in multiple formats including plain text and DAISY. However, about five hundred digitized titles still subject to copyright (or with unclear statuses) were largely kept hidden and only made available to patrons who could prove that they were eligible for an accessible copy through the Chafee Amendment. At the time, the Internet Archive had no system for making copyrighted titles available to patrons. In fact, the mainstream library profession is still working out how best to make digitized library materials available to all users. But today, the work of the Internet Archive has progressed, and solutions that were previously unclear or unattainable are coming to fruition.
The Internet Archive has always been at the forefront of dealing with the issues of digitization, preservation, and information sharing. And the Open Libraries project is both the result of its work so far and the roadmap for the work that still lies ahead. The best description of this potentially world-changing venture comes directly from the Open Libraries website:
“At the Internet Archive, we believe passionately that access to knowledge is a fundamental human right. Knowledge makes us stronger and more resilient; it provides pathways to education and the means to secure a job. But for many learners, distance, time, cost, or disability pose daunting barriers to the information in physical books. By digitizing books, we unlock them for communities with limited or no access, creating a lifeline to trusted information. The Internet Archive’s Open Libraries project will bring four million books online, through purchase or digitization, while honoring the rights of creators and expanding their online reach. Working with US libraries and organizations serving people with print disabilities, Open Libraries can build the online equivalent of a great, modern public library, providing millions of free digital books to billions of people.”ii
To date, Open Libraries has digitized and made available approximately 2.7 million books through its online lending platform. It has seen over 3 million downloads in 2017 alone and has partnered with over 270 libraries around the globe. Even without results like this, no stretch of the imagination is required to understand why the NFB has chosen to participate. President Riccobono himself explains that, “The Internet Archive’s proposal to digitize four million books would constitute the greatest single increase in accessible materials for the blind since the passage of the Pratt-Smoot Act, which created what is now the NLS, in 1931. It would benefit millions of blind people, both in the United States and around the world.”iii
The purpose of the Library Leaders Forum was to gather together the groups who could benefit the most from this endeavor, as well as provide the most support for it. This included early adopters, partners, and stakeholders as diverse as educators, legal and copyright experts, the print disability community, and librarians of all stripes who were tasked with helping to lay the groundwork for the next phase of Open Libraries. Attendees participated in working groups which focused on curation and collection development, legal topics, service plan and sustainability, and, of course, accessibility. The two-day conference stimulated much discussion and enthusiasm among those present, and many, including the NFB, pledged to continue contributing to the working groups going forward. After all, just as the library in Alexandria was not built in a day, Open Libraries will require time to grow into the accessible, comprehensive information resource that we know it can become.
Even so, there are benefits to be enjoyed today. Most excitingly, the tenBroek Library is now a full partner in the Open Libraries lending platform with over 1,000 digitized titles (regardless of copyright status) available for circulation freely to any user who signs up for an Internet Archive account. Further, a large portion of the materials available from Open Libraries, including those pulled from the NFB’s own collection, are available in text DAISY format for use by those with print disabilities. Unfortunately, at present there are some limitations in how these files can be accessed. Titles which are still subject to copyright have been encrypted with the same key used by the NLS. Therefore, users must have a compatible hardware player which is capable of displaying text DAISY content which has been unlocked for use with NLS materials. This has obvious drawbacks, and the NFB is currently working with the Internet Archive to find a solution that protects copyright holders and provides meaningful access to all members of the print-disabled community, not just those with access to the appropriate hardware. We will keep the members of the Federation apprised as this work develops.
In the end, the Library Leaders Forum of 2017 was only one of many milestones in the shared journey of those organizations devoted to ensuring equal access to information. However, we believe we will reach this destination, and the NFB is proud to make this journey together with our partners and friends from the Internet Archive. We look forward to the adventures ahead.
For more information on the NFB titles now available for digital lending, please visit https://archive.org/details/NationalFederationoftheBlind. Titles can also be found by searching in the tenBroek Library’s Blind Cat database at www.nfb.org/theblindcat. If you have any questions or need assistance accessing these books, please send an email to [email protected].
ii. “Open Libraries: Everyone deserves to learn,” accessed December 6, 2017, http://openlibraries.online/.
iii. “Open Libraries: Accessibility for all,” accessed December 6, 2017, http://openlibraries.online/accessibility/.
by Gary Wunder
On December 1, 2017, a longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind died. Priscilla was a woman who spoke with an accent that left no doubt that she was from Massachusetts, and her bearing and manner of speaking left no doubt that she was a gracious, hard-working, and intelligent human being.
Priscilla joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1973, and ten years later she would become the affiliate president, serving in that role for almost a quarter of a century. She joined the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors in 1987 and served until 2005. She was also the winner of the highest award we have to offer, the Dr. Jacobus tenBroek award, which was presented to her in 2004.
Priscilla served for a number of years on the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee. I remember that she would tell scholarship finalists that as a Girl Scout leader she could cut wood, build a fire, and dig a latrine without breaking a sweat, and she expected no less from any of them. That line always got her a laugh, but there was something serious in it that was communicated to all of us: don’t whine, come up to the line, and live the life of a good scout.
I had many conversations with Priscilla, but one stands out for me. One day, after a lively discussion during a board meeting, she pulled me aside and asked if I was easily offended. I had been active in that board discussion, and I wondered if my youthful exuberance was going to get me a well-deserved reprimand. I said that it wasn’t my nature to take offense and that I was able to take constructive criticism. “Oh no, sweetie. Nothing like that. I have a funny joke that I thought you would appreciate, but it’s one you have to be careful about telling.” I was relieved, thoroughly enjoyed the joke, remember it to this day, but what I really treasure is the memory of this prim and proper lady telling me a joke I would never have ventured to tell her.Priscilla Ferris was as fine a Federationist as I have ever known, and after allowing a few seconds to grieve for her passing, I think she would want all of us to cut some wood, build a fire, dig a latrine, and see that each of our brothers and sisters get to live the lives we want.
by Grace Warn
From the Editor: I am blessed to have an assistant who looks over my work and catches my errors before they make it to our proofreaders—yes, they still find some mistakes. Grace not only checks formatting, works hard on miniatures, and is almost exclusively responsible for initially formatting recipes. She occasionally writes an article, and it is with pleasure that we publish what she has written about her favorite enterprise: Disney. Here is what she says:
It’s been mentioned before that I’m a big Disney person, and part of that includes following several unofficial Disney blogs and Facebook pages. Lately a lot of the stories they’ve had have revolved around the new Pandora attractions in Animal Kingdom or the upcoming Star Wars attractions in Disney Hollywood Studios. But in the middle of October I saw one that made me stop scrolling and immediately click to read it: a Disney Research lab in Zurich had developed the technology to create a tactile fireworks display.
My first thought was, “Of course Disney came up with something like this.” For those who aren’t the fan I am, Disney is one of the world leaders in pyrotechnics. One of the better-known examples of this came out of Disneyland Paris. France had strict noise level limits, and Disney had to create an air-launch system in order to hold their signature nightly fireworks shows. This time, though, there was no legal pressure on Disney. They simply acknowledged that fireworks shows are primarily a visual experience, and they decided to find a way for the blind and visually impaired to better share in the experience. Disney Research put out an announcement about the new interface on October 22, 2017, and the online version also has a link to the full paper. Check it out at https://www.disneyresearch.com/publication/feeling-fireworks/.
How it works is fairly simple: different nozzles and directable water jets on pan-tilt heads spray water onto the backside of a flexible latex screen. The variations in the water’s impact create different shapes on the front, simulating the various visual effects created by the fireworks. The mechanism is modular and designed for easy transport and set up. It rolls on caster wheels and is powered off a standard power cord for ease of use. It sits in a plastic tray to prevent water leakage. The system uses a near-silent, medical-grade controllable pump, while the water hitting the screen makes a quiet drumming sound. The back-projected visual fireworks are visible outdoors at night or in standard light conditions indoors, so sighted family members can enjoy the fireworks display as well. And while it was designed with the blind and visually-impaired in mind, I could see how families with someone who has autism or other sensory processing disorders would also find this a better way to experience a fireworks display.
The paper from Disney Research makes the point that most assistive technology is designed for a functional purpose. That is, these technologies are designed for performing tasks or being practical. The tactile fireworks display is for aesthetic purpose, envisioned to bring all crowd members together to enjoy the experience of feeling fireworks.
Disney did testing with focus groups of blind people to discuss the experience and also did testing with sighted subjects to measure the correspondence between the visual firework effect and the tactile analog. That testing “indicates good correspondence between the tactile fireworks and the visual fireworks they represent. For sighted users the results suggest that sampling the tactile firework show while viewing the physical show in the sky is meaningfully multi-modal. For blind or visually impaired users, the tactile firework show is an analogous and shared experience with sighted users, in accordance with our goal of inclusivity.”
To the best of my knowledge and belief, no one asked Disney to do this. Disney imagineers simply looked at their signature fireworks shows, acknowledged that they were an almost-entirely visual experience, and said, “How do we change that?” And, while it’s not something available in all the parks yet, I’m sure in the relatively near future a child who only knew fireworks as loud bangs and booms that weren’t really entertaining will have the opportunity to be dazzled by the spectacular extravaganzas that nightly light up the skies above Disney parks.
by Joel Zimba
From the Editor: Joel is best-known to many Monitor readers and Federationists as the man who supports the KNFB Reader. Of course his technical talent and his ability to evaluate technology and write about it isn’t limited to one product or even one subset of the field. Here is what he has to say about a new technology meant to bring some of the benefits of vision to those of us who are blind:
We all have expectations of technology. If Apple’s newest smartphone were to arrive on your doorstep requiring a couple of hours of assembly after reading a six-inch-thick manual, the backlash would be enormous. Especially in the last decade, the trend has been toward the actual working of a device giving way to the information or service provided by the gadget in question.
Wearable technology promises to become a part of your daily life; the actual operation will be barely noticeable. The interface of the technology itself will get out of the way and give you what you want when you want it. We are certainly not there yet, but it is coming. My recent experience with a product from OrCam hints of this.
For the last month, I have been using the MyEye 2.0 product from OrCam. This is a wearable device which will perform several services whether on command or automatically. It is a cliché to refer to convenience and ease-of-use as being “at the push of a button.” With MyEye 2.0, the button pushing is no more. Most of the services activate with the wave of a hand or by simply placing an object in view of the MyEye camera. The simple, real world gesture interface of MyEye makes it fun and easy to use. For example, the feature I use most often is to check the time by raising the back of my hand into view of the camera, as though checking a watch.
The OrCam MyEye 2.0 device has a couple of major components. The small head-mounted camera attaches magnetically to a mount which can be attached to your existing pair of glasses or to the glasses which ship with MyEye. A long cord connects the camera module, which also provides speech output to the control unit. This is a box which can clip to a belt or be carried in a bag. The control unit has a few controls including the on/off button and is where the rechargeable batteries are housed. While the camera mounts to the left or right side of your glasses, it is designed with an offset which lets it look directly ahead.
If this setup sounds unwieldy, I would have to agree. After having spent considerable time wearing the MyEye, I just could not get used to having a cable hanging down or tucked behind my ear. Fortunately, if the cord becomes tangled, the camera easily separates from the glasses. It clicks back in place magnetically with a satisfying thunk. Anticipating my dissatisfaction with the form factor of MyEye, the excellent OrCam representatives were eager to show me the newest version of their technology which eliminates the need for the control unit and cable. The next version of MyEye is no more than the camera unit itself and became available in mid-December.
By far, the most useful feature of MyEye has been text reading. Rather than taking a picture of text with a smartphone, you can simply hold a document in front of you and MyEye will begin reading after taking a picture. If edges are not found, Reading can be invoked by pointing toward the text to be read or by pressing a button on the control unit. While it is possible to navigate the text, the results are ephemeral. Re-reading a page is as easy or time-consuming as recognizing the same page again.
I was pleased with the things OrCam would read which were not printed documents. Room numbers worked often. Street signs proved to be surprisingly easy to read as long as there was proper light and the sign could be found in the first place. MyEye did not perform quite so well with text on rounded objects like cans. This shortcoming is made up for by the barcode recognition feature. A vast product database comes with MyEye. While some barcodes are unknown, the names of many common products are announced. Because MyEye is a stand-alone device, meaning it has no network connectivity (more on this later), only the names of products are announced. Preparation instructions or nutrition information cannot be cross-referenced.
For those times when barcodes or text will not suffice, MyEye can be trained to recognize objects. I did this successfully with compact disc cases—yes, I still have some. Spice containers also proved successful. The training process involves taking three pictures of the object at varying distances and with a changed background. While I typically identify such things with alternative methods, the use of MyEye is a plausible approach.
One of the challenges of this emerging technology is finding uses for new functionality. The ability to identify people is just such a case. After training MyEye to identify a few coworkers, I could have their names spoken to me when I looked toward them at a distance of around six feet. While interesting and fun, understanding how such a service would fit into my life is difficult. Perhaps in the future the next generation of facial identification would report the bearing and distance of a desired person in a crowd. With a data connection, I would like to see this be able to identify people without first adding them to MyEye by hand. Knowing if the mayor is still at the far end of the bar seems like a trivial request, but it is nearly impossible to determine independently using current artificial intelligence technology.
Interestingly, MyEye will guess a few details about unidentified people, like gender. While frequently correct, this extrapolation is allegedly made through identifying characteristics such as facial hair. If these details were reported rather than culturally-based stereotypes boiling down to a binary gender model, MyEye might be on to something.
OrCam provides a couple of other services. Currency identification works quite well with MyEye. I found it to be slower than popular smartphone apps but faster and easier than using the bill identifier devices. Color identification, which no device or app does well is just as questionable with MyEye.
This is not intended to be a thorough review of the OrCam product. Rather, I want to discuss the features which make OrCam unique. Many of the services provided by MyEye are available with other devices. OrCam has brought these services together in one package and made a user interface which is unlike any other. I believe the gestures such as pointing to text or holding up one hand to stop reading are groundbreaking and will set the stage for the wearable products of the future. Note that even with both hands occupied, it is possible to read text. Imagine carrying a package and wanting to place it in the proper bin. MyEye could make completing such a simple task much faster.
Where MyEye goes from here depends on who it believes its customer base to be. Unlike previous software releases, version 8, which became available in September of 2017, can be used by the blind. Still, it seems to be geared toward those with low vision or the newly blind. Given the aging population of the Western world, this is a sound marketing choice. As mentioned previously, the newest incarnation of MyEye is a fraction of the size and weight of MyEye 2.0. It contains basic Wi-Fi connectivity, which I hope to see augment its services in the future.
To learn more about MyEye 2.0 and other products from OrCam, go to www.orcam.com.
The National Federation of the Blind Independence Market is the conduit through which our organization distributes our empowering literature to our members, friends, and the general public. As a service we also operate a blindness products store, which sells mostly low-tech items designed to enhance the every-day independence of blind individuals. We introduced some of the products which were newly available from the NFB Independence Market at the 2017 convention and in an earlier Braille Monitor issue. Below we have described the remaining items.
Some folks still appreciate having a separate source for telling the time apart from their smart phone, which may not always be at hand. A Braille watch is especially discrete for checking the time unobtrusively. We have added the Ladies’ Two Tone Montiel Braille Watch to our product offerings. This elegant Swiss-made watch features a gold tone, 3/4 inch face with a chrome bezel and case and a two-tone (silver and gold tone) expansion band. Simply lift the watch crystal, which opens at six o'clock, and touch the hands to tell the time.
We now also carry two more atomic talking watches, which will automatically set the time once the specific time zone has been selected. The time can also be set manually, should the user have trouble receiving the signal. Both watches are black and feature a male voice, in addition to announcing the time and complete date and having an alarm. The Digital Atomic Talking Watch with Top Button and Buckle Band has a digital display and a plastic buckle band. Press the green button on the watch face to hear the time and date announced. The Atomic Talking Watch with Black Face and Expansion Band has a 1-1/8 inch diameter, black face with white hands and numbers and a black case and expansion band. The display on the analog watch face synchronizes to the spoken time announcement when the watch is set. This watch also features an optional hourly announcement. The two setting buttons are recessed, which makes it easy to correctly orient the watch nonvisually.
We also added a couple of talking clocks to our product lineup. The Talking Keychain Clock with Date and Alarm attaches easily to your keyring, belt loop, or handbag with its clip. It announces the time and the date in a male voice and features an alarm. The Loud Talking Desk Clock announces the time in a clear, female voice. The time is also shown on an LCD display with the numbers a little over 1/2-inch tall. Other features include an alarm with snooze option, an hourly announcement, a twelve- or twenty-four-hour cycle, and a high/low volume control.
The Object Locator which includes one pager and three receivers proved rather popular; we sold out at convention. When one of the three buttons on the pager is pressed, the corresponding receiver unit will beep. The pager remote can locate items up to approximately thirty feet away. The three receivers can be turned off to conserve battery life. The pager features a metal keyring, and the receivers can be attached to easily-misplaced items with included loops, lanyards, or double-sided tape.
We also featured a new game called Rummikub. This Rummy-like game uses tiles rather than cards; the tiles are labeled in print and Braille, and we are including the instructions in Braille. The game comes with 106 tiles (two sets of four colors: black, blue, orange, and red, numbered 1 to 13 plus two jokers) and four sturdy racks. Be the first player to eliminate all the tiles from your rack by forming them into sets of runs of sequential numbers of the same color and groups of numbers of the same value. For two to four players, ages eight to adult.
We also started selling a Beeper Box, the replacement unit for the sound source in the beeping Frisbee, as a standalone audible beacon. If you are looking for a continuous sound source, this lightweight, portable beeper box may meet your needs. When turned on, the unit emits three beeps followed by a brief pause before beeping again. The device has many creative uses. Employ it for some mobility training situations, as an accessory for sports and games, or even when bike-riding; your imagination is the limit. You can tuck it into your pocket; attach it to virtually any object with tape, a rubber band, or piece of Velcro.
For more information about the products and literature available from the Independence Market, visit us online at https://nfb.org/independence-market. Our catalog and supplement are available for download as MSWord and BRF files. You may also request a catalog in Braille or in print by contacting us using email at [email protected] or by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time. Our staff will be glad to assist.
by Dick Davis
From the Editor: Dick Davis is the chairperson of the National Federation of the Blind Employment Committee. He has had a long and distinguished career in rehabilitation of the blind and has been a friend, colleague, and partner. Words cannot overstate his optimism about what blind people can do or the active way he has made his beliefs tangible. Here is a wonderful contribution that was written during the Christmas season and can encourage all of us as we work to make 2018 all that it can be:
Over the holidays, as I was reading the Little Golden Book Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to my grandson Lucas, it struck me that I could use Rudolph’s story in my talks because it has everything to do with discrimination and the value of diversity in employment. So here it is, slightly rewritten to serve that purpose:
Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was a differently-abled animal who faced discrimination and social ostracism because of his red nose. As we all know, deer have beautiful shiny black noses. Rudolph’s was shiny too, but it was red—so red that it actually glowed! While this characteristic might have been regarded as beautiful in some societies, it was a visible, ugly deformity in reindeer society. Because of it, Rudolph was mocked, humiliated, and disqualified from participating in reindeer games.
To make things worse, Rudolph fell prey to this discrimination, internalized it, and took responsibility for his misfortune instead of realizing it was a problem of the larger society. Since he was isolated at the North Pole Manufacturing Zone, there was no organization of disabled reindeer to explain this to him. So, when Santa sought applications from reindeer to pull his sleigh, Rudolph hid himself in shame until all the candidates for the job had been selected.
On Christmas Eve a sudden fog arose, no doubt caused by global warming, impeding the progress of Santa and his team. But when Rudolph came out of hiding, Santa immediately realized the practical value of his “disability” and hired him as lead worker for the sleigh team. The other reindeer, realizing that they had foolishly overlooked an individual with the exact skill set to enable them to achieve their mission, welcomed him to the team.Were it not for Rudolph, the team would have failed to achieve their all-important Christmas objective, resulting in global disappointment to all the good little girls and boys. But because of Santa’s wisdom in understanding that Rudolph’s difference could be an asset rather than a limitation, they succeeded. And they memorialized this organizational achievement by creating a song which continues to be sung by children today.
From the Editor: Because the constitution of this organization describes its purpose and outlines the policies and procedures that control this democratically elected organization of the blind, the Braille Monitor periodically reprints this document. Here it is as last amended in 2014:
The name of this organization is the National Federation of the Blind.
The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a vehicle for collective action by the blind of the nation; to function as a mechanism through which the blind and interested sighted persons can come together in local, state, and national meetings to plan and carry out programs to improve the quality of life for the blind; to provide a means of collective action for parents of blind children; to promote the vocational, cultural, and social advancement of the blind; to achieve the integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted; and to take any other action which will improve the overall condition and standard of living of the blind.
Section A. The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of the members of the state affiliates, the members of divisions, and members at large. Members of divisions and members at large shall have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities in the National Federation of the Blind as members of state affiliates.
The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of divisions and shall determine the structure of divisions. The divisions shall, with the approval of the board, adopt constitutions and determine their membership policies. Membership in divisions shall not be conditioned upon membership in state affiliates.
The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of members at large, determine how many classes of such members shall be established, and determine the annual dues to be paid by members of each class.
Section B. Each state or territorial possession of the United States, including the District of Columbia, having an affiliate shall have one vote at the national convention. These organizations shall be referred to as state affiliates.
Section C. State affiliates shall be organizations of the blind controlled by the blind. No organization shall be recognized as an "organization of the blind controlled by the blind" unless at least a majority of its voting members and a majority of the voting members of each of its local chapters are blind.
Section D. The board of directors shall establish procedures for the admission of state affiliates. There shall be only one state affiliate in each state.
Section E. Any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member or affiliate of this organization by a two-thirds vote of the board of directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a national convention. If the action is to be taken by the board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open board meeting or a session of the convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the board made a "good faith effort," the national convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the national convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect.
Section A. The officers of the National Federation of the Blind shall be: (1) president, (2) first vice president, (3) second vice president, (4) secretary, and (5) treasurer. They shall be elected biennially.
Section B. The officers shall be elected by majority vote of the state affiliates present and voting at a national convention.
Section C. The National Federation of the Blind shall have a board of directors, which shall be composed of the five officers and twelve additional members, six of whom shall be elected at the annual convention during even-numbered years and six of whom shall be elected at the annual convention during odd-numbered years. The members of the board of directors shall serve for two-year terms. Biennially, during even-numbered years, at the first meeting of the board of directors following the convention at which officers and board members are elected, the board of directors shall select a chairperson from among its members who shall not be the same person as the President and who shall serve without compensation.
Section D. The board of directors may, in its discretion, create a national advisory board and determine the duties and qualifications of the members of the national advisory board.
Section A. Powers and Duties of the Convention. The convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature of the Federation. As such, it has final authority with respect to all issues of policy. Its decisions shall be made after opportunity has been afforded for full and fair discussion. Delegates and members in attendance may participate in all convention discussions as a matter of right. Any member of the Federation may make or second motions, propose nominations, serve on committees, and is eligible for election to office, except that only blind members may be elected to the national board. Voting and making motions by proxy are prohibited. Consistent with the democratic character of the Federation, convention meetings shall be so conducted as to prevent parliamentary maneuvers which would have the effect of interfering with the expression of the will of the majority on any question, or with the rights of the minority to full and fair presentation of their views. The convention is not merely a gathering of representatives of separate state organizations. It is a meeting of the Federation at the national level in its character as a national organization. Committees of the Federation are committees of the national organization. The nominating committee shall consist of one member from each state affiliate represented at the convention, and each state affiliate shall appoint its member to the committee. From among the members of the committee, the president shall appoint a chairperson.
Section B. Powers and Duties of the Board of Directors. The function of the board of directors as the governing body of the Federation between conventions is to make policies when necessary and not in conflict with the policies adopted by the convention. Policy decisions which can reasonably be postponed until the next meeting of the national convention shall not be made by the board of directors. The board of directors shall serve as a credentials committee. It shall have the power to deal with organizational problems presented to it by any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division; shall decide appeals regarding the validity of elections in local chapters, state affiliates, or divisions; and shall certify the credentials of delegates when questions regarding the validity of such credentials arise. By a two-thirds vote the board may suspend one of its members for violation of a policy of the organization or for other action unbecoming to a member of the Federation. By a two-thirds vote the board may reorganize any local chapter, state affiliate, or division. The board may not suspend one of its own members or reorganize a local chapter, state affiliate, or division except for good cause and after a good-faith effort has been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause" or whether the board made a "good-faith effort," the national convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the national convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect. There shall be a standing subcommittee of the board of directors which shall consist of three members. The committee shall be known as the subcommittee on budget and finance. It shall, whenever it deems necessary, recommend to the board of directors principles of budgeting, accounting procedures, and methods of financing the Federation program; and shall consult with the president on major expenditures.
The board of directors shall meet at the time of each national convention. It shall hold other meetings on the call of the president or on the written request of any five members.
Section C. Powers and Duties of the President. The president is the principal administrative officer of the Federation. In this capacity his or her duties consist of carrying out the policies adopted by the convention; conducting the day-to-day management of the affairs of the Federation; authorizing expenditures from the Federation treasury in accordance with and in implementation of the policies established by the convention; appointing all committees of the Federation except the nominating committee; coordinating all activities of the Federation, including the work of other officers and of committees; hiring, supervising, and dismissing staff members and other employees of the Federation, and determining their numbers and compensation; taking all administrative actions necessary and proper to put into effect the programs and accomplish the purposes of the Federation. The implementation and administration of the interim policies adopted by the board of directors are the responsibility of the president as principal administrative officer of the Federation.
Any organized group desiring to become a state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind shall apply for affiliation by submitting to the president of the National Federation of the Blind a copy of its constitution and a list of the names and addresses of its elected officers. Under procedures to be established by the board of directors, action shall be taken on the application. If the action is affirmative, the National Federation of the Blind shall issue to the organization a charter of affiliation. Upon request of the national president the state affiliate shall provide to the national president the names and addresses of its members. Copies of all amendments to the constitution and/or bylaws of an affiliate shall be sent without delay to the national president. No organization shall be accepted as an affiliate and no organization shall remain an affiliate unless at least a majority of its voting members are blind. The president, vice president (or vice presidents), and at least a majority of the executive committee or board of directors of the state affiliate and of all of its local chapters must be blind. Affiliates must not merely be social organizations but must formulate programs and actively work to promote the economic and social betterment of the blind. Affiliates and their local chapters must comply with the provisions of the constitution of the Federation.
Policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon all affiliates and local chapters, and the affiliate and its local chapters must participate affirmatively in carrying out such policy decisions. The name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof is the property of the National Federation of the Blind; and any affiliate or local chapter of an affiliate which ceases to be part of the National Federation of the Blind (for whatever reason) shall forthwith forfeit the right to use the name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof.
A general convention of the membership of an affiliate or of the elected delegates of the membership must be held and its principal executive officers must be elected at least once every two years. There can be no closed membership. Proxy voting is prohibited in state affiliates and local chapters. Each affiliate must have a written constitution or bylaws setting forth its structure, the authority of its officers, and the basic procedures which it will follow. No publicly contributed funds may be divided among the membership of an affiliate or local chapter on the basis of membership, and (upon request from the national office) an affiliate or local chapter must present an accounting of all of its receipts and expenditures. An affiliate or local chapter must not indulge in attacks upon the officers, board members, leaders, or members of the Federation or upon the organization itself outside of the organization, and must not allow its officers or members to indulge in such attacks. This requirement shall not be interpreted to interfere with the right of an affiliate or local chapter, or its officers or members, to carry on a political campaign inside the Federation for election to office or to achieve policy changes. However, the organization will not sanction or permit deliberate, sustained campaigns of internal organizational destruction by state affiliates, local chapters, or members. No affiliate or local chapter may join or support, or allow its officers or members to join or support, any temporary or permanent organization inside the Federation which has not received the sanction and approval of the Federation.
In the event of dissolution, all assets of the organization shall be given to an organization with similar purposes which has received a 501(c)(3) certification by the Internal Revenue Service.
This constitution may be amended at any regular annual convention of the Federation by an affirmative vote of two-thirds of the state affiliates registered, present, and voting; provided that the proposed amendment shall have been signed by five state affiliates in good standing and that it shall have been presented to the president the day before final action by the convention.
February is the shortest month of the year, but it is marked with a holiday for romance. In honor of Valentine’s Day we’re taking a tour in the archives for some recipes to make for your sweetheart.
Frozen Cranberry Salad
by Mary Jane Fry
A cool and slightly tart start or side for your romantic meal, this recipe first appeared in February 2004. At that time, Mary Jane Fry was secretary of the NFB of Rhode Island.
1 bag or 3 cups fresh cranberries
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup crushed pineapple, drained
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup nuts (personal preference)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 8-ounce tub Cool Whip
Method: Chop cranberries and nuts. Add the sugar and salt to the cranberry nut mixture and mix together. Thoroughly drain the crushed pineapple and add to berry mixture. Let the cream cheese soften at room temperature, and then work the Cool Whip into it until smooth and creamy; then fold into first mixture.
Place salad in a mold or freezer container and freeze. When ready to serve, unmold and slice in serving sizes. May be kept in freezer for months. Serve frozen. It will thaw during the meal and is very festive when served on a lettuce leaf.
Spicy Winter Squash Soup
by Katie Keim
As a light first or main course, this soup will warm your Valentine as much as a hug. It first appeared in February 2006, and was introduced like this:
Katie Keim is secretary of the NFB of Hawaii and a member of the Honolulu Chapter. She enjoys cooking and baking for friends and family. She reports that this recipe is a tradition at Christmas or any cold winter night. Depending on guests’ preferences, this soup can be made very spicy or just very flavorful.
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 large yellow or white onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, chunked
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 2- to 4-inch piece fresh ginger, chunked
1 stalk dried or fresh lemon grass
1 medium winter squash such as butternut, kabocha, acorn, or pumpkin, peeled and deseeded
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste)
2 cups water or vegetable or chicken broth
1 or 2 cans coconut milk, depending on how thick you like your soup
4 kaffir lime leaves, found in Asian markets (extra lemon grass and lime juice can be substituted.)
4 limes cut in wedges
Method: In a heavy saucepan or double boiler, sauté all ingredients except liquids, salt, cayenne pepper, and kaffir lime leaves, and lime wedges for about twenty minutes or until vegetables are hot. Then add two cups liquid, salt, and cayenne pepper. Let simmer until all vegetables are tender. Remove chunks of ginger and the stalk of lemon grass. Blend in food processor or blender or beat with an egg beater until smooth. Add coconut milk and keefer lime leaves. Reheat on low until soup is warm. Serve with fresh lime wedges for guests to squeeze into soup to taste.
Cereal-Crusted Chicken with Curry Cream
by Jack Mendez
Keeping with the theme of spicing up the romantic meal, this recipe first appeared in February 2013 and was introduced this way:
Jack Mendez joined the LCB staff in November 2012 as director of technology. He is a committed Federationist who is eager to share his positive philosophy about blindness with others. Jack loves to cook and experiment with all types of cuisine. He and his fiancée, Maryann Topolewski, will be married in April. Jack made this recipe as part of his meal for eight at LCB when he was a student, and it received rave reviews.
Jack says, “Take this breakfast treat to a new level. You can use any unsweetened cereal, granola, or oats when you want to explore new flavors. (For best results place the cereal in a plastic bag and roll with a rolling pin until coarsely crushed, or give it a quick spin in the food processor.)”
2 cups crushed unsweetened cornflakes cereal
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup orange marmalade
Ingredients for Curry Cream:
1/2 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon curry powder
Pinch of paprika
Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Place the crushed cereal in a shallow dish and set aside. Season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper and brush marmalade over both sides. Add the chicken to the cereal and turn to coat completely. Arrange the chicken pieces on the sprayed cookie sheet and spray the surface of each with cooking spray. Bake until the crust is golden brown and chicken is cooked through, about twenty-five minutes. Meantime in a small bowl whisk together the sour cream, curry powder, and paprika. Serve the chicken with the curry cream spooned over the top or on the side.
by Shirley Barksdale
For a lighter or vegetarian-friendly dish during a romantic evening, check out this recipe from January 2006, with the original introduction:
Shirley Barksdale is the treasurer of the NFB of Georgia. She takes medication for her diabetes and high blood pressure. She is a strict vegetarian and is working to manage her health more effectively.
1 eggplant, peeled and diced
1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup dry bread stuffing mix
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons diced onion
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the eggplant in a medium microwave-safe dish and cook on high (stirring once) in the microwave for five minutes or until tender. Transfer to a nine-by-nine-inch baking dish. Mix in 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, stuffing mix, garlic, onion, and egg. Add Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper. Bake fifteen minutes in the preheated oven. Top with remaining cheese, and continue baking for fifteen minutes until cheese is bubbly and mixture is lightly browned.
by Barbara Pierce
This recipe first appeared in February of 2010. A lighter dessert, and one that will appeal to those less chocolate-oriented, this is how it was originally introduced:
Though it is now sometimes possible to find lemon curd in American supermarkets, most Americans have never experienced this delightfully tart and sweet treat. The English spread it on scones, but it is also delicious over fresh fruit or as a filling for cream puffs or cakes.
3/4 cup sugar or half Splenda
1 tablespoon lemon rind, grated
2 large eggs
2/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 3 large lemons)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
Method: Combine the first three ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring with a whisk. Cook until sugar dissolves and mixture is light in color (about three minutes). Stir in lemon juice and butter; cook for five minutes or until mixture thinly coats the back of a spoon, stirring constantly with a whisk. Cool. Cover and chill; the mixture will thicken as it cools. Yield: 1-1/3 cups. Note: lemon curd can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week. You can easily double the recipe and freeze half of it in a heavy-duty ziplock plastic bag. Thaw in the refrigerator and use within one week of thawing.
by Kathy Jones
Of course, chocolate is something of a traditional treat for Valentine’s Day. This light dessert first appeared in June 2003 and was introduced like this: Kathy Jones is the wife of Tim Jones, the newly elected president of the NFB of North Carolina.
4 cups sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup flour
1 can evaporated milk
2 cups water
2 baked pie shells, not deep-dish
Method: Combine sugar, cocoa, flour, milk, and water. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly until thickened. Pour mixture into prepared crusts and set aside.
Meringue for Pies: Beat four egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add two teaspoons cream of tartar, 1/2 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt as you beat whites into stiff peaks. Spread meringue on cooled pies and bake at 375 degrees just until meringue is as brown as you like it; begin checking after fifteen minutes. Cool on wire rack and then chill in refrigerator until time to serve, or eat warm.
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 provided by Sprint. 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. Or onto both your Android phone and Android tablet.
To learn more about the KNFB Reader Enterprise, visit www.knfbreader.com.
Happy reading from the National Federation of the Blind and Sprint Accessibility!
Elected in Maine:
The 2018 officers for the National Federation of the Blind Greater Portland Chapter are: Leslie Landry, president; Gerard Landry, vice president; Mark Hodgdon, secretary; Randy Bellavance, secretary; John Lee, trustee; Sarah Bellavance, trustee.
Newly Re-Established Prince William County Chapter of the NFB Of Virginia:
On November 18, 2017, after a number of years in hiatus, we re-established the Prince William County Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. A constitution was adopted and officers elected. The board is as follows: president, Marc Canamaso; vice president, Oscar Montiel; secretary, Alysha Hiller; treasurer, Mark Ross; and board members, John Dubois and Andrew Hiller.
Letter-Writing Campaign to Request Accessibility from SiriusXM Radio:
My name is Alexander Kaiser, and I am trying to start a letter-writing campaign to SiriusXM Satellite Radio to convince them to create fully accessible home kit units. Among the features that Sirius does not currently have that I believe they should make available are: audible menus for setup configuration, wi-fi settings, music genre, channel number, and audible voice-driven remote control, and the channel guide and user manual available in Braille for those who would prefer hard copy to electronic. I would also like to encourage SiriusXM Radio to address the inaccessibility of the current tabletop wi-fi and home kit units. The address to write to the company directly is: SiriusXM Radio Inc, Corporate Customer Relations, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020.
If you have any questions about SiriusXM, its current inaccessibility, or my suggestions for how the company could make its units more accessible, you can contact me by email at [email protected], or by phone at (848) 205-0208.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
Seedlings Adds Five New Books to UEB Collection for Older Kids:
Seedlings Braille Books for Children just added five more books to its UEB collection for independent readers. Three are new titles, A to Z Mysteries: The Lucky Lottery, Cam Jansen and the Snowy Day Mystery, and Nancy Drew #15: The Haunted Bridge. Two are popular titles converted from the old Braille code: Superfudge and A to Z Mysteries: Detective Camp.
This brings to seventy-two the number of books Seedlings offers in contracted UEB for older children. Order today at http://www.seedlings.org/browse.php?cat=12.
Seedlings' nearly 300 print-and-Braille books for babies and toddlers and beginning readers are already in UEB. Order at http://www.seedlings.org/order.php.
Learn to Play:
Come check out our new website where we have beginner courses for piano, guitar, ukulele, banjo, bass guitar and more! Our courses and song lessons are taught completely “by ear” so there is no print, video, or Braille to mess with.
The lessons and songs can be purchased in either CD or MP3 format which makes them easy to use and travel with. Come see what we have at www.MusicForTheBlind.com.
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.
Looking to Buy:
My name is Melody Edwards. If anyone has one of these items and no longer has a use for it, please contact me. I want: The Handy Cassette One from APH, books or music on cassette, a double cassette radio, a Sharp talking calculator clock, or a Franklin Language Master Dictionary. Contact Melody Edwards by phone at (336) 893-6295 or by email at [email protected].
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.