Braille Monitor                          August/September 2018

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Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards

presented by James Gashel

Thank you, Mr. President and my Federation family. You know, I was arrested at least twice on the airlines. I'm proud of that. I joined the club with John Paré [laughter].

Well as the President has noted and the agenda has noted, this is the eleventh time that we have presented the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards on the final day of the National Federation of the Blind convention. Aside from the NFB's support—financial and otherwise—these awards are made possible with help from the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. To date we have presented $580,000—[applause] yeah, go ahead and clap, that's a good one—to fifty-three recipients, and we're going to add six new recipients this year. A biography entitled The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story has been written by Rosalind Perlman and is available in print and audio CD format from Amazon, or you can get it free from the NLS program from the Library of Congress. Before you read any other book this year, if you have not read this story, you must do it. That is your required reading for the year.

Jacob Bolotin's story defines what it means to live the life you want. He was born in 1888, and he only lived thirty-six years. But in that thirty-six years he accomplished a whole lot more than most of us are able to accomplish in twice as many years, and he did it with precious little support to fulfill his dream—which he did fulfill—of becoming the first medical doctor blind from birth. [applause] After attending the Illinois School for the Blind, he worked to support himself and his family in Chicago by selling matches, brushes, and typewriters door-to-door. But not only did he support himself and his family; he also saved up enough money to go to medical school. People in the student division, I used to be your president—take note [laughter, cheers]. Bolotin had no rehabilitation—you may say that's an advantage—he had no ADA or Section 504, and more particularly he had no NFB to back him up. In the spirit of Newel Perry, Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, Marc Maurer, and Mark Riccobono, Jacob Bolotin broke down barriers and blazed new trails for us to follow. And in every way that really counts, he was part of our Federation family before we organized the family.

The annual awards program we conduct helps to keep Dr. Bolotin's memory alive. It does so by recognizing exemplary people and projects at work on behalf of the blind. The awards include an amount of money that each recipient gets, but they also include an engraved plaque and medallion especially inscribed for the significance of the event. Here's the text on the plaque:
Presented to
[name of the recipient]
by the National Federation of the Blind
and the Santa Barbara Foundation
July 2018

The medallion, which is suspended above the plaque, has the NFB logo appearing on the obverse side of the medallion and says, "The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award/Celebrating Achievement, Creating Opportunity." Then on the reverse side there's Dr. Jacob Bolotin's engraved bust appearing with this inscription: "Dr. Jacob Bolotin/1888-1924/Celebrating his Life/The Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust." And now, for the 2018 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards:

Carol Begay Green accepting the Bolotin AwardVideo Introduction: Ladies and gentlemen, the National Federation of the Blind is proud to introduce the 2018 recipients of our Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. These six innovators have broken down barriers faced by blind people in innovative ways, changed negative perceptions of blindness and blind people, and pushed past existing boundaries to inspire blind people to achieve new heights. Our two individual winners—who are both blind—are: Carol Begay Green, creator of the Navajo language Braille Code: [applause]

Carol Begay Green: “I developed a Navajo Braille code back in 2015. I developed a plan to teach the Navajo Braille code across the Navajo nation.”

Video Narration: Peggy Chong, also known as the "Blind History Lady":

Peggy Chong accepting the Bolotin AwardPeggy Chong: “Several years ago somebody kind of gave me that little tag because I had been just finding all these little bits of odds and ends information and liked to share it about blind people. I had been doing a genealogy project on my family since about 2003, and then every once in a while on the same page as an article about my great-grandpa would be this article about a blind person. And I would copy it and paste it into another document and save it for researching later. About three years ago, I decided it was time to bring it forward—actually it was about four years ago now—and I began a project called "The Blind History Lady," taking a lot of the stories that I'd been collecting over about thirty-five years and putting them into a format that other people can gain access to. I consider the people that I research my ancestors. I have been collecting their data for a long time. Over the years I have gotten some of my articles in The Minnesota Bulletin or The Iowa History Journal, but to get this acknowledgment from my peers that this is important is, to me, very special. As a genealogist we often talk about how our families are the last to recognize us, so being recognized by my family just a few years after starting this project is very, very special.”

Video Narration: The four initiatives and organizations receiving Bolotin Awards are: Be My Eyes, a free service connecting blind people with sighted volunteers around the world. Cofounder and CEO Christian Erfurt:

Christian Erfurt: “Be My Eyes is a very simple but powerful app enabling blind and visually-impaired users to ask for visual assistance via their smartphone without having to decide who to call with the actual task at hand. What we do is that we match on time zone and language, and establish a video connection to a sighted volunteer somewhere in the world who speaks the same language you do. And since the call is forwarded until answered and we send out the requests in batches, the one who does take the call is someone who has time and resources to take the call and solve whatever challenge you have in front of you. My cofounder and the inventor, Hans Jørgen Wiberg, is visually impaired himself. Early on he came up with the idea of taking the part of calling someone out of the equation and setting up this community of sighted volunteers. One thing is media attention from a concept level, because they identify and understand the concept, but to actually be honored and recognized by the industry and the users is something that means everything to us.”

Video Narration: iBUG Today, blind people training other blind people to use technology. President and CEO Michael McCulloch:

Michael McCulloch accepting the Bolotin AwardMichael McCulloch: “We are a nonprofit organization, and our mission is to promote individual independence, social integration, and educational development. We've had a few people use their skills that they've picked up to gain some employment. We had one member about a year ago who got employed by one of our local Apple stores here in Houston. To see somebody who came in, maybe not even on their own, maybe wanted a smartphone, and we helped him go out and purchase one, select one that would be useful to him, and gain the training on it. There've been several that continued to gain the training so that they themselves could become our mentors and trainers and facilitators. To hear how they became successful and credit us for doing that is a real blessing. We couldn't do it without our volunteers; they're the best part of our organization.”

Video Narration: Ski for Light, connecting blind and sighted in the joy of cross-country skiing. President Marion Elmquist:

Judy Dixon accepts the Bolotin Award on behalf of Ski for LightMarion Elmquist: “Ski for Light was started in the US in 1975 and was brought to the US by a Norwegian immigrant who had been very involved in a similar program in Norway that was started in 1964 by a blind Norwegian entertainer. The whole idea is to share the love of outdoor activities and the sport of cross-country skiing with blind and mobility impaired adults. We have an annual event; each year it moves around the United States, 250-300 people total are there, and that includes blind, visually impaired, mobility impaired cross-country skiers, and volunteer guides. From what I've read of Dr. Bolotin, it sounds like Ski for Light has been successful in continuing his philosophy and his thought that being blind is not a barrier to living a successful and healthy lifestyle. I think it really reinforces that we're doing the right thing.”

Video Narration: The Tactile Map Automated Production, TMAP, of the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired San Francisco. Scott Blanks, senior director of programs:

Scott Blanks accepts the Bolotin AwardScott Blanks: “Within minutes of making a phone call and providing an address, a tactile map can be embossed and either picked up at our San Francisco location (if you're in the local area) or mailed to you within a couple business days. What the TMAPs allow you to do is get your hands literally on a top-down view of a particular neighborhood or section of a city, and it is one of the things that comes closest to giving folks who are able to see sort of that similar experience to a street view. The recognition is wonderful. What I'm really excited about, though, is that we're going to be able to connect so deeply with so many blind people and give them a tool that is simple, it's elegant, it's inexpensive, and it's going to unlock the world for them. This is innovation, and that's what Dr. Bolotin was all about, so carrying on that tradition is something that—I don't think I really have the words to express it, but it is a wonderful honor to be able to receive this award.”

Video Narration: Ladies and gentlemen, please give each of these outstanding innovators a warm welcome as the National Federation of the Blind now proudly presents them with their 2018 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. [At this point in the presentation, the video ends, and the chairman resumes speaking.]

James Gashel: We have six award winners this year, and you've heard from all of them. Isn't this an outstanding class? [applause] Just a word to the winners: we're going to distribute the awards, and we're going to tell you how much money you get. If you'll come up as I call you by name, we'll get that done.

Carol Begay Green, creator of the Navajo Braille code. Here you go, Carol. Here's your Bolotin Award, and congratulations on the $5,000.

Peggy Chong, the Blind History Lady, $5,000.

iBUG, also known as iBUG Today, connecting blind people with iOS and Android technology and teaching them how to use it. Congratulations to Michael McCulloch, president and CEO, who is here to receive the award in the amount of $5,000 on behalf of iBUG Today.

Ski for Light, sharing the love of cross-country skiing, blind and sighted people working together in an atmosphere of equal opportunity and just plain fun. When it comes to skiing, I always like to put in "fun." Congratulations to Judy Dixon, who is here today to receive the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award in the amount of $5,000 on behalf of Ski for Light.

For the next $5,000, the TMAP’s project of the LightHouse for the Blind of San Francisco. Congratulations to Scott Blanks, who is senior director of programs at the LightHouse who is here to accept the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award on behalf of the LightHouse for the Blind of San Francisco.

Now for the final and the highest cash prize award this year: it also comes with the chance to say a few words to the group, and this is being given to Be My Eyes. [applause] If you have an iOS or an Android device and that device has a camera, then you can have a pair of eyes that work: twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, wherever you happen to be in the United States or in 150 foreign countries where over 180 different languages are spoken on the Earth. This is a free service, connecting blind people with sighted volunteers around the world. Congratulations to Hans Jørgen Wiberg, founder of Be My Eyes, who is here to accept [applause] the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award in the amount of $25, 000.

Be My Eyes cofounder Hans Jørgen Wiberg accepts the Bolotin Award on behalf of the companyHans Jørgen Wiberg: “I'm starting to like this better and better. [laughter] Thank you so much for this award. And with the honor—and also the money—it does make a big difference when you are a small startup, so this is super, super important. I am, myself, a member of the Danish Blind Association [applause], so I think you can understand that receiving this award is something super, super special when you are a blind guy from Denmark coming all the way over here and getting this. Thank you so much. I know firsthand how important it is to get a little bit of help sometimes. I also know that I don't want to have this help around all the time because they would drink all my coffee. So with Be My Eyes you can get those twenty seconds of help and then get rid of the helper in a nice way. And we have managed to get 1.5 million people to sign up to be your eyes. If you want to speak to all of them for one minute, it would take you three years, day and night—then you should take a break. But this will give you an understanding of how many good people there are in this world— and they are really willing to help in all those languages. Thank you to President Riccobono for inviting us over here and giving Christian the chance to speak yesterday. It has been a wonderful experience, and I'll be glad to come back next year. Thank you.”

Jim Gashel: Here's your award, Hans. Here's your hat; what's your hurry? [laughter] All of the members of the class of 2018 are now assembled right here around the podium behind me, Mr. President and members of the National Federation of the Blind. This is the distinguished and very deserving class for the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award 2018. Please give them a round of applause. [applause, cheers]

Please visit our Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award webpage at for more details about all of these projects, including the full length of their audio interviews. Thank you to Ron Brown and Mary Ellen Jernigan for providing their enlightened experience and wise guidance in selecting our award winners this year. Mr. President, this completes the report of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee and the presentation of our 2018 awards. Thank you very much.

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