Braille Monitor                          August/September 2019

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The American Action Fund Celebrates a Century of Service for the Blind

by Barbara Loos

Barbara Loos"Time", according to Henry David Thoreau, "is but the stream I go a-fishing in."

When contemplating the century mark of the Action Fund, originally the American Brotherhood for the Blind, and its partnership with the National Federation of the Blind since its founding in 1940, it occurred to me that my tenure on the board is the same, to the month, as the entire life span of our current Federation president, Mark Riccobono. So if you know how old he is, you know how long I've served in this capacity. I was elected president in 1990, the year the Federation turned fifty.

The man I will soon introduce has been fishing in the stream for just a few months less than I have overall, but he has frequented more public areas. While serving as executive director of the Action Fund, he always encouraged us to be on the lookout for ways to expand the reach of our positive approach to blindness. I will share one moment when my line was in the water at just the right spot for a fun catch.

In 2015 I brought a book to one of our meetings and expressed interest in our partnering with a young man from my church, Travis Bossard, and his friend from Seattle, Mick Szydlowski, whose blind cat, Oskar, had become a social media sensation. In November of 2013 Travis had approached me seeking input on a children's book he and Mick were writing in response to the myriad questions Oskar's antics had raised about being blind. They wanted to portray blindness authentically, both to encourage people to adopt blind and disabled pets and to empower blind children.

Many of you are familiar with the resulting 2016 Bolotin Award winning books featuring thrill-seeking Oskar and his homebody pal Klaus: The Search for Bigfoot and Mission to Cataria, both of which became part of the Action Fund's free Braille books program in 2017. The latter received the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children's Twig Book Award that same year. It also traveled into space as the twelfth-ever Story Time from Space book. In April of 2018, astronaut Ricky Arnold read it from the International Space Station's cupola room while orbiting the earth.

Some of you may have Oskar into Orbit and other shirts featuring Braille and tactile designs. Maybe you have made LEGO Oskars or, as one of our Nebraska BELL students did, pretended to be him.

Sadly, Oskar died suddenly on February 5, 2018. Mick and his wife Bethany now have another blind cat, Juno, who we hope will be making her voice heard soon.

This week we are releasing a new Twin Vision book, Pedro and the Octopus, written by Deborah Kent and illustrated by Ann Cunningham. Reminiscent of our Shape of Things series from the 1980s, this one features not only shapes, but also texture and perspective.

On July 8, as part of our promotion, twelve-year-old Nick Oliver from Houston, NFB social media coordinator Karen Anderson, and I had the awesome privilege of touching and being embraced by an unnamed live octopus at the Shark Reef Aquarium. When I relive that wonderous moment, I call her PedroLena, in honor of the siblings in our book.

From Braille books and calendars to refreshable Braille and tactile graphics devices, from free canes and slates to GPS and print access, from driverless vehicles to 3D interactive photos, from cutting wood to grilling steaks, from offering scholarships to shaping laws, our next presenter has been helping us reel in attitude-changing, expectation-raising fare for decades. It is my honor and privilege to introduce to you now, for his perspective on this hundred-year anniversary, my colleague and friend, the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults general counsel, Dr. Marc Maurer.

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