Braille Monitor

Vol. 62, No. 9                                   October 2019

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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        ISSN 0006-8829

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Vol. 62, No. 9                                   October 2019

Illustration: Bells Ringing throughout the Nation

Accessibility and Accountability: Drive-by Lawsuits Leave Pothole-size Problems
by Chris Danielsen

Bringing the Synergy of the Blindness Movement into Concentrated Programs:
Blindness Initiatives at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute
by Anil Lewis

Global Leadership, Responsibility, and Technology: Accessibility as a Core Value at Microsoft
by Brad Smith

Cambiandos Vidas en la Frontera de Tejas
by Norma Crosby, Daniel Martinez, Hilda Hernandez, and Raul Gallegos

Leave a Legacy

The Driverless Revolution: Setting a New Standard for Transportation and Technology
by Kyle Vogt

Autonomous Vehicles: Establishing Strong Policy for America’s Transportation Future
by Dave Schwietert

Led by the Blind: Bringing Authenticity to Services for the Blind and Making Them Relevant to the Lives We Want to Live
by Bryan Bashin

Competing on Terms of Equality and Blending in: Government Service with Federation Style
by Kristen Cox

World’s Number One Card Game for the Win
by Stephanie Cascone

Meagan’s Guide to Stylish Farewells: On Coming to Terms with Vision Loss
by Meagan Houle

The Right of Blind People to Serve on Juries Comes to the Court

Exhibitors’ Showcase Review
by Jessica McLeod and Mark Jones


Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2019 by the National Federation of the Blind

[PHOTO CAPTION: Participants in the Pennsylvania BELL program pose in front of the state capitol building.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: BELL student rides a recumbent bicycle]
[PHOTO CAPTION: A BELL student (center) enjoys using a Perkins Brailler while a BELL teacher and another participant smile with him.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Annie uses nonvisual pouring skills while making play dough.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: A Federation friend holds a young alligator to allow BELL participants to touch the reptile.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: A young man feels the water jet at the pool.]

Bells Ringing throughout the Nation

It is exciting to work with children and to help them find the magic in words and particularly words on paper. Far too many blind children are steered away from Braille by the schools that should be teaching them, so we do what we can to fill the gap.

Not only do we teach Braille, but we give these young people experiences to remember. In Pennsylvania the program took its students to the state capitol, toured each of the chambers, and had a meeting with no less than Governor Tom Wolf. He was interested in them: their names, where they lived, and what they were doing in this program.

But everyday life is also about the little things such as learning to pour liquids and make play dough, and all without worrying about how much or little one can see. Sight has nothing to do with enjoying exploring the water jets of a swimming pool or riding a modified bicycle. Sight must not keep us from touching the untouchable, even when what we want to touch is an alligator. Boise NFB BELL Academy students got hands-on and personal with several reptiles and arachnids, including a tarantula, a giant tortoise, and the alligator pictured. The session with Reptile Adventures ended with seven of the students holding a fifteen-foot albino python!

Learning is about coming upon new things, understanding them, and making them part of the rich tapestry that should be the life of every blind person. This is why we have bell ringers and why we work so hard to make the BELL Academy a success.

Accessibility and Accountability: Drive-by Lawsuits Leave Pothole-size Problems

by Chris Danielsen

From the Editor: Chris Danielsen is the director of public relations for the NFB, and it is easy to see why he has been charged with packaging our message. His writing has the beauty of being both interesting and educational. His passion for what we do, coupled with his sense of trying to understand the other person’s position, make his contributions extraordinary. Here is what he says about click-by lawsuits, an issue discussed in the August-September issue by Eve Hill:

Link. Link. Image. Image. Button. Button. Our screen readers too often utter this and similar gibberish. We all know that there are plenty of inaccessible websites out there, and plenty more that, while not completely inaccessible, have frustrating accessibility barriers. The idea of suing them all probably brings a certain visceral satisfaction to many of us as we pound on our keyboards in exasperation. Some are doing just that. But certain lawsuits hurt our progress. Those are click-by or drive-by lawsuits.

Click-by or drive-by plaintiffs and their lawyers file dozens or hundreds of lawsuits against businesses, municipal governments, and other entities that are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, claiming that their websites are inaccessible.

Recently the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported that a man living in Daytona Beach, Florida, had filed some 130 lawsuits in the state since 2016. Many of the lawsuits were against Florida cities with public documents hosted on their websites that were not accessible to the man, Joel Price, and other blind people who use screen readers. Inaccessible government documents violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and other laws. Acknowledging they had a problem, many of the cities were removing the documents from their sites and then replacing them when the accessibility issues were resolved. Some removed all the public documents at once, while others did it in stages. Thus, the news report began: “If you’re having trouble finding what you’re looking for on your city’s or county’s website, even information you know used to be there, you’re not alone.” The piece went on to report that Mr. Price, when interviewed, claimed that the cities he had sued were among several to which he was considering moving. The message of the article, intended or not, was this: If you can’t find what you need on your city’s website, it’s probably this blind guy’s fault.

Perhaps Mr. Price really was considering a move and couldn’t find the information he needed on the websites of the cities he visited. And the lawsuits did spur many of the cities to action. Some important accessibility victories may therefore have been won. But the article also reported that many of the cities had settled the suits that Mr. Price brought against them for between five and fifteen thousand dollars. It wasn’t clear whether all those cities were remediating the inaccessible documents on their websites or had plans to do so. Given the high number of lawsuits and the cash payouts, Mr. Price may also be what has come to be called a “drive-by” or “click-by” plaintiff.

As a start, these plaintiffs or their lawyers pick a category of business in a geographic area, such as wineries in upstate New York, and then file suits against them in alphabetical order, as if they simply read the listings from the Yellow Pages. Sometimes the legal complaints they file have the exact same allegations about each business, as if the language has simply been repeatedly cut and pasted. Occasionally this results in errors that immediately raise red flags, such as the name of the business not matching the address of the allegedly inaccessible website. In a few cases the lawsuits have been almost entirely without merit, meaning that the websites didn’t contain any accessibility barriers or only very minor ones.

Why is this a problem? For a few reasons. Lawsuits are complex things. When a blind person, or the National Federation of the Blind, alleges that a website is inaccessible, we must be prepared to prove it in court, because the burden of proof is rightly on the person or organization making the allegation. Proving a case involves gathering testimony and evidence, both to show the court that we’re right and to answer any arguments that the website owner might make in its defense. It takes patience, time, and money. If it is not done thoroughly and correctly, the case can be thrown out of court or lost on appeal. In the latter circumstance, an appeals court may issue an opinion that sets a bad precedent. Appellate courts publish their opinions, and lower courts in the same jurisdiction are bound by them. To put it simply, bad cases make bad law.

It is unlikely that plaintiffs and lawyers who file dozens of lawsuits at a time are prepared or have the resources to thoroughly investigate and prove each of them. Their intentions may or may not be good, but their strategy depends on the defendants quickly doing the legal equivalent of crying “uncle”: settling the case to put an end to the matter. Small businesses are likely to want to settle quickly when sued; it may be cheaper for them to pay a plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees than to fix their website, even though accessibility isn’t necessarily expensive. Cynical plaintiffs’ attorneys know this, and so they calculate that if they sue a few dozen businesses and each of those businesses pays a few thousand dollars to make the pesky lawsuit go away, this will add up to real money in their pockets.

What this strategy doesn’t necessarily do is improve the accessibility of the websites that are the subjects of the lawsuits. Some plaintiffs and lawyers may sincerely believe that, when business owners must pay up, they learn their lesson and fix their websites. (One lawyer told me that he was pleased to be able to do so much good with so little effort.) That may even sometimes happen, particularly if the business owner is smart enough to realize that failing to fix the website may bring another lawsuit down the road. Most of the time, though, the approach won’t bring meaningful change.

What click-by lawsuits have been very successful at doing, however, is mobilizing some companies, business groups, and policymakers against the ADA and the rights of people with disabilities. Last year, the National Federation of the Blind fought against the so-called ADA Education and Reform Act, which would have curtailed the ability of disabled plaintiffs to file suit. Our efforts were not enough to stop the bill from passing in the United States House of Representatives. Fortunately, it was never taken up by the Senate, but it’s a sure bet that the coalition who supported it will try again. After a blind California man successfully sued Domino’s Pizza, the company is now asking the United States Supreme Court to rule that the ADA cannot and does not apply to websites. Powerful business lobbying organizations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are lining up behind this argument. If the Supreme Court accepts the case and rules as Domino’s wants, then blind people will be left with little or no legal recourse when we experience online discrimination.

This is where holding ourselves and others accountable comes in. The National Federation of the Blind has no need to make apologies for our legal strategy. We always seek partnership and collaboration with businesses and government entities before pursuing litigation and file suit only when they absolutely refuse to work constructively with us. We have reached several agreements to improve accessibility without ever entering the courthouse with companies including Expedia and Monster.com. Whether or not we use the courts, we reach agreements that are publicly posted to our website and require specific steps toward accessibility and accountability for maintaining it. We have also made clear that we disapprove of plaintiffs and lawyers who fail to do likewise, most recently through Resolution 2019-09 passed at our national convention in Las Vegas.

But, just as we hold ourselves organizationally accountable and call out bad actors who imperil our rights, we must all be individually accountable as well. Each of us can and should be an effective accessibility advocate. In the November 2018 issue of the Braille Monitor, my colleague Karl Belanger wrote an excellent article describing how we can bring accessibility issues to the attention of companies we deal with. We can all follow the steps Karl described whenever we encounter an accessibility barrier. In addition to alerting businesses to accessibility issues, this strategy demonstrates that inaccessibility is real and affects real people. We can also let businesses and the public know that we, as individuals and as members of the organized blind movement, are willing to help them serve all their customers equally.

If persuasion fails, of course, we must be ready to fight; we cannot simply roll over in the face of discrimination. But fighting discrimination doesn’t always mean going to court. We can call out the businesses who are discriminating against us, refuse to do business with them online or off, and tell our friends and families to avoid doing business with them as well. We can publicly commend entities that take accessibility seriously and send business their way. When there are serious and systemic barriers, we can file complaints with the United States Department of Justice.

And yes, if necessary, we can go to court. But we must use our nation’s legal system in a strategic and coordinated way that results in positive and permanent change. Members of the National Federation of the Blind who think that legal action may be necessary and appropriate should inform their affiliate president, who can then coordinate with President Riccobono to ensure that the contemplated action fits in with our legal strategy and priorities.

Finally, to return to the click-by problem, accountability means making sure we aren’t drawn into such litigation. When members are contacted by lawyers or even by other blind people who ask us to sign on as plaintiffs in a lawsuit or series of lawsuits, we should politely decline to do so, even if the person making the request claims to be a member or working on behalf of the Federation. Then inform Valerie Yingling, our national legal program coordinator, of the solicitation. Valerie can be reached at 410-659-9314, extension 2440, or by email at [email protected]. We know that at least one individual, Mr. Juan Carlos Gill, is soliciting participation in serial lawsuits. Mr. Gill attended the national convention and may attend state conventions. We believe that his efforts are representative of the click-by litigation discussed here, and either Valerie Yingling or President Riccobono should be informed when he contacts members or attends state conventions.

There is a long way yet to go in achieving a fully accessible Internet for everyone, and we must continue the effort to get there without giving ammunition to those who want to make it harder or even bring it to a premature end. At the same time, we have made tremendous progress through a careful, coordinated legal strategy, as well as by other means. As in all our efforts, let’s work together with love, hope, and determination to make sure blind people can fully participate in our increasingly digitized society.

To get an overview of the legal actions we are currently taking and to learn how you can help some of those efforts and engage in effective individual advocacy, visit our legal web page at www.nfb.org/legal.

Bringing the Synergy of the Blindness Movement into Concentrated Programs: Blindness Initiatives at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute

by Anil Lewis

From the Editor: Anil is the executive director for blindness initiatives at the Jernigan Institute, and whenever he speaks, it is clear that we are blessed to have him as a part of our movement and as a part of our staff. He is a deep thinker, an effective communicator, and a man I admire for the tremendous ability he has to understand others, meet them where they are, and develop meaningful and lasting relationships. Here is what he said to the 2019 National Convention on the morning of July 10:

Good morning, Federation. Thank you guys for waking up and coming down. Hasn’t this been a wonderful convention? [applause] I have to admit that I was a little afraid that we had gotten so comfortable in Florida that the challenge of a new location would trip us up, but in Federation form and fashion we stepped up, and man, we turn this place out. Thank you guys, and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have.

When I saw the title, bringing synergy, I reflected back on last year’s banquet speech. I had to go back and revisit it to understand what synergy was. So what I learned is that synergy is the interaction and/or cooperation of two or more agents working together to produce a combined effect that is greater than the sum of the separate effects. What? That’s where I went with that! So I thought about this a little bit, and I recognize that that is what we do as an organization. In order to get grounded in really understanding this, I picked one of our programs and realize that yes, synergy is what we do through our movement and our programs.

The Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning [BELL] Academies evidenced in 30+ states and 40+ programs is definitely exemplary of synergy in the blindness movement. This program started with the recognition that we as an organization needed to step up and provide services to our blind students in a way that the current systems are not. If they will not teach them, we will teach them ourselves. [applause] It started as a program in Maryland with Jackie Anderson and all of her team, and then other people added to that program to get where we are now, to the place where we have such nationwide exposure, starting with one program and growing to include so many. Beyond this, the efficacy of what we do has also drawn the attention of funding sources that have allowed us to leverage that as well. Yes, we could do it through our commitment, our volunteer efforts to change the lives of blind people, but it sure does help a lot when we get $100,000 to put in the bank to help some of that programming.

Thank you to Wells Fargo for being a financial partner in our BELL Academies.

I think that what is important to understand is that synergy is not the sum of our separate efforts, but it’s producing an effect that is bigger and broader than that sum. So the different parts are not just additive; they are exponential. We are not talking about 2X, but X squared. When we add to this the advantage of our diversity and continue to work on including more and more people, we can raise this to the third power and the fourth power. Our synergy helps us take one person’s desire and wish, build on the effort of the nation’s blind, and create exponential programs that positively affect blind people.

But this effort requires all of us, not just some of us. We must seek to understand from various perspectives in order to make sure that we can bring individuals with varying perspectives into our organization.

How many of you guys have seen the movie The Help? [applause] I often try to find analogies that help me understand stuff, but it wouldn’t do any good if you didn’t share that same understanding. The Help is a movie about black domestics in the 60s. I should’ve asked permission, but I’m going to put this out there. Ever Lee Hairston, Gary Wunder, and I were sitting around having a conversation about The Help. Ever Lee was saying “Oh, I really just didn’t like the way that the movie was portraying some of these black people. That’s real; that’s her perspective. But, being a little country boy raised in the big city and my mom being a domestic for a significant part of her life, a lot of the scenes in that movie resonated with me and struck as so true with what I saw her experience to be. But the interesting dynamic ends up being two things: Ever Lee and I are both African-American, and we saw it from a different perspective. We saw good and bad in the movie from different lenses. So Ever Lee said that she was very disappointed in the way that black people were portrayed in that movie. Gary Wunder, just being Gary Wunder, added insight that helped me expand my paradigm of this perception: “I was embarrassed and upset by the way they portrayed white people.” [laughter] That hadn’t been my lived experience. So it’s very helpful for us to have those candid conversations, for us to really look at things from different perspectives, and then what we need to do is respect them and value them. [applause] When it’s all said and done, we need to just look at each other and say, “You is smart, you is kind, you is important.” If you don’t get that, you have to watch the movie; I’m sorry.

So as we work on our diversity and inclusion efforts, one thing that’s very important is this: let us not forget that, as we seek to embrace every characteristic of individuals, we don’t stray away from our core of accepting everybody regardless of their vision. [applause] Regardless of their level of sight, they are part of the National Federation of the Blind. Moreover, we must accept them regardless their skill level. [applause] Whether you can make it from here back to your room without touching anything or needing any assistance or whether you need someone to guide you through this, you are still a member of the National Federation of the Blind. [applause] We are not an organization of elitists. But the National Federation of the Blind is an elite organization. We have to be welcoming and accepting to everyone. The foundation of the National Federation of the Blind is what gives us our strength because we are founded on the lived life experiences of blind people. That’s our core. It’s not based on some curriculum that someone passed; it’s not based on some program; it’s based on our everyday lived experiences interacting with the world, and we develop strategies and techniques that allow us to be successful in this world. We know the perils and the pitfalls of blindness, we challenge them, and we overcome them.

We have not just survived; we have thrived. We took what little the world had to offer us, and we made something powerful—the National Federation of the Blind. [applause]

Now you know that I can’t get up on the stage without being authentic to who I am. My grandma raised hogs. You guys are asking yourself, “Where is he going with this?” [laughter] Since my grandma raised hogs, I have had everything on the hog from the rooter to the tooter. That’s a delicious animal; I’m just letting you know. I’m sorry, John Paré, but it is a delicious animal. I’ve had pigs feet and pigtails and pig ears, but see we had that because my grandma raised the hogs. But we didn’t get the good stuff. Very rarely did we get the porkchops and all the pork loin, for that is what we sold. We sold it so we could have money to buy other groceries. We had to use the leftovers, but man my grandma made it delicious. The only thing I couldn’t get into was the chitlins.

I thought I had eaten every part of the pig until I talked with Mrs. Patricia Maurer one day, and she says, “Obviously, then, you’ve had pig cheeks?”

I thought about that and I said, “No, pig feet, pig ears, pigtails, but no pig cheeks—oh, you mean hog jowls. Oh yeah, I’ve had some hog jowls. From the rooter to the tooter, I’ve had it all.”

You know back then those were the dregs, but people like my grandmother, who knew how to cook those things, made people realize that they can be gourmet dishes. Now the pig feet and pigtails and pig ears I used to get are now top dollar when you go to a restaurant. But my grandma was not getting any cut of that. I mean that’s just not right. She started this, opened up this industry, and she’s not getting anything.

I only say all of that to say this: we as an organization have taken what little the world has offered us, and we’ve made something very powerful: the National Federation of the Blind. We need to make sure that our value is respected as we move forward. We need to make sure that the world recognizes that we can enhance and enrich through our participation.

One of the programs we’ve developed to do this is our Blind Users Innovating and Leading Design. As technologies evolve, we recognize that only if we are involved in the design phase can blind people really impact the development so that not only is it accessible for us when it’s over—it’s also better for everyone who uses it, not just blind people. Through our build program we offer support from novices to experts, because many companies out there developing this technology will hire a blind person who’s definitely skilled. God rest her soul, Rachel Olivero could’ve made the most inaccessible thing accessible, but that would leave a person like me unable to use it at all. So we make sure that we give feedback in a way that really represents our selfish desire to see that we can access things but also our altruistic desire because we realize that our participation helps everyone, not just us.

Let me take the time now to thank each and every one of you who signed up for the build program. I know we haven’t pushed a lot of it out, but we have to build the infrastructure first so that we can make sure that as the demand comes, we’re able to meet it and that we keep the demand coming.

Just to show you some examples of this, where are New York and Colorado? [shout outs from both states] So we had a company contact us, and they wanted to test digital lockers. They wanted to make sure that they were accessible for blind people. We’d already demonstrated our expertise in that by working with the Amazon locker system, but in the past they would’ve pulled blind people aside, had them participate in the experience, and said “Thank you very much,” and shook their hands. But because we were able to negotiate and they recognized the value of our participation, we were able to make sure that each and every person who participated in that demonstration received $100 for about forty-five minutes worth of work. I think that’s a pretty good minimum wage, don’t you? [applause]

Now everything won’t bring that degree of value, so I don’t want everybody to sign up thinking wow, I’m about to get paid. But we do want to make sure that our value is recognized and our members are not co-opted. We have more work to do. We have to work on accessible kiosks; we have to work on accessible websites; we have to work on different banking solutions. We definitely have to work on point-of-sale machines and those new virtual customer interfaces like we find at McDonald’s, who launch this nationwide announcement about this flagship location in Manhattan where they are introducing all of this technology and the kiosk where you walk up and make your order. It’s not accessible. Now those of you who know me know that I love myself some Mickey D’s. But right about now, [he sings the McDonald’s theme song] I’m not loving it.” So we must make sure that we’re in this game and we are playing in a way that makes certain that our participation is appreciated.

We must protect our brand. That’s the other piece that’s important for this. This might hurt some people, but I’m just going to put it out there. We have to make sure that our brand is not co-opted. The work that we do needs to bring value back to the National Federation of the Blind. How many of you guys know what the blues are all about? [cheers] Okay, so maybe this will help those who didn’t understand the hogs. The blues is music that is born out of struggle, and as the music moved up north, it turned into the foundation for R&B and rock ‘n roll. But a lot of people don’t realize that the blues is that foundation because the brand got co-opted. Langston Hughes, in a poem around the Harlem Renaissance wrote: “You’ve taken my blues and gone. You mix them up on Broadway, and fix them up in operas, so they don’t even sound like me. Yep, you’ve taken my blues and gone.”

We can’t let anybody take our blues. Our struggle and the success and strategies that we develop as a result of that struggle belong to the National Federation of the Blind. [applause] And we are not going to let people take our blues. But we must be strategic in making sure that that is not the case. We must make sure that our value is recognized. Our National Federation of the Blind training centers, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, the Colorado Center for the Blind, Blind Incorporated, and all of our certified structure discovery centers recognize the benefit of our lived life experiences, have benefited from our struggle, but there are others out there trying to take away our blues. They think that if they add sleep shades and longer canes into their curriculum that they are in NFB training centers. No. We can’t let them take our blues.

I went to a meeting of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, and the work that our Michigan affiliate did with the state VR office there to build autonomous vehicle opportunities for our blind students to learn was phenomenal, and they gave us phenomenal credit in that open forum. However, there was an agency, and I’m sorry that I’m going to call them out, an agency from Idaho that talked about the wonderful work they had been doing with their BELL Program, but they gave no credit to the National Federation of the Blind. They are taking away our blues. Don’t boo them: let’s hug them until they realize that it is safe to say, “We did this with the NFB.”

There is our research that we conduct, and there are individuals who have come here for many years and have taken blind people and have done research and published it. We’ve even had partnerships with individuals with whom we’ve collaborated, and you’re going to hear from them next. One of them will be Wade Goodridge from Utah State, and the other will be the new assistant professor at Illinois State University, the master teacher that we know and love, Natalie Shaheen. Wherever she goes, you know she’s a Federationist, but some of the people we partner with in our research don’t acknowledge us. They are trying to take our blues.

When Brad Smith presented, he talked about Anne Taylor, who we know and love. In his presentation he recognized and acknowledged that she is a member of the National Federation of the Blind, and she says that proudly in every place that she goes. But there are other individuals out there who have built their reputation on the National Federation of the Blind and who have gained the skills and the confidence that they have needed to be successful. When we are talking to them here, they are all about NFB. But when you talk with them outside, they act like they can’t pronounce the letters. They’re trying to take our blues.

Chancey Fleet of New York: I have come to rely lately on Chancey in so many ways. I love her expertise, her knowledge, but most of all I love her frankness. It is very helpful. Chancey is building a significant brand for herself as she’s moving around, but anytime I’ve called on her or have talked with anyone about her, they recognize that she is a member of the National Federation of the Blind. But there are others out there who are using the Federation to build their brand and don’t in any way acknowledge the NFB. They’re trying to take our blues.

Joe Ruffalo said it best when he was reelected to the board: “The best title we have is as members of the National Federation of the Blind.” [applause] As I said last year and Terri Rupp reiterated it, whatever hat we’re wearing, it has to be on our Federation head.

We have to make sure that as we move forward that all of these things are put in place that reflect the value that the Federation has to offer. Internally we have to make sure that the programs we build through the Federation are not just programs of our National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. People shouldn’t say, “Oh, this is what we’re doing at our national office.” These are not just Jernigan Institute programs. They are programs of the National Federation of the Blind. They are programs for each and every one of us, and they represent all of us. And all of us should participate in the development and execution of those programs. That’s what gives us our strength and our power.

Last year I talked about our career mentoring program. I just want you guys to know that that’s going really well. We’re trying to make sure that we maintain the authenticity of our program within the bureaucratic framework, and we’re doing a good job of doing that in Mississippi, Nebraska, and Maryland. We’re doing a lot of work with autonomous vehicles. Back in 2011 under the leadership of Dr. Marc Maurer, our current president Mark Riccobono got to drive independently an automobile on the Daytona International Speedway. That has given us credibility and standing in this space for autonomous vehicles because they recognize that we have the technical expertise and the capacity to not only make the vehicles accessible but to make them better for everyone. We’re addressing the fears that people have about these autonomous vehicles, and even more, we’re putting it in a way that helps them advertise the efficacy of this. You guys may not know this, but with the advent of all of this ridesharing, now there are so many more cars on the road. I think this is very frustrating because they are making it sound like the technology that has allowed us to be more effective is just disrupting their lives. Well that’s just too bad. We too pay taxes to get the roads built; we want to use the roads just like you; stop exercising your degree of privilege in prohibiting us from being able to live the lives that we want.

Luckily we’ve been able to manifest significant partnerships through Lyft and Uber, and most importantly through Lyft at this convention through autonomous vehicle rides, which was awesome. This wasn’t just a demonstration of our collaboration; it was a manifestation of our desire to continue to want to participate and add value.

I’ll add one of the things that we’re doing and that’s inaccessible museum spaces. I want individuals who are interested in being ambassadors as we talk to these museums to reach out to us. We’ve developed a wonderful partnership with John Olson of 3DPhotoWorks to expand accessibility in all multimodal functions. Again, making the museum experience accessible for blind people enriches the experience for everyone.

So you’ve taken my blues and you’ve gone. You’ve mixed them up in Broadway and mixed them up in operas so they don’t even sound like me. Yeah, you’ve taken my blues and gone, but someday someone’s going to stand up for me, sing about me, and write about me. The poem says black, but I’ll add blind and beautiful in the vein of Ever Lee Hairston. But someday someone’s going to stand up for me, going to sing about me, going to write about me—black, blind, beautiful—it’ll be me, I reckon; Yep it’ll be me, but it won’t just be me. It’ll be me working together with 50,000 members of the National Federation of the Blind to combine our efforts to produce an effect that is greater than the sum of our separate effects. Let’s go forth and build the National Federation of the Blind.

Global Leadership, Responsibility and Technology: Accessibility as a Core Value at Microsoft

by Brad Smith

From the Editor: Brad Smith is the president of Microsoft. What he says and does has a significant effect on what a major contender in the field of technology will do. What his company does will help set the tone in an industry in which Microsoft is a major player. Here is what he said about technology built in service to people:

Thank you, Mark. The first thing I want to say is that as president of Microsoft on behalf of the team from Microsoft that is here with me in this room, and more importantly on behalf of the 140,000 people who work in our company across this country and around the world, we are honored to be with you today. Thank you for making room for us. [applause]

As you might expect, I want to say a little bit about technology. Technology is transforming our world. It is changing our future, but I want to talk about technology perhaps from a bit of an unexpected vantage point. I think the best way to understand what technology can do for the future is to learn from the past, and the best way to think about the importance of technology is not to focus on technology first but to think first about people.

When you think about the places that bring people together, the great intersections of the world, Las Vegas is one of them. It’s a little bit of Hollywood, it’s a little bit of Disneyland, it’s a little bit confusing, but it’s downright entertaining. I want to start with another great intersection. Just east of Paris there is a site that attracts 10 million people every year. It’s called Disneyland Paris. If you were to go, you would feel that you were in California or perhaps Orlando where the NFB has often met. But as good as Disneyland is, it’s not the best site in the region. If people would only go a few miles farther east, they would travel through gentle hills, amidst orchards and small vineyards, to a small town, a town of less than three thousand inhabitants. I’ve been there. The town is called Coupvray. As you travel through this town, you come to the end of a small street where there is a small house that is now a museum. It is a house that has stood for more than 200 years. In fact two centuries ago there was a man who lived and worked there. He built the technology products of his day, which happened to be harnesses for horses and carriages. He was a master craftsman. His name was Simon René Braille. As many of you may know, there came a day in 1812 when his three-year-old son went to Simon René’s workshop and pulled out a sharp tool to do what he had seen his father do, use it to cut a piece of leather. But there was an accident that day that changed his life. But because he was a person of unbelievable potential and ability, that young boy, that young man named Louis Braille took what happened in his life and changed the world. [applause]

By the time he was six years old he was in a local school, and by the time he was ten he was the best student in the class. He was such a promising young boy that his father took him on a trip to Paris. They went to Paris where Louis enrolled in what was then known as the Royal Institute for Blind Youth. It was not a very nice building. It was run down, it was dark, it was damp, it was poorly ventilated, and if you think that was bad, the food was even worse.

But just two years later this young promising student had the opportunity to learn from a new director of the Royal Institute, a reformer if you will. He came in, and he saw the potential in his young students. He not only improved the school; he took the students across Paris. He would take groups of a dozen blind students who were holding a rope and led by a sighted teacher. They would go to the Royal Botanical Gardens, and they would be given an opportunity to learn from everything that Paris had to offer. He brought in other people who could teach the students about new opportunities in the world. One was a gentleman named Charles Barbier from the French military. He had developed a new code that French soldiers were using to communicate in darkness at night. The most amazing thing was that it was a thirteen-year-old, Louis Braille, who said that that code could be taken and turned into something even better. It took Louis two years to perfect what we now know as the Braille language. As you all know, it created opportunities for people around the world. It is a story about a person, but it’s also in my view a story about technology. Because that is what the Braille language in many ways was: it was a leap forward in technology, and it was a leap forward that in so many ways illustrated what is to this day, two centuries later, perhaps one of the most fundamental tenets that goes into creating better technology with every type of disability in the world. It is encapsulated in a saying: nothing for us without us. That is what Louis Braille showed. [applause]

Like all great innovators and leaders, Louis Braille created a foundation on which others could stand. So it was almost exactly a century later in Canada that another young boy suffered an accident. He suffered this accident when he was seven years old, and by the time he turned fourteen, like Louis Braille, he too was blind. His name was Jacobus tenBroek. [applause] Like Louis Braille, he recognized that you can lose your sight, but that doesn’t mean that you lose your vision. As you all know, he went on to partner with Dr. Newel Perry and create one of the great movements, not just in this country but for the world, the movement that is reflected in this room, the movement that the world now knows as the National Federation of the Blind. [applause]

This movement too would connect with the world of technology. It was almost a half-century ago that Ray Kurzweil partnered with the National Federation of the Blind and created the first reading machine for the blind. It was based on that that people were inspired to go further and recognize that if there is a fundamental right in every democracy in the world, it is the right to vote and the right to make that right real for people who are blind. It took the creation of accessible voting machines. So that is what the NFB helped pioneer. [applause]

Of course it was the NFB’s work that led an expansion of this into the world of digital publishing and the need to promote literacy for the blind around the world in what is now known as the Marrakesh Treaty, a treaty that moves these rights forward for every community around the world. [applause]

It is amazing to see how far the world has come over two centuries, and yet it is equally amazing to think about how far we still have to go. Of course I never had the opportunity to meet Louis Braille or to meet Jacobus tenBroek. But just as tenBroek built on the foundation created by Braille, there are new leaders, new heroes, and heroines who are adding to and taking this foundation even higher. My personal favorite is someone I have had the opportunity to meet and get to know. Her name is Anne Taylor. [cheers] As many of you know, Anne started as a student at the Kentucky School for the Blind. Anne, in her day, had an aspiration, an aspiration that certainly speaks to all of us every day, all of us who work at Microsoft. Anne said that she wanted to learn computer science. It was not offered at the Kentucky School for the Blind, but it was offered at the public school nearby. So for part of the day Anne would go there, and she said that they had never worked with someone like her. They had never worked with a student who was blind. But as Anne is prone to do with so many people, she quickly won them over, and like Louis Braille she became the best student in the class.

Anne, as many of you know, would go on to college, would pursue this career, building on computer science, and ultimately recognize that it would become a career that would take her into this movement. It would bring her to the National Federation of the Blind. For twelve years Anne led the team here at the NFB as the director of access technology, promoting across the tech sector the need for companies like ours to better understand and better serve this community.

Ultimately there came a day when Anne’s phone rang, and on the other end was Microsoft’s head of accessibility, our chief accessibility officer, a woman who is here today, Jenny Lay-Flurrie. [applause] Like all good leaders, Jenny recognized talent and sought to recruit Anne. Thankfully, from my perspective, she succeeded. Her message to Anne was, “You’ve changed technology from the outside. Come join us and see what you can do on the inside.” Every day I am grateful that Anne took that offer.

There have been good years for Microsoft when it comes to accessibility, and there have been not-so-good years. There were even years when we took areas where we were ahead and fell behind. But over the course of this decade, in part based on feedback from Mark Riccobono and the incredible leadership he has provided in talking to companies like ours, in part listening to more of you, and in part based on the inside leadership of people like Anne, every year we have focused on getting better. One of the things I always tried to remind every product team at Microsoft is that this is a big community. As you all know, there are 300 million people in the world who are blind. Think about this for a moment. Think about the almost 3,300 people who are here, and yet each one of you, in an important way, is a voice for 100,000 more. It is a voice that, as you heard, needs to be heard, but it’s a voice that needs to be more than heard. It’s a voice that we need to listen to. [applause]

As I then remind our product team on so many days, there is no group more directly impacted by the next version of our product than the community of people who are blind. If we do our job well, we create new opportunities for people who are blind, and if we do our job poorly, we make people’s lives harder. That is what we always need to remember in every company that creates technology today. [applause]

I will say that I would like to think we are getting better. I hope you see this. I hope that you feel this when you use our products. Certainly with Windows we’ve worked to improve the screen-reading technology. We now have a fully functioning built-in free screen reader with a new QuickStart feature to help people learn more quickly how to put this to work. We are investing in new low-vision tools, things like bigger and brighter points, and smoother magnifiers. We are partnering with our peers who also do important work and in many ways great work across the industry. One sees this reflected in new advances like the Braille HID standard with Apple. We recognize that we are not a company that can make progress alone. We need to contribute every day to an incredibly powerful ecosystem of competitors and partners and companies old and new, large and small. We need to keep taking this into our other products as we’re doing with Office in our accessibility checker. So too are we doing this with artificial intelligence, using the power of this new technology in embedded ways with suggestions to make processes quicker and more accessible for people with all types of disabilities. We need to look beyond the features and the products that people use today and fundamentally ask ourselves the same question that Louis Braille asked himself: How can we imagine new technology that can fundamentally improve people’s lives in ways that they haven’t yet experienced?

There are a number of initiatives taking place across the Microsoft campus near Seattle. My personal favorite is one that is called Seeing AI. [applause] As many of you obviously know, with the power of a camera and a phone, and the ability of that phone to connect with the cloud, and the ability of technology to harness artificial intelligence, every phone can become a powerful new tool to help people navigate their lives each and every day. Like the innovation that was reflected in Louis Braille’s work two centuries ago, my favorite image of the development of that product is the photograph of Anne Taylor, who was part of the original team who helped put it together and helped figure out how to make that product work. She walked around Microsoft with a smart phone attached with duct tape to her forehead. [laughter] People sometimes have to do amazing things to move technology forward.

That, in part, is our future. But it is not a future of technology alone. It’s a future of partnerships—new partnerships that we’re forging through a new program called AI for Accessibility. This program is now investing millions of dollars a year to put technology into the hands of groups around the world, nonprofits and the like, who can then use our resources and technical expertise to help discover their own advances. It will take the kinds of partnerships that we’ve been so fortunate to have the opportunity to forge with Mark and the leadership of the NFB to stand up for the needs of people with disabilities across this country. We’ve done that in Washington, DC; we’ve done that in state capitols; and we’re doing it at Microsoft itself as well as with our suppliers. That’s why we as a company first made a commitment to ourselves, for our own employees, and last week we expanded that commitment to reach the employees of our suppliers as well. What we said when we looked at the people and the jobs at Microsoft and our suppliers was really straightforward. We are saying now to our suppliers: “If you want to work with us, you have to pay people the minimum wage.” [applause]

So as I think about the future, I think about how all these strands can come together. It is a future where technology can take us forward. It is a future where technology companies need to put people who are blind and people who have other disabilities at the center of everything we do. Because if we serve this community well, frankly we’re going to serve every community well. [applause] It is a future that will require that Mark and all of you continue to do what you do so well: use your voice, raise your voice, call our Disability Answer Desk; operators are standing by. We have received over a million calls since 2012. There are days when your feedback is tough; there are days when you share with us your disappointments. But keep doing it. It is what makes us better. [applause]

If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that this is a community that has important things to say. You need to be heard, and we need to listen. [applause]

So in conclusion I would say this: we all come together in Las Vegas in 2019 in a time that often feels pretty tumultuous. There are many days in our country when it feels that people disagree with each other more than they agree. There are even days when it feels that people are shouting at each other more than listening to each other. But we need to have the vision to pursue a brighter future. So many times I believe the best way to imagine a brighter future is to think about the journey that we must continue to pursue that will build on the best journeys of the past. When I think about that, I think about the journey that Louis Braille put all of us on two centuries ago. I think about the journey that a century ago the NFB put us all on together. I think about the Anne Taylor’s of Microsoft and across the tech sector in the NFB, and I say there is not only cause for hope, there is reason for optimism. Let us build on this ability to work together and let us do what it takes to stay committed to this journey and build on the shoulders of those who have come before us. Thank you very much. [applause]

Cambiando Vidas en la Frontera de Tejas

by Norma Crosby, Daniel Martinez, Raul Gallegos, and Hilda Hernandez

From the Editor: Those of you who read the convention roundup in the August-September issue will know the English translation of this title. Those of you who know Spanish as your native language are probably glad to see a title written in a language you love. Those who don’t know the meaning of the title are encouraged to read, for the answer is found early on in this article.

Mark Riccobono introduced this exciting presentation with these words: “Here to lead us in this panel is a woman who does not need much introduction because she has been a mentor to many in this movement. Her leadership is invaluable in our organization, and I’m always inspired by what she’s trying to do to build connections within our organization. In her state she’s been empowering others to explore ways to bring and build connections to people in the state of Texas who need our philosophy but who have not always been well-connected to us. So I’m really thankful this morning that we have her and the other team of presenters to talk about bringing hope, opportunity, and the family of the National Federation of the Blind to so many, and I hope that it’s an example of what we can do in all of our affiliates. As you know, what we do often bubbles up, is tested, and refined on the local level. Here to talk to us about changing lives on the Texas border is Norma Crosby.”

Norma Crosby: Good morning, you guys. I’ve got to tell you before I start my presentation that, when you really care what someone thinks about what you’re going to say, it’s really nerve-wracking. So I’m as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof because I really care about my Federation family.

So what comes to mind when you think of Texas? Do you maybe think of people walking around in Wranglers and cowboy hats, pretending that they’re real cowboys? Or maybe you think of oil men who have their tailored suits and their shiny cowboy boots. [shouts from the crowd, Norma laughs] Someone said Willie [Nelson]. Those things are definitely a part of what Texas is, but they aren’t all that Texas is. Let me show you what I mean by using the home of our 2020 Convention as an example. [cheers] Houston is certainly full of oil men, and they certainly strut around town like they own the place. (Which they kind of do.) However, you will also find a vibrant Latino community [cheers] and a dynamic African-American community, but our diversity doesn’t stop there. Our LGBTQ population contributes significantly to what Houston is and what it aspires to become. And we respect all faith traditions. We are a melting pot, and so is Texas. The National Federation of the Blind of Texas is very much the same. Our members come from all diverse backgrounds, and as a result we continue to develop programs that serve both our current members and the members we hope to attract by making them feel included.

Today I’ve been tasked with talking about one aspect of what we do in Texas in terms of diversity and inclusion. But as you’ve probably noticed if you heard my presentation during the board meeting, I’m not always good at staying on task. I’m going to veer off-topic a bit in order to tell you about a couple of other things to promote inclusion.

Our NFB-NEWSLINE program is very dynamic. We are constantly adding content to our local information channel, and this year we’ve added a Spanish-language content manager, Ana Marquez. Ana is working to translate material that’s been available to our subscribers in English so that we can make it available to our subscribers who speak Spanish. Liz Wisecarver and her team do a phenomenal job of making sure to provide access to this Federation program to as many people as we possibly can.

We’re also working to make our mentoring program as diverse as possible, and we’ve already made significant strides in that area. Most of our program participants come from minority communities, and so do many of our mentors.

Because we’re making efforts at reaching the Latino community in particular, we have just asked Rosy Carranza to become a part of our effort at inclusion. Rosy will be helping us to communicate effectively with parents, many of whom are a little apprehensive about allowing their children to participate in programs like ours. We’re very excited to be working with Rosy, and we continue to work with Mika Baugh from Indiana. She’s been helping us for the past couple of years in project planning, and so not only do we have program participants from diverse backgrounds, but we also try to reach out to our Federation family to get help wherever we can to make our programs work more effectively. We couldn’t do it without the wonderful leadership from our other affiliates, and when we see talented members of your affiliate, we won’t hesitate to borrow them from you if you don’t mind. So thank you so much for sharing with us. [applause]

Now let me talk about what President Riccobono actually asked me to talk about, which is our Cambiando Vidas en la Frontera de Tejas, [cheers] Changing Lives on the Texas Border. About a year ago members of our affiliate’s committee on diversity and inclusion came to me and said, “Hey, we really think it’s time for us to expand our community outreach efforts to encompass the Latino community more.” I absolutely agreed with them in concept, but I wasn’t really sure exactly how I could support what they wanted to do. Luckily though they had that under control. They said, “Look, we already have plans, we just need you to figure out how to pay for everything. [laughter] You can do that, right?”

Well, challenge accepted. I let our team run, and they worked with other Federationists and leaders from METAS [Mentoring, Engaging, and Teaching All Students] such as Conchita Hernandez and Garrick Scott. They set about developing a program that would allow us to reach out to a community that is sometimes a little reluctant about coming out of the shadows.

In the spring of 2018 we undertook our Cambiando Vidas on the United States side of the border, and then in the fall we reached across the border to host our second program in Matamoros, Mexico. [applause] We not only served blind people, but we included their families so that they could begin to understand about the high expectations we would be teaching their blind family members. Our team was spectacular. Everyone worked tirelessly for months to make these weekend-long programs possible, and all I had to do was accept the praise that really belonged to our instructors and to everyone who offered support during the process.

Today, three members of a spectacular team of instructors are going to give you a glimpse into what we worked so hard to create. Here are Daniel Martinez, Hilda Hernandez, and Raul Gallegos.

Daniel MartinezDaniel Martinez: Hello, my family. I’m Daniel Martinez. We just heard from Norma Crosby. I can tell you I’ve eaten Mexican food with her and partied with her; she’s amazing. She’s opened her heart, not only to the Hispanic community, but we’ve seen it in the work that she has allowed us to do. In our mentoring program—which is a program that lives in my heart because that’s how I started in the Federation—I now see more diversity than ever.

Norma trusts me with the diversity and inclusion committee along with José Marquez, the co-chair of that committee. We’ve developed a strong core group of mentors, among them Hilda Rolando Hernandez, José and Ana Marquez, and Irma Pyka. [applause]

Last year at our 2018 Convention we had a Spanish agenda, we had volunteers interpreting into Spanish the entire convention, just like we’re doing here—thank you to all the volunteers who are taking the time to interpret every word that we say on this microphone into Spanish. We also held a Hispanic seminar which gave us a lot of insight into what our community needs. From that seminar we concluded that we needed to provide resources and information to our community. We talked about doing a podcast in Spanish. So we recorded the first podcasts, and then we shared them in January with Norma, and we talked about our proposal. Before she could give us a yes or a no, we were showing her the recordings of our podcasts. Now Cambiando Vidas is an amazing program. I had the opportunity to go to Guadalajara, Mexico, in November to a school for the blind. There we did evaluations, we talked with the parents, we talked with the children, with the volunteers, and we realized they need services. Later this month, from the 26 to the 28 of July, Norma, Irma Pyka, and myself are going to travel to Guadalajara to present information and give resources that community needs. [applause]

In the Cambiando Vidas programs we provide programs that you’re familiar with: we see them in the BELL Academies, for example. We teach Braille literacy, adaptive technology, nonvisual skills, travel skills, and one important component is the integration of the family into our rehabilitation program.

And now I would like to present a friend of mine, a mentor in Cambiando Vidas and in the NFB of Texas, Hilda Hernandez, who is going to talk about the family in our rehabilitation. Thank you very much. [applause]

Hilda HernandezHilda Hernandez: Good morning. I have the pleasure of coming to speak to you about an important role the family plays in our rehabilitation, especially in the Hispanic community where it’s so difficult to let go, especially whenever a member of the family has a disability. I worked with the family members of the participants throughout the training weekend of Cambiando Vidas. And believe me, it was not easy. Because during the training that I give to the family members, I talk about awareness, but I also talk a lot about letting them go. It’s very difficult for them to let go, but once they learn how we are able to learn and to become independent, that letting go is a lot easier.

Throughout the weekend I have the family members explore their emotions and their own fears, but I also talk to them and say that they need to let go of their own fears so that their family member can be successful. I emphasize the importance of thinking about the future and what is going to happen when they are not there to continue supporting them. That is what opens the family members’ eyes. They want for their family member to have the tools and the independence to be able to succeed. [applause]

I thank the NFB for giving me those tools and that encouragement when I was sixteen years old when I started participating in conventions and with the students. Throughout the training that I lived with the NFB and the members who supported me, I was able to explain all of that to my family. Thanks to the NFB, now I’m able to explain this message to the family members of my Hispanic community. Thank you for having me. [applause] And I am sorry, but now I would like to introduce to you a bilingual technology instructor who is also sharing this message with his students, Raul Gallegos:

Raul GallegosRaul Gallegos: Hello to my Federation family. [cheers] As a technology instructor, I often get asked a lot of questions, some of them simple questions that I can answer in one second; others I have to do a little research. I have to say that some of the best students I have are youth, because we cannot have seniors without having adults first; we can’t have adults without having teenagers first. But even before that those teenagers are children who are like sponges. So we have our BELL program. [applause, cheers] Everyone who speaks English knows that BELL is B-E-L-L. However, if you say “bel” in Spanish, typically that’s just one L, so unless you’re spelling my last name, you’re not going to think of two Ls in the word BELL. So I had a student say, “Que es ‘BELL’?” (What is BELL?) And so I said, “Well, it’s an acronym,” and before I could tell him what that acronym was he said, “Braille es lindo.” But we often say in English, “Braille is beautiful,” do we not? [applause]

One of the questions I ask my students, especially the younger ones, is what is technology? And children being children, I’ll often get answers like the computer, the tablet, the TV device. Nobody thinks that an abacus, a pencil, or a sketchpad is a form of technology. However, I encompass their learning by using all forms of technology, from the “boring low-tech” as some of my children would call it to the cool high-tech like the notetakers and readers and whatnot. One of my best experiences—we’re not supposed to have favorites as teachers, but I have to say, something that really stands out—through the use of a device like the Sensational BlackBoard or the Sketchpad, I was able to show one of my BELL students, who only spoke Spanish, and he would often hear people talk about the sunset, but he had no idea what people were talking about. We were able to draw together a house, a little lawn, and the sun up above in the corner with little rays coming off of it. I explained to him how the sun travels—well for us science-techy people really it’s the Earth traveling, but that’s okay. I explained to him how the sun moves from our perspective from one corner to the other, and I explained to him what a sunset was, all by using tactile forms of teaching. And this BELL student loved it. [applause] Later on as we practiced with a portable book reader, he got to read a book, and he got to choose what book he wanted to listen to, and it was a science book—I think maybe he might be an astronaut one of these days. [applause]

The students that we have typically are going to be Spanish speakers, English speakers, or even speak other languages, different groups. It just shows how diverse we are, and how much we want to share our information because we want these children to learn the right way how to be a very successful blind person. They are our next generation. Thank you. [applause, cheers]

Norma Crosby: They keep moving this microphone up. [laughter] Thanks Danny, Raul, and Hilda. Programs like these are now in our DNA, and thanks to the hard work of this team of leaders, we plan to hold our next program in Texas this August, and we’re planning to return to Matamoras between Thanksgiving and Christmas of this year. It’s our goal to make these annual events so that we continue to partner with our Latino family to ensure that they gain the skills they need to live the lives they want. [applause] The National Federation of the Blind of Texas celebrates diversity. We want to include any blind person who wishes to be a part of our family. We don’t care where you come from. We don’t care about the color of your skin. We don’t care who you love or what faith tradition you follow. [cheers] We believe that if we work together with love, hope, and determination, we can turn our dreams of including everyone into reality. Thank you very much. [cheers, applause]

Leave a Legacy

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:

Plan to Leave a Legacy

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.

Invest in Opportunity

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 2018 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.

Vehicle Donation Program

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 Donation

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.

Pre-Authorized Contribution

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.

The Driverless Revolution: Setting a New Standard for Transportation and Technology

by Kyle Vogt

From the Editor: Mark Riccobono introduced this presenter with these enthusiastic words: “I’m very excited about this presentation. We invited this gentleman last year, but he declined—rightfully so, his wife had just had a baby, so he should have declined. He made it a priority to be here this year. We really appreciate that. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to first meet him right here in this hotel, as a matter of fact, in January at the Consumer Electronics Show when we were one of the founding partners to launch the PAVE Coalition, which is an effort to promote the opportunities that will come from driverless vehicles. This next gentleman is an innovator and a visionary in this space, and we’re proud that we’ve had the opportunity to get to know him in our efforts to make sure that autonomous vehicles are accessible to blind people from day one. He’s a relatively new and growing partner with the National Federation of the Blind. We’re happy he could make it this year. He’s the president and chief technology officer of Cruise Automation, Kyle Vogt”:

Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you, President Riccobono, and thank you to the National Federation of the Blind for having me. Congratulations on another successful conference. This is a really impressive turnout. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today, and I’m humbled by the remarkable work you do. I’m going to tell you a little bit about the work we do.

As Mark said, my name is Kyle Vogt. I’m the cofounder, president, and CTO of Cruise, which is a company based in San Francisco working on self-driving cars. We have about 1,500 people, and we partner with General Motors to manufacture and deploy our vehicles. We’re working every day to improve roadway safety. We think self-driving cars can be safer than humans ever could be and also can make transportation more accessible by bringing autonomous vehicles to life.

Building and deploying autonomous vehicles—we like to think of it as this generation’s Space Race. The technology challenge is immense; there’s been nothing like it since the Apollo Program. If you think about what we’re trying to do here, we’re trying to make an artificial intelligence system that is better than humans at one of the most complicated and confusing tasks that we do on a regular basis—driving—in some cases in very complex urban environments. We’ve seen computers beat humans at things like chess, which is a very structured and straightforward problem without a lot of complexity. We’ve seen computers beat people at video games and other things. But never has a computer system been better—or in this case, safer—than a human at a task as complicated and unpredictable as driving out on public roads where there are other drivers doing things: pedestrians, cyclists, and all of it can come together and create a very chaotic scene.

The stakes for what we are doing are enormous. Beyond just safety we want to bring accessibility to seniors, people with any kind of disability, and all of our vehicles are electric, so we want to make the air in our cities cleaner as well. To us the vehicle of the future shouldn’t be built like the vehicles of the past. [applause]

Like the Apollo Program in the 1960s, today’s Space Race (if you want to call it that) is being led by the private sector and not government. The industry is driving a technology revolution with huge impacts, and that makes the work that we’re doing together working with the NFB extremely important. Since the government is not pushing, this is being led by private companies, and we’ve got to work together and fight to make sure that this technology is actually available.

Our mission, simply put, is to build the most advanced self-driving vehicles to safely connect people to the places, things, and experiences they care about. This sounds like sort of a simple mission, but it’s not simple to pull off. People, of course, are at the center of that, and I think that that’s pretty important. Because every year 40,000 Americans lose their lives on the road, and despite all the improvements we’ve been making in vehicle technology and safety technology, that number is going up, and that might be because people are using Instagram and Snapchat and doing all these other things when they should be driving. The vast majority of those accidents that lead to all those fatalities are caused by human error: 95 percent of them. So that means your car is not breaking down; that’s people doing dumb things behind the wheel, and we think that’s an opportunity where we can improve. That includes drunk driving, distracted driving, drowsy driving, emotional driving—any kind of driving that’s not the right kind of driving.

We’re sort of complacent with this reality today because there’s not a lot of opportunities other than using a car to get where you’re going in many cases. So we’re sort of comfortable with this reality that’s pretty barbaric if you think about it in terms of how dangerous driving can be. AVs [autonomous vehicles] have a significant potential to address this, especially given that 95 percent of the issues are caused by humans, because the autonomous vehicles don’t get tired, they don’t drink and drive, and they never get distracted by text messages.

So today it’s dangerous to be inside a car, and it’s dangerous to be outside a car, and in San Francisco where we’re headquartered, pedestrian fatalities have increased over the last several years. So it’s risky to be a pedestrian in San Francisco today, but it could be extremely dangerous to be a blind pedestrian in San Francisco today. I think we have a moral imperative as a society to do better, to make our streets safer for everyone, and that’s what we’re working on. That’s why I started this company, and that’s why I get up every morning thinking about how to make this happen sooner and faster and to make it more accessible to more people as quickly as we can.

If you look at the vehicles we’re building—again, going back to that Apollo Program analogy—these are pretty complicated, pretty impressive machines. They’ve got sensors that are always on: laser range finders, radars, cameras—all this pretty interesting technology that’s never been put on a car before, and together these sensors create a near-perfect 3D view of what’s happening around the car: where all the people are, where all the bikes are, where the road is, the lane markers on all of those things. So that car is computing a safe trajectory hundreds of times per second. Again, it’s doing that without ever getting distracted or ever taking a break or hopefully ever making a mistake. So even if you don’t see one of our vehicles with all of these sensors, odds are it sees you, and it’s trying to do the safe thing near you.

We’re working on this technology every day, and we want to put it on the road first in the form of a self-driving rideshare service. I know from talking to several of you that ridesharing has been game-changing in terms of accessibility and giving you back the freedom to move around when you want to. We’re going to start there by deploying vehicles like this as opposed to selling cars to individuals because this has real benefits to us. When we have a fleet of vehicles that are owned and managed, we can make sure that they’re properly maintained at all times, they’re functioning as designed, and that if one car learns something or discovers a construction zone or an accident or something, it can share that information with all the other vehicles on the road. This is something that human drivers can’t really do today because you’re busy driving. You can’t really call all the other drivers on the road and tell them what’s happening. I think that’s one of the ways that AVs are going to start maybe slightly safer than humans, and as time goes on get much, much safer. There’s no reason to me that this technology has to top out at human performance. I think down the road we can make cars that are one hundred times or one thousand times safer than human drivers are today. [applause]

This approach also allows broader consumer interaction with the technology. We’re working to create the safe, advanced vehicle, and we want it to be available to as many people as possible and not just the elite. So we’re committed to deploying these vehicles with what is called level four autonomous technology, which means it is fully autonomous within an area, so think of maybe a certain city, city geofence or something. The occupant in that vehicle never has to take control of the vehicle. And that’s really important today. It’s different than cruise control or a driver-assist feature. This means that you get in the car, and you don’t have to touch it—that’s a really big deal. It means that if you can’t get a driver’s license or you have a hard time getting a driver’s license, that’s not a problem. If your job never involves taking control of the vehicle and never involves driving the car, you shouldn’t really need a driver’s license. I don’t think anyone should need a driver’s license in the future. But you should have the freedom to go wherever you want to go, whenever you want to go, and that’s what we’re working on.

As I mentioned before, all of our vehicles are fully electric and zero-emission. We’re committed to being good stewards of the environment and want to democratize access to clean, safe, and accessible transportation and make sure the air in our cities stays clean as our population continues to grow.

Ridesharing services have already improved mobility for people with disabilities—we know that, we love that—and we believe that autonomous vehicles can take it to the next level. If you think about it, when you have a rideshare service, you’re still paying for another human being to spend their time sitting in that vehicle driving around, so that’s going to have a cost associated with it. When you take that human being out of the car and replace it with a computer system, we can drop the cost, which makes that transportation more accessible to more people. [applause] It’s also consistent; you can skip over the confusing or non-intuitive interactions with the rideshare drivers—which despite their best intentions can really vary from person to person. That consistent, reliable transportation service is something that we dream of and want to bring to life with this technology. That’s related to our culture of inclusivity and diversity. We think that diversity makes us stronger and makes our technology better. We think about that both in terms of the people who build the technology at Cruise—our employees—but also the people who use it. As you know, accessibility is not one-size-fits-all. There are 57 million Americans who identify as having a disability, and the needs of those 57 million are obviously not all the same. But while there’s no single silver bullet we can use to make this kind of technology available to everyone, I think there can be meaningful progress. So we’ve taken a pretty deliberate approach to understand the differences both between and within communities. For example the blind and low-vision community, the deaf and hard-of-hearing, people with cognitive disabilities, and the non-ambulatory community. If we recognize and understand these differences, we can hopefully make a better product for everyone. Despite our intentions we know that we don’t have all of the answers, and that’s where these partnerships come in, including this one.

Last summer we launched a first-of-a-kind initiative to better understand the rideshare experience of people who are blind, and how we can tailor that experience specifically so that when autonomous vehicles arrive, they’re available and they work for everyone. For months we worked hand-in-hand with the NFB and others in the blind and low-vision community to understand the challenges associated with using a rideshare service. These things may be obvious to many of you—like how to find the vehicle, understanding where you are during the trip, figuring out how to navigate the curb safely, and doing this complex dance when the driver is trying to find you and you’re trying to find the driver—all of those things and understanding those problems so when we design this technology without the driver, we still have a solution that works. How do you find a vehicle outside the apartment when it picks you up in a different location each time or when the driver parks on the other side of a busy road and asks you to cross lanes of traffic to get there, or drops you off on the wrong side of the road. These are all real problems that I think we can help to address.

As we’ve been made aware, the blind community is far from helpless. As President Riccobono appropriately stresses, you all are very gifted problem-solvers, and we appreciate that. We are problem-solvers. I think of building a self-driving car as one giant, complex problem to solve, so I think you’re in good company here. There are answers, solutions, and “hacks” to every one of these challenges—if you are a really good problem-solver, by the way we’re hiring. We’d love to get you involved. We want to work with you on this. I think there’s a clever solution to all of these things, even if it’s not obvious the first time we look at it. If we can solve these problems and others and make the system work, make it better, make it predictable and consistent, user-friendly, more personalizable so it knows your preferences, through all those things we hope to make it more accessible or more usable to more people. These are only a handful of the issues that we explore together with the NFB and others in our research study. We also went a little beyond that, and we examined the challenges together and worked on co-designing potential solutions together.

Our work, of course, is not done. In fact over just the last couple days here in Vegas we’ve continued to work with the NFB and hosted more accessibility workshops and research sessions. We’re sort of a sponge for information. We want to learn more and understand the problems better. We want to partner, and we want to learn from you. I think together we can unlock the remarkable promise of this technology.

We can’t do this alone. We believe fundamentally in the power of partnership, as do you. It’s in our DNA. We partner with General Motors and also Honda to build our vehicles so that we can get there faster by going together. We partner with world-class organizations like the NFB to help us learn and help us make our user experience the best it can be.

The NFB has been an outspoken leader on this issue, including calling on our elected officials to expedite the day when AVs can be a reality and we can actualize the benefits that they can bring. The unfortunate reality is that AVs have no shortage of critics. Changing the status quo is often something people are hesitant to do, and many things that are new, such as autonomous vehicles or the idea of a car without a driver are often misunderstood at first. But we both know differently, that the status quo we live in today can be much better. One hundred people die on US roads every single day, and millions of Americans struggle to live independently because of the barriers to accessible transportation. So we need your help to change it. Six million Americans with a disability have difficulty getting the transportation they need, which affects not just quality of life but also employment and connection to the community. So not only can AVs help solve those challenges, but research shows that AVs can help two million Americans with disabilities enter the workforce and save nineteen billion dollars annually in healthcare from missed medical appointments. That is a future worth fighting for, and I think we need to do it together. [applause]

So I had the idea for Cruise over twenty years ago when I was on a road trip with my father traveling down a two-lane highway from where I grew up in the Kansas City area to a robot competition here in Las Vegas. I remember staring down that road, and it was just a mind-numbingly boring task of just holding the steering wheel and going in a straight line, and I thought, “Man, that seems like something a computer could do.” Immediately when I got home I started trying to hack together something. Of course here we are, over twenty years later and billions of dollars invested into this and 1,500 people working on it, and we’re still not quite done. But we’re making progress, and it matters. So not only do we have all that wasted time and human potential but the thousands of deaths on our streets every year and the barriers to mobility and independence faced by people with disabilities. It’s clear that something needs to change. So this is my life’s work. I knew it when I was ten years old, and I feel it even more strongly now. It’s why I dedicate myself to building this technology every single day, as do the thousands of people at Cruise and GM and our other partners. I know AVs will change the way we live and move: they’ll save lives, improve accessibility, reduce emissions and air pollution, and give people back the most important resources: their time and their freedom to go where they want to go when they want to go. I’m honored to partner with the NFB in this pursuit. Thank you very much. [applause]

Autonomous Vehicles: Establishing Strong Policy for America’s Transportation Future

by Dave Schwietert

From the Editor: Following Kyle Vogt, President Riccobono introduced the next speaker: “We’re going to stick with the theme of autonomous vehicles. This organization is not new to us, but you may not know this presenter. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has been a longtime partner of the National Federation of the Blind, and as we have gotten beyond talking about quiet cars into talking about autonomous vehicles and our role in it, one of our primary policy partners for us has been the Alliance. You have heard from the president of the Alliance in previous years, but this gentleman has been with the Alliance but not as president. Now he’s serving as interim president. He’s been one of the chief policy folks at the Alliance helping us to line up the stakeholder conversations to keep the blind in the center of the autonomous vehicle conversation. On behalf of the Alliance here to talk with us is Dave Schwietert” [The Beatles’ “Drive My Car” plays as he approaches the microphone]:

Thank you so much, Mark. You know, I really like the theme music. I testified before Congress a few weeks ago, and I’m going to have to ask about whether we can do something like that. [laughter] My name is Dave Schwietert, I’m the interim president and CEO of the auto alliance, America’s leading advocacy group for the auto industry. We represent iconic companies and nameplates that you’re familiar with that run the gamut from Ford, General Motors, Fiat/Chrysler, Toyota, BMW, Jaguar/Land Rover, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Volkswagen, and of course Volvo. Our organization is based in Washington, DC, but we also have offices in Michigan and California, and I want to thank the NFB for inviting me to join you this afternoon, especially since I was able to leave the high humidity of Washington, DC.

Today I really want to share with you what is happening in Congress and the administration regarding autonomous and self-driving vehicles, what’s happening in the states, and why our shared mission to move autonomous vehicles forward is so important. Before I walk through the remarkable innovations that auto manufacturers are committed to, including the remarkable work that Kyle Vogt and the entire team at Cruise are doing, I want to personally thank President Riccobono, members of the board, and NFB’s amazing staff for your very warm welcome. Without question we are witnessing the most profound transformations in the auto sector our nation has ever experienced. The inclusion of amazing technology is not only revolutionizing transportation today, but also improving our lives, expanding options for the traveling public, and having a positive impact on the environment.

For the past decade the auto alliance and NFB have formed a productive and uniquely strong relationship. This partnership between the nation’s foremost advocacy group for the blind and the leading association of auto manufacturers has yielded tangible progress. To be candid, the faster the pace of change the better. Working together we can accelerate the enormous benefits that innovations offer for everyone. For the past few years our collective work with the Coalition for Future Mobility, a pioneering network of forty-two members that has brought advocacy groups, associations, manufacturers, and technology companies in the fight to speed up the deployment of self-driving automotive technologies both in Washington, DC, and with federal agencies such as the US Department of Transportation. Throughout the coalition the auto alliance, NFB, and others continue to push for the creation of a regulatory framework by Congress that will respect state authorities, but most importantly provide a pathway that will give automakers and other stakeholders much-needed clarity to help develop fully self-driving and autonomous vehicles. Last Congress this partnership was effective in advocating passage of key legislation, the SELF DRIVE Act, which was unanimously approved by the US House of Representatives. Unfortunately the momentum to get legislation signed into law last Congress came up a little short, even with the related AV START Act being approved by voice vote in the Senate. Although our efforts faced unexpected resistance from trial lawyers and other special interests who fear changes in mobility, we’re still committed to seeing Congress pass legislation that will create national rules facilitating the deployment and testing of self-driving cars. Until such federal legislation is signed into law there will be uncertainty for automakers and other stakeholders due to the patchwork of different state laws that will delay important investments and innovations from being commercialized.

The NFB has been an invaluable partner in this mission for the simple reason that self-driving technology has promised to yield a huge improvement when it comes to the mobility of persons who are blind across the United States. [applause] One key provision in the Senate AV [autonomous vehicle] bill last Congress was a stipulation that states cannot deny access to self-driving vehicles, including people who are blind. [applause] It’s a tremendously important provision, and together we’re committed to pushing for action in Congress, and I’m optimistic that this common sense approach will eventually become law. But outside of Congress there’s other positive efforts that are being made, including in the US Department of Transportation. Under Secretary Elaine Chao’s leadership, the department continues to evaluate and make necessary changes to vehicle regulations, including other modes of transportation such as trucking and aerial drones to spur the development of new technologies. When it comes to advocating the benefits of self-driving vehicle technologies, I remember a profound statement that President Mark Riccobono expressed at an event with the Department of Transportation roughly a year and half ago, and I quote, “The deployment of self-driving vehicles will remove the artificial barriers of the past that have hindered mobility and accessibility for the blind and push toward a future in which sightedness does not determine mobility.” [applause]

In recognition of our ongoing partnership and the NFB’s pioneering push toward a self-driving future, the auto alliance has organized a three-part workshop this year regarding automotive vehicles and increased accessibility. The second workshop is actually scheduled for next week in Washington, and so far the feedback has been very positive, not only from auto manufacturers but also from other key stakeholders including the NFB who have participated in the workshop series. To give due credit, the idea for the alliance to host this workshop series actually originated from a related self-driving vehicles accessibility conference that the NFB hosted at its offices in 2017. The conference focused not only on the benefits to NFB members but the needs of roughly 57 million Americans with disabilities. [applause]

Over the past few years I’ve been thrilled to watch how our partnership has strengthened. Important trust was forged with collaboration on the quiet car rule, which mandated that sound be added to electric vehicles so that people who are blind can hear when these vehicles are approaching. So far I’ve explained a little bit about where we’ve come the last few years, but the key question is what we can do together to spur important regulatory and legislative changes to realize the benefits that are just around the corner when it comes to expanding mobility. When it comes to automotive safety, as Kyle noted earlier, it’s astounding that our nation has accepted the fact that roughly 37,000 people perish on our roadways each year. That’s roughly 90 percent of crashes that are directly related to human error. That fatality rate breaks down to an astounding figure of roughly 100 lives that are lost each and every day. Although the three largest causes of this human error are speeding, drunk driving, and a lack of seatbelt use, automakers have made tremendous progress in recent years not only to make vehicles stronger and to protect occupants, but also with technologies that are being added to vehicles. I’m excited to say that we are now starting to see a reduction in the number of crashes or preventing crashes from happening altogether due to these critical safety technologies. The reason I point to these transformative safety improvements that continue to be added to new automobiles is because these technologies, including blind spot warning, lane centering, adaptive cruise control, auto parking, and automatic emergency braking are the building blocks to fully self-driving vehicles. In effect these technologies that are available today are the gateway to expanded freedom of mobility for all Americans but especially NFB members.

I’m regularly asked how long this change or transformation to fully self-driving vehicles will take. While I don’t have a crystal ball, the change is coming faster than many individuals think. While certain auto manufacturers and other stakeholders have made public announcements about when they would like to deploy self-driving vehicles on a large-scale, I certainly expect that within a few decades autonomous driving vehicles are likely to be commonplace on our roads and not just in large cities.

Self-driving vehicles, enabled by cutting-edge sensors can travel faster, closer together, thereby cutting commute times, easing congestion, saving fuel costs, and further reducing emissions. They can free occupants to focus on other tasks in the vehicle, enhancing freedom and productivity and perhaps, most importantly, self-driving cars will help to reduce the 90 percent fatalities tied to human error that I mentioned earlier. [applause] For your membership, however, the impact of self-driving cars will be even more powerful and transformative. Mobility in most of the United States depends on driving or having access to a vehicle. Unfortunately those who are unable to drive or afford a vehicle have less opportunities for employment, and education options are diminished. Many people who are blind are forced to rely on ridesharing services or taxis or depend on inefficient public transportation and paratransit providers. In rural areas like South Dakota where I grew up, options are even more limited or nonexistent, and this reduced mobility is a major factor contributing to the high rate of unemployment among the blind. My members, auto manufacturers, want to help solve this problem. We are approaching a future in which every blind or visually impaired person can own, operate, or use self-driving vehicles, offering seamless point-to-point services through voice-operated self-driving technology. [applause] The simple ability to commute by car to work, school, doctor’s appointments, restaurants, or cultural opportunities is often taken for granted, but together we can work to change that and expand mobility as we know it today.

This transformation has already begun. Nearly all major auto companies are hard at work creating the autonomous vehicles of the future, and self-driving technologies like park assist, lane correction, and automatic braking are becoming standard features in many vehicles. The question that I pose to all of you today is how fast do you want to expand mobility and for that to happen? In my experience, having worked in Washington, DC, for over twenty years, there are two kinds of politicians. The first are those who are cautious to a fault, who hesitate to allow the new innovations out of fear of their consequences. They are more concerned about how things have been done in the past than how they will be done in the future. They prefer the status quo versus innovation and disruption. Perfection is the standard they demand regardless if that precludes access or opportunity for key segments of our nation. The second type of politicians are those who embrace the future, who foster the next generation of solutions and welcome transformative change. I suspect to me and you, these are the leaders who share our collective vision for self-driving technologies. The questions around autonomous vehicles are now more political than technological. Some states have chosen to lead in this new frontier, allowing manufacturers room to test new technologies. They have eliminated fees and barriers to self-driving vehicles. Other states have opted to go the other way, taxing self-driving vehicles and restricting their operation out of fear. Developments in Washington, DC, and in state capitals will determine which approach wins out. The alliance will always push for innovative progress and safety, but we can’t do it without your voice and support. The NFB, as I have mentioned, has been an invaluable partner in this push for standardization, a forward-looking national framework for self-driving vehicles, and those who are blind have too much at stake to allow trepidation and fear to impede progress toward a future that provides mobility for all. We can’t slam the brakes on progress; we won’t. This is a battle we will fight and one that we will win. Your passion and direct involvement can make a difference.

I want to close with this call to action for each of you. Make your voices heard across the country but especially in Washington. Our joint call to action should be to reject the status quo and demand that politicians explain to each and every one of you what they are doing to expand mobility and ensuring that regulations aren’t holding back key safety innovations. Your voice and involvement are critical to make it known that self-driving vehicles will revolutionize the way you live your lives, and dare any politician to deny that simple urge for free movement. No more excuses! Let’s work to pass critical self-driving legislation into law that liberates mobility. The future is in our hands; we need only to reach out and take it. I’m proud to say that our nation’s automakers will fight this fight with you every step of the way. [applause]

Thank you so much for inviting me to join your conference today, and I very much look forward to working with all of you on this journey.

Led by the Blind: Bringing Authenticity to Services for the Blind and Making Them Relevant to the Lives We Want to Live

by Bryan Bashin

From the Editor: Bryan Bashin is the chief executive officer at the San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind. When I first heard about him, he was a science writer, and I was soon fascinated by everything he had to say. I was delighted to find that he was a Federationist, and I felt a real sense of awe at playing on the same team. I admit to being somewhat dismayed when Bryan gave up his work as a reporter and moved into the field of rehabilitation. But I should have expected good things, for that is certainly what Bryan has delivered at the LightHouse. Here are the comments he made on the last morning of the 2019 national convention:

Thank you, President Riccobono, thank you, distinguished guests, good morning, Federation Family. Twenty-five years ago, a blind Federation cane travel instructor put a cane in my hand and taught me to believe in myself and the dignity of the blind. Fast forward twenty-five years, and I find myself leading a remarkable agency in charge of reinventing itself with that dignity in mind. [applause]

Why reinventing? As President Riccobono said, we have a 117-year history with some high points and some low points. Reinvention is our friend.

I want to talk with you about what happens when a large private agency starts hiring blind people at every level of management and people, blind and sighted, who know the truth about blindness. Perhaps the way an agency is led and governed is revealed by talking about who the people are who are working at our agency, and I will remind you that a little more than ten years ago the number of LightHouse people attending convention was zero. Here are the ones who are here this week: Scott Blanks, the director of our programs; Erin Lauridsen, the director of access tech; Amy Mason in our technology program; Debbie Worstman, tech trainer; Bobbi Pompey teaching life skills; Amber Sherrard, wellness; Jamey Gump, youth; Ann Kwong transition, youth; Serena Olson, adult programs; Kate Williams, employment immersion; Wanda Pearson, employment; Christina Daniels, communications and the Holman Prize; Katt Jones, O&M; and from our MAD Lab Greg Kehret, Caitlin O’Malior, and Maritza Calderon.

Oh yes, did you see one other person from the LightHouse that you may have heard of—we have seen him on Sixty Minutes this January, Chris Downey, our board chair. He is my boss, his predecessor chair of the board was blind, and his successor is likely going to be blind.

These folks that I just mentioned are helping us be authentic. Yes, the LightHouse does the same core training as you could find around the country, but a little differently. We believe in the power of words. We don’t call the people who study with us clients; we call them students. [applause] We’ve gotten rid of the ableist and insulting term for blindness that so-called professionals use: we never say vision loss. We describe, out of respect, all publications, whether it’s our SuperFest Film Festival or our own communications, all images.

You know, we’ve had a camp in Napa for seventy years. For more than sixty of those years blind people were not permitted to cook in the commercial kitchen. Last year our director of camp, Tony Fletcher, went into the kitchen for something and noticed there were seven people working in the kitchen; all seven were blind. [applause] We have twenty counselors who lead the hundreds and hundreds of campers in a dozen sessions at our summer camp. Last year seventeen of those counselors were blind. Our board in our management designed our 40,000 square-foot headquarters in San Francisco; every square inch of it was designed with the blind in mind. It is a beautiful place, but much more beautiful is the fact that you can control things there: the audiovisual system, the thermostats, and we even have talking business caller ID. It’s all accessible.

We believe in the history we have, and we owe our predecessors a debt of gratitude. So when you come and stay at the LightHouse, you’ll notice the rooms are named for people you may know: Blind Boss Chris Buckley, the San Francisco boss; Newel Perry; Isabelle Grant; Jacobus tenBroek.

We shatter some myths about blind people always being dependent. We have a blood drive that takes place several times a year where blind people roll up our sleeves and contribute back to the Red Cross. [applause] A few years ago we created the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. We spent over a quarter of a million dollars making the dreams of blind people come to life. Last week, Red Szell from the U.K. rode across ten miles of a bog in Scotland, swam across the boiling Atlantic, and climbed a twenty-two-story sea stack and successfully summited it. [applause] Last month Stacy Cervenka’s Blind Travelers’ Network went live, and I bet there may be one or two comments about the Mandalay Bay on that network as well. In a couple of weeks Conchita Hernandez will do the first ever all-Spanish blind family retreat in Jalisco in Mexico. [applause]

In making the hard decisions about who wins the Holman Prize, we have a distinguished international committee, and all of them are blind. You may know a few of these names who are judges: Anil Lewis, Gary Wunder, Katherine Webster, Brian Miller, Debbie Kent Stein, Chancey Fleet, and a new member still in training in Colorado, Holly Scott-Gardner. [applause]

Now while the name LightHouse may have suggested to you a giant factory with little blind leadership, our community and our authenticity now demand that we be more bold. So, what have we done? When nobody thought five years ago that this scrappy little startup could succeed, we invested $100,000 for an app that now has 2.5 million volunteers and 150,000 users, Be My Eyes.

When it was unheard of that a LightHouse would pursue blind civil rights, we sued Redbox and made sure that 30,000 Redboxes across the states are now accessible. When we switched to an HR and payroll system at the LightHouse and found that it was inaccessible, we brought out the lawyers. We’re talking with them now. When we finish and make that system accessible, the 500,000 people who get their paychecks through ADP will have an accessible system. [applause]

When Goodwill in Northern California wanted to work with the LightHouse, we said, “No, you have to reject the 14(c) subminimum wage of your parent organization.” [applause] We challenged them, and their board of directors removed the 14(c) certification. I ask you, is your local blind private agency troublemaking enough?

When the experts said that seniors couldn’t be taken to an immersive training, sometimes at our camp, sometimes in San Francisco, we thought otherwise. We are now in our seventh year of “Changing Visions, Changing Life” retreats. In our eleven-story headquarters, we fired our cleaning company and decided that blind people should get the benefits of cleaning. Today five of the seven people who clean our building are blind or deaf.

Against skepticism, we put twenty-nine beds in our high-rise headquarters so that blind people could stay and connect and form community. There are hundreds and hundreds of students who stay there every year, and you may have seen some of them, the thirteen students who are here from the LightHouse’s YES! (Youth Employment Series) program. Next week they’re going to be staying in the rooms and commuting to their internships and jobs directly from the LightHouse.

In the San Francisco Pride Parade we marched 120 strong, the largest contingent we ever had in the largest Pride Parade in the United States. [applause]

We have a robust relationship with the big tech companies around San Francisco. For seven years now we’ve operated a sort of scrappy tech salon, LightHouse Labs, led by Erin Lauridsen and assisted by people like Amy Mason, Jim Barbour, and Brian Buhrow.

But in a greater sense we are developing something precious and rare at the LightHouse—a 50/50 mix of blind and sighted people at all levels of management, working together, people who know the truth about blindness. Now we didn’t do this because we are a wealthy organization. I submit to you that we became a wealthy organization precisely because of the authentic and bold steps that we in our community insist that we do. I want to tell you a few things about our biggest benefactor, Donald Sirkin. He was not, when in his eighties, an authentic low-vision person. Like so many seniors, he was ashamed and hid his own vision loss, as he would say. He saw our messages, our blind positive messages on our website, and named us in his will in 2010. He followed our authentic message of living the life we want and again, when he revised his will in 2014, named the LightHouse. We’ve discovered that blind authenticity pays, that fewer people give when we have these maudlin messages about the plight of the blind. But people respond to messages of hope and pride. Oh yes, about that bequest: it is the largest single bequest in the history of American blindness, $130 million. [applause]

But in my heart, the biggest gift I ever received was each one of you. The only way I can repay that debt is to ensure that the United States has more agencies that are authentic and reflective of the blind community. So today the LightHouse has 140 employees in six locations. This September we’re opening a new satellite location in Berkeley. We have eighty-two different and distinct programs, and we’re looking for cool blind people to run them, to manage them, to direct them at all levels of our organization. And may I remind you that we are especially looking for some NOMCs. We’re going to continue to do strategic blindness investments in technology like Be My Eyes. We’re going to continue to do our blind civil rights advocacy. We’re going to go where underserved people who are blind need our help.

Last week the director of programs, Scott Blanks, went to California’s Corcoran State Prison because there are blind people there—not one or two—how many blind people are in that prison? Would you believe eighty-five? It’s practically an affiliate. [laughter]

We want to expand our connections to people who have not been served, like the undocumented. We want to expand our TMAPS. Did anybody get one of our tactile maps in the exhibit hall? [cheers] We’re proud of the Bolotin Award that we achieved last year for the tactile maps, and we are only going to grow it. These are tools blind people can use.

We’re going to do more immersive short-term courses like how to learn LinkedIn over a long weekend or how to learn audio editing hands-on. We’re going to continue to do media partnerships, particularly with National Public Radio. Look for more than thirty podcasts about the blind and broadcasts on NPR about that. Again, we’re not talking about the plight of the blind but the joy and the beauty of how we live our lives.

We want to raise the bar about traditional and often overlooked blindness institutions. There are hundreds and hundreds of thousands of hours that blind youth and young adults spend in blindness camps. There’s never been any kind of gathering to raise the bar about that, so this October the LightHouse and CNIB in Canada are going to organize the first ever best practices in blind camps conference. [applause]  

We’re looking to expand partnerships so that we can offer more Holman Prizes. The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition just announced our 2019 blind awardees last night. Do you want to hear who they are? Computational chemist Mona Minkara has an ambitious goal to visit the teaming public transit systems on six continents, and, like Anthony Bourdain, to blog and video how a blind person takes ordinary transit. Alieu Jaiteh, in The Gambia, will build a mentorship system of seventy blind people in the most rural parts of that nation. People will get for the first time the positive message of blindness in The Gambia. And Yuma Decaux in Queensland in Australia, a blind astronomer, has developed an app that can run on your iPhone or some other smartphone and will take the data that our satellites are getting and sonify it so that blind people directly, as part of citizen science, can play a role and discover the next exoplanet.

Now there have always been blind people with self-confidence in California. Think of Newel Perry, Jacobus tenBroek, and all of those, but what we have not had is an agency in California with those kinds of people at all levels of management until now. Take the aspirations of Jacobus tenBroek for our right to live in the world and expand it now into our right to influence our world. If I can name a law, I will call it Bashin’s law, which says that the more money an organization has, the fewer are the blind people who run its board of directors or are in senior management. If you look at it, in California the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh largest agencies, apart from the LightHouse, are people with overwhelmingly sighted management from the top down. Nationally fewer than 10 percent of blind private agencies are led by blind people or management teams. In 2019 I ask you, is this managerial apartheid acceptable? [The audience responds with a resounding no!] Even the 660 independent living centers are mandated to have half of their management and half of their board of directors be people with disabilities. In California though, one large private agency actually fought a bill in the California legislature, saying that it could not be mandated to find even 20 percent of its board of directors because it couldn’t find qualified blind people in California.

The LightHouse now is at 50 percent blind and sighted parity on our board of directors, and in the next few months it is likely that we will codify that as a permanent part of our bylaws. [applause] So it’s time to take that disability refrain “nothing about us without us” and just make it simple: nothing without us!

Our authenticity is based on the understanding that blind people want to be actors and not passive people. We want to be subjects and not predicates in somebody else’s sentence. We don’t believe in an artificial schism between blind and sighted people working in our field. And we certainly don’t need a divisive and outmoded organization like NAC to tell us what’s progressive and what’s authentic. [cheers] In thirty years the LightHouse has not needed the services of NAC, and we never will. [applause]

Our future and the future of private agencies lies in cultivating and not alienating sighted allies. They are essential to amplify our reach. Our goal then is to teach and engage and involve our wider community, but a community that must learn from us with humility and respect.

It is now time for us in the Federation to take some larger strides, to expand our reach beyond our three training centers and the handful of commissions and state training centers we now influence. [applause] Our task is to light more flames of authenticity in places that call themselves lighthouses, societies, centers, or happy homes for the blind. So whether your local private agency is in the east or the west, north or south, or even in San Francisco, will you please join me in the new refrain, “Nothing without us, nothing without us, nothing without us.” Thank you.

Competing on Terms of Equality and Blending in: Government Service with Federation Style

by Kristen Cox

From the Editor: Kristen Cox is the executive director of the Utah governor’s office of management and budget. Many will remember her distinguished service as a part of our government affairs team almost twenty years ago. Here is what she said on the final presentation of Friday afternoon, July 12:

It’s so great to be here. I love this organization, and the older I get, the more I appreciate the profound philosophy this organization embraces. I want to thank President Riccobono and the staff for putting on a conference of this size. I have put on one that isn’t quite this big, so I know how much energy it takes, and I really want to thank him and the staff. [applause] Yes, they deserve a round of applause.

I run the office of management and budget. I am senior staff to Governor Herbert. He is the third governor I’ve worked for, and I’m going to talk to you a little bit about my job and the journey to get here. Essentially I am the COO and the CFO [chief operating officer and the chief financial officer] for the state of Utah. I manage a budget of almost $19 billion. We do all the revenue projections, I manage a team of economists, and we do all of the operations for the agencies. So it is complicated, and I also deal with the legislature. In fact, originally, way back in the day when I was completing my individualized plan for employment, I wanted to be Dian Fossey and study gorillas in the Congo. I never did that, but I do work with the legislature. Maybe—maybe—I’m just saying—it’s a little close.

I have a great job, it’s rewarding, but I couldn’t be here in the position I am today without this organization. I want to share a little bit of my journey about how I got here and my gratitude. But before I do that, I do want to announce that there is a $10,000 donation coming to the organization. I wrote a book with a colleague and his colleague, who are fans of this wonderful organization. Proceeds from the book and the workshop we are doing in Japan will be coming to the NFB in August. So we’re doing our best to get the mission of the NFB to the entire world, and wherever I go, people are impressed and inspired and more committed to helping our cause.

My journey is probably one that many of us have encountered. I started going blind at eleven. I did large print, I did magnifying glasses, I went through every dang plan you can imagine: an IEP [Individualized Education Plan], an IPE [individual plan for employment], a ticket to work program, and, after years of being in the school system and the rehab system, I graduated from school with no skills. I can’t read Braille, can’t do cane travel, have no adaptive technology. But again, I’m independent, ambitious, and I have dreams and desires. But the idea of holding down a job seemed elusive to me.

But then I came across an invitation to go to a meeting of one of our local chapters in Utah, and I said, “Sure, I’ll go.” I met the Gardner brothers; many of you know the Gardner brothers, and that’s where the beginning of my new life started. Norm Gardner introduced me to a Braille ‘N Speak. At that time we had our first son, I did not know Braille, and I wanted to read to our son. So I would teach myself one letter a day. Then I would go to grade 2, and then I could read Hop on Pop. Finally I read The Hobbit—I’m a big fan of The Hobbit series—so I learned Braille.

Then I started to dabble a little bit more into philosophy in this idea of cane travel. I would get out my cane, but I wasn’t quite convinced that I needed it, and I was a little embarrassed and had some shame about that. At the time, I had one of those collapsible canes. I would stick it in my backpack, and when I thought I needed it, I would pull it out. I’m sure people thought I was crazy because I was like, do I need a cane, do I not need a cane, what in the world am I thinking? So I would pull my cane out when I thought I needed it and then hide it away because I hated people staring at me. One day I was walking home, had just used my cane, had just put it back in my backpack, and I fell right into a manhole. The good news was that it was in the middle of winter, so the manhole was covered with ice-cold water. The bad news was that it was covered with ice-cold water. It was freezing, it was humiliating, and it was really an eye-opener for me to start thinking about getting honest with myself.

At this point I had been in the Federation for a couple of years, and I intellectually understood what we said. I could say the words: that with the right training and opportunity, blindness could be reduced to the level of an inconvenience. I could say the words that the biggest problem with blindness was not blindness itself but the misperceptions and stereotypes we have about blindness. I could say the words, but I don’t think I got them in my heart yet.

Then I had this amazing opportunity to come back and work at the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind. Dr. Maurer was willing to take a chance on me, and so too was Mr. Gashel, Dr. Jernigan, and others. Getting hired at headquarters exposed me to the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had. I want to tell you about some of them.

Specifically there are four lessons that have had an impact on my life forever, not only my personal life, but even today and the way I do my work in government when we tackle big problems. The Federation philosophy impacts everything I do.

One of the first things I did when I was back at the NFB—and Mr. Gashel, I don’t know if he’ll remember this or not—I know that we all use first names now back at the NFB, but I can’t do it. I think it was my first week back there, and I was trying to figure out what the heck I’m going to do. He takes me to lunch, and we were walking down the street. I was so impressed with Mr. Gashel. He is so articulate, so smart, just always on his game. So while we were walking to get lunch, I remember asking him this silly question: how much can you see? Because, in my mind still then, even though I knew the words, I had this belief that how competent or successful I could be had something to do with how well I could see. Fortunately Mr. Gashel, in the Gashel form, ignored my question, and in the months ahead I worked with such amazing people, including Dr. Maurer and the rest of the team, until I realized that I got to the place where I didn’t wonder can they see or not see or how much or how little. People everywhere were successful and competent and making a difference, and all of a sudden that question of how much can you see became irrelevant.

When I was running for lieutenant governor, one of the headlines said, “Blind Mormon woman running for governor.” I said to myself, “Wait, what about the bald Jewish man running for Senate?” But we were out one day with Governor Ehrlich, and there had been a big flood. He had toured the site with his helicopter looking down, and when he got off, the press said to him, “How would your lieutenant governor candidate do this job? She couldn’t have seen.” And he was so great, because he got what I had learned by this point which was that there are many, many ways to get information other than your eyes. [applause] He knew then what I had finally learned, that vision does not determine our success. It does not determine our success.

We know that in the Federation with the right training and the right support and the right opportunities, that is the mark of our success. So I went on my journey, and I started to get this idea that vision wasn’t the end-all, and then came this second lesson that was so important and President Riccobono talked about yesterday in his report. The word is excellence. I remember doing my first fact sheet for Washington Seminar and giving it to Mr. Gashel. It came back just redlined and redlined and redlined. I would spend hours working on these things, and the sentences were never good enough. Then I would go in with Dr. Maurer and study elements of style with grammar. Do you split your infinitives or not? Where do you punctuate? Do you remember this? [She addresses Mark Riccobono, saying that he was in one of these classes.] I came to understand that excellence, high standards, and being our best were critical.

If we want society to accept us, we’ve got to be our best. We can’t go out to the workplace and compete on equal grounds if we are not bringing our best game to the table. I can’t tell you how many classes I had taken in high school or college where no one gave me the kind of feedback I got at headquarters at the NFB. No one had! Because I was blind, they didn’t want to hurt my feelings, they didn’t have the expectations that I could do it, and this is after eight years of being in the system with all of the IEP and IPE you could have. I didn’t have the basic skills, and it was not until I got to the NFB that something changed: the expectations were elevated. They expected much more from me in everything that I did, and I’ve come to appreciate how important that is because we will live up to the expectations people will set for us. Because of that we should set pretty danged high expectations for ourselves. [applause]

That was the second lesson, and there are two more. The third lesson was a story that Dr. Schroeder—there are so many wonderful mentors that I’ve had here in this room: Dr. Schroeder, Joanne Wilson, the list could just go on and on. But I want to focus on a story that Dr. Schroeder told me. I’m going to repeat it if I can; I know I’ll get the name wrong, but forgive me. This story really affected me, and I use it today with our cabinet members as we ask them to really go after big results. Government is such a mess; I’m in it, and I can’t stand it. It’s such a mess, and we’re asking them to improve, and they’re telling us every reason why they can’t. This story has always affected me. Dr. Schroeder, if I get it wrong I apologize, but this is how I remember it:

He was working with a boy—I call him Tony, but I think his name was Vincent. Anyway he was working with Tony, who wanted to learn to play tag, and Dr. Schroeder thought about this. How do I help this kid play tag was the question that he took home that night. The next day when Dr. Schroder came back, Tony came up to him and had figured out how to play tag. He had taken jars, put pebbles in the jars, and had given them to his friends. There was no high-tech solution or anything like that: just use jars with pebbles in them so he could hear his friends at play and join them in it. I have two sons, and we tried this once. Instead of using jars with pebbles, I had everyone turn their phones on with music so that I could hear where they were. We all wore blindfolds and played tag, and it was a blast.

This little boy, Tony, had the best mindset. So many times as adults we just assume that a thing can’t get done. We give all the reasons why a thing is difficult, all the excuses, all the yes-buts. What is so remarkable about Tony is that it was not an issue of if the thing could be done—but how! This is what we need to understand: that the question is not if but how! The NFB teaches us about creative problem-solving. Yes, we may do things differently, but we still get the job done. [applause]

Every day at work I am working with economists and spreadsheets and graphs and revenue projections, and every day there is a new challenge about how I’m going to access this or how I’m going to communicate on that. There is always a way if we assume the thing is possible, and it’s just that we have to figure out the solutions. We just have to be creative problem solvers.

Again, this is so important. When Gov. Herbert first took office, he charged all the agencies to improve their performance by 25 percent. Now this was just after the recession, and our cabinet members were openly saying, “This is impossible.” But I said no. Because I have learned in the NFB that nothing is impossible. I take this philosophy to work every day, so the third lesson is not if the thing can happen, but it is how to make it happen and to be a creative problem solver.

This last lesson was so critical. I was blessed to go through residential training the NFB way and actually did it in the NFB center, and I’m so grateful for that. At the time we had one son, Tanner, and we went and did four or five months with the sleepshade training, Structured Discovery, and the whole bit. It was so great, and this is where it became less an intellectual exercise but an emotional exercise of really getting it into my heart, what this meant to be an independent cane traveler, and to really learn the skills of blindness.

I remember working with Tony Cobb. He was my O&M instructor for the day. We were out practicing, and we were out in the park across from the headquarters. What is that park called? I can’t believe I forgot the name. Yes, Riverside Park. So I’m at this park, doing my practice for the day, and I cannot get out of the park. I can hear where the highway is, right. But every time I’m walking, I’m hitting a bench. I hit grass. I hit dirt. I cannot get out of this dang park; it’s like the Minneapolis airport. I hate that airport. [laughter] That airport makes no sense to me, and I feel like I travel there once a month.

So I’m in this park, and I can’t get out of it. So I just stop, because it’s frustrating. It felt hard to me. I did not know my way forward. Tony Cobb just let me struggle for a bit, let me struggle just enough, and then he came up behind me and said something that I think about frequently. He said, “Kristin, you’ve got to learn to walk through your confusion and your fear. You’ll get no new information by standing still. You’ve got to take a step into the unknown to get that information.” And that was so impactful for me.

As blind people we can sit back and wait for the world to come to us, but, if we do that, it’s going to pass us by. Sometimes it can feel uncertain, and sometimes when I’m traveling I have questions. Last year I was in Japan traveling by myself, and at first my feeling was “How am I going to do this?” But I set that aside because I know in the NFB that we know about persistence; we know about taking one step at a time. We know that when we set our minds to big goals and things that are important to us, even if we’re not sure how we will achieve it, we know that we can if we just take the next step—through our confusion, through our fear, through the uncertainty. That was a game changer then, and it’s a game changer in my profession today.

So when the agencies say something can’t be done, what do you think I tell them? [an audience member yells out yes. She echoes back the word yes with a laugh.] There’s no mercy.

We have a lot of work still to do in Utah. We’ve made great progress, but vocational rehabilitation was transferred from the Department of Education to the executive branch eighteen months ago, and we have a lot of work to do there. Sometimes in government bureaucracy, people can list all the reasons why a thing is impossible and why we can’t do it. But again, in the NFB way, we will never let obstacles impede us from achieving the goals either professionally or personally that we have.

So I want to leave you with this: the National Federation of the Blind is one of the most profound organizations in the world. I have associated with senators and congressmen and different associations, but the profound and simple philosophy that this organization embodies impacts everything we do from legal action to training and education. But, more importantly, it penetrates our hearts. It’s what gives us the hope and the ability to live out our dreams and totally make a positive contribution in the world around us. For that I am deeply grateful to the organization, and I am excited that we can give the $10,000 donation. The governor also wanted to make sure that I extend his gratitude. He has spoken before this group. I told him I was speaking. He knows we have work to do for the remainder of his term. He’s committed to setting a very robust program to hire people who are blind within state government. I will be working closely with the NFB of Utah to make this happen. [applause] We are going to get the job done in Utah, and with that, I thank you, my Federation family.

World’s Number One Card Game for the Win

by Stephanie Cascone

From the Editor: Stephanie is the director of marketing and communications, and she is working on one of our central goals, that being to partner with others in the country to advance the opportunities for blind people. Here is the article that she and officials from Mattel have offered to the Braille Monitor:

It’s a rush of excitement to have that one card left in an intense game of UNO. Round after round has gone by that included those darn Skips and Draw Fours. Who will be the first out?

It’s a game that turns family night into loud laughs or great debates. Can a Draw +4 go on top of Draw +2? But this article isn’t about the rules of UNO. Instead, it’s about how Mattel partnered with the blind to create a co-branded, accessible version of this globally popular game.

Mattel and the National Federation of the Blind are proud to announce UNO® Braille. Through a dedicated collaboration between Mattel’s game experts and the blind community, this out-of-the-box accessible game for game enthusiasts and those looking for a fun, friendly good time will be available at Target locations nationwide and online starting this month.

“In college, I played all-night tournaments. I love UNO!”

UNO isn’t new to the blind. Many of us found ways to adapt the game through the years, including Brailling our own decks with a Braillewriter or slate and stylus. But that won’t be necessary anymore. The National Federation of the Blind believes in collaboration to advance our goals, and we always welcome the opportunity to strategically partner to raise expectations and secure equality. Mattel wanted to bring an inclusive game to the nation’s blind and the mainstream market. From the beginning, this was a match made for success!

Mattel wanted the game to be right. It wanted authentic, certified Braille. It wanted accessible instructions and a fully accessible UNO Braille website. It realized that the best way to achieve all these goals was to solicit input from blind people throughout the process of creating this new version of UNO.

Every step of the way, blind people had input into this now-available product, and Mattel listened. Several rounds of samples were sent between the company and NFB headquarters until the Braille cards and instructions were perfect. Selected families with both blind and sighted members played with the new decks at our national convention and gave feedback. Our experts also vetted the website, the instructional videos, and the voice-activated tutorials that are available via Amazon Alexa and Google Home devices.

“The Braille is beautiful.”

The UNO Braille experience starts with the packaging. There is Braille on both the front and back of the box, including the name of the National Federation of the Blind. Upon opening the box, you can find four quick play cards—each with Braille and print. If more instructions are needed, they are available at UNOBraille.com or by accessing the Voice Skill on Alexa or Google Home.

Each card has Braille in two adjacent right corners. Zeros through Nines. Skips. Reverses. Draw Plus Twos. Wilds. Wild Draw Fours. Everyone playing starts with seven cards, and then the fun starts!

The development of an UNO Braille game may seem like a small and simple thing, but the spirit of inclusion and partnership that it represents is significant. Even those who don’t play UNO Braille will see it in Target stores and hear about it from blind friends and colleagues. This will expand awareness of the importance of accessibility and diversity. As UNO continues to be a staple of game nights all over the country, UNO Braille represents a win for everyone.

The National Federation of the Blind and Mattel are proud of the work we have done. Together with love, hope, and determination, we turn dreams into reality with partners and play.

Meagan’s Guide to Stylish Farewells: On Coming to Terms with Vision Loss

by Meagan Houle

From the Editor: Megan Houle of Alberta, Canada, has a blog entitled Where’s Your Dog?, and from it we at the Monitor came across a fantastic article about transitioning deeper into blindness, about grieving the loss of a sense, and about making it in the world anyway. Here is Megan’s article, and there is more where this came from on her blog at https://wheresyourdog.com:

Sighted people are always caught off guard by how casually I treat my vision loss, whose inexorable progression began the day I came into the world. While I understand the assumption that vision loss is all sadness, all the time, that isn’t the case for me. If my vision was ever good enough to accomplish useful tasks like driving, or fun things like painting, I’d likely be far more bereft. As it is, what little vision I was born with is more liability than blessing, becoming increasingly burdensome as it dwindles.

The one thing I occasionally allow myself to mourn is the loss of color perception. Though my understanding of color was never perfect, my childhood is filled with memories of gazing with fascination at anything brightly colored, especially in nature. Now that I’m all grown up and my vision loss is more advanced, I don’t reliably notice color unless I make a deliberate effort. Even then it’s hit or miss.

I’ve always known I’d eventually lose all my color perception, but over the past few months, I’d begun to view that loss as part of my present, not my future. It was no longer on the horizon. It was upon me, happening in real-time, and I couldn’t deny that it seemed to be slipping away more quickly every day.

The way I saw it, I had two options: I could lament its vanishing and write more soppy posts about it, or I could give it a send-off worth remembering. I chose the second option. I wanted to infuse this time in my vision loss journey with joy and gratitude, focusing on what I had rather than what I’ll lose. To that end I enlisted the help of my charming and devastatingly attractive friend Krissi. (Did she pay me to say that? You decide.) She fell in love with my vision (ha ha) and planned the most colorful day she could imagine: a plant crawl. All day long we visited various greenhouses, including the Muttart Conservatory and Greenland Garden Centre, exploring plants from around the world. There was more color than I had the capacity to process, and it truly was a feast for my eyes and soul.

Surrounded by vibrant flowers and exotic trees, I got all the color-gazing I could ever want. I also discovered something else. Interacting with plants is a surprisingly tactile experience if you have a brave and patient plant expert like Krissi nearby to keep you from impaling yourself on a cactus. I’d always thought of plants as delicate things that didn’t like to be touched, and there was the looming threat of insects that would make their displeasure painfully known. In these climate-controlled environments, I was able to gently acquaint myself with the glossiness of banana leaves and the shapely curvature of a fruit tree. I stroked roughly textured bark and soft foliage that rivaled felt. I found a leaf that looked exactly like a feather, with its slightly downy grain. I touched leaves so fuzzy they felt like peaches and other leaves that felt like nothing so much as the rough but cozy blanket my grandfather might drape over the back of his rocking chair. I discovered creepy-feeling succulents and graceful, delicate herbs. Krissi nearly had to tear me away from a plant that appeared to have sprouted its very own umbrellas. There was so much to touch that I occasionally forgot I was primarily there to look.

The biggest surprise came when we stopped off at Krissi’s house so she could teach me the tricky art of flower arrangement—another chiefly tactile activity. I assumed it was all about doing whatever looks prettiest, but I soon realized that what felt symmetrical was the most reliable test for what would look fabulous in a vase. To my immense delight, I learned that rookies use their eyes, while pros use their hands. Krissi patiently showed me how to trim stems, strip leaves, and thread flowers through my fingers in an awkward X shape. Thread, twist. Thread, twist. Thread, twist. Snip … Boom! I suddenly had a gorgeous bouquet, which made it look like I really knew what I was doing. (I still don’t, but photographic evidence of my triumph will forever suggest otherwise. Tell no one.)

As I cleared away the pile of stems I’d cut and sat back to admire an arrangement so bright I could actually see it, I experienced the air of celebration I’d hoped to inspire. I knew I’d soon see the world in shades of grey and that not long after that I’d see nothing at all. But in that moment, I sat back and absorbed the incredible gift I’d been given, which was no less wonderful for its impermanence.

I’m sure that sadder times are ahead of me, with a blind community that is so often dismissive of partially sighted pain. I do not expect to remain this philosophical and high-minded about it all. I will have days where I’m grumpy about this slow march to darkness, even though I am already blind for most intents and purposes. But I’ll always have the comforting knowledge that I can live well and happily, color or no color, light or no light. And I’m lucky to have enjoyed both, if only for a while.

The Right of Blind People to Serve on Juries Comes to the Court

Editor’s Note: One of the strange contradictions in American law is that we can elect and appoint judges, and we can do it without much controversy. But when it comes to performing jury service, acceptance has been more sporadic and controversial. Many of us have stories to share, but seldom has our service been the focal point of a case.

In Massachusetts a man involved in an altercation was not awarded damages in a jury trial. He has sued on the grounds that one of the jurors in his case is blind and therefore could not see and judge his injuries. We have weighed in by filing a friend of the court brief, and what we say is both thought provoking and makes for interesting reading. Enjoy!

The National Federation of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, and the Disability Law Center respectfully submit this brief pursuant to this Court’s solicitation of amicus briefs on April 16, 2019.


The National Federation of the Blind (“NFB”) is the nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind persons.1 The NFB has affiliates in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. The National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts (“NFB of MA”) is the Massachusetts state affiliate of the NFB and has chapters in Cambridge and Greater Springfield.2 The NFB and its affiliates are widely recognized by the public, Congress, executive agencies of state and federal governments, and the courts as a collective and representative voice on behalf of blind Americans and their families. The organization promotes the general welfare of the blind by assisting the blind in their efforts to integrate themselves into society on terms of equality, and by removing barriers that result in the denial of opportunity to blind persons in virtually every sphere of life, including education, employment, family and community life, transportation, and recreation.

The Disability Law Center (“DLC”), is a private nonprofit organization, and the designated protection and advocacy (“P&A”) system for people with disabilities in Massachusetts, pursuant to federal statutory authority. See e.g., 29 U.S.C. § 794e (persons with disabilities, including physical disabilities) and 29 U.S.C. § 3004 (people with disabilities in need of assistive technology). DLC’s core mission includes advocacy on civil rights and public access for people with disabilities living in the community, as well as non-discrimination in the provision of government services. On many occasions, DLC has participated in amicus briefs filed before Massachusetts appellate courts, including joining in an amicus brief discussing modifications for a witness with disabilities, In Re: McDonough, 457 Mass. 512 (2010).

Amici have particular knowledge regarding the application of federal disability discrimination laws to the courts, including the range of modifications available to assist blind jurors. The outcome of this case will likely have a profound impact on the ability of many of amici’sclients, members, and constituents to fully engage in civic life.


If trial by jury constitutes the “heart and lungs of liberty,” then courts must take extraordinary measures before excluding any juror based on disability. Rauf v. State, 145 A.3d 430, 465 n.216 (Del. 2016) (“Representative government and trial by jury are the heart and lungs of liberty.”) (quoting John Adams). See also Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 530, 538 (1975) (“[E]xcluding [from jury service] identifiable segments playing major roles in the community cannot be squared with the constitutional concept of jury trial.”) Framing these cases as a balancing act between defendants’ rights to a fair trial and blind Americans’ rights to serve on a jury can create a false dichotomy. By its very design, jury deliberation is meant to be a collaborative process in which individuals with varying perspectives reach a fair outcome based on their collective wisdom. With assistive technology or, in many cases, without, blind people are fully capable of serving on juries without depriving criminal defendants of their fundamental right to a fair trial.



The privilege of jury duty provides among “the most significant opportunit[ies] to participate in the democratic process.” Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 407 (1991). Juries “afford ordinary citizens a valuable opportunity to participate in a process of government, an experience fostering, one hopes, a respect for law.” Id. (citation omitted). But for blind Americans, access to the jury has proven elusive. Though no longer categorically prohibited,3 a de facto system of exclusion persists. Nearly three decades after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), the jury box remains frustratingly inaccessible for many blind Americans. The systemic exclusion of these potential jurors is rooted in outdated and stigmatizing notions disregarding their ability to meaningfully contribute to the American justice system.

Anecdotal evidence from blind prospective jurors in Massachusetts illuminates the problem. One NFB member reported that she was routinely turned away from jury service by court employees who told her that a blind juror would never be selected. Once, a court official patted her on the head before sending her on her way. Another NFB member described how court officials, upon learning of her blindness, told her that she likely would not be selected for jury service and encouraged her to simply disqualify herself if summoned. A third NFB member recalled being chosen for jury duty but subsequently removed and replaced by an alternate juror prior to closing arguments because she was blind—even though she had paid close attention through the trial while several of her co-jurors had fallen asleep. Other blind Massachusetts residents revealed that they simply abstain from the jury selection process altogether, not because they doubt their own ability to serve, but because they know from personal experience that they would not be seriously considered.

Outside of Massachusetts, the story is the same. In an essay published in NFB’s periodical, the Braille Monitor, Maryland-based NFB member Daniel Frye shared his own disappointing jury duty experience. Daniel B. Frye, Juror 458, 52 Braille Monitor 7 (July 2009), https://archive.nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/bm/bm09/bm0907/bm090711.htm. After receiving his jury summons in March 2009, Mr. Frye arrived at the courthouse a half-hour early and eagerly waited for his number to be called. Id. When the time came, he approached the front desk. Id. The court employee “paused uncomfortably” before conferring in whispered tones with a colleague. Id. She informed him that because the circuit court courtrooms were in two different buildings, to ensure his own safety, he would not be called for a jury pool in the other building. Id. Mr. Frye politely responded that he had no concerns about crossing the street and that he did not want to be treated differently from any other juror. Id. Within a half-hour, every other member of Mr. Frye’s jury group was instructed to report to the other courtroom; he was told to stay behind. Id.

At the heart of these stories is an understanding that jury service is more than civic duty. It is recognition as a responsible member of the community, worthy of being entrusted with questions of guilt and innocence, life and death. To be systematically denied jury service because of blindness denies that recognition, fosters a sense of otherness, and suggests that the blind fall outside the “cross section of [the] community.” See Commonwealth v. Ricard, 355 Mass. 509, 512 (1969). That stigmatizing sense of exclusion is precisely the social ill that the ADA sought to combat. Nearly thirty years later, this Court should act to ensure that it is finally remedied.  


Excluding blind people from participation in jury service also carries significant consequences for the administration of justice. The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides criminal defendants “the opportunity to have the jury drawn from venues representative of the community” that do not “systematically exclude distinctive groups.” Taylor, 419 U.S. at 530, 538. Exclusion of “any large and identifiable segment of the community . . . from jury service . . . remove[s] from the jury room qualities of human nature and varieties of human experience, the range of which is unknown and perhaps unknowable.” Commonwealth v. Arriaga, 438 Mass. 556, 562 (2003) (citation omitted). A group’s exclusion “deprives the jury of a perspective on human events that may have unsuspected importance in any case that may be presented.” Id. Excluding blind individuals deprives both the defendant and the members of the jury of unique perspectives and life experiences that enhance deliberations and ensure a just verdict is reached.
By its very design, jury deliberation is meant to be a collaborative process in which individuals with varying perspectives, strengths, and challenges reach a fair outcome based on their collective wisdom. Blind jurors bring into the jury room perspectives and abilities not shared by most sighted jurors. Their participation may benefit the jury as a whole, sparking discussion and encouraging other jurors to take a closer look at the subtleties of the evidence. They may ask their co-jurors targeted, specific questions to better understand and help draw a mental picture of visual evidence. While sighted jurors may draw inaccurate and unfair conclusions from the dress and deportment of a defendant or his associates, the blind juror may make no such inferences. See D. Nolan Kaiser, Juries, Blindness and Juror Function, 60 Chi. Kent L. Rev. 191, 199 (1984).

Though blind individuals are not bestowed with superior hearing, living without sight may sharpen their listening skills and produce a more nuanced sense of hearing. See Kim Eckart-Washington, Brain Differences in Blind People May Sharpen Hearing, ScienceDaily (Apr. 22, 2019), https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190422151020.htm.(4) As one New York court noted, “a blind person’s perceptions as to voice intonation may be supplemented by the other jurors’ perceptions of body movements and together, a determination of veracity may be made.” Jones v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 483 N.Y.S.2d 623, 624 (N.Y. Civil Ct. 1984).


The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that states have a duty under Title II of the ADA to ensure that individuals with disabilities have access to the courts. See Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 532 (2004). While state courts are not obligated to “employ any and all means to make judicial services accessible to persons with disabilities,” they must “take reasonable measures to remove . . . barriers to accessibility” and provide “all individuals a meaningful opportunity to be heard in its courts.”5 Id. at 531-32. See also 28 C.F.R. § 35.130(b)(7)(i); Galloway, 816 F. Supp. at 17 (noting that a “policy of categorical exclusion of all blind persons from Superior Court juries violates the ADA”); People v. Caldwell, 603 N.Y.S.2d 713, 714 (N.Y. Crim. Ct. 1993) (finding that the ADA prevents removal of a potential juror simply because of a disability).

In addition to federal law, Massachusetts law specifically requires the inclusion of blind jurors. The law states that “[a]ll persons shall have equal opportunity to be considered for juror service” and that “[p]hysically handicapped persons shall serve except where the court finds such service is not feasible.” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 234a, § 3 (2019). See also Mass. Const. amends., art. 114 (providing that “[n]o otherwise qualified handicapped individual shall, solely by reason of his [or her] handicap, be excluded from the participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity with the commonwealth”); In re McDonough, 457 Mass. 512, 514 (2010) (applying art. 114 to the state court system to find that individuals with disabilities have a constitutional right to participate as witnesses in judicial proceedings).

Courts have consistently recognized the ability of blind judges to serve not only on state6 and federal7 appellate courts, but also on trial courts8—including over bench trials with visual evidence. See, e.g., People v. Hayes, 923 P.2d 221 (Colo. App. 1995) (upholding ruling of blind judge, with the assistance of a professional describer, in a hearing that required evaluation of video evidence). At least one court has found that “[n]o distinction can be drawn between a blind judge's ability to make factual findings and the abilities of a blind juror.” See Galloway, 816 F. Supp. at 17 (discussing the tenure of Judge David Norman, a blind judge on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia).


Although visual impairment was once a basis for per se disqualification from jury service, by the late 20th century, courts and legislatures began to reconsider blanket exclusions in favor of a case-by-case analysis that weighed the Sixth Amendment rights of criminal defendants against the public interest in equal access to the jury. See, e.g., Bewley v. Oklahoma, 695 P.2d 1357, 1359 (Okla. Crim. 1985) (holding that blindness did not automatically disqualify a juror under state statutes). But framing these cases as a balancing act between defendants’ rights to a fair trial and blind Americans’ rights to serve on a jury often creates a false dichotomy. While protecting a defendant’s constitutional rights is essential, blind jurors have served and will continue to serve on juries without depriving the defendant of any of her fundamental rights and protections to a fair trial. See Nancy Lawler Dickhute, Jury Duty for the Blind in the Time of Reasonable Accommodations: The ADA's Interface with a Litigant's Right to a Fair Trial, 32 Creighton L. Rev. 849, 857 (1999) (concluding that “while at first blush the seating of a blind juror might appear to compromise the guarantees of an impartial, competent jury, upon closer examination these guarantees are neither sacrificed nor compromised”).

In Commonwealth v. Susi, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts established that blind jurors begin with a presumption of competency.

Decided five years prior to the passage of the ADA and just three years after the state legislature explicitly allowed individuals with disabilities to serve on juries, Commonwealth v. Susi found that in the context of a blind juror, Massachusetts law “creat[es] a presumption of competency which must then be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.” 394 Mass. 784, 788 (1985). That presumption was overcome in Susi, the Court wrote, because “[t]he issue of identification was the predominant issue at trial.” Id. at 786. The jury was asked to compare the physical features of the defendant with another man, as well as the police’s composite drawings and other photographs. Id. at 785. In reversing the conviction, the Court held that a mere description of the physical evidence would have failed to “convey adequately the subtleties which would be apparent on a visual comparison.” Id. at 788.

While amici believe the outcome of Susi reflects a limited and outdated understanding of the capabilities of blind people, its underlying principle—that blind jurors possess a “presumption of competency” that can be overcome on a case-by-case basis—remains workable so long as the bar to overcome the presumption is set high. The case-by-case approach demands “the articulation of some specific way in which the blind juror’s blindness would thwart justice.” Kaiserat 197. With advancements in both technology and the public’s understanding of the capabilities of blind individuals, the correct presumption is that blind jurors can access and interpret visual evidence and meaningfully contribute to jury deliberations. Rather than trying to determine why a blind juror may not be competent, the court should instead be asking what modifications, if any, will be needed to ensure the blind juror’s ability to participate fully.


In the 34 years since Susi was decided, there have been dramatic advancements in both technology and the general public’s understanding of the capabilities of blind Americans. Given these advancements, blind jurors are presumptively capable of performing two key responsibilities of jurors: assessing physical evidence and determining a witness’ veracity or credibility.9

Technology has revolutionized access for blind individuals.

Since Susi, technological advancements have transformed blind individuals’ access to information. Assistive technologies have proliferated, and today, blind individuals have a variety of options for receiving written communication. Most blind individuals access information electronically, using mobile devices and/or personal computers and screen access software, which vocalize textual information or display that information on a user-provided refreshable braille display.10 Others use large print, audio, magnification devices, scanners, or human readers.11 Some individuals take notes using a BrailleNote, a portable electronic notetaking device. These assistive technologies are widely available, often inexpensive, and already used and possessed by many blind individuals. Apple12 and Microsoft Windows13 operating systems include free built-in assistive technology.

Blind jurors are presumptively capable of assessing physical evidence.

This Court should hold that the presumption is that blind jurors can competently assess visual evidence, in some cases with modifications to ensure effective communication of the evidence.

First, the introduction of visual evidence, such as photographs, videos, mechanical objects, diagrams and handwriting exhibits, requires a testimonial base. Thus, it is almost always accompanied by supplemental evidence in spoken or written form and interpretation by a lay or expert witness. As one blind juror noted, “[t]here is ample describing of the evidence and the particular aspect of the evidence the lawyers want to get across to the jurors . . . They don't just say here's a picture—figure it out for yourself.” M. J. Crehan, Seating the Blind Juror, 81 Judicature 104, 107–08 (Nov./Dec. 1997). See also Caldwell, 603 N.Y.S.2d at 714 (holding that seating a blind juror did not deny the defendant due process despite the presence of photographic evidence, where the court described the photographs as they were introduced and oral testimony was presented on the same issues).

The present case offers a useful example: While the blind juror at the center of this appeal was unable to view the two photographs of the victim’s battered face, he could consider the victim’s testimony about his internal permanent impairment and disfigured face, as depicted in the photographs, Tr. at 116, 119, 121, 122, and described by the medical treatment he later received, Tr. at 122, as well as the medical records from Norwood Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, Tr. at 149. The totality of the evidence was sufficient for the blind juror to make a finding of disfigurement and loss of function.

In addition to testimony provided about the visual evidence, the blind individual may choose to use a trained human reader or describer.14 The use of a qualified reader does not implicate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights. Readers function like interpreters, which courts have consistently allowed. See United States v. Dempsey, 830 F.2d 1084, 1087-88 (10th Cir. 1987); see also People v. Guzman, 556 555 N.E.2d 259, 263 (N.Y. 1990) (noting that interpreters are “neutral figures” and that the court “assume[s] that the jury can be trusted to follow . . . instructions” regarding the expected participation of such individuals).

Trained describers serve a similar role, providing a narration to convey all the relevant characteristics of an object to the blind juror.15 When the proceeding is in open court, the accuracy of description can be monitored easily and addressed by the parties. See Hayes, 923 P.2d at 225-26.

Such a process was upheld in People v. Hayes, where a blind judge presided over a hearing that included video evidence. Id. at 226-27. In Hayes, the judge had a describer prepare a written report of the videotape and describe the contents of the video while it played during the hearing. Id. at 225. The defendant had the opportunity to object or add to the narration and to cross-examine the narrator. Id. Although the defendant claimed on appeal that the narration could not serve as a substitute for viewing relevant evidence, the court disagreed, finding it an “appropriate accommodation” that “ensured defendant of a fair hearing and of a decision based on a rational evaluation of the actual evidence presented.” Id. at 226–27.

Blind jurors are presumptively capable of making credibility determinations.

The notion that a blind juror is unable to assess a witness’s credibility is without merit.16 In evaluating testimony, blind jurors can concentrate on verbal testimony while avoiding distractions like a witness’s facial expressions, dress, appearance, and body movements.Crehan at 106. Even visual cues indicating deception, like nervous tics, darting glances and uneasy shifting, are nearly always accompanied by a corresponding audible cue such as throat-clearing, swallowing, voice quavering, or inaudibility. Kaiser at 200. As one blind juror described, “I’ve found that I’ve been pretty accurate—probably as, if not more accurate, than people who make eye contact, because people have gotten real good about fooling people on the visual level, but people often don't think about how they sound when they speak.” Crehan at 106. Another blind juror, who served on a murder trial, observed that “[p]eople can control face muscles . . . Nobody thinks about the nuances of the human voice.” Id.


This Court has the opportunity to provide guidance to ensure that trial courts recognize the right of blind jurors to an equal opportunity to participate in jury service. Because trial courts may not appreciate their obligations under Title II of the ADA, guidance is necessary.17 See Opinion, An Opportunity to Provide Guidance on Disabled Jurors, Mass. Law. Wkly., June 17, 2019, at 38.

When a blind juror is present, the trial judge should be vigilant in monitoring counsel and witnesses to ensure they do not rely on gestures and other non-verbal cues without accompanying verbal explanation. When eliciting oral testimony, counsel should request accurate and complete descriptions of exhibits and clarifications for the record as needed, so that the trial content is accessible to the blind juror. See Dickhute at 872. For key evidence, the trial court should make readers and describers available to ensure unbiased transmission of information to the blind juror. Many states have developed court rules or policies addressing jurors and others with disabilities. See, e.g., Oregon Uniform Trial Court Rules 7.060; Maryland Rules of Procedure 1-332; California Rules of Court 1.100.18

Amici suggest the following guidelines for ensuring that blind jurors receive effective communication and an equal opportunity to serve:

Improving Information Available to the Public.

A. Provide information on the court’s website related to modifications available to ensure effective communication with blind jurors.19

B. Provide all publicly available printed information concerning court policies, practices, and procedures in electronic format and large print. Ensure that all information provided in electronic format, including on the court’s website, is fully accessible using screen reading software.20

C. Provide basic training to court personnel on common issues related to making trial materials accessible to blind jurors, including use of screen reading software,21 and the availability of professional readers and describers.

Summons and Other Court Communications

A. Provide to jurors the name, office address, telephone number, and email address of the designated ADA coordinator in the summons letter and all related communication.

B. Develop written procedures for prospective jurors with disabilities on how to request and obtain modifications to court policies, practices, and procedures before the hearing date. These should include information on any assistive technology provided by the court.22

C. Eliminate from forms any question that leads to an automatic self-exemption from jury service for people with disabilities.

Day of Court

A. Ensure that all information available at kiosks or posted signage in the courthouse is available in an audible format.

B. Assure that the Jury Questionnaire or any other forms completed by members of the jury pool before or on the day of jury services are accessible.

C. Adopt and publish a procedure providing for a confidential interview of all prospective jurors prior to jury selection, to determine if the juror anticipates a need for a modification should they be selected to serve on a panel.

Analyzing the Case.

A. When the judge learns that a member of the jury pool is blind, the judge should work with trial counsel and then with the potential juror at sidebar to identify:

  1. the extent to which the case hinges upon the interpretation of visual evidence;
  2. how the juror can access that evidence, with or without modifications (e.g., through use of screen reading software, large font printing, readers, describers); and
  3. the ability of the court and the parties to provide those modifications.
Deciding Upon Modifications and Trial Procedures

A. Evaluate the requested modification, and unless it is an undue burden or would fundamentally alter the proceeding, make provisions in the event the potential juror is chosen to serve.

B. In considering requested modifications, give preference to the accessible format requested by the juror (e.g., braille, large print, reader, describer, accessible electronic document).

C. The court should not grant hardship waivers in lieu of providing a modification.

D. If the requested modification is not timely available, reschedule the prospective juror's service for another day when the modification can be arranged.

E. The court should not modify jury service for persons with disabilities by shortening the time or terms of service.

Finalizing the Composition of the Jury Pool

A. When considering a challenge for cause, never grant a challenge against a blind person for cause without first fully considering the person's abilities in relation to the nature of the case and evidence to be presented, making a complete record of the voir dire examination, and putting the reasons for the ruling on the record.

B. Consider whether jurors with disabilities are being stricken using peremptory challenges, without justification.

During Trial

A. Offer a change of seating where doing so would help a juror who is blind or visually impaired enter and exit the jury box or to see shapes or faces better.

B. Remind witnesses to testify in detail when describing diagrams, photographs, documents, and visual aids.

C. Allow the blind juror to touch exhibits during trial and to trace lines on diagrams and sketches.

D. Instruct the jury that it is permissible for sighted jurors to discuss visual evidence with and read documents to the blind juror in deliberations.

E. Through a trained describer, provide the blind juror a detailed description of any visual evidence sighted jurors are viewing.

During Deliberations

A. Allow a reader to assist the blind juror in accessing written documents admitted in evidence that have not been otherwise made accessible.

B. Allow the blind juror, or any juror for that matter, to seek clarification on diagrams, sketches, photographs, and visual aids.


Blind Massachusetts citizens can competently and meaningfully contribute to juries and should be given the opportunity to do so. In the 34 years since this Court decided Susi, we have seen the passage of the ADA and a technological revolution. This Court now should state unequivocally that the use of visual evidence at trial does not by itself undermine blind jurors’ presumption of competency. Such a holding would align Massachusetts courts with federal law, state law, and relevant case law recognizing the too-often ignored capabilities of blind Americans.

1. Used in this context, the term “blind persons” refers to the legal definition found in Mass. Gen. Laws ch 6, § 133(1) and thus includes both individuals without eyesight and those with low vision.

2. According to the NFB, there are 129,800 non-institutionalized persons in Massachusetts, ages sixteen and older, with a visual disability. See Blindness Statistics, National Federation of the Blind, https://nfb.org/resources/blindness-statistics (last visited Aug. 13, 2019).

3. Arkansas became the last state to repeal such prohibitions in 1994, when it struck language disqualifying persons whose “senses of seeing or hearing are substantially impaired.” Kristi Bleyer, Kathryn Shane McCarty, and Erica Wood, Access to Jury Service for Persons with Disabilities, 19 Mental & Physical Disability L. Rep. 249, 250 (1995) (quoting Ark. Code § 16-31-102). The year prior, a federal court overturned an official policy in Washington D.C. Superior Court excluding all blind people from jury service. Galloway v. Superior Court of D.C., 816 F. Supp. 12, 20 (D.D.C. 1993).

4. Additional research indicates that the reliability of auditory memory of people who are blind from birth can only be matched by a subgroup of sighted people who had the highest memory performance. Brigitte Röder, Frank Rösler, Helen J. Neville, Auditory Memory in Congenitally Blind Adults: a Behavioral-Electrophysiological Investigation, Science Direct, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0926641001000027 (2001).

5. While making accommodations to eliminate barriers to individuals with disabilities is a core concept to all sections of the ADA, Title II imposes a higher standard than Titles I and III to ensure proactively that public programs are accessible. It requires that a public entity conduct a review of its programs and facilities to ensure that it will provide individuals with disabilities an equal opportunity to participate in, and enjoy the benefits of, its service, program, or activity. 42 U.S.C. § 12132; 28 C.F.R. § 35.130. Where necessary, the public entity must make reasonable modifications in policies, practices, or procedures to avoid discrimination on the basis of disability, unless the public entity can demonstrate that making the modifications would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity. Id.

6. Justice Richard Bernstein currently serves on the Michigan Supreme Court. Biography of Justice Richard Bernstein, Michigan Courts, https://courts.michigan.gov/Courts/ MichiganSupremeCourt/justices/Pages/justice-richard-bernstein.aspx (last visited Aug. 16, 2019). Chief Justice Richard Teitelman of the Supreme Court of Missouri served until his death in 2016. David A. Lieb, Missouri Supreme Court Judge Richard Teitelman dies, Associated Press News, Nov. 29, 2016, https://apnews.com/95454042353c40f2bb11307450631362 (last visited Aug. 16, 2019).

7. Judge David Tatel has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1994. Barbara Slavin, A Judge of Character: although he’s blind, David Tatel skis, runs and climbs mountains. By summer’s end, he may be a top jurist too., Los Angeles Times, July 28, 1994, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-07-28-ls-21024-story.html (last visited Aug. 16, 2019).

8. Judge Richard Casey served as a U.S. District Judge on the District Court for the Southern District of New York until his death in 2007. Richard Conway Casey, 74, Blind Federal Judge, Dies, March 24, 2007, https://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/24/obituaries/24casey.html (last visited Aug. 16, 2019).

9. Historically, skeptical courts raised concerns about blind jurors’ abilities to perform these tasks. See Susi, 394 Mass. at 788; Lewinson v. Crews,282 N.Y.S.2d 83, 85–86 (N.Y. App. Div. 1967); Black v. Cont’l Cas. Co., 9 S.W.2d 743, 744 (Tex. Civ. App. 1928).

10. See Assistive Technology Products, American Foundation for the Blind (“AFB”), https://www.afb.org/blindness-and-low-vision/using-technology/assistive-technology-products/screen-readers (last visited Aug. 16, 2019).

11. There are many more assistive devices that blind people use to live independently—from a tactile meat thermometer to a talking color identifier. See Household, Personal and Other Independent Living Products, American Foundation for the Blind, https://www.afb.org/node/16207/independent-living-products (last visited Aug. 16, 2019); The Chicago Lighthouse, https://www.lighthousetoolsforliving.com/Colorino-
(last visited Aug. 16, 2019).

12. Mac Accessibility, https://www.apple.com/accessibility/mac/vision/ (last visited Aug. 16, 2019); iPhone Accessibility, https://www.apple.com/accessibility/iphone/vision/ (last visited Aug. 16, 2019).

13. Microsoft Accessibility, https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/accessibility/
(last visited Aug. 16, 2019).

14. In fact, qualified readers are specifically listed as auxiliary aids or services required by the ADA to ensure effective communication with blind individuals. 28 C.F.R. § 35.104 (definition of Auxiliary Aids and Services).

15. For more information about the training and work of audio describers, used in both daily activities and in accessing media and the arts, see Audio Description Project, American Council of the Blind, https://www.acb.org/adp/ (last visited Aug. 12, 2019). The New Jersey Court system recommends that audio describers for the blind, along with readers, note taker, or real time transcribers, be administered an oath similar to that given to ASL interpreters. New Jersey Bench Manual on Jury Selection, 2014, at 32, https://www.njcourts.gov/pressrel/2014/
(last visited Aug. 12, 2019).

16. This reasoning has now been almost uniformly rejected by statutes and case law. See People v. Pagan, 595 N.Y.S.2d 486, 487 (N.Y. App. Div. 1997); Caldwell, 603 N.Y.S.2d at 714.

17. Limited guidance is provided through the Massachusetts Court System’s ADA Accessibility Policy (2018), https://www.mass.gov/policy-statement/ada-accessibility-policy (last visited Aug. 16, 2019) (noting that “[t]he Commonwealth's courts seek to provide appropriate aids and services to qualified persons with disabilities so they can participate equally in the services, programs, or activities of the Judiciary”); the Office of Jury Commissioner’s webpage on jury duty accessibility, Office of Jury Commissioner, Learn About Jury Duty Accessibility, https://www.mass.gov/info-details/learn-about-jury-duty-accessibility#jurors-with-vision-issues (last visited Aug. 16, 2019) (providing limited information about the available modifications).

18. State judiciaries have also issued guidance on accommodating individuals with disabilities through public-facing reports and pamphlets. See, e.g. Accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), N.J. Courts, https://www.njcourts.gov/public/services/aocada.html (last visited Aug. 16, 2019); ADA Information, Fla. Courts, https://www.flcourts.org/
(last visited Aug. 16, 2019); Hawaii ADA Accommodations, Haw. State Judiciary, https://www.courts.state.hi.us/services/ada/ada_accommodations (last visited Aug. 16, 2019); How Court Users Can Obtain Accommodations, N.Y. State Unified Court System, http://ww2.nycourts.gov/Accessibility/CourtUsers_Guidelines.shtml (last visited Aug. 16, 2019); Jud. Council of Ga., A Meaningful Opportunity to Participate: A Handbook for Georgia Court Officials on Courtroom Accessibility for Individuals with Disabilities, Ga. Courts, http://ada.georgia.gov/document/publication/115096162adahandbkmay05800pdf/download (last visited Aug. 16, 2019) (“Meaningful Opportunity”); Jud. Council of Cal., For People with Disabilities Requesting Accommodations,http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/access-fairness-QandA-for-persons-with-disabilities.pdf (last visited Aug. 16, 2019).

19. Currently, the website lists only that the Trial Juror Handbook and Grand Juror Handbook are available in web versions and that the Trial Juror Handbook is available in a large print version. See Jurors with Vision Issues, Off. Jury Commissioner (Apr. 25, 2018), https://www.mass.gov/
(last visited Aug. 16, 2019).

20. At the time of filing, many of the court system’s electronic forms are inaccessible or difficult to navigate using screen readers, as described below:

-- Juror Questionnaire, https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2017/11/06/
(last visited Aug. 13, 2019) (Required document provided in pdf format that is not JAWS compatible. Without pause, it reads the document in its entirety. As a result, a JAWS user would have to commit to memory the order in which the information is needed in order to fill it out correctly. The document also relies upon use of a mouse, a visual tool not used by JAWS users, who use keystrokes.).

-- ADA Complaint Form, https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2019/04/29(/jud-ac-ada-complaint-form-john-adams%202019--0419.pdf)(last visited Aug. 16, 2019) (similar issues);

-- Request for Accommodation, https://massdocs-digital-mass-gov.s3.amazonaws.com/s3fs-
(last visited Aug.16, 2019) (similar issues)

-- ADA Grievance Document, https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2019/06/19/jud-Complaint%20ADA-1.pdf (last visited Aug. 16, 2019) (PDF document that gives instructions on how to file a grievance, rather than an inaccessible form. The document is accessible in JAWS for the most part. However, the link in the document can only be accessed by mouse.).

Each form should also be available online as an accessible Word document (which would not require use of a mouse), and available at the court in large print format.

21. From the colloquy between the trial judge and juror number six, it appeared that the trial judge may have believed that screen reading software could not be used by the juror because there was no internet in the courtroom. Tr. at 63. This belief is incorrect, as screen readers do not require internet access.

22. Ideally, every courthouse or Justice Center should have one laptop or tablet with screen reading software, which could be made available to the blind jury pool member as well as to any empaneled blind juror needing to access written exhibits during deliberations.

To the extent the court relies on prospective blind jurors to bring their own devices, courthouse security policies should be amended. See Trial Court Policy on Possession & Use of Cameras & Personal Electronic Devices, https://www.mass.gov/location-details/trial-court-policy-on-possession-use-of-cameras-personal-electronic-devices (last visited Aug. 16, 2019) (addressing assisted listening devices as the only exception to the Massachusetts court system’s electronic device security policy).

Exhibitors’ Showcase Review

by Jessica McLeod and Mark Jones

From the Editor: Each year the Braille Monitor sends a note to all divisions, committees, and groups that are a part of our national body. The request is simple and straightforward: tell us what you’ve done over the last year, and/or tell us what you did at the convention. Mark Jones and his colleague always come through, and the showcase he writes about is a tremendous benefit to our exhibitors and members. Here is what Mark and Jessica tell us about the showcase:

On Sunday, July 7, 2019, the Exhibitors’ Showcase took place at the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Nearly thirty presentations were made before the standing-room-only crowd introducing new gadgets and software to the eager audience. Here are a few of the highlights from those presentations:

WayAround enables your iPhone or Android phone through a free app to identify tags that you can place on anything from CDs to canned foods to clothing. Representatives from HIMS spoke about its Google-certified notetaker, the Polaris, and the recently released QBraille, a forty-cell Braille display with a combination of a Perkins-style keyboard and the special keys found on the QWERTY keyboard. Having these extra keys on a Braille display eliminates the need to memorize complex Braille key equivalents. HIMS also has released a Braille instructional system for young readers called LeapFrog for the blind.

HumanWare representatives spoke about its new BrailleNote Touch Plus that uses a newer android platform and faster hardware. They said it would be much faster than the BrailleNote Touch. They also spoke of new things coming to the Victor Trek and its new Reveal 16 video magnifier.

Duxbury Systems is now entering their forty-fourth year of doing Braille translation software. Its newest version, 12.5, has many new features for the Braille embosser. Its PerkyDuck freeware also turns your computer into a Perkins Braille writer. Duxbury is now handling a larger number of Braille math files as well.

If you are looking for a very simple-to-use phone, BlindShell claims to have the most accessible phone for the blind. It features a full keypad with buttons and is fully vocalized with many smart phone features plus high contrast icons and large print for those with low vision. For Federationists who use Sprint, the company has developed special phone plans with great phone prices for NFB members.

Representatives from Vispero, formerly Freedom Scientific, told us about its fifth generation Focus Blue Braille display and its newly released ElBraille 40. They also spoke about new features in JAWS and ZoomText.

Amazon representatives spoke about its new accessible Fire TVs and its new speakers including the Echo and Alexa. It has improved verbosity features, new rapid shortcuts, and has improved its book reading voices. There is also a new Alexa-enabled microwave.

Microsoft representatives talked about new features in its screen reader Narrator and about its Disability Answer Desk, which will answer questions for you for free anytime. There is also Be My Eyes Support and monthly webinars.

Representatives from the American Printing House for the Blind talked about its new product Code Jumper, which takes computer coding and puts it into sound and moving objects. It also has a new fourteen-cell Braille display called the Braille Trail LE. Additionally there is the new BrailleBuzz, a toy that teaches phonics, keyboard positioning, and more for the new Braille reader. There is also the new Color-Star that can not only identify colors but can tell you the color of LED lights.

In the area of wearable tech, eSight eyewear has electronic glasses for those with low vision that can detect changing colors, has built in OCR, can store PDF files, and can drastically increase the size of things that you are looking at. A personal coach will help you learn to use your glasses which they say is like a wearable CCTV. OrCam talked about its tiny wearable assistive technology device, the OrCam MyEye which now has facial recognition for both recognizable and nonrecognizable features. Sunu has a device that you wear like a watch that can detect nearby objects and vibrate to let you know where nearby obstructions may be when using your cane.

A T Guys is in its tenth year at the convention. This year representatives demonstrated a new waterproof Bluetooth speaker and a pluggable, foldable Bluetooth keyboard that will connect to your phone. Its AfterShokz headphones keep getting better. It also has Micro-speak talking voice recorders. Another new product from them is a $10 USB sound card to make sure your speech synthesizer and music don't come through the same speaker.

Independent Science representatives told about its new LabQuest 2 that enables a student to stick in their probes at the lab and test things like everyone else. With its Logger Pro product you can now print out your own graphs. Now the blind can do their own lab work.

Envision Inc. has a podcast on using Uber with a guide dog. It also has a telephone and email service that hires the blind to work the phones and teach folks to use its AfterShokz and accessible microwaves.

Representatives from Bookshare said that it now has over 700,000 titles to choose from and has audio in highlighted text. Now you can get more out of your iPhone with the new Rivo 2, a keypad that connects through Bluetooth and makes voicemail, phone banking, and Google assistant easier to use.

The National Braille Press has been around ninety-two years developing Braille books, from print-Braille children’s books to cookbooks and how-to books for technology written by blind authors. New this year are Drop into Dropbox and Dating in the Digital Age. The National Braille Press is always looking for new ideas of things to Braille.

The San Francisco LightHouse provides tactile maps for your address anywhere in North America so you can really feel your surroundings.

Curtis Chong told us about the new Eltrinex digital talking recorder. It produces stereo recordings and can copy files to a computer. With the Eltrinex V12 Pro, you can also plug in an external mike or use line-in.  

Representatives from Global Initiative Accessibility came to the convention to educate, advocate, promote, and enforce accessibility rights to websites. It will report accessibility issues to attorneys so that cases can be filed as soon as possible.

Finally we heard from Bristol Braille Technology representatives and got to have hands-on reviews by our audience of the new Canute 360-cell, nine-line Braille display which can read a third of a Braille page. Just put in a memory stick with a file on it and read your file like a Braille printer would. It will be a big help with math and music. When released, it should be priced at around $2,000 according to its distributor.

We would like to thank all who attended. Hopefully they learned a lot and were able to go into the exhibit hall informed and ready to ask more detailed questions of the vendors there.


This month we’re running another edition of Retro Recipes, pulled from the archives. We were reminded about some of the absolutely delicious recipes that have run in the past that deserved another look. Obviously, there are too many to reprint them all, but here’s a small selection:

Corrine Dunbar's Red Bean Soup

This recipe first appeared in April 1991.

1/2 pound red kidney beans
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs thyme
1/4 stick butter
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 pound ham, ground fine
salt and pepper to taste
Claret wine, sieved hard-boiled egg, 8 lemon slices (garnish)

Method: Sauté onion in butter. Simmer beans for about three hours with onion, garlic, celery, thyme, and bay leaves in enough water to cover. Keep an eye on the beans as they cook; it's important that they not go dry, but equally important that there not be too much water. Press mixture through coarse strainer, using large spoon to force mixture through. Add ham, and correct seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Place one tablespoon claret wine in bottom of each bouillon cup. Pour soup. Garnish with sieved egg and lemon slice. Serves eight.

Portuguese Chicken and Rice
by Bill Bridgeman
This recipe originally appeared in November 1999.

3/4 pound Polish sausage, kielbasa, or any other garlic smoked sausage (I like to use Mexican chorizo or medium-flavored Italian sausage)
2-1/2 pounds cut-up frying chicken
2 medium onions, chopped
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup long grain rice, uncooked
2 cups chicken broth
3-1/4 ounce can pitted ripe olives, well drained, and cut in half
2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Method: Brown sausage in a little oil; remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Brown the chicken in the same pan, adding more oil if necessary. Set aside. Stir in the chopped onions and continue cooking until the onions are softened. Add pepper flakes and rice, stirring until the rice is coated. Add the olives and return sausage to pan. Mix together. Add the chicken broth and arrange the chicken over top. Sprinkle with cider vinegar, bring to a boil, cover, and cook in 375-degree preheated oven for thirty minutes. Uncover and cook another five to ten minutes, or until the chicken is done.

Potato Chip Cookies
by Pat Robbins

This recipe first appeared in June 2003. At that time Pat Robbins was a member of the Charlotte chapter and served on the chapter's board of directors.

1 pound margarine
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1 cup potato chips, crushed (1 snack pack)
1 cup chopped nuts
Powdered sugar

Method: Cream together margarine and sugar. Add vanilla and egg yolks. Work in flour. Add potato chips and nuts, stirring well. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. These cookies rise very little, so you can place them close together. Bake at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes. Roll in powdered sugar. Makes about four dozen cookies.

Vanilla Flan
by Lydia Usero-Quiones

This recipe was originally introduced in February 1996 like this: Lydia Usero-Quiones has a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Puerto Rico. She plans to keep studying to obtain her master's degree in education. Presently she is working as an English teacher at Ramirez College of Business and Technology. She is a founding member and first elected president of the NFB of Puerto Rico. Currently she serves as first vice president of the affiliate. She is also the treasurer of the Society of Friends of the Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

1 cup sugar for caramel glaze
3 cups milk
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, plus 2 additional yolks
1-1/4 teaspoons vanilla
flan mold, round, 8-inch by 2-inch
larger mold for the bain-marie

Method for Glazing Caramel: Put one cup sugar in the flan mold over low to moderate heat for eight minutes. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely melted. Keep over very low heat while glazing the mold. Using your hands and working rapidly, tilt the mold in a circular pattern to spread the syrup evenly over surface. You want the bottom and sides of the mold to be caramelized. Set aside to cool.

Method for Making Flan: Preheat the oven to 325-degrees. Add enough water to the bain-marie mold to reach two thirds of the way up the flan mold and set water-filled mold in the oven. Mix well the milk, sugar, and salt without foaming and scald mixture in a saucepan. Don't let it come to a boil. Beat the eggs and additional yolks lightly, just enough to blend them. Don't let the eggs foam up because this will produce a grainy flan. Add the scalded milk slowly to the eggs and strain. The idea is to combine the mixtures without curdling the yolks. Add the vanilla, pour into caramelized mold, and set in the pan already in the oven. Bake for ninety minutes or until a cake tester inserted slightly off center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool for two hours before refrigerating. Refrigerate covered. To serve, invert a platter with a rim, which will hold the liquified caramel. Note: This recipe is specially dedicated to Ollie Cantos, president of the National Association of Blind Students. During his visit to Puerto Rico in June, he ate tons of Vanilla Flan. Enjoy, Ollie!

Easy-to-Make Brownie Blitz
by Kathy Davis

This recipe was originally introduced in December 2005 like this: This recipe should be made a day ahead of serving. Therefore, depending on the time available for cooling of the brownies, you may want to make the brownies two days in advance.


1 package brownie mix, baked, cooled, and broken into bite-sized pieces
1 large package instant chocolate pudding
1 12-ounce container Cool Whip
2 to 3 Butterfinger candy bars, sliced into very thin slivers (or 3 to 4 Heath bars broken into small pieces)

Method: In a large fluted or glass salad bowl place approximately half of the crumbled brownies. Prepare pudding as directed. Add about half the pudding to the brownies and spread a layer of Cool Whip over the pudding. Then sprinkle with half the candy bar slivers. Repeat these layers in this order with other half of the ingredients. You will have to work quickly to prevent pudding from setting before layering is complete. Refrigerate overnight to allow the pudding to soak into the brownies and to set. Serve and bask in the compliments.

Monitor Miniatures

In Brief

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.

Ski for Light Makes Tracks for Wyoming:
The 45th annual Ski for Light International Week will take place from February 9 through 16, 2020, in Casper, Wyoming. This is a new venue for the all-volunteer nonprofit’s annual event where beginning blind and mobility-impaired skiers are taught the basics of cross-country skiing, while more experienced skiers further hone their skills. All enjoy a variety of après ski activities.

Casper is located in east-central Wyoming at the foot of Casper Mountain along the North Platte River. Participants will stay at the Ramkota Hotel and Conference Center and ski at the Casper Mountain Outdoor Center at McMurry Mountain Park. The Center has 42 kilometers of wide cross-country trails.

The annual week-long event attracts more than 250 skiers, guides, and volunteers from throughout the United States, as well as international participants. During the Ski for Light week, each skier with a disability is paired with an experienced, sighted cross-country skier who acts as ski instructor and on-snow guide. Most blind and/or mobility-impaired adults leave Ski for Light with a sense of accomplishment and motivation that carries over to every aspect of their lives. Many volunteer guides return year after year and most discover that in the process of giving of themselves they get much more back in return.

If you have never before attended what many have called “the experience of a lifetime,” join us on an epic adventure in Wyoming. Additional information can be found at www.sfl.org, or you may contact Visually Impaired Participant Recruitment Chair Melinda Hollands at (231) 590-0986 or [email protected] Come discover yourself and make new friends!

State Resource Handbooks Available for Purchase:
I have created forty-eight screen-reader-friendly resource handbooks containing resources for the blind and visually impaired. These are to assist consumers and professionals in finding information about employment, housing, transportation, and more. Handbooks are currently available for: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

The Resource Handbooks are available in the following electronic formats Microsoft Word, PDF, HTML, and Rich Text Format. Since these are electronic formats the requested list will be sent to you by email with an attachment. If a large-print hardcopy is desired, please email me at [email protected] and include in the email which state resource book you want so that I can give you the correct pricing information.

For more information on pricing and formats please contact Insightful Publications by email at [email protected] or by phone at 808-747-1006.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.