Braille Monitor

Vol. 63, No. 2                                   February 2020

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

telephone: 410-659-9314
email address: [email protected]
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Letters to the President, address changes, subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature should be sent to the national office. Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also be sent to the national office or may be emailed to [email protected].

Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about forty dollars per year. Members are invited,
and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be
made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:

National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998


        ISSN 0006-8829

Houston Site of 2020 NFB Convention

The 2020 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Houston, Texas, July 14 to July 19, at the Hilton Americas—Houston hotel, 1600 Lamar Street, Houston, TX 77010. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Hilton Americas—Houston staff only. Call 1-800-236-2905 to reserve your room in the main hotel. If you wish to stay in our overflow hotel, the Marriott Marquis Houston, the number to call is 1-877-688-4323.

The 2020 room rate at our main hotel is $105.00 per night and applies to singles and doubles as well as triples and quads. Hotel and sales taxes are 13.38 percent and 8.25 percent, respectively. The rate for the overflow Marriott Marquis is slightly higher at $119 and includes Hotel and sales taxes of 13.38 percent and 8.25 percent, respectively. As with our main hotel, this rate is good for up to four in a room. Both hotels will take a deposit of the first night’s room rate for each room and will require a credit card or a personal check. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately. If a reservation is cancelled before Friday, June 1, 2020, half of the deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.

Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2020, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotels will not hold our room block for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.

The schedule for the 2020 convention is:

Tuesday, July 14          Seminar Day
Wednesday, July 15    Registration and Resolutions Day
Thursday, July 16        Board Meeting and Division Day
Friday, July 17              Opening Session
Saturday, July 18         Business Session
Sunday, July 19            Banquet Day and Adjournment

Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick or USB flash drive). You can read this audio edition using a computer or a National Library Service digital player. The NLS machine has two slots--the familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again. (Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive, the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges, when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.

You can transfer the recording of each issue from the thumb drive to your computer or preserve it on the thumb drive. However, because thumb drives can be used hundreds of times, we would appreciate their return in order to stretch our funding. Please use the return envelope enclosed with the drive when you return the device.


Vol. 63, No. 2                                   February 2020

Illustration: Leading with the Heart

Having a Voice and More
by Cassie McKinney

From Struggle to Success: How Honesty, Skills, Philosophy, and Engagement Helped Me
by Rebecca Stevens

Houston Proud: The 2020 National Convention is Closer than You Think
by Norma Crosby

The Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship
by Cayte Mendez

Sighted Privilege: Recognition of the Problem is the First Step Toward Resolution
by Justin Salisbury

Teaching Access Technology Using Structured Discovery Techniques
by Chancey Fleet and Matt Hackert

Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind?

Protect Yourself from Phone Scams
by the Social Security Administration

Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship
by Tracy Soforenko


Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2020 by the National Federation of the Blind

Leading with the Heart

For the past five years the National Federation of the Blind has held a transformational seminar with the Art of Leadership group, as part of the Art with a Heart organization. High school students from across Baltimore came to the Jernigan Institute to participate in this two-and-a-half hour seminar. These students were challenged by Braille instruction, going over the alphabet and using a Braillewriter; learning kitchen techniques under learning shades, including cutting vegetables and fruit and baking cookies; experiencing access technology, including using JAWS to explore a website, using a KNFB Reader, using VoiceOver on iPhone graphics; and learning some basics of cane travel under learning shades.

At the end of this seminar the students and the instructors had a meal together, and over good food had good discussion about the students’ experiences and what they learned. The breaking of bread also gave them a chance to ask questions that might have come from the experience.

[PHOTO CAPTION: This year’s Art of Leadership Group: Back row, left to right: Ethan, Devan, La’Mya, Mya, Jack, and Eli; Middle row: Noah (kneeling), Jordan, Kourtney, Keera, Jonathan, Amanda, Abijah, and Quinn; Front row: Kayla, Samantha, Zawadi, Allie, Paige, Anning, and Ryder]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Karl Belanger and Kennedy Zimnik demonstrate access technology to Kourtney, Keera, Mya, Nadia, and Devan.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Ethan and Ryder were able to practice kitchen techniques while under learning shades by baking cookies.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Taught by Steve Booth, Summer, Noah, Ryder, Abijah, and Amanda practice Braille using Perkins Braillewriters.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Eli, Jack, Jonathan, Zawadi, and Jordan navigate a small set of stairs under learning shades with the help of mentors, Maurice Peret, Lou Ann Blake, Scott White, and Stephanie Flynt.]

Having a Voice and More

by Cassie McKinney

From the Editor: What we take for granted is often surprising until some person or circumstance brings it to our attention. Feeling good is taken for granted until we suffer for a week with a cold or a day with a bad headache. At least in my case, for the next little while I wake with gratitude, but alas, it doesn’t last long. Pretty soon I am taking the good for granted as nothing more than what I am due. It is my normal, and it is to my shame that I discount the blessings in my midst.

Cassie McKinney is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of New Hampshire, a wife and mother of two, and a fulltime funeral director. She is more than busy, but she doesn’t take for granted her right to vote and the homework that should go into preparing for it. Here is what she says:

Much of the buzz in the news today is about 2020 and our upcoming elections. No matter where any of us stand politically, we have views, and those views need to be expressed through our vote. This is why the NFB spends so much time working on blind people being able to cast a ballot privately and independently.

Blind people have issues that require the attention of public officials, and each of us has a responsibility to speak to the direction of the country and what we see for her future. As blind people, we are as diverse as others are in what we think about the role of government, the level of taxes, what it means to be a good or bad politician, and the role each citizen should play in policy development. So you can see where I’m going with this article; it’s all about voting, but don’t turn me off so quickly because my message is more complex.

Before we undertake any task, normally we learn what we can about it. We get familiar with the options being discussed, see if we can add one or two of our own ideas, and then work at getting to know the people who can bring about the change we want or preserve the things we want to keep. In terms of our political system, I think this should mean going to forums, caucuses, and other public meetings candidates hold to advertise themselves and their views. One advantage of being a part of the process is having others see us, knowing their issues, talking about ours, and helping emphasize to us and to others that we are generally not single-issue voters. I care about how a candidate feels about my access to blindness technology, but blindness is not the characteristic that defines me, and she will not get my vote if we have major disagreements on other things that are important to me.

Living in New Hampshire, I get the opportunity to see a number of presidential candidates up close. I get to see both what the news has to say about them and what I hear directly through my own observation and interaction. All of us know the difference in connecting with other people when our contact is by letter, by telephone, or in person. All have their place, but I get to know people best when I can shake their hand and talk with them. I like to see not only how they interact with me but also how they interact with others and whether there is a significant difference. To me there is no better way than personal engagement  to decide whether a candidate is sincere or insincere, whether his engagement with the audience is real or forced, and whether he seeks office to help people like me  or simply to help himself.

The opportunity to participate in deciding who will govern and make the important decisions for our country is too important to observe second or third hand. The interaction that I have and the consequent decisions I help to influence make a difference in not only my present-day existence but also in the future that will greet me and my children. There is no downside to this participation in which I am currently engaging, and I hope that everyone who reads this will take advantage of their own opportunity to observe, interact, send a message, and in the end cast their vote. I love how being politically involved makes me feel, and I am certain it will do the same for you.

There is a lot of word repetition here with “whether” and “engagement”

Should this be myself?

From Struggle to Success: How Honesty, Skills, Philosophy, and Engagement Helped Me

by Rebecca Stevens

From the Editor: Rebecca tells a story that needs to be told more often. The story is about a child who sees so little that using her sight does not allow her to productively do what others do. At the same time, she sees well enough that she is not encouraged to learn and use the techniques blind people use, and when she makes moves in that direction, she is questioned, bullied, and suffers a direct attack on her self-esteem. The question is whether to try to fit in and accept that you will not do things well, or determine that you are blind and that you must master the techniques blind people use and then gladly take the additional rewards your limited vision will allow.

Rebecca now works as our director of social media at the NFB Jernigan Institute, but this article was written before her recent hiring. I appreciate her sharing her story with readers of the Braille Monitor, and I think many of us will come to appreciate what she does for us in bringing her skills to social media. Here is what she says:

I was born on December 27, 1994, with albinism, a condition frequently accompanied by low vision. I am the oldest of three girls, and after our parents divorced, we moved to Gothenburg, Nebraska, as my mom navigated becoming a single parent. Although she always encouraged me to follow my dreams by demonstrating what persistence and hard work could accomplish, she had few resources and no familiarity with blindness. Neither did she know or have help in learning how to raise a child growing up with it. She took me to the best ophthalmologist, involved me with the Lions Club, and encouraged my participation in different activities. These activities included sports (karate, track, baseball, volleyball), Destination Imagination (collaborative problem-solving challenges designed to teach twenty-first century skills and STEM principles), choir, plays, band, and Girl Scouts. All the advice she received from public schools, counselors, doctors, and family and friends encouraged her to push me to use the eyesight I have. In turn, it discouraged me when I couldn’t do the things that I wanted to accomplish. It also brought on a number of health problems, ranging from headaches and back pain to depression, anxiety, and eventually low self-esteem. They didn’t teach me to embrace my vision loss and learn different, nonvisual techniques to accomplish tasks. And worse, I struggled socially; it became harder to make friends.

I attended Gothenburg public schools from 2003 through 2006 and again from 2008 until I graduated in 2013. During my schooling I began using low-vision accommodations in the classroom. I had the choice among large print, magnification, and using skills designed for people with less usable vision. Living in Nebraska, I was very fortunate to be in a state that had one of the best vocational rehabilitation programs for blindness in the country. I was assigned a vision counselor from the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NCBVI), who worked with my mother and me to do the best that we could to advocate in IEP meetings and acquire the expensive access technology I needed. I was given the option to learn Braille, which I did. But quickly it became apparent that there weren’t many practical ways for me to use it, since it had to be transcribed and materials reformatted for me. Instead I used magnification aids such as ZoomText (a screen magnification program) and a closed-circuit TV (CCTV) to enlarge the white board, even if that meant making it harder in classes. I used to lug this heavy machine through the halls, up and down the stairs, and sit in the front of the class to read PowerPoints and handouts, but I still struggled to keep up. The CCTV encouraged me to depend on the unreliable vision that I had. Oftentimes these visual techniques wouldn’t bridge the gap that I needed, and I was placed in a special education class where I was helped by a special education paraprofessional (para) to read my work and explain materials. Sometimes it was given in an over-simplified manner in order to meet deadlines, resulting in my answers being too easy in order to pass classes. I wasn’t a slow learner; nor did I have trouble learning the material from an academic perspective. In fact, it was the opposite. Despite the best efforts of my paras, teachers, and my mom, I still struggled to get good grades in my classes and to meet the expectations that I had for myself. I wanted to take harder classes that would look good to colleges, but they were more visually challenging. People were setting lower standards and expectations for my future solely because of my blindness. I began to have difficulty with my peers, my self-esteem, and I started acting out. Still, I never completely gave up on my dreams.

I found myself in a strange kind of limbo—too sighted to fit in with blind peers, and too blind to fit in with sighted people. I was told by family and other sighted people that I was “not blind enough” to need a white cane, so for years I never used one. Very often people assumed I was either incapable or faking my lack of vision.

Socially, school was even more of a challenge. The bullying because of my albinism was horrendous. It had reached a point where I didn’t feel safe coming to class because I was being physically threatened by my peers for how I looked and because of the special aids I had to use in class. It led me to feel like I had to hide my blindness from people. So when I was older and was introduced to my first cane, I was afraid of how much it would make me stand out and emphasize that I was different. I didn’t see its value as a tool when I had gotten so good at hiding my struggles with blindness so that only my closest friends, the para, and my close family members could see the things I did to make it look like I was just another kid with vision.

When I finally entered the workforce, I used this same tactic to get jobs. But quickly I realized that the only person I was fooling was myself. I struggled with performing up to expectations when reliant on visual techniques. It wasn’t new to me to struggle in the sighted world; however, I was very frustrated with how low the expectations were set for me. I felt like I would never be able to do anything greater than take orders and bag fast food, and even then I tried to do my best. I wanted more than this. I wanted a good job, a career with benefits, advancement opportunities, and some day to have a family and raise children. I knew I deserved these things just like everyone else. My mom watched me struggle, and she never stopped encouraging me to be brave. But the truth was that we both felt powerless. We were problem-solvers, but we couldn’t see another solution.

After struggling for years in the workplace, losing my job, and having to pick up multiple part-time jobs to be able to pay the bills, I began my search again. After many resumés and applications, but very few interviews, I still couldn’t seem to find a job. No matter how professional I was, I couldn’t get hired, not even at local restaurants. Despite all of the challenges I had faced in employment and continuing education, I always believed I had more potential, and those obstacles challenged me to be determined, strong, and hard working. It gave me the determination and diligence to make my dreams a reality. But for years I believed in that idea that if something is broken, fix it, and to myself and everyone else, my vision was broken.

In 2014 my mother and I decided to start our business, Agape Medical Staffing LLC. My mom knew I could do it. I just needed the chance to prove to myself and to others how capable and able I was. Today, I love working at home with my mom and being my own boss. I help so many elderly people in nursing homes across the state and build relationships with nursing home administrators and other business owners. I finally feel like I am giving back to my state and my community! But as our business grew, so did the paperwork and the demand for more computer skills. I realized I needed better accommodations for my vision, and I began falling behind on deadlines once again. That was when I decided to go to the School for the Blind run by NCBVI. This is where my life began to follow a new path. This is where I learned, under the Structured Discovery method, to use alternative, nonvisual techniques of blindness. I also stopped seeing myself as broken, rather, just different. I attended training where I would wear learning shades (a dark mask over my eyes that didn’t let any light come through). From 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., I wore these learning shades to learn skills like Braille literacy, home management, home maintenance, traveling with a long white cane, and computer skills using JAWS (a screen reader which converts print on a computer screen to synthetic speech). It was there that I was first introduced to the National Federation of the Blind and its positive philosophy about my blindness. I came to accept my vision and myself with pride! I no longer fear using other accommodations to create a better quality of life for myself.

I wish that I had learned and used these skills years ago! As I learned them and started using them regularly, I realized that I had missed so many things trying to rely on vision alone. I was practically illiterate, and my traveling was very stressful and unsafe. Worst of all, I had acquired such an anxiety of talking to people and being independent that I was now the one holding myself back. I let others tell me what was best for me, many who thought they were helping, but they had never been exposed to the positive philosophy of what blindness was. For so long, I didn’t know all the opportunities and experiences that I had missed out on! I had finally found a family within the Federation, a community of support, and I didn’t have to pave my own way or try to be someone I wasn’t anymore. The skills I have learned from NCBVI and the National Federation of the Blind have given me the opportunity and the confidence to be a successful businesswoman, mom, mentor, and contributing member of my community. They have also given me the courage to share my new identity with my family and friends. My mother has seen me grow in ways she never imagined possible! Today I want to share this philosophy, to be a role model for others with vision loss, and to show them that they can be anything they dream. My story is far from unique in the blindness community, and I wouldn’t say it is sad, either. I had good friends and lots of love and support! Those around me did everything they knew to help me succeed, but they lacked the knowledge and resources to show me this different perspective of my blindness.

Meet the Blind Month is about bringing a positive perspective on blindness and sharing the techniques and tools we use to interact with the world. It’s about making connections and sharing support with others, both sighted and blind, as we navigate the world. When I talk about blindness, I am not referring to total blindness or pointing out the difference between legally blind and low vision. Rather, I am using the NFB’s definition, which is anyone whose vision is altered significantly enough that they must use alternative techniques to accomplish tasks of daily living. With this philosophy, the techniques used by people with low vision and those with total blindness are very similar. They can rely on nonvisual alternatives that create less stress on them and at the same time provide an efficient way to accomplish goals. Blindness can look like many things, and there are lots of ways we accommodate. Each person is unique, and therefore the techniques they use vary, but the philosophy should be the same. Live the life you want; these techniques can help you do exactly that.

I want to give special thanks to all those who did their best to help me along my journey:
Angela Piper, case manager; my mom, Lori Zimmerman; all of my friends in school who stood by me in the tough times; all the counselors and instructors from NCBVI, especially Erin Brandyberry; and finally the Federation family in Nebraska and within the Nebraska’s At-Large Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind.

Houston Proud: The 2020 National Convention is Closer than You think

by Norma Crosby

From the Editor: Norma is the very active president of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas. She is also a member of the national board of directors. What the Texas affiliate will be doing in July is acting as the host of the 2020 convention, and here, in the first of several articles, is her explanation as to why you should start making plans to be in Houston:

Houston is a city with lots of personality. Think Dolly Parton with a dash of Freddie Mercury, Beyoncé, and Johnny Cash thrown in for good measure. It boasts not only the world’s biggest rodeo, but great sports teams, more than 10,000 restaurants, and spectacular entertainment venues. While we love our cars in Houston, the downtown area is both walkable and beautiful. Our headquarters hotel is right in the heart of downtown, and you’ll find food and nightlife nearby.

You may be surprised to learn this, but it’s hot in Houston in July, ya’ll. That’s why we developed a tunnel and skywalk system that helps to keep Houstonians cool in the summer by entering buildings that are a part of the system and navigating indoors. Tunnel entries are usually found in office buildings, and, once inside, visitors can just go downstairs and wander around to find shopping and dining opportunities. We’ll offer you some suggestions about using the tunnels while you are here. Just grab a restaurant and shopping guide from the Texas Suite or our information table and find out what I’m talking about.

Shopping and eating are not the only activities you can engage in when you’re downtown. Discovery Green is a twelve-acre park that sits just across the street from our hotel. The park includes two restaurants, a kid’s play area, two dog runs, and a multiuse amphitheater. So, if you need some outdoor time, this is the perfect spot. If you want to venture a little further afield, there are other parks in the downtown area, including the Buffalo Bayou Park. This park includes a great nature play and picnic area, a two-acre dog park, boat and bike rentals, and the Waugh Bridge Bat Colony.

There are six hundred square miles of Houston to explore, but you’ll never be bored even if you just stay downtown. Next month I’ll tell you a little bit about the city and share some information about tours that we have planned for people who want to come a little early or stay a little late. So, tune in for the next installment of our Houston Proud series.

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 Secret to Winning a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship

by Cayte Mendez

From the Editor: Cayte Mendez is the chairperson of one of the most important committees of the National Federation of the Blind. She and her committee are charged with advertising our scholarship program and choosing thirty students who demonstrate academic success, leadership, and commitment to helping others. Here is Cayte’s announcement about the 2020 scholarship program:

Each July at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, our organization awards a broad array of scholarships to recognize achievement by blind scholars. Our thirty scholarships, of which the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship is the largest, are all substantial and prestigious enough to inspire any student to complete a competitive application. The NFB Scholarship Program is our investment in the future of blind people who demonstrate scholastic aptitude, leadership, and service. I encourage every blind college student to apply.

What exactly is the secret to winning an NFB scholarship? Over the years, I have heard quite a bit of speculation regarding the answer to this question. To be sure, there are some non-negotiable eligibility requirements. All applicants for these scholarships must:

While these are the concrete requirements, what exactly is the secret to becoming an NFB scholarship winner?

Many think the key to becoming a scholarship winner is a high grade point average (GPA). While an applicant’s GPA certainly has value because it demonstrates his or her ability to learn and be successful academically, this is by no means the only attribute that influences the decisions of the scholarship committee. Likewise, others believe that the secret to winning is abundant participation in extracurricular activities. Recognizing an applicant’s willingness to take on commitments outside of school and/or work can help the committee develop a portrait of a well-rounded individual; however, this is also not sufficient in itself to justify a scholarship award. Still others think the magic scholarship-winning ingredient is an applicant’s level of commitment to the NFB. It is certainly true that the scholarship program provides our organization with a tremendous opportunity to develop future leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, but scholarship awards are by no means restricted to members of the organization. The National Federation of the Blind is dedicated to creating opportunities for all blind people. Recipients of NFB scholarships need not be members of the National Federation of the Blind. Many of our past winners were not even aware of the NFB before they applied for our scholarships.

Finally, there are those who speculate that the committee looks for winners among applicants from specific fields of study or specific demographics. However, over the years, students of all ages and in widely differing fields have become finalists. The class of 2019 included students entering their freshman year, as well as older students who were nearly ready to write their PhD dissertations. Past scholarship winners are working toward credentials for employment in many diverse fields. So what exactly is the secret to becoming an NFB scholarship finalist? It is just this—you must apply! Each November the new, updated scholarship application forms are posted on the web at www.nfb.org/scholarships, along with important information about the contest, links to information on past winners, and a page of frequently asked questions. The application form for 2020 is already online. It will remain available until March 31. The process can be initiated with an online application, which we prefer, or students can ask for a print application by contacting our scholarship office at [email protected] or by calling 410-659-9314, ext. 2415.

A complete application consists of the official application form and a student essay, plus these supporting documents: student transcripts, one letter of recommendation, and proof of legal blindness. Each applicant must also complete an interview with the NFB affiliate president of his/her state of residence or the state where he or she will be attending school. High school seniors may also include a copy of the results of their ACT, SAT, or other college entrance exams.

In order to ensure that their application is eligible for consideration, applicants must ensure that all of the required information and supporting documentation has been received by our scholarship office either online by midnight EST, March 31, or by mail postmarked by March 31.                  

Students should carefully consider who can do the best job of writing their letter of reference. These letters should support the application by being full of facts and observations that will help the members of the committee see the applicant as a bright, active student and citizen.

Students can write their essays using word processing software. They should remember to use the spell checker (or a human proofreader) before uploading, printing, or copying and pasting their work into the online application form. In an effective essay, the applicant will talk about his or her life in a way that gives the committee insight into him or her. The essay should cover the ways in which he or she lives successfully as a blind person and describe the applicant’s personal goals for the future. Information about positions of leadership is especially helpful. Committee members give the essay a great deal of attention.

The NFB scholarship committee is comprised of dedicated, successful blind people who will review all applications and select the top thirty applicants who will become the scholarship class of 2020. Note that students submit just one application to the program; the scholarship committee will choose the thirty finalists from all applications received. These thirty scholarship finalists will be notified of their selection by telephone no later than June 1.

During the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, held July 14 through July 19, 2020, in Houston, Texas, the scholarship committee will decide which award will be presented to each winner. Attending and participating in the entire national convention is one of the requirements to become an NFB scholarship winner. Of course, attending the convention is also a significant part of the prize.

The National Federation of the Blind’s national convention is the largest gathering of blind people to occur anywhere in the world each year, with 2,500 or more people registered. Those chosen as scholarship finalists will have the opportunity to network with other blind students, to exchange information and ideas, and to meet and talk with hundreds of blind people who are successfully employed in many occupations and professions. Our past winners often comment that the money was quickly spent, but the contacts they made and the information they gathered at convention have continued to make their lives richer than they ever imagined.

Often students apply more than one year before winning a scholarship, so applicants are encouraged to reapply. The NFB may award scholarships to men and women who have already received one Federation scholarship in the past if their scholarship and leadership merit another award. Individuals receiving a second NFB national scholarship are recognized as tenBroek Fellows.

So now you know the secret. The key to success for the NFB scholarship program is as straightforward as carefully reading the application on our website and then providing all of the required information and supporting documentation before the deadline of March 31. I look forward to receiving your applications!

Sighted Privilege: Recognition of the Problem is the First Step Toward Resolution

by Justin Salisbury

From the Editor: As a long-time reader and now the editor, I sometimes receive material that makes me uncomfortable. I come to my job with a set of values that have been influenced over a number of years by society, my experience, and my opinions about right and wrong. If I really want to understand somebody else, I have to start by suspending judgment while I read or listen. I have to be careful not to start constructing arguments as to how they are wrong before I actually hear what they have said. I have to work hard at not using their time for speaking as my time for preparing an answer that may agree or disagree with their statement.

Justin Salisbury sometimes presents me with articles that make me do a double take. Usually I read them, shake my head in wonder, and then go back to his email message to write a reply that usually says something like, “Did you really mean to say that you believe this? Isn’t what you really mean a little closer to what is commonly believed, and could you say it in a way that will cause less defensiveness?” Sometimes he agrees, and we work on a rewrite, but often his response is to suggest that I edit his remarks for clarity but trust that he means what he says.

Justin sent this article in early July. I read it, but I was preoccupied with convention planning, and I knew that it would certainly not make our August/September convention issue and that it was likely not to make the October one either, which is still predominantly convention-oriented. I don’t think I responded to him immediately, feeling that we would again go through our email negotiation. He has now gently reminded me that I have had this article for about six months and that he is still interested in seeing it published. This is an appreciated reminder. Having articles fall through the cracks is not impossible, and though I have a system, it is far from perfect. This time I am not going to try to talk him into changing what he sent. I think that indeed he is articulating a concept that will make many of us uncomfortable but one about which we should be aware. Sometimes I enjoy privilege that I do not want, did not work on a way to get, and can’t figure out how to nullify. When I find the end of the line at the airport and an official from TSA or someone working at the check-in counter immediately moves me to the front, what easy and respectable options do I have beyond “no thank you?” How big a scene do I make if the “no thank you” doesn’t work?

When I heard about the idea that I enjoyed white privilege, I took a visceral dislike to it. Certainly there was discrimination against people of other races, but white privilege got under my skin. I didn’t choose to be white. I didn’t work at having white privilege. I put a good deal of energy into seeing that everyone had the same privilege, and I felt that the term was more a statement of blame and accusation than it was a comment about the way things are. I wanted to reject white privilege as one of these newly coined words created by sociologists or activists, and the sooner the concept died away, the better I would feel about it. But concepts that have merit don’t often fade away, and, at least in my case, negative emotional reactions often do give way to rational consideration when one gets beyond feeling he is being blamed for the way things are.

This is a rather long introduction to ask that you work hard at reading this with an open mind. If you believe that something said here is wrong, send it along. Let’s talk about it; let’s figure it out together. As he makes clear, Justin intends this as a conversation starter and not the definitive word on blind privilege. Here is his article:

Throughout the history of our movement, different terms or phrases have evolved to describe phenomena faced by blind people. It appears to me that some of these terms were coined intentionally, while others may have simply been repeated because someone said something that resonated widely. For example, we have the term “hierarchy of sight,” which is a formal term that we often use in the Federation. We also have phrases like “don’t throw the nickel,” which Dr. Jernigan probably never expected us to say as often as we do. When Dr. Alan Dodds was writing the document that we now call “The Nottingham Report,” I doubt that he expected that we would have eventually branded our model of adjustment to blindness training with the words “Structured Discovery.” After spending over a decade as a student of our movement, I am going to attempt to encapsulate some of the themes which I have heard in our movement in one intentional term. I expect that no single person could produce a final and complete description of it at the time of its introduction, but 50,000 blind people can do a pretty good job of it. Thus, if people think that I have missed something, I beg you to fill in the blanks because I want it and because we all need it. The term that I am proposing is “sighted privilege.” The general theme is that being sighted carries a type of privilege in our society.

Often, people in a privileged population resist recognizing their own privilege, and it will be important that I construct my writing in a way that does not make sighted people feel attacked or threatened. I am attempting to do this, so please forgive me if anything appears too harsh. It is common in social situations for people to use examples of how marginalized populations are mistreated in order to demonstrate that the privileged group is not treated that way. Since this is the primary way of highlighting privilege that we observe in our society, I will take this approach, too.

While there are parts of privilege which can be articulated, it is my belief that privilege is one of those situations where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Either that, or the parts form such a lengthy list that it is too laborious to compile them. It is also common for members of a privileged group to look at a situation of discrimination and write it off as an isolated incident, proceeding to go about their lives as if they never heard about it, while the member of the oppressed minority group may only have enough time to take a half breath before encountering another symptom of their lack of privilege, discrimination. Some people may deem it appropriate to say that discrimination and privilege are like the yin and yang.

I want to be sure that readers understand that I am not comparing sighted privilege to male privilege, but I am going to touch on the topic of male privilege in a way that hopefully helps this discussion. When I first heard the concept of male privilege at the beginning of college, my knee-jerk reflex was to reject it. I quickly thought of all the special opportunities that were given to girls and women for which I was not eligible. I remembered when my middle school class became an all-boys school once per month for about six months because the girls were going off to some program that was preparing them to go to college to study STEM fields. I remembered wishing that I was a girl so that I could have that opportunity, plus we had to go to class while they had field trips. I also remembered all of the scholarship applications that I could not submit because I was not a girl. I remembered how the girls would make $40 or $50 per hour babysitting during high school while the boys could not achieve any kind of similar-paying employment and were never hired to babysit. I felt like I could have been fast-tracked through life with all those extra opportunities if only I had been a girl. I have heard some sighted people say this about the special programs designed to empower blind people.

As I have grown older, however, I think I have come to understand the concept of male privilege much better than I once did. During college, I did a lot of community education work about sexual assault and domestic violence. At the beginning, I was the only heterosexual male who would show up. As time passed, other male students followed my lead, and we got a lot of attention throughout the Southeast for that: men involved in sexual assault programming. I learned that women did not often receive the same kind of respect and credibility when speaking up about this topic, and many of them would be shamed with accusations about their romantic habits using words that I will not put in the Braille Monitor. If a woman said something about sexual assault, far too many people—particularly men—would dismiss every word of what they had said, but, if I said it, people would listen just a little bit more, even if we said exactly the same thing. It shouldn’t be that way, but it all too often is, and it is still that way as I continue that activism today. This discussion only brushes on a small part of male privilege, but I believe that the concept is widespread enough in our society that people can find more information on that topic if they want it. Let me now return to sighted privilege, which also has tons of literature thanks to the National Federation of the Blind, but without that name used for the idea at present.

One night when I was in graduate school at Louisiana Tech University preparing for a career as a teacher of the blind, I remember sitting in my counseling ethics class and making a comment about how a certain counseling theme applied to blindness. I do not remember what we were talking about, but I remember what happened next. People in the class, including the professor, started shifting their weight and feeling uncertain about what I had said. I had the honor of going to graduate school with Joanne Gabias, who was raised by two leaders in our movement and who happens to be sighted. She understood what I was talking about and offered her endorsement of what I had said, elaborating with her way of looking at it. Then, everyone relaxed, they accepted the idea as valid, and the professor resumed with the lecture. Afterward, Conrad Austen, who now teaches at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, was talking to Joanne and me. He explained that the feeling in the room was that it wasn’t really true until a sighted person (someone with sighted privilege) said it, and, since we had a sighted person to validate what the blind person had said, it became true. I hadn’t been able to articulate that, but he did it well. For the record, I think very highly of the faculty involved in the Louisiana Tech University programs preparing teachers of the blind, and I have no anger toward those students who did not understand. If any of them read this article, I would not want them to feel bad about that simple scenario that night, but I would want them to understand that sighted privilege is real.

Now, I will attempt to highlight some of the major parts of sighted privilege. For more information, have a look at any other publication of the National Federation of the Blind. The term may not be used, but the ideas are present.

Assumption of Competence

It is common for sighted people to be given the benefit of the doubt that they are, by default, competent. Thus, they are assumed to be competent unless proven otherwise. Certainly, a sighted person could have other minority identities which disqualify them from the assumption of competence, but it is not their sightedness that is tied to the low expectations. Blind people are often assumed to be incompetent until we prove that we are competent, as if we swim in parallel streams with currents flowing in opposite directions. If I use a cane travel technique that makes me travel a different path from what a sighted person might use, people often assume that I am making a mistake related to my blindness and attempt to help me. For example, if I am walking down a long hallway to go into the last door in a place unfamiliar to me, I might walk to the very end and then come back to the first one. An observer might conclude that I made a mistake and want to tell me that I missed it, but I would still be fully on course as planned. People do not come to this conclusion as a consequence of a traveler’s sightedness. When a blind parent has his or her children taken away because of the assumption of incompetence, the alternative treatment for those with sighted privilege is that people do not default to assuming that sightedness implies incompetence. The same assumption of competence applies to many other areas of life, such as education and employment.

Curse, Shame, and Bad Luck

There are those who believe that blindness is caused by a curse, that blind people carry bad luck, or that blindness is a source of shame. These factors do not take effect for sightedness. People never think “because this person is sighted, there must be bad energy around him or her.” I doubt that anyone has ever been kicked out of a place of public accommodation or ostracized from his or her family because of the fact that they were sighted, but it has happened to many blind people because they were blind. This theme varies culturally, but I am going to go out on a very short limb and say that nobody has ever been treated this way because they were sighted. I have never heard of a sighted person feeling ashamed to be sighted, but I have heard of many blind people who were ashamed to be blind. When I get on a bus and sit down in the middle of a group of people and they all scatter like cockroaches to sit as far as possible from me, I cannot be sure that it is my blindness, but I can be sure that it does not happen to sighted people because of their sightedness.

Equal Access

When things are not accessible to a blind person, this creates a barrier. We generally do not have systems in our society set up in ways that are inaccessible to sighted people. Even if everything currently only in print existed only in Braille, sighted people could reasonably be expected to learn Braille, but blind people cannot reasonably be expected to learn print. When a blind person tries to apply for a job and finds that the online application portal is inaccessible to the blind, that person is forced to find other ways to submit the application. It could be done by asking a sighted person to clear the accessibility hurdle for us, or it could be a matter of contacting a human resources staff member to ask for an alternative arrangement for us to submit our application. Any separate arrangement places us in a segregated pool, and separate but equal has yet to work in human civilization. As blind people we run into access barriers on a daily basis. It may be something critically important, or it may be something minor. Often we cannot tell if it is critically important until we have access to it to know what it is. Even if we have developed ways to problem-solve to get around that hurdle, it is still an adaptation that we need to make that a sighted person would not encounter. These socially constructed barriers limit our participation in education, employment, and other mainstream channels of society. Those who benefit from sighted privilege often fail to recognize the absence of these barriers that they do not face. It is usually not something they requested, but it has been given to them as a part of their favored status.

Availability of Educational Opportunities

It is not difficult to find a teacher who knows how to teach print, but it is quite a task in some places to find a teacher who knows how to teach Braille. The same is true for other kinds of instruction that a blind person may need versus that which a sighted person may need. If a sighted person wants to become a medical doctor, nobody tells them that this might be off-limits because of their sightedness. For many blind children, unfortunately, the response is all too often that becoming a medical doctor would be off-limits because of their blindness. Even if people involved in their education never tell them that this doubt exists, the doubt erodes the interactions with the blind student and the opportunities which that student might have received. If the student is told, “You cannot study abroad because there are no disability accommodations overseas,” that student is missing out on opportunities to grow and develop as a meaningful contributor to the world. A sighted person does not think about how nobody tells them that they cannot do it because of their sightedness, which is part of the first-class status that comes with sighted privilege.

Confirmation Bias

When people have subscribed to the status quo idea of blindness, they have a tendency to be more open to information that confirms their existing beliefs than they are to information which challenges it. Thus, if we transcend the person’s existing ideas of how a blind person should function or act, we are all too often pushed to the back burner of that person’s mental clipboard, especially if they are looking for a blind person specifically. For example, if the coordinator of a conference on urban planning wants to invite a blind person to come speak about how urban planners can help blind people, they may already be hoping for a certain kind of blind person. They may want a blind person who will tell them that we need all kinds of special design features in our built environment. If a blind person tells them that for the most part blind people can adapt to the built environment with little need for modifications, that blind person’s words may not be fully embraced because they do not confirm the existing stereotypes held by those with sighted privilege. For another example, if a conference for teachers of the blind wants to invite a blind person—sorry, a person with a visual impairment—to come and address their membership, they are most likely to want to invite one who will tell them how good a job they are doing and reinforce their existing beliefs about blindness. A majority group does not have to deal with the expectation of confirming stereotypes and complimenting efforts toward integration which may be ineffective or inappropriate. Even with good intentions, the privileged majority may have its way of catering to the minority, which may not actually work well for the minority.

I have also noticed this phenomenon when it comes to government-appointed councils that claim to speak for people with disabilities or oversee disability service programs. With government-appointed councils, those councils are beholden to the political leaders who appoint them; their purpose is often to cement the status quo or whatever rhetoric might be the most politically fashionable at the time. By contrast, the leaders in the National Federation of the Blind are beholden to the members who elect us. When it comes to overseeing disability services, consider a state rehabilitation council in a state with a specialized commission for the blind. This council will be made up of a representative of the client assistance program, a community rehabilitation program, a few more specific classifications, and a number of blind people from that state who have been consumers of vocational rehabilitation at some point in time. If the state rehabilitation council is selected by the governor or some other executive branch leader, they are likely pre-screened by the leadership of the vocational rehabilitation agency. If someone is well-known to hold that agency accountable for its shortcomings, it is unlikely that the VR agency leadership will endorse his or her nomination. The leadership will want people who smile and tell everyone how great the agency is, perhaps just falling in line with whatever they say. This may be influenced by whether the agency is classified as a welfare agency or an education-related agency. Welfare recipients are often told that beggars cannot be choosers and criticized as ungrateful if they ask for anything different from the prescribed service. Sighted people are not expected to confirm existing beliefs about sightedness, but blind people are often expected to confirm existing beliefs about blindness and affirm our service providers no matter what. If we do not, we lose points in whatever processes are relevant at the time.

Biased Selection

People, such as employers or even someone looking for a romantic partner, have an idea of what kind of person they’re seeking. In the general population, it is not normal to expect that the ideal candidate happens to be blind. They just assume that the person is sighted, thus “normal.” When a blind person shows up for the interview, they are all of a sudden different and require cognitive flexibility on behalf of the person who was not expecting to hire a blind person. It may not require much actual work, but open-mindedness is difficult for some people. Furthermore, a person might think, “I would like to hire a blind person for job X.” While I do not at all want to discourage anyone from hiring a blind person, I also think it may be relevant to note that this particular statement demonstrates that a job has already been pre-selected as a “good job for a blind person.” This process of pre-selecting which types of jobs are specifically good for us likely involve some filtering through a set of existing beliefs and stereotypes about blindness. All too often, these jobs that are “good jobs for blind people,” are low-paying jobs involving very low levels of intellectual activity and often involve much repetition in a confined space. If a sighted person says, “I would like to date a blind person,” without someone particular in mind, that mindset can open a whole can of worms. I will leave it up to the readers’ imagination what kinds of expectations and stereotypes the sighted person may have about blind people. Sighted people do not often receive that kind of biased selection filter. The only example that comes to my mind is when a blind person hires a reader or driver; when this happens, it is not done with the assumption that a sighted person is confined to those limited functions to produce value in society because of sightedness.

We who are blind have many allies who have sighted privilege and can use it to help pull us forward. At any given time, it may be that one of them can reach for an opportunity first and then use their new position to welcome in the first wave of blind people to participate in that circle. For example, there may be an employer who is only willing to hire a sighted person for a given job, but then, if one of our allies gets that job, he or she can use it to usher blind people into that setting if we want to be there. I will avoid speculating about when this might have happened, but I am certain that it has, even if the sighted ally might not have realized it at the time. I have heard the story of a sighted woman who was operating an adjustment to blindness training program. She was told by one of her sighted instructors that she needed to stop giving the blind so much power because they would eventually be running that program. She said she thought that would be great, and, once she was promoted above the training program, she hired a blind person to fill her old job. Some noteworthy allies in our quest for empowerment most certainly include Merilynn Whittle, Mary Ellen Jernigan, Lea Días, Joanne Gabias, Dick Davis, Doug Boone, Darick Williamson, Jim Witte, and Floyd Matson to name a few.

My objective here is to introduce the concept of sighted privilege and hopefully allow it to be useful in the narrative about blindness. Sighted privilege is only one dimension of privilege that a person may have. Every person has a race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, etc., all producing varying types of privilege. It is possible for me to have male privilege or heterosexual privilege but not have sighted privilege.

I will also argue that sighted privilege is not perfectly binary, just like male privilege is not perfectly binary. Just as a woman may be given greater respect and promotion potential in the workplace if she exhibits more masculine characteristics, such as a deeper voice or a louder footstep, a blind person with more residual vision may also be given the same partial credit. Some sighted people want to know that a blind person has some useful residual vision as if it gives them more potential to contribute. Some blind people with residual vision may be able to overcome certain access barriers, like when I see a low-hanging tree branch and duck out of the way to avoid hitting my head. Sighted people simply avoid that low-hanging tree branch and think nothing of it most of the time. They surely do not think about how a society constructed for their benefit does not prioritize the trimming of those low-hanging tree branches.

This is how privilege works. It requires no malice, and those who have it did not ask for it. Society is constructed in a way that caters to the majority groups. In the case of the blind, the majority group is the sighted, and they regularly take their sighted privilege for granted. We who are blind do not want to knock down the sighted and limit their ability to enjoy full access to the mainstream channels of society, but we are working together to try to gain that access for ourselves. Sighted privilege is real, and the more society becomes aware of it, the more effectively we can reach for first-class status and enjoy true participation and integration with our sighted neighbors and colleagues.

Teaching Access Technology Using Structured Discovery Techniques

by Chancey Fleet and Matt Hackert

From the Editor: Matt is an access technology specialist who came to work for the NFB in April of 2019. Prior to joining the staff, he worked for three years in Nebraska making technology more usable for blind people. His training is in music, and a favorite pastime is playing the piano.

Chancey works at the New York Public Library on its tech team. She is a well-known Federationist who lives and works in New York. She has a tremendous grasp of technical issues and the much-appreciated ability to bring what she knows to earth people who don’t care how it works but do want to know how to work it. She serves as the first vice president of the New York affiliate, is the president of our trainer’s division, and her advocacy is second to none. Here is the article she and Matt submitted:

Teaching Access Technology Using Structured Discovery Techniques is a three-day, hands-on workshop that features the Structured Discovery philosophy of teaching and learning. Structured Discovery has its roots in teaching cane travel, but it has expanded to include the methodologies of Socratic questioning to promote problem solving in all areas of nonvisual skills and independence for the blind.

Dates and Location: Tuesday, April 14, through Thursday, April 16, 2020, National Federation of the Blind, 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230.

Schedule: Tuesday, April 14—Sessions by access technology professionals focusing on the intersection between access technology education and Structured Discovery philosophy.
Wednesday, April 15—Hands-on accessible iOS app development with Apple.
Thursday, April 16—Hands-on accessible Android app development with Google.

Call for Presentations: Share your expertise! Presentation topics on Tuesday, April 14, may include training techniques, self-guided learning, theory of technology education, and additional relevant topics. Presentations can be thirty or sixty minutes in length. Interactive elements are encouraged.

How to Submit a Proposal: The deadline to submit proposals is February 14, 2020. Notifications of acceptance will be made February 21, 2020. Please submit your proposal as a Word or Google document to Matt Hackert at [email protected]. Please include the title of your presentation, your name, affiliation, and contact details. Provide a brief description of your presentation's goal and what you will cover; bullet points are fine as long as your planned content is substantive and clear.

More Information: Although we cannot provide travel support to all presenters, limited assistance is available for those otherwise not able to attend. Please inquire if assistance is needed. The final agenda will be confirmed by February 28, 2020. Registration coming soon.

For more information, please contact:
Conference Chair
Chancey Fleet
Assistive Technology Coordinator
New York Public Library
[email protected] 

Conference Coordinator
Matt Hackert
Access Technology Specialist
National Federation of the Blind
[email protected] 

Who Are the Blind Who Lead the Blind?

From the Editor: Though brief profiles of the members of the current board of directors can be found on our website at any time, we periodically revise, expand, and reprint in the Braille Monitor a compilation we have used for years and continue to update as our leaders change and add to their substantial list of accomplishments. It includes profiles of Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and members of the current NFB board of directors. It is high time to provide it again, so here it is:


The National Federation of the Blind has become by far the most significant force in the affairs of the blind today, and its actions have had an impact on many other groups and programs. The Federation's President, Mark Riccobono, radiates confidence and persuasiveness. President Riccobono states:
We seek to set the pace, determine our own direction, build our own dreams, and expand the boundaries of independence—we know that together we have the power to turn dreams into reality, and it is our goal to go to the places and do the things that have not yet been done to create equality of opportunity for the blind. We recognize that it is not enough for one blind person to have training and opportunity. If one blind person faces low expectations, misconceptions, and artificial barriers based on his or her blindness, then it inevitably holds all blind people back. Together we raise expectations, build opportunities, explore new horizons, celebrate new achievements, and knock down barriers in order to make sure that each of us has the opportunity to compete on terms of equality and live the lives we want.

The National Federation of the Blind is a civil rights movement with all that the term implies. The blind are a minority in American society, and we face the same problems that other minorities must address: misconceptions as to our capabilities, our aspirations, and our ability to assume the responsibilities that go along with the rights we demand.

Although many organizations and agencies for the blind exist in the United States today, there is only one National Federation of the Blind. This organization was established in 1940 when the blind of seven states—California, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—sent delegates to its first convention at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Since that time, progress has been rapid and steady. The Federation is recognized by blind men and women throughout the entire country as their primary means of joint expression; and today—with active affiliates in every state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico—it is the primary voice of the nation's blind.

To explain this spectacular growth, three questions must be asked and answered: (1) What are the conditions in the general environment of the blind which have impelled them to organize? (2) What is the purpose, belief, and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind? (3) Who are its leaders, and what are their qualifications to understand and solve the problems of blindness? Even a brief answer to these questions is instructive.

When the Federation came into being in 1940, the outlook for the blind was anything but bright. The nation's welfare system was so discouraging to individual initiative that those forced to accept public assistance had little hope of ever achieving self-support again, and those who sought competitive employment in regular industry or the professions found most of the doors barred against them. The universal goodwill expressed toward the blind was not the wholesome goodwill of respect felt toward equals; it was the misguided goodwill of pity felt toward inferiors. In effect, the system said to the blind, "Sit on the sidelines of life. This game is not for you. If you have creative talents, we are sorry, but we cannot use them." The Federation came into being to combat these expressions of discrimination and to promote new ways of thought concerning blindness. Although great progress has been made toward the achievement of these goals, much still remains to be done.

The Federation believes that blind people are essentially normal and that blindness in itself is not a mental or psychological handicap. It can be reduced to the level of a mere physical nuisance. Legal, economic, and social discrimination based upon the false assumption that the blind are somehow different from the sighted must be abolished, and equal opportunity must be made available to blind people. Because of their personal experience with blindness, the blind themselves are best qualified to lead the way in solving their own problems, but the general public should be invited to participate in finding solutions. Upon these fundamentals, the National Federation of the Blind predicates its philosophy.

As for the leadership of the organization, all of the officers and members of the board of directors are blind, all giving generously of their time and resources in promoting the work of the Federation. The board consists of seventeen elected members, five of whom are the constitutional officers of the organization. These members of the board of directors represent a wide cross section of the blind population of the United States. Their backgrounds are different, and their experiences vary widely; but they are drawn together by the common bond of having met blindness individually and successfully in their own lives and by their united desire to see other blind people have the opportunity to do likewise. A profile of the leadership of the organization shows why it is so effective and demonstrates the progress made by blind people during the past half-century and more—for in the story of the lives of these leaders can be found the greatest testimonial to the soundness of the Federation's philosophy. The cumulative record of their individual achievements is an overwhelming proof, leading to an inescapable conclusion.

Jacobus tenBroek
Founder of the National Federation of the Blind and First President
Author, Jurist, Professor, and Father

The moving force in the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, and its spiritual and intellectual father, was Jacobus tenBroek. Born in 1911, young tenBroek (the son of prairie homesteaders in Canada) lost the sight of one eye as the result of a bow-and-arrow accident at the age of seven. His remaining eyesight deteriorated until at the age of fourteen he was totally blind. Shortly afterward, he and his family traveled to Berkeley so that he could attend the California School for the Blind. Within three years, he was an active part of the local organization of the blind.

By 1934 he had joined Dr. Newel Perry and others to form the California Council of the Blind, which later became the National Federation of the Blind of California. This organization was a prototype for the nationwide federation that tenBroek would form six years later.

The same year the Federation was founded (1940), Jacobus tenBroek received his doctorate in jurisprudence from the University of California, completed a year as Brandeis Research Fellow at Harvard Law School, and was appointed to the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School.

Two years later he began teaching at the University of California at Berkeley, becoming a full professor in 1953, chairman of the department of speech in 1955, and professor of political science in 1963. During this period Professor tenBroek published several books and more than fifty articles and monographs in the fields of welfare, government, and law—establishing a reputation as one of the nation's foremost scholars on matters of constitutional law. One of his books, Prejudice, War, and the Constitution, won the Woodrow Wilson Award of the American Political Science Association in 1955 as the best book of the year on government and democracy. Other books are California's Dual System of Family Law (1964), Hope Deferred: Public Welfare and the Blind (1959), The Antislavery Origins of the Fourteenth Amendment (1951)—revised and republished in 1965 as Equal Under Law, and The Law of the Poor (edited in 1966).

In the course of his academic career, Professor tenBroek was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Palo Alto and was twice the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation. In 1947 he earned the degree of SJD [Doctor of Juridical Science] from Harvard Law School. In addition he was awarded honorary degrees by two institutions of higher learning.

Dr. tenBroek's lifelong companion was his devoted wife Hazel. Together they raised three children and worked inseparably on research, writing, academic, and Federation projects. Until her declining health prevented travel, Mrs. tenBroek continued as an active member of the organized blind movement. She died October 7, 2005.

In 1950 Dr. tenBroek was made a member of the California State Board of Social Welfare by Governor Earl Warren. Later reappointed to the board three times, he was elected its chairman in 1960 and served in that capacity until 1963.

The brilliance of Jacobus tenBroek's career led some skeptics to suggest that his achievements were beyond the reach of what they called the “ordinary blind person.” What tenBroek recognized in himself was not that he was exceptional, but that he was normal—that his blindness had nothing to do with whether he could be a successful husband and father, do scholarly research, write a book, make a speech, guide students engaged in social action, or otherwise lead a productive life.

Jacobus tenBroek died of cancer at the age of fifty-six in 1968. His successor, Kenneth Jernigan, in a memorial address, said truly of him:

“The relationship of this man to the organized blind movement, which he brought into being in the United States and around the world, was such that it would be equally accurate to say that the man was the embodiment of the movement or that the movement was the expression of the man.

“For tens of thousands of blind Americans over more than a quarter of a century, he was leader, mentor, spokesman, and philosopher. He gave to the organized blind movement the force of his intellect and the shape of his dreams. He made it the symbol of a cause barely imagined before his coming: the cause of self-expression, self-direction, and self-sufficiency on the part of blind people. Step by step, year by year, action by action, he made that cause succeed.”

Kenneth Jernigan
President Emeritus
Teacher, Writer, Administrator, and Father

Kenneth Jernigan was a leader in the National Federation of the Blind for more than forty-six years. He was president (with one brief interruption) from 1968 until July of 1986. Even after Jernigan ceased to be president of the Federation, he continued as one of its principal leaders until his death on October 12, 1998. He was loved and respected by tens of thousands—members and nonmembers of the Federation, both blind and sighted.

Born in 1926, Kenneth Jernigan grew up on a farm in central Tennessee. He received his elementary and secondary education at the school for the blind in Nashville. After high school Jernigan managed a furniture shop in Beech Grove, Tennessee, making all the furniture and operating the business.

In the fall of 1945 Jernigan matriculated at Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville. Active in campus affairs from the outset, he was soon elected to office in his class and to important positions in other student organizations. Jernigan graduated with honors in 1948 with a BS degree in social science. In 1949 he received a master's degree in English from Peabody College in Nashville, where he subsequently completed additional graduate study. While at Peabody he was a staff writer for the school newspaper, co-founder of an independent literary magazine, and member of the Writers' Club. In 1949 he received the Captain Charles W. Browne Award, at that time presented annually by the American Foundation for the Blind to the nation's outstanding blind student.

Jernigan then spent four years as a teacher of English at the Tennessee School for the Blind. During this period he became active in the Tennessee Association of the Blind (now the National Federation of the Blind of Tennessee). He was elected to the vice presidency of the organization in 1950 and to the presidency in 1951. In that position he planned the 1952 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, which was held in Nashville, and he then planned every NFB National Convention through 1998.

In 1952 Jernigan was first elected to the NFB board of directors, and in 1953 he was appointed to the faculty of the California Orientation Center for the Blind in Oakland, where he played a major role in developing the best program of its kind then in existence.

From 1958 until 1978 he served as director of the Iowa State Commission for the Blind. In this capacity he was responsible for administering state rehabilitation programs, home teaching, home industries, an orientation and adjustment center, and library services for the blind and physically handicapped. The improvements made in services to the blind of Iowa under the Jernigan administration have never before or since been equaled anywhere else in the country.

In 1960 the Federation presented Jernigan with its Newel Perry Award for outstanding accomplishment in services for the blind. In 1968 he was given a special citation by the president of the United States; Harold Russell, the chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of the Handicapped, came to Des Moines to present the award. He said: “If a person must be blind, it is better to be blind in Iowa than anywhere else in the nation or in the world. This statement,” the citation went on to say, “sums up the story of the Iowa Commission for the Blind during the Jernigan years and more pertinently of its director, Kenneth Jernigan. That narrative is much more than a success story. It is the story of high aspiration magnificently accomplished—of an impossible dream become reality.”

Jernigan received too many honors and awards to enumerate individually, including honorary doctorates from four institutions of higher education. He was also asked to serve as a special consultant to or member of numerous boards and advisory bodies. The most notable among these are: member of the National Advisory Committee on Services for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (appointed in 1972 by the secretary of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare); special consultant on services for the blind (appointed in 1975 by the federal commissioner of rehabilitation); advisor on museum programs for blind visitors to the Smithsonian Institution (appointed in 1975); special advisor to the White House Conference on Library and Information Services (appointed in 1977 by President Gerald Ford). In July of 1990 Jernigan received an award for distinguished service from the president of the United States.

To date he has been the only person ever to be invited to deliver keynote addresses to the primary gatherings of the two worldwide blindness organizations in a single year. He spoke at the fourth quadrennial meeting of the World Blind Union in August 1996 and the annual meeting of the International Council for the Education of the Visually Impaired in spring 1997. In 1998 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind, the first ever International Leadership Award from the American Foundation for the Blind, and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind's Winston Gordon Award for his leadership in establishing NEWSLINE for the Blind®.

Kenneth Jernigan's writings and speeches on blindness are better known and have touched the lives of more blind people than those of any other person writing today. From 1991 until his death, he edited the NFB's immensely popular series of paperbacks known as the Kernel Books. On July 23, 1975, he spoke before the National Press Club in Washington, DC, and his address was broadcast live throughout the nation on National Public Radio. Through the years he appeared repeatedly on network radio and television interview programs.

In 1978 Jernigan moved to Baltimore to become executive director of the American Brotherhood for the Blind (now the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults) and director of the National Center for the Blind. As president of the National Federation of the Blind at that time, he led the organization through the most impressive period of growth in its history to date. The creation and development of the National Center for the Blind (now known as the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute) and the NFB's expansion into its position today as the most influential voice and force in the affairs of the blind, stand as the culmination of Kenneth Jernigan's lifework and a tribute to his brilliance and commitment to the blind of this nation.

From 1987 to 1997 he played an active role internationally as president of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union. He traveled widely and spoke frequently before international groups about blindness and the NFB's positive philosophy that changes lives and society.

Jernigan's dynamic wife, Mary Ellen, remains an active member of the Federation. She works with dedication in the movement and is known and loved by thousands of Federationists throughout the country.

Speaking at a convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Jernigan said of the organization and its philosophy (and also of his own philosophy):

As we look ahead, the world holds more hope than gloom for us—and, best of all, the future is in our own hands. For the first time in history we can be our own masters and do with our lives what we will; and the sighted (as they learn who we are and what we are) can and will work with us as equals and partners. In other words, we are capable of full membership in society, and the sighted are capable of accepting us as such—and, for the most part, they want to. We want no Uncle Toms—no sellouts, no apologists, no rationalizers; but we also want no militant hell-raisers or unbudging radicals. One will hurt our cause as much as the other. We must win true equality in society, but we must not dehumanize ourselves in the process; and we must not forget the graces and amenities, the compassions and courtesies which comprise civilization itself and distinguish people from animals and life from existence. Let people call us what they will and say what they please about our motives and our movement. There is only one way for the blind to achieve first-class citizenship and true equality. It must be done through collective action and concerted effort; and that means the National Federation of the Blind. There is no other way, and those who say otherwise are either uninformed or unwilling to face the facts. We are the strongest force in the affairs of the blind today, and we must also recognize the responsibilities of power and the fact that we must build a world that is worth living in when the war is over—and, for that matter, while we are fighting it. In short, we must use both love and a club, and we must have sense enough to know when to do which—long on compassion, short on hatred; and, above all, not using our philosophy as a cop-out for cowardice or inaction or rationalization. We know who we are and what we must do—and we will never go back. The public is not against us. Our determination proclaims it; our gains confirm it; our humanity demands it.

Marc Maurer
Immediate Past President
Attorney, Executive, and Father

Dr. Marc Maurer is the Immediate Past President of the National Federation of the Blind. He was elected in 1986 and held the position until 2014, making him the longest serving president in the history of the organization. He currently holds the position of Director of Legal Policy for the National Federation of the Blind.

Born in 1951, Marc Maurer was the second in a family of six children. His blindness was caused by overexposure to oxygen after his premature birth, but he and his parents were determined that this should not prevent him from living a full and normal life.

He began his education at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School, where he became an avid Braille reader. In the fifth grade he returned home to Boone, Iowa, where he attended parochial schools. During high school (having taken all the courses in the curriculum), he simultaneously took classes at the junior college.
Maurer ran three different businesses before finishing high school: a paper route, a lawn care business, and an enterprise producing and marketing maternity garter belts designed by his mother. This last venture was so successful that his younger brother took over the business when Maurer left home.

In the summer of 1969, after graduating from high school, Maurer enrolled as a student at the Orientation and Adjustment Center of the Iowa Commission for the Blind and attended his first convention of the NFB. He was delighted to discover in both places that blind people and what they thought mattered. This was a new phenomenon in his experience, and it changed his life. Kenneth Jernigan was director of the Iowa Commission for the Blind at the time, and Maurer soon grew to admire and respect him. When Maurer expressed an interest in overhauling a car engine, the Commission for the Blind purchased the necessary equipment. Maurer completed that project and actually worked for a time as an automobile mechanic. He believes today that mastering engine repair played an important part in changing his attitudes about blindness.
Maurer graduated cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1974. As an undergraduate he took an active part in campus life, including election to the Honor Society. Then he enrolled at the University of Indiana School of Law, where he received his Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1977.
Maurer was elected president of the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind in 1971 and reelected in 1973 and 1975. Also in 1971, at the age of twenty, he was elected vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana. He was elected president in 1973 and reelected in 1975.

During law school, Maurer worked summers for the Office of the Secretary of State of Indiana. After graduation he moved to Toledo, Ohio, to accept a position as the director of the Senior Legal Assistance Project operated by ABLE (Advocates for Basic Legal Equality).
In 1978 Maurer moved to Washington, DC, to become an attorney with the Rates and Routes Division in the Office of the General Counsel of the Civil Aeronautics Board. Initially he worked on rates cases but soon advanced to dealing with international matters and then to doing research and writing opinions on constitutional issues and board action. He wrote opinions for the chairman and made appearances before the full board to discuss those opinions.

In 1981 he went into private practice in Baltimore, Maryland, where he specialized in civil litigation and property matters. Increasingly he concentrated on representing blind individuals and groups in the courts. Today he is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable attorneys in the country regarding the laws, precedents, and administrative rulings concerning civil rights and discrimination against the blind. He is a member of the Bar in Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and Maryland and a member of the Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. Maurer was a founding member of the Disability Rights Bar Association, a group committed to advance and enforce the rights of individuals with disabilities. Maurer has served since 2017 on the American Bar Association Commission on Disability Rights.

Maurer has always been active in civic and political affairs, having run for the state legislature from Baltimore. Through the years he has also served on the board of directors of his apartment complex's tenant association, the board of his community association, and the school board of his children's school. In 1981 Maurer was elected president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and served in that office until 1985. From 1984 until 1986 he served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.

An important companion in Maurer's activities and a leader in her own right is his wife, Patricia. The Maurers were married in 1973, and they have two children—David, born in 1984, and Dianna, in 1987.

At the 1985 convention in Louisville, Kentucky, Kenneth Jernigan announced that he would not stand for re-election as president of the National Federation of the Blind the following year, and he recommended Marc Maurer as his successor. In Kansas City in 1986 the Convention elected Maurer by resounding acclamation, and he served for twenty-eight years until July of 2014.
From 1997 to 2000 he also served as president of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, and he chaired the WBU Committee on the Restoration of the Louis Braille Birthplace in Coupvray, France. In 2004 he became vice president of the World Blind Union North America/Caribbean Region, and in 2006 reassumed the presidency.

Maurer received numerous awards and spoke in a multitude of influential forums throughout the world. He was honored with the Maryland Black Caucus's Leadership Award in 1985, the United States Presidential Medal for Leadership and the Heritage Award from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in 1990, the Baltimore Business Journal's 1999 Innovation Award for Excellence in Workplace Technology, and the VME Robert Dole Award and the Daily Record's Innovator of the Year award in 2002. He joined President George W. Bush in the Oval Office in July of 2001 to celebrate the success of the NFB Everest Expedition and once again when President Bush signed into law the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Maurer received the Mayor’s Business Recognition Award in Baltimore in 2007, the Rev. John J. Cavanaugh Award from the University of Notre Dame Alumni Association in 2009, and the Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights from the American Bar Association in 2011.

He received honorary degrees from California's Menlo College in 1998, the University of Louisville in 1999, and from both the University of South Carolina Upstate and the University of Notre Dame in 2010.

Maurer delivered an address at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in 1987, he addressed the annual convention of Blind Citizens Australia at the University of Queensland in 2009, and in 2000 he was invited to deliver addresses on civil rights at Oxford University and Birmingham University in the United Kingdom. In 2013 he gave the keynote speech at the First International Conference on Technology for Helping People with Special Needs at the Al-Imam Mohammad Ibn Saud Islamic University in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
In his tenure as president of the National Federation of the Blind, Maurer boldly led the organization into a new test of its resolve, beginning with the visionary expansion of the National Center for the Blind—the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, which was completed in the spring of 2004. The facility, located on the grounds of the National Center, has added more than 170,000 square feet to the NFB's headquarters. The Institute, which is the first of its kind, conceived and built by the blind for the blind, is developing innovative education, technologies, products, and services that support independence for the world's blind. One of the early products of the Institute was the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind handheld reading machine, produced in conjunction with the noted futurist and inventor, Raymond Kurzweil.

Maurer's unswerving determination to succeed and his absolute conviction that the organized blind are the best-equipped people to solve the problems facing them set the tone and guided the organization into this exciting period of growth and accomplishment.

Mark Riccobono
Educator, Leader, Visionary, and Father

Born in 1976, Mark Riccobono is the only child of two hard-working parents of modest means. Both were high school graduates, and, although they encouraged their son and gave him an example of what persistence and hard work could do, they had no experience with higher education and no familiarity with blindness. Riccobono was diagnosed as legally blind at the age of five, glaucoma being the disease that took his sight. Although he knew he had a vision problem, as a child he never felt limited in what he could do. Being an only child just meant he relied more on friends, and his elementary years have left him with good memories. He benefited from going to his neighborhood school because his contact with children was not just at school but in play, birthday celebrations, and school holidays. His low vision meant he sometimes had to work harder, but the print was large, he got a seat in the front of the room, his teachers did what they could to help, and his friends were comfortable with their buddy who didn't see quite as well as they did. “I was comfortable in my own skin, and that made others around me comfortable as well.” The obstacles he faced and the fact that he had some limitations simply emphasized that he should do what his parents did when things got tough: they just worked hard and powered through, and powering through became an indispensable part of his personality.

Riccobono got a very good elementary education but found himself in a rough middle school. It was probably what would be called a failing school today. Many of his elementary school friends went to other middle schools, so his social network began to evaporate. Now there were new friends to make and already established groups who had reservations about adding new members to their circles, and this further added to what was already a difficult transition. The year before he entered the school there had been a stabbing, and little emphasis was placed on academic success. This was the place where he learned to stay under the radar, to isolate himself from others, and to decide his place was in the back of the classroom, where he was less likely to be noticed or called on. There were no services to deal with vision loss, and the only accommodation he can recall receiving was a special lock for his locker that he could operate.

Without a good way to read and to see the blackboard, he learned to rely on memory, but even a good memory could not consistently deliver good test scores, and he believes that sometimes he was simply passed.

Riccobono remembers that he was sometimes challenged to do better and that often it was the math teachers who would ask more of him. But he was all too frequently allowed just to exist there in the back of the room with the students least likely to raise their hands, shout out answers, or be called upon by the classroom teacher. Riccobono describes this as learning to “be a passenger in my own life.”

To add to the difficulty of middle school, surgeries for glaucoma in eighth grade not only caused him to miss school but eventually cost him a significant amount of the little vision he had. An uncle who observed these futile attempts asked his nephew, “What are you going to do if it doesn't work? What will you do if you don't get vision back?”

“I began to ask myself with each surgery whether we might not be chasing the unreachable dream,” Riccobono said. A surgery performed to burn off some of the scar tissue proved to be too effective, destroying the vision in his left eye and eventually causing it to shrink.

So Riccobono went into high school totally blind in one eye and with little vision in the other. In Milwaukee one could choose a high school based on its specialty, and Riccobono chose the one that emphasized business and becoming an entrepreneur. Unbeknownst to him when he made his choice, this school had a resource room for blind students. This was the first time he had considered that there might be others facing the challenges that made school difficult.
Riccobono is glad he chose to attend the high school emphasizing business. The teachers saw potential in him, and, for the first time in a long time, he found himself surrounded by people who believed he had capacity. “High school was better than middle school had been; it had some very good teachers who believed in my capacity, and it had people who worked to mentor me. They didn't understand where blindness fit into my career possibilities, but they knew how to teach, saw potential in me, and were determined to cultivate it.”

He joined DECA, an association founded in 1946 to prepare emerging leaders and entrepreneurs. In this organization, he engaged in competitions in public speaking, marketing, and creating a business plan. As a high school senior he was involved in a statewide competition, where he won first place in public speaking and earned himself the opportunity to compete in national competitions representing the state of Wisconsin. During that same year, he started a school-based business selling sports cards based on a business plan he developed the previous year.

After high school, Riccobono arrived at the University of Wisconsin with a folding cane, a laptop computer with no screen-reading or screen-enlargement software, and a closed-circuit television to enlarge paper documents. “I had to study a lot because I read slowly, and memorization was the key to any success I might enjoy.” But even with the extreme focus he placed on academics, Riccobono hit the wall in his sophomore year and almost failed a computer class because he had no access to the machines. Eventually his rehabilitation counselor sent him for a technology evaluation, and the use of speech and other technology was recommended. At this point Riccobono started reaching out to other blind people, knowing that, if some of them were successful, they had to be doing something he was not. He knew that the barriers he was facing were real and that he was making a significant effort to overcome them, but he was learning that effort alone was not enough: he needed techniques, strategies, and building on the experiences of others. So it was that he came to find the National Federation of the Blind, won a state scholarship, and attended the national convention in 1996. “A lot of what I heard at the convention resonated with me—gave me real hope—but I wasn't sure it was real because I hadn't had the chance to test it myself. But whatever skepticism I had, the truth is that my predominant emotions were excitement and hope that what these people were saying was true. For the first time in my life it was clear to me that in this group it didn't matter how much or how little I could see. In this group no one ever asked or tried to limit where I could go. For the first time I didn't feel as though I had to decide what I would or would not do based on my vision.”

In the summer after he found the Federation, Riccobono learned Braille, started using the white cane, and came to understand that blind people used other techniques that might help him. He immediately began testing what the Federation said about blindness and encouraged other students to do the same. In the fall of 1996, he founded and became the first president of the Wisconsin Association of Blind Students (a division of the NFB of Wisconsin). He also began rebuilding his dreams. He secured employment with the disability resource center on campus and coordinated the delivery of accessible materials to other students. Riccobono also began expanding his participation in the campus community, knowing that blindness was not the thing that held him back but rather his own low expectations learned over many years. Among his new activities, Riccobono became the first blind person at the university to be certified to independently sail one-person sailboats in the Hoofers Sailing Program on Lake Mendota.

Riccobono finished college in May of 1999 with a degree in business administration, majoring both in marketing and economics. He interviewed with Sears in his senior year of college and already had a job offer in hand when he graduated. While attending the Washington Seminar, people asked what he intended to do between his graduation in May and the start of his new job in August. They suggested he use this time for training. Finding the advice sound, he attended the Colorado Center for the Blind. There he worked on attitudes and skills and had a chance to test some of the Federation ideas he had thought about with such hope. He found they had verity in his life.

After training with Sears, Riccobono moved to Oak Creek, Wisconsin, where he rented an apartment about three blocks from where he had grown up. At this point he was feeling good about himself: a college graduate with a job, living on his own, and the recently elected president of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, having won that post in 1998. Before his election a proposal had been advanced to close the state's school for the blind. Riccobono was appointed to serve on an advisory committee charged with transforming the institution from a school to a center where ten programs serving the blind would be housed, one of them being the school for the blind. Riccobono learned from the Federation that his true passion was not necessarily business (although he exhibits the thinking of an entrepreneur in everything he does) but rather education and building innovative educational programs. When the Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired was established, Riccobono was hired as its director shortly before his twenty-fourth birthday. He headed an agency with a budget of six million dollars and began to implement programs that required more of staff and students, consistent with the expectations of blind people he found in the Federation. He worked at the Wisconsin Center for three and a half years, and an audit ordered by the implementing legislation gave the new center good marks and was the best the school had received in over a decade. But Riccobono found making changes at the center painfully slow and thought that his focus on improving education would be better served by working on a national level. Having concluded that Riccobono possessed some skills that would be valuable at the Jernigan Institute, President Maurer hired him. Mark and his wife Melissa (a strong leader, advocate, and educator in her own right) moved to Baltimore. Given his interest in education, he took a master’s degree in educational studies from Johns Hopkins University. After working for some time in education, he became the executive director of the Jernigan Institute, a position he held until his election as President of the National Federation of the Blind in July of 2014. In his Federation work, he has led a number of critical initiatives including establishment of the National Center for Blind Youth in Science, building a national mentoring program, expanding Braille literacy programs (including the NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning program), development of cutting-edge technologies (including a car that a blind person can drive—the NFB Blind Driver Challenge®), many advocacy priorities, affiliate-building projects, and serving as a point person for key relationships with NFB partners.

Mark and Melissa have three children: Austin born in December 2006, Oriana born in May 2010, and Elizabeth born in June 2012, all of whom are growing up in the Federation. Their daughters both carry the same eye condition that Mark has, but they will have greater opportunities than their dad because of their connection to the National Federation of the Blind. With the emphasis on social media, YouTube, and communication that goes beyond the written word, his family and their activities have been more visible than those of earlier leaders. “While as a family we draw some lines, we are generally pretty comfortable with letting people know what we are doing, the message being that we lead normal lives and do the same things others with children do. We try to show people what we have learned—that blindness does not prevent us from being the kind of parents we want to be and from living the lives we want.” Riccobono is always building—his social media presence frequently shows him engineering new creations out of LEGOs with his children.

When asked about his responsibilities as the elected President of the National Federation of the Blind, Riccobono says:

I take the challenge of this position seriously every day. I stay grounded by talking to blind people from all over the country on a daily basis—I gain so much from the diversity of perspectives, the real struggles people have, and the common belief in changing things for the better for all of us. It is a tremendous responsibility to figure out how to go farther, to strengthen the movement, to lead in such a way that we go forward and build on what we have been given. My challenge is to meet the expectations of folks who have given a lot and have been around a long time, to meet their expectations and let them know they are still wanted, valued, and needed. At the same time, I must recognize that the world is changing, that the organization must continue to evolve, and assuring people that these requirements are not in conflict but a part of continuing to exist and thrive. I worry less about the shoes I must fill or the comparisons that will be made than I do about figuring out how to lead us in the miles we must go, preserving the resources we have, while spending enough of them to make the world what we want it to be. The nature of this office demonstrates daily just how far we have to go, and, although we have a tremendous organization and significant resources, we have just a fraction of what we need to do the work that remains. I have a great optimism for the future, and the Federation continues to fuel that outlook. It is a blessing to have the Federation family in my life, and I most enjoy seeking new ways to bring more people into our movement because of what it will mean to them and to us. In accepting the Presidency of this organization, I pledged to give all of my energy, my creativity, and my love to our movement. This is how I intend to pay it back, pay it forward, and make a future full of opportunity for blind people. I have no illusions that this will be easy, but I have every expectation that it will happen when all of us pull together to create the kind of future in which we truly live the lives we want.

Pam Allen
First Vice President and Board Chair
NFB of Louisiana President
Nonprofit Agency Administrator, Advocate, Community Leader

Pam Dubel was born in 1970 and grew up in Lancaster, New York. She became blind when she was approximately two years old as a result of retinal blastoma, a type of cancer. Although her parents were shocked by her loss of sight, they fortunately realized that she was still the same child except that she could no longer see. Through love and high expectations, they instilled in Pam a sense of pride and confidence in her ability to succeed. They constantly taught her that her blindness was not a limitation to achieving her goals and dreams. Growing up as the youngest of six children also helped her learn to be independent. Since she was the youngest, nobody, especially the brother a year older than she, let her get away with anything. Pam attended a private Catholic school, where she was the only blind student. Her itinerant teacher provided a sound foundation in Braille, which helped her excel in academics. Her parents expected her to do her best and to engage in activities that would make her a confident and well-rounded person. She participated in horseback riding, skiing, and cheerleading during elementary school. During high school, her interests shifted to performing in chorus, doing community service, and having fun with her friends.

While growing up, Pam had limited contact with other blind people her age. In general she had no desire to associate with other blind people. She understood that every high school senior experiences some trepidation about the transition to adulthood and independence. However, as high school graduation approached, she began to grapple with questions that her sighted peers couldn't answer. She planned to attend college, and she hoped that she would eventually find a job, but she secretly wondered if she would truly be able to obtain employment. After all, she had had difficulty finding part-time work during high school. Her loving family and friends encouraged her, but she had questions that went unanswered. Although she entered college with some apprehension, she was determined to achieve her best. Her small liberal arts college provided an exciting environment in which to learn and grow. But those unanswered questions continued to nag at her. If people were amazed that she could accomplish the most insignificant tasks, would they ever treat her as an equal? She realized that she had to meet other blind people with more experience than she who could serve as role models.

Her search exposed her to a wide variety of groups and organizations of and for the blind. However, not until she attended a student seminar hosted by the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio did she begin to find the answers for which she had been searching. Although she didn't realize it at the time, that seminar marked the beginning of a new chapter of her life. She met Barbara Pierce, president of the NFB of Ohio, who told Pam about the Louisiana Center for the Blind. More than that, she spoke with Joanne Wilson, its director, who arranged for Pam to complete an internship at the center the following May. As soon as that was completed, Joanne invited her to work as a counselor in the children's summer program that year.

Pam was a 1991 National Federation of the Blind scholarship winner when she was a senior at Denison University, where she majored in psychology and minored in women's studies. She served as vice president of the Ohio Association of Blind Students and as secretary of the National Association of Blind Students, and throughout college she worked summers for Joanne Wilson at the Louisiana Center for the Blind with the children's program.

After graduation from college, Pam decided to become a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. She recognized that she still needed to gain some confidence in her skills and in her ability to be a successful blind person.

Since 2001 Pam Allen has served as the director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, one of three NFB adult rehabilitation centers. Prior to becoming the director, she served as the director of youth services, working with blind infants and toddlers and their parents, supervising the training of classroom aides to teach Braille throughout Louisiana, coordinating summer camps, and developing innovative programs for blind children and teenagers.

People often ask her what makes the Louisiana Center for the Blind such a special place. Pam responds:

What sets our alumni apart from those of other kinds of rehabilitation facilities? The answer is that, by attending our center and the other centers conducted by Federationists, students are exposed to the National Federation of the Blind and its philosophy. The NFB is more than an organization; it is a loving family. Regardless of where you are, you can find members of the NFB who can give you support and encouragement when you need it. The NFB also provides a constant supply of mentors and role models who challenge you to set goals for yourself. Lives are positively changed every day at the Center because of the philosophy of the NFB.

Allen recalls that she used to believe that she did not need other blind people. She thought that being independent meant succeeding without the help of others. Her involvement with the National Federation of the Blind has taught her that this is not true. She has learned that she needs reinforcement from her blind colleagues and friends.

Pam lives in Ruston, Louisiana, with her husband Roland Allen, a dedicated Federation leader and a gifted orientation and mobility instructor at the center. She is currently the president of the NFB of Louisiana and vice president of the National Association of Blind Rehabilitation Professionals. In July of 2002 she was elected to the National Federation of the Blind board of directors. Four years later, in 2006, she was elected to serve as treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind. In 2012, Pam and Roland received the prestigious Jacobus tenBroek Award in recognition of their distinguished service in the Federation. In 2015 Pam was elected as first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind. Allen is also involved in a variety of community and professional organizations, including the Chamber of Commerce and as a gubernatorial appointee to the Louisiana Rehabilitation Council. She says, “Being elected to the national board has allowed me to give back and to spread the message of our movement. It is an incredible honor and privilege to serve!”

Ron Brown
Second Vice President
NFB of Indiana President
Businessman, Advocate, and Father

Ron Brown was born in Gary, Indiana, the first of eight children, to Marzette and Myra Brown on May 15, 1956. When he was a senior in high school, he became blind after he was shot on his way home from a basketball game. At the time he knew nothing about blindness and was overwhelmed by the feeling that his entire life had been radically changed in an instant. One of the first painful lessons he learned was that many of his friends could not deal with his blindness and stayed away from him. Luckily, he began to make new friends, members of the National Federation of the Blind. They became inspiring role models for Ron, teaching him that it was respectable to be blind and that he could continue to strive for the goals he had set for himself.

Armed with this newfound freedom, Ron graduated from Ball State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in health science. He then went to work at Tradewinds Rehabilitation Center in Indiana, where he met his wife Jean, who was on the staff. Eventually he was offered a job in the Business Enterprise Program. He had always wanted to own his own business, and this gave him the opportunity to do so. He has now been in business for himself for thirty years. Recently Ron returned to school and earned a master's degree in educational psychology with a certification in orientation and mobility from Louisiana Tech University. He owns a second business, Cane and Able Orientation and Mobility, teaching cane travel to blind people in the state of Indiana and throughout the country. This business has been successful for two decades, and Ron loves the challenge.

Ron Brown not only works hard, but he plays hard as well! He was introduced to the game of blind baseball in 1983 and has been involved in the game ever since. He was inducted into the Blind Baseball Hall of Fame in 2011 and has won five world championships with the Indy Thunder Blind Baseball team. Ron stays involved in the sport because he loves the competitiveness, the team philosophy, and making a difference in the lives of young blind people.

Family is crucial in Ron’s life. As he says, “I have been married to my lovely wife Jean for more than thirty years. She is my best friend, my confidant, and my lover. She is also an accomplished author, and I am so proud she has chosen to be with me. We have raised two girls, have six grandkids, and two great grandchildren. If this isn’t fulfillment and living the life I want, I can’t tell you what is.”

As Ron Brown has developed and matured in his personal life, his commitment to and service in the National Federation of the Blind have deepened as well. In the early years he was a chapter president and was then elected to the NFB of Indiana's board of directors. He was first elected president of the affiliate in 1996 and has been reelected every two years since. In 2001 he was elected to serve on the NFB board of directors, and in 2008 he was elevated to the office of second vice president. He was the recipient of the prestigious Jacobus tenBroek Award in 2015.

Looking back, Ron Brown says, “Becoming a member of the national board is the fulfillment of a life dream. I have been an advocate for blind people for more than thirty-five years, and with every passing year my commitment to serving the blind of this nation increases. My life indeed changed the night I became blind, but with the perspective I now have, I must say that it was for the better.”

James R. Gashel
Advocate, Ambassador, Executive, and Father

Jim Gashel was born in 1946 and grew up in Iowa. After his early introduction to the National Federation of the Blind as Kenneth Jernigan's student at the Iowa Commission for the Blind during the 1960s, he has been devoted to serving the blind community in various capacities. A 1969 graduate of the University of Northern Iowa with work toward a master's degree in public administration at the University of Iowa, Jim started his career teaching speech and English for one year in Pipestone, Minnesota. He then accepted a position as assistant director at the Iowa Commission for the Blind in Des Moines. With that move, he found his calling is working with the blind and finding ways of solving the problems that face them as individuals and as a minority.

On January 1, 1974, Jim joined the staff of the National Federation of the Blind as chief of the Washington office, where he became one of the best known advocates for the blind in the United States; combining his commitment to blind people with his interest in the political process. As the Federation's scope and influence evolved, so did his roles and responsibilities. In his professional career of almost thirty-four years with the Federation, he held the positions of chief of the Washington office, director of government affairs, and executive director for strategic initiatives. Jim's Federation work has led to significant changes in virtually every law directly affecting blind Americans: the Social Security Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Randolph-Sheppard Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Copyright Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Help America Vote Act. In addition to championing these causes, Jim has won the love and respect of the thousands of blind men and women across America who have directly benefited from his informed and effective personal advocacy. No matter what his position, through his drive and devotion to Federationism, Jim has earned the informal title of the organization's non-lawyer lawyer.

With his first wife Arlene, Jim is the father of three adult children and the grandfather of nine. His daughter Andrea and her husband Jeremiah Beasley have four children, daughter Valerie and husband Sam Costanza have three, and his son Eric and wife Miranda have two.

During Jim's service at the NFB, he received the Commissioner's Award for Outstanding Leadership in Rehabilitation Services to the Disabled, the highest honor presented by the commissioner of the United States Rehabilitation Services Administration. He is also a recipient of the secretary of labor's Outstanding American Award. In 2001 Jim and his second wife, Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, jointly received the NFB's highest honor, the Jacobus tenBroek Award, honoring them for their achievements through decades of leadership in work with the blind.

In November 2007, Jim and Betsy moved from Baltimore to Denver, Colorado, but Betsy soon died after a recurrence of the condition retinal blastoma, which had caused her blindness from childhood. In September 2012, Jim married Susan Kern, now Susan Gashel. Their marriage occurred a few months after Susan had returned to Colorado after retiring as an assistant attorney general in the state of Hawaii. Beyond continuing Jim’s active work on behalf of the blind through involvement in the Federation, and Susan’s work to uphold rights and opportunities for blind Randolph-Sheppard vendors, Jim and Susan are passionate about downhill skiing and all the Rocky Mountains have to offer near where they lived for a time in the Vail Valley of Colorado. They now live in Hawaii.

Beyond his volunteer activities, Jim serves as vice president of business development and product evangelist for KNFB Reader, LLC, where he works to develop and promote the NFB’s KNFB Reader technology. While serving as the Federation’s executive director for strategic initiatives, he led the public introduction and launch of the Kurzweil-National Federation of the Blind Reader, the world's first truly portable text-to-speech reading device for the blind. As part of this effort he raised and administered the funds necessary to support pre-release beta testing, product announcement, and public promotional efforts to bring the product to market in 2006. Jim's work with KNFB brings him full circle in his career since, after first meeting Ray Kurzweil in April 1975, he also organized and raised the funds necessary to test and launch the original Kurzweil Reading Machine, released in 1977 as the world's first text-to-speech reading system for the blind.

Jim was elected to the NFB's national board of directors in 2008 to fill an unexpired term and was reelected in 2009. He was then subsequently elected to the position of national secretary, a position he has held since 2010. Serving in each of these capacities, he brings to the board both expertise and contacts in the blindness field and an abiding commitment to the work of the NFB. In accepting his 2001 Jacobus tenBroek Award, Jim offered comments that remain relevant today and reflect his approach to our mission. “All I would ask is that all of you remember that it's all of our responsibilities to go out and work for the movement. We can't all go out and climb a mountain like Erik [Weihenmayer] did, and we can't all do the wonderful things that every one of you do all the time, or raise five or six million dollars like Betsy did, but we can all work for this movement. We all have a place in it.” Jim's place is absolutely unique.

Jeannie Massay
NFB of Oklahoma President
Counselor, Advocate, and Leader

Jeannie Massay was born in 1968 in Oklahoma City, the youngest of three children and the only girl. She said she was blessed to be a daddy’s girl, with brothers who did whatever she told them to do. “They always had my back and were loving and supportive,” she said.

Jeannie had good vision for the first thirty-seven years of her life, though she did suffer from severe astigmatism and wore strong glasses to compensate for it. She attended Windsor Hills Elementary School because her mother was a teacher there. “I have been an avid reader all of my life, and because my mom was a reading specialist who worked with sixth-graders, after school I went to her classroom to learn about Pompeii, the pyramids, and all kinds of things younger children didn’t normally get to read about.”

In junior high she attended Leo C. Mayfield. As a student she was involved in competing in intermural basketball and softball. She was also involved in the Pep Club and Student Council. In ninth grade Jeannie had unexplained weight loss and severe abdominal cramping, but soon the symptoms went away. They would return every couple of months, and initially she was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. When she was sixteen the cramping, weight loss, and lethargy caused the doctor to do a blood glucose tolerance test, revealing a blood sugar level as high as nine hundred. A normal blood sugar is considered to be around one hundred, and an individual is considered to be diabetic if blood sugar levels exceed one hundred and forty. She was hospitalized for a week to learn to manage her diabetes.

Jeannie attended Putnam City West High School, where she played competitive softball and performed in the band for three years. She was on the debate team and managed to get A’s and B’s, which kept her on the honor roll. “Although I didn’t do badly, I wish I had done better. I was pretty social and liked to talk to people. I was a pretty well-rounded kid, but it was tough being a diabetic and wanting to eat like a teenager. Since I wanted to fit in and do what I thought was normal, at times I went to the pizza parlor and the hamburger joints.”

After high school Jeannie attended the University of Central Oklahoma, living at home until her senior year. She thought she wanted to be a lawyer until her first political science class and then decided this was not what she was meant to do. Instead, she began studying psychology, and in 1990, during a two-week period, she graduated, got married, and watched her husband leave for active military service. Jeannie got a job selling cosmetics in a department store. When her husband Mark was transferred from Fort Knox to San Antonio to go through medical training to be a dietitian, she moved to be near him. After his training was completed, Mark was stationed at Landstuhl General Hospital in Germany, the largest military hospital in the European Theatre.

When Jeannie was eventually able to go to Germany, she loved it: the people, the food, and the opportunity for travel. She taught at a department of defense dependent school, providing instruction in reading, math, and language arts. She also worked with a behavioral management specialist, which led her to think at the time that she did not want to work with children—all the funnier because she eventually came to realize this was her calling and now part of her practice is counseling children and teenagers.

Jeannie and her husband were in Germany just over three years during the first Gulf War. When the military began downsizing, Mark was offered early contract closure and both returned to the States. Jeannie went back to selling cosmetics, working at Estée Lauder. She started by working behind the counter, then became counter manager, and then assumed the job of account coordinator, managing seven counters around Oklahoma. When Mark received a promotion, both moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where he managed Marriott contracts for Georgetown University. Jeannie was able to continue her work with Estée Lauder, but now she was back to working on the counter. Soon that counter was bringing in one million dollars a year.

Yet another promotion for Mark found the couple moving to Jackson, Mississippi. Estée Lauder helped Jeannie find another job, this time managing multiple counters. The couple was in Jackson for two years, but a merger sent Mark to St. Louis, where he ran the food and conference center for Boeing. Jeannie went to work for a subsidiary of Estée Lauder, Origins, where she worked as the coordinator for eight stores in Missouri and Indiana. While in St. Louis the couple lived in an old Jewish Temple which had been renovated into an apartment. This she loved. Soon she was given the opportunity to interview as an account executive for Origins, flew to New York for the interview, talked with Mark, and was gratified to learn that his reaction to making a move that would further her career was unequivocal: “You have followed me around for ten years, so now I will gladly follow you.”

The couple moved to Memphis, and Jeannie was responsible for the states of Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. In this position she managed eighteen counters for Dillard’s stores and for other retail establishments. She supervised eighty people and loved the job.

Even the jobs we love the most come with significant drawbacks though. Jeannie was traveling more than three weeks each month, and this was tough on her marriage and tough on her physically. “Sometimes I would work so hard that I would forget to eat. I got really skinny and sickly. So, after close to four years of this kind of life, Mark and I agreed that something had to change.” She chose to resign her position with Estée Lauder because she could not keep up with the demands of the job without continuing to damage her body. They decided to move back to Oklahoma to be closer to family and friends, drastically improving their quality of life.

Her next job was with the Oklahoma Blood Institute doing public relations and helping to run blood drives. She realized she liked working in this nonprofit organization because she believed in its mission, liked helping people, and felt she was doing something good for society. She worked there for two years before she had a hemorrhage in her eye. When she woke on a Friday morning and found that everything she saw was pink, she thought she was having a problem with allergies, because it had happened before. When the problem had not improved on Monday, she went to the doctor and on that day received one thousand laser shots in both eyes. Problems with her vision would consume the next year of her life. Every two weeks she was having eye surgeries, procedures, and experimental injections. The frequent laser treatments on both of her eyes meant that she missed a lot of work, and the director of public relations called her in to ask why. No doubt feeling the need to expose her repressed inner doctor, the supervisor suggested Jeannie “get an eye transplant.” In the quest to save her vision, she could not assure her supervisor that her attendance would improve, so she resigned.

Four times during that year of struggle to save her sight, she lost all of her vision. Each time it would return, there would be less of it. Emotionally she tells the story of traveling to a 7 a.m. Rotary Club meeting and finding that, on that day, she had so little vision that her usual ten-minute trip took forty-five minutes. “I freely gave up driving because I was terrified that I was going to hurt someone else.

“I went through the next six months of surgeries and injections and finally came to the realization that I was mostly blind, and it was going to stay that way. I couldn’t see to read or to sew, and at that point I had difficulty figuring out anything I could really do. Part of my self-concept is that I am a strong-willed person, but I couldn’t see how that strong will was going to save me.”

Mark was initially terrified by the onset of her blindness and for a time was very overprotective. Neither of the Massays knew a blind person, and the only thing Jeannie knew was that blind people carried long white canes. The rehabilitation agency had not offered her one, she had no idea where a cane for the blind could be found, so she began using a three-foot carved walking stick her father had used. “Mark and I moved in with my mom because I was familiar with the layout of her house. I started receiving library services for the blind but was on so much medication that I really couldn’t read or enjoy the books they sent. I signed up for rehabilitation services and tried to learn something about assistive technology, but only once did a rehabilitation teacher come to my house for fifteen minutes. Not knowing what else to do, I went to the Library for the Blind in Oklahoma City and spent hours there. They offered no formal training, but I observed other people, listened to what they were doing, and came to understand a bit about the assistive technology used by blind people.

“The one thing I got from the rehabilitation agency that did seem to help was orientation and mobility services. I appreciated my instructor because she showed up for appointments and was the first person I could clearly see who wanted to give me back my independence.”

When Jeannie decided that she would need more training than she could get from an occasional home visit by the Oklahoma agency, she looked at residential rehabilitation centers. She considered attending the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) and was given a long white cane, but the information she had heard about the National Federation of the Blind and the rigor of CCB training, along with biased information and the opinions of her counselor, convinced her that she should attend the Carroll Center for the Blind. She was at the center about six months, and in addition to personal adjustment to blindness training, she also went through an office skills program so that she could learn enough assistive technology to go back to school and get her master’s degree. As she gained confidence and a working set of blindness skills, Mark once again saw in Jeannie the fiercely independent woman he had married. After her time at the Carroll Center, Jeannie went back to school to become a therapist. Working in the cosmetics industry had always been lucrative, but it had never been her passion. Mark also made the decision to go back to school, and both graduated with their master’s degrees at the same time.

After graduating in May of 2011, Jeannie set out to begin the supervision process, part of the requirements for licensure as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Oklahoma. The requirement consists of working for a minimum of three thousand hours under a counselor who is already licensed. Jeannie encountered discrimination when seeking a job to complete the supervision required for her to pursue licensure. “Although I was equally qualified and had a high GPA, many people saw my cane and assumed that I wouldn’t be able to do the job,” she said. After going on many interviews, Jeannie finally found a job in October of 2011. She began counseling children, adolescents, and their families who deal with ADHD, depression, and anxiety disorders. Jeannie completed the state and national exams in November of 2013. After having had issues gaining appropriate and desired accommodations, she passed both examinations and was fully licensed as a Licensed Professional Counselor on January 31, 2014. Jeannie has been in private practice since that time and has most recently been certified to work as a clinical supervisor for LPC candidates working toward their licensure.

Jeannie’s first association with an organization of the blind came when she joined the Oklahoma Council of the Blind, the state affiliate of the American Council of the Blind. Although she liked some of the people in the organization, she became concerned with how much time they spent complaining about this radical and militant organization known as the National Federation of the Blind. She did just enough research to realize that the NFB gave state and national scholarships, decided that she was as competent and capable as anyone else, and even decided that crazy, militant money was still spendable. She did not win a national scholarship but was invited to attend the 2008 state convention in Oklahoma. There were fourteen people at that convention, and, to her surprise, Steve Shelton nominated her for a board position. During the luncheon speech presented by the national representative from the Federation, Jeannie was touched by the idea of finding something larger than oneself and reaching out to help others.

Although the Oklahoma affiliate did not award her a scholarship in 2008, it did provide resources she could use to attend the national convention. “I was a bit overwhelmed by the three thousand blind people in the Hilton Anatole,” she said, “but once I heard the gavel drop, I knew we had to bring this kind of enthusiasm and the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind home to Oklahoma. I felt a duty and an obligation to organize a chapter in Edmund, so Steve Shelton, Dick Morris, Selena Crawford, and Dan Frye worked to make the first meeting possible. We had four people attend, and I thought this was great! I told myself we would have an awesome chapter, but at our first regular meeting only the officers showed up. I was disappointed but resolved. The chapter kept growing, and pretty soon it came to have twenty and then thirty people on average. We kept at it, and at the same time we worked on developing the affiliate.” Jeannie won a national scholarship in 2009, was invited by President Maurer to attend a leadership seminar, and at that time she told him that, when she graduated with her master’s degree, she would run to be the state president in Oklahoma.

Jeannie says she has never had problems believing in the teachings of the National Federation of the Blind regarding the need to learn blindness skills. She says that, after her initial loss of vision, what she can see has varied so much that she has never been tempted to put down her cane. “My vision isn’t what I use to live—it is helpful and icing on the cake, but it cannot meet my daily needs for travel and other activities.”

Jeannie Massey was elected to the national board of directors in July 2013 and advanced to the position of treasurer in 2015. “When I was growing up, and to this day, my mother used to ask me ‘What are you?’ She taught me to respond in the following way, ‘I am intelligent, capable, beautiful, and lots of fun to be with.’ This was our way of affirming who I wanted to be and who I could become, and blindness hasn’t changed any of it. This is the message I want to share with blind people: that our hopes, dreams, goals, and aspirations are no less real simply because we do not see.”

Denise Avant, Board Member
NFB of Illinois President
Activist, Advocate, and Retired Appellate Attorney

Denise Avant was born in Chicago in 1958 and was raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood. She had vision problems from birth and was ultimately diagnosed with Liber’s congenital blindness.

She attended a public elementary school with programs for blind students and was initially included in its “sight saving” classes, where she used large print. But in eighth grade her teacher of the blind advised that she should learn Braille in order to prepare for college. She was also given cane travel lessons starting in the spring of seventh grade so that she could travel to school using the bus. At the time, she was given a specific route to follow in order to avoid street crossings. Later, she would learn how to use Chicago’s public transportation system from blind friends to go shopping, attend movies, and engage in other adventures throughout her home city.

Although Denise started to learn Braille in high school, she initially was not proficient and still relied primarily on large print or on her teachers of the blind to read assignments to her. But as she continued to lose vision, especially in low light, she decided that more Braille training would relieve the worry over not being able to read print. In order to become a more proficient reader, Denise received six weeks of intensive Braille training provided by the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation Services in downtown Chicago in the summer between her freshman and sophomore high school years.

Denise attended college at the University of Missouri at Columbia, originally intending to pursue a journalism major but choosing a political science degree instead. She would ultimately receive a master’s in journalism from Roosevelt University in 2003. Denise took an undergraduate course in constitutional law and enjoyed it so much that she decided to go on to law school. She stayed at the University of Missouri because she had established residence, and rehabilitation funds for her education were therefore available. But she decided to return to Chicago to pursue her legal career since she already knew that public transportation was more than adequate there. Her first job was with Will County Legal Aid in Joliet, a two-hour commute from home, but she applied at a job fair for a position with the Cook County Public Defender and got the job. Assigned to the appellate division, where she handled appeals and post-conviction proceedings for people accused of a wide range of misdemeanor and felony offenses, Denise worked for the public defender for thirty years, retiring on August 31, 2017. She had further developed her Braille skills in college and law school by learning to take notes with a slate and stylus. While working in Joliet, she acquired a VersaBraille, and then ultimately graduated to the full-time use of a computer. Her Braille skills proved indispensable for conducting oral arguments in court. Her computer skills allowed her to prepare her own briefs and conduct legal research as she dealt with more responsibility and a heavier caseload due to steady advancement in her career.

Denise knew of the National Federation of the Blind long before she joined in 2005. She had even attended a few conventions and taken advantage of contacts and resources provided by the National Association of Blind Lawyers. However, she didn’t think of herself as a joiner and had little interest in being a part of an organization that, she had been told, was made up of mean-spirited, radical extremists. But the people she met and the organization she came to know were nothing like what she had heard. “I attended my first Chicago Chapter meeting in 2005, and I’ve missed very few since then,” she says. In fact, she served on the chapter’s public relations committee and then became its second vice president. She says, “I appreciated the Federation because it was a place in which blind people were respected and our opinions were truly heard and really mattered.” But the real turning point in her involvement came when she was invited to a leadership seminar in August of 2010. At that gathering she realized for the first time that the success she had achieved in her life and career had been made possible by the work of the National Federation of the Blind. “The rehabilitation services and financial aid that I had access to, the technology I was able to acquire and use, and the barriers that had been overcome by other blind people before I started my career: all of those things happened because of the National Federation of the Blind, although I didn’t realize it at the time.”

Denise had been asked before by Illinois affiliate president Patti Chang, whether she would consider succeeding Patti in that position, but Denise had always declined. After the leadership seminar, however, she told Patti that she was interested in serving as president. Denise was elected to her first term as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois in 2014. She was re-elected in 2016 and was elected unanimously to the national board of directors in 2017.

Denise has worked hard for most of her life; she had summer jobs from the age of fifteen until she began her full-time career. She now looks forward to having more time to enjoy cross-country skiing, running, and reading. She and a group of friends have formed a small club called the Visionnairies, which helps local institutions and charities related to blindness. And, of course, she remains committed to the work of the National Federation of the Blind. “Ultimately, we must all work to continue to change the low expectations and negative attitudes that society has about the abilities of blind people,” she says. “Laws are important, but our real goal has to be changing hearts and minds.”

Everette Bacon, Board Member
NFB of Utah President
Rehabilitation Professional, Husband, and Sports Enthusiast

Everette Bacon was born in Huntington Beach, California, in July of 1970. He was born to Arvil and Patricia in a naval hospital since his father was in the navy.

At the age of five Everette's uncle noticed that there was something wrong with his eyes, a condition his father had not noticed and one which his mother and other female relatives didn't observe because blindness ran in their family. Everette was diagnosed with cone-rod dystrophy, a condition inherited from his mother's side which went back for thirteen generations, causing rapid-onset blindness. Despite the diagnosis, his family took the advice of teachers and medical experts, believing—or, more accurately, hoping—that since Everette was male and his vision was not deteriorating rapidly like that of other family members, he was unlikely to go blind. As a result, he did not learn Braille or other alternative techniques during his school years. Instead, he learned to avoid reading as much as he reasonably could. He became an excellent listener and simply took his lumps when it came to grades that suffered because he could not read long enough to make it seem reasonable to him. "I liked what I read with my eyes, but the pain and the eye fatigue always won out. It caused me to be a fairly average student, and that's unfortunate because I had more aptitude than the average student."

Everette got along well with his schoolmates, most people not knowing he had a severe vision problem and was in fact legally blind. "I think I learned how to fake it before I knew what faking it meant," he says.

When Everette was around eighteen his family moved to Texas. He pursued a degree in church music at Dallas Baptist University. He jokes that he was pushed toward music because "you know, blind people sing." His first job was teaching a seventh-grade choir, but he found it not to his liking. Searching for other employment, Everette ultimately accepted a management position with Blockbuster Video in 1997. He was very successful in this position, winning several awards and steady promotions. By 2004 he was managing ten stores in the Houston area.
Everette's eye condition began to worsen, and instead of giving up, he adapted by using alternative techniques. "I started carrying a cane, mainly for identity, but I was using it when I felt I needed it. I was never embarrassed or ashamed about becoming blind, because I grew up around blind people; adapting was something you just became accustomed to doing." However, when he asked for reasonable accommodations from his employer, instead of granting these, Blockbuster terminated his employment despite his outstanding record. The company even went so far as to describe Everette's conduct as "fraudulent," implying that he had deceived the company about his capabilities, even though he had previously been praised and awarded for his work.

This experience traumatized Everette and his family. His wife, mother, and other family members sent angry emails to everyone they could, urging readers to avoid shopping at Blockbuster based on discrimination against the blind. One of these emails found its way to Scott LaBarre, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado and a successful disability rights attorney. Scott took Everette's case, and ultimately Everette received a settlement from Blockbuster. More importantly, though, he learned about the National Federation of the Blind and the many battles the organization has fought in the effort to advance and protect the civil rights of blind people. "I had heard of the Federation and been told that they were militant," Everette says, "but my experience taught me the importance of our advocacy. There are so many reasons to be proud of who we are as blind people, and the Federation has paved the way for our climb to the top of the mountain of civil rights!”

In 2004 Everette and his wife, Dr. Angela Peters, moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. Everette became involved in the Utah affiliate and developed what he describes as life-changing relationships with dedicated Federationists like Nick Schmittroth, Karl Smith, and Deja Powell. These friends helped Everette improve his blindness skills and grow in the movement. Everette was also looking for new employment opportunities in Utah and heard about a job opening as a blindness skills teacher at the Utah Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Everette remembers speaking with Ray Martin about the fact that he knew nothing about teaching blind people. Martin told him that being blind was the most important qualification. The agency supported Everette in his pursuit of a master's degree in rehabilitation. He went from teaching technology to supervising the technology staff, and now serves as the agency's field services coordinator, overseeing all of the agency's technology and employment services, supervising a staff of nine.
Everette began advocating for Utah's blind residents with an effort to encourage a prominent local cinema chain to incorporate audio description technology into its theaters so that blind people who wanted to experience movies with audio description could do so. An avid movie fan with an extensive collection dating from his Blockbuster days, he believes that audio description can enable blind people to connect more easily with their sighted peers when discussing entertainment. "One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from the NFB is the understanding that blending into society is an important skill. Being able to relate to our sighted colleagues about movies, television, politics, and sports are excellent paths to opportunities that help change common misconceptions about blindness."

So how did he convince the cinema chain to spend the money? His pitch was simple: if you do this, you will attract more blind people, and we'll make it worth your while in terms of the publicity we get you for your efforts. The project was phenomenally successful—blind people got audio description, the publicity was significant, and the Federation had found a man with capability who could ask for, take on, and complete an assignment with flying colors.
In addition to serving on the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors since 2015 and as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah since 2012, he also serves as the organization's representative on the Federal Communications Commission Disability Advisory Committee.

Of course Everette does much more in his life than work for a living and work as an advocate. He is married to Dr. Angela Peters, a medical doctor whom Everette is proud to have helped support through medical school. Everette and Angela have a love for music, and a funny story around music brought them together. “In my junior year of college I had to practice piano, and I loved to play—badly—on the huge grand piano. One evening I was practicing, and I heard someone else doing the same in one of the small practice rooms with the lights off. I wanted to know who it was, so I went over to the window of the door and tried to peer in even though it was dark. My future wife suddenly opened the door, and I practically fell into her arms! After my initial embarrassment, we started talking, and the rest is history.”

Everette’s “Angel” is his best friend and is very supportive of his work in the NFB. She has attended eight national conventions with Everette and hopes that they will be attending together for many more years to come.

Everette loves to work on his deck, and although he is not good at yard work, his wife Angela is very good at yard projects and is equally good at helping him know what needs to be done. He loves baseball, fantasy sports, and his two dogs that he fondly refers to as his children. In his future he hopes to skydive, visit Europe, and see a musical on Broadway. Thanks to the NFB and an opportunity to test some new descriptive audio software, he attended the musical Chicago right before this article was sent to the Braille Monitor.

So what has the Federation done to change Everette’s life and his perceptions of his place in the world? "I always thought blind people were capable of doing things, of being a part, but I never thought that we could lead things, control things, be in charge of extremely important projects with large budgets. I always thought blind people were great soldiers or fantastic worker bees doing whatever they were told, but I never thought blind people could lead in the way the NFB brought to me. Until I met the organization, I never knew how significantly blind people were changing policy, changing the law, changing the way businesses behaved, and changing the overall accessibility of the world. I've never lacked for inner-confidence, but I never understood how ambitious I could be as a blind person. I used to think that my difference meant there was a limit to what I could strive to be, but no more."

Amy Buresh, Board Member
NFB of Nebraska President
Rehabilitation Counselor, Advocate, and Mother

Today Amy Rut Buresh says, “My blindness is simply another of my characteristics like my auburn hair.” She didn’t always feel that way. Amy Rut was born prematurely June 4, 1974, in Fairbury, Nebraska, and has been blind since then from retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). When she was five, her family moved from their farm to Nebraska City so that she could attend the Nebraska School for the Visually Handicapped (NSVH). Her parents made the difficult decision to relocate to a new community far away from family, friends, and all they knew so that Amy could continue to live at home during her school years rather than in a dormitory. Young Amy received a solid education and had a normal family life, complete with two pesky little brothers, family campouts, picnics, dress-up, and backyard sports. Amy has said her family’s sacrifice was crucial to her peace of mind in her formative years, and she has always been grateful her parents made the choice they did.

While a student at NSVH, Amy received training in many blindness skills, the most critical of which was Braille, which helped her to excel academically. She participated in countless musicals, the track team, cheerleading, and speech competition. In her freshman year Amy began taking classes at the public school in Nebraska City. Although she was active in extracurricular activities, including “swing choir” and president of her school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Amy found it hard to make friends. She recalls that throughout her public school years she sat through many lonely lunches. With an outgoing personality, Amy easily made acquaintances, but no one invited her to parties or asked her to go to the movies.

Amy took piano lessons from kindergarten through her sophomore year and voice lessons from her freshman to her senior year. She still sings at churches, banquets, and karaoke as often as she can. She taught summer enrichment courses on the basics of Braille to school children in her hometown. Through the Nebraska Human Resources Department at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Amy also participated in a Big-Sister-style program, in which she was paired with a blind elementary school student whom she continued to mentor well after the program’s conclusion.

Growing up, Amy had few positive blind role models and limited contact with her blind peers. During her teenage years she first participated in youth programs sponsored by the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (NCBVI), where she gained many valuable skills and met her future husband.

For several summers Amy worked as a volunteer counselor at the Summer Kids Independence Program (SKIP) Camp, a program for children ages five to twelve, sponsored by NCBVI. She wanted to share with other blind youth the things she had learned during her high school journey: which plans had worked for her, and which hadn’t. She believed then and believes more absolutely today that mentoring is important in improving one’s attitude toward blindness and a great way to learn how to handle being different in our society.

Whether at home or at school, participating in music, academics, or athletics, Amy was successfully working and competing with her sighted peers. She was even named second runner-up in the 1990 Nebraska City Miss Applejack Pageant. Yet in addition she had to face another, deeply personal aspect of life. As a senior in high school she began wrestling with life questions that neither her family and teachers nor her sighted peers could answer. Could she really be successful as an independent blind adult? Would she ever marry and have a family? What about employment? Could she get a job and do it well?

Following graduation, Amy began conquering her fears and seeking answers to these nagging questions by attending the Orientation Training Center of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Lincoln. There she was first introduced to the underpinning philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind and, equally important, to kind and inspirational Federationists.

Armed with newfound confidence and skills, Amy enrolled in Peru State College, graduating with a BS in psychology, sociology, and criminal justice. Throughout her time on campus she was active as a peer mentor, in student senate, and in residence hall government. She also soloed and toured with the concert choir. She helped found and held several offices in the Association for Challenged and Enabled Students (ACES), a group dedicated to breaking down stereotypes and eliminating discrimination against those with disabilities. ACES sought to educate the non-disabled public about the challenges people with disabilities face. During the years at Peru State College Amy began working with women and children who experience domestic violence, a field to which she still devotes time when she can. She served as a volunteer counselor for a nonprofit in Southeast Nebraska and other agencies. She has worked tirelessly as an advocate, role model, and leader for both women and the blind. She attributes her success with blind people to her discovery of and involvement in the National Federation of the Blind.

In 1993 the NFB of Nebraska established a scholarship program, and Amy won the first scholarship. With this award she faced a turning point in the evolution of her personal philosophy and in her affiliation with the National Federation of the Blind. Growing up, she had been warned that the NFB was an organization of militants whom she should avoid. Thanks to the scholarship program, Amy attended her first state convention in the fall of 1993, discovered the warmth of the members of the NFB and the important work we are doing, and hasn't looked back since.

In fact, the very next year, in October of 1994, Amy and a handful of other concerned blind Nebraska students were granted the charter for the Nebraska Association of Blind Students within the Nebraska affiliate. She was elected president of the student division, an office she held for two years.

Since those early days in the Federation, Amy has held a number of chapter and affiliate positions in Nebraska. In 2003 she was elected to serve as affiliate president, and in the summer of 2006 she was elected by the national convention to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.

Amy and her husband Shane (a leader and dedicated Federationist in his own right) live in Lincoln with their son Noah (born May 2, 2006) and daughter Sarah, (born February 14, 2014). She is employed as a rehabilitation counselor with the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

“My ordinary life, juggling family, Federation, and work commitments, struggling to keep all the balls in the air—this is the life I’ve chosen—the life I’ve created. My life as a blind woman is ordinary, not extraordinary. Therein lies its beauty.”

Shawn Callaway, Board Member
NFB of the District of Columbia President
Social Worker, Community Activist, and Father

Shawn Callaway was born in Washington, DC, and grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland. When he was a sophomore at South Carolina State University, a classmate was playing with a gun and accidentally shot Shawn in the temple. The accident resulted in the detachment of his optic nerves, which caused total blindness. Shawn returned to the DC area and received blindness training at the Workforce Technology Center in Baltimore. He credits a blind man named Lou Smith with providing his training and being an early mentor. He also credits his parents for encouraging him throughout his transition to life as a successful blind person. After his rehabilitation training, Shawn earned his associate’s degree in psychology from Essex Community College in 1995, his bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland in 1997, and then his master's in social work from Catholic University of America in 2000. He began his professional career working with the homeless at Catholic Charities and then went on to counsel children in the Washington, DC, public school system for the city's Department of Behavioral Health. He now works as a program specialist for the United States Department of Health and Human Services, specifically in programs of the Administration on Community Living and the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. In 2005 he married Latonya Rollins of Cleveland, Ohio.

Shawn had heard of the National Federation of the Blind in the mid-1990s but was initially convinced by a friend that the organization was too radical for him. In retrospect, he believes he was given bad information and wishes that he had become a Federationist earlier. After being invited to a chapter meeting by Linda Black-White, Shawn finally joined in the spring of 2009. He found himself leading the Washington, DC, affiliate when longtime leader Don Galloway died in 2011.

Shawn already had confidence in most of his blindness skills when he joined the National Federation of the Blind, but he says that he was still apprehensive about becoming a parent. The opportunity to observe and talk to blind parents like Mark and Melissa Riccobono and Tracy Soforenko, as well as a DC Federationist named Vicky Smith, gave him confidence that he could be a successful blind parent. He is now the proud father of his daughter Camille who was born in 2014.

Shawn also credits participation in the NFB with opening up other leadership and community involvement opportunities for him. He has served on the boards of the DC Center for Independent Living and the Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind and has chaired the DC rehabilitation council. He currently co-hosts a community radio program called “Open Our Eyes” on a local station. In addition, Shawn serves as the president of the DC Friends of the Talking Book and Braille Library and is a member of the DC Blind Bowlers Association. Shawn says, “I am grateful for the opportunity to serve on the NFB board of directors, both to give back to the organization as a whole and because so many past and present board members like Dr. Fred Schroeder, Anil Lewis, Dr. Joanne Wilson, Sam Gleese, Pam Allen, and Ever Lee Hairston have inspired and mentored me. I will strive to fill the same role for other leaders and members of our great movement and devote every ounce of my energy to building the Federation and advocating for all blind citizens.”

Norma Crosby, Board Member
NFB of Texas President
Mother and Businesswoman

Norma Beathard was born on January 25, 1956, in Conroe, Texas. She was the first of five children born to Robbie and Joseph Beathard. Norma was born legally blind because her mother contracted rubella during her pregnancy; however, Norma’s blindness remained undetected until she began walking. At that time, her parents began to notice that she seemed to bump into things that a sighted child should see, and they had her vision tested. A determination was made that she was blind when she was two years old. Years of surgery followed with no improvement.

Norma was an active child. She joined her siblings in most of the games they played, and her blindness was not a real obstacle when she was small. But she couldn't read the blackboard when she started school, and she experienced a number of problems related to her vision as she grew older.

Norma always attended school in rural communities, a circumstance which she describes as “both a blessing and a curse.” Because no one in her life knew anything about blindness skills, she wasn't able to learn Braille or cane travel. She used large print books, which were bulky and heavy for a tiny girl. Since her vision was extremely limited, she had to read with her nose practically touching the pages of her books, even though the print was enlarged. Despite the lack of training in blindness skills, Norma feels that she received a quality education because she had caring teachers who always found ways of making it easier for her to learn. She was fortunate to have the same teacher from her first-grade year through her third-grade year, and that teacher was determined that Norma would be included in everything the class did. Her name was Jean Todd, and she spent countless hours offering Norma one-on-one instruction. Other teachers with similar attitudes were a part of Norma's life throughout her K-12 experience.

Professionals in the field of work with the blind were not as helpful. When Norma asked for Braille training, she was told by a rehabilitation professional that she was wasting his time, and she was made to feel guilty because, according to him, she was depriving a “real” blind person of the opportunity to learn by making this frivolous request. Eventually she was able to convince him that he should provide her with training, and he traveled to her small town and spent two hours with her. This was woefully inadequate, but it did allow her to learn the alphabet, Braille numbers, and some punctuation symbols. Her experience with inadequate Braille training has made Norma a strong advocate for providing Braille education to children with low vision.

After completing her education, Norma found herself living in a small community with no opportunities for a blind person. She knew she had to leave her rural home if she was to become successful. Her father was opposed to her leaving, but her mother understood that a different environment would provide Norma with a better chance of living the life she wanted to live. So she took the unusual step of going against the wishes of Norma's father; drove Norma to the bus station in Lufkin, Texas, and purchased a ticket to a better life for her daughter. Norma traveled to Austin that day, and although she had no idea what she would do to become successful, she was confident that she would be able to make a life for herself.

Norma began her working life as an employee at the Travis Association for the Blind. That employment did not last long because Norma found that she couldn't live on the $1.05 an hour that the sheltered workshop was paying its trainees, and her questions about how to make a higher wage went unanswered. In fact, it became clear that she was unlikely to be paid the federal minimum wage anytime soon, so Norma began to look for other work. She also married during this time and began a family. Her first son was born on March 10, 1976, and her second son was born on March 10, 1978. Once her children were out of diapers, Norma started work at the Texas School for the Blind. She worked as a dorm parent at the school from 1979 to 1982.

After a divorce, Norma found the National Federation of the Blind and became an active member in 1983. By 1985 she was living in Houston, and she was an important part of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas leadership. She didn't hold elective office in the Federation, but she worked hard to help the affiliate president and other leaders to carry out the organization's mission. She became president of the Houston Chapter in 1989, and she continued in that role for eight years.

When Norma joined the Federation, she met Glenn Crosby. Glenn was serving as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas, and as the two worked closely together, a personal relationship developed. They were married on April 15, 1989. Each of them had two children, and the two families have blended into a harmonious group. Glenn and Norma are now the proud grandparents of seven grandchildren, ranging in age from four to twenty-one.

Four years before they married, Glenn asked Norma to begin managing the office for his food service business, and they became professional partners. The Crosbys owned five food service locations during the late 1980s and early 1990s, but they sold all but two of the locations and were operating those two locations when they retired in 2013.

Though both Norma and Glenn grew up in Texas, they decided they wanted a change in 2001, and they spent about a year in South Dakota. They then spent several months in Ajijic, Mexico. Ajijic is near Guadalajara, and, while they enjoyed their time there, they needed to be closer to home for business reasons so in 2005 they moved to Ruston, Louisiana. Shortly after arriving in Ruston, Norma was elected to serve as president of the North Central Chapter of the NFB of Louisiana. She remained in that position until January of 2009, when she and Glenn made the decision to move back to their native Texas. They now live in Alvin, near Houston, on four acres of land and have a few cows.

In 2012, Norma was chosen to serve as the first president of the Lone Star Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas. At the affiliate's 2014 convention, she was elected to serve as the state president. While Norma believes strongly that it is not necessary to hold an office in order to be an effective leader, she is honored to serve as both the president of the NFB of Texas and, since her election at the 2015 National Convention, as a member of the organization's national board of directors.

John Fritz, Board Member
NFB of Wisconsin President
Business Owner, Advocate, and Father

John Fritz was born in September of 1966. He was raised on a family dairy farm in southwest Wisconsin, the oldest of five children. He was lucky enough to have parents who made him learn the value of hard work early on. “We were a farm family, and I was the oldest son. I was expected to help with the chores and work outside with my dad.” He was born legally blind but had some sight. This diminished to light perception by the age of three. He believed at an early age that sight was not a requirement to be successful.

John attended the Wisconsin School for the Blind from kindergarten through the seventh grade, primarily because the public school didn't believe a blind child could be served in his hometown. In seventh grade he was able to persuade the school counselor to allow him to transfer back to his local public school. He remembers this being a very difficult adjustment. Having lived at the school for the blind for seven years and being away from his siblings, he found it hard to return and take his place again. Everyone had to get to know each other again. “I realized how much I was missing out on at home,” he said.

John graduated from Fennimore High School with honors in 1985. Before and after school he was responsible for milking cows and helping with general farm work. He earned his letter in wrestling and played trumpet in pep band, marching band, and concert band. His most significant accomplishments came in Future Farmers of America (FFA). John was involved in an extemporaneous-speaking competition, the Creed Speaking Contest; dairy judging; and parliamentary procedure. He placed fourth in the nation in computers in agriculture and achieved the American Farmer Degree. He also served as president of his FFA chapter for two years.

John attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where he graduated with honors in 1989 with a major in animal science, emphasizing dairy management, nutrition, and reproduction. He also earned a minor in computer science. While in college he participated in the academic decathlon in agriculture and in seven academic clubs and organizations.

In these years John got his first dose of the low expectations many professionals have for blind students. When he told his Department for Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) counselor that he wanted to be a veterinarian, his counselor informed him that, if he pursued that career, DVR wouldn't fund him. The counselor said that a blind person wouldn't be able to be a veterinarian. So John told the DVR counselor to leave. That day he learned quickly that, if he wanted to pursue his goals, he needed to find a way to pay for college himself. He found part-time jobs, work-study assignments, and scholarships to pay his way.

“The most significant event of my life occurred the summer of my sophomore year at a national convention when I won a National Federation of the Blind scholarship in Phoenix, Arizona,” John said. This was his first exposure to the NFB. He was relieved to find peers doing similar things and blind people with the same philosophy. He realized during that convention that he had finally found the biggest and most reliable source of information any blind college student could ever have—other blind people. While attending college, he continued to work on the farm on weekends. College provided him the opportunity to advocate for himself and become a self-sufficient person.

John started working on the family dairy farm right after graduating from college. By this time he had decided that the dairy farm was the immediate need, and veterinary school would have to wait. He was responsible for the day-to-day operations and management of the farm, where he milked sixty-five registered Brown Swiss cows. In 1991 he started working part-time for a local computer store as a computer technician. His main responsibility was repairing computers. The next year he became store manager, where his responsibilities included the day-to-day operation of the store, sales, and service. He left the farm and moved to town. He continued at this job for six years. In 1995 he married Heather Ross. They met during the 1992 NFB convention in Charlotte and started dating after running into each other again during the Dallas convention in 1993. In 1997 he accepted a job with the Louisiana Center for the Blind as the computer instructor. He describes it as a very rewarding experience because it provided the opportunity for him to fully absorb and live the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind each day. While in Louisiana, John and Heather Fritz started their family. Lindsey was born in 1998, Christina was born in 1999, Mark was sponsored from Korea in 2001, and Andrew was born in 2002.

In 2003 John made the difficult decision to leave his job and friends at the center and return home to be near Heather's parents. They had just retired to Wisconsin from California. John decided to begin his own vending business with the Business Enterprise Program. This is what he continues to do today. In 2005 the Fritzes adopted their daughter Katie from China at the age of six. In 2006 John and Heather built their dream home for their growing family on fifteen acres in Kendall, Wisconsin. He also built a warehouse for his business, J&H Vending, Inc.

John says that he was honored to be elected president of the NFB of Wisconsin in 2006. He has enjoyed working with the affiliate, divisions, and the blind of Wisconsin. In 2008 he was elected to the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors. He remains very busy with the state affiliate, along with being a member of Lions Club, the local ham radio club, and various other clubs and organizations. He also likes to do woodworking, grilling, fishing, and hunting large game with his kids.

As busy as he is, and as many activities as he pursues, nothing is more important to John than spending time watching his children grow—all seven of them! Child number six, a four-year-old boy from India they named Jacob, was adopted in May of 2009. The Fritz family has also been joined by a seventeen-year-old daughter named Anna, who was originally adopted from China by another family when she was nine years old but became part of the Fritz clan in the summer of 2009.

Reflecting on his life and work, John says, “The National Federation of the Blind doesn't prescribe what a blind person should do or even what he or she can do. It merely invites every blind person to dream and work to achieve those dreams. Its members blaze trails for one another and cheer each other along the way.”

Ever Lee Hairston, Board Member
Former NFB of California President
Mentor, Advocate, Motivational Speaker, and Mother

Ever Lee Hairston was unanimously elected to the board of directors at the 2010 National Federation of the Blind convention on July 6, 2010, in Dallas, Texas. She brings considerable experience to this position, having served in various capacities with the NFB over the years—including twenty-two consecutive years of service on the NFB Scholarship Committee and a fourteen-year stint as first vice president of the NFB of New Jersey. Ever Lee founded and served as the president of the Garden State Chapter of the NFB of New Jersey from 1991 until 2005, and for many years she was the coordinator of the LEAD Program, a mentoring program for blind and visually impaired teenagers. She currently serves on the board of directors of the Louisiana Center for the Blind and as president of the NFB of California.

Born to Arizona and Clarence Hairston on the Coolemee plantation in Mocksville, North Carolina, Ever Lee is the third of seven children. She grew up and attended schools in the segregated South. “I felt like a second-class citizen, using hand-me-down books in school; and, due to unexplained vision problems, I had to struggle to read from the bulletin board,” Ever Lee noted. In spite of the challenges of growing up in the segregated South and continuing visual problems, Ever Lee had a strong desire to become a nurse. Ever Lee’s parents simply could not afford to send her to college; so after high school, Ever Lee went to New York City to earn money for college by working as a live-in maid. She returned to North Carolina at the end of the summer anxious to pursue a nursing career. However, she failed the required eye examination and was told that she would not be suitable for admission to Duke University Nursing School. “I was heartbroken but refused to be defeated,” she said. She was accepted at North Carolina Central University, where she earned a teaching degree.

After graduating from North Carolina Central, Ever Lee taught high school business courses in New Jersey. While working as a high school teacher in New Jersey, Ever Lee’s eyesight continued to deteriorate. She finally sought answers and medical care. Ever Lee, along with three siblings, were diagnosed with a genetic eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa (RP). And, four years after starting a challenging teaching career, Ever Lee was forced to resign from her position because of her impending blindness.

At the age of twenty-nine, facing total blindness, with a failed marriage, a child to raise alone, and uncertainty about future employment, Ever Lee admitted to being devastated and feeling sorry for herself. However, she held on to the hope that a better way of life was in store for her. She admits to believing in the old adage that “When God closes a door, He opens a window.” She began looking for the window.

After inventorying her strengths, she stepped through a window of opportunity at New Jersey’s Rutgers University, where she took graduate courses in counseling. In 1983 she landed a counselor trainee position with the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services. But, as Ever Lee explains it, “With no blindness skills, I was faking my way through.” She notes that she relied heavily on sighted people to read to her and to act as guides.

In 1987 Ever Lee received a call from Jackie Billie inviting her to an NFB convention in Phoenix, Arizona. At first she made excuses because she was afraid of requesting the time off from her job. Jackie was persistent, and Ever Lee finally agreed to attend the convention.

Ever Lee describes arriving at the hotel in Phoenix to the unfamiliar sound of canes tapping and the unsettling feeling of dogs licking her legs. The most profound experience, as Ever Lee explains it, came when she started through the registration line. She remembers being asked, "Would you like a Braille or print agenda?" She could no longer read print and did not know Braille. It was then, according to Ever Lee, that a light bulb went off.

“I am illiterate,” she thought. She talked to as many people as she could at that convention in Phoenix and learned about the NFB centers. From then until 1990 she continued to function without blindness skills but worked on a plan with Joanne Wilson to get to Louisiana where she could be trained.

Ever Lee attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind from October 1990 until April 1991. She learned to read Braille, mastered cane travel and independent living skills, and learned to use adaptive technology. She returned to New Jersey, after the Freedom Bell rang for her at the Louisiana Center, with a confidence she never had before, integrating blindness skills into her everyday life.

Ever Lee credits her training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind with enabling her to succeed at her chosen career. After twenty-six years holding many successive positions with the Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program in New Jersey, Ever Lee retired from the position of program director in 2006. In July of that year she moved to California.

She continues to devote tireless hours mentoring and advocating for the blind, as well as delivering inspiring speeches to blind and visually impaired audiences and educating the sighted public about blindness. Ever Lee is blessed with one son, a wonderful daughter-in-law, and three energetic grandchildren. She enjoys traveling, reading a good novel, and spending time with family and friends. She was elected as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of California in 2016 and served one term characterized by building membership and strengthening unity. In July of 2015 Ever Lee became an author with the publication of Blind Ambition: One Woman’s Journey to Greatness Despite Her Blindness.

Ever Lee was most recently recognized in 2019 with the highest award the National Federation of the Blind can bestow on one of its members. She was given the Jacobus tenBroek Award at the Federation’s convention in Las Vegas. “Never have I felt such humility and felt so honored. It is privilege enough to serve, but what an honor to be recognized. I will never forget that night and what it represents to me.”

Carla McQuillan, Board Member
NFB of Oregon President
Mother, and Executive Director of Main Street Montessori Association

Carla was born and raised in Southern California in the early 60s, the youngest of four children. In the summer before fifth grade, Carla lost a great deal of vision but did not notice it until she started school in the fall and was unable to read the chalkboard from the front row. A few years earlier, her older brother had been diagnosed with a rare genetic eye condition called Stargardt's disease, which resulted in the loss of central vision. It was soon confirmed that Carla had the same condition. She was diagnosed legally blind in 1971.

Because of her remaining peripheral vision, Carla did not “look blind,” so she was not taught Braille or any other alternative techniques of blindness. She had very little experience with blind people. The only blind person she knew was her brother, and he was forever using his blindness as an excuse for standing on the sidelines. Carla knew that this was not the life she wanted and was determined to do everything in her power to convince the world that she was not blind.

After high school Carla went to Humboldt State University in Northern California. There she met her husband Lucas. They were married in the summer of 1981 and moved to San Diego for Lucas's graduate program. Though Carla had not completed her bachelor's degree, she was more than happy to put her college career on hold and work to support the couple. Her one year of college had not been very successful. Without the ability to read Braille and eyesight too poor to read print, Carla, who had been an A student in high school, saw her grades drop.

She got a job as a Montessori preschool teacher in San Diego while Lucas completed his master's degree. Their daughter Alison was born in 1983. In 1985 the family moved to Illinois. Lucas enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Illinois, and Carla decided to complete her bachelor's degree. With Lucas' encouragement, Carla asked for accessible textbooks and decided to learn Braille. The staff at the university’s disabled student's services office told her how difficult Braille would be to learn and how inefficient it would be. Discouraged and defeated, Carla wondered if there was any hope for her future. Fortunately, she learned of a scholarship program through the National Federation of the Blind. She won a scholarship from the organization’s Illinois affiliate in 1988. The state convention changed her life. Her negative attitudes about blindness and about her own potential to be a successful professional were replaced by confidence and self-assurance that remain a hallmark of her character today.

After both graduating with high distinction from the University of Illinois in 1988, the McQuillans completed their family with the birth of their son Duncan. They moved to Oregon to be near Carla's family. Carla started her own Montessori preschool, which later expanded to include three schools and a Montessori Teacher Certification Program. Carla served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon from 1992 until 2006, when her business responsibilities became too demanding. She also served on the NFB's national board of directors from 1998 until resigning from that position as well in 2006. She was re-elected president of the Oregon affiliate in 2012 and still serves in that capacity. She is the director of NFB Camp, the program that offers childcare during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Carla was again elected to the national board of directors in 2016.

“I had such horrible misconceptions about blindness for most of my childhood and early adult life,” Carla says. “I thought I knew what blindness meant, and I didn't want any part of it. The National Federation of the Blind taught me that blindness was only as limiting as I allowed it to be. My friends and colleagues in the movement have been more than ideal role models; they have saved me from a life of regret and underachievement.” 

Amy Ruell, Board Member
NFB of Massachusetts President
Therapist, Supervisor, Clinical Care Manager, Wife, and Mother

Amy Ruell was born in 1954 to Kenneth and Gloria Ruell. She is the only blind child in her family. To her family, blindness was unexpected, but much was expected of Amy. While growing up in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, she had little contact with blind people, the exception being through a camp for the blind she attended as a child. She was educated in public school, but as too frequently happens today, she received minimal instruction in cane travel and no formal professional instruction in Braille. She learned these skills with the help of her mother and a volunteer, both staying a lesson ahead of her as the instruction proceeded. Luckily for her the study was intense and thorough. Amy has a mastery of Braille that helps make her a top performer in her field. She feels that, in some ways, the lack of professional instruction forced her to learn invaluable problem-solving skills as she worked with her teachers to adapt her curriculum while ensuring that the same level of competence was expected of her as of her peers.

She obtained bachelor of arts and master of science degrees from Smith College and Simmons College School of Social Work respectively and has been successfully employed as a therapist, supervisor, and, most recently, as a clinical care manager authorizing psychiatric emergency admissions. “I have a time-consuming and sometimes stressful job, but busy is a part of who I am, and making positive contributions to the lives of others is one of my core values.”

As part of her normal life experience, Amy is both a wife and mother. She is married to Jim, and they are the proud parents of two children, Steven and Sheila.

Amy discovered the Federation when her job as the literacy program manager for an initiative at National Braille Press required that she attend the conventions of several national organizations of the blind. At the NFB’s gathering she found people doing things for themselves and at the same time helping others get around the hotel, read menus, and do so many other things in a wonderful spirit of mentorship and cooperation. She says:

I told my husband that I was going to join but that I was not going to become a leader. I already held enough leadership positions. But when I attended my first affiliate convention, I didn’t like it. I was bored, I was frustrated, and I felt like I had wasted my money. Now I am the kind of person who, if I don’t like something, I feel as though I have to change it. I either need to leave it behind or do something about it. So I decided that I would take on the job of planning the next convention and making it better. I asked for and got the job. At the convention that I organized, attendance increased by 20 percent, and I got a lot of accolades for the job I did. So as I looked at the organization, I realized I had two choices: to lead or to shut up, and I concluded that leading was a task more suited to my character and temperament. The decision did not come easily. I was already involved with a number of organizations, and I take my involvement very seriously. When I say I will do something, I know it will take precious time that I do not have in abundance, but I do it. This means I do not easily say yes, but when I do, you can count on me to follow through.

For Amy there was first an investment of the head: the broad advocacy, the systemic change, but later there was the investment of the heart and seeing how much her personal involvement could change one life and then two. That first personal involvement came when a young man needed rehabilitation that had been denied by the agency. After gathering a lot of information about him, determining the options he should have, and capitalizing on her working relationship with the head of the state agency, she got the young man training. “He went to BLIND, Incorporated and was transformed from somebody who really couldn’t find his way anywhere to somebody who is now working part-time, going to school, living on his own in his own apartment, and going everywhere on busses totally independently. I have had a couple of situations that are similar in scope and outcome, and for me that is the reward. Despite all of the advances, I think there are a lot of young people who are struggling and who could learn from some of us older folks who have had to learn to do things more independently and who have had to use our own creativity rather than having a prescribed program. This ability to work with some students and see real growth is the kind of reward that keeps me going when I have no energy and I’m really wanting to go watch the Boston Red Sox, go to a concert, or finish reading the book I’m in the middle of.”

Amy says she struggles with where to put our focus and recognition. Like most groups we focus on those of high achievement: our scholarship winners, the innovators, those with excellent attitudes, and the skills that spring from them. But sometimes she thinks that this helps to reinforce the stereotype that we are amazing. How can we instead emphasize that if you are blind and doing normal things, it is because blindness doesn’t make you abnormal. She observes that being the pitiable blind person and the amazing blind person are just opposite sides of the same coin. “I think we do ourselves a disservice in two ways: there are a lot of people who feel distanced from us and who feel like the NFB is very elitist, and to some extent, when we just feature folks in certain categories, we unwittingly contribute to that stereotype. I also think that for some people who are in the group that is featured, they begin to believe that somehow they are amazing as blind people, and they feed into that stereotype that society gives them. This too does blind people a disservice.”

Amy relates that at one of her jobs she was the spokesman for Braille literacy: traveling throughout the country making speeches, staying in fine hotels, and enjoying good meals. At the same time that she was doing this, she knew that the people producing the Braille she was promoting had jobs that were much harder than hers—people who trudged in during a snowstorm and were there by 7 a.m., stood on their feet all day, got paid far less than she did, seldom got a word of praise, and certainly never got the pay or recognition she did for promoting literacy and the essential role of Braille.

Amy says, “So one of the things I’ve tried to do in the NFB is make sure that other people who don’t have the same abilities I do and that many people find most impressive still have a way to know that they are important and to feel what those of us who so easily are considered important feel. I look for people who may not be able to do the jobs I do, but who still do jobs that are essential to our organization. I work to help figure out what they can do and see that they are acknowledged for it, and I think this does as much or more than showing them examples of people they will never be like and expecting them to do what those people do.” Amy believes that one of the biggest challenges we face as an organization is the way to include and meet the needs of the increasing number of people with multiple disabilities in the United States.

Amy was elected as the vice president of the Massachusetts affiliate shortly after joining the NFB and also has served as the vice president of the Cambridge chapter. She was unanimously elected to the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors in 2017. “My biggest challenge is that I take seriously everything I commit to do. I don’t say yes easily, but when I do, I want people to know that I will follow through. My challenge is how to do all the work of an affiliate president, a board member, and a very busy professional, and still have some time for me. I would rather work for change than complain about it, and all of my jobs in the Federation give me the opportunity to be a part of that change.”

Joseph Ruffalo, Jr., Board Member
NFB of New Jersey President
Mentor, Community Leader, Activist, and Family Man

Born July 6, 1949, in Montclair and raised in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Joseph Ruffalo, Jr. had already graduated from Bloomfield High School, attended Montclair State College, and served America in Vietnam, where he earned a Bronze Star, before he learned in 1976 that retinitis pigmentosa would slowly claim his vision. For six years he continued his work as a manager in a Thom McAn shoe store, but by 1983 he began looking for guidance about how to achieve greater proficiency and control over his life as a blind adult.

The staff at the Joseph Kohn Rehabilitation Center (JKRC), then located in Newark, told him he should not learn to use a cane, read Braille, or master any adaptive devices because he still had enough vision to do without them. Though eager to obtain the necessary skills, at the time Joe believed he had no recourse but to adhere to the advice of the only professionals he knew. Not until 1986 did he learn to use a cane, and he accomplished that by teaching himself. While at JKRC, Joe discovered a talent for baking, which led to a successful nine-year career as the owner of a pastry business.

In 1988 Joe rather reluctantly attended his first NFB chapter meeting in Newark. But he reports that after ten minutes he knew that his life was about to change dramatically. Realizing that the NFB was a place of fraternity and empowerment, empathy and accomplishment, Joe says, “I saw blind people doing things I wanted to do. They were holding jobs, volunteering, and achieving in every pursuit.” This was the beginning of Joe's own growth and achievement. In 1990 he became second vice president of the New Jersey affiliate; two years later he was first vice president; and by 1993 he was president of the NFB of New Jersey, a position he maintains to this day. The members of the NFB of New Jersey honored Joe at the fortieth state convention on November 12, 2016, with the Raising Expectations Award. “It is a tremendous honor and responsibility to promote positive attitudes about blindness and the abilities of blind people,” Joe comments.
But Joe's community involvement has not been limited to the National Federation of the Blind. He has been a leader in the Lions Club for over twenty-nine years, serving as president for three. He has also held positions as zone/regent chair and serves on the district cabinet. In over twenty-eight years with the Knights of Columbus, Joe has held the positions of guard, warden, and deputy grand knight. He also was an active member of the Boy Scouts of America for over fourteen years, serving as cub master for four years. As past president of the Special Education Parent and Professional Organization for thirteen years and past chairman of the board of trustees of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, he has further worked to assure the full integration of people with disabilities into society.

Joe attended the Therapeutic Massage Center to obtain certification in massage therapy and from 1998 to 2001 provided massage for staff, patients, and visitors at Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville before moving his practice to a private office. He has served as a consultant to the Somerset School of Massage, making recommendations to staff and students and answering questions about training methods for blind students.

Joe also worked to smooth others' transitions from dependence to independence as a leader in two programs sponsored by the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired. He was previously employed by the First Occupational Center of New Jersey and the Puerto Rican Association for Human Development as a program manager in the Senior Community Independent Living Services (SCILS) program, which identifies people over age fifty-five in Essex and Ocean counties who have experienced vision loss, with the goal of teaching independence skills so that these seniors can remain active in the community and independent in their homes. As state program director and northern region coordinator of the Leadership, Education, Advocacy, and Determination (LEAD) program, administered in partnership with Heightened Independence and Progress, Joe provided mentoring activities for blind teenagers and their families. Unfortunately, the LEAD program was terminated as of October 1, 2013. However, the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired established the Employment Development Guidance and Engagement (EDGE) Program, where Joe provides his experience as a mentor to raise expectations of blind and visually impaired teenagers and their parents. His goal is to help them transform their dreams into reality and to live the lives they want.

Joe’s many contributions to the community were recognized in November 2000 when he was honored with the Partnership for Progress Award at the New Jersey Commission's Believe and Achieve ninetieth anniversary celebration. In July 2001 his leadership in the blindness community was again acknowledged when he was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind. In October of 2002 the State of New Jersey honored Joe by presenting him with the New Jersey Vietnam Service Medal.

Joe has always been encouraged and supported by his wife of forty-two years, Judy, and his two sons, Joseph and James and his two daughters-in-law Bettina and Kelly. In his spare time Joe likes sports of all kinds, especially baseball and basketball, and he recently experienced surfing at Asbury Park in New Jersey. For nearly ten years he enjoyed hosting Thru Our Eyes, an Internet radio program that highlighted blindness issues, discussed technology, and promoted positive attitudes about blindness.

Joe’s life and work express his commitment to the blind and their struggle for equality in society. His achievements stand as an example for others, like those of the Federationists who deeply impressed him at his first chapter meeting. He achieves and grows, facing every challenge with energy, enthusiasm, and common sense. In so doing, he exemplifies his belief that “One of the most important things for members of the blind community to do is to teach the public that blindness is only a characteristic. With the proper training, skills, attitude, and techniques, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance.”

Terri Rupp, Board Member
NFB of Nevada President
Mother, Teacher, Writer, and Athlete

Terri Rupp was born in a refugee camp in Thailand and came to the United States with her parents, who were fleeing the communist Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, when she was not yet two years old. The family eventually settled in Fairfield, California, where Terri’s parents established a successful doughnut shop. Terri and her family came to realize there was something wrong with her vision. She says:
My first memory of realizing I couldn’t see like the other kids around me was on this little carpet square. As usual, my nose was literally in the book as I lost myself in the pictures. This was when a little boy put his face into his book and asked, “Why do you read like this?” That was the beginning of knowing I had a vision problem and the beginning of the “Faking It Years.”

Because I grew up in a traditional Cambodian home, we did not talk about my blindness. But not talking about it didn’t mean we ignored it. My parents, not knowing the language, found themselves searching for answers about what could be wrong with my eyes. They used teenage family members as translators during the many doctor visits up and down the state of California. Some said my eyesight would come back, and others said I would eventually lose it all. The only thing my parents understood was that their little girl had a rare eye condition that couldn’t be fixed.

During my “Faking It Years,” I perfected the art of fitting in. I pretended to do my schoolwork in class, then spent hours in the evenings at home actually doing it with my face pressed into the pages with the help of my handy magnifier. That magnifier got stronger and stronger, until eventually it was replaced with a huge CCTV taking up half of the desk in my bedroom. When it was my turn to read aloud in class, the teachers just skipped over me because I couldn’t read fast enough even with the help of a magnification device blowing up the print of an already large print book. I remember many years that brought many tears: never feeling good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, fast enough, because I couldn’t see well enough.

By the time she began studying sociology at Sacramento State University, Terri found it virtually impossible to rely on reading large print and the other “tricks” she had been using to cope with her progressive vision loss due to optic nerve atrophy, which had been diagnosed when she was around five. Struggling with her studies and seeking employment, she took a job with the Society for the Blind in Sacramento, where she first encountered positive blind role models. She also attended her first NFB chapter meeting and state convention. Meeting Rosy Carranza and Joanne Wilson at the convention solidified Terri’s decision to attend the blindness skills training program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

Within a couple of years of beginning training at LCB in 2006, Terri attended her first Washington Seminar and a national leadership seminar; won an NFB national scholarship; married her college boyfriend Aaron and moved to Las Vegas, where he worked as a paramedic; interned at the NFB Jernigan Institute; and was elected first vice president of the National Association of Blind Students. In 2008 she was elected to the presidency of both NABS and the NFB of Nevada. “Unfortunately, I ended up doing too much too soon and was very overwhelmed with both leadership roles, finishing up my degree, and becoming a new mom in 2009,” Terri says. So, between 2009 and 2014, she stepped away from the Federation to focus on her family. During that time, she also organized local neighborhood mommy groups and brought together hundreds of moms and children.

Then her daughter Marley was diagnosed with Terri’s eye condition, and Terri knew just what to do: she once again reached out to her extended family in the National Federation of the Blind. “Changing what it means to be blind had a deeper meaning for me now that I was not just a blind mom but a mom to a blind child,” she observes.

Since becoming active in the NFB again, Terri has easily stepped into leadership roles. She served on the national board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children from 2015 to 2016. She was then elected to serve as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada for the second time, this occurring in 2016. Finally, at the national convention in 2019, she was elected to serve on the NFB board of directors, which was especially meaningful given that the convention was in her hometown of Las Vegas.

“In addition to all of the things I do with the National Federation of the Blind, I’m grateful to be able to be a stay-at-home mom to my two children, Jackson and Marley, ages eight and ten, and happily married to my supportive husband of twelve years,” Terri says of her life now. “Our family loves adventuring together, especially on our multi-state, multi-week summer road trips. I am a marathon runner and have run the Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and the St. George Marathon. It is my goal to run one marathon a year as long as I am healthy enough to do so.”

On Valentine’s Day, Terri intends to unite her love of running and her love of the hope the National Federation of the Blind offers. Her goal is to run a 50K and raise fifty thousand dollars for the organization. “I totally quit faking it when I fell down three steps because I didn’t want to use a cane. My run is a way of saying thank you for the techniques I now use thanks to the NFB. It is also my way of seeing that we keep sending the message that faking sight doesn’t work and that embracing all of who we are is what really allows us to thrive.”

Terri is more than a committed athlete. She says, “In 2019 I joined the teaching staff at BlindConnect Angela’s House, a recipient of a 2019 Dr. Jacob Bolotin award. I teach Braille and one-touch self-defense to newly blind adults there twice a week. On top of everything else that I do, I enjoy writing and have been the author of the blog Blind Mom in the Burbs since 2012. I openly share about my trials, travels, tears, and triumphs as a stay-at-home mom in the suburbs of Sin City. Blind Mom in the Burbs has gotten national recognition. I was profiled in Good Housekeeping in October of 2018 and invited to speak at the Kellogg’s headquarters in February 2019. I’ve even been published in a social media piece for my favorite running shoe. I truly live the philosophy every single day that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you. It is my life goal to be a positive role model, kicking obstacles out of the way so that those who come behind me have a smoother road to run on.”

Adelmo Vigil, Board Member
NFB of New Mexico President
Educator, Rehabilitation Professional, and Father

Adelmo Vigil was born in the small community of Amalia, New Mexico, in 1951. He was adopted as a baby by his aunt and uncle and raised as an only child on their small ranch. Although it was clear very early that he did not have normal vision, his parents expected him to handle his share of the chores, which included caring for the horses, cows, sheep, and goats. At the age of five Adelmo received the official diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa. He began his education in the local public school, but no one there had any expertise in the needs of blind students. Adelmo was not taught Braille, could not read the print that he was expected to use, and therefore did not read or write well. In 1964 when he was thirteen, his parents decided to enroll him in the New Mexico School for the Blind. Although the family did not wish to be separated, it was their hope that Adelmo would receive a better education at the residential school.

Adelmo's first two years at the school for the blind were no different from his public school education—he was still encouraged to use his limited vision. He remembers that each weekend he had to write an essay for his English class to be submitted and read aloud on Monday. Adelmo would write the piece and memorize it because he could not read his own writing. But, after two years of struggling, he went to an eye examination and was told by the school nurse who had accompanied him to the appointment, “I have some bad news for you. You're going to have to learn Braille.” The relieved Adelmo responded, “That is the best news I've ever heard. Maybe I'll learn to read now.”

Passionate about mentoring and teaching young people, Adelmo pursued a degree in elementary education at Western New Mexico University. There he met his wife Soledad, who was also pursuing a teaching career; they were married in 1975. When he began to seek employment in the Silver City area, where he had been a successful student teacher, Adelmo encountered discrimination for the first time. None of the local schools could hire him, because his name was not on the list of teachers available for hiring provided by the district administration, even though he had completed his student teaching at one of the district schools. Fortunately, his student teaching supervisor, Travis Columbus, believed in Adelmo's capabilities and helped him file a complaint against the district with the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. Ultimately, in 1977 Adelmo applied for a position in Shiprock, New Mexico, and began his teaching career. The principal at Adelmo's first school in Shiprock would not assign him to some of the routine responsibilities expected of other teachers, such as supervising students during recess. But when Adelmo transferred to a different school, the principal there was eager to have him not only assume all the duties of other teachers, but also to serve on the curriculum committee and in various other roles. Adelmo gained a reputation of being gifted with difficult students, and parents were asking for their children to be in his classes. He also coached junior high and high school wrestling.

Adelmo's experiences teaching sighted students and combating discrimination earned him an invitation from Joe Cordova and Fred Schroeder to speak at the 1982 convention of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico in Albuquerque. That convention and his first national convention a year later were revelations to Adelmo. “I realized that I was not alone in facing challenges and discrimination and that I had the Federation family behind me. I also learned that the progress I had been able to make and that other blind people were making was due to the work that the National Federation of the Blind had been doing since its inception,” he says. Adelmo immediately became involved in the affiliate and has served in various roles since that time, culminating in his election as affiliate president in 2012.

Adelmo's passion for helping his blind brothers and sisters also led to his second career. In 1989 he was appointed to the Board of Regents of the New Mexico School for the Blind, a position from which he helped engineer the school's dropping of its NAC accreditation. In 1993 he moved to Alamogordo to take a position as director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind's orientation and adjustment to blindness center. In 1997 he became deputy director of the Commission and continued to serve in various roles there for the next ten years. He was particularly passionate about working with young adults in the commission's summer programs. He retired in 2007 but jokes that he has retired three additional times since then. In 2009 he received training as an orientation and mobility instructor through Louisiana Tech and has received the National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC) from the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. He went on to supervise and mentor other blind travel instructors.

Adelmo was elected to the NFB Board of Directors in 2016. He says, “I am honored and humbled to serve on the board and to give back the encouragement, support, and love that I have received from my Federation family. I remain passionate about helping the blind live the lives they want, particularly young people, and will do my utmost to build the National Federation of the Blind and to advance our goals.”

Adelmo and Soledad live in Alamogordo. They have two sons, Adrian and Gabriel, and six grandchildren so far.

Protect Yourself from Phone Scams
Be on the Lookout for Fake Social Security Calls

by the Social Security Administration

There are many telephone scams going on. Scammers are trying to trick you into giving them your personal information and money. Don’t be fooled!

Scammers pretend they’re from Social Security. The number you see on caller ID may even look like an official government number, but it is not. The caller may say there is a problem with your Social Security number or account. They may ask you to give them personal information like your Social Security number or bank account. They may tell you to fix the problem or to avoid arrest you must pay a fine or fee using retail gift cards, pre-paid debit cards, wire transfers, or cash. These calls are not from the Social Security Administration.

Social Security will not:

Social Security will:

If you receive a suspicious call from someone alleging to be from Social Security, please:

Please share this information with your family and friends.

Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship

by Tracy Soforenko

From the Editor: Tracy Soforenko is the newly appointed chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund Committee and is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. The Kenneth Jernigan Fund Committee plays a big role in helping first-timers attend the national convention, and here is what he has to say:

Have you always wanted to attend an NFB annual convention but have not done so because of the lack of funds? The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund invites you to make an application for a scholarship grant. Perhaps this July you too can be in the Hilton Americas Hotel in Houston, Texas, enjoying the many pleasures and learning opportunities at the largest and most important yearly convention of blind people in the world.

The three biggest ticket items you need to cover when attending an NFB national convention are the roundtrip transportation, the hotel room for a week, and the food (which tends to be higher priced than at home). We attempt to award additional funds to families, but, whether a family or an individual is granted a scholarship, this fund can only help; it won’t pay all the costs. Most years the grants were in the range of $400 to $500 per individual. In 2019, ninety grants were offered.

We recommend that you find an NFB member as your personal convention mentor, someone who has been to many national conventions and is able to share money-saving tips with you and tips on navigating the extensive agenda in the big hotel. Your mentor will help you get the most out of the amazing experience that is convention week.

Who is eligible?

Active NFB members, blind or sighted, who have not yet attended an NFB national convention because of lack of funding are eligible to apply.

How do I apply for funding assistance?

This year, we will be accepting applications online. Since applications must be completed in a single session online, we strongly recommend you prepare your responses in a document then cut and paste your responses into the application form. The application form does not support complex formatting, so we recommend avoiding formatting such as bullet points and fonts/styles.

Effective, January 1, 2020, the application form can be found at the following link:
https://www.nfb.org/get-involved/national-convention/kenneth-jernigan-convention-scholarship. The deadline for submissions is April 15, 2020.

The application will ask for the following information:

Contact information: Include your full name and both your primary phone where you can be contacted by your state President and your mobile phone you might use at convention, if available.

Please include your mailing address and, if you have one, your email address. If you don’t have an email address, please consider if there is a friend or chapter member who might be able to assist with email correspondence.

State affiliate/chapter information: Include your state affiliate, your state president, chapter, and chapter president, if you attend a chapter.

Mentor information: Include your personal convention mentor and provide that person’s phone number.

Funding request: Include your specific request and explain how much money you need from this fund to make this trip possible for you. We suggest you consult with other members to make a rough budget for yourself.

Essay questions to explain why this is a good investment for the NFB: How do you currently participate in the Federation? Why do you want to attend a national convention? What would you receive? What can you share or give? Any special circumstances you hope the committee will take into consideration.

If you cannot apply online, you can still apply by writing a letter to your state affiliate president answering the above questions. This letter should be emailed to your state affiliate President. Once you have decided you will apply, please contact your state president in person or by phone to request his or her help in obtaining funding. Be sure to tell the state affiliate president when to expect that your application will be submitted and mention the deadline.

Once your application has been submitted, your application will be provided to your state president via email. It is still your responsibility to contact your affiliate president. He or she must email a president’s recommendation directly to the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee at [email protected]. Your president must email the recommendation no later than the deadline of April 15, 2020. If you have applied outside of the online form, the state affiliate president must email both the recommendation and the application letter.

Notification of Award

If you are chosen to receive this scholarship, you will receive a letter with convention details that should answer most of your questions. The committee makes every effort to notify winners by May 15, but you must do several things before that to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:

Make your own hotel reservation. If something prevents you from attending, you can cancel the reservation. (Yes, you may arrange for roommates of your own to reduce the cost.)

Register online for the entire convention, including the banquet, by May 31.

Find someone in your chapter or affiliate who has been to many conventions and can answer your questions as a friend and mentor.

If you do not hear from the committee by May 15, then you did not win a scholarship this year.

Receiving the Award

At the convention you will be given a debit card or credit card loaded with the amount of your award. The times and locations to pick up your card will be listed in the letter we send you. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist you by obtaining an agreement to advance funds if you win a scholarship, and to pay your treasury back after you receive your debit or credit card.

More Information

For additional information, please contact the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee, Tracy Soforenko, at [email protected] or 410-659-9314, extension 2415.

Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention on the national level and join several thousand active Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world. We hope to see you in Houston.



New Year’s tradition is to make resolutions about things you will do in the next twelve months like exercise more, reduce stress, or eat healthier. Of course, keeping that resolution is another thing altogether. It’s easy to stay motivated that first month, but February and the aisles of Valentine’s Day candy can test the strongest of willpower. So this month the Monitor searched out some healthy recipes to help you keep your resolutions for better health to go beyond January. Whether you’re trying to lower your sodium intake, cut carbs, or change your diet to lose a little weight, we’ve got a few recipes that taste good and are calculated to improve your health. Let us acknowledge that the science of nutrition is divided on what is healthy, and all of us have observed the changing lists about what we should and should not eat. We who edit do not wish to engage in the debate with those who understand the science of nutrition and health, but we do want to bring some real taste treats. Enjoy!

Avocado Deviled Eggs

This recipe is low sodium, for those concerned about heart health. The avocado is a good source of monounsaturated fat.

6 eggs, hard boiled
1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
1-1/2 teaspoons lime juice
3 tablespoons light mayonnaise
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

Method: Cut eggs lengthwise and remove yolks. Set aside half the yolks in bowl and discard the others. In a medium bowl combine egg yolks, avocado, lime juice, mayonnaise, half of the parsley, cayenne pepper, and garlic. Spoon mixture into egg whites and garnish with other half of chopped parsley

Keto-Friendly Mac and Cheese

For the Mac and Cheese:
Butter, for baking dish
2 medium heads cauliflower, cut into florets
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
6 ounces cream cheese, cut into cubes
4 cups shredded cheddar
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 tablespoon hot sauce (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper

For the Topping:
4 ounces pork rinds, crushed
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley, for garnish

Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees and butter a nine-inch-by-thirteen-inch baking dish. In a large bowl, toss cauliflower with two tablespoons oil and season with salt. Spread cauliflower onto two large baking sheets and roast until tender and lightly golden, about forty minutes. Meanwhile, in a large pot over medium heat, heat cream. Bring up to a simmer, then decrease heat to low and stir in cheeses until melted. Remove from heat, add hot sauce, if using, and season with salt and pepper, then fold in roasted cauliflower. Taste and season more if needed. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. In a medium bowl stir to combine pork rinds, parmesan, and oil. Sprinkle mixture in an even layer over cauliflower and cheese. Bake until golden, about fifteen minutes. If desired, turn oven to broil to toast topping further, about two minutes. Garnish with parsley before serving.

Stuffed Baked Potato (Weight Watchers)

2 large baking potatoes
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
1 cup broccoli, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1⁄2 cup non-fat cottage cheese
1⁄4 cup parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
1⁄2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1⁄4 teaspoon salt

Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Poke potatoes with a fork. Bake for one hour. While potatoes are baking, heat oil in a medium skillet. Sauté onions for about five minutes. Add broccoli, carrot, and garlic and stir until softened, about five minutes. Reduce heat, cover, and cook for four minutes longer. When potatoes are done, remove from the oven and reduce temperature to 350 degrees. Cut potatoes in half and scoop out pulp into a large bowl. Set skins aside. Add sautéed vegetables, cottage cheese, parsley, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper to potato pulp. Mash up well. Spoon mixture into potato skins. Place stuffed potatoes on a baking sheet and bake until heated through for fifteen minutes.

Balsamic Roast Chicken

The balsamic vinegar offers flavor and good color and, with the addition of the brown sugar, makes for a healthier sauce than a more traditional gravy.

1 whole chicken, about 4 pounds
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar

Method: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Mince together the rosemary and garlic. Loosen the chicken skin from the flesh and rub the flesh with olive oil and then the herb mixture. Sprinkle with black pepper. Put two rosemary sprigs into the cavity of the chicken. Truss the chicken. Place the chicken into a roasting pan and roast for twenty to twenty-five minutes per pound, about one hour and twenty minutes. Whole chicken should cook to a minimum internal temperature of 165 degrees. Baste frequently with pan juices. When the chicken is browned and the juices run clear, transfer the chicken to a serving platter. In a small saucepan, combine the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar. Heat until the mixture is warmed and brown sugar dissolves, but don't boil. Carve the chicken and remove the skin. Top the pieces with the vinegar mixture. Garnish with the remaining rosemary and serve immediately.

Banana Bread

If your New Year’s resolution was to reduce the amount of processed sugar, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy dessert. This recipe replaces refined sugar with honey, and oil with sugar-free applesauce, making it a guilt-free indulgence.

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar-free applesauce
3/4 cup honey
2 eggs, beaten
3 mashed overripe bananas

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a nine-inch-by-five-inch loaf pan. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix together applesauce and honey. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake in preheated oven for sixty to sixty-five minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for ten minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Keto Cinnamon Roll Coffee Cake

Just because you’ve gone Keto doesn’t mean you have to give up dessert. This tender coffee cake is not only low-carb, but also gluten-free.

Cinnamon Filling:
3 tablespoons Swerve Sweetener
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

3 cups almond flour
3/4 cup powdered Swerve Sweetener
1/4 cup unflavored whey protein powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup almond milk
1 tablespoon melted butter

Cream Cheese Frosting:
3 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons powdered Swerve Sweetener
1 tablespoon heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease an eight-inch-by-eight-inch baking pan. For the filling, combine the Swerve and cinnamon in a small bowl and mix well. Set aside. For the cake, whisk together almond flour, sweetener, protein powder, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in the eggs, melted butter, and vanilla extract. Add the almond milk and continue to stir until well combined. Spread half of the batter in the prepared pan, then sprinkle with about two-thirds of the cinnamon filling mixture. Spread the remaining batter over the top and smooth with a knife or an offset spatula. Bake thirty-five minutes, or until top is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out with a few crumbs attached. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with remaining cinnamon filling mixture. Let cool in pan.

For the frosting, beat cream cheese, powdered Swerve, cream, and vanilla extract together in a small bowl until smooth. Pipe or drizzle over cooled cake.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

The Blind History Lady can be Your Guest:
The Blind History Lady has been quite busy the past several months, and requests for well into 2020 are already coming in. Below is my price structure for 2020 presentations.
Local or Conference Presentations

I look forward to sharing with you the history of our blind ancestors. Contact Peggy Chong at [email protected] or 303-745-0473.

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.

Perkins Discussion List Available:

If you are a user of a Perkins Brailler or someone who maintains them and want to join a Facebook support group for that, you can look it up by searching for “Perkins Braillers support.” This is a tremendous resource, especially for those of us in countries where a broken Brailler often means a discarded machine.

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.