Braille Monitor

Vol. 63, No. 3                                   March 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

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        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. 3                                   March 2020

Houston Site of 2020 NFB Convention

Participate in Braille Monitor Survey

Blind and Respectable in Ancient Rome: Unearthing the Forgotten Genius of Appius Claudius Caecus
by Kane Brolin

The Journey Worth Sharing: Marching Together Toward the Lives We Want
by Mark A. Riccobono

My Thoughts on Living the Life You Want
by Scott LaBarre

Live the Life You Want: A Choice or a Prescription for Being an Elite Blind Person
by Gary Wunder

What Living the Life You Want Means to a Computer Professional, Athlete, Cook, and Leader
by Randi Strunk

Living the Life I Want: A Dream I Thought Might Never be Possible
by Amy Wilson

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts Affirms Blind People are the Peers of Sighted People
by Marc Maurer

Commonwealth vs. Lawrence L. Heywood

More Interesting Thoughts about Sighted Privilege

Keeping My Balance
by Annie Schlesinger

The Trouble with Inclusion
by Peter Slatin

The BlindShell: An Accessible Cell Phone with Real Buttons
by Curtis Chong

John Langston Gwaltney
by Peggy Chong

The Extra Effort to Be a Blind Person: What Part Myth, What Part Reality?
by Gary Wunder

My Shot
by Brooke Tousley

An Apology to a Fine Humorist and One of Our Own
by Gary Wunder

Living the Life I Want is a Work in Progress
by Carolyn Corrigan

Dream Makers Circle
by Patti Chang

Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship
by Tracy Soforenko


Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2020 by the National Federation of the Blind

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


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The Braille Monitor is a magazine that the Federation has published since 1957. We call it our flagship publication. In terms not so tied to the Navy, this means that it should be the lead publication of our organization, the one which all of us follow and contribute to in order to share what is going on in our Federation Family, the latest news about blindness-related activities, and the place we record the major milestones of the National Federation of the Blind’s progress.

For some time now, we have been seeing Federationists—new Federationists in particular, we believe—who don’t seem to know about the Braille Monitor and who have not subscribed because of it. We have assembled a survey that will ask participants a number of things about the Monitor, including whether someone has offered to sign them up for it; whether they read it and why not if the answer is no; and what should change to make the Monitor more the kind of magazine they want to see as the flagship publication of our organization.

The Braille Monitor reflects many of our traditions, but it also must evolve enough to clearly be relevant in this decade and those to come. Please help us by telling us what you want, what you need, and what you will read. Together we will keep making history, and the Braille Monitor will continue to tell our story about defining a problem, talking it through, and doing what it takes to see that it gets solved. Thank you for helping the publication that states boldly “We are the Blind Speaking for Ourselves.”

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Blind and Respectable in Ancient Rome:
Unearthing the Forgotten Genius of Appius Claudius Caecus

by Kane Brolin

Kane BrolinFrom the Editor: Kane Brolin is the president of the National Federation of the Blind Michiana Chapter which, as you can guess from its name, borders Indiana and Michigan. Kane honors the Braille Monitor with an occasional piece that goes beyond the surface and shows the intellect and talent he possesses. What I find most heartwarming is that he chooses to share some of his gifts with us, and here is one of the finest I have seen:

No matter how long you or your ancestors have lived in the United States of America, you play a role in something that still is fairly new here on planet Earth. Maybe the newness of the American experiment, coupled with the fact that everything changes so rapidly these days, is why for us Americans learning history tends not to be a high priority. The movers and shakers of our nation are known for conquering frontiers, inventing technologies, fighting battles, and solving problems with the goal of carving out a legacy. We teach our children to be ambitious and to point their gaze mostly forward, seldom backward.
This is evident even in the everyday language we use. In my peer group, ancient history was what we said to describe some episode in a friend’s life that we believe should be discarded for irrelevancy (I vaguely recall using this phrase to dismiss some of the things my parents used to say, too).

Sometimes our choice to discount the value of history isn’t just cultural; it’s personal. It can get painful when we find ourselves to be members of a class that has been ignored or marginalized as long as anyone can remember. If I am blind and spend a lot of my time meditating on treatment of the blind in bygone eras, this would seem to produce a result much more depressing than edifying. The Encyclopedia Britannica has a brief online entry that discusses the blind and their place in antiquity:

It has long been assumed that in the ancient world the blind enjoyed few opportunities and lived out their days in penury as beggars or as wards of their families in the absence of any systematic state or government assistance. Historical knowledge of the lives of blind people in the premodern Western world is extremely limited, and it is strongly influenced by literary or religious texts. Traditional interpretations of classical literary representations hold that blindness is a punishment for social or religious transgressions or, alternatively, is the price one pays to gain spiritual vision and insight. … The negative historical assumption is of the blind as objects of charity rather than active agents in history. Occasionally, the blind could be found clustered in certain state- or church-sanctioned professions or guilds, but in large part blindness was assumed to be a ticket to misery, a curse, or a sentence to second-class status.1

Of course, noteworthy exceptions exist. Memorable blind individuals do figure prominently as characters even in classical literature.2 Even Homer, possibly the most widely known epic poet of ancient Greece, is said to have been blind. But even with those exceptions, some try to erode their credibility by downplaying or stripping away the characteristic of blindness. The main page devoted to Homer and Homeric scholarship on Wikipedia puts it this way: “Some claims were established early and repeated often. They include that Homer was blind (taking as self-referential a passage describing the blind bard…) Many traditions circulated in the ancient world concerning Homer, most of which are lost. Modern scholarly consensus is that they have no value as history.”3

But in other cases, there is no disputing it. Triumph rises above what could have been tragedy. Enter the person of Appius Claudius Caecus. Judging from his name alone, we learn of Appius Claudius’ most noticeable characteristic; caecus means “totally blind” in Latin. It is universally recognized that he was blind, and that he lived some two centuries before Julius Caesar sprang onto the scene. Yet, blind or not, he stands as one of the most accomplished and memorable figures of the Roman Republic.

So who was Appius Claudius Caecus? He was a statesman, urban planner, and civil engineer within the Roman Republic, who attained political prominence after being appointed to serve in the role of censor in the year 312 BCE. "According to [the ancient Roman historian] Livy, he had gone blind because of a curse… "Appius is best known for two undertakings he began as censor: the Appian Way (Latin: Via Appia), the first major Roman road, running between Rome and Beneventum to the south; and the first aqueduct in Rome, the Aqua Appia.”4 An aqueduct is “an artificial channel conveying water, typically across a bridge or other gap.”5 The Aqua Appia was built largely underground to protect the water supply from enemies and prevent water pollution. A consistent supply of clean water was essential to a thriving population center such as Rome to provide for public baths, private homes, fountains, and crop irrigation. The Roman establishment had so much trust in Appius Claudius that, first in 292 BCE and again in 285 BCE, they appointed him dictator.6 Although it is said that he became blind later in life, Appius Claudius never quit his service to the state. Since his second term as dictator would have corresponded to his 55th birthday, it is reasonable to think that a lot of what Appius Claudius accomplished for his country was concluded while he was completely without eyesight.

Appius Claudius’ moment on the Roman stage was anything but fleeting, his accomplishments much more than a mere flash in the pan. His career in Roman governance was lengthy: something that would have been hard for anyone, sighted or blind, to achieve in the scandal-ridden, often treacherous, and sometimes deadly vocation of statecraft in the ancient Mediterranean world. "After his time as censor, he came to serve as consul twice, in 307 BCE and 296 BCE.”7 “Appius wrote a book called Sententiae, based upon a verse of Greek model. It was "the first Roman book of literary character. He was also concerned with literature and rhetoric, and instituted reforms in Latin orthography, allegedly ending the use of the letter Z."8
You might ask, “So what?” That was then, this is now. Appius Claudius Caecus’ remains have returned to dust. His accomplishments, while magnificent, are yesterday’s news. And, by the way, he was an aristocrat, one from a noble and wealthy family who should have had all possible worldly advantage: plenty of tutors, plenty of servants. If he needed someone to read to him, prepare food or apparel for him, or transport him wherever he needed to go, help presumably was no farther away than the snap of a finger. Few of us who read the Braille Monitor ever could count on social or financial advantages like those Appius Claudius must have had. Is there anything about this blind dignitary’s life that is worth our celebrating? I argue very strongly that there is.

To me, Appius Claudius’ accomplishments are not what makes his story stand out. Even more amazing is that even though this man lost all of his eyesight, he seems to have lost no respect from the citizens of the Roman Republic because of it. Those who came afterward to preserve his legacy were deliberate in recording for posterity who he was and that he lived with the characteristic of blindness; but they did not cast that characteristic in a negative light. Appius Claudius easily could have responded to his condition by hiding himself in the protective folds of a wealthy and large clan, losing himself to momentary pleasure from every available source and receiving unquestioning service from slaves and clients even if he had not lifted a finger to help himself or to serve others. Little would have been expected of him after he was made to bear the “curse” of blindness.

But again, so what? For those of us who find ourselves imprisoned by the here and now, it might seem hard to come up with a useful takeaway for our own lives. However, he achieved things. We know Appius Claudius had to get by without the tools our tech-laden age demands: the smartphone, the notetaker, and Bookshare. Not even the white cane or Braille was available to him. But a closer look reveals that he did share two things in common with members of the National Federation of the Blind: a lifelong commitment to public service and a lifelong desire to raise expectations of himself continually. Born in 340 BCE, Appius Claudius had assumed the role of censor over the whole republic by age twenty-eight. At an age when many in Western society today are still struggling just to get a handle on who they are, this gifted and goal-driven 28-year-old was serving as “a magistrate whose original functions of registering citizens and their property were greatly expanded to include supervision of senatorial rolls and moral conduct.”9 Not content to serve only himself or his own patrician class, Appius Claudius “sought support from the lower classes, allowing sons of freedmen to serve in the Senate, and extending voting privileges to men in the rural tribes who did not own land.”10 He reformed land laws and left a permanent mark on Roman grammar, poetry, and rhetoric.11 Perhaps his greatest contribution to the common people of Rome was that in 305 BCE he authorized the publication of a calendar of court days and a formulary of legal procedures for the use of the public. Until then, that essential information had been kept for the private viewing of mostly an elite priestly class.12

It would, of course, be a mistake to superimpose our 21st century cultural values of equality and diversity onto the subject of this article. All men and women certainly never were thought to have been created equal in ancient Rome, and it seems pretty certain that Appius Claudius would not have looked for opportunities to emancipate, educate, and empower slaves or to carve out an activist organization of the blind formed from a cross section of all Roman society. But the point is not to hold our standards over the head of Appius Claudius Caecus, nor is it helpful to compare the lifestyle of a Roman aristocrat who lived three centuries before Christ to a “woke,” 21st century citizen who stands to benefit from the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But we can without a doubt draw inspiration from Appius Claudius Caecus, a man who beat the odds by focusing on his strengths and refusing to be held back by his limitations.

Around the year 280 BCE, Appius Claudius gave a resoundingly patriotic speech which is recognized as the earliest known political speech in Latin. In that oration, Roman historian Livy records that Appius Claudius used the phrase "every man is the architect of his own fortune" (Latin: quisque faber suae fortunae).13  I feel that this phrase and this speech stood out not so much because of what words were spoken, but because of the deep respect Rome held for the individual who spoke them. By this time, he was not only blind, but apparently unable to move under his own power. Livy records that he had to be carried into the forum so he could speak to the senate. This was in essence a deathbed speech. His oration had so much impact that it decided the fate of an ongoing war and influenced Roman military doctrine for centuries to come.

As someone who is blind myself, I have gained over the years a deep interest in the skills, training, and tools of blindness—many of which we ourselves have helped to develop and promote through the National Federation of the Blind. As I try to imagine what Appius Claudius’ life must have been like, I am hugely curious about what alternative techniques this brilliant and strong man must have learned or developed after the onset of blindness to manage his affairs and to live out his career journey while navigating the daily grind in ancient Rome—whatever that felt like then. I am sad that I cannot ask Appius Claudius Caecus how he did it. Yet, even knowing as little as I do, I am thankful to history for at least preserving the truth that he did it.

1. Taken from “History of the Blind

2. For a more detailed survey of this topic that emphasizes Western literary traditions, read “Blindness: Is Literature Against Us?”, a banquet speech delivered by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan at the National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Chicago, Illinois, on July 3, 1974.

6. In the early Republic, a dictator held nearly absolute power, but one was appointed only when the need came to address a military or civil emergency posing an existential threat to the state. The term of the dictator’s rule was usually limited to nine months or fewer, and following the emergency the dictator would step down as rule by the people was once again affirmed.

7. See the Wikipedia entry on Appius Claudius Caecus, as cited just above.

8. Ibid.

10. See the Wikipedia entry on Appius Claudius Caecus, as cited just above.

11. Caesar and Christ: The Story of Civilization, Volume III by Will Durant, © 1944, p. 29.

12. Ibid., p. 32. 

13. Ibid., p. 36.

The Journey Worth Sharing: Marching Together Toward the Lives We Want

by Mark A. Riccobono

From the Editor: Probably no one is asked more to recite, explain, and live out the values found in our brand than our President. Here are his thoughts about our messages and in part our tagline. What he says here is a wonderful blend of what the things we say mean both for his individual growth and for our continuing to prosper as an organization:

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”
—Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

I was recently asked about our tagline, “Live the Life You Want" and why it has meaning for the National Federation of the Blind. I know something about this topic as I helped to coordinate the evaluation of the Federation’s brand that the board of directors undertook a couple of years before our seventy-fifth anniversary. More than that, I have been thinking about and participating in the understanding and development of the Federation for more than twenty years. Maybe by reflecting on my journey within the Federation and my journey to understand myself, I may help to illuminate why our brand has meaning and power.

I found the National Federation of the Blind in 1996. In short, I was living a life of faking that I could see things that I could not. I had no idea what techniques blind people used, and I had no idea what kind of life a blind person could pursue. Why would I? I was not blind; I was visually challenged. In reality I was a mess, standing on a fragile cliff where at any moment I would fall into a lonely and empty space in which I had no prospects.

When I came to the national convention of the Federation in 1996, I met blind person after blind person who said, “I’ve got you; I will show you how we do it; I will go with you.” They started sharing what they did and challenged me to think about how I could be better. I met blind people doing things I had never imagined I could or should do in my life. I was inspired.

I recognize that the notion of inspiration porn is real—the image of disability as something amazing and awe-inspiring for the benefit of making nondisabled people feel better about their place in the world—but this was genuine inspiration. I needed to witness that blind people were doing incredible things. The difference was, and still is today, that the inspiration was always accompanied by the message, “and this can be you, and we want to help you live out your dreams.” Now I was inspired by a lot of blind people that were doing things that I simply had no interest in doing. I did not have an interest in going into law or engineering, but if I am honest, I did not know what I wanted to do because I was still building my understanding of who I wanted to be—the life I wanted to live. Up until that point I had been pursuing the life I understood others believed I could achieve (one that was fairly limited).

I was welcomed into the Federation. I was invited to freely take advantage of every technique, resource, and idea I could find from interacting with other members. I heard people say how much they got out of being a member and from participating actively, but it was hard to understand what it was they got. Did they get free stuff, new technology, scholarships, tax breaks, or something else? I could not understand, so I started asking the friends I had made. They said the biggest thing they receive is building relationships with blind people in the Federation family and having a network of people across the country that can be called on regarding any question that might come up about blindness or life for that matter. They said it is about having authentic, honest, and sometimes challenging conversations—the kind of interactions best friends have in order to make each other better. They said, “just watch, and if you feel compelled, help out, and you will experience what we mean." That is exactly what happened.

Then I went to the general session, where I experienced the powerful strength of the collective movement. From the friends I had made in just a few days, I already knew I was not alone. The convention fully assembled demonstrated to me that a force that was very powerful had my back. This was not inspiration but real power, the power to change everything that was wrong in the way that society socialized and institutionalized the stereotypes about blindness. This was the power to change what I had internalized for twenty years and now had to try to get out of my system. I wanted to be part of this powerful force for change, not just take from it. The message I got was that it would be stronger if I helped with it.

Throughout the rest of the convention I got another message: that the National Federation of the Blind is innovative, smart, solution-oriented, and creative. This definitely appealed to my business and marketing chops. The Federation was not simply willing to live within society as it existed today but was actively working on designing and building the future. At that convention, the beginnings of NFB-NEWSLINE® were being discussed as well as other projects that have now made a big difference in the lives of blind people, and all of these projects were sparked by blind people themselves.

Inspirational, inviting, powerful, and innovative were all qualities I experienced at my first convention, and they remain the core traits of the Federation’s brand today. I could tell you all about my journey in understanding myself and the Federation since 1996. However, I think the editor would be forced to dedicate a special issue just to that writing. You should know that these qualities have helped me define what I want for my life. They also have helped me to discover that by contributing actively to the movement that is the National Federation of the Blind, I continue to refuel my understanding and make the world better for all blind people. This journey of self-development and community-building continues today and will until I have nothing left to give or improve. Due to the mentoring and perspective I have gained as a member of this organization, I am certain that I will always be working on doing better in my life or, as we say, living the life I want.

Let us return to the evaluation of the Federation’s brand, which started in 2013. The National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors decided that in advance of our seventy-fifth anniversary we should review and update our brand. Our President at the time, Marc Maurer, asked me to manage the project, and he appointed a number of Federationists to participate in the branding work. This ad hoc committee was comprised of newer as well as long-time Federation members with a demonstrated commitment to building the organization. At the beginning, many of the committee members were uneasy about the process. Questions such as "What's wrong with our current brand,” "Why do we need this, we are not selling a product; we’re a civil rights movement,” and "We do not need a consultant to tell us how to run our organization,” were on the minds of committee members and sometimes expressed openly at the first meeting. I remember that our President reminded us at the beginning that the Federation is always willing to carefully examine what we do and that we should not be afraid to say we can do things better. The message was that change is necessary for growth. Yet change is hard for most people to deal with, and it is difficult for people to understand that change does not mean what has been done before is wrong. Our movement continues to evolve as society changes, a necessary component if we are to have continued and perhaps even greater success in fulfilling our mission.

Our committee engaged in a number of conversations about where we have been as an organization and where we are going. The first step in that focus was gathering data from our membership, which happened in focus groups at our 2013 National Convention as well as through a series of telephone interviews with members. Obviously, it was impossible to capture data from every member of the Federation (at least to do this in a timely fashion), but we worked hard to capture a strong diversity of viewpoints. Our philosophy about blindness—the distilled understanding we have from the shared authentic experience of blind people—was at the center of our evaluation. As we identified elements of our brand, we spent considerable time and energy ensuring that we got the words right. Our consultants did a skillful job of facilitating our discussions and giving us a framework for success. They praised us for being much more heavily engaged in the process than any other organization with which they had worked. What they did not realize is how seriously we take ownership for our organization, and we wanted a product that reflected our growing understanding and not that of an outside consultant.

One of the last steps in the branding evaluation was examining our tagline. “Changing What It Means to be Blind” had served us well, but it was not consistent with the brand framework we have developed over the evaluation process. A brand is the reputation that you want to have. Our former tagline looked back to a time when blind people were fighting to get in the door and working to have enough influence that we could make significant change once inside. It also had the disadvantage of making it sound like we did not need new members. If we were already “changing things,” maybe we did not need help. Many of us struggled with the realization that there is still lots of change required in the public understanding of blindness.
How was it that this one little phrase, the tagline, could be the most complicated part of the process? I think it was because the tagline was personal for us. The tagline for our movement represented for many of us how we think of our role as individuals. I participate actively because I am changing what it means to be blind. The personal aspect makes sense because the tagline is intended to capture the attention of the primary audience for the organization. For us, blind people are our primary audience. As America’s membership and civil rights organization of the blind, the tagline has to speak to all blind people. In an organization that is built so strongly on individual contributions collectively focused, where we expect blind people to run it, and elect the representative leaders to coordinate the work, the tagline becomes personal as much as organizational. Although I have a bachelor's of business administration with a major in marketing from the University of Wisconsin, I had not thought of a tagline in the context of a membership organization and what it is intended to accomplish until getting into this project.

The committee grappled with many options for a tagline. A number of interesting suggestions were made. Each suggestion had to be tested against the new brand framework we had worked hard to craft—a framework everyone felt articulated where we want to go as a movement. An additional complication was that we made it a nonnegotiable priority that we would create a tagline that distinguishes our unique role in the nation compared to the hundreds of public and private agencies for the blind. We are a membership and civil rights organization of the blind, not just another agency or professional organization.

The committee presented a recommendation to the Federation’s board of directors early in 2014. The recommendation was to use “National Federation of the Blind Live the Life You Want.” The tagline is always intended to be presented with our name, so putting the word blind in was not necessary. The board considered the recommendation and rejected it. A subcommittee of the board was tasked with further examining the question of a tagline. After another two months, the subcommittee recommended to the full board that the tagline be, “National Federation of the Blind Live the Life You Want.” Let me save you going word by word to try to detect the difference. The tagline remained as it was submitted because it spells out as clearly as we can what we intend to do and who we intend to be for blind people. Clearly this tagline has been deeply studied and thoughtfully evaluated by some of the most dynamic blind people in the nation—a group of individuals who engage with thousands of other blind people every year.

For me there were two important realizations that happened in this process. When I was considering taglines, I thought of two things: about the blind people who have not found us and about the pictures on the walls at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. In our building we have pictures of a diverse range of blind people doing any number of activities—blind people doing things that many would not expect and at other times doing the everyday things that people do. I imagined each tagline as a caption for each of those photos. If a prospective member came to our building and they came across one of these photos with a tagline, would they connect with it. Furthermore, if an existing member came across that same photo and tagline, would they connect. Many taglines dropped off the list quickly under that evaluation. The only one that stuck every time was “Live the Life You Want.”

Our branding consultants were clear that choosing a tagline would not be enough. This is where the second realization connected for me. A tagline gains its power from being activated along with the brand. The tagline grows based on our continuing to move the organization toward that tagline. I began to understand that if a brand is the reputation that we want to have, then it only partially represents where we are today. The goal is to build the organization to the next level and keep it growing beyond what it is now or tomorrow or next year. So, the tagline should pull us forward and not merely reflect on the progress we have made. Using this measure, “Live the Life You Want” was the pull we needed to the future we seek as blind people. I was pleased that the board of directors chose this direction, and months later I was elected President of the organization and, thus, responsible for leading our progress toward fulfilling our brand.

I have heard all of the concerns about our brand and our tagline. I also continue to measure that against the tremendous benefits and success I have observed in our progress over the almost six years our brand has been in place. From our membership projects to our program development to our evolving organizational culture, our brand and our tagline have pulled us toward the future we seek. It is helping us grow to be even stronger and more dynamic as a movement. It is encouraging our investment in diversity and fueling discussions about questions we have not yet answered. It is part of our journey to living the lives we want. It encourages us to be better, and it makes everything around us better.

Two of the primary criticisms of the tagline are that it says there is a particular way that blind people should live. Others contradict this and suggest that it allows blind people to settle for low expectations—if I want to live unemployed and second-class, I can do that. Neither of these is reflected in our brand values or in the extensive process used to get us to this point. In fact, “Live the Life You Want” was very intentionally chosen because it represents our continuous work to raise expectations for all blind people and to welcome all blind people into our organization. Our movement encouraged me to do better than I was doing, and in fact, it still continues to do that. I fully expect that in twenty-five years or so when I consider retirement, it will continue to urge me to raise my expectations, and I anticipate with joy what that will mean in my life. I am thankful that I am surrounded by thousands of blind people striving to live the lives they want because it inspires me, gives me the power to activate the meaning of that in my own life and for the betterment of others, allows me to share in and contribute to the innovative ideas, and invites me to be part of a family of support. If you get past the words themselves and examine what the words represent in terms of where we want to go, I believe completely that you will find the same realization.

This journey is worth sharing, and we need you to be part of it. If you find areas of our organization where we are not meeting our brand values and where we are not honoring the spirit of "Live the Life You Want," then we need you to help adjust our practices so we are headed toward that future. This is why we went through the branding process. I am extremely proud of the work our members have done in the past six years to activate on our brand and drive toward that future we want. It works because we debate it, we talk about it, and we share in the journey and what it means to us. I want you to be part of that. Share what “Live the Life You Want” means to you. Share the value that you find in this organization and your ability to help share it as America’s membership organization of blind people. Also share in where we are not fulfilling our brand, and do your part to make it better for us. When I come across examples of our being off brand, I talk to people about it. Often I learn something from the conversation, and often others learn from me. Most importantly, our work together is better, and our journey together is more successful.

I am not sure when I will fully realize living the life I want. I have realized a lot of it because of the National Federation of the Blind. Yet, I still face barriers in society that prevent me from fully and easily living the life I want. I recognize the power of the Federation is the best chance to eliminate those obstacles. However, I also face barriers within myself that my Federation family helps me to overcome. Just when I think there is something that I might not do as a blind person, I find a blind person who is tackling that thing I thought was not possible. Some of those things I decide I do not want to do—I have no interest in climbing Mt. Everest—but others get on my personal development list. Whether it’s cooking something I had not considered, trying a new hobby, or just generally continuing to understand that blindness is not the characteristic that holds me back, it is the Federation family and our quest to live the lives we want that supports me in the journey. Join me, and together, with love, hope, and determination, we will transform dreams into reality.

My Thoughts on Living the Life You Want

by Scott LaBarre

From the Editor: This piece was taken from Colorado Talk, the listserv of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. Scott is the president of the affiliate, and I think he has helpful thoughts in explaining an important part of our tagline. Here is what he says:

First, I want to wish everyone here a very happy new year! My hope is that 2020 will be outstanding for all of us. Next, I want to thank Jenny for raising the topic of what our tagline “Live the Life You Want!” really means. I appreciate everyone’s thoughtful comments about how it should be interpreted and implemented.

Before I delve into the substance of my comments, I want to give you a little background, which helps to form my perspective. I first joined the NFB in 1986, and I have had the honor and privilege of being a very active member and leader on many different levels. As part of that experience I served on a committee which formed in 2013, maybe even late 2012, whose purpose was to develop our plan for celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Federation. After some discussion, we decided that it was time to rebrand our messaging so that we could more effectively communicate who we are. One part of that rebranding was changing our tagline from “We are changing what it means to be blind” to the current “Live the Life You Want!” Beyond just the tagline, we developed a comprehensive brand architecture which has many elements that would serve as an excellent focal point for future discussions. In any event, I mention all this because I think I have some idea of what we intended regarding the message we were attempting to communicate.

Ever since I have been involved in the NFB, there has been a conception that the NFB only supports and celebrates the “super blind” and that if you do not go about blindness in a very specific manner, you are not really living the life the NFB endorses. I emphatically and whole-heartedly believe that this misconception is not true! There is no such thing as a model Federationist, and there certainly is not one singular script from which we must all lead our lives.

The idea of “Live the Life You Want!” is that your blindness should not hold you back from pursuing your dreams and ambitions. Undeniably, all of our dreams and ambitions are limited and somewhat governed by the realities we face, whether those are financial, educational, health-based, or otherwise. There is no one way to live the life you want. It does not matter if you are pursuing a high stakes profession, working from home, volunteering in the community, or not working at all. Our main message is that whatever you are doing with your life, your blindness should not be the chief reason holding you back from whatever brings you fulfillment and purpose. Our one-minute message, another creation of our rebranding, brings this point out.
“The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.” A key part of this message is that we are raising expectations. That has both external and internal aspects to it. On the external side, we are working to convince the general population that they can and should expect more from us. All of us often run into very low expectations held by the public. Pretty much every time I travel to and through an airport, somebody tells me how amazing I am for simply putting one foot in front of the other.

On the internal side, we should encourage one another to become the best versions of ourselves that we can. Doing so must always be done with love and understanding. Every year that I am in the Federation, I learn so much from our members on how I can lead my life in a better way—a new technology trick or something that enhances my independent travel or whatever it might be. I certainly haven’t figured it all out, and I know that sometimes I do in fact let my blindness limit me in a way that isn’t truly necessary.

Regardless, we must accept people where they are in their lives and be ready to encourage them to achieve more when that is appropriate. This is what we aim to do at our centers. We work with people from all walks of life and who have a wide variety of challenges. No student’s program is or should be the same. We have some general policies and expectations, but these are always adjusted to the individual student.

Living the life you want is all about independence and freedom. As our founder Dr. tenBroek so eloquently put it, we have a right to live in the world. That means we have the right to be free and independent and to determine our own destiny. The exact mechanism we use to achieve that freedom and independence is not the key issue, but rather that we know and believe that we have the right to achieve it. I think the Federation’s best speech regarding independence is “The Nature of Independence” by Dr. Jernigan from the 1993 National Convention. If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so. It is available through our national website.

Before closing this out, I want to address another point Jenny raised in her original message—the idea that perhaps we sometimes emphasize success stories based on traditional notions of success and that we don’t celebrate other forms of achievement. I think this is a great point, and we should endeavor to paint a more comprehensive picture. Convincing an animal shelter to let you volunteer despite your blindness is just as important as someone winning a national scholarship based on academic achievement at the highest level. Both are part of living the life we want.

In closing, I want to share two other elements from our brand architecture: the Brand Promise and Value Proposition. I do this because, for me, it so eloquently sums up why I am involved in our Federation. “Together with love, hope, and determination, we transform dreams into reality. I am filled with hope, energy, and love by participating in the National Federation of the Blind because my expectations are raised, my contributions make a difference to me and to others, and I can celebrate the realization of my dreams with my Federation family.”

Live the Life You Want: A Choice or a Prescription for Being an Elite Blind Person

by Gary Wunder

When I was asked to be a part of coming up with branding messages and we selected “Live the Life You Want,” I was keenly aware that anything we chose would perpetuate the questions folks on the outside have always had about us: Is the Federation’s goal to help blind people travel their own path, or is it the Federation telling blind folks how to live? I knew that the way people perceived a message was everything and feared that if it took much explaining, it wouldn't be the right tagline. My concern didn’t spring from some innate ability to predict the future but from living through some of our past.

I clearly remember other messages that tried to briefly speak to our mission and work—nowadays called an elevator speech. If you only get the time it takes to go from floor three to four, can you briefly explain what this organization that means so much to you does and why others might want to help further its goals?

"We are Changing What It Means to be Blind" was a phrase I liked very much. It was on the lips of many of my generation in the movement. But the problem with it was that too many people thought we were pledging to change visual acuity, and it took too much time to explain that it was social change that filled our agenda. Then there was "It is Respectable to be Blind," the reaction to the fact that some didn't believe that people perceived as broken could ever garner true acceptance and respect. But some folks objected to this one because they thought we were saying that the mere presence of blindness in one’s life conveyed respectability. They agreed that being blind didn't preclude being respectable but neither did it convey respectability
The criticism of our tagline isn't the five words "Live the Life You Want." It is the suspicion that what we really mean is that blind people are to live their lives in such a way that they become the elite blind, the people who go further than anyone expects, the people who are admired by all because of their undeniable intellect, motivation, and accomplishment. To some extent I understand the concern and the way that some have elevated it to a criticism. Every civil rights organization pushes its people to go beyond where they are. All of us believe that many of the things that keep us from being all we can be are socially constructed barriers. But beyond this, most people involved in civil rights also believe that part of the problem we face comes from buying the societal expectations that do so much to limit us. So yes, there is upward pressure to do more and be more, but no organization encouraging the advancement of a class is free from this expectation.

For me our tagline asks each of us to exercise some faith: faith that we will help when one of us encounters problems in living the life they want, and faith that each of us can dare to dream and dare to act on those dreams. Not every dream will come true, and not every dream is meant to. As a youngster I dreamed of being an astronaut, and that hasn't happened. But many of my generation shared that dream, and only a small number achieved it. Blindness certainly precluded me from flying in space, but so too did a number of things: the few positions there were to be had, the training that was required, and even the height and weight requirements that were and probably still are a part of the program.

Nobody in the Federation has ever questioned what I have wanted or done in my life except a dear friend who once told me that before writing a book about myself, I’d first need to do something worth writing about. My Federation colleagues, friends, and family have asked me to be honest in distinguishing between real accomplishments and the faint praise I can easily get by being blind. They have asked that I look at the things I have in my life and try to see that others have it at least as good, and they have allowed me to participate in something I believe makes that possible.

At least from my perspective as the editor of this publication, I welcome articles from people whose aspirations and achievements vary widely. If you volunteer for an organization that values your work and gives you satisfaction, write us. If you work a job that pays at or slightly above minimum wage and you have a story to tell about how you do it as a blind person, write us. If there is something you do in lieu of paid employment and there are good reasons why you don't pursue something that pays, tell us about it. If you have tried and failed and there may be a way we can help or benefit from your experience, together let’s put that out for public discussion and concerted action.

Please don't assume that because you don't see articles about people like you, it is because we actively discourage them or outright turn them down. I believe we mean what we say in our tagline and that we find value in anyone brave enough to dream, brave enough to try, and brave enough to share their story with blind people who share in common this pledge of helping each blind person live the life they want.

What Living the Life You Want Means to a Computer Professional, Athlete, Cook, and Leader

by Randi Strunk

From the Editor: Randi is an incredible person. She is a lead accessibility consultant for Target, meaning that much of what you find convenient and usable on the Target site is because of her influence and competence. She has been at her job for more than eight years and has been married to Ryan Strunk, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, for thirteen years. Both her work and home life indicate she is able to handle blessings and challenges at the same time. She is also an acknowledged athlete; she has done more than ten triathlons, including one full Ironman in 2018. She also likes to cook, and with all of this activity, she still has time for reflection and gratitude. She and Ryan are two very fortunate people. Here is what Randi says about her interpretation of our tagline:

Live the Life You Want: The tagline of the National Federation of the Blind is such a powerful statement to me because it's simple, yet challenges me to not let blindness dictate the type of life I lead. It reminds me to push for what I want both personally and professionally, and it motivates me to pursue my dreams. As an uncertain blind kid, I worried about what I would be able to do as a blind person and struggled with these questions: What types of jobs could blind people do? What types of relationships could I have? Where would I be able to live? I didn't understand yet that all of that was up to me to decide. However, once I found my friends in the National Federation of the Blind, I shifted my perspective from one of “What can I do based on the limitations of blindness,” to “What do I want to do based on my interests and dreams?” My younger self would not have pictured herself as a lead accessibility consultant for a Fortune 500 company. She would not have considered living in a large city beyond the borders of her home state, and she never in her wildest dreams would have thought of becoming an Ironman Triathlon finisher. The support, guidance, and philosophy I gained from my involvement in the NFB however, has resulted in all these things being a part of the life I live today. I have a job that challenges me, I live in a place I enjoy, and I am pursuing a hobby I love because I was shown I can live the life I want.

Living the Life I Want: A Dream I Thought Might Never be Possible

by Amy Wilson

From the Editor: Amy Wilson is the director of our social media efforts in the NFB of Missouri. She is married, has one child, and is very active on Facebook and ever more so on Twitter. If there is an impression to be had on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind’s Missouri Affiliate, she wants to take advantage of it. Here are some brief remarks she has written about a line that means so much to her:

I still feel like I am new to the NFB, however, our tag line moves me deeply. When I think of the statement, “Live the Life You Want,” it opens my mind to life’s possibilities. Knowing I am not the only one who struggles and overcomes those struggles is powerful. I spent too many years not knowing others who are blind, and now I have a great affirmation for life and a Federation family.

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts Affirms Blind People are the Peers of Sighted People

by Marc Maurer

From the Editor: Dr. Marc Maurer knows the law. He also knows about being blind and the way preconceptions and the law often interact to the disadvantage of blind people. When he sees this negative interaction, he tries to do something about it, and he asks those of us who rally around making lives better for blind people to help financially, spiritually, and economically. Since serving as the President of our national organization longer than anyone, he has focused most of his attention on finding problems blind people have with the law and setting them right. Here is what he says about a most important case in which we prevailed:

On January 30, 2020, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts handed down an opinion in the criminal law case of Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Lawrence L. Heywood affirming the conviction of the defendant of assault with “serious bodily injury.” In August of 2019 the National Federation of the Blind filed a brief in the case. Ordinarily the Federation does not participate in matters involving accusation of crime. However, in the Heywood case the jury that convicted the defendant included a blind person. Mr. Heywood appealed his conviction because he said he had not had the fair trial guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The blind juror could not effectively evaluate the evidence against him, he said. A conviction of crime can be secured only if the accused person is judged by an impartial jury of his peers who possess the capacity to make the judgments required for a fair trial. The blind person could not independently assess photographic evidence in the case, said the defendant, and the conviction must be overturned. Equality for the blind in participating in civic activities, such as serving on juries, must not be permitted to deprive a defendant of the right to a fair and impartial hearing. This line of reasoning is a central tenet in the argument of Mr. Heywood for reversal.

The complaining witness in the case, who said that he had been injured by Mr. Heywood, was attending a basketball game in the fall of 2015. Mr. Heywood approached him, and without warning, punched him in the face with sufficient force to fracture his cheekbone, fracture the orbital bone around the eye, and to cause retinal bleeding. Mr. Heywood was charged with assault and battery with serious bodily injury. The judge in the trial court proceeded with jury selection and seated a jury which included juror number six, who is blind. After the jury found the defendant guilty as charged, the appeal was filed. The Supreme Judicial Court learned of the appeal and moved the case to the highest tribunal in Massachusetts. The court also asked interested parties who had specialized knowledge of the subject of blindness to present amicus curiae briefs, and the National Federation of the Blind, the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, and the Disability Law Center in Massachusetts accepted the offer.

At one time in many parts of the United States, blind people were prohibited from serving on juries. The National Federation of the Blind sought to change this by drafting state legislation that could be used to remove the prohibition. Especially in the 1960s and ’70s, a campaign to change state laws occurred. Jury service for the blind was sufficiently unusual that articles about participation on juries appeared in the Braille Monitor when our members found themselves in the jury box. Although the laws have been changed, blind people still find themselves routinely removed from jury pools. Sometimes the courthouse officials who manage the jury pool indicate to blind individuals that they need not proceed to a courtroom because to do so would be difficult or dangerous. If the proposed jury members must move from one building to another, must cross a street, must proceed up and down stairs, or must navigate a complicated hallway system, the blind participants in the jury pool are directed to wait without being assigned to participate.

When the potential jury members are in the courtroom, judges sometimes dismiss blind persons from consideration as a matter of course. In the National Federation of the Blind, we attempt to instruct court personnel on the suitability of blind people to serve on juries, but the prejudicial attitudes that are carried into the courtroom remain. Whether blind people are permitted to serve or not is hit or miss. However, it is most unusual for a person accused of crime to seek to have a conviction overturned on the grounds that blindness in itself is evidence of unsuitability for service on a jury, therefore the National Federation of the Blind sought to provide information. The court in Massachusetts might make the right decision, but we thought it would be good to offer perspective.

The brief we filed notes that the prohibition against jury service for the blind has been removed from state law throughout the United States. The last state to change its law was Arkansas, which removed its prohibition in 1994. Furthermore, not only have the prohibitions against jury service been removed from the law but positive provisions of statute prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability have been added.

Perhaps of most significance in our argument to the court is that we reject the false dichotomy proposed by the language of the appellant. Mr. Heywood argues that having a blind person on his jury was a detriment to fairness. However, the experience brought to the deliberation process of a jury by a blind person adds a measure of depth to the decision-making that would not be available without the participation of that blind person. Consequently, having a blind person on the jury adds a measure of fairness that would be absent without it.

Take a fanciful example. The argument is sometimes made that beautiful people in the court are treated better than ugly ones. If Mr. Heywood had been ugly, (the deliberations of the court do not say), the jury might have been prejudiced against him because of his visual appearance. However, the blind juror would not be affected by this characteristic. A different set of information would be uppermost in the blind juror’s mind because of the altered mechanism of gathering information from that of other jurors. This offers a broader set of experience to the decision-making process in the jury room than would be available without it. The brief we filed rejects the false characterization of the blind person as a positive burden against fair decision-making that Mr. Heywood attempts to portray.

The Supreme Judicial Court held that blind people may not be prohibited from jury service, that justice is served by having the blind participate in jury service, and that in the process of deliberation the blind are competent decision makers.

Suffolk. September 9, 2019. - January 30, 2020. Present: Gants, J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

Complaint received and sworn to in the Roxbury Division of the Boston Municipal Court Department on October 21, 2015. The case was tried before Debra A. DelVecchio, J. The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court. Joseph Maggiacomo, III, for the defendant. Cailin M. Campbell, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth. The following submitted briefs for amici curiae: Emily L. Levenson, of Maryland, & Richard M. Glassman for National Federation of the Blind & others. Jonathan M. Albano for Boston Bar Association.

The defendant, Lawrence L. Heywood, was convicted of assault and battery causing serious bodily injury in violation of G. L. c. 265, § 13A (b), in connection with an incident in which the defendant, without warning, punched the victim in the face. He now appeals, claiming that it was error for a blind individual to serve on the jury. The defendant further argues that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support a finding of serious bodily injury.
We transferred the defendant's appeal to this court on our own motion. We discern no error with respect to the seating of the blind juror. Additionally, we conclude that the Commonwealth presented sufficient evidence for a jury to find that the defendant's action resulted in the victim suffering serious bodily injury. We therefore affirm the defendant's conviction.

 We acknowledge the amicus brief submitted by the National Federation of the Blind, National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, and Disability Law Center; as well as the amicus letter submitted by the Boston Bar Association.


We summarize the facts the jury could have found, reserving some details for later discussion. The defendant and the victim knew each other through an adult basketball team. At a league event in May 2015, while the victim was talking to another individual, the defendant, without warning, punched the victim in the right cheek, just below his eye. As a result, the victim suffered a fractured orbital bone and cheekbone, and retinal bleeding. He required surgery to repair the structure of his face, which involved inserting two titanium plates into his face to hold the bones in place. To avoid "significant discomfort" in cold temperatures due to the titanium plates, the victim must apply warm compresses to his face. As a result of either the assault or the subsequent surgery, the victim also suffered nerve damage to his cheek; consequently, he can "barely feel" the right side of his face.


1. Juror competency.

"A criminal defendant is entitled to a trial by an impartial jury pursuant to the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and article twelve of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights." Commonwealth v. Williams, 481 Mass. 443, 447 (2019). "Fundamental to the right of an 'impartial' jury is the requirement that jurors be competent and qualified" (citation omitted). Commonwealth v. Susi, 394 Mass. 784, 786 (1985). "The failure to grant a defendant a fair hearing before an impartial jury violates even minimal standards of due process."

Here, during the jury voir dire, juror no. six indicated to the judge that, although he was blind, his disability would not be an impediment to serving as a juror, and that he could access the evidence if a fellow juror described photographic evidence to him. After determining that jury service would not otherwise be a hardship, the judge empaneled juror no. six without objection.
The defendant argues that his right to a fair and impartial jury was violated because the blind juror was unable to see the physical evidence and had to have the documentary evidence read to him. The defendant faults the judge for failing to strike the juror for cause and faults his trial counsel for failing to object to the empanelment of the juror.

As an initial matter, we note that the defendant failed to object contemporaneously to the seating of the juror who the defendant now claims was unqualified to serve. Where a defendant has been denied an impartial jury, and the issue is properly preserved, the error is structural and requires reversal without a showing of actual prejudice. See Williams, 481 Mass. at 454; Commonwealth v. Hampton, 457 Mass. 152, 163 (2010). However, "[w]here a defendant fails to challenge a juror for cause, the questions of the impartiality of that juror and the adequacy of voir dire are waived." Commonwealth v. McCoy, 456 Mass. 838, 842 (2010). See Commonwealth v. Zakas, 358 Mass. 265, 268 (1970). Therefore, any error is reviewed for a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice. See Commonwealth v. Marinho, 464 Mass. 115, 118 (2013). Here, there was no such risk, as the defendant's claim lacks merit.

"We afford a trial judge a large degree of discretion in the jury selection process."

Commonwealth v. Vann Long, 419 Mass. 798, 803 (1995), and cases cited. See Commonwealth v. Lopes, 440 Mass. 731, 736 (2004) ("The scope of voir dire rests in the sound discretion of the trial judge . . ."). This discretion extends to a judge's determination whether a juror is competent to serve. See Susi, 394 Mass. at 787. An abuse of discretion is a "clear error of judgment in weighing the factors relevant to the decision, . . . such that the decision falls outside the range of reasonable alternatives" (quotations and citations omitted). L.L. v. Commonwealth, 470 Mass. 169, 185 n.27 (2014). The judge did not abuse her discretion in finding juror no. six competent to serve despite the juror's blindness.

During jury empanelment, the judge conducted an individual voir dire of juror no. six to evaluate the juror's ability to serve. The juror responded affirmatively when the judge asked him if he would "feel comfortable" with having another juror describe the photographic evidence and, with regard to testimony from witnesses, whether he would be able to "follow along" without assistance. The judge satisfied herself that the juror was competent and qualified to serve.
This decision was entirely appropriate. Because the identification of the perpetrator was not in question, the jury had to determine only whether the victim suffered serious bodily injury. As the injuries suffered by the victim were not visible at the time of trial, the ability to see the victim's face during his testimony was not essential to reaching a verdict. Similarly, because of the internal nature of the injuries and subsequent surgery, photographs of the victim's face taken close in time to the assault would not have assisted the jury in determining whether the victim suffered serious bodily injury as defined by G. L. c. 265, § 13A (c). On the other hand, the juror had appropriate access to the testimony of the victim and the medical records, which were directly relevant to the question whether the victim suffered serious bodily injury. The defendant contends that the fact that jurors described photographic evidence and read documentary evidence to the juror who was impaired visually resulted in a verdict based on extraneous information. We disagree. "An extraneous matter is one that involves information not part of the evidence at trial . . . ." Commonwealth v. Guisti, 434 Mass. 245, 251 (2001). Here, the photographs and medical documents were admitted in evidence, and the victim described the photographs during his testimony. A fellow juror's descriptions of the admitted evidence did not constitute extraneous evidence. See Id. Although perhaps not ideal the solution crafted with input from juror no. six, and implemented without objection by the parties, provided satisfactory access to the evidence allowing the juror to participate effectively in deliberations. Here, the medical records, rather than the photographs, provided the critical evidence upon which the jury could find serious bodily injury. Because in this instance the photographic evidence would not have materially assisted the jury in determining serious bodily injury, seating juror no. six was well within the judge's discretion. Contrast Susi, 394 Mass. at 786 (empanelment of blind juror constituted reversible error where identification of perpetrator was contested, and ability to compare visually physical evidence was required). Further, the judge's voir dire inquiry to determine juror no. six's competency to serve was mandated by G. L. c. 234A, § 3, which ensures that the right to participate in jury service is extended to all eligible citizens, including those with physical disabilities. The statute provides in pertinent part:

"All persons shall have equal opportunity to be considered for jury service. All persons shall serve as jurors when selected and summoned for that purpose except as hereinafter provided. No person shall be exempted or excluded from serving as a grand or trial juror because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, economic status, or occupation. Physically handicapped persons shall serve except where the court finds such service is not feasible. The court shall strictly enforce the provisions in this section." (Emphases added.)

This statutory protection against discrimination in jury selection dovetails well with a defendant's right to a fair jury of his or her peers, an essential component of which is being able to select jurors from a fair and representative cross section of the community. See Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 86 (1986); Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 528 (1975); Commonwealth v. Soares, 377 Mass. 461, 478, cert. denied, 444 8 U.S. 881 (1979). Because a cross section of the community necessarily includes, among others, citizens with disabilities, the defendant's right to a fair jury trial and the protection against discrimination in jury selection work in tandem.
In 2016, approximately 11.7 percent of individuals living in the Commonwealth had a physical disability. Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission, Massachusetts & U.S. Disability Facts & Statistics: 2017, https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2018/08/30/MRC-Disability-Fact-Sheet-2017.pdf [https://perma.cc/H988-6FZK]. General Laws c. 234A, § 3, creates a presumption of competency for all jurors, including those with disabilities, who then must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine whether service is "feasible." See Susi, 394 Mass. at 788. Here, the judge's individual voir dire and subsequent seating of juror no. six followed the case-by-case determination specifically required by G. L. c. 234A, § 3. See generally Adjartey v. Central Div. of the Hous. Court Dep't, 481 Mass. 830, 848-849 (2019) (if litigant requests accommodation for disability and court determines litigant has disability, court shall provide reasonable accommodations determined on case-by-case basis).

We note that such case-by-case determinations may also be required by Title II of the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), which provides:

"[N]o qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity."

42 U.S.C. § 12132. A "public entity" includes "any State or local government" and any department or agency thereof. See 42 U.S.C. § 12131. Under Title II of the ADA and the regulations implementing it, public entities may be required to implement a variety of measures to prevent exclusion or discrimination on the basis of disability. Such measures may include, among others, making reasonable modifications to policies and practices, removing architectural and communication barriers, and providing auxiliary aids and services. A public entity need not make a modification if it can demonstrate that the modification "would fundamentally alter the nature of the service, program, or activity."

Although at least one court has held that a court's "policy of categorical exclusion of all blind persons" from jury service violates the ADA, see Galloway v. Superior Court of D.C., 816 F. Supp. 12, 19 (D.D.C. 1993), we are not aware of any cases clarifying how Title II of the ADA and its implementing regulations apply to individualized determinations of juror competency.  Without attempting to determine what specific procedures Title II of the ADA and its associated regulations require to determine the competency of a juror who is blind, we note that the judge here clearly complied with the ADA. The judge conducted an individualized voir dire of juror no. six and determined that he was competent to serve. Furthermore, the judge furnished, with the input and approval of juror no. six, auxiliary services allowing him to serve while another juror described the visual evidence. ("In determining what types of auxiliary aids and services are necessary, a public entity shall give primary consideration to the requests of individuals with disabilities"). There was no error.”

In Tennessee v. Lane, 541 U.S. 509, 531 (2004), the United States Supreme Court held that Title II of the ADA applies to State courts with regard to ensuring that litigants with disabilities have equal access to judicial services. In Lane, the Court held that the ADA requires State courts to take "reasonable measures to remove architectural and other barriers to accessibility," but that courts need not "employ any and all means to make judicial services accessible to persons with disabilities." Id. at 531-532. Unlike Lane, which involved a litigant who was "denied the benefits of the services" of a court, Id. at 513, this case involves "participation in . . . [the] activities of a public entity," namely, the ability to participate as a juror in the adjudication of cases.

Although the accommodation provided to juror no. six satisfied the ADA, other accommodations for jurors who are blind or have a visual impairment may be preferable to having another juror describe visual evidence. For instance, the ADA's implementing regulations list a variety of potential visual auxiliary aids and services, including qualified readers, Brailled materials and displays, and screen reader software. There was no error.

Furthermore, because there was no error, trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to object to the seating of juror no. six. See Commonwealth v. Lessieur, 472 Mass. 317, 327 (2015) (no ineffective assistance where counsel failed to object to properly admitted evidence). See also Commonwealth v. Carroll, 439 Mass. 547, 557 (2003) (failure to pursue futile tactic does not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel); Commonwealth v. Vieux, 41 Mass. App. Ct. 526, 527 (1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1245 (1997) (same).

2. Sufficiency of the evidence.

General Laws c. 265, § 13A (b) (i), provides for an enhanced penalty for conviction of an assault and battery that causes "serious bodily injury." Although the defendant disputes neither that he struck the victim nor that the victim was injured, he argues on appeal, as he did at trial, that there was insufficient evidence from which the jury could conclude that he caused serious bodily injury to the victim.

An unsigned motion for a required finding of not guilty based on an unspecified insufficiency of the evidence appears in the record but apparently was not argued. At any rate, "[c]onvictions based on insufficient evidence are inherently serious enough to create a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice.'" Commonwealth v. Melton, 436 Mass. 291, 294 n.2 (2002), quoting Commonwealth v. McGovern, 397 Mass. 863, 867-868 (1986). The question, then, is whether, in viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the jury could have found that the victim suffered serious bodily injury as a result of the assault and battery beyond a reasonable doubt. See Commonwealth v. Bin, 480 Mass. 665, 674 (2018), quoting Commonwealth v. Latimore, 378 Mass. 671, 677 (1979).

"Serious bodily injury" is defined under G. L. c. 265, § 13A, as "bodily injury that results in [1] a permanent disfigurement, [2] loss or impairment of a bodily function, limb or organ, or [3] a substantial risk of death." G. L. c. 265, § 13A (c). See Commonwealth v. Scott, 464 Mass. 355, 357 (2013) (statute sets forth "three distinct routes for establishing serious bodily injury"). Here, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim suffered a permanent disfigurement as well as the impairment of a bodily function.
a. Permanent disfigurement.

The statute does not define the phrase "permanent disfigurement." "When a statute does not define its words we give them their usual and accepted meanings, as long as these meanings are consistent with the statutory purpose. . . . We derive the words' usual and accepted meanings from sources presumably known to the statute's enactors, such as their use in other legal contexts and dictionary definitions." Commonwealth v. Bell, 442 Mass. 118, 124 (2004), quoting Commonwealth v. Zone Book, Inc., 372 Mass. 366, 369 (1977).

"Permanent" is defined as "continuing or enduring (as in the same state, status, or place) without fundamental or marked change," synonymous with the words "lasting" or "stable." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1683 (1993). "Disfigurement" is "the state of being disfigured," that is, to be "made less complete, perfect, or beautiful in appearance or character." Id. at 649. Hence, a permanent disfigurement is a significant and enduring injury that affects the appearance or the character of a person's bodily integrity. See generally Commonwealth v. Jean-Pierre, 65 Mass. App. Ct. 162, 163 (2005) (word "permanent" modifies only "disfigurement" in G. L. c. 265, § 13A [c]).

The defendant argues that a permanent disfigurement occurs only when there is a visible, significant, and permanent change in a person's outward appearance or, in the alternative, scarring. We disagree. Although the trier of fact certainly may consider visible evidence, the fact an injury can be or was concealed or repaired does not preclude a finding of permanent disfigurement. See State v. Alvarez, 240 Or. App. 167, 171 (2010) ("we decline to hold that an injury is not disfiguring merely because, by limiting his or her fashion or style options, the victim can conceal it"). See also Fisher v. Blankenship, 286 Mich. App. 54, 66-67 (2009) (injury need not be visible to be disfigurement).  

Here, we conclude that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for the jury to have found permanent disfigurement. The medical records and the victim's testimony detailed the number and extent of the fractures which compromised the integrity of the victim's face. The computed tomography scan of the victim's face and jaw showed a "blowout" fracture of his right orbital socket, as well as fractures to his cheekbone and other facial bones. The victim testified that there was a visible indentation in his face after the defendant's punch. The medical records indicate that surgery was required to correct and repair the anatomical structure of the victim's face. The operative report noted that the fracture was mobile and required the surgeons to affix titanium plates to the bones in the victim's face to hold the bone structure together and to ensure that the bones remained stable. Although the titanium plates conceal the visible evidence of the disfigurement, they are attached permanently to the bones in the victim's face. Therefore, the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable and rational jury to have found a permanent disfigurement.

b. Impairment of a bodily function.

"Impairment of a bodily function" similarly is not defined in the statute; however, we previously interpreted the phrase to mean "a part or system of the body [that] is significantly impeded in its ability to fulfil its role." Scott, 464 Mass. at 359. Unlike disfigurement, an impairment of a bodily function need not be permanent to constitute serious bodily injury. Marinho, 464 Mass. at 118.
Here, according to the medical records and the victim's testimony at trial, the nerve damage in the victim's right cheek resulted in chronic numbness in that area of his face. He described the lack of sensation as feeling like he had been given Novocain. The inability of the affected nerves to communicate properly with the brain indicates an impairment of a bodily function, namely, the victim's peripheral nervous system. We note that, based on the evidence presented, it was unclear whether the numbness that the victim experienced was a result of the physical assault (delayed onset), surgery, or a combination of the two. However, "the Commonwealth may establish causation in an assault and battery case by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant either directly caused or directly and substantially set in motion a chain of events that produced the serious injury in a natural and continuous sequence" (quotations and citation omitted).

We conclude, therefore, that in addition to permanent disfigurement, there was sufficient evidence for a rational jury to find that the defendant caused impairment of a bodily function.

Judgment affirmed.

More Interesting Thoughts about Sighted Privilege

From the Editor: Justin Salisbury’s article last month about sighted privilege has sparked some discussion, and given that this is what he wanted to come from his article and what I want in our publication, I am excited. I hope more will come.

Part of our job in publishing the Braille Monitor is to get people talking not just to one another but with one another. I thank all of you who’ve contributed. I have intentionally left the names of those who wrote out. I want the ideas they express to stand on their own merit, and later we can attribute them if we wish. All are nuanced, but some are in favor and some have significant reservations. I find them stimulating, and I hope you do as well.

Before we jump in, allow me to say this: One of the concerns sometimes expressed is that the National Federation of the Blind has a liberal bias and that the very fact we would discuss something such as sighted privilege proves this because people on the left tend to be more comfortable with the term than people on the right. I do not believe it is our intention for the National Federation of the Blind or its flagship publication to have either a conservative or a liberal bias. Unless we judge an article to be un-interesting, unrelated to blindness, or destructive, we are likely to publish it. If there are other points of view that need to be heard, send them. Remember that some things that appear in our publication are a reflection of our philosophy, and others represent discussions in which we are participating or in which we should be. Remember that if you don’t see your point of view here, it may be because you haven’t yet written it. Here are the reactions:

Respondent 1.

I don’t know exactly what we are to do about sighted privilege except to keep doing what we are doing and always improving on it. The concept nor term shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. That said, this is an overarching term that doesn’t at all capture the nuance that must be applied to everything if we are to make further inroads to equality. And, anyway, all equality means in my mind is an equal opportunity to become as unequal as possible, to use a network marketing definition.

Some blind people, including me, would bristle if told that they couldn’t ever have access to the same privileges as sighted people because of sighted privilege. Yet, the concept of sighted privilege suggests that until the sighted are prepared to relinquish their privilege, they will keep it. Since when do we wait for the sighted to run our lives the way they see fit?

There is only one game of life. I know that as a blind person I intend to live that game to the best of my capacities. If I am perceived as being more successful than most sighted or blind people at this game, by whatever criterion of success one might choose to use, then so be it. After all, it’s my life, and I am, of course, the best judge of its success or failure as it flows along. All of this becomes rather academic anyway once we are six feet under or cremated.

Respondent 2.

As you know, the current issue of the Braille Monitor has an article titled “Sighted Privilege” written by Justin Salisbury, who is a frequent contributor to our national magazine and one of my favorite writers. I have to say that this article came at a very opportune time. If it had been published earlier, I might have had a visceral reaction at the title given how the fact that, in our negative political discourse, some people carelessly throw around the phrase “white privilege.”
In the past few days, however, I have come to some of the same conclusions expressed in the article. What else would explain the fact that the state of Missouri owes Amtrak $6.5 million if not sighted privilege? What else would explain the poor attitudes of some state legislators with regard to the concept of passenger rail service if not sighted privilege? The January 26 issue of the Kansas City Star editorial page had an opinion piece written by Robbie Makinen, CEO of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, in which he says that when he lost his sight seven years ago, he began to understand the value of public transit.

Dr. Jernigan told us that the public is not against us. Though the world is built mostly for the benefit of sighted people, sighted people mean us no harm, and some people may not realize that their attitudes are harmful to the blind.

I think that once again Justin Salisbury has hit another home run out of the park! Whether people agree or not with the views expressed in this article, I think it will generate much thinking that will help refine our philosophy of blindness.

Respondent 3.

I liked the article and hope to read similar material in the future. Privilege is not about blame. It is about what you naturally have because of the institutional power of your group and recognizing that. Because I am white, I am not as likely to get stopped by the police, followed around the store, accused of shoplifting, and sent to prison from the school to prison pipeline. As a blind white person, I am more likely to get better services and probably am thought of as a more worthwhile investment than a black blind person. It’s uncomfortable, but it is part of our society.
Trying to correct the imbalance is definitely good, but it doesn't erase the fact that such an imbalance exists, and because of the institutional power or lack thereof in your group, you are a part of it. It isn't something you steal or something you do. It is just the privilege you naturally have for being a part of a group.

The article discussed how the girls got to go on the field trips, and this made at least one boy mad. But compared to men, girls and women are destined to be rejected and marginalized in STEM fields as well as underpaid.

The sighted people around me don't steal anything from me, but even though they wish that sighted privilege didn’t exist or get talked about, they still have it. This is about groups, not individual people. That is why you can't just say that you will be an honorable person, and then you will not have privilege. You have to except that the group you are a part of could have privilege, and that fact is separate from your honorability or your individual beliefs or actions. Also when you read about white privilege, don't read about other white people talking about it because they do not talk about it correctly. Read about ethnic minority groups who talk about it instead. That is how I learned about it, and it makes sense to me.

Privilege can also vary based on different areas of your life. I can lack privilege because I am a blind woman. But then I can have privilege because I am straight and cisgender and because I am white.

Respondent 4.

Dear Gary,

Thanks for having the courage to begin a nuanced discussion with implications that extend beyond even your thoughtful and carefully worded introduction.

Following your good advice and working to understand the other person’s perspective can ultimately lead to deeper understanding. My question is whether the “privilege” concept is necessary to teach about blindness. I contend that we already have language and concepts within our literature that accomplish the same result without the necessity of working through “loaded” language.

I’m also quite concerned that we be meticulous about maintaining our political evenhandedness. We have always had strong support from liberals and conservatives. When our clarion cries for justice are not compelling, our insistence on self-reliance is. “Privilege” language is so closely associated with one side of the political and cultural divide in the United States and so reviled by the other side that the simple act of using the terms could easily cause the doors of some minds to slam closed. If we can accomplish the education we desire without paying that price, I believe we should.

Pragmatic considerations aside, applying this framework has philosophical dangers. Thinking of our difficulties based on the lack of sight itself, rather than ascribing them to structural circumstances in the built environment and/or ignorant attitudes, could lead to a sense of powerlessness or inevitability. Attitudes and structures can be changed; the presence or absence of eyesight is largely unchangeable. Helplessness or hopelessness was not said or implied in Justin’s article. Someone failing to thoroughly think through his carefully constructed arguments could feel victimized by attributing privilege to sight rather than to more nuanced concepts.
Sight is different from race and gender. There are all the emotional issues involved in attitude and coming to believe in one’s equal human worth that have parallels for other traditionally disadvantaged minority groups. But nobody needs several months of training to learn the skills of blackness. We must develop confidence in our ability to use blindness skills and a firm belief in their efficacy.

I do not in any way intend to diminish all the emotional complexities of sight and blindness, but I think of eyesight in a fundamentally different way than sighted people do. Sight is a commodity. It isn’t a commodity for those who have it, because sight is so ubiquitous. The built environment assumes eyesight. Typical patterns of behavior incorporate the use of eyesight. It follows that people with eyesight are automatically in a privileged position. We have basic tools, such as training or accessibility, for diminishing our need for the commodity of sight.

The second way of diminishing the practical sight privilege is by working with those who are willing to loan or rent us the use of their eyes. Learning how to work with others who are willing to “see” for us in specific situations is part of a good blindness skill set. I’m thinking of interactions as simple as reading a street sign and as complex as driving across town. We have always said that the “handicap” of blindness is situational. Living in an urban area with good public transit is less handicapping than living on an isolated farm with no family or friends in the area. Clearly having money diminishes the handicaps we face. It’s mighty useful to have cash to hire a driver or call a taxi when no bus goes where we want to go when we want to go there.
“Privilege” language can be misconstrued as implying malevolent intent or taking unfair advantage of others. Sighted people should not feel guilty that they’re “privileged” with eyesight. White people have no reason to feel guilty about the color of their skin or the circumstances of their birth. Human beings are born with inherent dignity and equality but not identical circumstances. Humanity requires each of us to behave in opportunity-affirming ways. Sadly, we don’t always know the ways in which we unintentionally fail to do so.

I understand Justin’s use of the word “ally” to categorize sighted Federationists. I prefer the word “colleague” because Federationism is a way of thinking, not an optical condition. I feel a sense of family with sighted Federation colleagues and no real sense of being allied with some blind people who don’t share our understanding of blindness.

The public education provided by the Federation tends to assume a high level of goodwill and a low level of knowledge. Unless someone has proven him or herself to be a bad actor, we gain nothing by encouraging guilt. It’s a bad motivator. (Our legal program is there for those times when affirmative goodwill is lacking.)

Getting an accurate read and understanding the underlying meaning of interpersonal encounters can be hard. Did that tone of voice signify condescension, or does the person use that voice with everyone? Each of us filters our experiences through our history and our point of view. Because of my previous experiences with the airlines, I walk into the airport on high emotional alert. I’m apt to hear authoritarianism and condescension from every employee. I find myself asking people who offer assistance whether they work for the airline. If they say “no,” I can feel my muscles relaxing and my manner loosening. Because I’m aware that my reactions are potentially unjust, I struggle to mute my initial prickly reaction to people I meet. Yet there is no question that I feel differently about encounters with staff in an airport than those at the shopping mall, even if shopping mall employees respond to me with ignorance every bit as awful as the ignorance of airline employees. No question that I have very good reasons, but also no doubt that my default of assuming the worst makes air travel even more unpleasant than it is for those without my history and emotional reaction.

Inasmuch as is possible, having an open and affirmative impression of those we meet until direct experience requires us to change that perception makes life better. When something jarring happens, it’s easy to overreact, underreact, or muddle through without knowing how to react. Invariably I think of precisely the right thing to say or do about thirty minutes after the event. I overthink a lot! Did my friend reword my explanation to the store clerk and get a better reaction because I’m blind, or did my friend do a better job of explaining? It’s easy to rationalize situations that are related to blindness and dismiss them as unimportant. It can also be easy to attribute to blindness things that are really due to something else. Then there are those highly confusing times where blindness plays a part but is not the entire explanation. After the fact I ask myself if blindness is the most plausible explanation.

Several years ago, my husband and I were at a church fundraiser dinner. Our member of the legislature and his wife sat across from us. The legislator is a former college teacher, his wife is a French-speaker from Quebec, and our children are about the same ages. These similarities make for convivial conversation. Unfortunately, this legislator has never been receptive to any of our suggestions for improving the government’s interaction with blind people. During the course of the meal, my blind husband ordered a bottle of spring water. It came, but he continued eating and did not open it immediately. Suddenly the wife of the legislator interrupted the conversation to say “Sir, don’t think there is something wrong with your water bottle; Norm opened it.” They finished their meal before we did and left. My husband and I turned to one another and said simultaneously, “That explains why he never takes our legislative initiatives seriously.” Neither of us could think of a reason, other than limited belief in the basic competence of blind people, for the man to open a blind man’s water bottle.

Jim Omvig wrote that one of the goals of good rehabilitation is for the student to come to understand public misconceptions and learn to deal with them effectively without becoming emotionally upset. I’ve always found that to be a worthy goal and a very tall order. Justin’s article articulates many of our traditional philosophical beliefs using different language. Reworking our ideas in different ways may make them fresh for a new generation. Whatever terms we choose, we intend to help one another to understand what blindness means and what it doesn’t mean. We strive to develop the skill and courage to deal effectively with misconceptions without becoming overwhelmed. Above all, we must remain committed to thinking of ourselves as capable of making progress, both individually and as a movement. Circumstances may be victimizing, but we can never think of ourselves as victims, because striving for opportunity, even when we lose, is more powerful than victimhood.

Keeping My Balance

by Annie Schlesinger

From the Editor: Annie joined the NFB shortly after moving to Tucson in 1998. She has been chapter secretary, on the chapter board, and for years sent out email notifications. She is a member of the Tucson Society of the Blind, a self-help group and co-leader of the Low Vision Support Group at her senior complex. She enjoys reading and playing games.

Since falls are the leading cause of death for people over fifty, this article is very important to everyone, the assumption being that either we are over fifty or hope to be some day. Here is what Annie says about dealing with aging, blindness, and balance:

Problems with balance happen more often as we age. At age eighty-three, I want to reduce my risk of falling and continue to get around independently using my long white cane. “Having good balance means being able to control and maintain your body’s position, whether you are moving or remaining still. Good balance helps you walk without staggering, get up from a chair without falling, climb stairs without tripping, and bend over without falling. Good balance is important to help you get around, stay independent, and carry out daily activities” (NIH).

Before our mid-sixties most of us do not think about balance. But many deaths are related to hip fractures and traumatic brain injuries. As we live longer and have chronic conditions, we also take medications that affect balance. Vision and balance are highly integrated in the brain; thus, poor vision can equal poor balance.

The inner ear part that is responsible for balance is the vestibular system; a number of physical problems can affect this system. The vestibular system works with other systems in the body such as visual and muscle and joint receptors which maintain the body’s position at rest and in motion.

Last year I had sessions with a physical therapist for the Epley Maneuver which is the treatment for my recurring vertigo. I then had some sessions with her about my balance. Fortunately, I have been active and have exercised for years. So far my balance is okay, but as I look around Fellowship Square, my retirement complex, I see many folks using rollators/walkers for balance. The walkers are also great to carry things: grocery bags, laundry, trash, etc.

After some research and discussions with orientation and mobility instructors, I found these three options for someone with poor balance and using a long white cane:

1. The way to use a walker with my long white cane is to probe ahead with the cane, take one step with the walker, and repeat cane-walker, one step at a time. It is very slow!

2. I have trained using a support cane in step with the long white cane, and it is faster than one stepping with the walker, but I do not feel as secure.

3. It is possible for a blind person to sit in a wheelchair, propel it with their feet, and use the long white cane to check ahead. I tried it and it works; safe, but also slow and unappealing.

Faced with these choices, maintaining my balance becomes very important. I do my prescribed exercises for balance and other exercises to maintain my strength and cardiovascular health. I do stretches for my shoulder tendinitis.

Some exercises help make up for a balance disorder by moving the head and body in certain ways. The body learns muscle memory, and in theory, gets used to being off balance and recovering. Exercises can be developed for an individual by a physical therapist or trainer who understands the balance system. It is never too late to start! Pima Council on Aging, SAAVI, and some health plans offer exercise and balance classes. There are some aspects of aging that can’t be avoided, but by practice, maintaining balance is one I can proactively fight.

References: Mayo Clinic, Vision Aware, Selectheath.org, National Institute on Aging. Futurity.org

The Trouble with Inclusion

by Peter Slatin

From the Editor: Peter Slatin is the founder and president of Slatin Group LLC, which provides education and training to the hospitality and tourism industry on service to consumers with disabilities. Peter is a director and graduate of the Colorado Center for the Blind. Peter also writes about undoing norms that inhibit success for disabled people. His articles have appeared in Forbes, The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and many other publications. Here is what he says:

Groucho Marx got it right when he said he did not want to belong to any club that would have him as a member. I feel much the same way about the inclusion mantra that is being parroted from corporate offices to nonprofit stalwarts and piggybacking on the diversity whale like a pilot fish.

Diversity itself has come pretty late in the game. After all, it is finally getting through to "includers" that different people bring different perspectives and skills and simply add essential strengths and immeasurable qualities to organizations from which they have been excluded for most of American history.

The use of exclusion, whether through explicit laws and covenants or by means of more covert restrictions or simply by tacit understanding among a class, has waxed and waned. Exclusion has been a key tool in establishing and maintaining economic, cultural, and political power throughout the development of American life.

Inclusion is a nice enough word, connoting magnanimity and beneficence as well as welcoming and tolerance. But, that is the problem. The generosity of spirit that inclusion carries also informs us of who is leading the way: the same forces that maintained exclusionary policies until the realization dawned that fashions have changed. So now that this longstanding behavior is being actively reversed under the aegis of inclusivity, anyone formerly excluded should be grateful, no?
No, or at least not so much. Wariness is certainly called for. Because the excluded never made a choice concerning their status. Their exclusion was convenient for those who had seen inclusion as a birthright, and now it is less so. Either way, the change of status conferred is arbitrary.

Exclusion and inclusion are passive states assigned to those designated to be either kept out or brought in. The active agent is not the newly welcomed but instead the welcoming committee, which sets the terms of inclusion and will assign and enable a bouncer should one be deemed necessary. Even when those terms are beneficial, the person newly included will retain that sense of being an outsider who has been invited to a party and only allowed to join by the grace of the host. Is it nice to finally be allowed in? Of course–but we have been here all along. That is true for people of color, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities, and more. Ever so slowly, the ways of thinking about homogeneity and exclusion have shifted as awareness grows that these groups are actual market segments worth mining. Their members are as skilled, dedicated, and eager to progress as all those who never encountered the particular barrier to entry that defines the existence of an excluded class.

As Groucho knew, the only way to be excluded is to allow someone to choose your exclusion. His response was to decline to be included as well, to self-exclude. If I, a person who happens to be blind, accepts exclusion–from work or play or education or whatever endeavor I desire to participate in–then I cede control of my life and agency to whoever is challenging my right to participate. On what grounds would they make the case for my exclusion?

It is not inclusion that I want–it’s access. And access is something I can actively seek to create or acquire. I may need assistance doing so. I may need to change laws and minds, not necessarily in that order. I may need to fight. In the end though, I will be part of designing what access looks like and how it works. Accessibility today has been designed by those who have historically been excluded. Inclusion was designed by those who decided that it was time to get inclusive, and it does not involve much design or even thinking. It just means standing down from privilege–or including yourself among those who have stood up to privilege for so long.

The BlindShell: An Accessible Cell Phone with Real Buttons

by Curtis Chong

From the Editor: Many of us have had an electronic partner that stays with us almost all the time. It is a smart phone. But many blind people have felt left out in this world of accessible phones, because they lack the interest or the dexterity to use a touchscreen. They want buttons, and they want menus they can hear and use to accomplish some of the tasks that their smart phone buddies using touch screens have. Curtis Chong offers what may be a good solution. His credentials to evaluate and explain technology are well known to readers of the Braille Monitor, so let us go directly into his article:

When we think about accessible smart phones, the Apple iPhone is usually the first thing that comes to mind (apologies to those blind people who have had success with Android-based phones). I do believe that for a lot of us, the iPhone has turned out to be the most nonvisually accessible and usable smart phone that we have ever used. However, I am equally certain that there are blind people out there who would still prefer to have an accessible cell phone with real buttons or (for whatever reason) have not been able to learn to use the iPhone and its touch screen.

Enter BlindShell. BlindShell is manufactured by a company called Matapo s.r.o. in the Czech Republic and sold in the United States by a number of organizations. Based on the audio and YouTube presentations I have been able to find, the BlindShell seems to harken back to those early accessible cell phones that had real buttons, simple menus, and built-in speech.

Samuel Seavey ([email protected]) serves as the BlindShell product representative in the United States. According to Mr. Seavey, "The [BlindShell] phone is unlocked on GSM networks and fully supports 2G, 3G, and 4G." BlindShell is an intuitive and simple cell phone with big, tactile buttons and many features. In addition to making phone calls and sending text messages, you can get the current weather forecast, listen to internet radio, or find out your current location. BlindShell works with AT&T and T-Mobile as well as other GSM networks. It is available in black or red. I have gleaned the following information from a variety of web-based sources.


With voice control, you can give the phone voice commands without having to use the keypad. For example, you can:


You can use Voice Dictation to:


The BlindShell has a physical keyboard with tactile buttons. The spacing between the keys makes it easier to distinguish one key from another.


The BlindShell includes a number of useful applications. With the Email client, you can write and receive emails from your friends and colleagues. With internet radio you can listen to thousands of radio stations from around the world. The weather app will tell you the current weather and forecast for the next three days. The location app can tell you your current GPS location or the nearest address.


If you get into a situation where emergency help is required, you can use the SOS emergency button to reach your designated emergency contact. Pressing the button for at least three seconds will call your emergency contact, which can be set whenever and however you want. Do not worry about triggering this function accidentally; you must confirm the emergency call before it is actually made.


The BlindShell can be configured to hide its more complex features, making it appear to be a simpler cell phone. In this simplified mode, you can only make calls and handle text messages. At any time, the hidden complex features can be made visible through a simple menu change.


I myself have not yet had a chance to use the BlindShell as a working telephone. But I must admit some interest in having, once again, a cell phone which enables me to send text messages and answer calls without having to use both hands. Honestly, I doubt that I will abandon my iPhone, but I am, nevertheless, glad that the BlindShell is available as an alternative to the iPhone. I have worked with quite a few people who I think will be glad to have something like the BlindShell, and I hope that this product stays around for a lot longer than models tend to do in the fast-changing cell phone industry.

Samuel Seavey has put together a comprehensive series of YouTube tutorials about the BlindShell. They can be found at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Mona4Y73hI&list=PLD

If you just want to hear how the BlindShell performs, I believe the best audio demonstration is the one produced by A T Guys. The presentation is thirteen minutes long. Here is the link: https://www.atguys.com/files/audio/BlindShell.mp3.

John Langston Gwaltney

by Peggy Chong, The Blind History Lady

From the Editor: Peggy Chong lives in Colorado, and for a long time now she has been compiling biographies of blind men and women who have routinely gone unnoticed. She has earned the nickname The Blind History Lady, and she is available for presentations in person or by phone. If you want to speak with her, she can be reached at [email protected]
. You can read more of her books at https://www.smashwords.com/books/
. Here is her latest offering to the Braille Monitor:
Hello Blind History Lady Fans:

February as you know is Black History Month. In our blind family tree we have too many ancestors of color whose trail has been swept away by time. But that does not mean that we do not have black and blind ancestors to celebrate. This month’s profile is of a man who enriched the lives of many as much as they enriched his life. He was fortunate to be mentored by his hero and became a hero to those whom he mentored.

Meet John Langston Gwaltney, born September 25, 1928, in Orange, New Jersey, the son of a merchant seaman, Stanley Gwaltney, and his mother, Mabel Gwaltney.

Blind from birth, John’s mother Mabel tried everything that she could to see if there was a cure for her son’s blindness. She took him to many doctors, chiropractors, and faith healers who told her there was nothing they could do. She turned to herbal medicine, and still there was no improvement in her son’s vision.

His mother and oldest sister Lucy had the most influence over his life. Mabel relied on the community and family to help her raise her five children. Their black community was close-knit, supportive of each other through businesses and church. She led by example in teaching her son to observe, question, and seek out knowledge.

Lucy read to John from a variety of books. She taught him what a campfire was by lighting a fire in the great iron pot in the middle of their living room. She taught him how to make cheese biscuits and even perfume.

Being black was one handicap, but to be blind as well left few doors open to him. The only blind occupations that his mother thought a black man would be accepted in were music and ministry. To that end, she taught him at home from a young age. She cut out print letters and objects from cardboard to teach him to read. There was always a piano in the house, and she encouraged him to play every day.

When he was eight, she introduced him to woodcarving. Mabel handed him a knife and a stick of wood. John’s uncle was an excellent wood sculptor and took John under his wing. Family and friends introduced him to everything tactile for him to study and transform into art. This became a life-long passion for John.

When he was school age, Mabel wanted him to stay near her but at the same time to get a good education. She wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt and pleaded her son’s case. Mrs. Roosevelt, who was a proponent of the education of the disabled in their local public schools, helped John enter classes near his home.

He was hooked on geography. Two elementary teachers in particular encouraged his studies of the world. His father told him vivid stories of the many people and places he’d seen as a seaman. At night, John would go to bed dreaming of the adventures he would have when he explored for himself these far-away lands.

Each week John would listen to CBS’s School of the Air. One episode had Margaret Mead, a woman who was a famous anthropologist, as the guest. Her presentation took root in his mind, and he began to dream of becoming an anthropologist.

After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Upsala College in East Orange during the fall of 1947. He graduated with a degree in history in 1952.

With scholarships in hand and some assistance through the New Jersey Commission for the Blind, John moved to New York to study for a master’s degree in political science at the New School of Social Research. He completed his master’s in 1957. His siblings acted as readers for him when working on his vast research. His brother Robert was helpful in finding funding for some of the equipment John would need for his expeditions.

In 1956 John married Judith Jacobson. She too became a reader and supporter in his career. That first year of their marriage was John’s first field research project in Mexico. Judith went along with her husband as a research assistant.

Although he wanted to continue with school, he needed to earn a living. He secured a teaching job at the Henry George School of Social Sciences. This high school attracted students wishing to pursue careers in the social sciences. It was here that he first learned to sharpen his teaching skills.

In 1959 he enrolled at Columbia University in New York to begin his doctoral degree. Although he had excellent professors at Columbia, he learned the most from Dr. Margaret Mead, his instructor that had the greatest impact on him. Mead was the woman who had caused his thirst for anthropology. Now here she was in person, working with him and most supportive as well! She helped him plan his major research project. She did not stand in his way because of his blindness. The project was the study of blindness in the Indians who lived in the village of San Padro Yolox in southwestern Mexico. The village was not accessible by vehicle and the inhabitants spoke the ancient tongues of their Chinantec ancestors, not Spanish. The village was set in an area with rough terrain, steep hills, valleys, and drastic climate changes.

Having done his research on the area early on, he knew he needed a few more skills under his belt. He needed to walk or ride a horse to the village and other places he wanted to go. He took horseback riding lessons and had some extra strong metal canes made to take along.

His yearlong study focused on how the village maintained its social order when so many of its members were blind. With a grant from the National Institutes of Health, he had almost all of his expenses covered.

In 1966 John returned to New York and received his doctorate from Columbia in 1967. His thesis was entitled “Role of Expectations in Blindness in an Oaxaca Village.” The thesis won him the Ansley Dissertation Award in the fall of 1967.

He took a position as an instructor at the State University in Cortland, New York, where he was promoted to associate professor in 1969. In 1970, his book The Thrice Shy: Cultural Accommodations to Blindness and Other Disasters in a Mexican Community was published.

In 1971 John accepted a professorship at Syracuse University where he focused his attention on the lives of black men and women in the United States. Through interviews and research, he set out to demonstrate that there is a black culture. The culmination of his research was his book Drylongso: A Self-Portrait of Black America, published in 1981. In the book were many stories of the average black man or woman. Through his book, he hoped that the white public would start to see the average black person as just like them and not the negative images portrayed on the nightly news and media.

In 1986 he published another book entitled The Dissenters: Voices from Contemporary America. This book was a collection of interviews with revolutionaries from all walks of life. The premise was that the dissenters helped the general public stay in touch with reality. The book was nominated for a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award in 1967.

John retired from teaching in 1989. During his career, he also found time to work on projects for the Smithsonian, the New York State Creative Artist Public Services, the New York Council for the Humanities, and several national science organizations.

Much more can be learned about John in a book entitled The Second Generation of African-American Pioneers in Anthropology edited by Ira E. Harrison, Deborah Johnson-Simon, and Erica Lorraine Williams.

The Extra Effort to Be a Blind Person: What Part Myth, What Part Reality?

by Gary Wunder

In many items that pass my desk are two assertions that I let go unchallenged as though they must be taken as articles of faith.

 The assertions are usually found in these statements: As blind people we have to work harder than and perhaps even twice as hard as our sighted colleagues to get things done. Parallel with this is the assertion that in order to get the same grade or do the same job as our sighted colleagues, we have to be twice as good. I hear these arguments from blind people in almost every walk of life, from the student trying to earn a grade to the employee or businessperson trying to earn a check. I’ve never felt comfortable letting these pass unchallenged, but neither have I felt up to questioning the assertions directly, especially since I’ve taken comfort in espousing them myself from time to time.

So let me start with the person I know best or at least the person I try to present to the world. Until late in high school I’m not sure I worked harder than anyone to get the grades I got, and they weren’t anything to brag about. It took a long time for me to realize that school had something to do with whether I was going to be able to earn a living. Until that realization, I took seriously only those parts of the curriculum I found fun or thought to be relevant. I did not take seriously many of the things I was asked to work on if I found them hard or if I judged them, in my ever so worldly mind, to be irrelevant. Even wising up in my last year or so of high school could not salvage my class rank, which was twenty-second in the class of forty-three.

Was my difficulty caused by blindness? Perhaps a little. It would’ve been nice to have my textbook for algebra in Braille. The same would’ve been helpful in Spanish. Perhaps the assistance with readers extended to me in college would have been helpful in high school. But most certainly I would’ve done better had I been mature enough to realize that the people who came before me probably knew more about life and what it took to be successful than I did. Most certainly I would’ve done better had I not been so arrogant as to think that the words relevant and irrelevant were the most important in the English language and that I was capable of deciding what would and would not be important in my future. Sometimes I was called lazy, but I think it was more a case of not being able to connect the dots and to see how my work at the time would result in future opportunities. Is it acceptable for a good Braille reader to claim he has sometimes had trouble connecting the dots?

In addition to studying electronics technology, I took advanced work in computer science and got an entry-level job that soon turned into promotions until I became a senior programmer analyst and a project manager. At the end of that career, I was making more than five times my starting salary, and let me say that I will always remember my first contract saying I would be paid the princely sum of $12,134 a year. I posted that contract on the refrigerator and probably should’ve laminated it, but soon I was making more, and I became accustomed to promotions and merit raises and not just cost-of-living increases. But let me return to the assertion that to do my job required that I be twice as good and work twice as hard as everyone else. I’m proud of the work I did, the work ethic I brought, and the way I was able to contribute to our team. But, I was not the best programmer on the staff. Some were better at looking at older programs and instantly seeing what they were intended to do and why they weren’t doing it. Some were better at coming up with completely different ideas about how to tackle a problem and in so doing either making the code easier to understand or making it more efficient when run by the computer.
In my work career, sometimes I was on top. There were times when suggestions I made changed the whole design of the system for the better. One innovation I brought to an existing process ended up saving us two thousand dollars a week in computer processing time. But I did not work twice as hard, nor was I the best programmer on our staff.

Was blindness sometimes a problem? You bet it was. Did I sometimes work extra hours to make my screen reader read things that were obvious to other people just by looking? You bet. Did I have to look for buried keystrokes and sometimes write my own scripts so that I could do what others easily did with the mouse? You bet. But there were people with whom I worked who got more done than I did, people who stayed later into the night than I did, people who were more dedicated to being number one at their jobs than I was. I desperately wanted to do right by my employer, to know that I earned my money, but I wanted other things as well. I wanted time for my family. I wanted time for our Federation. I wanted time for recreation, exercise, and the sense that there was balance in my life and not all just serious work.

Today as the editor of the Braille Monitor, I know I am not the most qualified editor this publication has ever had. Jacobus tenBroek preceded me in this job, and my educational accomplishments are nothing compared with his. Perry Sundquist put out a wonderful magazine. Hazel tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, and Barbara Pierce all had strengths I don’t have. How would this magazine be today if Daniel Frye had remained its editor? We can’t know, but it is clear to me that mine is not the best mind ever to be put to the task of generating this publication. I’m not trying to be modest—I like the mind I have and the work I do, but my mind tells me that perspective is important and that each of us should know our strengths and our weaknesses.
So how hard is my job compared with what it would be were I sighted? Who can really say? Would I have problems with screen-reading software? I may never have heard of it. Would I have a cheaper way to read and write while on the road? Probably so. But would my job be easier or my work product superior? Do I spend twice as long as a sighted person would on our magazine? I don’t think so. Would it be twice as good if a person with sight did the editing? Again, I don’t believe so.

Why, you may ask, does the answer to the question of extra effort and clearly being superior to the other person matter? If it is true, we should say it. But if it is not, there are good reasons to avoid saying it. Interestingly, what is spawned from the belief that everything we do takes more energy, creativity, effort, and psychological toughness is precisely the thing that makes some people in society believe as they do about us. We get angry when we are patronized, when people tell us we are inspiring, or when they say that if they had to live our lives, they just couldn’t do it. But perhaps our proclamations that our lives are harder is likely a contributor to these perceptions. Did we generate the belief among sighted people that we work twice as hard and that life is harder for us, or did we buy this notion from the very public we are trying to inform about the authentic experience of blindness?

I often wonder how we can assert that we work harder or twice as hard than other people when we have not walked in their shoes. I know a woman with food allergies that are so severe that she spends at least five minutes whenever we go to a restaurant figuring out whether there is anything she can eat and how she can communicate her order. I know a man who is a deep thinker, appreciates the subtlety and complexity of many things, but finds it difficult to communicate these in a way that is direct, easily understandable, and in a timeframe that will keep the focus of those who are impatient or perhaps have a short attention span. How well do I really understand the burdens that people carry when they live in poverty and get an education that doesn’t begin to compare with what they will need to succeed? Is my life really harder than the person who lives with chronic depression or frequent migraine headaches? Is my life or our lives more difficult than the lives of single mothers caught between the demand that they raise their children with solid values and the demand that they be absent from the home in order to earn a living and not be a burden to the state?

As if it wasn’t obvious, this is a tickler for those of you with opinions that should find their way into the Braille Monitor, whether they affirm what I am suggesting or whether they soundly refute it. One of the things we suggest to the world is that we have something worth listening to: the truth about blindness, or, perhaps more modestly, some truths about blindness that work for us. We should use these pages to help establish some of those truths, to understand their subtleties, the way they play out differently for others, and the way we all come to work together to benefit one another.

My Shot

by Brooke Tousley

From the Editor: Brooke is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada and accepted the opportunity to speak at a state convention. President Terri Rupp thought so much of these comments that she sent them to the Braille Monitor. I thank Brooke for writing this and Terri for sending it. Here is what Brooke says:

I was asked to give a speech about my experiences with being blind and being an actor. As an actor and as a person who is blind, I am happy to share my experiences on how I self-advocate in a completive field that doesn’t always seem visible. As a point of reference, I have been legally blind since I was born. My normal is being blind. I have staged my life around having a disability. My family and friends have always taught me to be my true authentic self. I was taught not to see the word “disabled” as “un-able” but as “differently abled.” I have different abilities that contribute to my authenticity.

Growing up, I never saw authenticity in television, film, or onstage. I saw abled-bodied actors un-authentically portraying me. I did not understand why authenticity was presumably unattainable or uneventful. I did not understand why people who are blind or low vision are not included in the inclusion of authenticity.

Letting us play is important. It is important because inclusion allows us to be seen and to be present and authentic. As performers, we are storytellers. I started storytelling when I was a senior in high school. Theatre was an after-school activity that I participated in alongside my friends who wanted to tell their story. From high school to now, I have performed with many local theatre companies, including Merry War Theatre Group, Brüka Theatre of the Sierra, Mercury Momentum, and Reno Little Theatre. I fell in love with the Reno community theatres because they became a creative space for me to play without limitations. I am passionate about the arts because art is another extension of my self-expression. I am able, in every sense of the word. Performing onstage is a place where I can let go and feel safe. There is something truly profound about a space where you can speak and move and let go of the world’s limitations placed on you as well as others grueling interoperations of you and blindness.

A Ted Talks [a popular series of short videos] I listened to the other day, “Disability: Casting a Revolution” from Jenny Sealey, the Artistic Director and CEO of Graeae, spoke about the artistic process of disability. Sealey stated, “Art informs the creative process of access, and access informs the creative process.” What she meant by this was that art is always evolving and changing to stay relevant. Accessibility should stay relevant. Disability and accessibility should not be an afterthought. The notion of integrating accessibility should take center stage. Being authentic is accessible.

I humbly admit that I have blind privileges. I am not a cane user, a Braille user, nor do I have a guide dog. I am the world’s acceptable version of being blind and having a disability. I have been told “You do not look blind or act blind,” whatever that means.

When do you tell your director you are blind? Or, do you even tell them at all? Am I not authentic if I don’t share that in my resumé, or am I saving myself the rejection of “You don’t look like the role.” Blindness doesn’t fit the role. I memorize lines just like everyone else, but I also memorize the stage and where people are standing and where I stand. I memorize my blocking and cues like everyone else, but I also memorize other people’s blocking so I know I am safe. I have had the opportunity to portray Shakespearian characters, possessed characters, a widow, and a cat among many others, despite my different abilities. 

I am grateful to have peers who have helped guide me through my craft and authenticity without hesitation. People seem to act as if blindness is a debilitating and life-ending diagnosis. There is a stigma toward us that we are incapable of being able. Sometimes I do feel the pressure to assimilate into society’s definition and expectations of blindness. I felt the need to make sure that the people around me felt comfortable around my blindness, when in fact they were the ones who made me feel uncomfortable.

Theatre always provides a stage for creating and sharing stories for all who welcome it. William Shakespeare said it best when he informed us that “We are not ourselves, when nature, being oppressed, commands the mind to suffer with the body” (King Lear, Act 2 Scene 4). Theatre has allowed me to create and sustain my authenticity. I am in an environment in which I can be what I want to be and express what I want to feel. Theatre has been a teacher for me about the world around me as I explore and self-discover about people and love, life, and the human condition. Theatre has given me my shot to be me and truly abled me.

An Apology to a Fine Humorist and One of Our Own

by Gary Wunder

In the November 2019 issue we ran an article entitled “Meet the Sighted Month” and said it had been seen floating around Facebook. Well we should have been smart enough to know that nothing floats around Facebook without an author, and how wonderful it is to find that the author is none other than Angela Fowler, a wonderful mother, humorist, and Federationist. We apologize for running her article without attribution and take the opportunity to share it once again, this time giving credit where it is deserved.

Meet the Sighted Month

by Angela Fowler

October is Meet the Sighted Month. Throughout the month, sighted people will hold events where we can mix and mingle and learn about the special equipment and techniques they use to cope with the presence of eyesight. Also, many sighted people will post invitations on Facebook encouraging us to ask them questions, any questions we want, about their sightedness. To kick off Meet the Sighted Month, I have put together this list of things to keep in mind when interacting with the sighted.

  1. Sighted people are often incapable of traveling, cooking, or doing much of anything without the aid of light. While we use our other senses to enable us to function perfectly well in the dark, sighted people have great difficulty developing these skills. When you welcome the sighted into your home, don't forget to turn on the lights.
  2. Sighted people often cannot understand synthesized speech, and the text on a Braille display is almost always unreadable to them. They must depend on special equipment such as computer monitors and phone and tablet screens to use their electronic devices. If you let a sighted person use your phone or computer and forget to turn the screen on, they will be very confused.
  3. Sighted people have difficulty learning from textual and verbal explanations or tactile models. They often must be presented with pictures. A good rule of thumb, when writing instructions for the sighted, is to include a picture with each step.
  4. Sighted people have great difficulty distinguishing auditory cues in their environment. While we can tell when to cross a street by the sound of traffic or where an entrance is by the sounds of people entering and exiting, sighted people often must rely on visual information alone.
  5. Sighted people rely heavily on an inaudible code called color. They use color to safely navigate by car and perform countless other tasks we can perform using auditory and tactile cues. Also, they are often quick to judge us based on what colors we present to the world. It is important to gain at least a working knowledge of color, so they don’t think we’re weird.
  6. Sighted people often communicate displeasure using a secret signal called a dirty look. I’ll admit, I’m not exactly sure what this entails, except that it sometimes causes sighted people to behave in ways which seem inappropriate to the situation, i.e. telling someone off for no apparent reason. As blind people immune to the effects of the dirty look, we can only try to teach the sighted to use their words when communicating displeasure with us.

So, there you have it. Keep these points in mind, and your next encounter with a sighted person should be as smooth as a brand new NFB cane tip.

Living the Life I Want is a Work in Progress

by Carolyn Corrigan

From the Editor: Carolyn Corrigan lives in New Hampshire and is a state officer, the secretary of her affiliate. She is not afraid of work. Her state president says she can always be counted on and gives her the highest recommendation I have heard her give anyone.

Carolyn’s story is one of significant challenge and adaptation. Sometimes she changes the way she wants to accomplish something, and at other times she decides that what she wants to accomplish must be different given her life situation and the satisfaction she wants from it. Here is her story:

I am grateful beyond words that I had tremendous parents. I know that watching me struggle with this disability must have been hard for them, but they always gave me so much support as I adapted to my blindness. They provided daily reminders to be true to myself, and they had so much hope for me to get out there and live a productive life like everyone else.

I often traveled to Boston Children’s Medical Center as they tried to determine how affected my vision was. I got sick of the regular evaluations. I knew they were trying to help me, but the sheer number of things they would ask me to do wore me out. After all the tests and evaluations, we finally had more answers about my visual limitations—I am blind.

With glasses, I am nearsighted; without them, I see a fuzzy picture. After half an hour of the fuzzy pictures, I become dizzy and disoriented. I first realized this when kids took my glasses as a joke. It’s definitely not fun being disoriented, especially when people are laughing at you. They did not know the situation they created wasn't humorous at all.

Despite my setbacks with some of the children, I was still excited about heading off to school. I was excited to be with other students and nervous at the same time about fitting in with others my age. Unfortunately, I am what they call a visual learner, kind of complicated when one is blind. I also have to deal with my eyes twitching while trying to focus on an object or reading a book. The twitching activity makes me more exhausted because of the amount of energy it takes. In class, I did take notes but was always trying to catch up.

During both elementary and high school I was using the resource room on a frequent basis. It was great to be around the diversity of students in this space. The students that the resource room assisted also had similar issues to the ones I was experiencing. However, the impression held by other students was that if you were in the resource room, you must be dumb or retarded. I disliked my disability more and more when I heard that, but I fought that perception. I fought because I disliked being unable to participate in certain activities because teachers thought they were too hard for me.

Therefore, I did my work the best I could. When in lectures, I found it difficult to remember all the material covered. I listened, but again, getting information audibly isn't my strength. I took notes, but half of it I would miss.

All I wanted during this time was to have a chance like everyone else. Besides resource room assistance in the classroom, I had my documents enlarged so I could read them, I had tutors in the classroom to assist me with taking notes or to review material for future quizzes or tests, and I had a tape recorder for books on tape. However, because I am a visual learner, just listening to information did not help it stick in my memory. I also had a scope for use in the classroom. I was placed in the front row to be closer to the chalkboard, and I used my scope to read information the teacher wrote there. When I took tests, I was taken out of the classroom and did them separately to minimize distraction.

I was pleased to have had some extracurricular activities in school. I was part of a youth softball team that was coached by a friend of my parents. I really appreciated that I had an opportunity playing softball because of that connection. I know that for reasons of safety I was assigned to play deep right field most of the time because hits often do not land in that area. Out of boredom waiting for the ball to come my way, I obviously cheered for my team, but I was also frequently singing out in right field.

Toward middle school, I tried to get involved with groups such as band. I played flute from middle school into high school. In high school the band teacher I had was amazing. He knew I had limitations, but he treated me like a part of the group and assisted me when I needed extra help. There were times I didn’t hit every note because of slow response, but I made the effort to play regardless.

My other instrument is my voice. Anyone who knew me at the time could tell you my favorite class was chorus. The key thing about both band and chorus is that my ears were my eyes, and I believe my lack of vision heightened my other senses. I also participated in an afterschool acting group called Acting Out, which was open to younger students as well as teenagers. This group made a real difference in my life because of how diverse it was. It also gave me the sense that there is more to me than my visual limitations. The group leader welcomed me with open arms. I had that feeling like I belonged somewhere, which helped tremendously.

There were also other important outreach activities for me on the weekends throughout the year. In these programs I interacted with other young teenagers with disabilities. We learned about working together, independent living, and other things that helped us build the confidence that we could do things for ourselves.

Anxiety over tests began to heighten in my sophomore year of high school due to a negative experience with a professional, causing me to feel degraded in front of peers. I hope the screening process today is more advanced—no student should have to deal with a disrespectful professional degrading him or her, especially in front of other people. That was the worst experience I have been through. It took me a while to speak up, but when I did, the tutor did not last much longer. This is why tests were not my favorite part of school. Even when people would try to help me, the words I had been called such as dumb and stupid would haunt me and make me defensive. There is a time to be pushed, but there is also a time to be rewarded for what you know and how hard you are trying.

I graduated from high school, and I thought the nerve-racking educational experiences in my life had ended, but then there was college. Many questions went through my mind before beginning my fall semester. In high school, the SAT was supposed to help you find your place in college. My score was not very high because of my learning challenges, so I started college slow. I took continuing education courses to get my GPA up before matriculating as a full-time student. At first my goal was to study education and work as a teacher because I love children. Unfortunately, I did not have that option financially.

In high school the tests posed challenges, but at the college level there were more questions, and they were more complicated to answer. The more questions I got and the harder they were, the more I panicked. I discovered that with my learning challenges, I retained a certain amount of information, but when my mind gets overwhelmed, I forget the rest of it. When I started failing my college exams, I felt like a failure. I questioned whether I would ever graduate from college.

I started looking for jobs to make money to help with college expenses. Job searching proved to be frustrating and taxing despite having assistance from vocational rehabilitation. Many people were still very ignorant about the value of diversity in the workplace, and some would not hire me because they judged that it would be too hard for me and that I could not do the job. When blind, it is commonly accepted that you should take any job you can get, but I was not even getting interviews, so I had to change tactics. I focused on volunteering instead to gain experience, working at various childcare programs. Next, I began working a paying job at the college dining commons. I continued on to being a front-end clerk bagging groceries for a supermarket. With each of these jobs, at first I would be a bit slow learning the tasks that needed to be done, but once it became a routine for me, people commented that I did things quickly and efficiently. I always try to get better, but I also know my limitations and to not try to exceed what I can do.

I graduated from college with an associate’s degree in general education. I may not have landed in the education field as a teacher, but it was a valuable accomplishment for me. However, the year after I graduated, I did get to experience being a paraprofessional at the middle school I attended. It was a valuable tutoring opportunity; I felt like I was a voice for some of these students. I could feel how they felt and was able to help them academically. I was pleased when I came up with a game for a student to remember her social studies material, even if the teacher I worked for didn’t appreciate it much. I do not think that the teachers are always as resourceful as they should be. I don’t think they get enough training to see the individual possibilities that exist in those of us who learn differently. At the very least training must make it possible for inclusion to be a possibility rather than just a word.

After a year I decided to move on. I was not bad at being a tutor and paraprofessional, but I realized there was something more for me. I loved children, but professionally working with them just didn’t click for me. Witnessing some of the treatment and attitudes toward the students made me realize that advocacy was in my blood when opportunities arose later.

Continuing with job searching, I came across an opportunity that led to my next challenge. I heard through the Red Cross that they were holding LNA (Licensed Nurse Assistant) classes. I had never thought of this career before, but it interested me because I like to help take care of people. I thought, “Why not go for it? Life is too short to not try different opportunities.” I knew that the materials and the tests would be obstacles for me, but support from the teacher and other participants helped a lot. I also had the benefit of some of our vocational rehabilitation counselors who were willing to help outside of class to go over some of the rather challenging clinical aspects. It was difficult, but with determination, I kept going. My family and friends knew I was getting the material and that I knew my stuff, despite exams not being a high point for me. No test can define what I know.

It was getting close to the time we were preparing to get into a clinical setting, and I was feeling hopeful until one day in class. I could tell the teacher was heartbroken to tell me the bad news. She knew I had worked hard, but she had a job to do and could not pass me. The state board in charge of these programs told her that I could not go any further in the clinical because of my limited vision and slow learning in medical situations. Their reasoning was because of liability and safety. Safety I can understand; you have to be safe in medical settings. Liability I felt was more about their fear of something they don’t know, and we can always see the worst when we think about bad things that may happen. At first, I was crushed; my hopes were dashed. It didn’t help when someone told me they wouldn’t want someone like me taking care of them.

I have struggled with depression after going through numerous experiences like this and having the plug pulled too soon on each of them. Vocational rehabilitation helped me learn massage therapy, but again my test scores were not adequate. The state tests said I was close to passing, but in my mind I passed with flying colors. In the end though I was a winner for facing myself, finding my own confidence, and being here today. I still offer massages to family friends and make frequent visits to the elderly home I work for to provide hand massages to Alzheimer’s residents.

I also decided to revisit the Keene State College’s Aspire Program. It had done a lot for me, and I wanted to show my appreciation. I reconnected with staff members I knew, and I was also introduced to the disabilities coordinator. I started out mentoring students by taking them to a coffee place I had gotten familiar with, and from there I was introduced to a group called the National Federation of the Blind. Until then I had no idea that this organization existed. I had heard of other associations of the blind and like organizations, but this one was different. I officially joined the NFB in 2007. I believe my first trip was the Washington Seminar. This was when having advocacy in my blood really crystalized. What struck me immediately about this group was how much this national organization works together and provides support for others while also defining our rights and what we deserve. I am still involved today, and many things have come from it. Not only is it my second family, but due to my continued interest, I have several roles in the organization that I never in my wildest dreams would have thought I’d be undertaking at this point in my life. Besides advocacy, my Federation family helped me build the confidence to educate people and stand up for myself when I feel that I or other members are being discriminated against.

I have realized that as a woman with visual limitations I am not limited in opportunities. I have discovered I have other talents that I am pursuing further to see where they lead me. Photography has been a huge interest of mine for a long time. Family members have nicknamed me “Flash” Corrigan. Photography is stress relief for me and gives me an opportunity to focus on beauty. I love having the ability to create an image from an instant shot when I take the photo and the ability to use photo editing to create exactly what I have in my mind. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback on my photography from those around me, and this is something I continue to pursue because life is too short to feel like you have nothing that you can do. That kind of attitude will not take us far in life.

My final message to anyone reading this is that we are all different. It’s perfectly okay to be different and unique. You have abilities just like everyone else; how you use them is up to you. If you encounter any kind of discrimination, remember the problem is with the person who discriminates, not with you. There is a purpose for all of us in our lives. We just have to trust the higher power to remind us of that on a daily basis. Never give up on something just because other people say it’s too hard and discourage you. It’s not up to them whether or not you can do it, it’s up to you. I would like to thank you for letting me share my story, and I hope it inspires all of you to find your own dreams. My life is not finished yet; there is more to come in my story. Appreciate and embrace yours, and steer it so that you are moving toward the life you want.

Dream Makers Circle

by Patti Chang

From the Editor: Patti Chang is our energetic director of outreach who works tirelessly to see that we have the tools to do the work that is required of us. Here is what she says about how we can keep on giving long after we think we can:

Join our Dream Makers Circle

For more than seventy-eight 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 joining our legacy society, the Dream Makers Circle. It is much easier than you think. Please join so we can make a difference by:

How do you join our Dream Makers Circle?

You can decide to join in one or more simple ways. You can plan to give all or part of a bank account, insurance proceeds, investment assets, real estate, or a retirement account. You can even give a required minimum distribution from your IRA directly to charity and avoid taxes on that money.

The National Federation of the Blind Legacy Society, our Dream Makers Circle, honors and recognizes the generosity and the vision of members and special friends of the National Federation of the Blind who have chosen to leave a legacy through a will or other planned giving option.

If you wish to give part or all of an account, simply fill out a P.O.D. (payable on death) or T.O.D. (transfer on death) form. For pensions and insurance assets, simply designate a charity as a beneficiary. If you would like to leave a legacy to the National Federation of the Blind in your will, simply include the following language:

“I give, devise, and bequeath unto the National Federation of the Blind, 200 East Wells at Jernigan Place Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a Maryland nonprofit corporation, the sum of $______________ (or) _________ percent of my net estate” or “the following stocks and bonds: ____________________, to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons.”
Once you have completed your paperwork, please reach out to let us know you are joining our Dream Makers Circle.

In 2019 with generous support, the National Federation of the Blind:

Please consider joining our legacy society so we can continue to make a real difference in the lives of the next generation of blind children and adults. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.

To learn more visit: www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422.

Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship

by Tracy Soforenko

From the Editor: Tracy Soforenko is the newly appointed chairperson of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund and is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. The Kenneth Jernigan Fund 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 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 is April 15.

Once your application has been submitted, a copy of 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 chairperson 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.


Recipes this month were contributed by members of the National Federation of the Blind of New York.

Chicken Mac Salad with a Twist
by Bernice Bird

I am always trying to think up different things to feed my friend who comes once a week to help with mail and other sighted tasks. I had chicken already cooked and came up with this combination. I served it with cool ranch tortilla chips and fruit for dessert.

8 ounces of cooked chicken, diced
1 small onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
½ each sweet bell pepper, green, yellow, red, and/or orange, seeded and diced
8 ounces rotini pasta
8 ounces monterey jack or pepper jack cheese, grated
2/3 cups mayonnaise
1½ cups salsa of your choice
Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Boil the pasta with a pinch of salt and a dash of olive oil until al dente or fully cooked according to your preference, drain, and cool. Cooking hint: if you are in a hurry and don’t have time for the pasta to cool, just put a couple of handfuls of ice cubes into the colander with the hot pasta, then stir it around gently so as not to break up the pieces of rotini too much. Combine all ingredients in a large serving or mixing bowl and toss gently. Cooking tip: select a bigger bowl than you think you will need as pasta and other salad types tend to grow larger than you would expect as you add ingredients into the mix. Serve and enjoy, with corn or flour tortilla chips of your choice on the side or crumbled over the top.

Extra salsa or mayonnaise can be added if you find that you want or need more moisture, especially after the salad has had time to rest. Mild salsa and monterey jack cheese make for a kid-friendly dish, or hot salsa and pepper jack cheese can kick it up a notch. Sour cream can be substituted for the mayonnaise for those with soy allergies, or ranch dressing can be substituted for even more flavor. Let your creativity guide you to customize this versatile and delicious dish.

Pizza Pasta Salad
by Bernice Bird

I provided this very large bowl of pasta salad at our state convention. When the bowl was empty, we were asked if we had more. I guess that is how it should be: leave people wanting more. My daughter and I developed this particular salad together over a number of years. We each added or subtracted items from this recipe according to our likes or dislikes and/or dietary needs.

Pasta Salad Ingredients:
1 pound rotini or fusilli pasta, or another shape of your choosing
8 to 12 ounces pepperoni, sliced
12 to 16 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
8 to 12 ounces aged Italian cheeses: parmesan, romano, asiago, grana padano, or a combination of these, grated
1 each red, yellow, orange, and green sweet bell peppers, seeded and diced (Tip: many grocery stores sell 3-packs of the red, orange, and yellow bell peppers for convenience, and all four colors have slightly different flavors and nutritional profiles.)
½ large seedless cucumber, peeled and diced
2 stalks celery, diced
8 to 12 ounces packaged grape tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
1 cup black or green olives, sliced in half, if desired
1 small head fresh broccoli, cut into florets
2 large carrots, peeled
1 cup Vidalia, red, Spanish, or another onion of your choice, diced
1 cup each frozen corn and peas

Dressing Ingredients:
1 cup olive oil
2 cups balsamic vinegar or another vinegar of your choice such as apple cider vinegar or red wine
¼ cup to 4 tablespoons dried basil
1/8 cup to 2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried rosemary
¼ cup to 4 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
¼ cup to 4 tablespoons dried chives
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder (Flavor tip: three cloves of fresh garlic, or two of black garlic, or one of elephant garlic can be put through a garlic presser or finely chopped, and each has a unique flavor and nutritional benefit.)
1 teaspoon dried paprika
2 teaspoons dried marjoram
3 teaspoons dried savory
Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Pasta Salad Method: Boil pasta with a pinch of salt and a pat of butter until al dente or fully cooked, according to preference, then drain and cool. Cooking hint: gently toss the hot pasta in a colander with a couple handfuls of ice cubes to cool it quickly if you are in a hurry. Rinse all vegetables and drain on paper towels or in colander before cutting to avoid a bland or watery salad. Dice the peppers, onion, celery, and cucumber. Slice tomatoes, and olives if you choose to include them, in half. Peel the carrots and discard peels and one slice off of each end, then use your peeler to produce thin carrot strips to include in the salad, or grate on a box grater. Cut broccoli florets into smaller pieces. Place pepperoni slices into small stacks, then cut each stack into quarters, producing small quarter circle wedge shapes. Thaw corn and peas in the microwave, defrost setting can be helpful, and drain. Combine all ingredients, including the cheese, meat, all vegetables, and pasta in a very large mixing bowl. Cooking tip: This salad is most cohesive and flavorful when prepared a day ahead. If you will be doing so or if there will likely be leftovers, then double the dressing recipe and add additional dressing prior to serving as the pasta will absorb the initial dressing application, making it more flavorful, but also drier. This was the method I followed when transporting the salad to our state convention.

Dressing Method: Use a mortar and pestle to finely crush all herbs; if you do not own one, then you will want to run the dressing through a blender. Combine herbs, spices, oil, and vinegar in a blender bottle and shake well to combine. Refrigerate any additional dressing, but allow it to come to room temperature by removing it from the refrigerator several hours before adding it to and serving the salad. Shake the dressing well before each use if using this dressing for other salads or recipes. If you intend to use this dressing in a cooked dish such as a marinade for meat, substitute avocado oil for the olive oil as EVOO is damaged at high heat and avocado oil has a much higher smoke point. This bulk recipe is great for events but can be reduced in size for other occasions.

Variations: The homemade dressing is the rock star of this salad. You can substitute a bottled dressing, but making your own gives it the standout quality at any party or gathering. Let your creativity and tastes shape this recipe by adding or substituting a variety of cooked or raw vegetables or even fruits, such as: mushrooms, zucchini, summer squash, artichokes, etc. We conceived this as a “pizza pasta salad,” but substitutions or additions could change the character to suit other tastes, such as adding sweet pickle relish, salsa, soy sauce, or substituting chicken, shrimp or tuna for the pepperoni, or selecting other cheeses or spices from a different culture and cuisine. This recipe is a road map for a journey where you are encouraged to take side trips, not an absolute road map.

Peanut Butter Cookies
by Linda Kaminski

Linda has been active in the Buffalo Chapter for more than 25 years. She has headed the communication the entire time. Linda also runs a support group for blind persons in the Buffalo area, is active on many committees, and attends every meeting associated with the Buffalo Chapter.

1 large box yellow cake mix
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 eggs
1/3 cup water

Method: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Add half of cake mix to bowl. Add peanut butter, water, and eggs; mix well. Add remaining cake mix and mix well. Roll into balls the size of walnuts. Press with fork. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 8-10 minutes.

Carrot Cake
by Angie Robinson

Angie has been an active member of the Buffalo Chapter for thirty years. She has served in many positions within the chapter and is the extremely supportive spouse of the New York affiliate president, Mike Robinson. The recipe below has been prepared for the New York State Convention and has helped create funds for the affiliate.

Cake Ingredients:
1-1/2 cups oil
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups shredded carrots
1 cup chopped walnuts

Frosting Ingredients:
1 box confectioner sugar
1 8-ounce package cream cheese
1/2 stick butter

Method: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine and mix oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla. Sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. When mixed, add grated carrots and nuts. Bake 50-60 minutes. Cool and frost.

Tator Tot Casserole
by Angie Robinson

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
16 ounces Tator Tots
1 can Durkee Onions
1 bunch broccoli florets or a frozen package
1 can cream of celery (or chicken or mushroom) soup
1 teaspoon garlic salt
½ cup milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Method: Cook chicken and cut into cubes. Cook broccoli (if fresh) until tender. Line a large greased casserole dish with Tator Tots (sides and bottom). Bake lined dish at 450 for approximately twenty minutes until crispy. Mix cooked broccoli, half can Durkee onions, and cooked chicken; pour into Tator Tot shell. Mix soup, a half-cup milk, garlic salt, and half-cup cheese. Pour over top. Cover and bake at 450 for twenty minutes until cooked through. Uncover, add remaining cheese and onions. Bake eight minutes more until golden brown. Recipe note: This can be made and frozen ahead. Kids love this recipe!

Cheesy Artichoke Pasta
by Caleb Jonas

This was one of my son Caleb’s favorite dishes when he was a toddler and preschooler; he still really likes it, and it’s healthy. I wrote the recipe in his voice, because blind people cooking is a great thing, but blind kids cooking is a fantastic thing. Caleb really enjoys helping me make this and now needs very little help to do so safely; he just turned six years old. And whenever kids get excited about a fruit or vegetable, artichokes in this case, then do a happy dance and get excited right along with them. When he heard me typing up the recipe to submit, he wanted to contribute. When I asked him what to do for the one he picked, his instructions were filled with the little teachable moments, nonvisual techniques, and fun kid comments that I just had to write it his way. “Maybe sighted moms will read this to their blind kids, then they’ll have to cook with them, but the blind kids will keep bugging them until they let them cook stuff.” Caleb Jonas, age six.

1 cup dry acini de peppe pasta, 100 percent whole wheat, orzo is an acceptable substitution
A sprinkling of sea salt 
2 ounces organic ricotta cheese
2 ounces Boursin cheese, garlic and fine herbs flavor is best
1 fresh lemon
1 tablespoon capers
1 can of artichoke hearts
2 ounces Italian cheese blend or salad cheese blend; usually contains three or four of: parmesan, romano, asiago, provolone, fontina, grana padano, etc.

Caleb’s Method: Mom says that blind people get to touch all the food, but we have to wash our hands before we cook and every time we touch anything but the food or the utensils, like our face, the fridge door, or raw meat or eggs. Shake a sprinkle of sea salt into your pan then put in water so the pan is at least half-full. Put the pan on the stove, and make sure it is in the middle of the burner, then ask your mom or dad to turn it on to medium hot if you are a kid. You can hear it go “fwump” when it lights. When the water is boiling, that means bubbling, and steam can make your hand wet when you hold it about a foot above the top of the pot, then you are ready to put in your pasta. Fill up your measuring cup with pasta, and pour it in over the middle of the pan slowly so it doesn’t splash. Let it cook until the pasta is half softened, my mom calls it al dente, which means “to the tooth, in Italian.” Stir it to keep it from sticking to the bottom. Turn off the heat and put a colander into the sink, then have your mom or dad take it over and pour it into the colander to drain, or you can do it yourself. Just practice with a pan of cold water first, and see if you can do it without touching anything but the handle or getting any of the water on you, because it will be hot when you do it for real. Do not rinse the pasta because the sticky stuff called starch on it helps the sauce stick to it better.

Pour the hot pasta into a medium big mixing bowl, then put in the ricotta and Boursen cheese and stir it up until it makes a sauce out of the cheeses. The hot pasta will melt them together. Juice the lemon, hold it carefully and cut it with a really sharp serrated—that means jaggidy—knife in half, and put each half into a juice press, then squeeze it hard over a small bowl. You can pick out any seeds with your hands and throw them away. Or you can throw them at your big brother. Mom says put the peels down the garbage disposal to clean it and make it smell nice. Put the lemon juice into the pasta, and then add the capers. They are little salty things, and they are actually berries, weird, and cool! Open the can of artichokes and turn it upside down over the sink with your hand over the top and let all the water drain out. Put the artichokes in a bowl, use the one from the lemon juice, and take the artichokes apart, just peel off the petals and throw them into the pasta, like pulling a flower apart, then toss the tops in too, they’re good. Stir in the lemon juice, capers and artichokes, then put the cheese blend on top, and serve. Don’t tell your friends there are vegetables in it. Be careful with the sharp things and the hot things, and have fun freaking out the sighted people who watch you cook—that’s the best part.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

New Drupal Theme Honors Rachel Olivero

Rachel Olivero (1982-2019) was a dedicated member and leader of the nation’s blind, a well-known accessibility expert, and a friend to many. She tirelessly devoted herself to her role as head of the organizational technology group at the National Federation of the Blind, a position from which she leveraged her passion to change the understanding of accessibility everywhere she could by raising the competency of her peers, and challenging companies and organizations to stop making excuses and start building accessibly from the beginning.

As we reflect on the one-year anniversary of her passing, we are reminded of her many contributions both to our organization and to the accessibility community at large. Because of her leadership, knowledge, and collaborative spirit, her impact on modern accessibility best practices cannot be overstated.

In October 2019, the Drupal Association, which maintains the open-sourced platform the NFB uses for its websites, honored her lasting legacy by naming its new default front-end theme “Olivero.” “She was committed to making technology accessible to all people,” a Drupal expert said in the announcement, which was made at DrupalCon 2019. “We chose the name Olivero not just because we have made accessibility a top priority, but also because we aspire to develop this new theme in our community in a manner that is consistent with the qualities that Rachel embodied, including patience, generosity, and inclusivity.”

“In the National Federation of the Blind, individual blind people come together to focus their efforts into collective action that raises expectations in society and transforms dreams into reality. In a lifetime that was far too short, Rachel Olivero used her own lived experiences as a blind person as the basis for advancing the position of the blind in society. As her friends in the organized blind movement, we remember her daily,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “As her colleagues carrying the march for equality of the blind forward, we celebrate the Drupal community for recognizing Rachel’s commitment to equality and skillful advancement of accessibility. The naming of the Olivero theme is more than simply a nice memory; it represents a commitment by the Drupal community that accessibility will be baked into the websites of the future so that all may have access to the knowledge of the worldwide web. That is a legacy worthy of our friend Rachel Olivero, the mission of the National Federation of the Blind, and the core values of the Drupal community. As we cross the one-year anniversary of losing Rachel’s leadership on our behalf, our hearts are filled with joy that accessibility in her name continues to spread around the world.”

Read more about Rachel Olivero in President Riccobono’s tribute to her life and work, “From Member to Memorable: Rachel Olivero’s Legacy of Love,” in the April 2019 Braille Monitor.

This news brief is also available at: https://www.nfb.org/about-us/press-room/new-drupal-theme-honors-rachel-olivero.

National Federation of the Blind and Others Settle Lawsuit against United States Department of Education

DOE to Reopen Investigations, Allow Appeals

Washington, DC (February 6, 2020): The National Federation of the Blind, the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have resolved the lawsuit they brought against the United States Department of Education (DOE). The suit was filed when DOE’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) changed the way it handles discrimination complaints, by revising its case processing manual, in March of 2018. The changes required OCR to dismiss discrimination complaints without investigating if an individual or organization had filed complaints before, or when complaints were filed against multiple schools or colleges. The right to appeal was also eliminated. DOE revised the manual again to roll back some of the changes in November of 2018, but the status of complaints that had already been dismissed under the March 2018 procedures was not resolved.

Under the agreement, OCR has reopened all the nearly seven hundred disability rights complaints it dismissed and will investigate them following the complaint investigation processes as of November 2018. In addition, complainants who were denied the right to appeal the dismissal of their complaints between March and November of 2018 will be able to do so.

“As America’s civil rights organization of the blind, the National Federation of the Blind routinely combats discrimination by K-12 schools, colleges, and universities, often manifest as the use of inaccessible technology and materials,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “Department of Education OCR investigations are an important avenue for protecting the rights of blind students. We are therefore proud of the work we have done with our partners to ensure the civil rights of the blind and of others who experience discrimination in education.”

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.

Summer Experience Camp – Making Teens Unstoppable!

We are holding a free program at Leader Dogs for the Blind. The application deadline is April 1, 2020.

Summer Experience Camp is a week of fun, friendship, and skill building. The program combines activities like zip lining, tandem biking with independence building exercises, and things exclusively Leader Dog—GPS training and spending time with future Leader Dogs. The combination helps increase independent travel skills, interpersonal skills, and leadership skills.
The free program is for boys and girls ages sixteen and seventeen who are legally blind. Leader Dog covers all costs including airfare to Michigan—and everyone receives a free HumanWare Victor Reader Trek GPS device. The 2020 camp dates are June 24—July 1. Applications are due by April 1, 2020.

You can view a Fox Sports clip about camp, read camper stories, and download an application at LeaderDog.org.

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.