Braille Monitor

Vol. 63, No. 6                                   June 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

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.

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Vol. 63, No. 6                                   June 2020

Illustration: Moving Forward and Staying in Place: How Innovation Gets it Done

Navigating Uncharted Territory: Moving Toward our First Virtual Convention with a Little Less Stress and a Little More Yesssssss                                                                                                                             
by Jessica Beecham

Learning in the Time of COVID-19: The Impact on Blind Students of Current Guidance Issued by the US Department of Education Regarding Students with Disabilities                                                                                                                          
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

A US Diplomat with an Extraordinary Global View                                                                                                                                     
by Marc Lacey with Prior Beharry

Why I am a Federationist, and How the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois was Born                                                                                                                                     
by Rami Rabby

Of Sleeping Dogs and Prancing Ponies: It's Time for the NFB to Act on Discrimination Against Blind Hams                                                                                                                                   
by Curtis Willoughby

A Hobby that Taught me the Value of an Education, the Need for Self-discipline, How to Raise Money, and the Value of Networking                                                                                                                         
by Gary Wunder

Audible Traffic Signals: The Technology, the Reality, and the Possibilities                                                                                                                         
by Curtis Chong

It's Habit-Forming                                                                                                                               
by Judy Sanders

Harry Gawith, Hardworking Sighted Federationist                                                                                                                      
by Ramona Walhof

Leave a Legacy

My Time at NFB EQ 2019                                                                                                                                     
by Maura Loberg

Convention Memory Minute Contest: Share Your First Convention Experience                                                                                                                          
by Tracy Soforenko

The Give 20 Campaign                                                                                                                            
by Tracy Soforenko

Celebrating the 2020 Braille Readers Are Leaders Winners                                                                                                                               


Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2020 by the National Federation of the Blind

Moving Forward and Staying in Place: How Innovation Gets it Done

The coronavirus has disrupted society about as much as any one event could. It has caused us to work hard at figuring out what businesses are essential and what tasks we can do from home for both essential and nonessential work. Regardless the classification we might fall under, the National Federation of the Blind considers itself essential, and accordingly we have tried to conduct our programs from home. We have been immeasurably assisted by the kind of technology that exists today: email, texting, and setting up audio and video conferences.
COVID-19 has added work to an already full plate, so there is plenty for us to do if only we can be innovative enough to figure out how to do it. Luckily, Federation and innovation in the same sentence are almost redundant. Here are some shots of how we are learning to shelter in place and still do the work that this dynamic organization requires.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mark Riccobono and Karen Anderson work on their laptops.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Anil Lewis smiles as he works on his laptop at the dining room table.]

Navigating Uncharted Territory: Moving Toward our First Virtual Convention with a Little Less Stress and a Little More Yesssssss

by Jessica Beecham

From the Editor: When I think of Jessica what comes to mind is that she is the wellness person. Whether one is looking for physical health, mental health, or spiritual health, Jessica has strategies she is willing to share. Not only is she willing, but as you will see in this article, she is a very able writer. Enjoy what she has to say about our upcoming national convention:

The announcement of our first-ever virtual convention of the National Federation of the Blind has stirred a great deal of mixed conversation. Some of us are intrigued by the idea of potentially hosting the largest gathering of blind people in the world. Others are eager for the opportunity to participate without the expenses that are customarily associated with convention travel, hotel, and food. Still others are thrilled at the idea that they will be able to get to every meeting on time without getting lost in a huge convention hotel at least once.

Although there is much to be excited about, you may be experiencing a bit of anxiety around the idea of participating in a convention-packed week over Zoom or another virtual platform. Currently, Zoom fatigue is a hot topic. A simple Google search will reveal articles in leading publications including National Geographic, BBC, Forbes, Psychology Today, Harvard Business Review, USA Today, and on and on and on, all covering the topic of the stress associated with increased video conferencing.

While we may have the advantage of not having to stare lovingly into the eyes of our dear colleagues for hours at a time through a screen, we certainly experience other aspects of virtual conferencing which can induce stress. These include learning to navigate a new virtual environment, poor internet quality, technology failure, endless sitting, figuring out how and when to jump in and talk without stepping on someone else, audio delays, being tethered to our technology, and more.

Just like every convention, the experience will not be stress free. Hopefully, these tips will help reduce stress so that we can make our first virtual convention one that we will fondly remember.

Create the Optimum Convention Environment

One of the nice things about virtual convention is that one can participate from anywhere. Want to start your day with a meeting from bed? Go for it! How about a lunchtime meeting on your stoop or patio? This is just fine. Whether it is your couch, kitchen table, office desk, or favorite comfortable recliner, identify several different places from which you might like to enjoy convention, and make sure that they are set up in such a way that is conducive to your success. This might mean making sure that you have a charged device available or that you have access to a charger. It might also mean doing what you can to eliminate background noise. If you want to participate in a place that might be noisy, do it in a meeting where you will have a listening role as opposed to an active speaking role, and be sure you are muted. Zoom, or most other video conferencing platforms for that matter, support a variety of access methods. Just as an example, if you have a home phone, computer, cell phone, and tablet, you have four ways that you can access the convention. Well-charged devices and handy access to accessories such as chargers, headsets with microphones, and note taking devices will play a major part in a less stressful and more productive convention experience.

Learn the Platform

Whether we use Zoom, another video conferencing platform, or something else entirely, learning the platform will be key to a smooth convention. Once we know a little more about what convention is going to look like, there will be training available. Take advantage and learn the features. Knowing how to seek the floor, ask a question, mute and unmute, vote, or whatever else may be possible will make you more comfortable. If the majority of users are comfortable and confident in the use of the platform, it will make for much smoother and more enjoyable meetings.

Eat Healthy

Just as with an in-person convention, our food and beverage choices will affect our experience. Starting your day with a solid breakfast, fueling with healthy snacks throughout the day, drinking lots of water, and making sensible lunch and dinner choices will give your body the energy it needs for a long and information-packed day. This should be the easiest convention ever to make solid food choices because if you don’t buy it, you can’t eat it. Planning your convention meals and snacks, shopping ahead, and doing a little prep for those extra busy times when your listening meetings are slim and your active participation level is high will help you stick to better food choices. You may choose to splurge from time to time, but Door Dash and UberEATS do not have to be your go-to. Remember: When you have a listening role in a meeting, you can prepare your meal and eat your healthy dinner during the programming. Just make sure you are muted; nobody likes hearing your loud chewing noise.


Although it sounds a bit counterintuitive, sitting actually makes us more tired. Whether virtual or in person, getting up and moving is an excellent way to tolerate long days at convention. When you have a listening role in a meeting, you are free to get up, get coffee, move, stretch, or even walk around a room. Since the onset of COVID-19, several people have participated in movement activities while listening to meetings. Their activities have included riding stationary bikes or restorators, walking on treadmills, doing yoga, walking around the room, or taking trips up and down stairs. These are all great ways to incorporate movement when you are not actively speaking or leading a meeting. When you do have a leadership role, it is good to plan some movement time before or after the meeting where you will be spending significant time sitting. The Sports and Recreation Division plans to provide pre-recorded fit breaks that will be available for convention attendees. We will also have prerecorded workouts that can be accessed any time, so working out at your convenience will be easier than ever. Join our Facebook group to get access to our fit breaks, workouts, and convention-related movement challenges.


What? Who sleeps during national convention? It is likely that many convention attendees will find that virtual convention is a bit more mentally fatiguing. Getting eight hours of sleep each night will increase your energy and stamina throughout the day. Whenever possible, setting a time for bed and a time to wake up will help in establishing and reinforcing a good sleep schedule. Many of us have assumed being an adult means freedom from a bedtime, but adhering to a predictable sleep schedule isn't about being an adult; it's really about being mentally and physically healthy. In these times of social distancing, we must make our own structure—setting our goals and relying on self-discipline where previously we have relied on others.

Plan Ahead

Each year, once the convention agenda is released, many of us go through and plan our entire week. Even though we do not have to worry about navigating from meeting to meeting in a large convention hotel, having a plan is still essential. Develop a system that allows for easy access to meeting login credentials, information about the meeting, and whether you have a role above and beyond that of a listener. You can add this information to your calendar, keep hardcopy or electronic notes, record information to a Victor Stream, or pretty much use any system that is easy for you to manage independently and quickly. This will help you to be at your best and get the most out of your meetings.

If you have a meeting where you plan to participate or have a major leadership role, it is important to plan to be in a quiet environment with a device nearby or a headset with a microphone so that you can be easily heard. Since presenters/speakers may be asked to have their cameras on, you can plan to be in an area that is clean and uncluttered. Since it is customary to dress to impress at convention, it will also be important to make sure that the portion of you which is in camera view is appropriately clad in business attire. Consider having someone check out the view before the meeting begins to make sure that you are in the camera frame and that your visible background looks great.

There will likely be meetings with information you want to remember, so you should be set up with the ability to take notes. You don't want to be scrambling at the last second and missing content. You can plan meal, snack, and movement times around meetings where you will be a listener. Also, making sure to leave time between meetings for a mental break is a great idea.

The best laid plans do not always come to fruition. Convention is jam-packed. Although we are making every attempt to keep this virtual convention to a manageable number of meetings, there will be more content than any person can attend. Do what many of us do at conventions and ask someone to attend a session for you and report on it. You can do likewise when there is a meeting they are missing but would like to attend.

Even if you have planned to attend a meeting, give yourself permission to skip it or take a break if needed. The virtual experience will be new for all of us, and it is important that we make our mental health a priority. Convention should be FUN, and it is not necessary that every one of us attend every meeting.

Tips for Planning Content

For those of us who are planning content, it is good to remember that not every meeting needs to be long. If you can cover the content that needs to be covered in half an hour, then that amount of time is sufficient for the meeting. People will be in the virtual space from early in the morning to late at night. It is important that we think about how to make our meetings effective, memorable, and concise. If it makes sense, explore ways to provide content that people can access at their convenience. This reduces the number of meetings on the agenda and still provides convention attendees with quality content that they can enjoy during and after convention 

Do Something Fun

This is a great year to add some element of fun to the convention. If your area’s social distancing guidelines and your health permit small gatherings, get together with friends or chapter members and enjoy portions of the convention together. Maybe listen to a session while catching sun by the pool. Have a banquet party at which a group gets together and cooks or orders a delicious meal. It might be the best banquet meal you have ever had. A strong cocktail (optional), good food, Federation family, and an inspiring banquet address from President Riccobono is a sure recipe for a fantastic banquet. One of the most important aspects of a National Federation of the Blind convention is spreading love, so find ways to have fun and spread the Federation love to others.

Although it is perfectly fine to be a little nervous about a new convention format, we have a lot to be excited about. Take a deep breath, plan, eat, move, sleep, have fun, and let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind!

Learning in the Time of COVID-19:
The Impact on Blind Students of Current Guidance Issued by the US Department of Education Regarding Students with Disabilities

by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

From the Editor: Almost overnight the COVID-19 pandemic has upended life as we knew it. The closure of schools across the United States left teachers and parents scrambling to devise effective ways for students to continue learning at home. Parents, teachers, and advocates raised concerns that the rights of students with disabilities might be swept aside during the crisis. In this article Carlton Anne Cook Walker, president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), reviews a series of directives issued by the US Department of Education regarding students with disabilities. She also explains what the National Federation of the Blind has done to ensure that the rights of blind students and other students with disabilities are not eroded during the COVID-19 crisis. Here is her most informative article:

When the COVID-19 pandemic gripped our nation in March, businesses and institutions across the country were ordered or strongly encouraged to close their doors. The closure orders have had a significant impact on public schools. Between March 16 and March 24, schools in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and all five US territories (American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Northern Marianas, and US Virgin Islands) were under state orders or recommendations to shut down. While this time period encompassed the scheduled spring break for some schools, most had ten to thirteen weeks of the school year remaining when the shut-down orders were issued.

Guidance from the United States Department of Education

On March 12, 2020, even before state-ordered school closures took effect, the US Department of Education (USDOE) published guidelines specific to COVID-19-related school closures and the provision of special education services and FAPE (free appropriate public education) to students with disabilities. The March 12 document indicated that schools had no duty to provide education services to students with disabilities unless the school provided "educational opportunities" to students in regular education. In those cases, the USDOE recognized that schools must provide "equal access" to those educational opportunities and must provide FAPE to students with disabilities.

Ongoing controversy surrounds this USDOE position that schools only have duties to students with disabilities when they provide educational opportunities to nondisabled students. This has been the guidance of the USDOE in the Trump administration since at least September 2017. However, earlier guidance from the USDOE did not indicate that schools could avoid their responsibilities to students with disabilities by withholding educational opportunities from all students. The current guidance was not mentioned in 2014 (regarding educational services to students with disabilities during school closures related to the Ebola pandemic) or in 2012 (with regard to areas ravaged by Hurricane Sandy), both occurring under the Obama administration.

Scapegoating of Students with Disabilities

By advising school officials that they could avoid their legal obligations to students with disabilities, USDOE opened Pandora's box. As schools began to close their doors, many school officials declared that they would not offer any instruction to any students, and they blamed students with disabilities for this decision. These school officials opined that it was too difficult to provide services to students with disabilities via distance instruction. They shared with the general public their fears of an avalanche of litigation resulting from their failure to follow students' IEPs (individualized education plans) during the crisis.

These claims were not well founded. First, during in-person instruction, many schools routinely have violated provisions of students' IEPs on a regular basis. Braille materials are delayed, filled with errors, or nonexistent. Inaccessible materials, particularly educational software and websites, are used routinely. Far from being fearful of litigation, some school officials routinely dismiss parental complaints about IEP violations. They know how difficult, time-consuming, and expensive it is for parents to hold school officials accountable in administrative hearings and in court. If these recalcitrant school officials were truly afraid of IEP-related litigation, blind students would be receiving accessible materials on time, Braille instruction early and often, adequate and age-appropriate cane travel instruction and use, and access to necessary accessible assistive technology throughout school and at home.

In fact, for most blind students the transition from in-person instruction to at-home distance instruction should be an easy one—at least if the district has been following federal special education law by providing accessible materials and assistive technology for the student to use at home. Moreover, for years, quality disability-related education services (such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy) and blindness-specific instruction (such as Braille instruction, training in the use of accessible technology, and cane-travel instruction) frequently have been provided through distance instruction. Claims that these services cannot be provided remotely are either a result of ignorance or of intentional misdirection.

Blaming of disabled students for the lack of instructional services to all students created a backlash against students with disabilities. Across the country, parents of nondisabled students began to complain that their children were being left behind because of "those children." Even some parents of children with disabilities, including parents of blind children and of blind children with additional disabilities, joined the utilitarian chorus: "So long as the majority of students are being served, it's reasonable to ignore the education of disabled students."

On March 16, twenty-four states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico announced school closures. On the same day, the USDOE published another document addressing new COVID-19-related concerns affecting schools. Notably, and possibly a result of the growing backlash against disabled students, the USDOE explicitly addressed the affirmative duty of schools to "take appropriate action to investigate or otherwise determine what occurred when responding to reports of bullying and harassment of students based on actual or perceived disability, race, color, or national origin." This document also reiterated the March 12 guidance regarding duties to disabled students. It noted that IEP team meetings need not be held in person and that evaluations not performed in-person could continue during school closures.

The next day, on March 17, the USDOE's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) put out a YouTube video and a press release confirming schools' legal obligations to disabled students and pointing out the feasibility of meeting those obligations. "Online learning tools must be accessible to students with disabilities," the USDOE stated, "and they must be compatible with the various forms of assistive technology that students might use to help them learn." Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Kenneth L. Marcus also advised, "Students with disabilities must have access to educational technology utilized by schools, and OCR will continue to work to ensure that no student is excluded from utilizing these important tools."

Good Guidance, Bad Example

By March 20, nineteen more states closed their schools, bringing the total number of states with mandatory closures to forty-three. The next day, on Saturday, March 21, the USDOE issued another document, apparently seeking to spur school district officials to meet their legal obligations to students. This new USDOE guidance repeated earlier guidance and directly addressed concerns schools had put forth regarding special education services. While it acknowledged that some services, including "hands-on physical therapy, occupational therapy, or tactile sign language educational services" cannot be provided through distance education, it reminded school officials that many special education services can be offered using distance education.

Unfortunately, it appears that this guidance was hastily written. It offered an example wherein the USDOE advised that it would be permissible for a teacher to provide written educational materials to sighted students and offer only audio access to a blind student. However, long-standing federal law has not been changed due to the COVID-19 crisis, and a closer look at the language used in the guidance makes it clear that this is a very narrow example that cannot be applied to most blind students. The blind student example in the new USDOE guidance reads as follows: "For example, if a teacher who has a blind student in her class is working from home and cannot distribute a document accessible to that student, she can distribute to the rest of the class an inaccessible document and, if appropriate for the student, read the document over the phone to the blind student or provide the blind student with an audio recording of a reading of the document aloud."

Please note important conditions contained in this example. For the read-aloud to be permissible, the teacher would need to be unable to "distribute a document accessible to" the blind student. This should be difficult to prove because, presumably, the school provided Braille or accessible electronic documents before the school closures. Braille production does not require hands-on interaction with a student; it only requires the embossing of educational materials that should be no more difficult than the printing of those same educational materials. Alternatively, an accessible electronic file could be used by the Braille reader with a school-provided refreshable Braille display, or it could be embossed at home on a school-provided embosser.

Fortunately, the USDOE example notes that the teacher may read the materials aloud or provide the student with an audio recording only "if appropriate for the student." If the student needs to interact with the text (as all of the nondisabled students get to do), audio alone would likely not be appropriate for the student. If nondisabled students are provided with text to access the assignment, schools need to prove why blind students do not need the same access to text.

The March 21 USDOE "blind student" verbiage evidenced a lack of understanding about accessible education options for blind students, especially with regard to distance learning. The example of read-alouds was behind the times given present technology. It is unfortunate that the USDOE chose the example they used, but it certainly does not mean that schools can shrug off their responsibilities under federal law to every blind student by simply providing an audio version of materials provided to nondisabled students in readable text.

COVID-19 School Closures Do Not Alter Federal Law

USDOE guidance made clear that schools must provide all IEP services, including special accommodations and modifications (SAMs), unless they cannot do so. Schools should work with parents to find ways to deliver IEP SAMs, beginning with methods used before school closure and methods long accepted under federal law. These methods may include the drop-off of materials, distance instruction, and provision of accessible assistive technology at home. These methods can be incorporated into the current IEP as an amendment for which no formal meeting needs to be held. If the school and parent cannot agree, the IEP team should meet (using distance technology) to discuss providing IEP SAMs during school closure.

As noted above, IEP and evaluation meetings need not be held in person, and there are no provisions for timeline extensions due to school closures. These matters will likely be very case-specific, but schools that fail to hold timely IEP meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic may find themselves out of compliance when schools, enforcement agencies, and courts reopen.

Congress Invites Changes to Federal Law

The USDOE has taken a clear and unequivocal stance that COVID-19 has not changed federal law and that students with disabilities still have rights to FAPE. However, some interest groups have asked Congress to change federal law and strip disabled students of their rights. In fact, drafts of the landmark CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) contained a provision to allow USDOE Secretary Betsy DeVos to grant wide-ranging waivers to states that would cause disabled students to lose significant substantive and procedural rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 for a minimum of twelve months. The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and other disability-rights organizations jumped into action. Members from across the nation asked their federal representatives in the House and Senate to vote against any law that would take away students' education and civil rights.

Our advocacy worked—to a point. The final CARES Act contained a section titled, "National Emergency Education Waivers." In part, this section directed Secretary DeVos to submit within thirty days a report recommending never-before-available waivers of the IDEA, the Rehabilitation Act, and two other federal statutes related to education and civil rights of disabled individuals during the COVID-19 emergency. Congress placed no restrictions on the type or duration of the waivers Secretary DeVos could recommend, meaning that students with disabilities might lose all of the education and civil rights protections that have been available to them for more than three decades.

Once again, the NFB and other disability advocacy organizations mobilized. We urged our members to continue communications with their congressional representatives, but we did not stop there. On April 10 our President, Mark A. Riccobono, sent a letter to Secretary DeVos, urging her to recommend no waivers of these important laws. President Riccobono's letter emphasized three important points: (1) Waivers of these laws would not "meet the needs of students" as required by the CARES Act and would, instead, keep student needs from being met. (2) The USDOE had provided the same school closure guidance to schools since September 2017, so schools should have been prepared to follow federal law during any unforeseen school closures. The letter noted, "While the COVID-19 emergency is widespread, its impact on education at the local level is far less than in previous state, national, and international catastrophes. LEAs [local education agencies] impacted by COVID-19 have far more resources than those impacted by hurricanes and other natural disasters." (3) Some schools and organizations such as the NFB successfully have provided accessible instruction and resources despite school closures, providing evidence that schools can follow the law, as written, without waivers of education and civil rights for students with disabilities, including blind students. Here is President Riccobono’s letter:

April 10, 2020

The Honorable Betsy DeVos Secretary
United States Department of Education 400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202

RE: CARES Act Education Waivers

Dear Madam Secretary:

Section 3511(d)(4) of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) requires that you submit a report to Congress “with recommendations on any additional waivers under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1401 et seq.), the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 701 et seq.), the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (20 U.S.C. 6301 et seq.), and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (20 U.S.C. 2301 et seq.).” As President of the National Federation of the Blind, the largest organization of blind people in the United States, I urge you to refrain from recommending any additional waivers under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. No additional waivers are necessary to meet the needs of students during the emergency, and none should be recommended to Congress.

Emergencies have long been part of the educational landscape. In recent years, several states and local educational agencies (LEAs) across the country have faced emergency situations, including hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters, requiring the long-term closure of schools. These emergencies often left entire communities without internet, power, or shelter.

Despite these severe situations, Congress has never sought to allow the Secretary to waive provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) through any legislation addressing national crises. While the COVID-19 emergency is widespread, its impact on education at the local level is far less than previous state, national, and international catastrophes. LEAs impacted by COVID-19 have far more resources than those impacted by hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Moreover, the Department of Education (“the Department”) has provided guidance to LEAs for years regarding their responsibilities to provide their students with disabilities free appropriate public education (FAPE) during emergency situations, including school closures. States and LEAs across the nation received notice of their disaster-related responsibilities in US Department of Education guidance issued in September 2017. The Department reissued that guidance in September 2018, and the COVID-19 outbreak guidance issued in March 2020 remains identical.1 Certainly more than two years is adequate. Many LEAs across the nation are following the Department’s guidance and providing FAPE to their students with disabilities, including blind students.2 They utilize accessible technological solutions for distance learning, and they continue to provide blind students the materials and tools they need at home to learn.3 Given that many LEAs are already meeting their long-known responsibilities without waivers, it is clear that waivers are not “necessary” to allow “States and local educational agencies to meet the needs of students during this national emergency.”4

Some states and LEAs are focusing their efforts on planning their waiver requests in anticipation of your recommendations to Congress, as opposed to meeting their legal obligations to provide FAPE. Blind students, and other students with disabilities, should not be stripped of their rights to FAPE simply because some LEAs have not done their due diligence for years and now seek to further avoid their legal obligations. Our nation benefits when these students receive the FAPE they need to be ready for post-secondary education, post-secondary employment, and living independently. Failing LEAs should not be rewarded for their multiple and long-term failures to comply with IDEA, Section 504, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

LEAs may use IDEA Part B funds to mitigate the damage caused by their lack of preparedness. Additionally, the CARES Act also provides a tremendous amount of financial support for states and LEAs in this time of national emergency. Section 18003 provides $13,229,265,000 dedicated to elementary and secondary schools, and Section 18003(d) emphasizes the use of these funds for underserved student populations, including students with disabilities.5 With this massive appropriation, even unprepared LEAs can meet their legal obligations to the students they serve. Waivers that will allow a further delay of educational services are in no way necessary.

The National Federation of the Blind and other organizations have stepped up to provide educational opportunities for blind students and their families during the COVID-19 emergency. Our Distance Education Resources provide interactive online lessons, how-to videos, and written lesson ideas to meet the educational needs of blind students. LEAs receiving federal money can do the same.

Without the unnecessary crutch of waivers, LEAs can focus on meeting their students’ needs. With the additional funds from CARES, LEAs can implement or enhance systems to deliver high-quality and equitable educational opportunities to their blind students and other students with disabilities. As a father of two blind daughters, I urge you to report to Congress that no waivers are necessary and to encourage underperforming LEAs to reach out to, and learn from, successful LEAs and organizations like the National Federation of the Blind.

Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind

Advocacy Works!

Many advocacy groups urged Secretary DeVos to grant only limited waivers, but others believed that broad waivers would be granted. On April 27, Secretary DeVos issued her report, and she rejected calls for waivers of substantive rights of students with disabilities. Her report noted, "Schools can, and must, provide education to all students, including children with disabilities." Further, the report stated, "The needs and best interests of the individual student, not any system, should guide decisions and expenditures," and "Services typically provided in person may now need to be provided through alternative methods, requiring creative and innovative approaches."

The press release accompanying the secretary's report presented the same focus on student need found in President Riccobono's letter: “ . . .there is no reason for Congress to waive any provision designed to keep students learning. With ingenuity, innovation, and grit, I know this nation's educators and schools can continue to faithfully educate every one of their students."

Of the waivers Secretary DeVos did recommend, most dealt with allowing agencies to have more time to spend funds so that they will not lose them, granting extended time to complete service obligations tied to scholarship funding, and other administrative functions unrelated to direct services. One of the waivers Secretary DeVos recommended provides additional protection for disabled children who receive early intervention services. It allows those services to continue past the child's third birthday until school-age services begin. Another waiver allows vocational rehabilitation agencies "to replace expired or spoiled food products at Randolph-Sheppard vending sites required to close due to COVID-19, thus allowing facilities to reopen more efficiently following the COVID-19 pandemic." Each of these waivers increases the rights of disabled individuals rather than limiting them, as some groups had requested.

The National Federation of the Blind Continues to Support Students and Families

The National Federation of the Blind blog, "Don't Be a Barrier: Be Accessible NOW," highlights existing and new NFB resources that set forth legal protections for blind students of all ages. On March 16, a blog post requested participation in the NFB Education Technology Survey designed to gather data for advocacy purposes. It encouraged parents and teachers to report accessibility-related concerns by emailing [email protected].

Many schools were not adequately prepared for a long-term closure. Administrators and educators struggled to determine what, if any, education would be provided to students. Despite the guidance from the US Department of Education, many states and local school districts were reluctant to embrace their mission of education. Sadly, many blind students and their families were left without instruction, accessible materials, or assistive technology.

As Dr. Kenneth Jernigan often said, "If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance." Yet, during the COVID-19 crisis, too many blind children across the country were not receiving any education from their schools. On March 24, the NFB launched a Distance Learning Resources initiative that provides blind children and their families with fun, accessible activities, interactive Zoom lessons, Braille book readings, and how-to videos in which blind adults demonstrate nonvisual methods of performing tasks around the house.

On May 4, one week after Secretary Devos’ report, NFB President Mark A. Riccobono sent a letter to the Chairs and Ranking Members of the US Senate and US House Committees overseeing education, urging Congress to accept the very limited waivers Betsy DeVos recommended and to expand two of them in order to, “improve educational opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic and [to] protect students with disabilities whose needed services were adversely impacted by unplanned school closures” and “help Randolph-Sheppard entrepreneurs reopen their business, return to work, and employ their workforce.” Here is his letter:

May 4, 2020
The Honorable Lamar Alexander
Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
United States Senate
455 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Robert “Bobby” Scott
Committee on Education and Labor
United States House of Representatives
1201 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
The Honorable Patty Murray
Ranking Member
Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
United States Senate
154 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Virginia Foxx
Ranking Member
Committee on Education and Labor
United States House of Representatives
2462 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Alexander, Chairman Scott, Ranking Member Murray, and Ranking Member Foxx:

I write to you regarding Secretary DeVos’s report required under Section 3511(d)(4) of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The National Federation of the Blind is pleased that no objectionable waivers undermining the educational rights of blind students were included in the report. This correspondence highlights two of the Department of Education’s recommended waivers, along with two additional legislative proposals to Congress that would improve the lives of blind Americans and students with disabilities. As President of the largest organization of blind people in the United States, I urge Congress to incorporate these four waivers in upcoming coronavirus legislation.

We commend Secretary DeVos for including “explicit authorization for Part C services to continue during the delayed Part B transition evaluation timeline,” so that children with disabilities are eligible for Part C services until a determination is made for Part B services. Prior to this national crisis, toddlers with disabilities would often go without services for weeks after their third birthday simply because their evaluation, determination of eligibility, and overall transition to Part B services were not conducted in a timely manner. As such, the National Federation of the Blind recommends the granting of this waiver, so that toddlers with disabilities may continue to receive Part C services during these unprecedented times.

We also recognize that Part B services have been impacted by this national crisis, and students with disabilities who are close to exiting services, due to age or high school graduation, need those missing services so that they will be prepared for post-secondary education, post-secondary employment, and living independently. We urge Congress to extend Part B eligibility for services for twelve months after a local education agency’s resumption of in-person instruction or eighteen months after the end of the child’s IEP eligibility (based on age or graduation from secondary school), whichever occurs later by granting transition waivers to all students within twelve months of exiting IEPs: Section 612(a)(1)(A) of the IDEA (20 U.S.C. § 1412(a)(1)(A)).

We agree with the Secretary of Education’s proposed waiver authority under the Rehabilitation Act, which allows the use of FY2020 vocational rehabilitation funds to replace spoiled and expired supplies for Randolph-Sheppard businesses following the COVID-19 emergency. This will aid blind vendors in reopening Randolph-Sheppard facilities after the pandemic.

In addition to the Secretary’s recommendation above, we urge Congress to grant a waiver to the Rehabilitation Act allowing states to spend rehabilitation funds to ensure a fair minimum return for all Randolph-Sheppard vendors. We propose the below language, which states, “State agencies designated by 20 U.S.C. 107(a)(5) may use funds appropriated pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 701 Sec. 110 to assure a fair minimum return to blind vendors operating vending facilities on federal and other properties for a period of time not to exceed September 30, 2021.” This will ensure that blind merchants are provided a fair and equal opportunity to strengthen and maintain their businesses long after this unique national emergency.

These waivers will improve educational opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic and will protect students with disabilities whose needed services were adversely impacted by unplanned school closures. They will also help Randolph-Sheppard entrepreneurs reopen their business, return to work, and employ their workforce. We thank you for your thoughtful consideration and are happy to provide any additional clarification should it be necessary.

Mark A. Riccobono, President
National Federation of the Blind

cc: The Honorable Betsy DeVos, Secretary, United States Department of Education

Next Steps

While the USDOE has declined to request unnecessary waivers of the IDEA or the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, some groups are still clamoring for Congress to strip disabled students of their rights. If their efforts are successful, state departments of education around the country may request and receive waivers that will turn back the clock. Such waivers would enact into law substandard educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

We must urge our congressional representatives, our state departments of education, and our local school districts to focus on learning for all students. As President Riccobono noted, "Without the unnecessary crutch of waivers, LEAs can focus on meeting their students' needs. Underperforming LEAs [can] reach out to, and learn from, successful LEAs and organizations like the National Federation of the Blind."


1. “If an LEA continues to provide educational opportunities to the general student population during a school closure, the school must ensure that students with disabilities also have equal access to the same opportunities, including the provision of FAPE. (34 CFR §§ 104.4, 104.33 (Section 504) and 28 CFR § 35.130 (Title II of the ADA)). SEAs, LEAs, and schools must ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, each student with a disability can be provided the special education and related services identified in the student’s IEP developed under IDEA, or a plan developed under Section 504. (34 CFR §§ 300.101 and 300.201 (IDEA), and 34 CFR § 104.33 (Section 504)).”

From: “Non Regulatory Guidance on Flexibility and Waivers for Grantees and Program Participants Impacted by Federally Declared Disasters” (September 2017, https://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/sites/default/files/disaster-guidance.pdf), “Non Regulatory Guidance on Flexibility and Waivers for Grantees and Program Participants Impacted by Federally Declared Disasters” (September 2018, https://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/disasters/disaster-guidance.pdf), and “Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 Outbreak” (March 12, 2020, https://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/qa-covid-19-03-12-2020.pdf).

2. Due to the long-term nationwide shortage of professionals in blindness education, many blind students have been receiving services using distance technology tools for years. School closures should have no impact on blind students receiving education in this manner.

3. Since August 2006, IDEA regulations have required IEP teams to provide assistive technology at the student’s home if access is necessary for the student to receive FAPE.” 34 C.F.R. section 300.105(b).

4. Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Section 3511(d)(4).

5. This grant of more than $13.2 billion represents an almost doubling of the Fiscal Year 2020 final federal IDEA Programs appropriation of $13.86 billion and more than a fifty percent increase of the $26.1 billion federal appropriate for Elementary & Secondary Education. From: http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/Final-FY20-Appropriations-for-Education-Related-Discretionary-Programs-with-State-Tables.pdf

A US Diplomat with an Extraordinary Global View

by Marc Lacey with Prior Beharry

From the Editor: It was with profound sadness that we heard about the death of Rami Rabby on April 17, 2020. Rami died in Israel from cancer at age seventy-seven. As a tribute to him, we are running an article which originally appeared in the October 2007 issue of the Monitor. Here is how it was originally introduced:

Editor’s Note: One of the more memorable battles that NFB members have fought was the one to win the right for blind people to serve overseas in the United States Foreign Service. An NFB leader, Rami Rabby, who had served as president of the NFB of Illinois and secretary of the National Federation of the Blind, was interested in joining the Foreign Service and was formidably equipped to serve his adopted country in that capacity. But the State Department had other ideas. The discussions were difficult, and our efforts to educate department bureaucrats culminated in a congressional hearing that dozens if not hundreds of us attended. The result was a victory that changed the lives and prospects of a handful of blind Americans who wish to work for the Department of State in other countries. More broadly, it removed a general barrier for all blind people.

It hardly seems possible to those of us who remember the original fight that Rami Rabby is now retiring from the Foreign Service. On July 7, 2007, the New York Times carried a story about Rami’s career. Here it is:

As chief of the political section at the American Embassy here for the last two years, Avraham Rabby has had the job of surveying Trinidad's political landscape for Washington. The fact that he has not actually seen the Caribbean island—or any of the places on five continents where he has been posted—has not stymied him.

"I necessarily listen more than a sighted person would," he said. "If I'm walking along a street, I can tell there is a building next to me because of the echoes of my feet or my cane. A blind person sees the world differently from a sighted person. Our impressions are no less valid."
  Mr. Rabby, who lost his sight at the age of eight because of detached retinas, is the State Department's first blind diplomat. It is an achievement he fought for in the 1980s, passing three written entrance exams and two oral exercises along the way. But even then the State Department barred him from the diplomatic corps.

"You don't ask a blind person to drive a bus or be a bank teller," George S. Vest, who was the personnel director for the Foreign Service, explained in a 1988 interview. "There are jobs which are dangerous or unsuitable for them. And in the Foreign Service we're full of jobs like that."

The department contended that diplomats, blind ones included, had to be able to work anywhere in the world and to work with confidential documents without any outside aid. In addition, State Department officials said diplomats had to be able to pick up on nonverbal cues, such as winks or nods, which can sometimes have more meaning than the words being uttered. But Mr. Rabby illustrated another essential quality of diplomats: perseverance. "No international treaty has ever been decided on the basis of a wink or a nod," he retorted, after hiring a lawyer and challenging the State Department's policy, which dated from the eighteenth century.

Aiding Mr. Rabby's effort was a federal law barring the government from disqualifying prospective employees because of disabilities. Eventually, after the news media and Congress found out about his case, the State Department reversed course. The new policy would consider disabled diplomats on a case-by-case basis. Mr. Rabby became case No. 1.

In 1990 he was off to London, where he was posted at the embassy there as a junior political officer. He moved next to Pretoria, South Africa, where Nelson Mandela had just been freed from prison and where Mr. Rabby witnessed the country's first free elections. "It was one of the most stimulating experiences in my life," he said, noting that he was one of the embassy's election observers.

"People ask me how I can assess a political rally if I can't see it," he said. "I tell them that I listen to the crowd and to the speakers. You can sense what is going on."

He spent time in Washington at the State Department's Bureau of Human Rights and in postings in Lima and New Delhi. During a stint at the United States Mission to the United Nations, he helped write resolutions dealing with literacy, global health, and the rights of the disabled.

His final posting—he retired at the end of June at the mandatory retirement age of sixty-five—was to Port of Spain, where he became an expert in Trinidad's political system, which has long been divided between parties, one predominantly Afro-Trinidadian and one Indo-Trinidadian. When journalists descended on Trinidad recently in search of information on the suspected plot to set off a bomb at a fuel line at Kennedy International Airport that was traced back to this Caribbean island, he became one of the officials to talk to.

"A diplomat does a lot of writing, a lot of reading, a lot of thinking, a lot of talking and has to attend a lot of meetings," he said. Thanks to technological advances and a full-time assistant, Mr. Rabby could do all of those things too. He wrote his cables to Washington using a machine that wrote in Braille. He then read them back to his assistant, Rhonda Singh, who typed them up. He also had a computer with a speech program that allowed him to listen to his email messages. As for tracking news developments, Ms. Singh, an American citizen who lives in Trinidad, read him the local papers. "I was basically his eyes," she said.

Born in Israel, Mr. Rabby, who is known as Rami, was sent to live with an aunt in England at the age of ten because his parents believed there were better schools for the blind there. A Hebrew speaker, he quickly mastered English at Worcester College for Blind Boys.

"I remember the headmaster used to go out and speak to groups about the school, and he used to say that we teach our boys to stand on their own two feet and, if necessary, to step on yours too," Mr. Rabby recalled. He went off to Oxford, where he studied French and Spanish. Finding a job after college proved a challenge. "Time and time again I met recruiters who felt that a blind person could not work in management," he said in the British accent that he has never lost. Eventually he joined Ford Motor Company in Britain, where he worked in human resources. After about a year he moved to the United States and earned an M.B.A. at the University of Chicago.

After graduation in 1969 he sought out a management training program but had few offers after "dozens and dozens, if not hundreds" of interviews. He finally landed a job with a management consulting firm, Hewitt Associates, and later moved to Citibank. He also spent time as an independent consultant, writing a number of employment guides, including one giving advice to blind job seekers.

"One of my problems in my working life, after a few years I get a bit tired of what I am doing, and I want to change," said Mr. Rabby, who became an American citizen in 1980. It was while living in New York that he decided to make the jump into international relations, a longtime interest. The State Department's regular rotations of its diplomats proved a perfect fit. His fight to join the Foreign Service has helped others along the way. There are now four blind Foreign Service officers stationed around the globe, the State Department said, among about 170 disabled Foreign Service employees overseas.

Mr. Rabby said blind Foreign Service officers had recently been restricted from adjudicating visa applications because of their inability to verify photographs and signatures of applications. Mr. Rabby, who attributes the decision to the increased restrictions after the September 11 attacks, said he did visa work at the start of his career in London with the assistance of a reader, who verified documents for him. He asked the questions and assessed the responses.

"The State Department is not yet completely on the side of the angels," he said. A State Department official disputed that there was a policy in place restricting the assignments of blind diplomats. Decisions on assigning personnel, the official said, are made on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the law.

Even before Mr. Rabby headed out into the world as a diplomat, he was already testifying before Congress on his quest for the job. He said back then that he did not want to be put in a pigeonhole as a blind diplomat. "Blind people are as different from one another as sighted people," he told members of the House Foreign Affairs and Civil Service Committees in 1989. "There is no such thing as a category labeled 'blind.'"

Why I am a Federationist, and How the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois was Born

by Rami Rabby

From the Editor: We were fortunate to have Rami at the 2018 state convention in Illinois, and our affiliate preserved both audio and video from a presentation he made at the banquet. Rami’s Federation involvement exemplifies exactly what Federation involvement should be: he saw a need, at first a selfish need, then he saw the opportunity to help, he stepped forward as a leader, and later, when he needed help, he turned to an organization which was better able to help him because of the work he himself had put into it. Here is what he said to our good folks in Illinois:

Why I am a Federationist is inextricably linked to how the NFB of Illinois was born. On September 5, 1967, I was standing on the deck of the transatlantic liner The United States as it sailed past the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson River to the Port of New York. As a sighted child in Israel I had seen the movie called On the Town about three sailors on shore leave gallivanting around Manhattan among those amazing skyscrapers and having the time of their lives in an America of unlimited opportunities.

So my excitement and anticipation were at fever pitch as we docked at Pier 83. I was in a group of Fulbright scholars on my way to a master’s program in business administration at the University of Chicago. Our group leader had suggested to us that, before continuing on our separate ways to various US universities, we should consider spending a few days in New York in order to get used to the country which was to be our home for the next few years. So upon disembarking I loaded all, and I mean all, of my belongings into a taxi, and off I went to the Grand Central YMCA. Imagine my shock when the clerk at the reception desk told me I could not stay at the Y because "our insurance company will not cover us for the added risk of having you here." That was literally my first experience in the US. Fortunately, Dr. Jacob Freid, then executive director of the Jewish Braille Institute of America, found an alternative, more welcoming accommodation for me, but two days later I was hit with the second surprise. I knew absolutely nothing about the study of business administration since my BA degree at Oxford University in England was in French and Spanish. So I very much wanted to make contact with blind students in the US and particularly with blind business school students. I had heard of Recording for the Blind, now Learning Ally, so I was sure they would help me. I composed a formal letter of introduction and asked Recording for the Blind to mail it at my expense to all the business administration students registered with them. Here, too, the answer was no. "Our confidentiality policy would not allow us to do that," they said. At which point Dr. Freid said to me "You know, given your experiences at the Y and at Recording for the Blind, what you ought to do, once you're settled in Chicago, is get in touch with Kenneth Jernigan.”

So in March 1968 I called Dr. Jernigan, who invited me to visit him at the Iowa Commission for the Blind. After just half an hour with him I came to two life-changing conclusions: first, that I had met in Dr. Jernigan a true soulmate and kindred spirit, and second, that as far as my blindness was concerned, the National Federation of the Blind was my natural home. Dr. Jernigan urged me to go back to Chicago, contact as many blind people as I could, and invite them to the organizing meeting of the new NFB affiliate. Our initial core group included Steve Hastalis, Jim Nyman, and Steve Benson, among others. Our recruitment efforts were bolstered by the arrival of a team from the national office which included Ramona Walhof, Jim Gashel, and Mary Ellen Halverson.

On Saturday, August 10, 1968, in the Gold Room of what was then the Sherman House, now the Thompson Center in Chicago, Dr. Jernigan gaveled to order the inaugural meeting of what we then called the Illinois Congress of the Blind, which later, of course, became the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois.

We hit the ground running. Just two months later we got the legendary mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley, to proclaim White Cane Safety Day. We successfully lobbied the Illinois legislature to enact the White Cane Law. At our first state convention in 1969 none other than Archbishop John Cardinal Cody of Chicago delivered the invocation, and Congressman Abner Mikva came to express his support.

We went to war with the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind over its demeaning sheltered workshop practices and absence of blind people on its Board of Directors, and we demonstrated against NAC, which had accredited a number of agencies for the blind in Illinois.

In fact, our activism and influence were such that in 1975 Governor Dan Walker dispatched his top aide and troubleshooter, Steve Teichner, to address our national convention in Chicago. In his speech Teichner complimented the NFB, but he was astonished when, during the ensuing discussion, Dr. Jernigan produced an internal gubernatorial office memo from which he read to the convention what was obviously the Walker administration’s real thinking about us as follows: "The NFB of Illinois is the most vocal, politically active consumer group of all. They always seem to accomplish their goals, even if the mechanism is by embarrassment. Rami Rabby is a tough son-of-a-bitch. He will nail an opponent to the wall if he has to. You can tell him I said so. He is highly critical and considers himself anti-establishment. He is hard to work with, but you must do it; if you can co-opt him, you have 80 percent of the battle won.”

To which Dr. Jernigan reacted: "May all people feel toward us that way. It is not necessary to be loved, but it is essential to be respected."

I must say that for a brief moment I was taken aback when I heard myself described the way that memo did. But you know, deep down inside, I just loved it.

So why am I a Federationist? In large I am a Federationist for the same reason that I believe we are all Federationists: that is because the work we do in changing what it means to be blind, transforming public agency attitudes toward us, and spreading the message "live the life you want" is supremely important. But beyond that, my debt to the Federation has an added, more personal dimension to it. Before coming to the United States I had lived in four other countries: Israel, England, France, and Spain. In none of them was I ever politically engaged, either because I was a child as in Israel or because my studies and girls occupied all my time, as in England and France, or because speaking out against the government could land you in jail if not worse, as under Franco's dictatorship in Spain. So it was the Federation that taught me how to challenge government bureaucracies. It was the Federation that taught me how to negotiate the complexities of the legislative process and the judicial system. And, it was the Federation that taught me how to convince the media to report on us, not under the rubric of human interest but rather under the rubric of social revolution. Through the Federation I came to appreciate American democracy and America's open and freewheeling political culture. It is this appreciation which led me first to apply for and receive a green card, which allowed me to stay in this country, and then to seek and obtain US citizenship. That, too, is why I am a Federationist.

Of Sleeping Dogs and Prancing Ponies: It's Time for the NFB to Act on Discrimination Against Blind Hams

by Curtis Willoughby

From the Editor: Curtis Willoughby spent his career as an electrical engineer, no small feat given that the school to which he applied did not want to take him. In addition, more than a few would-be employers doubted his ability to do a job they might have. Curtis is a licensed amateur radio operator, more commonly known as a ham radio enthusiast. The largest organization representing amateur radio operators is the American Radio Relay League (ARRL), and as you will see from the email that is part of Curtis’s article, the organization publishes four magazines. Foremost among them is a publication called QST, a code meaning calling all stations. For a number of years this magazine has been made accessible by the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, but the technical content of many of the articles requires more than an audio representation. Amateur radio operators also participate in contests in which part or all of a weekend is given to a competition for the number of other operators one contacts, the number of states he or she may contact, or the number of countries he or she reaches. As Curtis notes, information from the library is often so delayed that blind amateur operators find the contests have come and gone before they read about them. This is not so much a criticism of the library but a statement that the ARRL should be producing accessible material and not rely on the library for the timeliness of its publications to blind people. Here is what Curtis says:

It has been several years since the National Federation of the Blind Amateur Radio Division had an all-out effort to get the nation's amateur radio organization known as the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) to eliminate its discriminatory practices against its blind members. We have been like sleeping dogs, but the ARRL just gave us a big kick. It publishes four magazines on the web in a form that is inaccessible to the blind, while claiming that all of its members can read them online.

When we were actively pushing for literature accessibility, several of the members wrote our ARRL board members concerning this discrimination and were ignored or told that someone would look into it. As unbelievable as it may sound, sometimes we were told that we should be satisfied that the ARRL's premier publication, QST, was available through the Library of Congress. Never mind that QST is delayed about a month to allow for it to be recorded, which often causes blind hams not to be able to obtain the rules for contests until the contests are over.

Many other groups and individuals are worked up about this, too, but none of them are as well organized or as influential as the NFB. It is time for us to act in such a way that will get the discrimination eliminated once and for all! I am planning to prepare a resolution for the Resolutions Committee this year that will condemn and deplore this discrimination and will demand an immediate end to it.

We have a lot of good friends in Congress now, but none so good as one who attended Dr. Jernigan's “caucuses” as described in the James Omvig book Jernigan in His Own Words. He has been our friend ever since, and I think he would count it a privilege to get some ARRL leaders into his office and read the riot act to them. It might go something like this: “Now you folks go out there and clean up after these ponies, and don't you leave anything lying in the street either, or we will have to crack the whip, do you understand!”

Here is an email I received from a ham, David Allen, from New Zealand:

Hi, Curtis. Seeing this should have excited me. It only frustrates me because I know that it doesn’t mean what it says. True, I am a member of this organization [ARRL], but my numerous attempts to get true accessibility on its radar has gotten me nowhere. Therefore, I am hoping you may be able to help. I got your address in an article on the NFB website. I might indeed find lots of good reading in QST and the other magazines, but only if I were sighted. Can we ever make them get it? The notion that my needs are met by QST that is being served up by NLS is laughable. I would hope that a resolution at this year’s convention might address this discriminatory practice.
Here is the email David received from the ARRL, precipitating his letter to Curtis:

ARRL members now have digital access to all four magazines! No matter your level of experience in ham radio, you’ll find articles and stories for you.

New ARRL Member Benefit

ARRL members will now receive digital access to four ARRL magazines beginning with its latest issues. Joining QST and On the Air on a digital platform will be the bimonthly editions of QEX, the Forum for Communications Experimenters, and NCJ, the National Contest Journal. QEX includes articles, columns, and other features ranging from construction projects to more advanced technical information in radio theory and practice. NCJ targets radio amateurs active in radio sport and includes scores, technical articles, contributions from top contesters, and advice for radio sport enthusiasts alike.

“All members can enjoy specialized content and a high-quality reading experience whether at their desk or on the go. Offering this suite of digital magazines is an opportunity for us to give members more of what they want while adding value to ARRL membership,” said ARRL Publications Manager Steve Ford, WB8IMY. ARRL’s digital magazine editions provide replicas of the printed editions with added functionality, allowing users to fully search issues, enlarge pages, share articles, and more. All four are easily accessible through any web browser from members-only links. The free ARRL magazines app also supports downloading complete issues for offline reading. It is available for iOS and Android in the Apple App Store and Google Play. For more information visit www.arrl.org/arrl-magazines.

Editor’s Note: For more information on this issue, contact Curtis Willoughby by email at [email protected].

A Hobby that Taught me the Value of an Education, the Need for Self-discipline, How to Raise Money, and the Value of Networking

by Gary Wunder

In recent articles about blind people both older and younger than I am, I have frequently heard them referred to as pioneers in going into the public school system. I started public school in 1961, and certainly teachers and administrators regarded what we were doing as a novel experiment, one that would free children from having to travel across the state to go to a residential school for the blind. That freedom, which many of us who got to stay at home appreciated, would come at a cost for far too many in my generation and the ones to follow. But at the time we were involved in a social experiment, and we firmly believed it was good, forward thinking, and progressive.

The public school I attended was Norman Elementary and was located in downtown Kansas City. I lived in the south part of the city, so a special bus was sent to get me and other children who did not live near downtown. The bus ride took about an hour each way, but there was not a complaint to be heard about the time on the bus because the public schools accepting blind people wasn’t considered a right, but an honor. My parents were grateful for and impressed by the fact that the school system would send the bus so far to help their child and even more impressed that there was such a program. There was no Public Law 94-142, no Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and I don’t believe I heard the words “free and appropriate education” until I was enrolled in college.

The school I attended had what we called a resource room. In the first few grades, this is where I spent all my time, and it was in this room that I learned the fundamentals that would see me through school: reading, writing, and the basic concepts of arithmetic. My instruction was in Braille, and on many mornings I would arrive at school to the sound of the Braillewriter embossing that day’s assignments. Ruth Thomas was a sighted teacher, and after I had used a Braillewriter for about a year, it seemed to me that her Brailling was exceedingly slow. In fairness what she lacked in speed was offset by her accuracy, and I took it as my job to work on that part of my Braille writing.

Miss Thomas was the woman who taught me to read, and I do not remember being told that the process would be difficult or cumbersome because I would have to learn 180 contractions before I could read. The books I got were written in grade two, and learning to read simply meant that this shape was for the word and, this shape for the word with, and this shape for the word for. I learned that the letter b standing alone represented the word but, c the word can, d the word do, and so on until we got to z which, when standing alone, meant the word as.

At the same time I was learning to read Braille, I was also learning to spell. Sighted people who read print did not know my special grade two signs and had to be content reading each word letter by letter. My spelling tests would ensure that I could write in a way they could read, the typewriter being shortly introduced into the curriculum. Oh how I wished they knew grade two when on my spelling test appeared the word knowledge, the word represented in Braille with the simple letter k.

In those first few years I got what today might be called a segregated education. But as I learned the basic skills, I first took one, then two, then three classes with the sighted children attending the school. By the time I was in fifth grade, the resource room was not so much a place of learning but a place to store my books between classes and to answer questions that for some reason teachers in the regular classroom could not address. Usually they had something to do with Braille and its special format requirements. Sometimes it meant asking my resource teacher to draw a picture, a graph, or a diagram.

While in the fifth grade I met a student who had recently come from the Missouri School for the Blind. When we would ride the bus together to and from school, he would tell me about all of the experiences he had way across the state in St. Louis. He rode a train; I had never ridden a train except at a zoo. He had ridden a Greyhound bus; I had only taken a short trip on one when our family went to see my father, who worked for a short time two hundred miles from where we lived. My friend had ridden in an airplane to get back and forth from school, but at that point in my life I had only seen model airplanes and heard the sound of jet engines. Did I bowl? No. I knew what a bowling alley sounded like from television, but I had no idea that a blind person could bowl. He said that the school for the blind had a bowling alley and that he used it several times each week. Did I have access to a swimming pool all year round? No, only in the summer, and even then it was rather crowded. He said that at the school for the blind children could go swimming anytime they wanted.

So, at the age of ten, I sat at the table with my parents and told them that I really needed to go where I could get a better education, and that was the Missouri School for the Blind. Just how they kept from laughing at a boy of ten telling them where he wanted to go to school I don’t know. They talked with me about how far away the school was and that I wouldn’t be able to come home every day. They talked with me about missing home and being away from my brothers and sisters. I listened respectfully, but what were brothers and sisters compared with bowling and swimming? With repeated urging my parents took me to the school, talked with officials there, and reluctantly had me admitted to start at the beginning of my sixth-grade year.
 I learned some great skills, and there is no question that I benefited from the experience in many ways. When at home, my clothes magically appeared in my closet and in my dresser drawers. At the school, I soon discovered that I did not know how to hang up a pair of pants or a suit coat. I did not know how to fold underwear or mate socks. I didn’t even know how to make a bed. In the dining room at the school for the blind we sat at long tables, and when we arrived, we found an empty plate in front of us. Serving dishes were passed, and I had to figure out how many scoops constituted a reasonable serving. For the first few weeks my helpings ranged from meager to more than my share, but eventually I figured it out. How much butter does one cut off a stick to cover a biscuit? When butter is in a bowl, what serving is appropriate to coat two pieces of toast? I had never thought of myself as sheltered or protected, but I certainly came away with a new appreciation for mom and how much she did for me and the rest of her children. I suspect my house parent thought her new charge a little dull, but she was patient enough to show me how to do these things once or twice and stubborn enough to let me succeed or fail on my own after that.

After the school for the blind I came home and went to a small public school that drew its students from three towns and the farms that separated them. In this school there was no resource room, and the school staff freely admitted that they knew nothing about educating a blind person. Their assumption was that I probably already knew what I needed to know about blindness and that together we would work out whatever obstacles presented themselves. Mostly they were right, but they had a little too much faith in my resourcefulness and self-discipline. When the school couldn’t provide me with books in Braille, I had no idea how to go about getting them, so I tried to use materials on tape for some subjects in which Braille was absolutely necessary. Algebra without a Braille book was a nightmare. Trying to learn Spanish without being able to see the spelling of words was quite difficult.

Despite the good intentions and educational resources available to me, I was not a good student. I was an average student. People would remark on this frequently, observing that someone who was as smart as I appeared to be should be doing far better. They attributed my poor performance to laziness and not applying myself. I didn’t like the label; it didn’t fit with my self-image, and fortunately it didn’t do much to mold it. Nobody thought I was lazy when it came to doing chores. Nobody applied that label when I was given work to do for pay and spent long days in the field putting up hay, cleaning bricks, or working in the sheltered workshop in Kansas City. So why was the label so liberally if sadly applied to my academic performance?

It is hard to know how valuable one’s reflections are after all this time, but I offer a few conclusions. For one thing, I had a hard time connecting the dots— a rather strange statement from someone who reads and writes Braille, don’t you think? People said I was mature for my age, but I think this only meant that I had a well-developed ability to talk and listen, spending a goodly amount of time with adults and being the oldest in my family. I cannot reconcile my failure to get Braille books that I desperately wanted with the fact that I knew of two agencies in Kansas City that did Braille transcription and was willing to pass that information along to anyone who might ask. To me, textbooks had come from the American Printing House for the Blind, and I had no idea how to ask them to send me the books I needed.

But I think a more accurate reason for my mediocre performance is that I did not really understand why I went to school. I went because I was told to. I went because I was a rule follower. I went because that was my assignment, just as my mother’s assignment was to clean our house and my father’s assignment was to bring home the bacon. But it took me a long time to capture the real why of school and the role it would play in my life.

I was reminded of all of this when I saw Curtis Willoughby’s article about ham radio. When I heard that people could talk with others in different cities, states, and even countries, I was intrigued. To say that I was enthralled with electronic gadgets would be an understatement, but when I decided to be a ham radio operator, I learned that it wasn’t as simple as buying a radio and getting on the air. One had to learn about basic concepts of electricity, about transmitters and receivers, about the characteristics of various frequency spectrums and how the bending of radio waves in the upper atmosphere would determine which part of the spectrum could be counted on for communication given the time of day, the distance involved, and even the place we were in the eleven year sunspot cycle. How were vacuum tubes constructed? What were their components? How did the vacuum tube actually serve to amplify a signal? Putting up an antenna was more than just dangling a wire out the window. Given the frequency one used, it had to be a certain length. How was that figured? I couldn’t go to my mother, my father, or any of my school teachers to find out.

So it was that at age thirteen, when I wanted to do something on my own and could not find a teacher, that I learned why I had been taught to read and write. For the first time it came to me that I could learn about the flow of electricity and the application of Ohm’s law, radio theory, and the regulations governing the amateur radio service. I could if I exercised self-discipline and the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic that I had too often viewed as boring tasks to be done with as quickly as possible. Although most who heard about my ambition to be a ham radio operator congratulated me, they had nothing to offer when it came to explaining all the material that would be on my test. Because it was a hobby and simply something that I wanted to do, there was no pressure from adults to do it. If I worked at it, it might happen. If I decided to let it go because it was too hard, no one in the family would criticize me because I was the only one who was invested in the idea of doing it.

For all of the enjoyment I have gotten out of amateur radio—learning the international Morse code and using it to communicate with people from around the world, serving to help people from around the country get corneas for transplant, handling messages from military personnel to their loved ones at home—the greatest gift I have gotten from amateur radio has been learning why I went to school and coming to see what I was taught as a way to educate myself on any subject I wished. Although I now live in an area that restricts the installation of antennas that can be used for worldwide communication, the fact that I am a ham radio operator continues to play an important part in my life. I now appreciate learning for the sake of learning. Although I don’t have the greatest mind in the world, I am convinced that I can learn most things if only I decide to invest energy into the task. It was the experience of having to find books without the assistance of a school librarian that taught me to be resourceful enough to find the materials I needed, and how many times that experience has paid off for me. And then there was the special experience of doing something that my family did not do that made me unique and caused me to know things they did not.

As a minor aside, once I studied the material, passed the tests, and got my license, I needed radio equipment. That took money. Where did money come from? Usually it came from mom and dad, but here another lesson was learned. My dad said that money came from work and that if I wanted some of it I better be prepared to do something to earn it. This hobby is the reason that I know how to put up hay, clean and stack bricks, put washers on bolts, and put together China markers. These activities would not play much of a role in my resumé today, but they served me well in my early years when people could see that I was not asking them for my first job.

I have written this piece in the hope that it will bring together several important points. Helping a child learn is extremely important, but getting him or her to see the reason why learning is important is every bit as significant. Be slow to label: is a child’s failure to do a thing based on laziness, or is it from not really understanding how it fits into what he or she will be expected to do in the future? Be aware that maturity is not indicated by having a good attention span and being able to understand and use big words; maturity also requires understanding something about the world, one’s place in it, and what will be expected to achieve one’s goals. Don’t discount the importance of a hobby as some of my family would do, seeing it as a distraction that might keep me from doing other more productive things.

I close with one final tribute to amateur radio. Young people are constantly told about the importance of building a network. That kind of talk was not fashionable in my time, but I unknowingly built one. When I moved to Columbia, Missouri, and began to converse regularly with residents who were ham radio operators, I especially enjoyed talking to a man named Pete and a friend of his named John. They would frequently talk with one another and welcome me into their conversation. When I went looking for my first job as a computer programmer, I got an internship at the University of Missouri Hospitals and Clinics. I told my two friends about it and went into a rather lengthy explanation of computers and the institution giving me an internship. They were ever so polite in laughingly telling me that they knew about computers, and they knew about the university hospital. Pete was the director of laboratories and had a substantial role in starting the hospital’s computer department and later the section that would develop programs for the department of pathology. Oh, and his boss John turned out to be the head of the pathology department, and although I can’t say whether my relationship with them had anything to do with it, I was offered a job after my six-week internship. Who knew? What a hobby, and to it I offer a most heartfelt thank you.

Audible Traffic Signals: The Technology, the Reality, and the Possibilities

by Curtis Chong

From the Editor: Curtis Chong is probably best known for his technical expertise and his long service as the chairperson of the computer science division. But he is not so easily pigeonholed. He has many interests, and almost everything he writes I find intriguing. He has a good sense of history, a good sense of what is going on in the present, and is very willing to offer his thoughts about what we should do in the future. Here is what he has to say about audible pedestrian signals:

Audible traffic signals (now called accessible pedestrian signals) have generated a lot of discussion (if not controversy). There are differing opinions about where and under what circumstances these signals should be installed. However, given the increasing complexity of traffic patterns in our cities today and the improvements in accessible pedestrian signal technology, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who would say that accessible pedestrian signals provide absolutely no benefit to the nonvisual pedestrian. The problem with these devices seems to be a lack of consistency as to how they behave and where they are placed. Should accessible pedestrian signals provide information using buzzers, beeps, clicks, recorded speech, vibrations, or some combination of the above? Should they generate a locator tone to help the blind pedestrian to find the signal pole? Does the nonvisual indication that the walk sign is on need to be generated all the time or only when requested? If the blind pedestrian must activate the nonvisual walk sign indicator, is it appropriate to require the pedestrian to press and hold the activation button or should a simple press be sufficient? Is it sufficient for the signal to indicate only that the walk signal has been activated or would blind pedestrians be well served if more information was provided during the crossing, for example, an audible homing signal on the other side of the street which tells the pedestrian in what direction to walk? At any given corner, where should the signal poles be placed for easy crossing, and at what height should the activation button be positioned? Should accessible pedestrian signals be installed at every signalized intersection or only at those intersections which are difficult or impossible to negotiate nonvisually?

The earliest audible traffic signals used loud buzzers or alarm bells to alert the blind pedestrian that the light was green. Later versions alternated between the sound of a chirping bird or a cuckoo clock, depending on what intersection had a green light. Other models generated repeating clicks to indicate the state of the walk signal: slow clicks when the signal was off and rapid clicks when it was on.

Accessible pedestrian signals with more modern technology generate a beep tone every second that (in theory) is meant to be heard only when the pedestrian is within ten or twenty feet of the signal, thus enabling the pedestrian to determine the location of the signal pole. The volume of the beep tone is supposed to vary depending on the level of ambient sounds. This type of accessible pedestrian signal continually beeps every second unless or until the pedestrian presses and holds the arrow-shaped button on the signal pole. Then, the signal will say something like, "Wait…wait to cross street name a at street name b." Then, when the walk signal comes on, the signal will say something like, "The walk signal is now on to cross street name a." On some accessible pedestrian signals, you will hear a voice counting down the number of seconds remaining before the walk sign will be turned off; on others, you will hear a louder series of tones which is supposed to serve as an audible homing beacon to guide the blind pedestrian to the other side of the intersection; and there are still others which remain silent during the walk phase. Some accessible pedestrian signals have Braille symbols on them to indicate which street is to be crossed using the signal; other signals do not. Some signals vary the volume of the locator beeps depending on the volume of ambient traffic noise; others do not.

Municipalities around the country have developed their own local policies and procedures relating to accessible pedestrian signals. Ideally, these policies and procedures are developed in cooperation with state affiliates and local chapters of the National Federation of the Blind; however, more often than not, cities make their own decisions about when and where to install accessible pedestrian signals and how they will be configured. When this happens, decisions are too often made based on what we in the National Federation of the Blind would call outdated stereotypical thinking about the characteristic of blindness. For example, some traffic engineers believe that accessible pedestrian signals should be installed near agencies for the blind where blind people are likely to cross the street. It never occurs to them to think that perhaps the agencies are encouraging their students to learn to cross streets where no accessible pedestrian signals are installed.

In the cities of Aurora, Colorado; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Des Moines, Iowa; Baltimore, Maryland; and Minneapolis, Minnesota (cities where I have lived), there are accessible pedestrian signals at some street crossings with locator tones for each signal pole along with speech to tell you when the walk signal is on. I don't know how these cities determined where to install these accessible pedestrian signals. I often found these signals at four-way crossings which would ordinarily not pose a problem for a blind pedestrian with decent independent travel skills.
In San Diego, California, I encountered accessible pedestrian signals which beeped and talked, similar to the ones in Denver. I appreciated the count-down timer which would tell me how many seconds were left as I crossed the street.

In the city of Honolulu, Hawaii, I remember that within a few blocks from the local agency for the blind, there were accessible pedestrian signals at a busy intersection which generated slow or rapid clicks to tell the blind pedestrian when the walk signal was on. Slow clicks meant that you were not supposed to cross; rapid clicks meant that the walk signal was on and that it was theoretically safe to cross. Moreover, while crossing, the blind traveler could hear clicking on the opposite side of the street which served as a homing beacon. There was no controlling mechanism to activate the nonvisual indicators; they were on all the time.

The majority of signalized intersections that we are likely to encounter today will not be equipped with accessible pedestrian signals of any type. We cannot know where, in specific cities, accessible pedestrian signals might be operating, let alone how each signal will work. Thus, as I see it, the best course of action for the savvy blind pedestrian to take is to assume that most of the time, street crossings will not be equipped with accessible pedestrian signals and plan accordingly. Agencies who provide independent travel training services to the blind should help their students to understand this reality and train them to be confident enough in their travel skills that they can cross all but the most complex intersections they encounter, regardless of the presence or absence of accessible pedestrian signals. We, the organized blind, should work with local governments so that nothing about us is done without us. Local chapters of the National Federation of the Blind should understand the local policies and ordinances that determine how, when, and where accessible pedestrian signals are installed, and we should all work with our local governments to establish uniform standards for accessible pedestrian signals that consider our real needs and avoid outdated stereotypical thinking about the characteristic of blindness.
Ideally, the installation, deployment, and operation of accessible pedestrian signals would be governed by a national standard which everyone agrees with. But, given the past history of this technology, I am doubtful that this will occur.

It's Habit-Forming

by Judy Sanders

From the Editor: Some people are blessed with having keen insights into themselves and others. Judy is one of these, and so often we are blessed when she shares what she feels and thinks.

This wonderful piece appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of the Minnesota Bulletin, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. This is how it was introduced:

Editor’s Note: I have known Judy Sanders since I joined the Federation over twenty years ago. In fact, she was one of the primary people who recruited me into the organization. If you know Judy, you know she is always learning something new and always willing to teach what she learns. In this essay, we discover the importance of keeping track of our possessions, and we also learn how to problem-solve when we inevitably lose track of something, as we all do from time to time.
We can mitigate the inconveniences of blindness by cultivating good organizational habits. One of the most important habits is to keep everything in its place. Having said that, we all know that we don’t always follow our own rules.

Whenever I come home, my cane goes in the corner by the front door. However, there was the time when it wasn’t there. A friend was picking me up, and we were in a hurry. I wanted to be outside waiting for her, but my cane wasn’t by the door. Trying a methodical search in all corners didn’t work. I was beginning to panic because I did not want to be the cause of us being late. Then came the lecture to myself. “Think back to when you came home! What did you do upon entering the apartment? What else can I use for a cane?”

I remembered that the phone was ringing, and I hurried to answer it. I widened my search beyond the corners to the pathway leading to the phone. Bingo! Stepping on it in the hallway made my day.

I now keep two canes in my corner by the front door. A few months ago I was watching the Home Shopping Channel, where they were demonstrating a small icemaker. They convinced me that it would be the perfect thing to make ice for my coffee or easily make ice for serving cold drinks to company. They promised that I would have it in less than two weeks, just in time for summer.

Upon getting the notice that the icemaker had arrived, I headed out the door to pick it up. It occurred to me that the carton would be heavy and bulky; so I unlocked my door for easier access on my return.

Our concierge offered to carry it upstairs, but I said I could manage. He said, “Well, at least let me press the button on the elevator.”

“Sure,” I said. “Please press three.” With my two hands full and my cane on my shoulder, I stepped into the elevator. (Maybe for next year’s essay I’ll write about cane technique.)

The elevator door opened, and I stepped out and walked down to the end of the hall.
Entering the apartment I immediately felt that something wasn’t right. I walked forward into the living room and went to place the package on the table—but there was no table! Carefully placing the carton on the floor I cautiously looked around. It took less than five seconds for me to realize that I was in the wrong apartment. Fleeing as quickly as possible with my bulky package seemed advisable.

Heading toward the elevator I knew my first step was to figure out where I was. Looking at the outside marker I discovered that I was on the fourth floor. (Let’s hear it for Braille signs!)

I headed down one floor and made the welcome trek to the right apartment. It felt good to be home! I was gratified to know that no one saw me.

I wanted to understand how this happened. Beginning with an examination of my own actions (or lack thereof), I realized that I did not pay attention to what was happening around me. The elevators in my building announce floors every time we stop. But I wasn’t paying attention.

And then I wondered why the concierge pressed four when I definitely said three. I learned from my reader that the address on my package was apartment 403. That was the number for my previous apartment.

And now comes the rest of the story. Two days after this incident I prepared to leave my apartment where the last thing I did was reach for my white cane. It is always in the corner by my front door. I know this because the first thing I do when returning home is to place it there. My corner should have two canes in it because of my extra cane in case one breaks. Imagine my surprise when I found only one cane! After time spent looking around my apartment, I sat down to think. Where was it?

The only possible conclusion was that the missing cane was in Apartment 401. I must have automatically put the cane in the corner upon entering the apartment and, because my hands were full and I was in a hurry, I left it behind. With much dread I walked upstairs one flight and approached 401.

Standing outside the door I hoped to hear nothing and that I might find an unlocked door. No such luck. Timidly, I knocked and listened as someone approached. “May I help you, a gentleman asked?” Sheepishly, I said that I had a question, and then I would explain. “Would you look behind your door and tell me if you see a white cane that looks like this one?” In an awed tone he said, “Why, yes there is!” I began the explanation by saying, “Just like you I left my door open. But I inadvertently came to the wrong floor carrying a large package. When I exited your apartment, I left my white cane behind.” The man exploded with laughter, and I joined in.

There must be a moral to this story; I will leave you to figure it out. I just thought it was funny.

Harry Gawith, Hardworking Sighted Federationist

by Ramona Walhof

From the Editor: Ramona Walhof is well-known to readers because of her numerous articles here and the books and other literature she has written on the subject of blindness and the National Federation of the Blind. Here she pays tribute to a longtime Federationist who served at all levels of the Federation and was as invested as any blind person in our work. Here is what she says:

Harry Gawith grew up on a ranch in eastern Oregon. After graduating from college, serving more than three years in the US army, and teaching school, he moved to Idaho to take a job as shop instructor at the Idaho Commission for the Blind in 1973. Immediately, he joined the National Federation of the Blind. Only a month after moving to Idaho, Harry rode a chartered bus across the country to New York City for the NFB convention and participated in the New York demonstration against NAC [then called the National Accreditation Council Serving the Blind and Visually Handicapped]. He was elected treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho in 1977 and was re-elected every two years until 2019.

In the commission shop where he taught, Harry was required to wear a blindfold when operating all the equipment. He was a good teacher, patient and creative. Harry drove vans to take students on many field trips: camping, woodcutting, exploring training centers in other states, and more.

In 1976, Jan Omvig and Harry Gawith were married. They worked together on many NFB projects. I first met Harry in 1982 when I was hired to direct the Idaho Commission for the Blind. There were many problems at the agency, especially a lack of funds. Part of the floor in the shop was made of wood and in very poor condition. There was concern that state officials might attempt to close the shop, so Harry proposed that he work with students to replace the wooden part of the shop floor with cement. I asked for a step-by-step plan, and Harry brought it quickly. First, all the equipment had to be moved. The entire wooden floor had to be removed and the supports underneath examined and reinforced. A frame for the new concrete floor was built; then a new concrete floor was poured and allowed to dry. We demanded that blind students must be involved in all these activities, and they were very eager to help. I was only the cheerleader. One of the students asked if she could call the local newspaper, and I encouraged her to do so. The process was completed in good time, equipment moved back into place, and everybody, (including Harry and I) learned from the experience. The young lady who called the press told me later that learning to use the jackhammer and being allowed to talk to the reporters was a turning point for her in her training. She was very angry about being blind and said so often, but this experience showed her that she could be productive and successful as a blind person, and she was.

Harry and the students did other projects to improve the commission building. The sidewalk they poured on two sides of the building is still in good condition after more than thirty-five years of Idaho winters. The shop floor was so exciting because it was the first-time students had been part of a major project to improve the building.

The Southwest Idaho Chapter of the NFBI operated a booth to sell cinnamon rolls at the Western Idaho Fair which ran for ten days each August. Harry chaired that cinnamon roll booth from the time it started until the time it was terminated, about thirty years. First it was operated from a tent on the grass; then we operated from a better booth which had to be constructed every year and torn down after the fair; then it was put on a trailer so it could be hauled in and hooked up quickly. Harry planned and led all these improvements. During the fair, he ordered frozen cinnamon rolls each day and oversaw the maintenance of the equipment and booth. Through the years thousands of dollars were raised for the Federation. Federation members, friends, and students gained valuable experience and confidence by baking, frosting, and selling these cinnamon rolls. At least one young blind man gained the confidence to go to work from his fair experience. Jan usually handled the scheduling of workers. Many stories can be told about building, painting, selling, and dealing with customers in conjunction with this cinnamon roll booth.

While I was president of the NFBI, Harry as treasurer was reliable and cooperative. He kept accurate books through many changes in reporting to state and federal officials. Harry and Norm Gardner (president of the NFBI before me) learned about computers. He learned to operate a Braille embosser which was kept in the Gawith’s basement. Our first embosser was fed paper through the bottom. We needed a table with a slot in the middle for the paper, so Harry built a metal cart on wheels for this purpose.

When the Southwest Idaho chapter of the NFBI began to hold an annual bike-a-thon, Harry helped with the shopping, loading and unloading tables and chairs, bikes, cases of soda and water, and all the gear we used. We wondered how we would get along without him. But when the time came, Harry was able to turn these jobs over to others, and our current bike-a-thon chair, Al Schneider was able to find replacements—not just one, but several.

Jan and Harry worked on many projects as a team. Most notable is our legislative banquet or luncheon. Invitations are designed and printed, then it is necessary to keep track of responses from legislators and collect ticket money from members. Together, the Gawiths did this for many years, through 2019 even though Harry's health was failing.

At national conventions, Harry wanted to be busy. I don't remember when he started working with Diane McGeorge distributing door prizes, but he did it for at least three decades. He also worked in the NFB store in the exhibit room as a cashier for many years.

Harry died December 26, 2019—too young at age 75—after a long illness. Knowing that 2019 might be Harry's last convention, NFBI president Dana Ard led the collection of personal notes and financial gifts, which she presented as a surprise to Harry at the banquet. He was very touched. It was the first and only time we heard him speak of his feelings. He made it clear that the NFB was an important part of his life and that the friends he made in the NFB were many and important. Few Federationists have contributed more over a longer period of time. We miss the booming voice that was Harry's and the wonderful worker he was. But most of all we miss our friend.

Leave a Legacy

For more than seventy-five years the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality, and with your support we will continue to do so for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by adding the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary in your will. A gift to the National Federation of the Blind in your will is more than just a charitable, tax-deductible donation. It is a way to join in the work to help blind people live the lives they want that leaves a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of blind children and adults.

With your help, the NFB will continue to:

Plan to Leave a Legacy

Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear creating a will or believe it’s not necessary until they are much older. Others think that it’s expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422, for more information. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.

Invest in Opportunity

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. A donation to the National Federation of the Blind allows you to invest in a movement that removes the fear from blindness. Your investment is your vote of confidence in the value and capacity of blind people and reflects the high expectations we have for all blind Americans, combating the low expectations that create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.
In 2019 the NFB:

Just imagine what we’ll do next year, and, with your help, what can be accomplished for years to come. Below are just a few of the many diverse, tax-deductible ways you can lend your support to the National Federation of the Blind.

Vehicle Donation Program

The NFB now accepts donated vehicles, including cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, or recreational vehicles. Just call 855-659-9314 toll-free, and a representative can make arrangements to pick up your donation—it doesn’t have to be working. We can also answer any questions you have.

General Donation

General donations help support the ongoing programs of the NFB and the work to help blind people live the lives they want. Donate online with a credit card or through the mail with check or money order. Visit www.nfb.org/make-gift for more information.


Even if you can’t afford a gift right now, including the National Federation of the Blind in your will enables you to contribute by expressing your commitment to the organization and promises support for future generations of blind people across the country. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422, for more information.

Pre-Authorized Contribution

Through the Pre-Authorized Contribution (PAC) program, supporters sustain the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind by making recurring monthly donations by direct withdraw of funds from a checking account or a charge to a credit card. To enroll, visit www.nfb.org/make-gift, and complete the Pre-Authorized Contribution form, and return it to the address listed on the form.

My Time at NFB EQ 2019

by Maura Loberg

From the Editor: Maura Loberg is the president of the Nebraska Association of Blind Students. She is currently a student at the Colorado Center for the Blind and is very close to graduation. She will begin class in the fall at Nebraska Wesleyan University, where she will be pursuing a double major in psychology and English. Lately, she has been spending her unprecedented free time baking, going on walks, listening to music and, what most benefits us, writing. Here is a speech she did in October at the NFB of Nebraska State Convention discussing her trip to and participation in the National Federation of the Blind Engineering Quotient (NFB EQ) program:

The revolving door opens, and the sounds of airport traffic fill my ears. Dozens of people line up for the noisy TSA machines, while others amble to the food court to grab their morning coffee. The rush makes my aunt visibly nervous as we walk toward the empty ticket counter.
Before I have time to load my behemoth of a suitcase onto the conveyor belt, I hear familiar voices saying my name. I say a brief goodbye to my aunt before I head over toward the comforting voices of another Nebraska friend’s family. As we all check in together, we run across the other two friends heading to the program; by the time we head to the gate, we resemble a small tribe.

Even with such great company, however, I still don't expect much from the program. For context, I had been to many similar science programs before (for both blind and sighted youth), and many of them were full of cranky teenagers and scatterbrained instructors who rushed through experiments like wildfire. I assumed NFB EQ would be quite similar, but, luckily, I was mistaken.

My three friends and I flew into BWI after a long layover, and we were met with anticipation and excitement from the NFB staff right when we landed at the gate. As soon as we got to the Jernigan Institute, I immediately heard familiar voices, music, and the unmistakable swipe of canes. I ran into several old friends in the Harbor Room, and, after several pieces of pizza and an unexpected conversation with an engineering professor, my hopes for the week were lifted.

NFB EQ was about re-imagining blindness in STEM fields, taking on the unknown, and, well, building stuff. And build stuff, we did. The first full day of NFB EQ we were told to build a rough model of the structure we were hoping to showcase at the end of the week. We were given no major rules; we needed to put our creative juices to work. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun throwing around ideas (and pieces of cardboard), for it set the tone for the days ahead.

Tuesday brought several tutorials on drawing with different dimensional views, cutting with handsaws, and using different measuring and organizational techniques. What amazed me was that there truly were no tasks we couldn't do: raised-line drawings were completed with sensational rubber blackboards, Braille rulers and straight-edges were readily at hand, and handsaws were distributed without fear for the students' safety. With these alternative techniques and tools, we were asked to start mapping out our structures, knowing that any kind of model we wanted to build for the exhibition was truly in our grasp.

Wednesday saw us take a tour of a post and beam facility, where we got up close and personal with a wooden bridge and climbed on stepladders into the rafters of an adjacent building constructed nearly a century ago. This gave us an idea of how to best support our structures. We also learned more than we thought was possible about load and calculation methods that engineers use in their everyday occupations. We were asked to put together towers in teams and had to see which ones would hold the most weight based on these calculations.

Thursday was a chaotic mess of events happening at once. We had to bear down and get our projects ready for the exhibition on Friday. The NFB Jernigan Institute's Members Hall was bustling with noise. The scratch of pens drawing detailed plans from the top, front, and right views; the cutting and hot-gluing of balsam wood in extremely specific measurements; and frantic whispers of the mathematical formulas behind our individual structure, which we had to write out and explain to the audience. I spent a lot of time that day cutting out the pieces of my design, which was called a Netflix room and was shaped like a hexagon.

Friday's exhibition got me in contact with some of the most important members of the NFB, and all the presentations were fascinating. I saw everything from simple square and rectangular creations to a nineteen-gon, which is exactly what it sounds like. It showed me just how creative and innovative we can be with the right tools and alternative techniques.

Luckily for us, we weren't just using our newfound vigor and overly caffeinated brains for all work and no play during the week. The staff of NFB EQ was extremely energetic and motivated, and they pushed us to explore the wonders of Baltimore and the potential we had to travel in diverse places. We went swimming in the lake, explored several areas downtown, and had a taco picnic at a nearby park, where we were free to go wherever we wanted. I ended up on the swings for three hours that night (I'm a child at heart.) We also played extreme games of accessible UNO and Apples to Apples while socializing with friends in the iconic Harbor Room. These fun experiences reminded me that, above the blindness and additional challenges, we were all just teenagers who wanted to have fun with our friends, and NFB EQ made that happen.

After all was said and done, I found myself flying to Omaha with a revitalized belief that I could truly achieve my dreams and do anything I set my mind to. I'd like to thank the Nebraska affiliate for its continuous support, as well as the entire National Federation of the Blind. I can no longer participate in these specialized STEM events now that I have graduated from high school, but I will keep the memories I made for years to come. The organization has done a truly remarkable job showing me I can live the life I want and that my blindness is not the characteristic that solely defines me or my future. I hope that these essential programs continue taking place. Even though I will not be pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering, or math, I hope that those who go down that career path can use these experiences to launch into new and exciting opportunities for themselves. So thank you, Federation family, for constantly inspiring me to think better, dream bigger, and live the life I want.

Convention Memory Minute Contest: Share Your First Convention Experience

by Tracy Soforenko

From the Editor: Tracy Soforenko is the chairman of our Kenneth Jernigan Fund. He brings us news about an interesting contest that will help us get to know one another a little better and promote another fine program conducted in memory of an outstanding leader and former president of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is what Tracy says:

In 2005, I attended my first convention where I learned the Texas Two-Step while wearing learning shades…well, no, I wore a pair of black socks over my eyes. That experience taught me that I could do anything.

For many, our very first convention becomes a life-changing experience. During the May 2020 Presidential Release, President Mark Riccobono shared memories from his first convention: dodging the persistent Buna Dahal who wanted him to buy a candy bar, exploring Disneyland with students from the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and putting together all the pieces of Federation philosophy at the end of the convention.

As a means of encouraging others to register for this year’s convention, we ask that you share a video or audio message about a special memory of your first convention in less than sixty seconds. By tagging your social media post with #NFB20 or submitting the entry directly to us by email or phone, you will be entered to win a cash prize and have your story shared at this year’s convention.

Contest Rules

We are seeking entries that are heartwarming, funny, and creative. All entries must:

How to Submit

Contest submissions can be made in several ways:

Note: Submissions by phone or email may be used on National Federation of the Blind social media.

Prizes and Award Announcement

The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee will review submissions and award the top three winners based on the creativity and impact of their stories. Submissions will be played during convention, and winners will be announced at the banquet.

Be sure to register for national convention to get the latest updates and agenda. You can register and learn more at nfb.org/convention.

The Give 20 Campaign

by Tracy Soforenko

From the Editor: Tracy is the Kenneth Jernigan Committee chairperson, and he writes with this announcement about the 2020 activities of the Jernigan Fund:

Each year, thousands of Federation members purchase raffle tickets to support the Kenneth Jernigan Fund. This fund provides financial assistance to support Federation members in attending their first convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Many of us received support to attend our first convention, and that first convention experience was life changing. We need to pay it forward.

In 2020, we still need your generosity to fund the great programs of the National Federation of the Blind. When you give twenty dollars or more between May 15 and July 18, you will be entered into the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Drawing to win the following:

Donations can be made online at www.nfb.org and selecting “donate.” Donations can also be made by calling our donation telephone line at 410-659-9314 and selecting option four to donate. You must specify the breakdown of your donation among the White Cane, Jernigan, and SUN funds in the notes field, and your donation will be counted for the drawing regardless of which fund you designate. The drawing is for individuals and is not intended for contributions by divisions, state affiliates, or chapters. The winner of the drawing will be announced on July 18 at the banquet. Help us share the Federation with others, and thank you for your generosity.

Celebrating the 2020 Braille Readers Are Leaders Winners

On December 1, 2019, Braille readers across the United States began to log the pages they read for the 2019-2020 Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. Sponsored by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, the contest was created as a way to encourage Braille literacy.
School-age participants entered in any of five categories: grades K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-8, and 9-12. This year's contest also included a category for adults who wished to hone their Braille reading skills. Altogether ninety-three contestants from twenty-two states took part in the 2020 competition.
At the close of the seven-week reading period, contestants submitted their reading logs. Based on the number of pages read, three winners were declared in each category. First-place winners were awarded $25, second-place winners received $15, and third-place winners and honorable mentions were awarded $10. Every participant was sent a packet of Braille-related gifts.

In addition to the regular competition, participants could be nominated to receive one of the Breaking Reading Limits Awards. These awards are given to readers who face special challenges in their effort to master Braille reading. Such challenges include, but are not limited to, being an English-language learner or having disabilities in addition to blindness.

For many participants the contest was an inspiring challenge. "I just want to say thank you for this incredible opportunity," wrote the mother of a sixth-grader from New York. "My daughter is so hopeful, and she really is going to try to read as much as she can, which will benefit her greatly. This contest is at the perfect time, just when she needed a boost." The mother of a fifth-grade student from Illinois wrote, "Thank you again for the opportunity for us to have Braille in our lives. As the mom of a son who has low vision due to a progressive eye condition, I welcome any and all ways to encourage my son to read more Braille."

One participant in the adult category was Caroline Karbowski of Ohio. A college student majoring in biology, Caroline has taught herself to read Braille tactilely. “The contest was a great way to practice,” she wrote. “It was a lot of fun.”

The top reader in this year's contest was Aisha Safi of Chevy Chase, Maryland. Aisha, who is in fourth grade, read a whopping 7,798 Braille pages! The following is a list by category of the 2020 Braille Readers Are Leaders winners:

First Place: Susan Ford, Boise, ID
Second place: Tara Chavez, Albuquerque, NM
Third place: Terry Wilcox, Des Moines, IA

Grades K-1
First place: Shaindel Eisenberg, Lakewood, NJ
Second place: Eliya Farnsworth, Mesa, AZ
Third place: Mason Bakken, Kuna, ID

Grades 2-3
First place: Clara Scelsi, Pell City, AL
Second place: Eleanor Mason, Wausau, WI
Third place: Aaliyah Ochoa, Mesa, AZ

Grades 4-5
First place: Aisha Safi, Chevy Chase, MD
Second place: Jace Lyden, Belle Plaine, KS
Third place: Zanyiah Bell, Bowie, MD

Grades 6-8
First place: Refael Shuter, Richmond Hill, NY
Second place: Mercy Rao, Columbia, MD
Third place: Isaiah Rao, Columbia, MD

Grades 9-12
First place: Ammar A. Tarin, Gilbert, AZ
Second place: Holly Connor, Clayton, MO
Third place: Samuel Thurston, Chesapeake, VA
Honorable mention: Kaitlyn Overshiner, Dain Bridge, IN
Honorable mention: Airel Schlosser, Indianapolis, IN

Breaking Reading Limits Awards
Saredo Goumaneh, grade 9, St. Cloud, MN
Jace Lyden, grade 5, Belle Plaine, KS
Paul Wales, grade 9, Silver Spring, MD

Congratulations to all of the 2020 Braille Readers Are Leaders winners!


Recipes this month were contributed by staff of the Colorado Center for the Blind, BLIND Inc., and the Louisiana Center for the Blind.

These recipes were chosen by the home management staff from each center. We understand that sometimes cooking for a crowd can be somewhat expensive. However, here we have a few recipes that you can make for the cost of a single NFB banquet ticket plus registration. These are perfect for any gathering or banquet night NFB party. It’s time to choose your own banquet adventure! Choose a salad, an entrée, a side, and a dessert to create your own NFB banquet at home.


Broccoli Salad
by the Louisiana Center for the Blind staff

For the salad:
2 bunches broccoli florets, washed and cut into small pieces
10 strips crisp bacon, crumbled
1/2 cup onions, diced
2/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup sunflower seeds

For the dressing:
1 cup Miracle Whip
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Method: Mix together in a large bowl, two bunches broccoli florets, washed and cut into small pieces; ten strips crumbled crisp bacon; 1/2 cup diced onions; 2/3 cup raisins; and 1/2 cup sunflower seeds. In a separate bowl, mix together 1 cup Miracle Whip, 1/3 cup sugar, and two tablespoons balsamic vinegar to make dressing. Add as much dressing to salad as desired and lightly toss.

Caprese Salad
by the BLIND, Inc. kitchen

The first item in any proper NFB banquet is the salad. Give the classic banquet salad an upgrade with this summer classic, Italian caprese. Here we used cherry tomatoes, but feel free to use whatever tomatoes you like. Buying in-season produce is often a good way to stretch those dollars. This recipe serves eight to ten.

3 containers cherry tomatoes washed and cut in half (roughly 3 pounds)
2 pounds regular low moisture or fresh mozzarella (extra points if you make your own)
About 40 basil leaves (sliced thinly)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar (optional)

Method: Wash and cut your cherry tomatoes in half. If using a larger tomato variety, cut into bite-sized pieces. Cut your low-moisture mozzarella into half-inch cubes. To make sure things are cut evenly, keep a reference piece next to you. Also, sticking the cheese in the freezer for ten minutes before cutting will firm up the cheese, making it easier to slice. If using fresh mozzarella, just tear it up into bite-sized pieces using your hands. Add to a large salad bowl with the tomatoes. Thinly slice your basil leaves. An easy way to do this is to pile a few leaves on top of each other and use a very sharp knife. Sprinkle the basil over the salad. Toss and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with olive oil and balsamic vinegar at the table, if using.

Chips and Salsa
by the Colorado Center for the Blind

We love this recipe as a fun and delicious alternative to a salad. It is best enjoyed with friends!

4 cloves garlic
1 jalapeño, seeded
1/2 onion
4 roma tomatoes, halved and seeded
Small handful cilantro
Splash lime juice
Heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 bag corn tortilla chips

Method: In a food processor mince garlic, then add jalapeño to ensure it’s well minced. Add cilantro, then onion, and pulse in order to keep chunky. Last, add tomatoes, lime, and salt; pulse until the desired consistency. Serve with chips. Quick tip: This recipe is even more delicious if you take the time to roast the tomatoes and peppers before blending.


Tacos Carne Asada
by the Colorado Center for the Blind

This recipe was chosen by the staff at the Colorado Center for the Blind. We love to share the kinds of recipes we might prepare with our students. Grilling on the patio is one of our favorite things to do in the summer; it’s a great way to bring everyone together. After inviting friends over one day and preparing this recipe, one of our instructors loved it so much he knew it had to be included as a banquet option. It’s a great recipe to share with your friends and enjoy while spending time outside in the summer.

For the tacos:
2 pounds flank or skirt steak, trimmed of excess fat
Olive oil, for coating the grill
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
16 (7-inch) corn tortillas
Shredded romaine or iceberg lettuce, for serving
Chopped white onion, for serving
Shredded Jack cheese, for serving
2 limes, cut in wedges for serving

Mojo: (marinade)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 jalapeño, minced
1 large handful fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 limes, juiced
1 orange, juiced
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

Pico de Gallo:
4 vine-ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 medium red onion, chopped
2 green onions, white and green parts, sliced
1 serrano chile, minced
1 handful fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 lime, juiced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Method: For the mojo: In a mortar and pestle or bowl, mash together the garlic, jalapeño, cilantro, salt, and pepper to make a paste. Put the paste in a glass jar or plastic container. Add the lime juice, orange juice, vinegar, and oil. Shake it up really well to combine. Use as a marinade for chicken or beef or as a table condiment. Yield: approximately 1-1/4 cups.

For the Tacos: Lay the flank steak in a large baking dish and pour the mojo over it. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour or up to eight hours, so the flavors can sink into the meat. Don't marinate the steak for more than eight hours though, or the fibers break down too much, and the meat gets mushy. Preheat an outdoor grill or a ridged grill pan over medium-high flame (you can also use a broiler). Brush the grates with a little oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Pull the steak out of the mojo marinade and season the steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Grill (or broil) the steak for seven to ten minutes per side, turning once, until medium-rare. Remove the steak to a cutting board and let it rest for five minutes to allow the juices to settle. Thinly slice the steak across the grain on a diagonal. Warm the tortillas for thirty seconds on each side in a dry skillet or on the grill, until toasty and pliable. To make the tacos, stack up two of the warm tortillas, lay about four ounces of beef down the center, and sprinkle with some lettuce, onion, and cheese. Top each taco with a spoonful of the pico de gallo salsa and garnish with lime wedges. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

For the Pico de Gallo: In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients together. Toss thoroughly. Let it sit for fifteen minutes to allow the flavors to marry. Yield: 2 cups.

Note: To make this dish vegetarian, substitute the carne asada with portobello mushrooms and proceed with the recipe as listed above.

Pollo a la Plancha (Chicken on the Griddle)
by the BLIND Inc. staff

We cannot have an NFB banquet without chicken. We drew inspiration from the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico, the home state of BLIND Inc.’s home management instructor. In this recipe, we marinade chicken cutlets in a flavorful marinade full of citrus and Caribbean seasonings. However, if you want to use boneless chicken thighs, pork chops, steak medallions, or large portabella mushrooms for a vegan alternative, by all means do it. This recipe is easily adaptable. The best part is that this recipe can easily be scaled up or down, and it is super easy to make. You don’t even need a griddle. A heavy cast iron or stainless steel pan will do just fine. Feel free to serve this with some of our suggested side dishes: rice and beans, roasted sweet or regular potatoes, fried sweet plantains, or any side dish of your choosing. It serves eight to ten. Recipe adapted from Serious Eats[.com].

8 medium cloves garlic, pealed
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice, from two large oranges (Sorry, carton orange juice will not do for this.)
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice, from about four limes
The zest of one of the oranges and two of the limes
1 teaspoon of cumin (extra points if it is freshly ground)
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
3 large onions cut into thick slices
20 chicken cutlets (about 4 ounces each) or 10 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut in half and pounded thinly with a meat mallet
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
Salt to taste
Oil for cooking

Method: For the marinade: Using a blender or food processor, purée garlic, orange juice, lime juice, zest, cumin, oregano, black pepper, and two teaspoons kosher salt. If you don’t have a blender or food processor, mince your garlic and add to a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, and mix to combine. Let marinade sit in the fridge for one hour to let the flavors meld. After an hour, remove from the fridge, and proceed with the recipe. Put chicken in a gallon-size plastic storage bag, or a glass baking dish. Pour the marinade over the chicken, and let sit for thirty minutes. Take the chicken out of the marinade and pat dry. In a large skillet or griddle placed on medium high—cooking in batches to avoid crowding the pan—cook chicken on each side for three to five minutes or until it is cooked through and golden brown. If cooking in batches, put cooked chicken in a very low oven to keep warm.

In the same pan you cooked the chicken, cook onion slices over medium heat for seven to ten minutes or until onions have softened and sweetened a little bit. Add a splash of water if onions start to burn. On each plate, place two cutlets and top with onions. Serve with your side dish of choice.

Buttermilk-Marinated Roast Chicken
by an LCB Instructor

This recipe comes from the book Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. I wanted to include this recipe not only because roasted chicken is delicious, but also as a tribute to Samin’s book, which has been enormously influential for me personally as a home cook and home management teacher. In her book, she does an incredible job breaking down the elements involved in good cooking, making great food seem both more beautiful and more accessible. I strongly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in improving his/her skills in the kitchen, both beginner and expert alike. Regarding this recipe, Samin writes: “The buttermilk and salt work like a brine, tenderizing the meat on multiple levels: the water it contains increases moisture, and the salt and acid it contains disables proteins, preventing them from squeezing liquid from the meat as the bird cooks. As an added bonus, the sugars in the buttermilk will caramelize, contributing to an exquisitely browned skin.”

One whole chicken (3-1/ 2 to 4 pounds)
2 cups buttermilk

Method: The day before you want to cook the chicken, remove the wingtips by cutting through the first wing joint with poultry shears or a sharp knife. Reserve for stock. Season the chicken generously with salt and let it sit for thirty minutes. Stir two tablespoons of kosher salt or four teaspoons fine sea salt into the buttermilk to dissolve. Place the chicken in a gallon-sized re-sealable plastic bag and pour in the buttermilk. If the chicken won't fit in a gallon-sized bag, double up two plastic produce bags to prevent leakage, and tie the bag with a piece of twine. Seal it, squish the buttermilk all around the chicken, place on a rimmed plate, and refrigerate. If you're so inclined, over the next twenty-four hours you can turn the bag so every part of the chicken gets marinated, but that's not essential. Pull the chicken from the fridge an hour before you plan to cook it. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, with a rack set in the center position.

Remove the chicken from the plastic bag and scrape off as much buttermilk as you can without being obsessive. Tightly tie together the legs of the chicken with a piece of butcher's twine. Place the chicken in a ten-inch cast iron skillet or shallow roasting pan. Slide the pan all the way to the back of the oven on the center rack. Rotate the pan so that the legs are pointing toward the rear left corner and the breast is pointing toward the center of the oven (the back corners tend to be the hottest spots in the oven, so this orientation protects the breast from overcooking before the legs are done). Pretty quickly you should hear the chicken sizzling. After about twenty minutes, when the chicken starts to brown, reduce the heat to 400 degrees and continue roasting for ten minutes and then move the pan so the legs are facing the back right corner of the oven.
Continue cooking for another thirty minutes or so, until the chicken is brown all over and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. When the chicken is done, remove it to a platter and let it rest for ten minutes before carving and serving. Serves four.


Gluten-Free Panzanella Salad

This recipe was chosen by the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Here is what one of its instructors had to say: I included this recipe because I think it goes very well with the roasted chicken entrée. But also, if the grocery store shelves are any indication, many of us are baking homemade bread at home, and Panzanella is a great way to use up day-old leftover bread. Panzanella is a great side dish because it plays the role of starch, salad, and sauce.
  Though I am not always a huge fan of gluten-free bread on its own, it actually works very well in this recipe if you or your guests need gluten-free items. However, if you can’t get enough gluten, this recipe is equally delicious with your typical, full-gluteny French bread.

3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 loaf gluten-free French bread, cut into 1-inch cubes (6 cups)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded, and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/2 red onion, cut in 1/2 and thinly sliced
20 large basil leaves, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons capers, drained

For the vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method: Heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add the bread and salt; cook over low to medium heat, tossing frequently, for ten minutes or until nicely browned. Add more oil as needed. For the vinaigrette, whisk all the ingredients together until well blended. In a large bowl, mix the tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, yellow pepper, red onion, basil, and capers. Add the bread cubes and toss with the vinaigrette. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Serve, or allow the salad to sit for about half an hour for the flavors to blend. Yield: 12 servings

Mexican Street Corn Salad
by the Colorado Center for the Blind

Here’s what one of our instructors had to say about this recipe: I love this recipe as a side dish for Mexican meals as it is very different from the traditional sides you usually get. It is a twist on a classic Mexican snack, Elote, which is commonly sold on the streets and at festivals in Mexico. It is creamy, spicy, and full of flavor.

4 cups of corn kernels (about 5 ears)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1 jalapeño, minced
1 avocado, chopped
4 tablespoons lime juice (about 2 limes)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sour cream
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/2 cup crumbled cotija or parmesan cheese

Method: Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the corn and stir it around for about three to five minutes or until it starts to char, which is the reason for the high heat. Transfer the corn to a large bowl and allow to cool for a few minutes. Add remaining ingredients to the corn and mix well. Adjust lime juice and salt as necessary.

Rice Pilaf
by the BLIND, Inc. kitchen

This recipe was chosen by the instructors at BLIND, Inc. While you could easily serve our main dish with any side dish of your choice, this rice pilaf makes for a delicious option, and it tastes like it was hard to make.

2-1/2 cups long grain white rice
2 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion (roughly 1 medium onion)
1/2 cup chopped celery (optional)
1 bay leaf
4 cups of warmed unsalted or low sodium stock (chicken or vegetable); check rice package instructions for exact quantity. To check the package, you can use something like KNFB Reader or Seeing AI.
Salt and ground pepper to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (about half a bunch)

Method: Heat stock on the stovetop using a saucepan or in the microwave using a heatproof bowl. While the stock is heating, heat a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, add the uncooked rice and brown the rice, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes. You know the rice is brown when it smells a little bit like popcorn. When the rice has browned, add the onions, celery (if using), and cook a few minutes longer until the onions begin to soften. Add warmed stock, salt, pepper, cayenne (if using), and the single bay leaf. Cover tightly with a lid and bring to a boil. Once liquid starts to boil, bring the heat down to your stove’s lowest setting and simmer for twenty to twenty-five minutes, or the time suggested on the rice package. For the love of rice, do not remove the lid. Once time has elapsed, turn off the heat and leave on top of the stove, covered, for an additional ten minutes. Take off the lid, fluff using a fork and stir in parsley. At this point you can add additional things such as lime or orange zest, golden raisins, green peas, chopped nuts, or anything else that strikes your fancy.


Texas Sheet Cake
by BLIND, Inc. staff

While we all wish we were in Texas, our current situation makes our usual family reunion a bit difficult. Instead, we decided to bring a cake the size of Texas into your kitchen. Imagine having this giant cake baked in a cookie sheet as the centerpiece of your home banquet table. If you don’t have a cookie sheet, you could use a regular casserole dish, but the cake might take a few extra minutes to finish cooking. This cake is sure to impress your guests. Just make sure that President Riccobono gets a slice before the banquet speech! Recipe adapted from All Recipes[.com].

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 cup butter
1 cup water
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

For the icing:
6 tablespoons milk
5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a cookie sheet (also known as a half sheet pan). Alternatively, grease a nine-by-thirteen casserole dish. Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. Beat in the sour cream and eggs into the flour mixture. Set aside. Melt the butter on low in a saucepan, add the water, and five tablespoons cocoa. Bring mixture to a boil, then remove from heat. Allow to cool slightly for about five minutes. Mix chocolate mixture into the flour-egg mixture until blended. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for fifteen to twenty minutes, or until a toothpick or a butter knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

For the icing: In a large saucepan, combine the milk, five tablespoons cocoa and 1/2 cup butter. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Stir in the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla, then fold in the nuts, mixing until blended. Spread frosting over warm cake. Let entire cake cool for fifteen to twenty minutes before slicing. Enjoy by itself, or with some homemade banquet coffee.

Strawberry Panna Cotta
by LCB Instructors

Part of the fun of a great dinner party is the alchemy of taking a handful of basic ingredients, using a few simple techniques and flourishes, and turning it into something that seems special and fancy, but is really pretty easy. Panna Cotta is one of these types of recipes. It’s delicious, creamy, and delicate, relatively easy to make, and requires just a couple ingredients. It is also naturally gluten-free and can be made with little or no added sugar if preferred. And while ramekins can help present this dessert in a way that seems fancier, they are not required. You can serve this in any small bowl or glass, as long as you do not unmold the panna cotta before serving.

1 pound fresh strawberries
1/2 cup whole milk
1-1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder (1 envelope)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 cups heavy cream

Method: Purée the strawberries until very smooth. Push the purée through a fine mesh sieve to remove the seeds and set aside. Place six, four-ounce ramekins on a baking sheet and set aside. Add the milk to a medium saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface and let stand for ten minutes. Add the salt, sugar, and puréed strawberries to the gelatin mixture. Heat over high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture reaches 135 degrees or until just beginning to steam. This should take about two minutes. While stirring constantly, add in the vanilla and heavy cream. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl set over ice. Stir frequently until the mixture cools to 50 degrees, about ten minutes. Strain the mixture into a large measuring cup or pitcher and distribute evenly among the ramekins. Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap, making sure not to disturb the surface of the cream. Refrigerate for at least four hours. Unmold from ramekins and serve immediately.

Note 1: To easily unmold panna cotta, pour one cup of boiling water into a small bowl. Dip the ramekin into the water for three seconds. Run a knife around the edges of the ramekin and invert onto serving plates.

Note 2: Panna cotta can also be served without unmolding. Make ahead tip: Panna cotta will keep for up to three days covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator. Yield: 6 Servings

Mexican Chocolate Cake

This recipe was chosen by the staff at the Colorado Center for the Blind. It is great for sharing with friends and family and would make the perfect ending to your banquet.
For the cake:
3/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup walnuts
2-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the frosting:
1 6-ounce package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup sour cream (8 ounces)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Method: Grease a ten-inch tube pan. In a blender, grate the chocolate chips and walnuts. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add sugar, brown sugar, and butter; beat well. Fold in the chocolate mixture and add cinnamon, buttermilk, and vanilla. Gently fold in flour, baking powder, soda, and salt until no dry ingredients are visible. Pour in to prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for forty-five to sixty minutes. Cool in pan for five minutes. Turn out of the pan to cool completely. Split horizontally into three layers. Spread with chocolate frosting.

For the frosting: Melt chocolate chips. If melting on the stove, pour a few inches of water into a pot and fit a heat-proof bowl over the pot. Heat the water to a simmer, and add the chocolate to the bowl, stirring gently to melt. If melting in the microwave add the chocolate to a microwave safe bowl. Heat on high for thirty seconds and stir. Repeat in ten- to fifteen-second increments until the chocolate is melted. Stir sour cream and cinnamon into the chocolate. Spread on cake. 12-14 Servings.

Nine Nonvisual Cooking Techniques You Can Use in the Kitchen
by Cammie Schuttler, Home Management Instructor, LCB

I am delighted to be a part of the team to bring the 2020 NFB Banquet into your home. Being a part of the NFB did not let me settle in life. The NFB showed me I could be more, I could do more, and I needed to push myself. Receiving blindness skills training at LCB gave me the confidence and the skills I needed to be able to accomplish any goal. Finally, teaching at LCB continuously challenges me to grow and be all that I can be. This is why I wanted to share some cooking techniques I learned during my time in training and since then. So this year we can all be the chefs for banquet and not let blindness hold us back. The following are nine nonvisual cooking techniques that you can utilize with the recipes we have provided.

  1. You can center a skillet or pot on any stovetop by using the heat the stove gives off, once you have placed your pot on the burner you want to use and turn the burner on. Place your hand above the pot. If your pot is centered on the burner, the heat will be even across the burner. You will not feel like it is hotter on the right side of the pot than the left for example. If you feel there is more heat coming from one side of the pot, with your free hand move the pot a little at a time toward the area that feels hotter, until the heat feels even over the whole burner.
  2. You can locate the handle of a skillet or pot on a hot stove by using a cooking utensil like a spoon to locate the outside of your pot. Hold the spoon vertical to keep your hand away from the heat of the stove, and move the spoon around the rim of the pot until it hits the handle.
  3. When a pot comes to a boil on the stove, you will be able to hear the liquid rapidly bubbling or when touching the handle feel the pot vibrating.
  4. Raw meat is smooth, squishy, and shapeable. Cooked meat feels rough, firm, and will retain its shape when pressed on. You can identify when meat is fully cooked by checking the texture of the meat. Touch the outside of the meat, looking at the firmness and roughness. If you press down on the meat, pressure will have to be applied to press into the meat, the meat will bounce back, and hold its final shape. If you poke into the meat with a fork or toothpick the meat will be tough, force will be required to poke through the center of the meat, and the fork or toothpick will not smoothly pull out of the meat. These texture differences from when the meat was raw tell you the meat is fully cooked.
  5. When mixing dry and wet ingredients together you can nonvisually tell when the ingredients are mixed and all dry ingredients have dissolved by sound and texture. When you first begin mixing dry and wet ingredients together, the small grains of dry ingredients rub up against the bowl and make a unique sound. As the grains dissolve this sound will disappear. When you start mixing dry and wet ingredients together your spoon is light and easy to move around but does not move in one smooth motion. When your ingredients are mixed, the spoon typically requires some force to move around the bowl but can move in one continuous motion. You will also not notice any grains in the mixture if you feel it.
  6. To space food out on a cooking sheet evenly before baking you can use two or three fingers. For example, when placing cookie dough on a cookie sheet with your free hand lying flat, place three fingers on the top corner of the cookie sheet. I am right-handed, so I would start in the top left-hand corner. Place a cookie beside your fingers moving right. Move to the opposite side of the cookie and place three more fingers. Do this until you run out of space moving right. Next, start a new row. Find the first cookie you put on the cookie sheet. Underneath that cookie put three fingers, and then lay down another cookie.
  7. No matter what method you use to cook vegetables, when vegetables are fully cooked, they are soft enough to easily poke a fork through them.
  8. When flipping food in a skillet, there are nonvisual methods you can use to flip food. No matter what utensil you choose to flip with, you want to have as much control over the food you are flipping as possible. First, use your utensil to locate the food in the skillet, using constant contact on the surface of the skillet and moving the utensil around in a grid pattern. You want to get underneath the food and flip it over while keeping your utensil on the surface of the skillet. This will help prevent your food from being flipped outside the skillet. To check and see if you flipped the food over, you would need to touch the top of the item you just flipped. You can do this by locating the food again, as described above. Place the tip of the utensil on the top of the food. With your free hand, find your hand holding the utensil; with a light touch take a couple of fingers, follow the utensil you are cooking with down toward the skillet. Keep your wrist up at about a 90-degree angle. Using constant contact, move down the utensil until you reach the tip of the utensil and the top of your food. If you successfully flipped the food, there should be a difference in the texture of the food from when you put it in the skillet.
  9. When trying to flip food over, if you have problems with the food moving around too much for you to get underneath it, you can use a fork in your free hand, and lightly set or poke the food with the fork on top to help keep it still. Once you have gotten underneath the food, remove the fork.

Five Cues to Know if Your Food is Done
by Conrad Austen, Home Management Instructor, LCB

When I am working with a student who has limited experience cooking as a blind person, one of the major questions that comes up is how to know when your food is done. After all, so many of the indicators that are listed in recipes are visual. Think of the number of times you’ve seen written, “bake the cookies until golden brown,” or “the edges of the pancakes should start to bubble,” or “the steak should be slightly pink in the center.” However, all these things can be determined using nonvisual cues. Though there are hundreds of nonvisual techniques that one can use in the kitchen, I would say that most of the cues regarding checking for doneness fall into one of five categories. These categories are touch, taste, timing, sound, and smell.

For many of us who are blind, we have had the experience of being told to avoid the kitchen because of the fear that we might “touch.” Namely, that we might touch something that is hot, or something that is sharp, or something that will make a mess. However, for the blind cook, the sense of touch is an incredibly powerful tool when it comes to gathering information in the kitchen, and we shouldn’t be afraid to use it.

Have you ever touched your food while it is still cooking in your skillet? If not, you might be surprised to realize that, while the pan itself is quite hot, a good amount of the time the food itself is actually not too hot to touch. For instance, if you are cooking scrambled eggs over medium-low heat, you can gently touch the top of the eggs to check how they are cooking. Or, when pan-frying a burger or chicken over medium heat, you can gently touch the top of the meat after flipping to see if you have gotten that ideal texture on the surface. You can also check the firmness to determine how much longer it will need to cook.

There are certainly times you should not touch your food directly with your finger. For instance, anything liquid, oily, or uncooked batter (like pancakes before they’ve been flipped) will transfer a lot of heat and could burn you, even when cooking over medium or medium-low heat. However, in these cases, the sense of touch is still just as useful. You will simply want to use some sort of utensil (my favorite is a basic metal dinner fork) to touch your food instead of touching it directly with your hand.

Think of this as your kitchen cane. Just as your cane will give you information about the location and texture of things without touching them directly, your kitchen cane (a utensil) will let you know where things are in your pan, as well as their texture and firmness. And just like with your cane, metal tends to transfer vibrations more easily, so a metal utensil will give you a better sense of touch, which will give you more information about what is going on with the food in your skillet. However, if you are using nonstick pans, you will want to avoid using metal utensils, as these can scratch or damage the nonstick coating.

While this cue may seem obvious, I think it bears emphasis here. For many people the act of tasting your food only happens once—at the very end—when the food is “done” and already on the table. But when cooking, as long as it is safe (don’t try to taste uncooked meat), it’s very helpful to taste your ingredients and season as you go. Tasting is something you can and should do throughout the process of cooking, not just at the beginning or end. Taste, adjust salt and other seasonings, and taste again. Some flavors like bitterness or earthiness may have faded into the background, while others like brightness or savoriness will become more apparent. But it’s important to remember that you may not want to declare your food “done” until you have tasted, adjusted, and tasted again.

Timing is another cue that is equally helpful for both blind and sighted cooks. Though timing should almost never be relied on exclusively, it is important to have a rough estimate of how long something will take to cook before you get started. At the very least, it will give you a sense of whether things are going right or wrong. If your timer goes off, you check your food, and it seems to be done, then great job! If your timer goes off, you check your food, and it is not done yet, then you have a chance to figure out why there might be a discrepancy. Maybe your heat is too low, or maybe you added too many ingredients at once and it caused your temperature to drop. Either way, your solution is probably more time, or more heat, or both. However, it is important not to focus entirely on your timer and ignore other cues that might signal your food is cooking too quickly. If your cookies have only been in the oven for five minutes and you start to smell caramelization verging on burning, don’t ignore what your senses are telling you. Open the oven, take the cookies out, and check on them to figure out what is going on.

Ultimately, one big benefit of timers is that they let you stop worrying about something for a period, so you can make use of the downtime in a recipe to clean up or get something else done. Whether it’s a pizza dough that needs to rise for thirty minutes, a soup that needs to simmer for forty-five minutes, or a meat that needs two to three minutes to properly sear before flipping, setting a timer frees you up from having to make yet another mental note, allowing you to work more efficiently and stay more present. Also, nowadays, many smart speakers like Alexa and Google Home allow you to set multiple timers, and to even name them so you don’t get two different timers confused. You can even use Siri on your phone to set timers, though you may want to use the “Hey Siri” feature so that you don’t have to touch your phone with messy hands.

While many of us may just think of the sounds from a kitchen as background noise, if you pay close attention, there is a lot of valuable information that can be picked up from it. Sound can tell you a lot about the temperature of a pan or ingredient, the rate at which something is cooking, and the overall level of doneness. There is even a difference in sound between hot and cold water as you pour it into a glass, though this is probably more of a party trick than a cooking technique.
As an example, we can look at cooking bacon on the stove. First, we want the pan to be nice and hot before anything goes into it. After turning the burner to medium and waiting a minute or two, you can run your hand under the sink and flick a few water droplets onto your pan. If they sizzle right away, you know your pan is preheated. Now, as you first place your bacon into the pan, you should hear a nice sharp sizzle. If there is no sizzle at all, your heat is too low. If it sizzles too violently, your heat is too high. As the bacon continues to cook, you will notice that the volume of the sizzle will start to go down, but the pitch of the sizzle will start to go up. When you flip the bacon after about a minute or two, you should notice a new, rejuvenated sizzle, but not as loud as when the first side hit the pan. This lets you know that the previously uncooked topside of the bacon is now on the bottom, and the bottom side is now the top.

As you continue to cook the bacon, the volume of the sizzle will continue to go down and the pitch will continue to go up. This lets you know that both fat and moisture are being rendered out of your bacon. I prefer to take mine out of the pan while there is still some moderate sizzling. This gives me a strip of bacon with crispy edges but a somewhat chewy middle part. If you cook the bacon until there is very little or no sound, you will have very crispy, nearly burnt bacon.

Smell is the last of the major cues for testing for doneness. While it would be hard to rely on smell alone, it can serve as a good signpost to let you know your cooking is on track. For instance, if you are baking cookies, a good indicator that they are nearly ready to come out of the oven is when the smell starts to perfume the whole kitchen. This tells you that the sugars in the dough are caramelizing, or “turning golden brown” as your recipe probably states. You can also smell meat as it browns, or oil as it heats up.

One last note on using smell is that anytime you smell burning, you should always figure out where it is coming from. It might just be some crumbs that fell to the bottom of the oven, or it might be that your Alexa set a timer for fifty minutes instead of fifteen. Either way, you will want to get to the bottom of it and decide whether it is something to worry about or not.

I’ve outlined five cues that, when combined, can give you a wealth of information about your cooking and whether it is done or not. But while these are good techniques for blind cooks, I would argue that they are equally important for sighted cooks as well. After all, they are all just different sources of information, and the more information you have the better informed your decisions will be. If a sighted cook were simply waiting for his/her food to turn a certain color, they could easily miss the fact that it smelled fully done five minutes ago, or that it is now as hard as a rock, or that there is no sizzle whatsoever. In conclusion, I would say that for anyone who wants to become a better cook, stay present—and pay attention to your food and all the cues it is giving you.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family


Wet-Ink Signature Requirement Endangers Social Security Disability Applicants and Recipients During COVID-19, Lawsuit Says

National Federation of the Blind and Others Ask Court to Require Acceptance of E-signatures

Washington, DC (May 5, 2020): Timothy Cole is being treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His treatment leaves him immunocompromised and unable to work, and places him at additional risk during the COVID-19 pandemic. He needs to apply for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the safest way to do so would be to fill out the application online at his home in Jacksonville, Florida. Because he is immunocompromised, leaving his home or interacting with paper mail is dangerous for Mr. Cole. But since he plans to hire an attorney to help with the complex application process, he cannot submit his application online because applicants using authorized representatives, like attorneys, must sign a paper copy of their application. This is true even though SSA has an online application and electronic signatures are accessible, secure, and federally approved.

Mr. Cole and three other plaintiffs, along with the National Federation of the Blind, are suing the Social Security Administration in federal court. They seek a court order requiring SSA to allow e-signatures on applications rather than requiring a “wet-ink” signature when the applicant is using an attorney or other authorized representative. SSA does not require wet-ink signatures for applications for some benefits when an authorized representative is not being used by the applicant. The suit contends that the requirement has always been discriminatory, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it also endangers the health and even the lives of applicants, as even SSA has recognized in quarantining its own mail for two days and shutting down its field offices.
The lawsuit also asks the court to order SSA to allow blind people to fill out the application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) online. Blind people are categorically excluded from applying for this benefit using the online application. The suit also asks that the court require e-signatures to be accepted on paperwork required when a beneficiary is subject to a continuing disability review (CDR), as is one of the blind plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“The Social Security Administration regularly interacts with hundreds of thousands of blind people and other consumers with disabilities,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “Yet policies like this one persist, despite the fact that the SSA has both the authority and the capability to accept electronic signatures. It is both unlawful and unconscionable that this agency continues to place blind and disabled consumers at a severe disadvantage, especially during a life-threatening global pandemic. Government should innovate, not discriminate.”

The lawsuit has been filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. The plaintiffs are represented by Eve L. Hill, Andrew D. Freeman, and Abigail A. Graber of the Baltimore law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP.

This release is also available at: https://www.nfb.org/about-us/press-room/wet-ink-signature-requirement-endangers-social-security-disability-applicants

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.

Our Summer Experience Camp 2020 is Going Virtual!
A Free Program at Leader Dogs for the Blind

We are going virtual with our free camp experience this summer! With camper safety in mind, we have cancelled our traditional Summer Experience Camp for 2020. Going virtual allows us to open camp to teens fourteen and fifteen years old in addition to our standard ages of sixteen and seventeen years old. Many aspects of our camp adapt well to this platform, including exploring mobility options like guide dog travel, building leadership skills and relationships with peers. Camp dates are expected to be confirmed soon. To receive updated information about Summer Experience Camp as it becomes available, please fill out the form on our website.
To learn more about our programs and services visit LeaderDog.org. We are always in need of volunteers to raise our puppies. Learn more at LeaderDog.org/puppy. Our mission is to empower people who are blind or visually impaired with lifelong skills for safe and independent daily travel.

Director of Communications & Marketing
Leader Dogs for the Blind
1039 S. Rochester Rd.
Rochester Hills, MI 48307-3115
Direct 248-659-5013
Toll Free 888-777-5332

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.

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