Vol. 63, No. 7 July 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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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. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.
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Vol. 63, No. 7 July 2020
Illustration: Seventeen Active People Who Lead the National Federation of the Blind
National Federation of the Blind Stands in Solidarity with All Those Impacted by Racial Injustice
by Mark Riccobono
The Room is Zoom: An Overview for Many of the National Convention Sessions
by John Berggren and Stephanie Cascone
Thoughts on Black Lives Matter and Bringing our Other Characteristics to the Table
by Gary Wunder
Being Black Helped Me Be Blind and Being Blind Helped Me Understand that #BlackLivesMatter
by Anil Lewis
The Coronavirus Brings Pain to the Federation Family: Brian Miller Dies at Age Fifty-Two
by Gary Wunder
The Game of Risks
by Sarah Patnaude
Using Bullet Shell Casings as Cane Shaft Reinforcements
by Justin Salisbury
Showing Up with Vision Loss—Even When It’s Hard
by Maria Johnson
President Mark Riccobono Recognized with Baltimore Business Journal Leaders in Diversity Award for 2020
by Chris Danielsen
by Matt Hackert
Copyright 2020 by the National Federation of the Blind
The burden of the pandemic has fallen hard on all of us, but seventeen people in particular have been charged with coming up with policies that will help the National Federation of the Blind continue to do all of our regular business and to take on the special challenges that COVID-19 presents. Our Board of Directors has learned a lot about the coronavirus and has contributed perspectives from throughout the country as each member watches their local and state officials struggle with the challenges. But these seventeen people had to do more than collect information; they had to synthesize and act upon it in the best interest of all of us. It is for them that we give this special shout-out and honor them by dedicating this issue in recognition of the people they are, all that they do, and the tremendous responsibility they take foreseeing that we continue to be the leading force and work with the blind in the United States.
PHOTO: First row from left to right: Pam Allen (Louisiana), First Vice President and Chairperson of the Board; Amy Buresh (Nebraska), Board Member; Denise Avant (Illinois), Board Member; Mark Riccobono (Maryland), President; Norma Crosby (Texas), Board Member; Carla McQuillan (Oregon), Board Member; Terri Rupp (Nevada), Board Member. Second row from left to right: Jeannie Massay (Oklahoma), Treasurer; John Fritz (Wisconsin), Board Member; Joseph Ruffalo Jr. (New Jersey), Board Member; Adelmo Vigil (New Mexico), Board Member; Shawn Callaway (Washington D.C.), Board Member; Ron Brown (Indiana), Second Vice President; Amy Ruell (Massachusetts), Board Member; Everette Bacon (Utah), Board Member; James Gashel (Hawaii), Secretary; Ever Lee Hairston (California), Board Member.
by Mark Riccobono
For eighty years, the National Federation of the Blind has viewed addressing discrimination and promoting equality as essential elements of our work. Today we stand in solidarity with the black community in their fight for justice and in their pursuit of equal treatment under the law. We condemn the continued murders of black Americans including those of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Further, we acknowledge that these horrific deaths represent a vile and long-standing pattern of institutionalized racism that permeates the criminal justice system. While there are police officers that are doing good work, the fact remains that black and brown individuals are disproportionally impacted by police brutality, unfairly condemning people of color to prison cells and graveyards.
As a civil rights organization with a diverse membership, we strive to grow in our understanding of conditions that affect us. Throughout our history, we have participated in civil disobedience and honor the value that it holds to bring about social change. We are firmly committed to enacting our organizational diversity statement, which in part expresses, “We recognize that our views and convictions will be challenged, and we expect this challenge to take place in a climate of tolerance and mutual respect in order to maintain a united organization.” Recognizing that this is a time of intense grief, a time of learning, and a time of reflection, we stand with our members who are in pain and pray not only for peace but for justice. We stand in solidarity with our black members and publicly commit to do anti-racist work within our organization. We ask our nonblack members to take the time to self-reflect about ways we can participate to create an anti-racist world. With you in love, with you in justice, we affirm that #BlackLivesMatter.
by John Berggren and Stephanie Cascone
From the Editor: Many of you know the name John Berggren as the man who has been in charge of convention organization and activities for several years. Many of you also know Stephanie Cascone, our director of communications and marketing. Here is what they have to say about one of the tools we will use to carry off our first virtual convention:
For a few months now we've been talking about the National Federation of the Blind hosting its first-ever virtual convention. This is the last issue of the Braille Monitor you will see before the gavel falls, so we want to give you a few tips about the way you can participate in the convention. This is not intended to be an extensive review of the convention format on Zoom, but a brief overview of how to access the platform and a couple of important commands. There is definitely more to come.
The first thing to know is that Zoom is a service that offers people a way to communicate no matter the device they use. If the way you talk is on a touchtone telephone connected to the wall by a cord, you can participate in the convention. If you use a cordless phone, the same is true. If you have a computer and a headset, you can participate and will have even more options. If you have a smartphone, whether it uses the Android operating system or Apple iOS, you can communicate. If your communication device happens to be a tablet, again, Zoom is for you. When using the mobile app or a computer, the closed captions can be accessed with a Braille device.
Just as we find in any large meeting, a smooth and successful gathering depends on patience and courtesy. The need for both is amplified in a virtual meeting. On the Zoom platform there is what is known as a mute button. When pressed, you can hear what people are saying, but they cannot hear you, or more importantly what is going on around you. What you think of as a minor distraction in your environment such as the click of a keyboard, the bark of a dog, the shuffling of papers, or the movement of your smartphone on the desk is amplified using Zoom. When you consider multiplying these distractions by ten, fifty, or one hundred, you can see that listening to a presentation could be almost impossible. Some of you are old enough to remember the first two-way radios in which talking required the depressing of a microphone key, and listening required releasing it. When using Zoom, it is helpful to keep this analogy in mind. Unmute yourself when requested, and as soon as you have finished your comment, go back on mute.
“Sorry, I was on mute” is a phrase many of us have heard or said a lot these past few months. Muting is made easy regardless of the way you participate. On a regular phone muting is accomplished with star six and unmuting is done in the same way. On a Windows 10 computer muting and unmuting is done using the key sequence alt+A. Using an Apple computer, the key sequence is Command+Shift+A. On a smartphone, whether iOS or Android, the mute button is located at the bottom left of the screen.
Asking for the floor is much like being in a classroom–you raise your hand. The way you will do this depends on the device you use to get into the Zoom meeting. If using a regular touchtone telephone, pressing star nine will raise your hand. The key combination when using a computer is alt+Y for Windows and Command+Shift+Y for Mac OS. With a smartphone the hand is raised by pressing the “More” button at the bottom right of the screen and then selecting the raise-hand option, which is one of the first commands on that screen.
This is certainly a very short introduction to what you will want to know before the first convention session starts. We will provide a list with key combinations for the various devices that can be used, and we encourage everyone to participate in the training sessions we will hold prior to the convention. By the time the gavel falls, we want each and every participant to be enjoying convention without the anxiety that can too often come with the use of a new application, program, or service.
For more information and to learn about upcoming training sessions, continue to follow discussions on our various listservs, listen for updates from your chapter and affiliate leaders, and regularly visit the national convention information webpage at www.nfb.org/convention for updates. Let's meet in July and enjoy the virtually unlimited opportunities that come with our first-ever virtual convention.
by Gary Wunder
It is all too easy to assume that people know me since I edit the Braille Monitor, but for purposes of this article let me do a little self-introduction. I am going to be speaking about something I am learning about rather than something I already know, and I’m going to be addressing issues that I have not lived but have worked to understand. I am a white male who is sixty-five years old. By any standard I have gotten most of the breaks that society has to offer. I realize that some of where I am and what I do is related to decisions and choices I’ve made, but I also hold in my soul a great deal of gratitude for the people who have wished me well and made my path easier. I only wish that every person in this country who is blind was offered the same opportunities, and it is to that end that I write to help those of us in the Federation make this an achievable goal.
Now let me turn to the dual subjects of this article. When I first heard the statement “Black Lives Matter” and then heard the broader statement “All lives matter,” I thought them to be quite compatible, in harmony, one simply being more expansive than the other. All lives do matter, but to conflate the two statements being expressed is precisely the problem because it moves the emphasis away from the lesser importance given to crimes against black people and the treatment they receive at the hands of those hired to heal and unite the communities they serve.
I was slow to understand the difference between the two statements until a few analogies were offered. If I say that blind lives need to be insured to focus readers of my message on the fact that blindness has kept people from buying life and health insurance on the premise that blind people will necessarily have shorter lives and cost more to insure, is my message emphasized or deemphasized by the statement that, of course, all people need or deserve insurance? If I say that blind people need computer hardware and software they can use to participate fully in today’s society, and someone else makes the observation that all people in this day and age need access to computers. What happens to my message about the cost of screen reader technology, Braille displays, and software that is written in such a way that it doesn’t matter how much money I spend on all of this assistive technology—I simply cannot use what is so available to the general public? When we advertise the National Federation of the Blind’s scholarship program, we are saying that blind students matter, that the technology used in the classroom must be accessible, and that accommodations must be made in the classroom for things that are only presented visually. Is that message heard, or is it likely to be overshadowed or dismissed entirely when someone makes the observation that of course many students need scholarships, whether they are blind or can see? If I put forward the message to Congress that blind people need access to home and medical appliances they can use, and someone who hears it observes that everyone needs the same thing, doesn’t my message that inaccessible touchscreens make both types of appliances inaccessible and threaten to drive me out of my home harder to hear and consequently less likely to be acted upon? If in appreciation I say to a gathering that I love my wife. Immediately someone observes that yes, but you love everybody, don’t you? Wouldn’t an answer that yes, I love everybody, actually be one that diminishes the point I was trying to make and could actually be hurtful rather than helpful?
At one time in our Federation we had a simple message. It went something like this: The thing that brings us together is blindness. The thing that keeps us together is focusing only on blindness. Being people from all walks of life of course means we will have issues in addition to blindness, but for the sake of unity, we must leave these at the door. Sometimes this focus was right. We should be able to fit under one roof those who favor more military spending and those who favor less. They should be able to agree that, in a country in which we spend so much money on and depend upon the military, there ought to be a place for blind people in her service. A woman who wants to stay at home and raise her child should be able to sit beside a woman wanting a professional career, both arguing for the accessibility of home and medical equipment. A man who believes salvation comes through Christ should sit comfortably with the man who feels that Christ was a good man but not as important as his Christian brother. Both should be able to share in the cause of making more spiritual material available accessibly in Braille and audio, and both should be able to address transportation issues that sometimes keep blind people from engaging in religious services.
But what happens when the more difficult issues intrude? How do we deal with the unarguable fact that a white man in St. Louis County gets more frequent visits from a rehabilitation counselor or teacher than a black man who lives in East St. Louis? Does the man from East St. Louis have a point in saying that he can never learn Braille when the person providing lessons comes so infrequently? What about his learning cane travel when the cane travel instructor fears walking with him through his neighborhood? We must somehow have policies that work for the blind of East St. Louis as well as the blind living in the more affluent St. Louis County, and a black person must have the right and all of us must take responsibility to listen when he says that the rehabilitation system he encounters is not the one we so frequently talk about. It certainly is our obligation to point out that the flawed system we want to fix must address not just the problems people have who live in affluent areas but also those for people of color who often may not?
Do we have all the answers? No. Does this mean we should avoid tackling the questions that will lead to equal opportunity? It does not. It is only through applied brainpower, building relationships, and making a place for ourselves in all communities where blind people live that we will begin to change those things that are difficult. It is only through risk and demonstrated caring that we will convince blind people in these communities that our message is for them, our love is for them, and that our aspiration that they can live the lives they want also includes them. We must work hard to avoid the suggestion that we are doing the offering, and they can come into our tent. Instead we want to make it clear, especially to ourselves, that this tent belongs to all of us and that addressing the issues of all blind people is a core principle of the Federation and not a gesture patronizingly offered by those who have the power to those who do not.
In a very divided nation we have messages to send about the needs of blind people, but perhaps we will send other needed messages as well. The futuristic Star Trek wanted to captivate us with new technology and going “where no man has gone before,” but quite intentionally it hooked us with another possibility, another promise we might strive to keep. That promise was to give all women and men an equal opportunity, to see others without stereotypes based on race, geography, or political differences. The point was not to ignore the differences we found among earthlings and others in the universe but to applaud the majesty of it all. The show wasn’t perfect; we had to have the good versus the bad, so some of those we found in the universe had to be fought, defended against, and made to understand that they could not live by conquering or mistreating others. Live and let live is so easily said and so much harder to implement. But it is nothing less than treating people as you want to be treated. Perhaps, more expansive and inclusive is to treat people as they would have you treat them. If we can send our message of need and hope together, what a force for good we can be—a force that starts with leading blind people and culminates in helping to lead all people to build a better world in which we see our safety, security, and happiness as inextricably bound together with those of our fellow human beings, regardless their race or socioeconomic status.
by Anil Lewis
From the Editor: Anil Lewis is a person with such prominence in the Federation that writing a headnote about him seems almost as unnecessary as writing an introduction for President Riccobono, Immediate Past President Maurer, or our first vice president and chairman of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors, Pam Allen. Therefore, I will not use the space to introduce Anil but to express my appreciation to him for the writing of an article that required going beyond the past and the present and demanded that he look into his soul and share with us what he found there. This takes guts; it takes honesty; it takes humility; it assumes that for all of his effort we, the readers, will invest some of ourselves, including our souls, in trying to understand the messages being expressed. I will never know what it is like to be a black man, but Anil Lewis believes that I have the capacity to learn more than I now know, and both publicly and privately I give him my pledge to honor his faith and trust. Here is what I believe to be the most moving and educational article I have ever had the privilege of editing and publishing:
Although my father died when I was six, I grew up as part of a large extended family. My mother raised four children on her own, two of whom were blind (I became blind at age twenty-five). I am also blessed to have a host of aunts, uncles, and cousins who are all like mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers.
Growing up as a young black man in Atlanta, one of the most progressive civil rights cities in the country, I was aware of the challenges I would have to face as a black person in a predominately-white society. I grew up realizing that I am the beneficiary of the work of many civil rights leaders who paved the way for me to receive a proper education and opportunities for gainful employment. Thanks to my family, I developed a positive self-concept of myself as a black man despite society’s negative depiction of black people throughout the mainstream media. With their support and encouragement, I was able to secure opportunities to receive the interventions that made it possible for me to excel. I was told that I would need to be better just to be perceived as equal, and as a result, I became extremely self-confident, regardless of any environment or situation. My academic success enabled me to receive college scholarships and subsequently made it possible for me to obtain relatively good jobs with above-average pay.
My extended family also taught me the skill of successful interracial interaction, or how to wear the “mask,” a skill that allows me to navigate within a racially charged environment in a manner that is not perceived as intimidating, but allows me to use intimidation when it helps me reach my objective. Although I code-switch (use vocabulary that is appropriate to the audience), I am able to do this without compromising myself or altering my true identity—“When in France….” Little did I know, but this lived experience and acquired skill set would help me adapt to being blind later in life.
With the relatively quick onset of my blindness due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP), I lost a significant amount of my sight over a weekend, leaving me unable to read the text on my computer screen and making it next to impossible for me to continue to operate as a sighted person. My mother made no excuses. She encouraged me to “Get up and do something.” Luckily, I was referred to the services offered by the state vocational rehabilitation agency and a local community rehabilitation center, where I learned that I needed to acquire the alternative skills of blindness in order to regain my independence. However, the systems in place set the bar so low that I would not be encouraged, supported, or allowed to reach my full potential. I attained a mediocre skill set at best. My acquisition of limited cane travel abilities using routes, a Braille reading speed of thirty-three words per minute, and an inability to cook anything without the use of a microwave allowed me to graduate from my blindness training with praise and accolades. Fortunately, I possessed good computer skills prior to my blindness, so I was able to teach myself how to use JAWS to access the computer and was an above average user.
Soon after my graduation, I quickly became a staff member at the same center, teaching others Braille and access technology. I was proud of my accomplishments, but I did not realize that my “achievement” was perpetuating a system of inadequate training and low expectations. Then I met members of the National Federation of the Blind. This newly acquired extended family acknowledged my skill set and immediately began encouraging me to set higher expectations for myself and for other blind people. With their support, I worked hard in order to maintain my self-confidence and develop a positive self-concept as a blind person. I improved my blindness skills and learned a new language of blindness: Structured Discovery, long white cane, competing on terms of equality, etc.
As a member of the 1999 Three Strikes Leadership Seminar, I participated in a week-long leadership training at the NFB national center that exposed me to the history of the blindness movement, educated me about the achievements of the NFB, and inspired me to work collectively to overcome the challenges to our liberty that still remain. I became aware that I have benefitted from the work that many have done before me to create opportunities to learn, grow, and be accepted as an equal in society. Once I gained this consciousness of the struggle and the dedication of the blind people that came before me and the continued systemic ableism that still exists and prohibits blind people from reaching their full potential, I engaged in the collective action of the NFB.
My Federation family taught me the skill of coping with public attitudes about blindness and how to blend in on terms of equality. My new mask allows me to navigate within a custodial-rich environment in a manner that commands respect. Often the only blind person in the room, I am able to make others comfortable with my presence and still be able to engage in those uncomfortable conversations in a manner that facilitates learning rather than denial. However, in order to educate myself so that I could influence others, I needed to learn the truth about blindness.
The knowledge I needed to acquire was not readily available, and the role models I needed were not depicted on TV or radio. In fact, mainstream coverage of blind people perpetuates negative stereotypes and misconceptions about blindness, much like the media has for too long portrayed black people. I knew it would require a dedicated effort to gain a true understanding of blindness, and I soon received the support and guidance of my Federation family. I read Walking Alone and Marching Together, the written history of our movement, along with other informative materials. With these and my ongoing contact, I gained a greater understanding of the truth about blindness and the systemic obstacles to our full participation. Subsequently, as an active member of the NFB for over twenty years, I have worked to address the discriminatory policies and practices that prevent blind people from living the lives we want and to fight for the security, equality, and opportunity that will enable us to serve as full participating members of society.
Recently, in the wake of the extreme social unrest (awakening), brought about by the videos depicting the racial injustices leading to the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and far too many other black people, I have realized that I have not exercised the same degree of dedication to address the systemic racism that prohibits black people from living the lives we want. If I am to be honest, my lack of dedication to educate myself has resulted in my ignorance, which is no excuse for my silence and is shameful. It has made me complicit in the tragedy, which is completely unacceptable. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated, "The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people." I consider myself a good person, and I am recommitted to acquiring the knowledge to effectively exercise my voice toward ending the tragedy of systemic racism.
First, I had to process the internal and external anger that grew from my guilt and newly evolved awareness. Most do not know that I have a really bad temper, but anyone who really knows me understands that I process anger through humor. I do not mean laughing at the situation but adopting a less frustrating perspective that helps me dissipate the anger and focus on the problem toward a solution. It is imperative for me to be able to decompress before taking action, or my anger results in my making bad decisions.
I had to resolve a profound internal conflict in order to determine how I would take action. A dear friend shared a video from Trevor Noah, the host of the Daily Show, which was about a twenty-minute train of consciousness giving his perspective on the recent racially charged situations that have raised worldwide awareness of systemic racism. Trevor possesses an amazing talent to use his humor to address socially relevant issues in a manner that offers alternate perspectives that challenge your existing paradigm. Subsequently, I read Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, which, for my blind friends, is available on BARD. This was the therapy I needed in order to deal with my emotional crisis and to begin my real education. Trevor’s lived experience, chronicled in this book, serves to entertain and enlighten. I encourage anyone who like myself, has anger issues that prevent them from making a conscious decision to educate themselves about the nuances of race, racism, and racial interaction to read this book.
Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that reading Born a Crime is the textbook to the understanding and enlightenment about systemic racism. I am only stating that it helped me to get past the anger to be open to learning more. Far too many people stop at denial, or in my case, presumed enlightenment. We want to be able to ingest all understanding by watching the news, reading a newspaper article, and watching YouTube videos. Although these are tremendous resources to stay informed, as demonstrated by the impact of the George Floyd video, true understanding requires a dedicated effort to educate oneself.
Even the formal systems meant to educate usually present an inadequate presentation of our history. In school I learned black history from a perspective that was so watered down. I took pride that a black man invented the cotton gin. I actually thought the Brown vs. Board of Education—after initial resistance that required National Guard intervention—eliminated school segregation. I thought the Voting Rights Act was no longer necessary because I had no problems exercising my right to cast a private, independent ballot. My work within the NFB has taught me how to effectively advocate for the passage of civil rights legislation. Moreover, I have learned that passing legislation is not enough. The ongoing work of advocacy toward enforcement is essential, lest we regress to the system that we fought to change. I am extremely embarrassed about my lack of understanding of the systems and practices that exist and serve to limit opportunities for black people in this country. I actively work to cope with a significant amount of guilt related to my ignorance and constantly seek information to educate myself so that I can fight for the change that is necessary.
In my recent recommitment to self-educate, I have turned to two books: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, written by Carol Anderson, and White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism, written by Robin DiAngelo, both also available on BARD. In White Rage, I read information about black history that shook me to my core and had never been shared with me in any of my history books. Moreover, the details provided about everything from school segregation to the Iran Contra scandal offered information that framed these in a completely new light. White Fragility was written by a white American author from a white point of view to address “the challenges of talking to white people about racism.” I thought it would be helpful for me to take a look from this perspective, and it was more than helpful. It helped me in my quest to acquire the language to have meaningful conversations about racism by differentiating between the discrimination caused by prejudice, and the systemic racism resulting from racist policies and practices.
I encourage everyone to read both books. However, if you identify as black or any other minority, I suggest that you start by reading White Rage. The information you gain will be helpful in maintaining your conviction that the struggle is real. If you identify as white, begin with White Fragility. I specifically suggest starting with chapter four, “How Does Race shape the Lives of White People.” It begins with a quote from Ijeoma Oluo, "White people: I don’t want you to understand me better, I want you to understand yourselves." I realize the flaw in executing a strategy that attempts to get white people to understand the lived experience of black people. It is similar to the challenge of getting the sighted to understand what it is like to live as a blind person. However, it is my experience that a better understanding of your ignorance helps you better understand the problem and will hopefully motivate you to become part of the solution.
Many of my white brothers and sisters within my Federation family have reached out to express their support and understanding. I am blessed to have these relationships, and I hope and pledge to continue to build more allies to advocate for the systemic change that is necessary. The work we have done within the Federation to address diversity and inclusion is exemplary, and I feel it will continue to build awareness in a manner that empowers our blind black members and our allies to play an active role in this effort. My plan is to take the skills I have learned as a member of the National Federation of the Blind and use them to support the work of another organization focused on addressing systemic racism. I believe I have the capacity to work within both circles and hope to find concentric areas that leverage what I learn from one organization to strengthen the work I do for the other.
The National Federation of the Blind fights tirelessly for the rights of blind people. Other disability organizations continue to encourage us to become immersed within a broader coalition of people with disabilities. We have specific needs that need to be addressed that are unique to blindness, like Braille, nonvisual access technology, and accessible instructional materials. Although we participate in advocacy efforts that help to meet our goals, we cannot afford to have our voices diluted in a sea of other voices seemingly advocating for the same things. We realize that blind lives matter and require specific intervention and action to eliminate the discrimination blind people face. This is also the case with black lives. The systemic racism that black people face requires specific intervention and action. #BlackLivesMatter is a movement that acknowledges that we cannot afford to build a larger coalition of “All Lives Matter” when we need to use our time and talent to add resources, develop specific strategies, policies, and legislation to address systemic racism. Reinforcing that #BlackLivesMatter will help you #LiveTheLifeYouWant.
by Gary Wunder
Dr. Brian Miller, a former chapter president, strong Federationist, world traveler, musician, and a wonderful man willing to help anyone he could, died on April 13, 2020, as a result of COVID-19. He took a trip to Jordan in mid-March and was forced to cut his trip short and return to the United States. When he developed symptoms, he first discounted them, but shortly thereafter he went to a doctor and was diagnosed. Initially he was told to go home and be on bed rest. When he did not improve, Brian was moved to the hospital. After several weeks that showed encouraging ups and discouraging downs, the world lost a really fantastic human being, and the only thing that we can say with certainty is that we are all better for having known and loved Brian Miller.
So profound was his life that his death was covered in the Washington Post on April 14 under the headline” Brian Miller, whose blindness inspired a career helping disabled students, dies of COVID-19.” The write-up was a wonderful tribute which included an interesting anecdote from Brian’s mother. In the article she said that several weeks before Brian’s graduation from high school, she got a call from a teacher saying that he was about to flunk a science course because he had not completed his work with the microscope and biology. One is left to infer that Brian did so well in other aspects of the class the teacher simply did not recognize he was blind and the foolishness of expecting that he directly use a microscope.
One of Brian’s goals was to visit five new countries each year. He equipped himself to make these visits by being fluent in four languages: English, Spanish, Russian, and German. As a report on National Public Radio noted, Brian’s mother has been busy trying to figure out all the trips he had planned in order to cancel them and get back the money paid in advance.
One of Brian’s friends was our state president in Virginia, Tracy Soforenko. On learning of Brian’s death, here is some of what he said to members:
“Today we lost a true friend and inspiring leader in the National Federation of the Blind. This afternoon, after over two weeks in intensive care, Brian Miller passed away from COVID-19. Brian has been a role model and mentor to so many members of our organization, including myself. Many of the major recent accomplishments of the Virginia affiliate are built on insights from Brian including the Project RISE program, the expanded college scholarship program, the chapter leadership development program, the hosting of the 2018 National Federation of the Blind Convention, and the efforts to invigorate chapters with engaging new programming. Brian brought creativity, humor, and energy to all aspects of our work but also warmth and friendship to his interaction with everyone. Brian made me think creatively, read better books, plan better vacations, and believe in myself and what we could accomplish together. We are heartbroken by this news and hope we can be together soon to console each other. As memorial plans are determined, we will keep people posted.”
It is clear from all the posts on Facebook and the activity on our listservs that Brian was beloved in the Federation and in his family. But in addition to being an active Federationist, he was also well-integrated into his community. Consider this proclamation:
P R O C L A M A T I O N
WHEREAS, several recently published photographs portray Brian Miller, fifty-two, of Alexandria, Virginia, in many locations from across the world: sitting atop a camel in Egypt, on the waters of a peaceful river in Oman, the sidewalks of London, and the beaches of Normandy. In most of these photos, he is in casual travel garb, in front of spots of natural beauty or historical relevance. And in some of these pictures, he wears a tuxedo, the unofficial uniform of one of his many passions, a cappella chorus singing; and
WHEREAS, Brian R. Miller, PhD, had just over a month ago returned to the United States from Jordan, one of sixty-five similar overseas trips he would take throughout his life. And all his friends knew Dr. Miller as an adventurer, but a prudent one, for he had recently written on his travel blog, “I’m pretty fearless, but not reckless. I’m a planner more than an improviser, but I am not a prisoner of my itinerary;” and
WHEREAS, Brian was viewed as a fearless man, and one of assuring resolve. And it was this resolve that carried him through his full life and dozens of countries worldwide, going back to his San Diego childhood. Born August 13, 1967, in Michigan and raised in California, he was one of the first of a large national wave of blind students brought into the mainstream public schools student body among their sighted peers in the 1970s and 1980s; and
WHEREAS, his commitment to education and knowledge compensated for the lack of resources for him and other visually disabled students during those times. Fluent in four languages, he earned a degree in Political Science from San Diego State University, and a master’s and PhD in history from the University of Iowa; and
WHEREAS, he settled in Alexandria in 2004, working for the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration. And in our City he was known for his generous volunteerism, serving as former Chair of the Commission on Persons with Disabilities, and for many years he was a member of the world-renowned men’s a cappella chorus, the Alexandria Harmonizers; and
WHEREAS, his travels with the Harmonizers, as well as his own, truly availed him to nuanced relationships as a performer, mentor, and friend, in Alexandria and the six continents he visited; and
WHEREAS, this inspiring journey came to a close on April 13, 2020, when Brian died at fifty-two from complications stemming from the COVID-19 virus. “While losing Brian to this pandemic is devastating to so many communities of people around the world, there was no one more rich with life experiences and love from so many people,” said friend and fellow Alexandria Harmonizer Joe Cerutti; and
WHEREAS, Brian Miller will truly be missed, and for those who knew him here or far away, their lives were better just for knowing him. Brian Miller leaves behind his mother and stepfather, Jane and Patrick McGinnis; father and stepmother Richard and Helen Miller; sister and brother-in-law Cindy and Marty Wimer, significant other Masuma Ali, and several friends and colleagues; and
WHEREAS, finally, and in his own understated and friendly style, he recently made note of his gratitude for his experiences and his abundant life, writing, “I’ve learned a few tricks over the years as a blind guy on the road.”
NOW, THEREFORE, I, JUSTIN M. WILSON, Mayor of the City of Alexandria, Virginia, and on behalf of the Alexandria City Council, do hereby recognize and offer appreciation for the well-lived life of a beloved Alexandrian:
“BRIAN R. MILLER, PhD”
In the City of Alexandria and I call this observance to the attention of all our citizens.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the City of Alexandria to be affixed this 23rd day of April, 2020, in tribute to a great citizen of our City, and of the world.
MAYOR JUSTIN M. WILSON
On behalf of the City Council of Alexandria, Virginia
At the time of this writing, what COVID-19 is and how we should deal with it is the subject of a contentious debate. Some believe that the major concern of our population should be isolation until the virus is eradicated. On the other extreme are those who believe that the virus is a creation of the media, a hoax, a direct attack on our constitutional rights, and a way of destroying our economy. Perhaps Brian’s own words will provide some perspective:
"After more than a week of self-quarantining at home, and dealing with increasingly severe symptoms of COVID-19, yesterday I finally had to call the paramedics and have them take me to Alexandria Inova hospital where I am now checked-in, and I am under their care. I don't know yet if I actually have COVID-19, as the test results aren't back yet, but I don't have the flu, so it's very likely COVID-19. The protocols and procedures were airtight, and the staff here have been unfailingly helpful and professional and kind. I just want to let people know that this virus is a monster; don't think that it is like the flu or that symptoms are mild. This has easily been one of the worst weeks of my life, certainly health-wise. This is a brutal, brutal virus; do not be indifferent or casual."
I can think of no better way to end this article than with a brief quotation from his friend Bonnie O’Day, who was asked to offer her memories at a board meeting of the Virginia Affiliate. Here is the way she concluded:
“When Brian was hospitalized with the COVID-19 virus, his friends organized several conference calls so we could share our experiences and wish him well. There were over seventy people on these calls, from all walks of Brian’s life. Each had a special memory or anecdote to share. Brian has been described as, “a witty extrovert with a powerful love for human connection and experiences.” We are fortunate to have had him in our lives. His passing leaves a hole that we cannot possibly fill. Each of us has our own special memories of Brian, so let’s take a moment of silence to reflect on the many gifts he has given us.”
In concluding this article, may I make a similar plea: That we take a moment to remember Brian, and then another minute to commit ourselves to making lives like the one Brian lived a possibility for all blind people. In this way we will offer to him the highest honor we can.
by Sarah Patnaude
From the Editor: Many who read this will remember Sarah Patnaude of Virginia as a two-time winner of a National Federation of the Blind scholarship, first winning in 2014 and becoming a tenBroek winner in 2018. She was an intern at our Jernigan Institute in 2014. She is currently the corresponding secretary for the Virginia Affiliate and second vice president of the Human Services Division.
In addition, she does cosplay, short for costume play, where she makes her own costumes by hand. She also enjoys photography and painting. What a biography.
One of the issues conscientious Federationists look at again and again is whether we are doing all we can do or whether we are settling, a word that has come to mean pretending that we don’t want or need something because we fear getting it might be too hard. Sometimes we do not dare to risk, for our fear of failure is greater than our sense of hope and the belief we have in ourselves. Here is what Sarah has to say about her journey to believe in herself and go beyond the comfortable:
Gathered around the dining room table, laughter and competitiveness fill the room. Boards, pieces, and cards take over the tables and floors. For the next few hours, the only person we could rely on was ourself. Every move you took had to be strategic.
Growing up, family and community game nights were a Patnaude tradition. As a competitive individual, I found myself good at many games. However, there were a few games I just plain stunk at: one of which is a game called Risk. For those who have never played, Risk is a game where the purpose is none other than to take over the world. My favorite objective! There are two main strategies for this game: play the defense and only attack small countries or play the offense and take chances on attacking the larger countries. I typically chose the first strategy and only would attack countries I knew I could beat. However, that strategy always led to my demise.
Although just a game, my strategy in life up until recently was a similar approach. Stick with the safety net and certainty and avoid risks and uncertainty. As a young kid, my life was full of uncertainty. We didn’t know when or if my vision would worsen. Thus, my doctors, parents, and I took precautions to limit the risk of a detached retina. Those precautions consisted of limiting my ability to play on playgrounds, go on diving boards, play contact sports, go in bounce houses, enjoy rides at amusement parks, and any other activity that could cause my head to be jerked around, or cause too much pressure. We did everything we could to limit the risk of going totally blind. It came at a cost though: I was not able to fully live my childhood.
The next few times in my life where I recall having to decide to take a risk or not was in academics. In the fifth grade I was presented with the opportunity to attend a gifted middle school. At that point I was faced with the decision to attend a school that was foreign to my family and more academically challenging or attend the school my siblings attended. For me this was a simple decision at that time in my life. Both of my siblings attended the local middle school, and it would be almost certain I would have at least a few teachers they had. Thus, I went with the safe decision: the one where my family was familiar with the faculty and one that would allow me to have the most “normal” childhood. Next was high school. This time I knew I wanted to attend a specialty center. Would I apply for the Governor’s School, one of the most prestigious schools around, or would I attend the specialty center my sister attended? Once again I avoided the risk of rejection and applied for the school I knew I had the most chance of getting into and the one where my family was familiar with the faculty and administration.
Since joining the Federation in 2010 at the age of sixteen, I knew I needed to attend a Federation training center to gain proficiency in blindness skills. However, like everything else, it involved risks. At first the risk involved college and whether my scholarship could wait a year. As someone who was very academically focused, did I really want to risk losing my scholarship or become even more indecisive about my course of study to gain blindness skills? I had after all excelled in high school without them. Then, the risk involved employment. Did I want to have a gap on my resumé? Entering my last year of graduate school though, I knew that I had put off training for far too long. I finally realized that the familiar was riskier than taking the risk.
In May 2019 I started at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Although I gained proficiency in blindness skills and strengthened my philosophy, my journey at LCB was more than just blindness. It was a journey involving slowing down, embracing uncertainty, giving myself permission to succeed, and yes, taking risks. I remember the days of creeping slowly to every curb, too afraid to overstep it. My travel instructor gave me the first of many risk-taking talks. He explained the difference between careless risk-taking and cautious risk-taking. In that instance, I had the knowledge to distinguish the sidewalk from the street, so it wasn’t a careless risk to walk confidently to the curb. It was a risk that was backed up with knowledge I had and trust in my cane. In other words, I wasn’t planning to attack a country with a big army with only two men. I was attacking a slightly larger country with sufficient men on my side—a cautious risk.
Three months into my training, I was faced with another risk. This time it was in home management where I had to make my own recipe. To say I was a strict recipe adherer is an understatement. Before going to training, if the recipe called for one garlic clove, I would use one garlic clove even though I love garlic. If the recipe called for raisins and I didn’t have raisins, well... I wasn’t making that recipe. Therefore, my instructor telling me to make my own soup based on nothing except the knowledge I had and my taste buds was like telling me, someone who is afraid of heights, to go bungee jumping, which I would never do. Up until then I made some pretty good dishes. Nothing did I recall spitting out, and I was convinced that was because I had followed recipes. So why take the risk of making something worth throwing in the garbage now? Because, as much as I hate to admit it, without risks there is no reward. If I continued to follow recipes strictly, I would never have the opportunity to learn and grow or have the opportunity to make something great. Let me tell you, that loaded potato soup was probably the best thing I made while I was a student, and I get to claim it as my own.
Life is full of risks. Some have greater consequences than others. There is no harm in having a safety net or a comfort zone. However, being unwilling to take risks at all can be just as harmful as taking careless risks. Without some risk-taking, one cannot embrace to the fullest extent what life has to offer, and there are limited opportunities to grow. Be willing to get uncomfortable: take the job, take the leadership role, try a new fundraising event, go get training. Whatever risks present themselves in your life or even in your chapter or affiliate, do not settle for the familiar because of fear of the unknown. You never know what success you may have or the growth that can occur because of your decision to not play it safe. There are hundreds of accomplishments I am proud of during my time at LCB, but what I am the proudest of is knowing without a doubt that, with the skills and knowledge I have gained and a little problem-solving, I can face uncertainty and take risks and do it with confidence. Because of that, I have a much better chance at conquering the world.
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
by Justin Salisbury
From the Editor: Justin is a frequent contributor to these pages, and in every article he demonstrates his passion for teaching blind people the way to be more independent. But here we see he also has a mechanical side and suggests ideas for some cane maintenance and repair. Here is what he says:
In the process of learning cane travel, there are ever-expanding varieties of canes that students can use. Presently, when I teach Structured Discovery Cane Travel, I tend to recommend fiberglass or carbon fiber long white canes. There are varying design components of the different long white cane models. I am offering this article today to share a simple and common-sense technique for modifying the contemporary fiberglass long white cane for those who may find it useful.
When I first began using a cane, I was still largely dependent on what residual vision I still had, but I eventually sought the kind of training that would change that. I did this after noticing in the National Federation of the Blind that there were a lot of people with less residual vision than I had who seemed to have their act together much better than I did. Almost all of them had attended a good residential training center, so I decided to do what had worked for them. During my training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I learned how to travel without depending on my residual vision. In my early days of cane use, I was not receiving as much tactile feedback through the nylon marshmallow tip as I now desire. In fact, I felt as if I was getting too much feedback because, as the marshmallow tip would wear a flat spot, it would catch in more and more sidewalk cracks.
When I first began using a non-collapsible fiberglass cane with the tight rubber and metal tip, it seemed like I could feel everything in the road with that cane. I did not know exactly how to interpret it at first, but I came to really appreciate it. Different models of fiberglass and carbon fiber canes transmit different levels of feedback and offer different levels of flexibility. I have never found a collapsible cane of any material makeup that could flex or transmit vibrations as well as its non-collapsible counterpart. To my knowledge, every brand of fiberglass cane is hollow except for the old Rainshine canes. The hole at the bottom of the fiberglass cane shaft is often filled by a bolt, sometimes with a small washer to create desirable dimensions or a small metal piece that resembles a nail with no pointed tip and possibly a hemispherical head. This creates a harder and slightly larger surface so that the rubber part of the cane tip can pressure-fit over the tip of the shaft and yet be changed by hand by someone of average strength.
Inevitably, sediment particles find their way between the rubber part of the cane tip and the fiberglass shaft of the cane. This allows the debris to rub between the rubber and fiberglass. Since the debris is sometimes harder than the fiberglass, it causes the fiberglass to erode or wear away. Once the rubber tip is removed, the cane shaft will appear to taper sharply inward, becoming narrower exactly where the tip was. This allows the tip to wobble and interferes with the information transmitted.
One solution that some people have used is to cut the shaft of the cane, essentially making the cane shorter, and then gluing a small screw into the newly-created opening. If done repeatedly, this process will eventually need to be repeated until the cane becomes many inches shorter, since exposed fiberglass will continue to wear away.
Another approach to fixing this problem is to attach a small bullet shell casing to the bottom of the shaft after the metal piece is removed or falls out on its own. Consistently, the factory adhesive used to attach this metal piece gives out within the first month of my use of a new cane, especially in wet seasonal weather. Thus, I have a relatively new cane shaft with an exposed hole at the bottom, prime for receiving a bullet shell casing. Right after I arrived in Ruston, Louisiana, for my graduate studies, I got a new cane. After a week, my tip fell out. Since my canes had only ever been repaired at training centers, I wondered what people around the country were doing. I called the NFB Independence Market, and the staff member who answered the phone told me that she just superglued hers back into her cane when it fell out. She wasn’t using bullet shell casings, so I just figured it was like a secret handshake for LCB alumni. The secret is out, but I want it to be available to everyone.
The casing should be attached so that the wide end is furthest away from the cane handle and flush with the bottom of the fiberglass cane shaft. It is ideal to use bullet shell casings that are as close to the size of the cane shaft as possible to make a snug fit. This can also be achieved by cutting and/or crimping the casing to fit more snugly. My current cane has a .38 Special bullet shell casing on it. Today, I put glue inside the casing and insert the cane shaft quickly so that it can set and harden. When choosing a type of glue, I encourage people to consider the strength and hardness of the glue. We want it to be strong enough to hold for a long time, even despite elements and the physical abuse of long-term travel. We want it to be hard enough so that it only absorbs a minimal amount of the vibrations that are supposed to travel from the metal cane tip all the way to the blind traveler’s brain. I have become most interested in Gorilla Glue and Krazy Glue. I am told that Gorilla Glue is stronger, but Krazy Glue is harder.
Bullet shell casing is made of a relatively soft metal, but it is still harder than the debris which generally erodes the cane shaft. This may be purely in my head, but I think the casing prevents the cane from bending quite as much as it could because it is splinting the very bottom of the cane, but the canes are long enough that they can flex with the rest of the shaft. Adding the bullet shell casing and anything else to help attach it can add a little more weight to the end of the cane. Since that weight is all the way out on the end of the cane, it can make the cane tip feel a little bit heavier.
If you’re wondering where I get the shell casings, I cannot simply go down to the corner store and buy them. To get the bullet shell casings, I ask around to find someone who owns guns and shoots them for a hobby. If I ever found myself in a situation where I could not easily find such a person, I would probably call some gun ranges and local firearm enthusiast organizations. Sometimes, people are willing to donate their bullet shell casings to the freedom of blind people.
If this feature becomes a factory default design feature, it may improve the quality of the outcome beyond this aftermarket solution. One of my colleagues back in Hawaii, a bright rehabilitation counselor, proposed that the canes could be dipped in molten metal because some of these soft metals have lower melting points than fiberglass. It would be like fondue for your cane tip. Either way, this modification helps to preserve the tactile feedback of the fiberglass or carbon fiber long white cane.
Some people try to make an elaborate science out of how blind people travel through space. It was once pretty bizarre to me, but I now teach this skill on a daily basis. I hope that readers will understand that it really is a common-sense skill set, not too different from swimming. Many good swimmers today were not taught by certified swim instructors. We simply had people who knew how to swim who showed us how to do it, too. Many good travelers can offer tips and tricks to other blind people, and it requires no certification. I like being certified to teach cane travel, and I like teaching it even more. If anyone wants to learn to use a cane, I am always happy to tell them about the benefits of attending a training center accredited by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, but I also want them to understand that it’s not going to be too difficult for them to learn. There are little, common-sense tips and tricks that we can use to modify our canes, which are very simple pieces of equipment. I am not the one who came up with this idea, but I am the one who took the time to write about it. If you want to try this on your cane, give it a shot.
by Maria Johnson
From the Editor: Maria Johnson is a blogger who has created the blog Girl Gone Blind. She is the mother of two awesome children, and she found herself having to confront vision loss and legal blindness within seven months. Maria is also a group fitness instructor, blogger, podcaster, and speaker who lives in San Diego, California.
In this blog post she is speaking to a friend who wants to know how to cope with vision loss. Although I wish she had suggested that her friend get involved with the National Federation of the Blind, I think her advice is much like that which we would give. Hiding is not the answer; self-isolation in the familiar is not the answer; begging off for social appointments is not the answer; simply staying in a state of feeling sorry for oneself is no answer. I hope you enjoy her writing as much as I do:
When I’m asked to speak about how I pulled myself through the hard stuff after my vision loss, I tend to start flipping through my mental photo album: an album full of throwbacks, flashbacks, and emotions. It’s a bit like Facebook Memories, with photos reminding us of the good, the bad, and the fun moments we had during a specific year. My album is spectacular, and it tells my story.
Losing most of my vision at the age of fifty was NOT easy. It was hard sometimes. Even if I made this going blind thing look like no big deal—I was devastated by my diagnosis. I often felt debilitated by how hard it was to acknowledge, adjust, and accept this new way of “seeing” the world.
However, there was one thing I did (and still do) consistently during that time. I chose to show up with vision loss every day—even when it got hard.
In a constantly changing world, we can’t rely on the perfect moment to unveil itself and wait for us to decide what to do. If opportunities, invitations, or events present themselves, we need to take advantage of them, or else they will pass us by—possibly leaving us with regrets, guilt, and a victim mentality.
There were many, and I mean MANY, moments where I had to make the choice to show up or not. As my vision declined, the idea of going out to my daughter’s high school swim meets, my son’s college symphony performances, social events, Girls’ Night Out, teach my group fitness classes, or attend a support group for the blind was…totally…overwhelming. A big part of me did not want to show up to anything. In my mind, staying at home was so much easier mentally and physically. Home was where I was safe and comfortable. Home was where I didn’t have to figure out how to navigate and wade through the rough waters of the outside world with vision loss. Everything seemed so hard, and I was not having any of it. (Insert tantrum here.)
Yet, a small part of me knew that I should show up to my new, unexpected, upside-down, and heavily scheduled life—and deal with the scary stuff.
Well actually, showing up was not what I should do. Nope. Showing up was what I NEEDED to do! I needed to show up to my kid’s sporting events and music performances. I needed to show up to teach my group fitness classes. I needed to show up to social events, happy hours, Bunco and Girls’ Night Out with my BFFs. I needed to show up to find support and connection with others in the LHON [Leber’s Hereditary Optic Neuropathy] and blind community. I needed to show up to learn how to do the everyday things I visually took for granted in the past. I needed to show up to figure out how to survive this overwhelmingness. And, If I kept choosing to show up, that meant I was not choosing to give up.
But, truth be told, I wasn’t always gung-ho about this “showing up” thing. What most people never knew was that I circled the drain many times. I was so mentally weak. I wanted all my torment and tears to disappear for good. And each time I felt this pain, a wee rational voice in my head would pop in and say “Stop!” A slam on the brakes kind of stop—keeping me from spiraling down the dark drain, again. And still, every day, I would ask the universe, “How the hell am I supposed to do this?” I was at a loss.
I kicked. I screamed. I fell. I cried. I was afraid. I panicked. I fought. I got stuck. I grieved. I stumbled. I raged. I paused. I froze. I shook. I dug deep. I listened. I broke down. I grew.
And I slowly began to show up—making my way through the muck and the misery-pulling myself through the hard stuff. I had more life to live, even if it was different from all that I knew.
Okay, so what can I tell you about the process behind showing up with vision loss? A LOT! And all you people standing in the back, come up front. You’ll want to hear this!
Choose to show up
Just show up. It’s that easy, right?! Not really. Showing up with vision loss isn’t always a piece of cake. Wait. What? Is there cake? I’ll show up if there is cake!
Choosing to show up is going to be uncomfortable and scary at times--like being chased by a swarm of murder hornets scary! Yep. It just will. You may think, “Why should I choose to deal with discomfort instead of denial? Why should I choose the scary instead of the status quo?” The answer? Because that is what it takes to gain (and reinforce) the confidence and courage you may have lost when vision loss came into your life.
Unexpectedly losing your vision later in life is a game changer, but not game over. However, don’t plan for it to be an easy change. Expect the change to be hard, and when it is, do it anyway. This is where we need to get good at understanding our difficult emotions.
Naturally, emotions like fear, discomfort, and angst, are ones everybody tries to avoid. We need to discover why these emotions bubble up when they do and learn how to sit with them. Feel them. Talk about them. Instead of resisting or stuffing them down with that “piece of cake” I mentioned earlier. Umm, I won’t judge, I’ve done it too. Anyhoo…if we seek to understand our heavy emotions (not eat them), we can let them go. Letting go of what weighs us down will free us up to handle the next hard thing with strength and grace.
If we know and hold onto our “whys,” then we’ll be more apt to show up, even when it’s hard. My whys are my kids, my GGB [blog] goals, and my wildly “untamed” future, which includes cake. Hey, don’t be all judgin’ ME now, sweetheart! A girl needs her cake every now and then. These “whys” are more important than the pain of the past. Sometimes we need to step back and look at how and why we have made it this far—right to this very moment. Think about it. Pretty amazing, right?
Coach yourself with a pep talk, the same supportive pep talk we would give a dear friend if they were in our shoes. Something like, “I know you don’t feel like it, but you’re worth it. I know you’re strong enough and brave enough to do this!” Take a breath, and repeat it if you need to. If we don’t believe we can show up and do big things, who else will?
When and where we show up with vision loss, or any other disability, matters. Because showing up means we’re not giving up—even when it’s hard.
by Chris Danielsen
From the Editor: Chris Danielsen is our highly talented director of public relations. In this brief article he recognizes a tribute given to a man who works so hard on our behalf. Here is what he says:
Often we express tremendous gratitude for and to the people who come to serve as leaders in the National Federation of the Blind, but it is particularly gratifying when other organizations recognize the character, creativity, and commitment of the people we have elected. The most recent recognition of our President came from a respected weekly paper called the Baltimore Business Journal, affectionately known locally as the BBJ, which bestowed on him one of its 2020 Leaders in Diversity Awards. The recognition included a profile published in the newspaper and also means that President Riccobono will speak briefly at a virtual presentation to be held in September.
The profile that appeared in the BBJ on June 5, 2020, was not the first time President Riccobono was featured in the publication. Our decision to take our 2020 convention virtual was covered by the BBJ in late April as well, and Joanna Sullivan, the paper’s editor-in-chief who covered that news, also penned President Riccobono’s award profile. Ms. Sullivan was certainly impressed that our President is only forty-three years of age, that he leads a civil rights organization of the blind, and that he is undaunted by the challenge of organizing a national convention that, because of the coronavirus, must be held virtually.
Whenever one of us gets an award, that award not only symbolizes the work of the person getting it, but provides the National Federation of the Blind with an opportunity to spread the word about what we do, the obstacles we face, and the work we do to overcome them. As President Riccobono noted in the profile, “One of our challenges is to be recognized as valuable citizens who can contribute to the productivity of the nation and then to land ourselves jobs as part of America’s workforce. We must be included in the diversity initiatives to which many companies claim to commit themselves, so in addition to removing barriers that stem from lack of access, the Federation’s larger job is to change the attitude of society so that we are seen not as takers but as givers.”
President Riccobono also shares in the profile: “As a blind person, I understand at a very personal level the low expectations blind people face, the barriers that hold blind people back. I'm driven by the recognition on a daily basis of how much untapped potential there is about blind people. … Blindness wasn't a barrier to my success. It was people's perceptions about my blindness.”
When asked why blind people are important, President Riccobono said, "Blind people and their talents aren't being fully used in society. They're not being allowed to participate fully. They're not being given the type of training and opportunities they need. You just have a lot of talent that is sidelined.”
When asked about a primary issue for blind people, President Riccobono identified one of the most critical issues facing us during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. "We're focusing on voting,” he said. “A lot of states have paper or electronic ballots. That's hard for the blind person who doesn't have access to a computer. You don't have a way to fill it out. As for the paper, not everyone has someone they trust."
When asked about other ways we are reacting to the pandemic and the problems it presents us, the President said: "I think this situation is going to challenge us to think differently. We're going to come up with some innovative ideas. In addition to the things that work, we are going to come up with things that are going to fail. … We don't know the impact on our fundraising yet. That's kind of a wild card.”
When asked what he has learned about himself and the people he works with in this crisis, President Riccobono said, “I guess first and foremost, for me, I already knew it was important to have real personal interaction—the heart you put into the work that you do. To be mission-driven, you have to have your heart, not just your mind in it to protect the rights of blind people. I try to live that, and my colleagues bring it as well."
by Matt Hackert
From the Editor: Matt is one of the new-comers to the staff, and his inquisitiveness and ability to communicate are a real plus for the Braille Monitor. A caller originally rang me to complain about the frustrations of using a computer but mentioned with some appreciation this software and asked if we might want to run a review. Matt readily agreed, and here is what he says:
GuideConnect, from Dolphin Computer Access, is a self-contained, accessible productivity and entertainment suite for the blind. It is self-voiced and includes an email client, web browser, word processor, calendar, address book, and music player, along with other miscellaneous utilities. Its walled-garden, menu-driven design simplifies use and reduces the number of commands needed to achieve competency with a computer and stay connected with loved ones and the digital world.
It runs on Windows computers and tablets, and there is a set-top box version which allows for use via television. GuideConnect is not available for iOS or Android devices. Additionally, there is a Dolphin Remote which works with both the computer or set-top version. Finally, in most instances, voice dictation is available for inputting text. GuideConnect is an overhaul of Dolphin Guide, which some readers may already be familiar with. GuideConnect has reduced the number of keystrokes needed and has removed some less-popular features and outdated technologies that the older Dolphin Guide included. In addition, GuideConnect has added some features, notably connectivity with Bookshare, NFB-NEWSLINE®, and the NLS Talking Book program.
This article primarily focuses on the GuideConnect package. Another product worth mentioning offered by Dolphin Computer Access is GuideReader. Essentially, they removed the other utilities like the word processor and web browser and left just the books and newspapers to connect with NLS BARD, NFB-NEWSLINE®, and other libraries. While I did not download and test GuideReader, I feel it is safe to presume these functions work identically to how they work as part of GuideConnect. But GuideReader may be a more affordable option to someone not interested in all the other bells and whistles.
One word of caution I feel should be made very clear: while GuideConnect is very easy to use and comes with a lot of features and tools, I cannot overstate the point that it should never be used as a precursor to learning a fully functional screen reader such as JAWS or NVDA. Unfortunately, this approach is frequently adopted in technology training for the blind, and it routinely sets students up for failure when they try to make the transition from Dolphin to running a computer without the “training wheels.” There is very little common ground or transferrable knowledge, and the student might as well start from square one.
That being said, it can be a very useful way for someone who has lost sight later in life to maintain connection with loved ones without the challenges inherent in learning a screen reader and all the intricacies of operating a computer. GuideConnect may also be an appropriate solution in certain instances where the student has a brain injury or other cognitive challenges. I feel it best to leave that determination to those who are professionals in access technology training, from the perspective of Structured Discovery, but certainly not used as a short-cut approach to make learning a screen reader easier.
GuideConnect includes the following features:
Installation of the program is fairly simple, although it may be a challenge for some that the application is targeting. Connecting to my Gmail account got a little tricky. Google alerts you to confirm you authorized a third-party application to connect to your account. Connecting my other accounts such as NLS BARD, Bookshare, and NFB-NEWSLINE® were as simple as just providing my login credentials. My impression from reading their support materials is that the expectation is a family member or friend will be called upon to do the initial setup for someone who wishes to use GuideConnect.
Navigating through GuideConnect is simple and straightforward. One need only use the arrow keys and the F2 key, which accesses an “Actions” menu, akin to the common context menu many Windows users are familiar with. Most everything works as advertised, and other than typing information into text fields, you really can get around most things with nothing more than the four arrow keys and the F2 key. Additionally, most editing areas also allow for voice dictation.
I do have to make note of one exception, that being the web browser. Now, I cannot fully blame the developers for this issue; as a former access technology instructor, I can state with some authority that learning web navigation with a screen reader is probably the most difficult of all fundamental computer skills to master. When a software developer tries to implement a scheme for web navigation with minimal commands and concepts to learn, (stripping down many of the parts of a full screen reader that a blind user relies on), the developer takes take away many of the enhancements that one learns over time which allows the blind user to become more efficient at using the internet.
That being said, the browser built into GuideConnect is quite simple. It includes a “search this webpage” feature for finding text within the webpage you’ve loaded. It offers links lists and headings lists which you also find elsewhere. You can press the letter H or Shift + H to navigate on a page by heading. That’s about it for the extent to which GuideConnect overlaps with other screen readers. When an edit field is in focus, it reads the label and tells you to select to enter text. Similar instructions are given when focus lands on check boxes, radio buttons, and other common form controls. But there is no analogue to JAWS’ “Forms mode” or NVDA’s “Object” and “Browse” modes.
As an experiment, I tried to purchase a copy of Stephen King’s The Shining on Amazon.com. Without many of the features in JAWS that improve usability of websites, I found it very tedious even finding my search results, and I felt I already had an advantage being familiar with its website, having used it with JAWS and NVDA in the past.
Still though, perhaps for looking up recipes and reading news stories or blogs, it may be sufficient for some users. I tried shopping because I felt that may also be an activity many people using GuideConnect would appreciate having access to.
On the other hand, one feature I feel worth mentioning as a positive is GuideConnect’s interface with the National Library Service Talking Book Program. In particular, I appreciate the ability to listen to audiobooks from BARD directly on my computer. This is something that, to my knowledge, is not available any other way; you must download files and unzip them onto a flash drive, or otherwise transfer them to proprietary reading hardware like a Victor Stream. Software like BARDExpress and the Victor Companion streamline this process in some cases, but it still involves extra steps. With GuideConnect, you don’t even have to add a book to your Wishlist first like you would do with the BARD Mobile iOS app.
GuideConnect has a thorough settings menu giving the user robust control of many accessibility features and other configuration items. There are multiple voice options, controls over verbosity, and typing feedback. While you can select announcement of typed characters, words, or both, I was disappointed that you could not disable all typing feedback. Also, while you can adjust the speech rate, the fastest setting was still slower than I am accustomed to hearing from my screen reader. I can’t say, however, how many other users might end up feeling that way as well.
While I am completely blind and did not evaluate the low vision options, this section also included a wide variety of options to configure, including magnification, enlarged mouse pointers, and various color schemes.
While I was unable to experiment with setting up all of the various options, particularly OCR, voice dictation, and printing, I feel GuideConnect is a well-built product for a particular market. I have to reiterate that I would not recommend GuideConnect as a “bridge” to learning a full screen reader, and I feel it would be extremely limiting to use it in an employment capacity. But for individuals who have lost their sight later in life, perhaps after retirement, and do not have the patience required to learn computing nonvisually, this product is one that would work well. The initial installation and setup of accounts may require assistance, but if you don’t have someone available to help with setting up the program, GuideConnect comes with telephone, email, and remote assistance.
This month’s recipes come from the NFB of Ohio.
Sweet Potato Pie
by Delcenia Brown
Delcenia Brown is a member of the Cleveland chapter. She is also active in deaf-blind activities. She recently completed a Braille course that the Ohio affiliate taught in conjunction with the state rehabilitation agency. She proudly reports that she is now reading Braille books.
4 to 6 yams or sweet potatoes, depending on their size
1 cup sugar (I prefer Domino and add more to taste)
1 can Eagle brand sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or to taste
2 deep-dish pie crusts
Method: Peel and cut up potatoes and cook covered in salted water until very tender. Drain and place in mixer bowl to cool a little. Before baking pies, lightly prick deep-dish crusts with a fork and place in a 350-degree oven for three to five minutes. Set aside. In mixing bowl mix cooked yams slowly. Add remaining ingredients. The order does not matter. Make sure the filling is not lumpy. When done mixing, pour mixture into deep pie crusts. Bake at 350 degrees for about one hour until filling is done and pie crust is brown. Lightly touch the center of the pie; it should feel firm, not wobbly, and a toothpick or knife will come out clean.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
by Debbie Baker
Debbie Baker is president of the NFB of Springfield. She is also a retired teacher of blind children. She has taught in every BELL Academy Ohio has conducted.
4 large chicken breasts or 8 chicken thighs, browned and shredded
2 cans cream of chicken soup
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
2 cans cream of celery soup
2 cans cheddar cheese soup
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 cup salsa
Chili powder, cayenne pepper, and black pepper to taste
Chicken stock to thin the soup if desired
Method: Combine and cook all ingredients in a covered six-quart soup pot or other vessel for one hour on high. Reduce heat to low and cook for two more hours. Top with one or more of the following: sour cream, pico de gallo, shredded cheddar, crunchy multi-colored tortilla strips, cilantro, or parsley. Add chicken broth during cooking if you wish to thin the soup. Serve with flour or corn tortillas.
by Jordy Stringer
Jordy Stringer is the executive director of the Southeastern Ohio Center for Independent Living. He is also an active Federationist.
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 #2 can tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large eggplant
½ cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups breadcrumbs
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch of salt and pepper
½ pound mozzarella cheese
Method: Blend the tomato paste with the canned tomatoes. Add two tablespoons olive oil and a pinch of salt and simmer in a saucepan for about thirty minutes. Peel and slice the eggplant crosswise into half-inch slices. Place in a bowl and cover with hot water. Let stand for about five minutes. Drain and dry with paper towels. Fry eggplant in half-cup of olive oil for about three minutes on each side or until soft and lightly browned. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from pan. In a medium bowl mix together the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper. Place one layer of eggplant slices in the bottom of a greased baking dish. Sprinkle with breadcrumb mixture. Pour some of the tomato sauce over eggplant. Alternate these two layers until eggplant and tomato mixture are used. Top with thinly sliced or grated mozzarella. Bake for ten minutes in a 350-degree oven or until mozzarella turns slightly brown. Serve very hot. Makes four to six servings.
Balsamic Herb-Grilled Chicken Breasts
by Richard Payne
Richard Payne is president of the NFB of Ohio. He lives in Dayton and is a member of the NFB of the Miami Valley.
4 skinless boned chicken breast halves
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
Method: In a bowl whisk together oil, vinegar, parsley, garlic, basil, and oregano. Place the chicken breasts in a Ziploc plastic bag. Pour marinade over chicken. Close bag and massage to coat meat evenly. Allow to rest for ten minutes or longer if you like. Cook on grill heated to 375 degrees. Cook, turning several times, till meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Meat will feel firm to the touch when done. Serves four.
Blueberry Cream Muffins
by Asia Quinones-Evans
Asia is a member of the NFB of Lorain County and treasurer of the Ohio Association of Blind Students.
2 cups white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sour cream
2 cups blueberries
Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease twenty-four large muffin cups or line with paper muffin liners. In large bowl beat eggs, and gradually add sugar while beating. Continue beating while slowly pouring in oil. Stir in vanilla. In a separate bowl stir together flour, salt, and baking soda. Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture alternately with sour cream. Gently fold in blueberries. Scoop batter into prepared muffin cups. Bake in preheated oven for twenty minutes. Muffins are done when a toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean.
Tater Tot Casserole
by Eric Duffy
Eric Duffy was a tenBroek Fellow in the scholarship class of 2019 and is about to receive his master’s degree in business administration. He also serves as the secretary of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. He served as director of access technology at the Jernigan Institute and, for four years, as president of the Ohio Affiliate.
Here is what he says: We used this recipe in our 2019 Bell Academy. Not only did our students get to eat it, but they helped make it. They learned, they had fun, and everyone enjoyed it.
1 pound ground beef
Pinch of salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 10.75-ounce can condensed cream of mushroom soup
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 (16 ounce) package frozen tater tots
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook and stir ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat until no longer pink and completely browned, seven to ten minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. Stir cream of mushroom soup into the cooked ground beef; pour the mixture into a 9x13-inch baking dish. Arrange tater tots evenly over the ground beef mixture. Top with cheddar cheese. Bake until tater tots are golden brown and hot, thirty to forty-five minutes.
by Barbara Shaidnagle
Barbara Shaidnagle is an at-large member of Ohio, living in Massillon, Ohio. She is also a Circle of Honor member. BELL Academy volunteers may recognize this recipe from BELL activities.
1 box angel food cake mix
1 box any flavor cake mix
2 tablespoons water
Method: In a Ziploc bag combine the two cake mixes together and mix well. To make each individual cake, take out three tablespoons of the cake mix combination and mix it with two tablespoons of water in a small microwave-safe container like a coffee mug. Microwave on high for one minute, and you have your own instant individual little cake. Keep remaining cake mixture stored in the Ziploc bag and use whenever you feel like enjoying a treat. You can top each cake with a dollop of fat-free whipped topping and/or some fresh fruit.
Helpful Tips: This recipe is called 3-2-1 Cake because all you need to remember is "3 tablespoons mix, 2 tablespoons water, and 1 minute in the microwave." Try various flavors of cake mix like carrot, red velvet, pineapple, lemon, orange, etc. Just remember that one of the mixes has to be the angel food cake; the other is your choice. The flavor possibilities are endless.
Pineapple Walnut Cake
by Patricia McPherson
From the Editor: Pat is a member of the Greater Akron chapter.
2 8-ounce cans Dole crushed pineapple, undrained
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
Method: In a large bowl combine and stir together the ingredients in order listed. Spray a 15-by-10-inch jelly roll pan with cooking spray. Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake at 350 degrees for fifteen to eighteen minutes. When cake is done, cool pan on wire rack.
Ingredients for cream cheese icing:
8 ounces softened cream cheese
1 stick softened butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
Method: With mixer beat cream cheese. Gradually add butter, vanilla, and powdered sugar. Spread on cooled cake. Sprinkle nuts over surface.
A federal district judge has ordered the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to provide an accessible write-in ballot (AWIB) to blind Pennsylvania voters for the June 2 primary election. The ruling is a victory for Joseph Drenth, a blind Chalfont resident, who fears going to his local polling place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Mr. Drenth’s immune system is slightly compromised, and his wife and mother-in-law, with whom he lives, both have asthma and complicating factors.
The Honorable Jennifer P. Wilson, district judge for the Federal District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, issued a temporary restraining order after a Wednesday hearing in the lawsuit that Mr. Drenth and the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania (NFB-PA) filed last week. The court’s order requires the state to provide blind voters with a list of the candidates on the ballot for their voting district along with an accessible electronic form on which they can type in their choices for each office. Blind Pennsylvania voters who wish to use the AWIB must request the accessible form by no later than 8:00 p.m. on Friday, May 29. Eligible voters must have applied for an absentee or mail-in ballot by the May 26, 2020, deadline and not yet have submitted a paper ballot. The AWIB must be submitted along with a declaration and a valid identification number. Voters must return their AWIB materials by first-class mail or hand-delivery to the County Board of Elector’s office in the voter’s jurisdiction by no later than 8:00 p.m. on June 2, 2020.
The lawsuit, which will continue in order to resolve the question of accessible absentee and mail-in ballot solutions for elections later this year, alleges violations of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The plaintiffs were represented by Disability Rights Pennsylvania and Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP.
“Although this temporary solution is not ideal, we commend Judge Wilson for ruling expeditiously, for making it clear that commonwealth officials must respect the rights of blind voters, and for recognizing that the status quo was unacceptable,” said Lynn Heitz, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. “In light of this ruling and the judge’s clear direction at the hearing, we hope that the Commonwealth will work quickly with us to identify and implement a fully ADA-compliant voting solution for future elections.”
Raleigh, North Carolina (June 4, 2020): Duke University systematically discriminates against blind students and alumni in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, according to a lawsuit filed today. The action, brought by the National Federation of the Blind and Duke MBA Mary Fernandez, alleges that Duke failed to ensure that blind students can interact with digital content and platforms and access course materials—including hard-copy Braille materials and hard-copy tactile graphics when requested and appropriate—on an equal basis with students without disabilities.
According to the lawsuit, Plaintiff Mary Fernandez is a blind student who began the Duke Daytime MBA program in the fall of 2018. To read print, Ms. Fernandez uses screen access software, Job Access with Speech (“JAWS”), which vocalizes the text using synthesized speech or displays it on a connected device called a refreshable Braille display. For STEM subjects, Ms. Fernandez also uses hard-copy Braille and tactile graphics to better understand the complex concepts because refreshable Braille displays only display a single line of Braille cells at a time, and thus are not useful for complex equations, coordinate planes, diagrams, maps, and other graphics.
Ms. Fernandez met with the Assistant Director of Student Life before she enrolled and was assured Duke would provide the accommodations she needed to have equal access to her education. From the start, however, Ms. Fernandez experienced barriers that permeated every aspect of her educational experience. When she applied for admission, she encountered an inaccessible web-based application. When she registered online for courses, she could not access the course descriptions. When she utilized the employer recruiting system, she could not set up her user profile and could not utilize any of the search functions. In addition, Duke failed to provide Ms. Fernandez with timely access to accessible course materials, including hard-copy Braille and tactile graphics when she requested them. As a result, Ms. Fernandez was continually forced to divert her time and attention away from her studies to advocate for equal access to her education.
“Blind students must have access to course materials in accessible formats including Braille, along with equal access to digital platforms and content, at the same time as sighted students in order to have an equal opportunity to succeed,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “This is not a new issue; it has been a focus of our advocacy for nearly two decades, and institutions of higher education have no excuse for not meeting this legal and moral obligation. The blind cannot and will not tolerate discrimination of this kind.”
“The failure to provide blind students with timely, accessible course materials and career services not only harms their educational experience, it puts their future career and economic self-sufficiency at risk,” said Virginia Knowlton Marcus, chief executive officer of Disability Rights North Carolina. “Duke University, in particular, has previously been sued by Disability Rights NC regarding the inaccessibility of its course materials and has the responsibility to know better and do better.”
“I expected an institution with Duke’s high standards and reputation to be able to meet my needs as a blind student and was assured that would happen,” said Ms. Fernandez. “Instead, my time at Duke has been something of a nightmare. I hope the action I am now taking will improve things for future blind students who want to attend Duke.”
The plaintiffs are represented by the attorneys of Disability Rights NC and the law firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP.
The NFB of Minnesota turns one hundred this year. To celebrate, an audio history of the accomplishments over that time has been put together. The audio is not currently available, but will be soon. The text version can be found at www.nfbmn.org/100 years.
Blind Students and Advocates Resolve Dispute with College Board over AP Exams
Students Will Receive Braille Exams, Tactile Graphics
Baltimore, Maryland (May 29, 2020): Kaleigh Brendle, a blind advanced-placement (AP) high school student from New Jersey, and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the nation’s leading advocate for the equal education of the blind, have resolved their dispute with the College Board over its administration of the advanced placement examinations to blind and deaf-blind students during the coronavirus pandemic. Ms. Brendle and the NFB filed complaints with the United States Department of Education and Department of Justice on behalf of themselves and four other named students, as well as the class of all other blind and deafblind students. The complaints alleged that the students’ rights were violated when the College Board instituted a digital-only format for the exams because of the pandemic and did not provide hard-copy Braille tests and/or hard-copy tactile graphics to students who had requested and been granted those accommodations. The complaints have been withdrawn in light of today’s resolution.
Without admitting wrongdoing, the College Board has agreed to allow certain students to retake AP exams using hard-copy tactile graphics (including charts, coordinate planes, diagrams, maps, etc.) and to administer hard-copy Braille tests to students who were already approved for Braille and who request to take or retake their exams with hard-copy Braille. Students will be able to take the Braille tests by September 15, 2020. For students who retake exams with hard-copy tactile graphics or hard-copy Braille, any prior answers or test scores will be disregarded. The College Board will also provide a letter to affected high school seniors explaining the delay in testing and scoring so that these seniors can provide that information to institutions of higher education.
In a separate letter not related to the complaints, the College Board has also agreed to consult with the National Federation of the Blind on procedures for administering the SAT and SAT subject tests to blind and deafblind students.
“My fellow blind and deafblind AP scholars and I never sought confrontation, compensation, or publicity. We desired only to receive fair treatment and to be provided with the materials we require in order to succeed,” said Kaleigh Brendle. “We raised our voices on behalf of those who could not, with the hope that every student who needed Braille would receive it. We are grateful to the College Board for listening to and understanding our concerns and working with us to institute change. Now, we can resume preparing for these influential exams and shaping our futures as empowered advocates of equality and opportunity.”
“It has been a privilege to work alongside these courageous students who raised their voices about the unfair treatment they received during an already stressful time,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “This swift and equitable agreement exemplifies the power of collective action. We look forward to further cooperation and collaboration between the College Board and the organized blind movement to improve opportunities for all blind and deafblind scholars.”
Ms. Brendle and the National Federation of the Blind were represented by Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum and Kevin Docherty of Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP.
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.