Braille Monitor                         August/September 2020

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The Presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award

James GashelThank you so much, Mr. Chairman, and just responding to my friend Ray, oh, my goodness, you take me back, many, many, many years. But Ray, we're going to live long enough to live forever! So I don't think this is a problem. Now, I do remember working on these grants, and I would sleep in the office chair while you slept on the couch, but we got the work done. We funded the Kurzweil reading machine, and really the rest is history.

Well, now down to the Bolotin awards, which is what I'm really here to present. President Riccobono and my Federation family, thank you very much as we say here in Hawaii, thank you my Federation ohana everywhere. Jacob Bolotin was a blind guy. He would tell you that. He wanted you to know that. He grew up blind and graduated from the Illinois School for the Blind. He lived in Chicago. Whether he could have done so or not, he never tried to pass himself off as anything other than blind. He did a lot of things in his short life, thirty-six years from 1888 to 1924. But unflagging determination to break the mold of low expectations of what blind people could be and become in his time tells Bolotin's story more than anything else. At age twenty-five, he became a medical doctor. He specialized in diseases of the heart and lungs. You know, this is what we say when we—what we mean when we say you can live the life you want. Bolotin was a member of our Federation family before the Federation itself. I like to think of it that way.

His story has been told by his niece, Rosalind Perlman, in a biography called The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story. You need to read this book. You can get it from Amazon in print, or if you want to pay a lot you can also get it on audio CD. Or you can get it from the Library of Congress books for the blind and print disabled program. Our annual Bolotin awards keep his memory alive. And they also support worthy efforts to break the mold of low expectations of what blind people can be and become. Now, this is the thirteenth year for these awards made possible by the NFB with help from the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. To date, we've presented $680,000 to sixty-four recipients. Two new winners are being honored this year. The awards include a cash prize for each recipient and an engraved commemorative plaque with a medallion appropriately configured as you'll see to recognize the award's significance. Now, here is the text on the plaque. Presented to—then the name of the organization—by the National Federation of the Blind and the Santa Barbara Foundation July 2020. The medallion, suspended above the plaque, has the NFB logo on the obverse side with these inscribed words: “The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award, celebrating achievement, creating opportunity.” The reverse side of the medallion has Dr. Bolotin's bust with these inscribed words: “Dr. Jacob Bolotin, 1888-1924. Celebrating his life, the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust.”

(Video.) Ladies and gentlemen, the National Federation of the Blind is proud to introduce the 2020 recipients of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin awards. Our winners have broken down barriers faced by blind people in innovative ways, changed negative perception of blindness and blind people, and pushed past existing boundaries to inspire blind people to achieve new heights. The winners are:
Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM Education for its innovative work to make astrophysics and astronomy data accessible to the blind. Here’s president and education director, Kate Meredith:

We had multiple projects where students were able to enjoy, discover, and understand astronomy. We provided that with lots of different kinds of tactiles. But when it comes to capturing your own image from a telescope and getting the image back, astronomical images are just numbers on a spreadsheet. That's all it is. And what we do as sighted people, since we love the beautiful images, we create visuals out of those numbers. But astronomy is not inherently anymore a visual science. It might have been one hundred years ago when everyone had to look through a telescope and draw what they saw. But now scientists take the numbers and they create ways to interact with the numbers. What we wanted to do with the data processing software is that, no matter what your visual acuity is, you can load an image into the software and analyze it, measure the brightness of objects and compare how it changes over time, calculate a position of the object in the sky, and see how maybe an asteroid moved. We wanted those tools to be accessible so that a person, regardless of their visual ability, could capture their own data, load it into the software, choose which data they wanted to analyze, acquire those data, and analyze themselves without the help of a sighted peer. It is one thing to be given a National Science Foundation Award to do something no one else has done before. But to be recognized by a leading organization who represents the people you're trying to work with and serve means everything. To be acknowledged means we've done our homework, done our due diligence, and worked hard to do it right. And to get that vote of approval means more to me than anything you can actually possibly imagine. It is that important to us.

Marilee Talkington, actor and executive director of Access Acting Academy. Marilee Talkington:

Access Acting Academy was to fulfill a couple things: one to actually train actors to go out on audition so I basically get to say, you can't use the excuse anymore that we're not trained, we're not out there. Sorry. That's not the excuse you get to use anymore. And two, to actually develop a totally inclusive pedagogy of actor training that is fully accessible for blind and low vision actors, which is what we did. That in itself, the evolution of training that has been offered for decades. Some of it even centuries, some of this is centuries old training, so that we can access this work, was a profound experience for me. I learned a ton. I think ultimately the academy was a place for blind and low vision actors to learn but also to teach where we need to grow as blind and low vision leaders.

When I got the call from you that I was to receive this award, I looked it up, and I started to cry. It's a profound privilege to receive it. Deeply honored by it! To be associated with these incredible pioneers, it's also validating, because I've been working so hard for so long in this sphere, a lot of times alone. So to be recognized in that way feels really amazing. I'm very grateful for it. Deeply. And when I saw that there was a cash element, and I was like, I could get a few thousand dollars! All of a sudden I was like, this is the sign that I needed to dive back into Access Acting Academy. In the past week, I have spoken with four other blind and low vision teachers. We're ready now, I'm ready now, to create an entire virtual studio through Access Acting Academy. I'm actually going to launch it at the awards ceremony for this award. We'll open up classes for the fall. It will be totally virtual. There will be acting classes, embodiment classes, voice classes, movement theater classes, hopefully Shakespeare classes. Because it's time that the reach just keeps going out in the world. I want to service as many people as we possibly can. It's not only to cultivate the next generation of blind and low vision actors but the next generation of blind and low vision leaders.

Ladies and gentlemen, these winners will each receive a trophy and a monetary prize to advance their work to help blind people live the lives we want. Now the National Federation of the Blind proudly presents them with their 2020 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. (end of video.)

JAMES GASHEL: Okay, guys, these are our two winners. What an outstanding class of programs, of unflagging determination to break the mold of low expectations of what blind people can be and become. As I like to say, keeping the Jacob Bolotin's legacy alive. Now, what you don't know, and what they don't know, is what is the amount of the cash prize each one of them is going to receive? But I do know.

Our first winner is Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM Education for its groundbreaking work to create opportunities for the blind in astronomy as education and career objectives. Now, who would have thought? Blind people becoming experts in viewing the planets, the stars, and beyond! Kate Meredith and her team at Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM Education believe in blind people, just like Jacob Bolotin believed that blind people can achieve in medicine, and he became a medical doctor. Congratulations Kate Meredith, who is president and head of the team at Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM Education. She's here tonight to accept the Jacob Bolotin award to that organization in the amount of $25,000. Here's Kate Meredith.

The GLAS staff: Kate Meredith, Deb Kaelbli, Adam McCulloch, Ranger and Winter (the two dogs).KATE MEREDITH: Okay! Thank you so much. And you promised me ten extra seconds to jump up and down for absolute joy. We are here. And I'm here with staff members, Adam and Stephanie. Those of you using screen readers may already know of us as GLASE Education, but we are Geneva Lake Astrophysics and STEAM Education. At GLASE, we collaborate with blind and sighted members of the scientific community to dismantle barriers, increase accessibility in STEM, and blaze new trails in order for everyone to participate equally in every aspect of science, rather than passively participate in what others create on their behalf. GLASE allows anyone, regardless of vision, to explore the universe to the limits of their own imagination rather than those imposed on them by others' lack of imagination. There are so many people to thank for how far we've come as an organization. If it were not for the dedication of Vivian Hetty, we would not have taken those first steps to partner with the Wisconsin School for the Blind over twenty years ago. Without two consecutive awards from the National Science Foundation, we would not have trod the difficult path from 3D models and inaccessible curricula to confronting the challenges of creating accessible image processing software. This process is essential for independent scientific exploration of the universe by those who are blind or visually impaired.

From the beginning, NFB members have guided what we have become as a community. Our deepest thanks to Jeremiah Beasley, David Hyde, Katie Watson Corbitt for their steadfast support of us over the years. We thank Williams Bay Lions Club without whose contribution we would not have been able to host blind astronomers at Yerkes Observatory and GLASE. A special thanks to blind astronomer Dr. Nic Bonne for his unwavering dedication and the center for cosmology in Portsmouth, U.K. for allowing his extended stays with us to be part of his actual workload.
A personal thanks to Chris Matthews, Alex Trob, Tia Berts, who agreed to be a part of the NSF grant to develop accessible tools for astronomy. They represent the blind community with creativity, patience, and truly untold perseverance.

Lastly, we want to thank you. We want you to be proud with us for all of our future work. Your recognition today lets us know that we're on the right track. Thank you so much from myself, Adam and Deb and Chris who are all here tonight from Wisconsin. We wish we were in Hawaii, but thank you.

JAMES GASHEL: Thank you, Kate. Incidentally, if you were wondering as I was wondering what in the world STEAM means in the name of this organization, I can now tell you. This is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. I know you knew that already, but I didn't. Now I do.

Also know that the NFB has had a STEM2U program. After tonight, I'm thinking that after tonight that ought to become a STEAM2U program.

Now, our second winner is Marilee Talkington. She's being recognized for her personal initiative and her creativity in forming Access Acting Academy for low vision adults and kids. This is the first of its kind venture, which Marilee was inspired to undertake based on interest shown by people within our Performing Arts Division.

Marilee has said about this academy so well, "Actor training of this caliber and level of accessibility has never been available before. Now is the time when profoundly rich and untapped talent should be cultivated, collaborated with, celebrated, and realized." You know, these are the profound words of what it means to have unflagging determination, to break the mold of low expectations of what blind people can be and become, keeping the legacy of Jacob Bolotin alive. That's what you're doing, Marilee. Congratulations for your leadership, your belief in yourself, and your belief in other blind people. Now, Marilee Talkington is with us tonight to receive her personal Dr. Jacob Bolotin award in the amount of $25,000. Here's Marilee Talkington.

Marilee TalkingtonMARILEE TALKINGTON: Oh, my God! Oh, my God. Oh, my God! I'm—wow. I'm a little overwhelmed by that. I did not—oh, my goodness gracious. I had a speech. That might get thrown out. Wow. Okay. Okay. Focus. Here we go. I'm a performer. I'm a professional performer and speaker. Let me get focused here.

I am so honored and privileged to be receiving this and to be associated with such incredible pioneers like Kate Meredith and her team and everybody else that is doing work to actually raise the bar, because it has been so low! In the entertainment industry, the bar literally doesn't exist. We've been invisible this whole time. So to be recognized for the work that I'm doing not only as an individual artist for twenty-five years but also to be recognized doing the work for Access Acting Academy is incredible.

I want to say, this is what I want to say, because when you called me to let me know about this award, a fire lit inside me, because I've been suffering from the pandemic blues, just like everybody else. And what the fire said, because it spoke to me, it said, it's time. It's time now, and the vision has to get bigger. And now you have to go because more people need this.
So in the past month I have constructed an entire faculty that will be serving adults, teens, and kids on a virtual platform. This will be the first-ever professional actor’s academy for blind/low vision folks. And there's also going to be a leadership track as well so people not in the arts industry can come and study and find the ownership of their authentic power and voices. So if you go to, you'll find everything on there. We're going to launch officially in August. And I am so, so grateful for this honor and this award. And the money, what can I say? I'm a starving artist. This helps. So thank you so much. I can't wait to do more work together with you so we can keep going forward into the entertainment industry and crush it! The revolution has begun! Thank you.

JAMES GASHEL: Thank you, Marilee. That's what it's all about. Now, to all of you, please visit our Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award page at You'll be able to find out more about these winners, and you can get the full length of their interviews too. Thank you to Ron Brown, Mary Ellen Jernigan, Everette Bacon, and Marc Maurer for all their hard work and enlightened experience in helping to select these award winners again this year. Mr. Chairman, this concludes my report and the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards for 2020. Aloha.

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