Vol. 64, No. 1 January 2021
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
email address: [email protected]
website address: http://www.nfb.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: 866-504-7300
Like us on Facebook: Facebook.com/nationalfederationoftheblind
Follow us on Twitter: @NFB_Voice
Watch and share our videos: YouTube.com/NationsBlind
Letters to the President, address changes, subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature should be sent to the national office. Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also be sent to the national office or may be emailed to [email protected].
Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about forty dollars per year. Members are invited,
and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be
made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998
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.
Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick or USB flash drive). You can read this audio edition using a computer or a National Library Service digital player. The NLS machine has two slots--the familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again. (Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive, the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges, when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.
You can transfer the recording of each issue from the thumb drive to your computer or preserve it on the thumb drive. However, because thumb drives can be used hundreds of times, we would appreciate their return in order to stretch our funding. Please use the return envelope enclosed with the drive when you return the device.
Vol. 64, No. 1 January 2021
Illustration: The Five Hundredth Presidential Release: Communication is the Key
A Walk Taken Today and a Walk Taken Eighty Years Ago
by Mark Riccobono
2021 Washington Seminar Update from Government Affairs: The Issues
National Federation of the Blind Code of Conduct
The National Federation of the Blind Stands in Solidarity with Victims and Survivors
Open Letter of Apology from President Riccobono
From My Head to My Heart
by Michael Colbrunn
Remote Science Learning Advancements for the Blind
by Ashley Neybert
From the Director's Desk
by Jennifer M. Kennedy
Tolling Bells and Ocean Swells
by Stacie Dubnow
Navigating Healthcare When All They Can See is that You Can't
by Deborah Kent Stein
When Voting In-person is not an Option, the Blind Still Need Their Vote
by Chris Danielsen
Mentoring Cultivates and Nurtures Relationships that Contribute to Lifelong Learning and to Living the Lives We Want
by Maurice Peret
COVID-19 Reflections On Our Strange New World
by Maurice Peret
Dr. Sachin Dev Pavithran Named Executive Director of the US Access Board
Honoring our Blind Ancestors: Anita O'Shea
by Peggy Chong
Copyright 2021 by the National Federation of the Blind
[PHOTO CAPTION: Marc Maurer, Mark Riccobono, and Mary Ellen Jernigan]
In 1973 President Jernigan wanted a more personal way to communicate with members who came together in chapter meetings. For decades a letter was sent that leaders were asked to read during the meeting, but he wanted something in his own voice, something that did not require a sighted person to read. For this reason, Presidential Release number one was issued on November 12, 1973, and it can be heard at https://www.nfb.org/sites/www.nfb.org/files/2020-12/1st%20Release%20Audio.mp3.On December 1, 2020, President Riccobono recorded Presidential Release number 500. In addition to the normal updates we are accustomed to find, he asked Immediate Past President Marc Maurer and Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan to join him in the live release. Presidential Release 500 was certainly memorable, and it can be found at https://www.nfb.org/sites/www.nfb.org/files/2020-12/pr_500_supplemental.mp3.
by Mark Riccobono
From the Editor: On our eightieth anniversary President Riccobono shared these thoughts in the NFB President’s Notebook sent to chapter and affiliate presidents. Little did he know he was simultaneously constructing the lead article to begin 2021. Here is what he said:
This morning as I took my daily walk through Riverside Park (which sits just east of the Johnson Street side of our headquarters), I pictured in my mind the symbology of the moment. I was there just at the time that the sun was supposed to rise in Baltimore. I started thinking about what the sunrise might have been like on that day eighty years ago when Jacobus tenBroek woke up, and his plan for that day was to establish the National Federation of the Blind. Did he know he would be elected as the movement’s first President and that he would dedicate much of his remaining twenty-seven-and-one-half years to its advancement? Today was slightly chilly, but the sunrise brought a sense of warmth to the clear morning. Is that similar to what Dr. tenBroek felt—a lifting of the cold, hard times that blind people had experienced for decades?
As I walked south in the park, it occurred to me that the morning sunlight would shine on the Johnson Street side of our building perfectly, there being no major structures blocking the morning sun from our building. The distance between the sun and our building is vast, and with the complexities of our lives now, 1940 seems just as distant from 2020. I imagined the sun hitting our building and considered the hundreds of thousands of lives that have lived under that sun and contributed to the movement we share.
Eighty years is a short time. Yet, for the blind it represents significant progress. In 1940 the very building that now serves as the headquarters for our efforts was producing materials for use in the Second World War. The workers inside could have never imagined it would later become the best-known facility for advancing the rights of the blind anywhere in the world. Furthermore, the sixteen delegates who gathered together to form the first membership of the Federation could not have imagined the twists, turns, victories, and setbacks we have faced over these eighty years.
As I came to the south end of the walkway in the park, I followed the path east into the morning sun. The warmth of the sun felt like hope: the kind of hope that we experience in this movement every day, the feeling that those sixteen people must have had when they came together to establish what has come to be the most powerful force for blind people.
It is fitting on this day to look back and to experience the warm feelings that come from all that we have accomplished. We should be proud of those who came before us and all they did to make it possible for us to walk this path. Once we do that for a short time, we have a choice: we can continue celebrating the past, or we can turn with renewed strength, face the future, and walk confidently in that direction with the light of our history supporting us and urging us to march forward. When I got to the east end of the path in the park, I did not hesitate; I turned and began to loop back around to the west to come to our building to begin another day marching alongside each of you to advance our collective movement.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I am left with one thought as I enter our Johnson Street door with the sun at my back. I am thankful for the incredible blind people who made it possible through their daily sacrifice for us to be in this moment. I am equally thankful for the incredible blind people who allow us to walk confidently into the future. It is an honor to know we march together every day. It is a comfort to know you have my back. It is a joy to imagine what we will do together tomorrow.
I do not know if I will walk that same path twenty years from now, but I am confident in what our movement will be on our one hundredth anniversary—and for that I feel a great sense of pride. Until then, I am going to enjoy the struggle and the accomplishment of building with each of you every day. Take a moment to reflect on those Federationists who you have known personally who have helped us get to today. Then, with the warmth of that love, turn, link arms with me, and let’s march into the future together. When I say “Let’s go build the National Federation of the Blind,” what I mean is let’s enjoy the honor of working together to transform our dreams and the dreams of those who have not yet discovered our movement into reality. The warmth of the movement started before we got here. If we do it right, the warmth will go beyond us into a future where others will reflect fondly on what we have done to make their lives better every day.
As we mentioned in the November issue of the Monitor, the 2021 Washington Seminar will be our first-ever virtual week on Capitol Hill. A virtual edition of the Great Gathering-In will still take place on Monday, February 8, 2021, at its typical time of 5:00 p.m. Eastern, and we are still planning to have our members meet with every member of Congress from Tuesday, February 9 through Thursday, February 11. The pandemic can’t stop us; it can barely slow us down!
Now that we’ve reviewed some of the overarching details, let’s talk a little about the legislative priorities we’ll be bringing to the 117th Congress. Keep in mind this isn’t intended to be a thorough breakdown of each topic, but more of a syllabus to give you a brief idea of what’s to come.
With the momentum we’ve built for ATAA over the past two sessions, we are very enthusiastic about this bill’s prospects in the 117th Congress. The specific details for the ATAA, a refundable tax credit of up to $2,000 over the course of three years for the purchase of qualified access technology, will remain unchanged for 2021. The goal of this legislation is to make it easier for blind Americans to purchase access technology, which we believe will in turn increase employment opportunities for the blind.
While we are excited by the support the GAIN Act has garnered, we also believe that a more streamlined approach might be necessary to ultimately gain some traction with this legislation. That’s why we are narrowing the focus of the bill to strictly home-use medical devices for the 117th Congress. With that in mind, the name of this legislation will likely change by the beginning of the next Congress, but the goal of requiring manufacturers to make home-use medical devices nonvisually accessible will remain the same.
While website accessibility has been a legislative priority for many years at NFB, for 2021 we have decided to elevate it to a Washington Seminar issue. This is due in part to the preponderance of so-called “click-by” lawsuits and the call from businesses for some kind of regulation. In our discussions with certain retail and business groups, we’ve learned that they generally want their websites to be accessible (which is already required by law), but they don’t have a firm grasp on what accessibility looks like. With the two most recent administrations effectively kicking this can down the road, the need for these regulations is long overdue. We’ve decided that if the Department of Justice isn’t going to initiate a rulemaking on its own, then we are going to work with Congress to pass a law that will make it happen.
Those are going to be our three marquee issues for the 2021 Washington Seminar, but we also want to bring up the issue of voting accessibility with certain members of Congress, especially members of the House Committee on House Administration and the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration. We believe it is of critical importance to create a nationwide regulation for accessible voting to ensure that blind Americans are afforded the same privacy, independence, and equivalent ease of use as sighted Americans in elections.If this seems like a lot to take in, don’t worry; we plan to have multiple training sessions throughout the month of January to help you become more familiar with the intricacies of each issue mentioned above. We’ll also have our traditionally scheduled training on Monday, February 8, before the Great Gathering-In. We also have fact sheets for all four issues on our website in the Washington Seminar section.
From the Editor: Our Code of Conduct is an ever-evolving document that reflects both the values we have long-expected to be exemplified by our members toward other members and our understanding that these needed to be put in writing so they could be discussed, agreed upon, and made official policy, complete with the policies and procedures to implement them.
At the most recent meeting of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors, held December 4 and 5, 2020, the Code was again modified. It is also on the web, but so important is it that we want it to appear in our flagship publication. The board of directors is continuously seeking feedback on this Code, training that might assist members in meeting the standards, and other best practices to ensure the community within our organization is welcoming, safe, and free of harassment. Please direct your suggestions to the Code of Conduct Committee at [email protected] or call 410-659-9314, extension 2475. Here is the Code:
The National Federation of the Blind is a community of members and friends who believe in the hopes and dreams of the nation’s blind. The Federation 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. To help carry out the Federation’s vital mission, this Code of Conduct sets forth policies and standards that all members, employees, and contractors are expected to adopt and follow.
The National Federation of the Blind celebrates and embraces diversity and full participation as core values in its mission to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind. We are committed to building and maintaining a nationwide organization with state affiliates and local chapters that is unified in its priorities and programs and is directed by the membership. We respect differences of opinion, beliefs, identities, and other characteristics that demonstrate that blind people are a diverse cross section of society. Furthermore, the organization is dedicated to continuing to establish new methods of membership and leadership development that reflect the diversity of the entire blind community. In promoting a diverse and growing organization, we expect integrity and honesty in our relationships with each other and openness to learning about and experiencing cultural diversity. We believe that these qualities are crucial to fostering social and intellectual maturity. Intellectual maturity also requires individual struggle with unfamiliar ideas. 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. While we encourage the exchange of differing ideas and experiences, we do not condone the use of demeaning, derogatory, or discriminatory language, action, or any other form of expression intended to marginalize an individual or group. The National Federation of the Blind does not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, marital status, age, genetic information, disability, or any other characteristic or intersectionality of characteristics.
The National Federation of the Blind will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, background, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, marital status, age, genetic information, disability, or any other characteristic or intersectionality of characteristics. Harassment on the basis of any of these characteristics similarly will not be tolerated. Although this Code of Conduct establishes a minimum standard prohibiting discrimination and harassment, nothing in this Code should be interpreted to limit in any way a person’s right to report abuse or harassment to law enforcement when appropriate.
Sexual harassment is prohibited by state and federal law and also will not be tolerated by the National Federation of the Blind. Complaints of harassment may be lodged by any person against any other person regardless of gender identity. Sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors, sexually motivated physical contact, or other verbal or physical conduct or communication of a sexual nature.” The following conduct is either considered conduct that by itself is sexual harassment, or that has the potential risk of causing sexual harassment to occur, and this conduct is therefore prohibited:
Under this policy, harassment can be verbal, written, or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of their race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, age, disability, marital status, citizenship, genetic information, or any other characteristic protected by law; or that of their relatives, friends, or associates, and that a) has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment; b) has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s performance or involvement in the organization; or c) otherwise adversely affects an individual’s opportunities for participation/advancement in the organization.
Harassing conduct includes epithets, slurs, or negative stereotyping; threatening, intimidating, or hostile acts including bullying; denigrating jokes; and written or graphic material that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group that is placed on walls or elsewhere on the organization’s premises or circulated by email, phone (including voice messages), text messages, social networking sites, or other means.
All members, employees, and contractors of the Federation should follow these recommended guidelines when making comments online, posting to a blog, using Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn/YouTube/Pinterest/Instagram/similar tools, and/or using other platforms that fall under the definition of social media:
NFB officers, national board members, state affiliate presidents and their boards, division presidents and their boards, and local chapter presidents and their boards, employees, and contractors with independent decision-making authority on behalf of the organization (hereafter Federation leaders) are expected to avoid all conflicts of interest. A conflict of interest arises when a person’s personal or professional interests interfere, or even just appear to interfere, with the interests of the Federation. A conflict may arise if a Federation leader takes action or has personal interests that make it difficult for the Federation leader to effectively perform their duties to the Federation. The common factor in all conflict of interest situations is the division of loyalty, or the perception of a division of loyalty, between the leader in performing their duties as a Federation leader of the organization and their personal and other interests. In specific, Federation leaders are expected to take appropriate responsibility to protect the Federation from misappropriation or mismanagement of Federation funds (including funds of an affiliate, chapter, or division in which Federation leaders assume leadership roles).
Federation leaders are expected to disclose the existence of any potentially conflicting personal financial interest or relationship to the full National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors and seek its review and approval, as specified below. For example:
For purposes of this Code of Conduct and consistent with most legal standards, a minor is any individual under the age of eighteen. Any adult member, employee, or contractor of the Federation interacting with a minor must recognize that a minor cannot legally give consent for any purpose even if said minor is verbally or otherwise expressing consent. For example, a minor may say that they consent to physical interaction. However, such consent is not valid or legal and should not be accepted. A parent or guardian must be informed and consulted about any action requiring consent from the minor. Federation leaders, members, employees, and contractors shall report any inappropriate interactions between adults and minors to the minor’s parents and law enforcement when appropriate.
Although alcoholic beverages are served at some Federation social functions, members, employees, and contractors may not participate in any such functions in a condition that prevents them from participating safely and from conducting Federation business effectively or that might cause embarrassment to or damage the reputation of the Federation. The Federation prohibits the possession, sale, purchase, delivery, dispensing, use, or transfer of illegal substances on Federation property or at Federation functions.
In addition to the other policies and standards set forth herein, all members, employees, and contractors shall adhere to the following standards:
Violations of this Code of Conduct, after first being established through the process set forth below, are subject to disciplinary action by the Federation. Such disciplinary actions may include but are not limited to counseling, verbal and/or written reprimand, probation, suspension, or termination of officer/leadership duties, and/or suspension or expulsion from the Federation.
This Code of Conduct is intended to outline a minimum set of standards expected of Federation members, employees, and contractors. It sets forth the spirit that the Federation expects of all of its participants toward each other and toward those who work with the Federation at all of its levels. It is intended to be interpreted broadly to instill a respectful, cooperative, and welcoming spirit within members, employees, and contractors and in the activities of the Federation.
Note: The Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind unanimously adopted this revised Code of Conduct on December 5, 2020. In adopting this Code, the Board expressed its clear intent that this Code shall be reviewed annually or at any other time as necessary.
This Code was first adopted on January 26, 2018.
Content warning: the following statement addresses sensitive topics regarding sexual misconduct and violence.
In light of recent discussions taking place in the blindness community, the National Federation of the Blind offers this statement expressing our unwavering commitment to supporting blind people and others in our community while emphasizing the importance of our NFB Code of Conduct. As the leading civil rights organization of the blind in the United States, every day we work to bring equality, love, and hope to our community. The blind community, like the rest of society, is not immune to violence and sexual misconduct, and we deeply regret and express our sincerest empathy for any blind person who has suffered pain and hardship from instances of abuse and violence.
The National Federation of the Blind and our affiliated training centers—the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Colorado Center for the Blind, and BLIND, Inc.—strongly condemn sexual violence and sexual misconduct of any kind. We stand in solidarity with victims and survivors. Additionally, we acknowledge how difficult it is for many to come forward, and we continue to seek avenues for victims and survivors to be heard. As the collective voice of the nation’s blind, we are committed to and welcome an ongoing process of learning how to heal from past trauma, to prevent future instances, and to protect victims and survivors. In undertaking this priority we rely on learning, both through internal discussion among members with lived experiences as well as through consultation with outside experts, to strengthen and improve our policies and practices and to support victims and survivors. To that end, we continually encourage comment and seek input on these issues.
The National Federation of the Blind works hard to create a welcoming and safe environment for our members and the public. For several years now, Federation leadership has endeavored to understand how to appropriately handle the difficult topics of sexual misconduct and other forms of abuse within our organizational structure. It has long been the policy of the Federation to, at the very minimum, prohibit sexual misconduct of any kind at our events or in our programs and create the most inclusive, welcoming, and safe environment to conduct our business. In an effort to address our sexual misconduct policy as well as other important issues, in 2018 we determined more was needed, and we created an additional written Code of Conduct and Grievance Process to ensure that consistent and assertive actions were taken. The written Code is only one aspect of committing more organizational resources to the ongoing effort to improve our Federation. As part of our normal practice, we report instances of sexual abuse and misconduct to law enforcement when necessary and required, support victims in filing reports when needed, report our findings to relevant certifying entities when appropriate, and remove members and employees from the organization when warranted. We take all steps necessary to maintain confidentiality, and we do not tolerate retaliation of any kind. Our Code of Conduct is routinely reviewed and continues to evolve as we learn and grow in these efforts. Furthermore, we continue to implement programs to support this work throughout our organization. Nevertheless, we know there is more work to be done, and it is a priority for our organization to be a safe space.If you feel unsafe, under imminent threat, or in immediate danger, you should contact law enforcement or other appropriate authorities. This is also a reminder to our members to report violations of our Code, especially those involving sexual misconduct or any form of abuse, as soon as you are able, and a reminder that concerns can be raised anonymously. Comments about our policies and practices, or concerns and reports alleging violations of the Code, can be recorded verbally at 410-659-9314, extension 2475, or sent via email to [email protected]. Together with love, hope, and determination, we will continue building the Federation to be the most inclusive, safe, and welcoming place where we support one another and carry out our important, life-changing work. Our full NFB Code of Conduct can be found at https://www.nfb.org/about-us/history-and-governance/code-conduct.
Wednesday, December 16, 2020
Content warning: the following letter addresses sensitive topics regarding sexual misconduct and violence.
Dear Fellow Federationists:
Many NFB members, former members, and people within our blindness community are hurting. For some, the pain comes from their lived experience of being abused or violated by one of our members and/or made to feel like no one else was listening or came to their defense at a Federation event or training program. For others, what they feel is empathy for survivors who were harmed by participating in the National Federation of the Blind, recognizing that we have not done enough within our movement and systemically within our community. We are deeply sorry that this is true and apologize for where we have failed. As the elected President of this movement, I carry the responsibility of this pain. I am profoundly sorry that anyone has been harmed by experiences in our movement. As a husband, father of three children, and leader who tries to live by a strong set of ethical values, I hurt for the survivors, and I deeply regret that I have made mistakes along the way. At each opportunity that I have to sit with my young children, I am directly reminded how fragile the balances are in our lives and how much our actions can have a lasting impact on others. I live with the regret and sorrow for the mistakes I personally made in dealing with inappropriate behavior in the past. Sometimes my mistakes have only been illuminated later through the honest reflection of a friend or the vulnerable sharing of someone who has been harmed. How do you adequately write a letter to apologize for that? How do you spread this sentiment to an entire movement of people including those who have left our organization? How do we, collectively, create an adequate action plan to promote healing, prevent future incidents, and continue our development of a culture that is welcoming, safe, and eliminates the barriers to bringing concerns forward for resolution? This letter attempts to explore those questions, but this is merely a single moment in these needed conversations.
Our hearts break for the survivors of abuse and sexual misconduct who have bravely shared incidents that have happened within our organization over the decades. During the past couple of weeks, a number of courageous individuals have shared painful stories about their experiences on social media and in individual conversations. We thank those brave survivors for sharing their stories because we recognize how difficult that is and how each story creates a unique set of emotions and challenges. We deeply regret that over our eighty years we have not handled each situation appropriately or been able to heal the pain that such incidents create. We do not reject these feelings of pain. In fact, we want to find and establish better ways to hear them and continuously eliminate the actions that caused them. We have no intention of debating the circumstances of any instance. Instead we acknowledge that if a survivor was left feeling the situation went unaddressed, then we have failed. The membership demands we do better. I, as President, demand this of myself and expect it from our movement. We will do better. In addition to calling upon all Federationists to listen better, honestly reflect upon your own biases, and to actively align our actions to our words, I call upon you not to dismiss those who cannot believe that our intentions are sincere or those who have had the courage to come forward. It is our individual and collective action, positively focused on making things better that will create belief. That is what has been true for us since 1940, and it will continue to be true for us going forward.
Let us get down to the hard facts. Words appear to mean nothing without actions, so below I’ve outlined six steps that we are committing to in the near future. Before I list them, please understand that these are initial steps, and we are committed to exploring and implementing whatever policies, programs, trainings, or resources necessary beyond these steps to appropriately address these horrible situations.
We are currently thoroughly reviewing the pathways for reporting incidents and how those paths are handled. We are open to revamping all of the reporting mechanisms we have. We are in discussion with outside consultants who are expected to do a complete review of our processes with a specialized emphasize on sexual misconduct and harassment. We will rebuild all of our procedures if needed. We expect our revised processes to involve a third-party entity, but since we do not yet know how that will turn into actionable efforts within our organization, we cannot be specific about that process. Our hope is to be more transparent about our partnership and timelines for action during the first quarter of 2021. We hear you about the uncomfortable position some people feel is created by the current reporting system when a person must report through members they will later need to deal with personally. Regardless of the reporting mechanisms we maintain and create, we must be very clear on one point: Every elected leader of this organization must be prepared to take concerns seriously and to act upon information they are given as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Furthermore, the safety of blind youth who are under our supervision is our highest priority, and any incident that is discovered must be dealt with immediately.
We are committing to hold an open meeting or series of listening sessions to discuss these issues and solicit feedback on what support and resources victims and survivors need. We have not yet detailed what the open meeting and conversations will be. Because we do not want to unintentionally contribute to further pain among survivors, we want blind people with lived experiences and our consultants to guide that process. In the meantime, we continue to answer calls and emails from Federation members seeking clarity about these issues and offering solutions that we will carefully weigh as our learning continues. We are grateful to those of you who have reached out directly offering your personal experiences as a guide to future development. The members of the Federation are expected to shape what we do, and your readiness to bring solutions makes a big difference. Our goal is to provide support and healing to victims and survivors.
Prior to recent events and the stories that have emerged, we were in the process of considering and implementing several enhancements surrounding our Code of Conduct and its related procedures and programs. We have now paused those efforts. Why? Because we are listening. We have done horribly at messaging and sharing our internal procedures and our plans for effectively administering our organization's Code of Conduct. I say paused because we want to carefully evaluate where we are and our next steps guided by the expertise of anti-sexual-violence experts from outside our movement. If we must completely reset, that is what we will do. For now, our Code and existing procedures are in place to set expectations within our organization. We will carefully evaluate current grievances to ensure that they continue to be safely and swiftly investigated even while our procedures are under review.
You may already know, but the board made its annual revisions to the Code and procedures process on December 5, 2020. When we went to post the revisions, we realized that the FAQ we planned to post after the December 2019 review did not happen. No excuses, that was a pretty big dropped ball. That document is intended to answer questions like what happens when a grievance is filed, how is information kept confidential, and what communications can a filing party expect? Overall, we have failed to communicate broadly the procedures we have been using. For example, we allow for advocates to participate with parties who are involved with Code of Conduct investigations. Moreover, these FAQs will also be informed and expanded based upon questions that continue to be raised. They will also evolve as we implement additional avenues for raising concerns and for training members of the organization. We take ownership for the misinformation that is now circulating. Please keep those questions and suggestions coming.
Training on issues around misconduct and abuse is something we have only skimmed the surface of in the recent past. We have done a minimal amount of training for affiliate presidents and workshops at our national convention. We were not satisfied that our training was sustainable, so we have been seeking other partners. That has been unreasonably slow. No excuse, we understand. We are going to be putting together training with the specific goal of preventing misconduct and abuse at Federation events and to strengthen the level of comfort with reporting. We have also hired an individual to assist in a number of areas including coordinating training—that person only started on November 30, which is why we had not yet introduced her to the membership.
A lack in consistency in practices across the three training centers that are affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind has been raised as a concern. It is worth noting that only BLIND Incorporated, the Colorado Center for the Blind, and the Louisiana Center for the Blind have made the specific partnership commitments necessary to be formally and officially affiliated with the organized blind movement. On a regular basis, I have been meeting with our training center directors with the specific goal of better aligning our practices and policies. There is more work to do there. We expect these centers to fully commit to our Code of Conduct practices and set the highest standard of professional practice in all programs. During the most recent revisions of our Code of Conduct, we discussed the topic of consistency in handling and reporting concerns at our centers. We will be conducting a full review and implementing consistent training for the personnel at each of our centers. I stand with those who have been harmed by any employee, contractor, or volunteer at one of our centers, and I am prepared to help eliminate ineffective practices and urge the termination of those employees and contractors (as well as the exclusion of volunteers) who violate our policies in this area. Let me also add that our training centers have made a great difference in raising the standard of training for blind people in this nation and all around the world. As a graduate of one of our centers, I share that pride for the training I received but also the pain that even one person coming through one of our centers would have had a harmful experience. The employees at our centers are some of the most dedicated and thoughtful folks I know, and they are committed to the safety and wellbeing of program participants. However, that does not excuse harmful incidents that have happened in our training programs. I know our centers are committed to doing better. I know the executive directors and boards of each of these training centers will be prioritizing the advancement of these conversations. Most importantly, I know they feel your pain in a very deep and personal way.
Again, these are immediate actions and commitments. This is not a complete roadmap for the years to come, but it outlines some of the forthcoming actions we are focusing on. We know that we need to examine more ways to support our members such as mental health resources and the expertise of crisis professionals. Members of the Federation have a right to demand information about what is being done, and Federation leaders are expected to share that information. When we committed to the Code of Conduct in 2018, we made a commitment to a much-needed journey. Our commitment has not wavered even if we have not been outwardly demonstrating a commitment that you can trust. As leaders, we will continue to work to earn your trust, and we will remain committed to continuous improvement and an open dialogue for organizational change. We are committed to finding ways to heal that pain, while preventing any future pain that results from unacceptable behavior. We are going to need the ideas and support of the members of this movement to do that in a meaningful and effective manner, so all are welcomed.
You continue to be our wise teachers. You who have shared your personal experiences and who have dared to open yourselves continue to guide us. In the National Federation of the Blind, we value diversity, we strive to be fully inclusive, and we want to be the safe space for all blind people. Every blind person in this nation deserves what this movement has to offer, and we recognize we have work to do so that every blind person feels like there is a place here for everyone. We are going to get there together. We apologize that we have not yet made it all the way, but we pledge that the commitment is deep and it is real. We are not done with our changes.
With love and commitment, we are #MarchingTogether.
Mark Riccobono, President
The National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors shown below requested that the President write an open letter regarding our commitments. By signing below, each of us affirms our support and commitment to the content of the letter above. Anybody with concerns regarding the content of this letter, the commitments that have been expressed, or potential incidents that may have happened at Federation events are welcome to contact any of the individuals endorsing this statement.
Pam Allen, First Vice President and Board Chair, [email protected], 318-251-2891
Ron Brown, Second Vice President, [email protected], 317-213-7031
James Gashel, Secretary, [email protected], 808-234-9259
Jeannie Massay, Treasurer, [email protected], 405-600-0695
Denise Avant, [email protected], 773-991-8050
Everette Bacon, [email protected], 801-631-8108
Amy Buresh, [email protected], 402-440-4722
Shawn Callaway, [email protected], 202-352-1511
Norma Crosby, [email protected], 281-968-7733
John Fritz, [email protected], 608-622-7632
Ever Lee Hairston, [email protected], 323-654-2975
Carla McQuillan, [email protected], 541-653-9153
Amy Ruell, [email protected], 617-752-1116
Joe Ruffalo, [email protected]
Terri Rupp, [email protected], 702-524-0835
Adelmo Vigil, [email protected], 575-921-5422
by Michael Colbrunn
From the Editor: Michael Colbrunn is a member of the Riverbend Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota. I find his story very moving, and I hope you do as well:
“Live the life you want.” This message permeates the NFB, but I wondered if this applied to me. That sounds good, but I asked myself, Are they for real? Is this possible? Are they nuts? These questions stayed with me as I considered getting involved with the National Federation of the Blind.
I had many questions and uncertainties about living the life I wanted. I knew what I wanted, but I did not quite know how to get there. In this essay, I hope to give you some insight into my journey before the NFB; my present-day experience with the NFB; and, more importantly, my future as a Federationist.
The First Nations people of Canada have an expression: “The longest journey a man will ever take is from his head to his heart, and back again.” Now, besides this being a really cool thing to say at dinner parties, it resonates with me. I have had a journey, my fellow Federationists, as have most of you. I would like to think if it were not for bad luck, I would not have any luck at all, and if there is ten miles of bad road, I’ve walked it. Let me start from the beginning—not the beginning, beginning, but rather when I was nine years old. I was diagnosed with juvenal macular degeneration before it was cool. Back then (late 1970s), 504 or “reasonable accommodations” may have been on the books, but they never made it to me in Fargo, North Dakota. Maybe not having paved roads had something to do with that. What about assistive technology, you may ask? Not so much. Let’s just say I fell into the “Mike-has-a-lot-of-potential-he-needs-to-apply-himself” category. My first crack at self-advocacy was as a nine-year-old and did not go so well. Safe to say, I was misunderstood. Through much trial, tribulation, hard times, and humiliation—great material for a future essay contest—and with the help of electives, I somehow managed to graduate from high school. I think. I still have dreams that make me think otherwise.
What’s a blind kid with no nonvision skills, no assistive technology, who barely graduated, to do next? You got it: I went to college. Do not get me wrong; I loved college! Well, everything but the going to class, homework-research, and exams part of it. Ultimately, it did not end well—unless you count college debt, a lot of tomfoolery, and a few useless college credits “ending well.” Although I did not have a whole lot to show for myself up to this point, I did have belief in myself. Through it all, I knew I had the chops to make something of myself. I was resilient, confident, and willing to work hard. That can-do attitude resulted in me getting a job—actually a whole bunch of jobs—bad jobs, low-paying jobs, the kinds of jobs no one else wanted. Since I was too proud to return to my high-school job at McDonald’s, I parlayed that work experience into becoming a dishwasher, busboy, ditch-digger—you get the picture. After a few years of this, the work finally paid off. I became the supervisor/assistant manager in charge of all the people who had the crappiest job in a hotel. Eventually I did land some pretty fantastic jobs and did start to make it into a career in the hospitality industry. Problem was, I still had not obtained any nonvision skills or learned how to use assistive technology, and this was becoming a problem. At every job I hit a ceiling, and I eventually started running out of options. My old tricks and techniques were not working anymore.
In the mid-to-late nineties, I did stumble onto State Services for the Blind. Ah ha! I thought. This is the break I have been waiting for. Not so much. My experience was not the greatest, and there are lots of reasons as to why I was not successful. I will certainly shoulder some of the blame, because here was my second attempt at self-advocacy. Not having gained any skills or insight into how to handle my vision loss, I continued on. Around this time I discovered that I might qualify for SSDI and eventually did. This was a blessing and a curse. I just sort of remained stagnant for several years career-wise. I found a job that I was good at, and they seemed to appreciate me, so I stuck around way too long, under-valuing my talents and skills.
Fast forward several years where I meet the Randolph-Sheppard Act and acknowledge to myself that this could be interesting. In 2015, I became a licensed blind vendor in the Business Enterprise Program of Minnesota. This was a proud time for me because I had never lost faith in myself, remained confident, and maintained my resiliency. I had manufactured this opportunity where I could use my work ethic and experience and apply it to self-employment. I said to myself “What do I have to lose,” and I was right. The Randolph-Sheppard Act started the trajectory of my journey to achieve the life that I wanted, taking me from my head and showing me the direction to my heart. Becoming a blind vendor brought with it experiences that solidified that the path I was on was going to be a fulfilling pursuit.
One year into being a Randolph-Sheppard blind vendor, I received an opportunity to attend a National Association of Blind Merchants [NABM] “Emerging Leaders Conference” in Nashville, Tennessee, in September 2016. Folks, when I say this changed my life, I mean it changed my life. I was surrounded by smart, successful, engaging businesspeople, and they were all blind.
That conference room in Nashville is where I was born again—again. During a session about philosophy of blindness with Joanne Wilson, I opened up to the group and admitted that I did not have one. I was not living as a blind person. I was living as a person who was doing their best to deal with vision loss; in my mind, there is a difference. During that session, I asked the group if I could even call myself blind. They reassured me I most certainly could. On that day, an eight-hundred-pound boulder was lifted off my shoulders, and I, for the first time in my life, was proud to say I was blind!
I returned home with a new enthusiasm and pep in my step that I had never had the likes of. I became very involved in the Randolph-Sheppard Act or, more importantly, the NABM. With the patience and mentorship of NABM President Nicky Gacos, Second Vice President Ed Birmingham, and the many more that recognized something in me, I am proud to say I am a national board member of the NABM—a position I take very seriously. In addition, I currently serve on the Minnesota BEP management committee as the chairperson, and I am currently the vice chair of the SRCB (State Rehabilitation Council for the Blind) of Minnesota. I am also proud to say I am a member of the NFB of NFBMN. What I am embarrassed to admit, however, is why it took me until 2019 to join.
The NABM and the NFB have provided me the opportunity to advocate, amongst so many things. If you recall from earlier in the essay, my first couple of attempts at advocacy had not gone so well. But not anymore. Some of my most rewarding actions as a Federationist have been when I have had the opportunity to sit down with lawmakers while attending the Washington Seminar and NABM DC Fly-Ins in the nation’s capital, informing and educating them on issues that affect us as blind people. I truly felt like I was making a difference. The NFB has also given me heroes, people I can believe in. I am proud to say that, besides my children, all my heroes are blind. The NFB and NABM have given me resources to fuel a desire of mine that had always been unfulfilled: my desire to learn. I have returned to university studies after a thirty-year semester off. My goal is to achieve a lifetime goal of mine, a goal that I had all but given up on years ago, to obtain a bachelor’s degree (my self-advocating is still in question regarding this one).
In these words, you have had a glimpse into some of my life. You learned a little about me before the NFB, and I have brought you up to speed on my current situation. Now it is time to talk about maybe the most important leg of my journey: the future. In my journey, I have gone from my head to my heart, and I have pretty much set up camp there. The NFB has prepared me for the final leg of my journey and that is back to my head. I don’t know what the future holds for me. I barely have a business due to COVID; my vision is changing seemingly every day—and not for the better. I have entered a world of academia where sometimes I feel like the donkey at the pony show; but I still believe in myself. I am still that nine-year-old child who is optimistic through it all. What is different now is that the journey I make back to my head will not be done alone. I have the Federation, I have finally obtained some nonvision skills, I am not at war with myself over vision loss, and I now have a blindness philosophy, and that will provide additional material for another essay contest or perhaps another article in the Braille Monitor. I have hope and trust. I have all of you! Thank you, National Federation of the Blind. I do believe I can live the life I want. Oh yeah—those useless college credits I mentioned? Not so useless after all. Seems I was given forty-six transferable credits toward my degree. And to answer my original questions about the NFB: Are they for real? Is this possible? Are they nuts?
Yes. Yes. And some of us.
by Ashley Neybert
From the Editor: Ashley is a gifted student who not only enjoys the study of chemistry but has taken as one of her missions in the National Federation of the Blind encouraging other blind people to enter the field. Here is what she says about the challenges of virtual learning for the blind chemist and some paths leading to a solution:
Many of us know that the National Federation of the Blind has been at the forefront of leveling the playing field for the blind in science through programs such as STEM-EQ, the division of scientists and engineers, and several scholarships for blind students seeking to become scientists and science teachers of the future. We appreciate the pioneering spirit of those who have come before and now are blind chemists and members of the Federation. Their proud ranks include Dr. Jacob Bolotin, also known as the blind doctor; Dr. Cary Supalo; Dr. Ned Lindholm; and Dr. Alfred D’Agastino. I suspect there are others of whom I am not aware, but all have made a measurable contribution to blind people as scientists by functioning in the field and by encouraging others who have the determination to do the same.
Now as the coronavirus continues to keep us in our homes and keep us socially distant, many blind students are facing a brand-new challenge in science; that challenge is remote learning. Since the pandemic, sighted students have turned to inaccessible web-based science simulations, nondescriptive or even silent videos, and in-the-home designed laboratory activities using household materials. These are all largely inaccessible, leaving blind students behind on their science learning experiences compared to their sighted counterparts.
Our students want to be involved and not once again consigned to the backseat of science-learning that we have worked so hard to eradicate. But many of our traditional learning methods in sciences are difficult during this time. Many teachers have turned to inaccessible videos. Luckier students have teachers that use some accessible science simulations such as Labster or PhET, which are two of the more commonly used web-based science resources around the world. Recently these organizations have made a concerted effort to make their online science simulations more accessible to blind students. Additionally, a few students have been lucky enough to get accessible at-home science experiments to complete. Unfortunately, all of these pale in comparison to a true hands-on laboratory experience.
Recently though the ability to have a more improved remote laboratory experience has arrived. In order to achieve this, the teacher must have a computer with the JAWS screen reader from Vispero installed, an external speaker, a Sci-Voice Talking LabQuest from Independence Science with associated probes, any necessary experimental equipment (beakers etc.), and the LabQuest Viewer program from Vernier Software and Technology. The student needs only a computer with the JAWS screen reader installed.
First a teacher in a laboratory or other experimental area will turn on the LabQuest Viewer software while JAWS is running on their computer. The teacher needs to have the Talking LabQuest, probes for the experiment, and any other necessary experimental equipment. The Talking LabQuest will be interfaced with the LabQuest Viewer program on the teacher’s computer, which shows everything shown on the Talking LabQuest device on the teacher’s computer. The teacher then allows access to their computer via a JAWS Tandem session and gives the student the access code for their end of the JAWS Tandem session. Once this is done the student assumes a directed assistant approach where they tell the teacher what they want done on the experiment while the student operates the Talking LabQuest using the same keyboard commands that they would use if they were doing the laboratory work themselves.
This is useful not only in remote learning situations, but it also opens up possibilities for blind students to interact with advanced technology not available in the school setting. It has been common practice for several years now that sighted students have been able to interface with equipment remotely in a professional laboratory environment. This allows students a glimpse into a professional environment while allowing these companies to scout bright students to be their future employees. With this new capability for remote learning, a blind student could now take part in such job scouting activities, further proving to the public that the blind can be effective science employees while allowing students in economically challenged school districts to be able to work with equipment that previously was not possible.
While this does not replace the hands-on experience, it is a huge step forward to equalizing the field of science to blind participants. While the author is an employee of Independence Science, she is also a blind chemist herself and has hopes that this leap forward will inspire other companies to make their equipment more accessible to the blind.
by Jennifer M. Kennedy
From the Editor: Almost everyone who is a successful cane user has their story about coming to accept the use of the long white cane: what it was like before, what we did to avoid using it, and the tremendous difference it has made in our lives. With the tool as vital as a cane, one story isn’t sufficient. Each time we offer a story, we hope that it will reach out to someone who feels shame and dependence and set them on a path that leads to embracing real mobility and independence.
Jennifer Kennedy is the executive director of BLIND, Inc. (Blindness, Learning in New Dimensions), one of three training centers created and run by the National Federation of the Blind. BLIND, Inc. has a publication called New Dimensions, and here is what she says about the transformation of the cane from a tool that made her different to a tool that has made her independent:
Many blind people came together across the virtual spectrum and celebrated White Cane Awareness Day on October 15. It is a time to be loud and proud of the most common mobility tool used among blind and low vision travelers. For many of these people, carrying a white cane wasn’t always so easy. I am no exception.
When I first began losing vision as a teenager, I took a great deal of time in planning out my routes around the junior high school. The building was old with several flights of stairs, so it became imperative to either find the ones that were best lit or get ahead of the crowd before classes let out for fear I might hit something. I was told years later a few of my friends knew something was strange when I walked, but they grew accustomed to falling behind me just enough to not be cut off when they fell out of my line of sight. Less than a year later I was deemed legally blind, and that B word meant one thing: a white cane.
At first I began learning to use a white folding cane at the school for the blind. My instructor was rather progressive in that he had me wear sleepshades the first several lessons that he taught me. Since my local school district had not had a blind student in over a decade, I felt taking my freshman year of classes at the Ohio State School for the Blind would give me more resources in learning how I was going to live with this b-word thing.
Twice a week for a semester I went out with my cane, but after classes I folded it up, and it remained in my locker until the next lesson. After all, if you carried a cane in the school for the blind, you were ridiculed by your classmates and never encouraged to use it when traveling to track or swim meets. Grab your friend’s arm who saw better than you, for that could make up the deficit if you had field restrictions. That was the unspoken rule among all the students, and I never wanted to stick out in a place with my peers.
Upon returning to public school the following year, I could no longer keep that cane folded in my backpack. I used it because I had to, not because I wanted to. The hallways were far more crowded than those at the school for the blind. Even leaving class three minutes early didn’t give me enough time to switch books and not be taken into the tidal wave of fellow students. I also knew I needed to at least pretend to look like using a cane didn’t bother me. Since I knew most of the people in school when I was sighted, we were all going through an adjustment. I didn’t want my friends to think I couldn’t go with them to the high school football games on Friday night because they would need to escort me everywhere.
Tapping my cane felt awkward and loud no matter what I did. The back of my neck burned as I felt eyes boring into it from people behind me. I often switched to constant contact in a diagonal position to avoid being heard as long as possible. This position protected my left foot and upper right side fine, but it did little to give me confidence in my ability to move freely. I recall stepping in many puddles and kicking things to my right since that foot was completely unprotected by this static technique, and the cramping that my wrist got from the fixed pushing motion made using my cane that much more dreadful. The white accessory I had worked hard to avoid for so long was now required if I was to do anything alone. I accepted it, but I sure didn’t feel like it gave me any advantages. The cane was just a thing I had to deal with and move on.
Upon meeting members of the National Federation of the Blind, I began to see people who weren’t ashamed of the white accessory. Late night discussions led me to understand I had allowed the cane to define me for years, not me defining the cane’s meaning. I realized I needed to graduate to a cane that empowered me to move faster and more gracefully than I had ever dreamed.
Afterwards, I first tried a longer folding cane, irritating my itinerant instructor. She argued the hypotenuse of the angle for which the longer cane I had relative to the ground was incorrect. I flatly refused to switch back, citing the numerous trips down the curb I had taken prior to the longer cane. This was a recurring conversation for the remainder of the lessons I had with her. Even though I was accused of being Bo-Peep, the mobility specialist couldn’t stop me from doing what I wanted. Our lessons ceased sometime late in my first semester of college.
At national convention the next year, I attempted to straighten my slightly bent longer aluminum cane after catching it on a lifted sidewalk and jamming it into an arc. I quickly realized bending that type of cane resulted in two smaller bent pieces and was rendered useless. A trip to what was then the NFB Store resulted in my first fifty-seven-inch fiberglass cane. There were no more telescoping canes of that size left, hence the switch to a rigid cane. It only took that convention week to convince me I could be graceful and move quickly with a cane. I loved how light it was, how soon I found steps, and the ease with which I could get onto an escalator. Its flexibility meant if it caught, the shaft could bend and easily return to its straight line without missing a beat. The tapping of the metal tip sounded almost musical. I began to hear an opening before I was at the intersecting hallways of the convention center. My friends showed me all kinds of neat storage methods, eliminating the concerns I had about not being able to fold or telescope it in. and I couldn’t wait to start training with it at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in the fall.
Eighteen years later, I still use a straight fiberglass cane with a metal tip. I graduated to a fifty-nine-inch model to make up the difference when I wore taller shoes or had to move faster to keep up with my cane-travel students who towered over my five-foot stature. I have several telescoping canes and a folding one stashed away in various places in the event my straight cane snaps. Spare metal tips also have numerous hiding places in my bags, pockets, and backpacks, so I am never without the beautiful crisp echo it emits.When I grab my cane off the hook each morning, I feel empowered by the freedom it gives me, knowing how much faster I can react to the upcoming stairs, or quickly slide the cane into my fingers and skirt around the crowds that once prevented me from believing I could get from class to class at the same time as my sighted high school classmates. I feel proud to carry the cane developed by my blind brothers and sisters who know best for one another rather than what the mathematical sizing of a cane should be. In the words of Will Smith to Tommy Lee Jones in the movie Men in Black, “I make this look good.”
by Stacie Dubnow
From the Editor: I have been blessed with the opportunity to talk with classes, civic organizations, and radio and television audiences about blindness as a result of my membership in the National Federation of the Blind. One question that always comes up is what perception I have of color. Until recently I considered it one of the easier questions to tackle. Never having been able to see, I haven’t a clue about what color is other than the scientific explanation that it is the bending of light. My traditional answer has been that I cannot understand color any more than a deaf person can understand the difference between the sound of a flute and the sound of a guitar, but I now have reason to believe that answer isn’t quite so easy. Immediate Past President Maurer says that when he hears a color, he has an image of it in his mind. Perhaps I have too quickly dismissed the possibility of what can be learned. The author of this article certainly believes so.
Stacie works as a project manager at the Jernigan Institute. She has a law degree and is wonderful at doing research and bringing organization to any project. But as important as all of this is, her real passion is writing. She says:
Writing has long been my passion, what gives me purpose. Over the last ten years, I have written two young adult coming-of-age novels: The Gathering Wall and its sequel, The Gathering Winds. My most recent project is a memoir, Can You Hear Me Now? It is about the addictive nature of motherhood and the challenges faced daily by parents raising a child with serious mental illness. As some of you may know, nearly three years ago I lost my son Noah.
In my memoir, I strip bare my parenting decisions, examining my struggle to be the parent Noah needed. I reflect on what my choices cost me, but also how my choices gifted me the moments that, when woven together, formed the tapestry of my painful and beautiful twenty-six-year mother-son relationship. Although my memoir provides no easy answers, it shines a bright light on penetrating questions that countless parents struggle to answer daily. It demonstrates the importance of unconditional love and never giving up on our children. I hope that by telling my story, I can provide insight to other parents raising children living with mental illness, share my knowledge and experience, teach readers what I learned too late, and provide helpful resources that will offer education, support, and vital services to ease the journey of others.
I have submitted my memoir for publication and currently am not so patiently waiting to hear back from potential publishers. But in the meantime, I am diving into some smaller projects, like the following prose about the experience of color.
I am red.
Red is the color of hot pavement and temper. An angry retort. I am a startled expression. A pounding pulse. Red is glamour, rubies, and love. A smoldering gaze, mouth warm on the skin. I am a shrieking siren and a roaring rollercoaster. I am cherry lips, flashing lights, and thick woolen socks. Red is raw and chapped. A sun-warmed tomato. I am a burning fever. A dangerous liaison. I am moody and passionate.
I am yellow.
Yellow is the color of unhurried sweetness, honey so thick and golden it gladdens the tongue. I am a lazy summer day. A field of dandelions. I am the sound of a giggle. A ribbon of sunlight. Yellow is the color of smiling daisies, heads thrown back. I am honeysuckle growing with abandon. A face wide with joy. I am citrus sharp and sugary. A sun-bleached thought. I am happy.
I am green.
Green is the color of serenity. I am the clean scent of pine needles. Grass cool on the thighs late in the day. I am a closely shaven face. A sharp intake of breath. I am pungent, alive with things growing. Green is spiritual, the deep quiet of a forest. Dank earth and fresh breezes. I am mint and basil. A bird wheeling through the sky, wild and free. I am healing. Abundant.
I am black.
Black is the color of learning. The classroom blackboard speaking possibility as it chalks its lessons to our children. I am the color of celebration, newly pressed tuxedos and patent leather shoes rubbed to a sheen. Black is the spill of night. The color of the sky draping the moon. I am the weight of a brooding ocean. Finely-tuned piano keys. I am power and sophistication.
I am white.
White is fresh snowfall, pinpricks of fragile beauty in a dark night’s sky. I am mist rising like a ghost off a field. The whispering wind. I am air stiff with cold. Lace curtains billowing in the breeze. White is the buoyant taste of soft peaks of meringue. The feeling of freshly laundered cotton. I am a wedding vow. Bright eyes in moonlight. I am the sky exhaling its breath. I am winter. Stillness. Prayer.
I am blue.
Blue is the color of the soft swell of an ocean wave. A sad, sweet lullaby. I am fingernails of ice clinging to windows. The color of a sigh. Blue is the calm of a deep lake and the soaring freedom of an endless sky. I am an ocean of grief. The color of sleep. I am a haunting Gregorian chant. The desolate wail of a passing train. I am nostalgic.
I am lavender.
Lavender is the color of wispy flowers trembling in the breeze. Lilacs, tulips, and wisteria. I am a mountain at dusk. Feather air, delicious on the skin. Lavender is the heady scent of springtime. I am the dappled face of a book. The rustle and swish of taffeta. A puddle of silk. I am a dreamy smile and the soft swell of a breast. I am young and whimsical.
I am brown.
Brown is the damp and fertile soil that nurtures life. The rich, earthy smell of leather. I am nutty, wholesome, and honest. A steadfast friend. Brown is the color of humility. I am the delicious warmth of flannel sheets. The coo coo of a mourning dove. The aroma of a hearty beef stew. I am the rough and furrowed bark of an ancient tree. I am comfortable and welcoming.
I am orange.
Orange is the color of glee and exhilaration. The twang of a guitar. I am a bright cup of tea, a sprint across a field, and sunlight glancing off corn husks. I am the clattering of a duck. Orange is vibrant and juicy. Spicy like candied ginger. I am a spontaneous adventure. A leap of faith. Orange is the color of stripes and polka dots and clownish optimism. I am joyful.
I am silver.
Silver is the sound of tolling bells in the breeze. Steam rising from a pond. I am cold as a high-pitched whistle. I am a still space to cleanse the mind. Silver can be sleek and hard-edged, or fluid and graceful. I am the sweet tinkling of rain on a roof. The sting of an icy wind. Silver is a flock of birds swooping and fluttering like paper airplanes. I am mystical and soulful.
I am maroon.
Maroon is dusty and smoky, dry and reserved. I am rust and dried blood. A full-bodied wine. I am a faded painting. Maroon is elegant and refined. A finely woven rug, luxurious velvet drapes, and sumptuous satin sheets. I am the deep-voiced song of an organ. Overripe cherries and glistening pomegranates seeds. I am cultured and ambitious.
I am turquoise.
Turquoise is boisterous and shallow. A flirty bikini. Water bubbling in a brook. I am a parade of color like a strutting peacock. An embarrassed titter. I am a chirping sparrow on a spring morning. The tranquility of a tropical lagoon and the innocence of sunlight reflecting off a coral reef. Turquoise is refreshing and clear thinking. I am hopeful.
I am gold.
Gold is opulent and luminescent. I am sensuous Baroque music. The color of privilege. I am the rich warmth of a flickering fire and the amber glow of an aged whiskey. The color of morning light honeying the skin. I am a possessive glint in the eye. Summer wheat. Gold is a treasure chest of shiny medals and coins. I am self-confident and accomplished.
I am purple.
Purple is the color of juice-stained lips and grapes heavy on the vine. I am lush, elegant, and velvety. The sound of smooth, hypnotic jazz. Purple is the musky sweet scent of an exotic journey. I am the last gasp of sun sinking from sight. I am bold and brave. Unafraid to take a risk. Purple is sullen and dramatic. The color of a deep bruise. I am proud and boastful.
I am grey.
Grey is a cloud rising like smoke off a mountain. Gritty, urban, and industrial. I am the distant rumble of thunder. The silken nub of a pussy willow. Grey is the scratch of steel wool. The drab of stone, mustiness of ashes, and monotony of fog. I am the constant fall of chilly rain. The maturity and elegance that comes with age. I am subdued and understated.
I am pink.
Pink is playful. A twirling party dress. I am pearls and bubbly champagne. The sticky sweetness of cotton candy. I am a shy smile and the tender love for a child. The shushing of a baby. Pink is a soft cloud of scent. A seashell on an evening beach. I am a wistful expression. The dawn blooming gentle as a tea rose, flushed with its awakening. I am naïve, gentle, and kind.
I am copper.
Copper is the crunch of leaves on a crisp autumn day. The pungent scent of molasses. I am the taste of an olive, salty and bursting with briny abundance. Copper is warm and burnished, a glowing reflection. The comfort of buttered toast. I am a well-worn kettle. The deep mellow voice of a trombone. I am a bright penny. A nose of cinnamon and hot apple cider. I am welcoming and grounded.
I am a kaleidoscope of color. I blend and drip and splatter. I shyly peek out and rush forward like a tsunami. I listen to color’s silence and reverberate with its din. Color seeps into my moods, soothing and irritating. I feel color on my cheeks, the soles of my feet, and in my gut. I am a chameleon, color shifting and rearranging the portrait of my soul, the landscape of my being.
by Deborah Kent Stein
From the Editor: Debbie Stein is one of the best writers I know, and she is selective about what she reads. The review that appears below reflects her talent as a writer, her judgment as a reader, and the superb talent of another writer named Deborah, that being the author Deborah Kendrick.
"If you happen to be blind, chances are you are familiar with the augmented chord frequently played in the healthcare sonata," writes Deborah Kendrick in her introduction to this highly useful and charmingly written little book. "Whether you are in the MinuteClinic line for a flu shot, your primary care physician's office for a wellness checkup, or at the orthopedic center for the pre-op education prior to knee replacement, your vision—or lack thereof—is likely to get attention." In Navigating Healthcare When All They Can See Is that You Can't, Deborah Kendrick takes the reader through a series of scenarios, offering practical suggestions for negotiating each one gracefully and effectively as a blind person. The book aims to empower blind readers by reinforcing the mantra, "Nothing about me without me."
While Kendrick acknowledges that we are likely to receive a good bit of unsolicited and unnecessary help when we visit a healthcare facility, she points out that in some situations help may be invaluable. For instance, "If you explain to a technician or scheduler that you need details because you are blind, they [may] understand your need for specificity and concentrate to deliver such clear instructions as, ‘When you come in the main door, walk about 20 feet, and there will be a registration desk on your right.’” But she adds, "Of course, sometimes hearing the word 'blind' causes that weird momentary apoplexy in a stranger on the phone and renders them incapable of further useful communication, so there is no guaranteed outcome." As in every other aspect of our lives, it is important for us to turn down unnecessary help politely but firmly and to express our real needs as clearly as possible. "Please remember to smile as often as you can," Kendrick advises. "Make a joke when you can, and remember to say thank you. When the nurse comes in and says, 'Hi, it's Angie,' be sure to thank her for letting you know who she is."
Kendrick also suggests that we as blind patients share a few tidbits about our lives with healthcare staff. When they find out that we took time off from work to come to the clinic today, or when we mention that we'll be picking up our kids from the sitter on our way home, we show them that we are living full and active lives. If we can convey that blindness is only one dimension of who we are, we are likely to enjoy smoother and more effective communication around our healthcare issues.
In a practical vein, Kendrick includes ideas about labeling and measuring medications, filling out forms, and using home healthcare equipment. She lists sources for the purchase of talking devices including scales, thermometers, blood pressure monitors, glucose meters, and oximeters.
In this time of concern about COVID-19, this book is all the more relevant. Whether you are dealing with the healthcare system on your own behalf or as the advocate for a friend or family member, Navigating Healthcare is bound to give you some valuable pointers and bring a few smiles along the way. Navigating Healthcare is available from the National Braille Press.
by Chris Danielsen
From the Editor: The right to vote is crucial to a healthy democracy, and there must be many ways to exercise it. When blind people vote in person, the way we vote should be private and independent. When circumstances require that we vote absentee or by mail, the same standards should apply. Chris Danielsen is our director of public relations, and in this article he describes the efforts we have made to start the process of ensuring that blind people have this right. Here is what he says:
Whatever else may be said about the 2020 presidential election—and a lot is still being said even as this article is being written—its primary significance to blind people is that it was the first election in history in which those of us living in many states could vote privately and independently from the safety and comfort of our own homes. As with all positive changes for the blind, this one is largely due to our own collective action through the National Federation of the Blind, made urgent by the widespread adoption of mail-in ballots—in lieu of or as a supplement to in-person voting at polling places—in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That the NFB is the driving force in allowing blind people to vote privately and independently, without the assistance of poll workers or even of trusted friends or family members, is not new. It was our efforts that saw the inclusion of a provision in the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA) requiring that every polling place used in federal elections have at least one voting machine that is nonvisually accessible. But HAVA, important as it was and is, does not address the question of absentee or mail-in ballots. For this reason, the National Federation of the Blind has worked since its passage to insure that these methods of voting are also accessible, particularly in states where voting by mail is the norm or where a voter need give no justification for wanting to submit an absentee or mail-in ballot other than simple preference.
Because HAVA does not address absentee voting, we have relied on provisions of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, both of which broadly require governmental entities to make programs and services available to the blind on an equal basis with the sighted. States that adopted universal voting by mail early, such as Oregon and Washington, also provided practical experience on how that process could be made accessible.
The ideal solution is a remote accessible ballot-marking system, which can be either an accessible file or document or a web page where a blind voter marks his or her election choices. Depending on how the system is adopted and implemented by a given jurisdiction, that marked ballot can then either be submitted electronically or printed out to be returned by mail or by hand-delivery to an election office or ballot drop-box. States and local jurisdictions began implementing systems of this kind in response to 2009 amendments to the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA), but they are not always accessible to blind voters. As mentioned earlier, however, states like Oregon, where voting by mail is universal, adopted accessible systems early.
The state of Maryland, where the National Federation of the Blind is headquartered, also created an accessible system, but its implementation was initially hampered by the refusal of the Maryland State Board of Elections (SBOE) to certify it for use by blind and disabled voters, even though SBOE’s own staff had created and tested the system. This inaction prompted the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, along with some individual blind and deafblind people and others with disabilities, to sue SBOE in federal district court in 2014. The district court judge had no difficulty finding that the system would benefit blind, deafblind, and other disabled voters who could not travel to the polls or use the voting machines made available there, and he promptly ordered the system to be implemented for the 2014 midterms and all Maryland elections going forward. The state appealed the district court ruling, arguing that an accessible absentee ballot was not needed, since accessible machines were made available at the polls, and in any event the state Board of Elections had the sole and exclusive right to certify voting systems in Maryland. But the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the original ruling, explaining that Maryland was obligated under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act to make all components of its “voting program” accessible to voters with disabilities and that this federal mandate superseded any certification requirement imposed by state law. With this precedent-setting ruling in hand, the National Federation of the Blind now had a firm legal basis for going forward with other actions to secure the right of blind voters to cast an absentee or mail-in ballot privately and independently. We had another early success in Ohio, where a similar ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals prompted Secretary of State Jon Husted to mandate accessible absentee ballots for all Ohio jurisdictions in 2018.
Despite these early victories, by September of 2019 most states still had not implemented remote accessible ballot-marking tools. This was true even though Maryland now makes its solution available to any state that wants it free of charge, and there are several commercial vendors—including Democracy Live, Five Cedars, and VotingWorks—making solutions available as well. So President Riccobono sent letters to all of the leading election officials in the forty or so states that had no such systems, spelling out their obligations to do so and citing the relevant legal provisions and court precedents.
No one had any idea at that time that COVID-19 would make the issue even more urgent. But as the pandemic spread, states, to admittedly widely varying degrees, rushed to make it easier for people to vote from their homes to limit exposure to and spread of the virus. It quickly became clear that many blind and disabled voters would not benefit from newly loosened state restrictions on absentee and mail-in voting unless the Federation acted decisively. Our argument was straightforward: in addition to the existing legal requirements, states could not force blind voters to leave the safety of our homes and risk contracting the virus at the polls—and possibly bringing it back to our families—if other voters were not being required to take that risk. We pointed out that many blind people have other disabilities or medical conditions, such as diabetes, that placed them at particular risk for contracting the virus and experiencing serious or fatal respiratory disease as a result.
All told, we wrote letters, filed suit, published op-eds, or reached out to election officials, or some combination of these, in at least eighteen states, including Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. In some states where lawsuits were filed, such as Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, we partnered with state protection and advocacy agencies and/or other organizations of and for people with disabilities, including the American Council of the Blind (ACB).
Through a combination of court orders and agreements reached without formal court action, six states—Delaware, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Virginia—implemented commercially available accessible remote ballot-marking tools. Others, including Connecticut, Maine, New York, Nevada, and Tennessee, used non-commercial or homegrown systems, often simply sending fillable PDF’s, with varying degrees of usability and accessibility, to voters who requested them. PDF’s can technically be made accessible, but even then they often present usability barriers, and the proper formatting of ballots as fillable PDF’s proved a particular challenge. In some states with which we interacted, we were unsuccessful in getting a solution in place. In Iowa, for example, state election officials maintained that they could not implement an accessible absentee-ballot system without the approval of the legislature, despite the clear court precedents establishing the supremacy of federal law in this area.
From the information we have so far, the most successful implementation of accessible absentee ballots was in Michigan, where 4,184 people voted using the accessible absentee ballot system provided by Democracy Live, according to a report provided by the state. Eve Hill, an attorney well known to regular Monitor readers who represented the National Federation of the Blind in Michigan and other states, says that this outstanding success was achieved because the state, under close monitoring by us and the court, “had a commercial system in place and working nearly eight weeks before the election, did press and other outreach along with community groups to make sure people knew about it, and included information about how to request an accessible absentee ballot in the same places it gave information about general absentee ballots.” By contrast, Maine, which implemented a homegrown system using supposedly accessible PDF’s late in the game, only had thirty-three accessible absentee ballots completed and returned successfully and forty that were requested but not returned. Similarly, although Virginia implemented a commercially available system, it did not get the word out about the availability of the system, and the responsiveness of some county officials to requests for the accessible solution was patchy. As a result, only forty people successfully requested accessible absentee ballots, and only nineteen of those completed and returned them. The other states mentioned above that deployed some form of remote accessible ballot-marking system had not reported their results as of this writing.
Even though results were not what we might have hoped in all jurisdictions, most of the court cases we brought resulted in either full or partial victories, and accessible absentee or mail-in ballots were available to blind people in more states than ever before. Furthermore, our litigation and other public-facing efforts garnered significant media attention for the issue. An Associated Press article about our national voting-rights campaign was published in at least 150 different news outlets, and an additional eighty stories covered what was happening in individual states. In Iowa, our president, Scott van Gorp co-authored an op-ed with the ACB’s state president that was published in the Des Moines Register. A Washington Post columnist, Theresa Vargas, covered our efforts in Maryland and Virginia. It is probably accurate to say that our fight for the voting rights of blind Americans has not received a similar level of favorable media coverage since the passage of HAVA, if ever. Too often, past media coverage of accessible voting has focused on speculative security concerns raised by some activists, but the narrative leading up to this election was noticeably focused more on our rights than on those concerns.
In the coming weeks, we will receive more information about the 2020 election from reports of the remaining states that implemented accessible ballot-marking tools and from the voter surveys we conducted to assess the experiences of blind people in the election. This year, for the first time, we conducted two separate online surveys: one for voters who went to early voting centers or polling places, and one for voters who used absentee or mail-in ballots. In early 2021, we will therefore have a much fuller picture of our success, as well as of the remaining barriers to full and equal access to voting faced by blind Americans. With the confidence that we can address these barriers, armed with our 2020 data and experience, we will go forward with the fight to ultimately ensure private, independent casting of ballots, by every means available to our sighted peers, in every United States voting jurisdiction.
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 Maurice Peret
The National Federation of the Blind Career Mentoring Program is bounding into our third year of collaborative work with state agencies to provide pre-employment transition services as outlined in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2014. These critical services are offered through the powerful vehicle of mentoring with a positive philosophy of blindness that says that it is okay to be blind, highlights the necessity of mastery of essential alternative techniques of blindness, facilitates learning how to cope gracefully and respectfully with the myriad public misconceptions about blindness, demonstrates blending in equally with and rising up to the high expectations of our sighted peers, and a recognition that giving back to society serves as a quantifiable demonstration of the value of our contribution. These are the foundational principles of our program. Several state agency directors and administrators around our nation are taking advantage of this strategic partnership with the NFB, and many are reaching out to replicate it in their regions.
To date, the NFB Career Mentoring Program has provided pre-employment transition services and mentoring to some ninety-two transition-age youth from Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Virginia. Seventy-five active mentors have been integrated into the program as well as three local coordinators, who provided support for various activities including personal interactions through monthly mentee Zoom meetings and separately occurring mentor Zoom meetings; through nine in-person and three virtual Career Quest retreats, which have featured activities in career exploration, work-based learning experiences, tours of college campuses, exposure to job readiness skills, including nonvisual techniques for independence, and self-advocacy in conjunction with our annual advocacy day on Capitol Hill in collaboration with the National Association of Blind Students and NFB of Virginia’s Project RISE.
Several of these mentees have matriculated successfully into postsecondary college and university programs, others are actively pursuing employment, and the balance are still enrolled in high school. We held eight Career Quest weekend retreats so far with the number of transition youth participants ranging from eight to twenty-four. Quarterly retreats were held in cities from Pearl and Starkville, Mississippi, to Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, Baltimore, Maryland, and virtually anywhere and everywhere. These intensive weekend retreats focused on themes ranging from career exploration to enrollment in postsecondary education and training opportunities, and incorporated hands-on, work-based learning experiences that included:
Our robust and innovative programing is delivered essentially in three key ways. The first and most important component of our Career Mentoring program is our vast network of adult blind role models that are matched with our mentees based upon common career interests, educational pursuits or background, creative hobbies, and similar experiences. As a nationwide membership organization that encompasses numerous committees and divisions, we avail our young consumers access to state and national leaders of blind students, state and national conferences and conventions, a vast array of helpful resources to build a peer network, and a knowledge base for collective problem solving and advocacy. It is our sincere belief that the mentoring relationships that are cultivated and nurtured contribute substantively to lifelong learning and toward living the lives our blind and low-vision consumers want.
Largely because of our sustained engagement with these mentees beyond the audio/video conferences, the impact that the program is having is readily observed from the first weekend retreat until the present. In addition to the specific pre-employment transition services that transition consumers were availed of through the Zoom conferences, many developed new skills while traveling, some for the first time ever, through an airport and on an airplane. Following discussions, for example, at the “Take Charge of Your Voice and Your Choices” Career Quest conference, mentees from Mississippi noticed and remarked on how they were treated by the public in the form of an imposition of over-the-top assistance. This sparked a lively conversation about self-advocacy that occurred during the monthly mentee Zoom meeting the day after their return from the retreat.
The second component of our NFB Career Mentoring Program consists of hosting monthly audio/video conferences. Using the Zoom platform, we work on the development of specific employment transition skills with targeted objectives. We use a combination of pre-recorded presentations, open-ended questioning, knowledge-based assignments, and active engagement between the coordinators and students. The following are examples of some of the audio/video conferences.
This session featured a recorded presentation from Nimer Jaber, a blind mentor from California who works for the Google Corporation, who provided students with a project management framework that they could use in pursuit of their vocational and postsecondary pursuits. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), “Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to a broad range of activities in order to meet the requirements of a particular project.” There are five phases of project management, and if the lifecycle provides a high-level view of the project, the phases are the roadmap to accomplishing it. The five phases of project development/management are:
Mentees discussed each phase and applied them to their individual projects. For example, one student related the project management structure to a physical science final school assignment due by end of summer involving research and a presentation on the COVID-19 pandemic. This student is pursuing her studies in criminology forensics. Another mentee related the execution phase to distributing tasks and roles in a team collaboration, dividing them into workgroups, and executing resources such as money, budget, and costs. She applied this to her endeavor of writing a book.
This session on the importance of advocating for accommodations in high school and college featured a recorded presentation from blind mentors Trisha Kulkarni, president, and Elizabeth Rouse, member of the board of directors, of the National Association of Blind Students, a division of the National Federation of the Blind. This presentation included short role-playing scenes that provided students with techniques and strategies to self-advocate for appropriate accommodations, and how to distinguish from unnecessary special treatment in high school and college.
One college student studying to become a teacher found one of the scenarios quite relatable to her own school situation. She described the career mentoring program as essential in filling the gaps of support from her community and family. She found the mentors and coordinators to be useful resources for answering questions and providing advice on how to deal with critical life circumstances.
Discussion questions included:
One student described how she was exempt from taking an exam in elementary school because it was unavailable in a format made accessible to her. Were she confronted with a similar incident today, this young lady said she would refuse this form of special treatment, recognizing that she was being denied an important learning opportunity.
Mentees discussed the value of being an active participant in their own IEP and IPE meetings and learned how to effectively advocate for reasonable college or other postsecondary accommodations. Mentees were encouraged to describe specific accommodations or tools which they planned to add or reinforce in their own IEPs or accommodation meetings in the upcoming school year, and to describe what strategies they would use to advocate for them.
Other examples of our skills development topics include:
In order to effectively address the impact of COVID-19 on the lives and learning environments of the students, we were dynamic in restructuring the focus and format of our Zoom conferences. During our monthly audio/video conferences we engaged with the mentees to help them deal with the new reality of remote learning by taking inventory of how they were accessing these educational tools and whether accessibility barriers existed. We learned that most of our college-enrolled mentees were accessing their coursework through the Canvas learning management platform as well as the Zoom audio/video conferencing tool. Several mentees referenced their struggle to focus on their academics during COVID-19. They were encouraged to pace themselves and create a schedule for their daily tasks, including tracking daily accomplishments using lists labeled completed, in progress, deadlines, and challenges. Mentees were also encouraged to notify their mentors as well as program coordinators if their grades became adversely affected by inaccessibility due to COVID-19. Our local coordinators used the time prior to the Zoom meetings to connect with each of the mentees to assess how they were coping with interruptions in their educational programs and to help them implement strategies to maintain a reasonable and practical momentum. In addition, we shared a free download resource, the three-hour audiobook on Zoom, Meet Me Accessibly—A Guide to Zoom Cloud Meetings from a Blindness Perspective by Jonathan Mosen.
The third component of our NFB Career Mentoring Program consists of retreats that combine several learning modules into chunks of interactive sessions over a weekend. These were previously held in-person, in-state at a local conference center. However, as the proverbial saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Our new reality has required us to develop virtual learning modules to approximate a comparable level of engagement and learning that we would have achieved from the in-person experience.
An example of this is our fall 2020 Career Quest retreat entitled “Self-Advocating on the Job and in Life,” consisting of virtual modules that engaged the students in group improvisational role-play scenarios and debates. The retreat took a deep dive into self-advocacy and self-determination, and it featured a dynamic panel of young blind professionals and involved discussion and completion of a work-values inventory, exploration of career goals and planning next steps, and mentee journaling throughout the weekend.
Although present circumstances have forced us to alter how we do our work, we have neither ceased nor slowed down a bit. Since schools across the country were closed and instruction moved into virtual learning platforms due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our blind and low-vision students needed the support of blind mentors more than ever before. Thankfully, our monthly mentee Zoom meetings had already been in place for some time. We look forward to taking our programming to the next level in 2021 to maintain and nurture a momentum that we believe will continue to equip these young blind and low-vision consumers with a competitive edge in education, employment, and personal success and independence. We are ramping up our Zoom learning platform and plan to expand our Career Quest retreats to additional states, including Illinois. We welcome all interested transition youth to complete our online mentee application at https://nfb.org/menteeapplication. We are also constantly in search of positive blind mentors. Candidates should complete the online application at https://nfb.org/mentorapplication.
Without the countless volunteer time and energy from our mentors, the NFB Career Mentoring Program could not thrive. Additionally, a tremendous debt of gratitude is owed to those who have served tirelessly as local coordinators: Ellana Crew from Maryland, Chelsea Page and Carrie Johnson from Mississippi, and Shane Buresh and Kelly Coleman from Nebraska.
by Maurice Peret
From the Editor: Maurice Peret has the rare distinction of having two articles appear in one issue of the Braille Monitor. One he wrote in his official capacity as a staff member, but this one he wrote simply because he is a Federationist thinking about the virus that is confronting us, our response to it, and the likely changes we should be prepared to discuss and address in the future. Here’s what he has to say:
While it almost seems like it has lasted forever, this strange new COVID-19 era has been with us for eight months; rising daily in intensity like a volcano. Many pundits foretell that we shall not, at least not any time soon, return to what we would recognize as normalcy.
Oh, the coronavirus will, like all have before, pass away until the next global health threat. The lasting effects, though, will be social, financial, economic, and dare I say it? Political. Leaders from the national executive branch to state governors will be judged by how and how quickly and decisively they responded to this global crisis.
If ever there were a desperate cry for mass mobilization, it seems to me, that time is now!
Once again, the members and leaders of the National Federation of the Blind, in our determination to live the lives we want, continue to rise to this unprecedented and uncharted occasion.
Amidst massive shortages of everything from critically important medical devices and protective equipment to toilet paper, our voices can clearly be heard across the land.
As 90 percent of us have been living under some form or another of quarantine, we have had to interrupt our regular business in our local NFB chapters, state and area affiliates, and indeed, in our national organization. But we have not stopped! Because of our collective innovation, creativity, and determination, we have continued to carry out our deliberations through various means such as audio/video conferencing, social media, and other remote and online platforms.
President Mark Riccobono has reached out in enumerable ways to our members, including the unprecedented live recording of the “Presidential Release,” registering more than a thousand participants across the nation.
What concerns me the most is what happens in the wake of this temporary crisis. With the greatest portion of our economy in the service industries, the shuttering of schools, libraries, restaurants, cafes, taverns, hotels, and even state offices have resulted in more than twenty million first-time unemployment applications. Since people with disabilities in this country are grossly and disproportionately unemployed or underemployed, I worry about the lasting effects on our families and individuals. Approximately half the population never recovered from the Great Recession of 2008. A staggeringly increasing number of us are no longer “employees” but “contractors,” exempting them from employee benefits such as health and life insurance coverage, paid vacation and family sick leave, and retirement savings plans. Consequently, one job is not enough. Many working people in this “gig” economy must take on two or three jobs just to make ends meet. How will the blind accommodate ourselves to this new reality?
Because we are, above all, a people’s movement, we have reached out to one another, checking on the well-being of our friends, family members, and colleagues. We have endured tremendous heartbreak as our members have not been untouched by the COVID-19 virus as well as sharing the great joy in new birth, academic and vocational successes, etc. Now more than ever we must look in on one another, pick up the phone, text, message, Facetime, whatever we can to reach out and offer our care and solidarity. In our Maryland affiliate, we have established a COVID-19 emergency fund to assist our members and families adversely affected by its wake. I know that others are doing likewise. Given the financial blow befallen all of us in one way or another, we must consider redoubling our efforts to support our Federation. We are our greatest assets, and all that we have built we did so together with our own hands and our own resources. I hope you will join me, therefore, in stepping up our commitment to support our powerful Federation. If we do not, then no one else will.
December 08, 2020
The US Access Board has named Dr. Sachin Dev Pavithran as its new executive director. Dr. Pavithran, a member of the Board for eight years, succeeds David M. Capozzi, who retired in June.
“I am both excited and humbled to lead an agency that has done so much to make our world a more welcoming and inclusive place for everyone,” Dr. Pavithran stated. “I look forward to helping the agency build upon its notable accomplishments so that it can continue to provide leadership in accessibility both in the U.S. and across the globe.”
Dr. Pavithran was appointed to the Access Board as a public member in 2012 and reappointed to a second term four years later. During his tenure, he served terms as chair and as vice chair of the Board. In addition, he was active in the Board’s update of its Section 508 Standards for information and communication technology in the federal sector.
“On behalf of the Access Board, I heartily congratulate Sachin on his appointment,” noted Board Chair Lance Robertson of the US Department of Health and Human Services. “He brings dedication, proven leadership, and a wealth of expertise and experience to the position.”
Dr. Pavithran has served as program director of the Utah Assistive Technology Program and as the director of policy for the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University since 2011. He has over twenty years of experience developing and testing assistive technology and has lectured and trained extensively on the subject.
He is president of the Association of University Centers on Disabilities’ national board and is a member of the National Federation of the Blind where he chairs the Committee on Autonomous Vehicles and Innovations in Transportation. He was appointed to the US Commission on Civil Rights Utah Advisory Committee and has represented the Access Board on the US Elections Assistance Commission’s Board of Advisors.
by Peggy Chong, The Blind History Lady
In his 2018 banquet speech, “Authenticity, Diversity, and the Synergy of the Organized Blind,” President Riccobono highlighted several of the women leaders of our organization’s past. You can read the speech at https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/convent/banquet-speech-2018-2.html. Due to time restrictions, President Riccobono was not able to introduce us to all our female national board members from the past.
A great percentage of our members serve on NFB committees and chapter boards; some serve on our affiliate and division boards. Only a few have what it takes to serve on our national board. Attending meetings of committees and boards is not what makes a leader. No, it is what we do after the adjournment and before the next meeting.
I would like to introduce to you a woman who served on our national board of directors during the late 1950s and early 1960s who did not appear in that address, yet was a strong leader from Massachusetts who served in almost every capacity in the Federation, Anita O’Shea.
Anita Marie O’Shea was born June 21, 1924, in Springfield, Massachusetts. She had an older brother and sister who were twins and seven years her senior. As a child Anita played with her siblings and the neighborhood children, running, swinging, and having a great time.
At the age of six, she attended the Armory Street School with her friends. One day, while in the second grade, her parents got a call. Little Anita could not read the board and did not pass the school’s eye exam. Her parents took Anita to a local doctor. She had surgery on her eyes. The doctor came back to the parents and said that he could not do much for Anita but that she was very lucky. In Massachusetts there was Perkins Institute, and she would get a good education there. Anita was not totally blind; she had some “travel vision,” so she was “lucky.”
But Perkins was in Watertown. Back then, there were no freeways. The trip was more than three hours each way. The depression had come to Massachusetts and the O’Shea’s. Gas was costly. Her parents debated sending their little princess far away from the family, worried about breaking family ties. Her father, Thomas, was most set against it. But mom said that her little girl needed to go. Mom won out.
In many ways Anita had her mother to thank for her positive attitude about blindness. Octavia had a gift to accept and embrace what she could not change. Because her mother demonstrated to Anita that she was still their little princess, blind or not, Anita accepted the changes to come.
Anita entered the first grade at Perkins in 1932. Through her schooling years at Perkins, she learned to read and write in Braille and developed a love for literature. In her junior year, Anita submitted a poem entitled, “March Nocturne” to the Atlantic Monthly. The poem did not win but appeared in the list of finalists in the publication. She became an expert typist. She took many music classes and excelled at the piano, enjoyed the drama classes, and participated in some of the athletic programs at Perkins.
As often as they could, the family would load up the car and drive to Watertown to visit Anita. The first year was the hardest for Anita since she got homesick, especially at night. Seeing her family often was a blessing and a curse because Anita could not go home with mom and dad at the end of their visit.
During her last years at Perkins, Anita took a two-year “Dictaphone” training program and was certified. She graduated Perkins in 1942 and quickly found Dictaphone work in Springfield. Anita moved back in with her mom and dad after graduation. After Octavia’s death in 1946, Anita cared for her father, cooking and keeping house for the two of them. Thomas was a man she admired, a Rock of Gibraltar for Anita. Her family says that in many ways Anita took after Thomas.
To advance in her career, she took classes at the Gough Secretarial School in Springfield to become a medical transcriber. There were no special allowances made for Anita because she was blind. She studied hard to memorize all the medical terms, what they meant, and their correct spellings. She hired a tutor, an instructor at the Springfield Technical College, to become better than the rest of the girls looking for work. That Latin class she disliked immensely at Perkins now was paying off.
Anita felt she had to be just a bit better than the other girls. Sighted girls could easily look up spellings and check on meanings in the print reference books. But Anita could not use those books. They were not in any alternative format for her to borrow or purchase at that time. Not to worry. Soon she landed her first medical transcriber position at the Wesson Hospital in 1959. It would be several years before she could save enough money to purchase a medical dictionary that she placed in her medical record office at Providence Hospital.
In the spring of 1959, she took additional blindness training to learn how to travel with a white cane. Her vision had been slowly decreasing over the years, and by 1958 she was totally blind. Being able to travel with ease would make her more employable now that she had finished her medical transcription training.
At her work station there were many forms to keep track of. Her job required her to type in the correct boxes on the form; all data was dictated to her. Anita learned the layout of the forms, how many lines to roll down in her typewriter, and how many spaces or tabs were required to get to the specified box on the form. In her desk drawer, forms were filed in folders to make it quick and easy for her to locate.
When she had her own money, Anita shopped for nice business clothes for work and play. She called Forbes or the Wallace department stores where she loved to shop. She would ask for the dress department and talk with her favorite salesclerk (back then, salesclerks worked in the same dress shop for decades). The clerks would find Anita stylish outfits in the fashions of the day. She would accessorize each outfit with jewelry, scarves, handbags, and shoes. Each article was selected not just for fashion but comfort and complementary style. The jewelry almost always included clip-on earrings and necklaces. By touch, Anita knew each article in her closet and jewelry box.
Anita had her hair done regularly at a local salon as most women did. Today we can tell on her; when beginning to turn grey, she had it dyed a medium blonde. Her hair was always in place and fresh.
Family and friends loved her vivacious attitude toward life. Her bright, wide smile and her laugh was infectious, and she loved to laugh. Anita liked to tease her brother, especially over her beloved Red Sox. At family gatherings she loved a good joke. Anita loved to read; she also loved to go to the movies, especially those featuring Rock Hudson, Steve McQueen, Rosalind Russell, or Suzanne Pleshette. She also enjoyed listening to music, going to the theater, and dancing. She loved going out to eat. Most of the time she ordered seafood because it tasted so much better on the east coast.
Anita was the family “newsletter.” Each thanksgiving she spent with her older brother’s family. They played cards and caught each other up on the family news. For years, making a long-distance phone call to family often meant bad news since it was too expensive to call. Thus visits from family and friends were most welcome when news or other family business was shared.
The holidays were also teaching times on blindness to her family. At Thanksgiving she would bring her slate and stylus to Braille a deck of cards. She gave Braille lessons to her nieces and nephews. Some even learned enough to write to their aunt in grade one Braille.
At Christmas Anita went to her older sister’s and visited with her family, sharing the news from Thanksgiving. Anita’s sister lived nearby in Springfield. Each holiday season, her sister would come to her home and help decorate Anita’s Christmas tree. It was a tradition between the two sisters. After her sister’s death, Anita put up her tree, but it was not the same. In 1962 her father passed away. Anita found new apartments and for the first time lived on her own. Although she had gentlemen friends, Anita chose to remain single.
Now, to more on Anita’s involvement in the blind community. Because of Perkins, many blind adults knew one another in Massachusetts and kept tabs on each other. In 1948, at the age of twenty-four, Anita helped to organize the Greater Springfield Association for the Blind. She served in many capacities for the chapter including president. In her chapter she led or inspired many activities both serious and fun. In 1957 a newspaper account of the chapter’s fun side was entitled, "Blind Singers Make Recording." A quartet of blind singers, all members of the Greater Springfield Association of the Blind, made a recording as the "Mellow-Dears." They also recorded the song "Captain Peter Jingle." The article had a photo of the quartet with Springfield’s Mayor Brunton and three of the four members of the quartet: Anita O’Shea, Mrs. Juanita Cassady, and Mrs. Edythe Lassiter. One member could not be there for the photo and that was Mrs. Janina C. Dumas.
As a part of the National Federation of the Blind, all chapters in the AIB participated in the White Cane Week. WCW drives raise money for the national organization and local affiliates. In Springfield professional placards were designed to promote WCW. Tables were set up at the local shopping malls in the Springfield area as well as businesses such as Westinghouse.
Each year the Springfield chapter held an annual banquet. Anita was often the mistress of ceremonies. Her poise, quick wit, and her ability to read well from her Braille notes impressed not just the sighted but inspired many of the blind members to work harder at their Braille. The chapter invited many NFB leaders from across the country to meet the members. Jacobus tenBroek accepted invitations and attended the 1956 banquet where he met Anita for the first time. It was Anita’s energy behind the scenes that made many events successful.
No one could accuse her of not being pro-active. In 1960 the local fire stations wanted to place reflective, glow-in-the-dark fire truck stickers on the homes or at the bedroom windows where a blind person lived. The Springfield chapter and others would have no part of it. They took on an active public relations campaign. News articles presented their position stating that having their names at the fire station was more than enough. Announcing to the community that a blind person lived at that address would invite crooks who would steal checks from the blind person’s mail or tempt the crooks to force their way into their homes.
The chapter had a policy of providing white canes to its members and any blind person in need. After Anita became chapter president, she expanded the program to include crutches and other medical supplies. Under her leadership the chapter was able to purchase, with the help of the local Lions Club, a piece of property for only $1. The local Lions Club members and the blind got together and stuffed more than 1,500 envelopes with light bulbs asking for funds to build the Springfield clubhouse for the blind. In most cases, the Lions Clubs were not in line with the Federation philosophy with these types of campaigns. Too often the promotional line read, "Buy our bulbs and help us bring light into a world of darkness.” Because of the close relationship with the chapter, this demeaning phrase was not used.
The one-story meeting house was built in 1963 at 910 Liberty Street, for the Greater Springfield Chapter. Their contractor built a three-dimensional representation of the proposed building for Anita to examine before the plans were approved. The building provided more than just a meeting house. Members could rent the space for other activities. Anita held a shower for one of her nieces at the building. When one owns a building, there are all the details that need attention. Anita oversaw general repairs, a new air conditioner, a new parking lot, debates over the right soap dispenser for the bathrooms, and much more. One year the building was vandalized, causing a large bill that Anita and other members took on the responsibility personally to repair. The building still stands and is still owned by the NFB Springfield Chapter.
Liberty Street was the gathering place for the blind of Springfield. Committee meetings, annual meetings, and state ABM meetings were and are still held there. When not in use by the blind, space was rented to many groups for one-time, weekly, and monthly meetings for others in the community. Today the building is rented out on Sundays and serves as a church to utilize the building to its fullest.
In the fall of 1958, Miss O'Shea initiated a highly effective Braille class for Springfield's Jewish Community Center, which produced an ever-expanding pool of volunteer transcribers to meet the needs of blind college students and pupils in the public schools. A few of her trainees became Braille instructors and trained more volunteer transcribers. Later they recruited readers for tape-recording programs.
In 1960 Anita was recognized by the city as a leader. The mayor appointed her to chair the committee to head up the observance of Helen Keller Day in Springfield.
At the fourteenth annual convention of the ABM, Anita accepted the Jacobus tenBroek Award from the affiliate on behalf of her chapter for “demonstrating so fully the principles and purposes that make up the building blocks of the Associated Blind of Massachusetts.” Anita shared her publicity with fellow chapter member Andrew Boghasian, who was the flower sale chairman.
Anita was elected to the Associated Blind of Massachusetts board as an at-large member in 1957. Before the next election, Anita filled the position of vice president in that same year. When state president John Nagel took a position with the National Federation of the Blind in DC, Anita became president. In 1958 she was officially elected to that position. She served for two terms, meaning four years. As president she represented the blind of Massachusetts at conferences regarding rehabilitation and the blind. She, along with the state presidents of Rhode Island and Vermont, held the New England Conference of NFB Affiliates in January 1958. More than forty blind men and women from five states attended. These regional conferences did much to unite the state affiliates and share strategies on legislation and fundraising to better their organizations.
The 1959 state convention, held in Holyoke, welcomed more than three hundred blind men and women from Massachusetts and neighboring states. Kenneth Jernigan was the national representative. Anita was honored to spend time with him, getting to know him better. Several newspaper articles on the convention appeared around the state. In Holyoke, the association was on the front cover and above the fold with a photograph of several participants including state Senator Maurice Donahue. Much preparation went into the convention and publicity. Anita was behind all of it.
During her first tenure as president of the Associated Blind of Massachusetts, Miss O'Shea was instrumental in launching several new programs for the blind, notably the establishment of an advisory committee that met regularly with the director of the state's Division for the Blind. She also inaugurated a Job Opportunities Committee that had substantial success in informing potential employers about the vocational and professional capacity of blind people.
Early in 1958 she began the ABM’s quarterly newsletter, The Paul Revere. She appointed Eva Gilbert as editor. Eva frequently wrote articles for the Braille Monitor. Anita contributed to the Paul Revere regularly. One of her newsletter articles entitled “Blind Moochers” found its way into the November 1959 Braille Monitor. The article was not just her thoughts on blind beggars but a call to action for the seven chapters to work with the police in their communities to inform the police that most of the blind did not approve of begging. In that article she encouraged members to seek out speaking engagements to educate their community about the efforts of the blind who work and contribute to their community as well as why the ABM disapproved of begging.
After going blind, Anita kept in contact with her childhood friends in Springfield, just as she did with her own family. This proved to be a benefit to her as state president. A childhood friend, Edward Boland, became a state representative. Representative Boland eagerly took a leadership role on legislation pertaining to the blind when Anita came to his office and asked for his support.
In 1962 she stepped down as president, taking other positions on the state board including vice president until 1969 when she was elected state president once again. For the state affiliate, she got George Shearing [a blind pianist] to come to Boston and perform along with a five-piece band at the John Hancock Hall on September 16, 1969. During the intermission the ABM gave awards to those in the community who had assisted the blind of the state. It was one of the first fundraisers for the ABM. Since its inception, ABM had relied mainly on funds provided from its chapters. The concert was a success in the media but not on the balance sheet. As a fundraiser, ABM took a hard financial hit, causing it to instate a raffle with a $700 cash first prize to offset the losses from the concert.
Along with her state board positions in the ABM, Anita served on the national board of directors beginning in 1960, filling out a one-year term. She was re-elected the next year. She would serve twelve years on the national board. Anita also served on the Resolutions Committee and the Code of Affiliate Standards Committees.
National conventions were fun for Anita. They were for several of her nieces as well. She often took along a niece to convention as a traveling companion. To this day, some of them remember the many Federationists they met. When public service announcements of the Federation with Dr. Jernigan came on television, they delighted in telling those watching, “I met him!”
Anita’s first convention may have been in 1958 when the convention was held in Boston. She attended the 1959 convention in Santa Fe, where the politics of this and the next several years scared others away from the organization. On January 9th, 1970, Anita and others traveled to Des Moines, Iowa, to meet with President Kenneth Jernigan at the Iowa Commission for the Blind. The NFB began to establish national divisions. Anita was one of the organizers of the NFB’s Secretary and Transcribers Division launched that weekend. She was elected its first president. The first task was to get the newly adopted constitution Brailled for the upcoming national convention. As president she set the agenda for the annual meetings and projects of the new division. One project she felt most important was to provide Braille reference material for transcribers. The Braille Monitor for April 1971 reports the plans for the first six months of the division as follows:
The Houston seminar will consist of two parts: first, there will be a business meeting of all members of the National Association of Blind Secretaries and Transcribers, during which an election of officers to two-year terms will be carried out and plans made for the ensuing year. The second and larger part of the seminar program will include three individual speakers (one from IBM regarding MT/ST equipment, etc., and two placement specialists with contrasting methods and results), and a panel of our own members who will discuss the problems of obtaining and holding secretarial jobs in competition with their sighted counterparts. Relating to the seminar, but not directly involved in it, will be a rather extensive display of transcribing equipment from the major manufacturers. This exhibit probably will be maintained from Sunday to Friday of convention week.
Some of the services referred to above include the Brailling of the 1970 or 1971 Drug Supplement of the Physicians’ Desk Reference, Harbeck's Glossary (a systemic breakdown of medical terms, drugs, surgical instruments, etc.); and the preparation and Brailling of a bibliography which will list existing Braille references for all types of secretarial work as well as the places where additional supplementary information can be obtained.
Anita would serve several terms as president for the new division.
In 1972 she was appointed an assistant social worker for the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind, where she worked for many years assisting newly blind clients. Later in life, Anita found out she had diabetes. She loved good food and dining out. Changing her diet was a hard thing for her to do, but she did learn to eat well. The disease took a toll on her body. Neuropathy set in. Surgeons removed one toe and then another. Then they took part of one foot. Anita got a prosthetic foot and shoes to accommodate the new foot. Being a fashion-conscious woman, she wanted to have good looking shoes. This often proved to be difficult.
As diabetes progressed, doctors told her they needed to remove her leg from the knee down. Blindness may have been the worse of two evils to her family; not to Anita. She told her family again that she felt her blindness was not a tragedy, more like a blessing in her life. To lose a leg was an indignity that she could not abide.
Her illness made it harder to travel. Near the end of her life, she was forced to miss a few national conventions, yet she continued to be involved in the Federation. Although she was retired, Anita still hired a reader to keep her current on many topics. One of the chapter members had a daughter who became one of Anita’s last readers. That reader is still active in the Springfield Chapter today. Some remember Anita from the articles she wrote for the Braille newsletter, Our Special Magazine, published by National Braille Press targeted especially for women.Anita died of diabetes heart complications on October 13, 1997. She is buried in St. Michael’s Cemetery. Although she is more than twenty years gone from our ranks, her imprint on the Federation is still evident today.
Recently we did a survey to see whether recipes should remain a monthly column in the Braille Monitor. Those who responded strongly favored the continuation of the column, though, as with so many surveys, we would have preferred more participation. Normally we take recipes from state affiliates and proceed in alphabetical order. We also accept recipes from divisions, though we do not actively push for them in the same way that we encourage affiliate participation. Next month we will have recipes from the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. We ask that Monitor readers who have tasty treats to offer, to keep track of your affiliates place in the alphabet and help your state president as he or she tries to bring some culinary shine to these pages. Thank you for the delicious dishes you will share.
The NFB of Arizona's East Valley Chapter held its elections on November 21, 2020, and the following officers were elected: Megan Homrighausen, president; Tony Sohl, first vice president; Heather Bowes, second vice president; Tina Sohl, secretary; Jenny Kasl, treasurer; Justin Hughes, board position one; and Kristy Shields, board position two. Congratulations to all of you.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
A Special Promotion for Veterans:
Bookshare, a long-time supporter of NFB, would like readers to know about a special promotion for our nation’s veterans. What is Bookshare? Bookshare is an online library of ebooks in audio, large text, and Braille. Veterans with vision loss, dyslexia, or physical disabilities that impact their ability to read a print book can use Bookshare to read in ways that work for them.
Learn how several of our blind veteran members used Bookshare to successfully transition into civilian careers: #WeAreGrateful for Our Veterans.
Ski for Light International Event: Virtually Everywhere!
While we wish we could gather in person, the forty-sixth Annual Ski for Light International Event is going virtual. The COVID-19 pandemic has created many disruptions and hardships, but it can’t prevent the Ski for Light family from exercising our creativity and our bodies, from connecting, or from sharing and learning via technology.
Join us Wednesday, January 27, through Saturday, January 30, for this event, featuring three to four hours of optional daily programming on the Zoom platform, plus opportunities and encouragement to challenge yourself offline. We are planning a fitness program to get your blood pumping, special interest sessions to expand your knowledge, and a closing banquet full of comedy, song, and celebration.
And, for the first time, SFL attendance will be free! Each registrant will receive an embroidered Ski for Light patch and an SFL-logoed resistance band (handy for home strength training and stretching) while supplies last.
We hope to welcome many newcomers to our community with this uniquely accessible demonstration of our motto: “If we can do this (in a pandemic), we can do anything!” Though hosting a virtual “skiing” event has some obvious challenges, it also means that anyone with an interest can drop in and learn why veteran attendees find SFL gatherings so enriching. What a fantastic chance for those who might have been thinking about attending for years to get over that snow-mogul hump of indecision! So, skiers, guides, and the simply curious, please make plans now to join this year's virtual adventure. More details and the short application form for the event are posted at www.sfl.org/events/next.
Come Zoom with us in January, and soon we’ll be back out on the trails with each other, zooming for real!
IRS Services for the Visually Impaired:
The Internal Revenue Service is pleased to inform you that we have updated information on IRS.gov regarding the Alternative Media Center (AMC) at https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/information-about-the-alternative-media-center and on our Accessible Forms & Publications page at https://www.irs.gov/forms-pubs/accessible-irs-tax-products.
The AMC provides a variety of services to assist visually impaired taxpayers. On our website, you will find links to accessible forms and publications, instructions on how to obtain accessible copies of notices or letters and information about upcoming enhancements to our accessibility services. Visually impaired taxpayers who need assistance with a notice or letter in print formats or need other information about the services available through the AMC should contact us at 800-829-1040.
Governor Hogan Announces Completion of the Equal Employment Act
Ends the use of sub-minimum wage for employees with disabilities in Maryland:
Annapolis, MD: The Maryland Department of Disabilities (MDOD) announced the completion of the Equal Employment Act (EEA), also known as the Ken Capone Act, and the phase-out of the use of 14c certificates in Maryland. Maryland was the second state in the nation to eliminate sub-minimum wage in 2016 when Governor Hogan signed the Ken Capone Act. There are no 14c certificates in use in Maryland after October 1, 2020.
"The elimination of sub-minimum wage in Maryland marks the opportunity to give all our citizens access to economic self-sufficiency and independence," said Governor Hogan.
The main provision in the EEA is the development and implementation of a phase-out plan of Maryland's current providers who have a 14c certificate over four years. The EEA was effective October 1, 2016, and providers had until October 1, 2020, to phase out their 14c certificate. On October 1, 2016, there was also a provision banning any organization who had not previously held a certificate from applying for a new certificate.
"We are proud that Maryland is leading the way on this issue," said MDOD Secretary Carol A. Beatty. In a September 2020 report on the issue, The US Civil Rights Commission said the time has come to eliminate the policy.
The certificates authorize employers to pay sub-minimum wages to workers with disabilities that impair their productivity for the work they perform. The term '14c certificate' derives from a provision in Section 14c of the Fair Labor Standards Act or (FLSA) of 1938 and is the origin of Individuals with Disabilities: Minimum Wage and Community Integration-Ken Capone Equal Employment Act. The Act means that Maryland will no longer recognize the certificates, which are issued by the US Department of Labor.
The Maryland Department of Health-Developmental Disabilities Administration reports that data over the past four years shows an increase in the percentage of people with disabilities taking part in competitive integrated employment, 20.1 percent in October 2016 to 22.8 percent in October 2019. While the percentage of people taking part in sheltered work continued to decrease from 20.5 percent in October 2016 to 7.1 percent in October 2019.
For press coverage, contact Kim McKay at 410-767-3654 or [email protected].
About the Maryland Department of Disabilities: The Maryland Department of Disabilities (MDOD) is charged with coordinating and improving the delivery of services to individuals with disabilities in the state of Maryland. By working collaboratively with all State government agencies, MDOD provides advocacy and guidance to ensure that State entities deliver services in the most integrated settings possible, develop consistent policies affecting those with disabilities, and consider the diverse needs of all when making decisions which impact Marylanders.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
Braille Display for Sale:
I have a HIMS Braille Sense QWERTY for sale. It’s in good condition and comes with a leather carrying case, a battery charger, and an extra thirty-two gig compact flash drive. My asking price is $1,000 or best offer. If interested, email: John at [email protected].
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.