Vol. 64, No. 2 February 2021
Gary Wunder, Editor
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The National Federation of the Blind
Mark Riccobono, President
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.
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Vol. 64, No. 2 February 2021
Illustration: Imagining the Lenses of Image Descriptions
NFB Philosophy: What I Wish I’d Known (HTML)
by Sanho Steele-Louchart
Evaluating and Removing Barriers to Blind People Flying with our Guide Dogs
by Raul A. Gallegos
Why Publish the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research?
by Gary Wunder
Joyce Scanlan Remembered
by Jennifer Kennedy and Steve Jacobson
Lessons from the Charcoal Pit
by Joyce Scanlan
When Survivors Lead: Introducing the Survivor Task Force
by Briley O'Connor
Family Dynamics and the Journey of Overcoming Cultural Stigmas of Blindness
by Priscilla Yeung
The NFB Blind Driver Challenge: Accelerating in 2021
by Mark Riccobono
Limitations for Non-Attorney Advocates in Special Education Matters
by Valerie Yingling
An Introduction to the Concept of Microaggressions
by Joanne Gabias
Expanding and Explaining Our Philosophy in Modern-Day Parlance
by Gary Wunder
Katie goes to Blind School
by Katie Carmack
Leave a Legacy
Mississippi School for the Blind: Equipping Blind Students with a Quality, Rigorous, Data-driven Education
by LaShawna Fant
There be Dragons in These Books
by Jenivieve White
All I Don’t Know and Still Have to Learn
by Gary Wunder
Copyright 2021 by the National Federation of the Blind
“A picture is worth a thousand words.” I know, we’ve all probably heard this cliché more than once, but let me put a spin on it. Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, have you ever stopped to think about the lens those words are filtered through? For example, an image description could be as minimal as “A dog sits in front of a body of water.” You get the gist of the picture, and that is technically enough information to know what’s going on. However, what if the person writing or verbalizing the description is a dog lover? He/she/they could inject a little more description about what he/she/they thinks is important. For example, “A beautiful black lab sits in front of a body of water. The dog wears a solemn look on its face and its soft, shiny ears are pricked up as if listening to a far-off sound.” Again, this technically provides enough information to know what’s going on, but the focus is obviously on the dog. The same could happen with the body of water or even with the frame the photo is in.
As we hear about the events happening around us on a daily basis, do we who are blind really think about the images that go along with those stories? While we certainly don’t need images to form opinions or gather information, are there nuances we don’t digest because it is perceived as strictly a visual thing?We’d love to hear your thoughts about this topic. Feel free to email us your opinion at [email protected]. Some samples of photo captions you would like to read will be very helpful.
by Sanho Steele-Louchart
From the Editor: Sanho has written an article that may well become a Federation classic. He lives in Oklahoma, where he serves as the second vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oklahoma and as the secretary of the Central Oklahoma Chapter. He was previously a mobility instructor, and his colleagues helped push him toward the Federation by talking about this crazy group that thought blind people could be educated, employed, and active in their communities. He thought those were fine aspirations and decided to find out more about us. Here is what he says:
Militant. Radical. Extreme. Cultish. These are the words many of us hear when we’re first told about the Federation. Once, I might have agreed.
I began orbiting the NFB after going blind fifteen years ago. I say orbiting because, if the detractors were to be believed, the NFB was an organization of political malcontents—its members foaming at the mouth, rabid with vitriol and an anti-sighted bias. It was impressed upon me not to get too close. These people—these “Federationists”—genuinely believed that under the right circumstances, blindness could be reduced to a mere inconvenience. It was discussed in equal parts anger and scorn. My teachers were offended by the Federation not just because they felt that traditional blindness educators were portrayed as incompetent, but because they felt blind people were being misled. The NFB demanded false hope and loyalty bordering on fanaticism. The NFB was dangerous.
I think it’s fair to say that the only thing that could hurt my sighted teachers more than an attack on their profession was what they perceived as a direct attack on their students. In their minds, the immediacy of unrealistic expectations was far worse than the abstract threat of low ones. I was told that in the NFB, only the “super-blind” were welcome. The NFB didn’t only want to promote an unrealistic image of blindness; it wanted to showcase blind people as healthy, well-adjusted, and employed. But what about the blind people who are miserable, struggling, and barely getting by? What about the blind people who have multiple disabilities or the blind people who don’t have access to public transportation and assistive technology? What about the blind people who live perfectly wonderful lives but still feel destroyed by the inherent limitations of blindness—in short, the people who aren’t super-blind.
I accepted these criticisms of the Federation with an outsider’s neutrality. I had the sense that the issue was bigger than I knew, but I knew enough not to ask them many questions. My teachers were thoughtful, intelligent, and deeply compassionate people. That was good enough for me.
As life went on, I was exposed to more views about blindness and blind people. There were the people who believed blindness was a bad thing and those who believed it was neutral. There were the people who believed blind people were best served by having residual vision and those who believed the amount of a person’s residual vision had no more consequence on their life than the length of their hair. There were people who believed that blindness was akin to a death sentence, and there were people who believed that blindness was—dare I say it—nothing more than a relative inconvenience. It didn’t take long to realize that almost everyone I met from the latter category was a member of the NFB.
I became entranced with the philosophy of blindness. I read books. I joined calls. I learned travel from NOMC’s and Braille from NCRTB’s. I spent more than a decade learning to live and breathe Structured Discovery. But I still wasn’t a member.
It’s true that I met one or two NFB members who were fire-breathing, foam-spewing juggernauts along the way. I met many more who radiated joy and passion. I met several who said one thing but did another, and I met countless people who lived in a state of quiet authenticity. I met NFB members who seemed super-blind, and I met NFB members who were hot messes. I met movers and shakers, and I met people just trying to stay sane in their own little corner of the universe. I know Federationists who love being blind and some who would jump at the chance to be sighted. For everyone I meet who is blind-only, there’s a multiply disabled person somewhere nearby. In fact, the best example of the NFB philosophy I’ve ever met was arguably a young woman with significant cognitive and developmental disabilities. But that’s a story for another time.
The point is, I’ve never met two NFB members who were exactly alike. To say that the NFB is a cross-section of society is laughably inadequate. NFB members have vastly different experiences surrounding blindness, and contrary to how it might look from the outside, no single experience is held out as the right one. I’ve been fortunate to get to know this firsthand. I can confidently say that the NFB isn’t about being super-blind, or one-size-fits-all, or perpetuating an anti-sighted bias. The NFB is just about managing expectations. What do I expect of myself? What do I expect of others? It’s really that simple. It isn’t about anger. It’s about awareness. I concede that those expectations might sometimes go too far. But those flaws, such as they are, exist with specific individuals, not the organization as a whole.
Remember that I’m young. It’s entirely possible that the NFB of yesteryear was one built by bricks of anger and alienation. Those walls are tall. They’ll come down brick-by-brick. But that anger, that frustration—that refusal to lie down—those are all indescribably valid. Those emotions helped clear the path for people like me to enjoy the peace I do today. And take heart: those emotions are not the driving force which fuels the NFB of 2021.
The driving force is love. Call it what you will. Perhaps respect is a less fraught word. Regardless, the NFB knows that blind people are fundamentally capable of managing our own expectations. We decide what we’re capable of. We decide who we are. We decide how to live. We respect a blind person’s ability to make an informed choice. And, when we disagree, we endeavor to do that respectfully, too.
No organization is perfect. Organizations are comprised of people, and people are complicated. But I am honored to say that, after so long on the outskirts, I am finally a proud member of the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you for being my Federation family.
by Raul A. Gallegos
From the Editor: Raul is a dynamic leader who has taken on the responsibility of presiding over and guiding the National Association of Guide Dog Users. He recently contracted COVID-19, so the work he has done and shares in this article must be considered in the context of what the virus does to energy, concentration, and the way one feels when not resting. Here is what he says:
I had hoped to write an article prior to this one to introduce myself and to share the goals of the National Association of Guide Dog Users since I was elected as your NAGDU president during our first virtual national convention in 2020. However, life has a way of throwing unexpected challenges that cause delays. I am still hoping to share another article with you specifically about NAGDU updates, but that will be in a later Braille Monitor issue.
As you may have seen in social media, local news, or email lists, the Department of Transportation (DOT) has released a new ruling for the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) that went into effect on January 11, 2021. If you are a person who flies with a guide dog, there are some important things you should know about this new ruling. If you know of anyone who has been flying with a pet and has passed it off as either a service animal or an emotional support animal, they will be affected as well.
Before I share my thoughts and the position of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, I’d like to share an excerpt from the DOT page where the announcement about the new ruling came out on December 2, 2020.
“The U.S. Department of Transportation today announced that it is revising its Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) regulation on the transportation of service animals by air to ensure a safe and accessible air transportation system. The Department received more than 15,000 comments on the notice of proposed rulemaking. The final rule announced today addresses concerns raised by individuals with disabilities, airlines, flight attendants, airports, other aviation transportation stakeholders, and other members of the public, regarding service animals on aircraft.”
The final rule:
Since the ruling is over forty pages long, I cannot cover it all here, but I can invite you to read it for yourself. The ruling and the full text from the above excerpt can be found from this link: https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/us-department-transportation-announces-final-rule-traveling-air-service-animals.
Now here are my thoughts as well as the thoughts of the National Association of Guide Dog Users and several members. Regarding the bullet points of the new ruling, NAGDU feels that items 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 11, and 12 are generally positive. Unfortunately, items 4, 5, 7, 8, and 9 are a bit worrisome.
First, let me address the positive areas. Items 1, 2, and 12 basically define what a service animal is with no breed restrictions. In short, it is a dog regardless of its breed. This means no more emotional support cats, birds, and snakes. It also means that airlines cannot impose restrictions regarding the dog’s breed or assumed breed. Item 11 states that if the dog is under control, it will be allowed. Item 6 makes it so a traveler can use the online check-in process and will not be forced to arrive early to check-in.
Second are the areas that we don’t feel are as favorable. Items 4, 5, and 7 are the ones that stand out the most. They are of concern because many members feel that we should not have to fill out a form to fly with our guide dogs. Additionally, there is no guarantee that the form will be accessible despite the ruling. Many blind people traveling with guide dogs have experienced situations in which the airlines make up rules such as having to sit in a bulkhead row or that two blind people cannot sit together if one or both are traveling with a guide dog. If a form is required, this can add another level of complexity to traveling, plus many people feel that the form is not necessary because the information requested won’t really prove anything. For example, the traveler must attest that the dog will not relieve itself while traveling, and if it does, it will do it in a sanitary fashion.
In late December of 2020, the DOT gave us a copy of the proposed form for review. After many people tested it using different types of technologies, we determined that the form did not meet the accessibility guidelines necessary to allow a blind person to fill out this form independently. We have had conversations with the DOT about this and provided them with detailed feedback and have been assured that they will update the form by January 11, 2021, to be accessible. In addition, we had discussions to see if they could simply have the airlines not require the form to begin with. However, because the new ruling is final, neither the form nor the form’s language can be changed. One thing that we can take as a positive regarding this issue is that, while the airlines may require this form to be filled out, it does not mean they will do so every time. This means that we will have to continue educating the airlines. One possible solution is asking them to consider not requiring this form to be filled out if it is readily apparent that the person traveling is blind and has a guide dog. Another possible solution is to contact the press for situations in which the airlines are not complying with the new ruling or if the form is not accessible.
During our discussions with the DOT, we found out that this form will need to be renewed in 2023. This will give us an opportunity to collect our experiences when flying in case the form is required. We can then use this information to have this form updated and if we are lucky, not ever be required for blind people.
Item 9 is regarding the foot space. This one is of concern for several reasons. First, nobody other than you and your guide dog can determine how and where you will fit in certain foot space. Many times the flight attendants will see a tall person with a ninety-pound dog and automatically assume that there is no way that the person will fit in a regular row seat. At other times the blind person may want to sit in a different kind of seat because of other concerns not necessarily related to the guide dog. Therefore, it is our opinion that if you are meeting the FAA safety rules of making sure that your feet, your luggage, your dog, and anything else you are traveling with are not in the plane’s aisle, then the ruling about the foot space should not be an issue. Again, this will come down to continuing to educate the airlines.
In closing let me say that while the ruling is not 100 percent the way many of us would like it, I still believe that this new ruling has taken more steps forward than backward, especially regarding the issue of counterfeit guide dogs and emotional support animals. I feel that we need to continue to be vigilant when it comes to traveling with our guide dogs. We need to be aware of our rights and responsibilities, and we need to know that we can ask for a complaints resolution officer (CRO) in case an issue comes up while we are in the plane, and it doesn’t seem like it will get resolved immediately.
Since it looks like the DOT form is here to stay, I propose the following. We should collect as much data as possible when traveling with our guide dogs under this new ruling. The irony has not escaped me that I am suggesting filling out a form regarding the experiences of filling out a form when traveling. The form I am proposing will be similar to what the Uber and Lyft ride share form uses. If we do this, it is possible we can collect data as a way of monitoring the airlines' compliance with the new ruling.
Please reach out to me if you have comments or questions. Also, if you would like to schedule time to speak with me about this or about anything else NFB and guide dog user related, please send me a text or give me a call. However, if you want a guaranteed appointment, follow this link, and book a thirty-minute slot that works for you: https://app.greminders.com/c/rgatechsolutions/r30.
Thanks all and stay safe.
by Gary Wunder
From the Editor: This is how the article was introduced in the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, Vol. 11, No. 1 (2021): The publication of Volume 11 of the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research (JBIR) by the National Federation of the Blind marked the tenth anniversary of our publishing this journal. As we reflect on this accomplishment, it is helpful to reconsider why we publish JBIR as we chart our course for our second decade. The following article by Gary Wunder reminds us of why it is so important that a scholarly journal for professionals in the blindness field be published by an organization of blind consumers. We will also be conducting a survey of JBIR authors and readers to get your input as we make plans for the future. Finally, the JBIR editorial team would like to thank the many authors, peer reviewers, and readers who have helped us grow JBIR into a respected resource.
As some of you know, I am the editor of the Braille Monitor, what we call the flagship publication of the National Federation of the Blind. We are the voice of the consumer and try to express what blind people want, need, and experience as we go through our daily lives. Although we have been very liberal in sharing our magazine with agencies for the blind, elected officials, and anyone who might conceivably read it, we realized that there were certain areas in education and blindness that simply did not acknowledge our opinion, experience, or work. We needed a trade journal that spoke the language of the trade and that was written by people whose lives were involved with the trade and who understood the specialized vocabulary that every trade employs as it evolves. We needed to create a magazine in which the peers of professionals who work with the blind would use their specialized knowledge and combine it with the unique philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind that compelled many of them to go into this meaningful work.
Coming to the decision to publish this journal was not easy. Just as some professionals had their biases about consumers speaking to their field, some of us who live with blindness every day thought that we should be the unquestioned authorities and that a magazine representing the consumer’s point of view should be quite enough. To some extent we fell into the all too American tendency to reject the idea that there could be any special expertise required in training blind people. What we came to understand was that we did not dislike the expertise of the professionals, but what we really disliked was the disdain we perceived in some of what they said and did. We didn’t need patronizing talk by people who felt that what they did was far too complicated for the blind people they served to understand, let alone speak about, or dare to criticize. What we had to understand was that developing expertise did not mean discounting our lived experience, and if this is what happened in the professional journal as we knew it, this further strengthened the need for us to offer an alternative for the men and women who would educate and work with blind people.
We know that teaching attitudes and skills requires experts, that learning to teach the alternative techniques of blindness can be complicated, and that overcoming the resistance of the newly blind requires understanding, tact, patience, and knowing just how hard to push.
Our Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research was also created to reflect the ever-increasing number of blind people active in the field and the ideas they brought for the improvement of training and evaluation. We needed a publication that would speak to professionals about concepts such as Structured Discovery, assessments that would meaningfully point to whether a person would learn Braille, print, or both. We needed a journal that would publish our research and hold fast to the expectation that, with proper training and opportunity, blind people can and do find productive roles to play in the world. What we have striven to achieve over the last ten years is a journal that lets professionals speak with other professionals while integrating the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of blind people who know we have a productive role to play in our society and are determined to do what it takes to play that role. Although we know how to fight and do so when necessary, we value peace, understanding, and cooperation. Through our journal we challenge ideas, not individuals. Our journal has, for the last decade, allowed us to work from the inside, while the Braille Monitor continues to be the voice of blind people who get services from the field, critique them, and offer commendation or condemnation depending on the situation. No matter the publication, our request is the same: come, let us reason together.
by Jennifer Kennedy and Steve Jacobson
From the Editor: If ever you wanted to get lost on a desert island with two friendly, intelligent, and helpful people, these authors would be good choices. Together, they have tackled a difficult task in trying to sum up the life and work of a major Federation leader, one who was also their friend and mentor.
When I got really active in the Federation, Joyce Scanlan was in the middle of most everything that mattered. She was a good writer, an excellent speaker, and her passion came through in everything she did. Here is what those who knew her better than I did have to say:
How can one describe in words a person they have known for almost fifty years? All of us who knew Joyce Scanlan were aware of the fact that she had a previous heart attack four years ago. We were nevertheless surprised when we heard, on December 29th, that she had passed away from heart failure.
Joyce Hoffa attended her first national convention in Minneapolis in 1970. Shortly after that convention, she became a member of the Minnesota Organization of the Blind beginning her journey in the Federation. To better understand her journey, though, we need to look back further.
Even as a young person with some remaining vision, she had encountered the limitations of the rehabilitation system. Her first dream after finishing high school at the North Dakota School for the Blind was to attend the University of North Dakota and become an English teacher, but her first counselor thought that she would be an excellent Dictaphone operator. These were devices upon which letters and documents were recorded to be typed on paper later. Joyce resisted this suggestion, and her wishes prevailed. However, after teaching English and Latin in North Dakota and Montana for a time, glaucoma claimed the rest of her vision. Since she did not have the necessary alternative skills to remain in that position at that time, Joyce decided to move to Minneapolis and go back to the rehabilitation system to chart another course for her life.
Although Joyce admitted she was angry and very discouraged, the rehabilitation system again let her down. In an interview Joyce explained that her counselor during the late 1960s suggested that if she worked hard to learn the skills of blindness, they might be able to secure a position for her in a sheltered workshop. She apparently did spend a short time working in the shop at the Minneapolis Society for the Blind.
With this as her life experience to that point, the 1970 convention was a life-changing event for Joyce. She found blind people who were successful. There were even meetings of blind teachers. She met people who were bringing her dreams to life, and it is accurate to say that this experience lit a fire within her to make things better for blind people.
In 1971 Joyce Hoffa together with Tom Scanlan, Mary Hartle, and others started a students' division in Minnesota, which became a forum for change. In 1972 she became the vice president of the Minnesota Organization of the Blind, winning that election by two votes. The Minnesota Organization of the Blind also changed its name that same year to the National Federation of Blind of Minnesota. One year later she became the state president by a slightly wider margin, a position she held for thirty-four years. In 1974 she married Tom Scanlan, who had just been elected treasurer, and they worked as a team throughout her presidency. Tom served as treasurer for forty years.
As a newly elected president, Joyce had a difficult job. The major focus of the organization she now led was operating a home for the blind. When the Home and Industrial Center for the Blind was established in the late 1920s, it was a vibrant place for young blind people to get a start in the world as adults. For most of its existence, there were no laws that protected blind people from discrimination in housing and finding a place to live was difficult. By the 1970s though things had changed for the better for blind people, and operating the home successfully was much more difficult and much less important. Still, it had been the focus of the organization and many of its members for more than forty years. As president she had to ensure that it was operated safely while working to move away from operating such a facility. Little did she know at the time that learning how to hire staff and to contract to repair a leaky roof would be very useful to her in the future. It took seven more years to convince members that the Home needed to close and to successfully find alternative living arrangements for the residents. At the same time, many other things were occurring that required her attention.
Under her leadership there were successes in the Minnesota legislature. A law was passed that required that insurance companies could not charge more to insure blind persons without actuarial evidence to justify any higher rates.
Disabled people were added to the protections offered by Minnesota's human rights laws but not without a struggle. The NFB of Minnesota, led by Joyce, introduced the first legislation to make this happen and were told by others that nobody would oppose such a law. However the legislation failed, but she and the NFB of Minnesota went back a second time with additional support and were successful.
In the 1980s a combination of threatened legislation and negotiation led to the transfer of State Services for the Blind from its more than thirty years in the Department of Public Welfare to the Department of Jobs and Training, which is known today as the Department of Employment and Economic Development or DEED. Around the same time there was a strong move to completely close the Minnesota Braille and Sight Saving School, even though many rural school districts did not have adequate special education services. Joyce was very active in pushing to keep the school open and also to move it from the Department of Public Welfare to the Department of Education, where it still exists today as the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind.
As one who struggled with reading print and then switched to Braille has her method of reading, Joyce understood through her own life experience how important it was to learn and use Braille. For that reason and others, she led the effort to pass legislation that raised the visibility and the priority of teaching Braille in the education of blind children. Far too often it was felt that reading by audio or magnified print at twenty words per minute was adequate.
If you were able to ask Joyce, she would tell you with conviction that she did not accomplish these things on her own. She would tell you that several long-time members of the affiliate, particularly Ingwald Gunderson, taught her a great deal about the legislative process. Yet perhaps beyond what she understood, her strength, persistence, and a long view of what had to be done carried the rest of us well beyond what we would have managed on our own.
Drawing again from her life experiences, Joyce led the NFB of Minnesota to become more involved in advocating for blind people who were not getting a fair deal. In 1974 she reported to the national convention the story of Lawrence Kettner. His time studies had been manipulated to justify paying him less than the minimum wage in the sheltered workshop operated by the Minneapolis Society for the Blind. She not only brought this situation to light, but she was able to help him get a job in private industry even as he was forced to sign a waiver that he could not work competitively. Lawrence went on to win awards as a successfully employed person with a disability. It would be impossible to list the numerous other advocacy cases in which Joyce played a significant role, but the tradition of advocacy work that she helped to establish within the NFB of Minnesota lives on.
A significant part of Joyce's ability to lead came from her honesty and ability to learn. Judy Sanders, a longtime member in Minnesota, remembers meeting Joyce at the first Leadership Seminar back in 1973, well before Judy moved to Minnesota. Part of that and many other seminars which were conducted by our national President, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, included going to a restaurant where one grilled their own steak over a large charcoal pit. Judy did not feel comfortable sharing her opinion that she could not manage this and was not sure how to handle the situation. However she remembers that Joyce did express her reservations regarding her ability to take on this task. Dr. Jernigan assured both of them that he would not force them to grill their steaks, but in the end both Judy and Joyce cooked their steaks. Judy says it is the best steak she ever ate, and it happened partly by watching Joyce confront a somewhat frightening situation openly and then overcoming it.
One of the challenges in the 1970s was preserving the image of blind people while running a home for the blind. Many residents did not have the alternative skills of blindness that would have allowed them to travel more independently, so there were gates at the top of each stairway. Joyce decided to remove those gates and teach the residents how to travel more independently. The residents and many of the members of the NFB of Minnesota protested loudly. Dr. Jernigan reminded Joyce that some of the residents did not have the benefit of good training. He also pointed out that her margin of victory as president was narrow, and she needed all of the votes she could get to achieve long-term success in other areas. Joyce considered all that was said and returned the gates while offering to help residents to improve their ability to travel independently. It is reported that Dr. Jernigan said something like "When you have the votes, you can afford to be gracious. When you don't have the votes, you must be gracious."
This combination of honesty together with her willingness to learn gave her credibility. When she talked of the importance of Braille, we knew that she had worked hard as an adult to increase her reading speed. When she spoke of the unfairness of practices in sheltered workshops, we knew she had seen examples at close range. When the campaign to get representation on the board of the Minneapolis Society for the Blind seemed impossible, her credibility as a leader and her long-range view carried us forward.
Joyce was elected to our national board in 1974. She went on to serve as national secretary in 1988 and became first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind in 1992. There she served until 2006. While serving in those positions, she was the national representative at many state conventions throughout the country. As a result she had the opportunity to meet many of our members, including Joanne Wilson.
During her time as the national representative at the 1985 state convention of the Louisiana affiliate, Joyce began to learn about a plan to open a regional training center for the blind. She was familiar with the Jernigan model of blindness skills training, the term used to describe the training that students received from the Iowa Orientation Center. She met many former students of the Iowa program and recognized such training was very limited throughout the country. Many of Dr. Jernigan’s students believed training infused with Federation philosophy should be available nationwide, and as a former student herself, Joanne Wilson shared that view. Joyce had much in common with Joanne. Both women understood their respective state training services were inferior to those that had been available in Iowa. Neither woman had been satisfied with their efforts to change what existed at present from the inside. In 1973 the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota even hired a home teacher to provide quality training to blind Minnesotans. Joyce obtained a contract with the state to pay for it, but lack of referrals from rehabilitation counselors caused the discontinuation of the project in only two years. By 1982, when it became apparent that changing the Minneapolis Society for the Blind from within its board was not going to succeed, the NFB of Minnesota was again considering its options to improve adjustment to blindness training.
Joanne went one step beyond employing one person as was done in Minnesota to make changes within the current system. She reported to the 1985 state convention about the design and recruitment of employees for a regional center to be opened in Ruston, Louisiana. The center would be based on experiences often referred to as the Jernigan Model, now known as Structured Discovery. Joyce had not considered a regional center as an option before attending the Louisiana convention and hearing Joanne describe her plan. She stated in an interview conducted with Ryan Strunk in November 2020 that she had a lot to think about after hearing about Louisiana’s plans. She stated, "We had a bit of funds available to us from the selling of the Minnesota Home for the Blind, but those funds wouldn’t carry us long. But, unlike anything ever tried before, this was our chance to really build something with Federationists and our beliefs at its foundation."
On December 31, 1986, Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions (BLIND) Inc. was incorporated with a board of directors comprised of NFB of Minnesota members with Joyce as its executive director. The name of the organization intentionally wanted the word "blind" to be the most prominent word in its title. Joyce had spent many years relying exclusively upon her remaining vision. She was even told that vision was what would make her successful, and this destructive message was delivered by rehabilitation professionals. Through her involvement in the National Federation of the Blind, she learned that it was respectable to be blind and felt the name for the training center was a good way to help others identify as blind. In 1987 an RFP went out from State Services for the Blind seeking providers of blindness training program contracts. BLIND Incorporated was awarded the grant that allowed the hiring of staff and the recruitment of students to proceed. The first two students began their training in January 1988.
Joanne Wilson said she remembers the early days of the three NFB training centers and the bond she shared with Joyce and Diane McGeorge of the Colorado Center for the Blind. Joanne stated, "We were these three women with strong personalities and big ideas. Back in those days you had to pay a fortune to talk on the phone via long distance, and mail was slow. We shared so many of the same experiences and emotions, bringing us closer together. I took comfort, especially when the hard days came, just knowing Joyce and Diane were right there with me."
BLIND Inc.’s programs were first held in two adjacent apartments, then relocated to an office building in downtown Minneapolis. The office of the NFB of Minnesota was within walking distance, facilitating Joyce's roles as NFB of Minnesota president and executive director of BLIND Inc. Tom recalls the effort it took to find a place where there was enough room to house all the programs Joyce wanted to undertake. Office spaces did not easily accommodate such things as a kitchen in which to teach home management techniques. Adequate space was very expensive. Minneapolis had several old mansions built in the early 1900s on the market at the time, making the pricing more competitive. Tom said the open floor plans of such mansions could be renovated to fit the training activities and even expand in later years. Office space for the NFB of Minnesota might also fit nicely into such a facility. Joyce was once recorded as saying having a training center in the mansion would help extend the feeling of family to all its students and visitors. The Pillsbury mansion located at 100 East 22nd Street was purchased in 1993 through a joint venture between the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota and Blindness, Learning in New Dimensions. Its occupants moved in the following year after several upgrades including an elevator in the back that had to conform to requirements of being an historical site. The mansion today is still the affiliate headquarters and the primary building for BLIND Inc.’s programming.
Under her supervision the center’s programming grew from adjustment to blindness training for adults to programs for seniors, college-bound students, immersion training for rehabilitation professionals, and an extensive program for English Language Learners (ELL). The ELL program was designed to meet the needs for the large immigrant and diverse population of Minnesota. Joyce served as executive director from 1986 until she retired in 2003. Jennifer Kennedy, its current executive director, said, "There’s a sense of overwhelming gratitude in holding a position that was built by a woman who left an enormous impact on so many, paving the way for women like me."
After Joyce retired from BLIND Incorporated she served as president of the NFB of Minnesota for another four years. After that she founded the NFB of Minnesota's Seniors Division. She helped run several "Possibilities Fairs," and she taught classes for seniors at BLIND Incorporated. Finally, Joyce and Tom welcomed many members into their home throughout her presidency and beyond. Her Christmas dinners and St. Patrick's Day parties touched hundreds of people over the years.
We are very fortunate in the National Federation of the Blind to have many top-quality leaders, and Joyce was certainly among that group. We worked with her as a human being with strengths and weaknesses, something we all find in each other when we go beyond acquaintances, beyond friends, and become a family in every respect except biology. We remember her for what she gave us through her leadership, and the very least we can do in her memory is to try to take what she gave us as a leader and pass her gift forward to the next generation. This is our commitment to her legacy and to the future she would still be working to build were it not for the mortality that claims every body that temporarily houses every fine and giving spirit.
by Joyce Scanlan
From the Editor: When I think of Joyce Scanlan, I think of grace, stability, and intelligence. I think of a fighter who knew how to fight civilly, and a fighter I could get behind without compromising my own values of reason, civility, and commitment. In the story you are about to read, Joyce symbolizes exactly why I am in the National Federation of the Blind and what I hope will come from my work. I wish I had said it as well, but I am grateful that she did. Here is what appeared in Kernel Book Thirteen (1997), entitled Wall-To-Wall Thanksgiving. Here is the way Dr. Jernigan introduced Joyce’s article:
Today Joyce Scanlan is the director of one of the National Federation of the Blind’s regional training centers for blind adults. On a daily basis, she helps her blind students come to believe that they can live productive lives. From personal experience she knows that this belief is hard to come by. She knows that it has to be painstakingly built, often in small and unexpected ways, and that we, as blind people, must encourage each other. In “Lessons from the Charcoal Pit,” Joyce tells of a pivotal event in her own journey to belief. Although I happened to be the one giving the encouragement in the situation she describes, it could just as well have been any of a hundred others, because this is what we do in the National Federation of the Blind. Here is Joyce’s story:
Growing up in the state of North Dakota I had known what isolation and loneliness were. I knew what being on my own meant. I knew how to fight my battles (or I thought I did), for I was an independent thinker and considered myself highly informed on all matters. I had received a college education past the master's degree level and had been successfully employed as a teacher. I was not blind; I only had a visual problem. In my opinion no one knew I was anything but sighted, so what a rude awakening I had when I suddenly learned that I was destined to lose the sight I had and would probably become totally blind. Suddenly my bubble burst.
My goal had always been to become a college English professor, but when I faced blindness, that goal became something seemingly unachievable. My livelihood, career plans, and independence all appeared to vanish from the horizon. It was not a happy time. In 1970 I had hit bottom. Then, the National Federation of the Blind Convention came to my hometown, and I went. I went because a friend practically dragged me there after I had run out of excuses. That was twenty-five years ago.
The convention was indeed a life-changing experience. Spending four or five days at convention, meeting teachers from all over the country, and discussing interesting topics about blindness with all kinds of well-informed blind people proved to me that I had been doing everything wrong and needed to make some drastic changes in my life. My style of going it alone had not worked and would never work. The Federation had a lot to teach me.
I remember, vividly to this day, an evening I spent with Kenneth Jernigan twenty-three years ago. It was, perhaps, a little thing—but it changed my life. At the time, Dr. Jernigan was President of the National Federation of the Blind, and I was attending a training seminar over Labor Day weekend in 1973. The first evening, when we were all going out to dinner together, someone suggested we go to a place called the Charcoal Pit. We were told that we would be able to select and grill our own steaks. I said I didn't like the idea because I had never before grilled a steak to my liking. Dr. Jernigan very calmly said, "Oh well, we'll help you." I was suddenly terrified. I prayed that, when we got to the Charcoal Pit, he would have forgotten what I had said. Of course, that didn't happen. He immediately escorted me to the refrigerators, where all the steaks were kept. He was so enthusiastic and seemed to be having such fun that I began to enjoy the venture myself.
With the steak selected, a plate, and a long fork in hand, we approached the big pit. He said, "Now throw your steak out there; just toss it out there." I did, thinking all the time about losing the steak forever in the fire. After a short while, Dr. Jernigan said, "All right, reach out with your fork and find the steak and put it on the plate." I did. Then he showed me how to turn the steak over. I was so relieved that he had done it, so I wouldn't have to touch that hot meat. However, he flipped the steak back and said to me, "Now you do it." I should have known he wouldn't let me off so easy. Then we grilled the steak on the other side, and I became more comfortable handling it.
I ate the steak and enjoyed it, too. Everyone was having such a good time, and for the first time I actually enjoyed a steak that I had cooked. Then Dr. Jernigan asked me to grill a second steak for him. It must have been okay because he ate it and didn't complain. I learned much about myself, about leadership, and about dealing with blindness just from that one experience.
I'm glad there is a National Federation of the Blind. I know that, when I was a child, when I was in college, when I was teaching, and when I was struggling to deal with blindness, other blind people were busy founding a movement to help me and others like me. I'm grateful and pleased that they did that. But even more, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to do as they did to keep this movement strong and vibrant for the next generation of blind people, who will have much less struggle than I did because of the work that we have done.
by Briley O'Connor
From the Editor: Briley has taken on the task of writing this announcement to reach out to survivors and explain that the Federation has a committee comprised of survivors who want to help. She lives in Minnesota and is an active member at all levels of the organization. Here is what she says:
Content Warning: The following information addresses sensitive topics regarding abuse, sexual violence, and misconduct.
The key mission of The National Federation of the Blind is to bring love, hope, and equality to the blind community. Though it has always been true that sexual violence and misconduct are problems that plague society at large, it has become abundantly clear over the past several weeks that there are systemic failures within our organization that have left many feeling dismissed, powerless, and alone. Thank you to every survivor who shared their story under the hashtag #MarchingTogether. In response, the NFB is committed to and welcomes an ongoing process of learning how to heal from past trauma, preventing future instances of abuse and misconduct, and protecting victims and survivors.
As part of the efforts to implement a sustainable, positive culture change, we are an entirely survivor-lead task force who will serve as an intermediate advisory team to the National Federation of the Blind leaders, members, and third-party partners until a long-term solution is identified. We are a group of survivors who will focus on addressing and preventing abuse and sexual misconduct within the Federation.
We are a group of six blind leaders and members of the Federation from diverse backgrounds who are invested in positive change and justice for all survivors like ourselves.
Cheryl is an African American, cisgender woman from Cleveland, Ohio. She is an encourager who approaches life with enthusiasm and empathy. She loves laughing and playing games with her four grandchildren, reading, crafting (especially crocheting), and is currently editing her first novel. Cheryl is an affiliate board member and chair of the Ohio Community Service Committee. She is a thriving survivor of domestic violence and received peer support training through the Cleveland Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center. She facilitates a peer support group at Cleveland Sight Center, where she is also an executive committee member of the board of trustees.
Sarah is a white, cisgender woman who derives strength from her Christian faith. She is a Federation member in our Indiana affiliate, lives with other mental and physical health conditions, and attended the Colorado Center for the Blind. As the lead call handler for a crisis and suicide hotline, she strives to lead with compassion, empathy, integrity, authenticity, inclusion, and wholeheartedness. Sarah is passionate about mental health wellness and recovery as a part of cultivating a culture of consent and strives to be an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community, BIPOC, and others with marginalized identities. Experiencing sexual misconduct within the blindness community and being familiar with the harm caused by not having had sound procedures to address this trauma have compelled Sarah to participate in efforts to make the NFB a safer environment that allows blind people to live the lives they want.
Daphne manages vocational rehabilitation field services for the New Mexico Commission for the Blind. Ethical principles, equity, fidelity, integrity, and justice are the core values that guide Daphne's personal and professional decisions. She serves on the board of directors for the NFB of New Mexico, is the secretary of the Louisiana Center for the Blind Board of Directors, and actively participates in and supports various efforts to advance marginalized and minority populations. Daphne is a black, cisgender woman and uses various meditation practices, journaling, and Christian faith in supporting her journey to healing.
Briley has professional experience in both the blindness rehabilitation and accessibility fields and serves as the secretary of the Minnesota affiliate. In her personal and professional life, she strives to be a strong advocate for changing structures and systems that devalue and silence diverse voices. She is a white, cisgender member of the LGBTQIA+ community who works every day to actively listen to others, dismantle her own biases, use her privilege to elevate the voices of marginalized people, and teach her five-year-old son to do the same. She is particularly passionate about issues that affect blind children, women, and LGBTQIA+ people. Having been a part of the NFB for over fifteen years, she is honored to be a part of shifting the culture so that all blind people feel safe, heard, and represented.
Marci has been a proud member of the Federation since joining in 1981 as a student. Currently, she serves as president of the Washington affiliate. Marci is a cisgender, white woman who is blind with hearing loss and other medical conditions. She serves on the board of trustees of the state school for the blind and has helped blind youth and adults learn self-advocacy. She lives life with intentionality and sincerity. She cares deeply about creating space for people to heal and grow.
Kathryn is a white, cisgender woman who lives in Alexandria, Virginia. She works at Deloitte Consulting implementing strategic transformation for federal agencies, notably rolling out improvements to the sexual assault/harassment process within the military space. Living with ADHD and losing her vision as a young adult have helped Kathryn to grow in adaptability, flexibility, and empathy. As the coordinator of Virginia's Employment Readiness Program for Blind Youth (ages fourteen to twenty-one) and treasurer of BLIND Inc., she has a deep passion for optimizing the lived experiences of those around her as individuals reach their full potential. Kathryn prioritizes advocacy for others, leading with her heart, and living with purpose above all else.
Over the next several months, our objectives include:
We want to hear from survivors and allies, whether or not you identify as a current member. Every piece of feedback is valuable and helps us to effectively advocate for all survivors and victims.
We currently have two methods of communication and will share updates on nfb.org/survivors. To share concerns, ask questions, or voice an interest in helping with our efforts, please email [email protected] or call 410-659-9314, extension 2238. Note that all task force members have access to these communication channels. Anonymous feedback is accepted, and further avenues for feedback are forthcoming. The Survivor Task Force is not responsible for receiving and resolving grievances, but we will be supportive and helpful as individuals navigate their experiences and healing.
We commit to this vital work with our whole hearts and will do our part to ensure that any person who enters our spaces feels safe, valued, and heard. We commit to receive the stories and feedback from both members and non-members with open hands. Most importantly, we commit to amplify the voices of blind survivors and victims who have been harmed. We see you; we believe you; we are you.
Always remember, "You are not the darkness you endured. You are the light that refused to surrender." ― John Mark Green [Poet]
by Priscilla Yeung
From the Editor: Priscilla was a presenter at the virtual meeting of the Cultivating Asian/Pacific Islander Identity at our national convention in 2020. I attended that meeting and encouraged articles for the Braille Monitor. She responded with her story and her observations. Her determination and strategy have served to rebuild a broken family relationship. Perhaps it can work for other families, and maybe it is a partial prescription to healing the differences that tear at the fabric of our country. Here is what she says:
I currently work at the Society for the Blind in Sacramento as an OM [orientation and mobility] instructor and the coordinator of a training program for blind seniors. I am Chinese-American and born here in the states. My parents immigrated here from Hong Kong as young adults. This past NFB 2020 convention, I had the privilege of being a part of the newly formed Asian membership division. Growing up with vision loss in my Asian culture, I felt isolated and different because of my blindness. And now, knowing that I am not alone, I feel hopeful that together we can work towards making change in our culture. I think in order to make change, we have to do the hard work of looking into our past and acknowledging the good in our culture and also the negative aspects of our culture that have shaped our experiences and who we are.
When I think about the values that have been instilled in me from my family, I think about the values of working hard, surviving in the midst of challenges, and valuing the family unit beyond the individual. However when it comes to disability, most Asian families see disability through the lens of shame and burden and the cause of blindness being brought on by family sin.
Thinking back to my past as a child, these cultural truths were imbedded into who I was, although I did not have the words to express them growing up.
One of my earliest memories that stands out to me was my grandma in Hong Kong leaving me at home when all the other cousins were able to go out and have fun. She said that if I went out and my cane touched someone else, they would become blind like me. I learned at a young age that being blind was shameful and embarrassing. My vision loss was a family secret to be hidden. I had to do everything I could to be normal.
My parents believed that finding a good husband to take care of me, their daughter with an “eye problem,” was important. We never used the word blind in our family nor knew any stories of successful blind people. They loved me, and they were well intentioned and did everything they could to help me see again. Their attempts included numerous acupuncture appointments on my eyes and making me drink all that bitter medicinal soup that I too guzzled down hoping that it would bring a miracle. They brought me to many prayer meetings to try to see if God would heal me. I learned through this that my parents would work hard and sacrifice their time and money to help me heal from this condition.
If I did not heal from my vision loss, then the only other alternative for me was to find a husband who would take care of me. Looking back, they too were by-products of their cultural beliefs, and therefore so was I. I began to also believe that I was incapable of taking care of myself and that I was and would forever be a burden to my family for the rest of my life.
Fast forward a couple of years, after I received training and mentorship at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I met my husband who is also Chinese, and we were married without the blessing of his family. His family had disowned him because they were against his choice of marrying me, a blind woman, who they believed without even meeting me would become a burden to him. After all, they too were caught in the Asian cultural misconceptions of blindness.
These years were trying times for my husband and me. I questioned all that I had learned about blindness and independence from the National Federation of the Blind. I was on the brink of being dragged back into my past cultural beliefs of shame and uselessness. I am grateful for my fellow Federationists who stood by me, listened to my hurt, and kept reminding me about the truth. I went to counseling so that I could do the internal work of acknowledging the cultural pain, to forgive and let go in order to move forward so that I could be proud of all that made me who I am. Only then could I truly begin to approach my relationship with my husband’s family with openness and understanding of their own cultural experiences that led to their misconceptions about blindness.
Thankfully as the years passed my relationship with my mother-in-law mended, and we continue to move toward reconciliation. But this didn’t happen in a “western” way, like with an apology full of words and hugs but more so with small gestures that show me that she in her own way accepts me. I believe that this was a part of the “saving face” that transpired for the both of us.
Being open to my mother-in-law’s way of reconciliation meant that a direct conversation was not the avenue to bring forth the acceptance I longed for. I realized that I needed to listen to her and to actively look for opportunities to make real connections in any way possible to take small steps forward. My husband and I wanted to show my mother-in-law that we valued family. For example, in the early years we would attend uncomfortable family dinners where nobody would speak to me, but I realized that there was value in just being there because it meant that I was present. We made sure we showed up for the important dates like people’s birthdays or Chinese holidays so we could acknowledge the relationships we longed for. Finally, when I had my son, something slowly shifted, and my mother-in-law responded by caring for my son; we allowed her to give him his Chinese name. Today we do not talk about the painful start of our relationship, but she shows me that her heart is open by the special chicken soup she makes me, the lucky red envelope money she gives my children, and she always welcomes us to her home. Similarly, when we visit, I listen to her attentively as she shares about her life growing up as an immigrant and all the pain and hard work it took her to support her family. How she has acted as a mother was only motivated by wanting what was best in her own cultural view for her son. I understand now how the Asian culture has shaped her beliefs about disability; just as I have had to overcome the negative stigmas personally, she also had to in her own life. I am grateful for her willingness to work through these negative cultural beliefs in her own way and in her own time.
The journey to overcoming the stigmas of blindness is one that we as Asians will face because we live within our Asian culture, and all its values have helped shape who we are. Therefore we need to celebrate the positive parts of our culture, acknowledge the negative parts, and seek to work within the cultural norms in a creative manner. Perhaps this means listening to each other’s stories and building understanding. Perhaps this means listening more and speaking less for a time. Perhaps this means finding little moments of openness and sharing nuggets of thoughts. However it looks like for one’s family and community, I believe that these cultural shifts in attitude and in heart will take more than our lifetime, but recognizing our shared experiences within our culture is the first step toward breaking down the negative cultural stigmas of blindness.
by Mark Riccobono
On January 29, 2011, the National Federation of the Blind, through our Blind Driver Challenge, demonstrated not just the capacity but the need and benefit of the active participation of blind people in the design, development, and implementation of innovative technology that would change the world. The Blind Driver Challenge was not an initiative to develop a car that could drive blind people around; the challenge was to cultivate partnerships with researchers and technology developers to work with the blind to develop technologies and strategies that would provide information about the environment in a nonvisual manner that would allow a blind person to make driving decisions and independently operate an automobile. We were successful, and we continue this work as our Blind Driver Challenge evolves into the design and development of nonvisual autonomous vehicle technology.
To accomplish our initial goal, the NFB found true partners with a group of creative Virginia Tech University engineering students led by Paul D’Angio, under the instruction of world-renowned robotics scientist professor, Dr. Dennis Hong of ROMELA; and the pioneering engineers of TORC Robotics, led by autonomous engineering expert Michael Fleming. A host of our members offered their experience and expertise to collaborate on the design and development of the nonvisual interfaces that used haptic feedback through gloves and a modified car seat that were installed into a Ford Escape Hybrid equipped with GPS, LIDAR, and cameras. This is truly a demonstration of the value that the blind offer in the design and development of nonvisual technology, and I was proud to further demonstrate our capacity by driving our Blind Driver Challenge vehicle safely and independently on the Daytona International Speedway. You can see the audio described video of this groundbreaking achievement at: https://blinddriverchallenge.org/.
As we navigate through the world without sight, blind people must implement a variety of nonvisual tools and strategies that empower us to be fully participating members of our communities. Furthermore, our Structured Discovery Training methodology builds on our lived experience and focuses on the development and acquisition of problem-solving skills that enhance the design process.
Far too many times, engineers approach us with what they felt would be a life changing device for blind people, only to find that their time and resources have been wasted. Without the active participation of the blind, there would have been no innovative technology, only utilization of existing technology with a token blind person behind the wheel.
Our Blind Driver Challenge, a truly collaborative research project with the active participation of the blind, resulted in a paradigm shift in the use of nonvisual means to operate a vehicle and was the beginning of our involvement in the development of autonomous vehicle technology. Our experience has demonstrated our expertise in the design of accessible technology, and as a result, we have several partnerships with industry leaders and researchers currently designing and developing autonomous vehicles. So yes, we are now working toward the development of cars to drive blind people around, but these will be the cars that drive everyone around. Moreover, our active participation in the process will serve as the catalyst for the introduction of features that enhance the experience for every passenger.
When technology is designed to be nonvisually accessible, it benefits everyone. Multimodal access to technology through sight, touch, hearing etc. makes it possible for anyone to better use the devices in a variety of ways. Currently, it is easier and safer for a driver to manipulate the various functions like the radio, temperature controls, and other settings nonvisually so that they can maintain a focus on the road. Additionally, rather than looking at a screen, most drivers listen to their GPS. Of course, with the implementation of autonomous vehicle technology, even the vigilance currently necessary to drive will be complemented or eliminated through the implementation of nonvisual technology.
Our Daytona Blind Driver Challenge demonstration changes the perceptions of blindness held by society, including the perceptions held by the blind ourselves. It was an affirmation that we have the ability to use our intellectual capacity to innovate and create technology that benefits the world. Although the maximum speed reached during the demonstration was about thirty miles per hour, we realize that the blind can travel even faster, and the need for urgency in the implementation of accessibility in emerging technology is even greater, so we are accelerating our Blind Driver Challenge in 2021.
January 29, 2021, marked the tenth anniversary of our Blind Driver Challenge. Now it is time to accelerate our work with new partners in an exciting public demonstration of the value of collaboration with the blind in the development of innovative driving technology. By accelerating our Blind Driver Challenge in 2021, we are reaffirming our commitment to increasing the speed at which we move toward the design, development, and implementation of accessible technology that presents us with opportunities to live, work, and play as active members of society. Members of the National Federation of the Blind realize that as we seek to innovate new improved accessible tools and strategies to facilitate our equal participation, we simultaneously improve opportunities for others to be more productive and achieve greater quality of life. Therefore I invite those creative minds that want to challenge the perception of what is possible to join with the NFB toward driving the development of technology that is accessible to all to contact Mr. Anil Lewis, executive director of blindness initiatives, at 410-659-9314, extension 2374 or [email protected].
by Valerie Yingling
From the Editor: Valerie is a paralegal who plays an invaluable role in our organization by researching and coordinating much of our legal activity. In this article she deals with the crucial roles of advocates and what qualifications they must have to serve in this way. Here is what she says:
The National Federation of the Blind has built a strong network of members and advocates across all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, and we collectively work to remove barriers and raise the expectations of blind people. Our members are not all practicing attorneys, and yet we have created systemic and individualized change at the federal, state, and local levels. Advocacy is a critical tool in the work we do, but a recent opinion from the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law reminds us that the roles of non-attorney advocates can be fettered, and that the NFB needs to be a part of the conversations that define any limitations on non-attorney advocates.
Last September, the New Jersey Supreme Court Committee on the Unauthorized Practice of Law (the Committee) issued its Opinion 56 (https://www.njcourts.gov/notices/2020/ n200930c.pdf?c=Zi9), which defines permissible activities for non-attorneys who support parents of children with special needs and also defines which activities are considered unauthorized practice of law. Most notably, the Opinion restricts non-attorneys from representing families in meetings and due process hearings, though permits non-attorneys to consult with families or provide expert testimony, for example. The distinction is important in the context of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provision that parents of students with disabilities have the right at due process hearings “to be accompanied and advised by counsel and by individuals with special knowledge or training with respect to the problems of children with disabilities.” 20 U.S.C. § 1415(h)(1).
After issuing the Opinion, the Committee received public comments from interested parties, including the National Federation of the Blind, and the Opinion was stayed. In our comments, NFB’s general counsel Scott LaBarre stressed the critical role of non-attorney advocates who support, and in some cases represent, the families of blind children. The NFB’s comments are copied below; they are only part of an ongoing conversation. The NFB will remain a party to the conversation regarding non-attorney advocates and the unauthorized practice of law and will continue to critically evaluate proposed restrictions on you—our members with special knowledge or training who mentor, support, and advocate for others.
November 16, 2020
I write to you today as General Counsel of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and wish to give you our perspective regarding stayed Opinion 56 which addresses the role of non-attorney advocates representing parents and children navigating various aspects of the quasi legal system established by the Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA). I use the term “quasi” because we believe that parts of the system created by IDEA really should not be viewed as formal legal proceedings.
Founded on this day in 1940, the NFB is the oldest and largest organization of blind and low vision persons in the United States with fifty-two state affiliates and several hundred local chapters. Additionally, we have several special interest divisions within the Federation, one of which is our National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Thus, it almost goes without saying that we are extremely concerned with how parents and blind students can navigate their way through the often complex special education system established by IDEA.
Over the decades, we have helped represent thousands of parents through the educational system. At times, that takes the form of direct legal representation where we help parents secure the services of attorneys. However, even more frequently, our members, usually a volunteer leader at some level, help represent parents and their children at IEP meetings and other proceedings. The Federation does not charge families for this form of advocacy.
Blindness is a low incidence disability, and it is often difficult to acquire meaningful knowledge and information about the alternative techniques and methods the blind use to navigate successfully the educational system. Moreover, the misunderstandings and stereotypes about blindness have created low expectations for all blind people including our youth. Consequently, our advocates serve as important role models to these families and for teachers. Many of our volunteer leaders not only have direct educational experience with the special education system, they have trained themselves on the provisions of IDEA and its corresponding regulatory scheme.
Thus, we believe it would be quite harmful if non-attorney advocates were not permitted to represent parents and help them through the IEP process in particular. On this point, we do not regard IEP meetings as formal legal proceedings. It is critical that parents of blind children be able to rely on advocates like the ones we provide because in almost every case, there are four or five times the number of school representatives at an IEP meeting as the parents. Moreover, the parents usually do not have the same experience with the educational system as the school officials.
Our experience also tells us that a very high percentage of the affected families do not have the financial resources necessary to hire legal counsel. Thus, these non-attorney advocates play a critical role in leveling the playing field.
With respect to mediations and other hearings, we do not have a strong opinion on the role of non-attorney advocates. However, we do believe that many such advocates are capable of helping to represent parents and their children competently. It is likely best practice to have such activities supervised by a licensed attorney.
We thank you for the opportunity to provide some perspective on these important issues. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of further assistance.
Scott C. LaBarre, Esq.
General Counsel, NFB
by Joanne Gabias
From the Editor: Joanne Gabias is an outstanding human being who has strong opinions about the capabilities of blind people and is glad to share them. We are all the beneficiaries of the fact that she does and she can. Here is what she has to say about a concept that has only recently been presented to me but one that deserves our consideration and action. Here is what she says:
As a sighted person who has been around blindness my entire life, I have observed and experienced different situations from many perspectives on how blind people are treated in this world. I have dedicated my career to breaking down the misconceptions of blindness in the hope of changing its perception in society. Currently I am the deputy operations officer for SAAVI Services for the Blind in Arizona. Since COVID-19, Colin Wong, NOMC and staff training advisor, and I have taken the opportunity to run weekly staff trainings on a positive philosophy of blindness with all of our staff. This means everyone from the drivers to the accountants to the instructors to upper management. It was the perfect opportunity to make a concentrated effort in our journey toward Structured Discovery certification. We have been able to use many resources such as the Braille Monitor and JBIR articles to help get important concepts across. We have even been able to have discussions about diversity, mental health, and race with guest speakers from across the nation.
Our staff has grown a lot in their knowledge these past few months, but the next topic we wanted to address was microaggressions in terms of disability. Through my research I found that the term microaggression does encompass disability along with sexual orientation and any socially marginalized group or characteristic, although it is commonly associated with race.
With a quick Google search you find that: Microaggression is a term used for brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group, particularly culturally marginalized groups. The term was coined by psychiatrist and Harvard University professor Chester M. Pierce in 1970 to describe insults and dismissals which he regularly witnessed non-black Americans inflicting on African Americans. By the early 21st century, use of the term was applied to the casual degradation of any socially marginalized group, including LGBTQ+ people, people living in poverty, and people who are disabled. (Wikipedia)
During my search, I was surprised that I was unable to find any articles about the little things that sighted people do to the blind. Likely they are thinking they are being helpful, but they are actually undermining their blind coworker/friend/family member. I know we talk about it all the time in what SAAVI calls positive philosophy of blindness class. I know other training centers might call it seminar. However, I couldn’t find anything that specifically talked about these microaggressions that blind people sometimes face on a daily basis. This was disappointing. I knew that I could have a discussion with our staff, and they could all come up with examples about when they experienced microaggressions from coworkers, but I did not think it was appropriate or considerate to put people in that position. Sometimes a topic as intense as this one is best introduced from literature or articles that don’t directly come from the audience but that help open up the dialogue to express these things.
Now that the topic of microaggressions and diversity and inclusion is at the forefront of public conversation, I think it is important that the blind community have its voice and be heard as well. When HR departments are starting to look at their personnel policies and making sure that everyone has equal rights and respect in the workplace, we cannot let them forget that microaggressions are not limited to race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. It is also related to ableism. Unlike some microaggressions, ableist’s microaggressions may be disguised as lack of understanding of accommodations or accessibility, but that does not mean it should be overlooked or dismissed. For example, not understanding accessibility features might be a lack of education, but expressing amazement that a blind person is able to communicate using email is a microaggression. This is a difference between a lack of knowledge or education on a matter versus a microaggression.
As a fully sighted Caucasian female, why does this matter to me? Let's go back to when I was in graduate school at Louisiana Tech University, where I obtained my master’s degree in counseling and guidance with a concentration in rehabilitation teaching for the blind and orientation and mobility. Part of my education and training was as a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind for three months and then subsequently cane travel every weekday for the six months after immersion. I experienced microaggressions from the public during travel routes and during confidence building activities. I’ve had people grab me out of nowhere as I was walking down the street. I had people question my ability and give me misinformation because they thought the answers to questions I was asking were too difficult for a blind person. I even had people pray over me to regain my eyesight. These experiences frustrated me, but at the end of the day I could take the blindfold off, and I was able to reenter my sighted bubble. My blind parents, colleagues, and classmates do not have the luxury of turning off these specific microaggressions like I do. It is said that microaggressions are like papercuts; they may not be giant wounds, but if people get multiple papercuts a day throughout their lives, that can either cause them to retreat into their comfort zone or start believing those limiting beliefs. Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this job. Maybe I shouldn’t live on my own. Maybe I shouldn’t fight for my independence.
But I think it goes back even further for me. When I was a child, people would always tell me that I must be a big help to my parents as though I was taking care of them at the age of five instead of the other way around. I was lucky that my parents were very strong in their philosophy and their belief in themselves by the time I came along and that they were able to counteract the misconceptions and the microaggressions that people had toward them.
I very distinctly remember asking for a letter of reference from an organization after being connected for almost ten years as a student, a volunteer, and finally as an employee. My supervisor, who had seen me grow into a strong senior staff member, wrote in her letter that it was amazing everything that I was able to accomplish because my parents were blind. Although my personal accomplishments were dismissed, the thing that bothered me the most was that everything I learned from my parents such as working hard, advocating for myself and others, developing and nurturing a strong moral compass, and following a great work ethic was completely disregarded. I felt demoralized.
I bring this all up to say that, if I have felt the impact of microaggressions toward blind people, I cannot imagine what my blind friends, family, and coworkers must go through every day. The first part of any change is to make people aware of the ignorance and implicit bias that is out there. Here are some everyday examples from two of my colleagues showing how these microaggressions affect them:
Amy Porterfield was headed to an out-of-town conference. On her way to the airport she dropped off her retired guide dog at her parents’ house, ran quickly to work to grab something she had forgotten, and swung by the pharmacy. Running a bit behind schedule, she arrived at the airport. If you have never been through the Tucson airport, you don’t know that it has just the right amount of shops and restaurants, but it also has the most straightforward, easy-to-access terminals ever. Amy easily checked her bag and made it through the security line in great time. As she was grabbing her laptop and shoes, a security agent asked, “Are you traveling by yourself?”
Amy answered, "Yes, thanks. Have a nice day."
Apparently not believing that Amy was being truthful with the security agent, he asked the stranger behind her, “Is she with you?”
The bewildered business traveler answered in a worried voice that trailed off at the end, "No, I'm not sure.”
Hearing this, Amy answered, "I'm good, thanks. Have a good day." She continued on her way through the terminal she had traveled many times before. As she passed by the shops and restaurants, a man hurried up behind her soundlessly and grabbed her by both arms just as her cane encountered a metal pillar. Startled, she turned and said over her shoulder, "Please don’t grab me.”
The man answered in a stressed tone, "You are going to run into a pole."
Amy, maintaining her good humor, said, “Actually that is what the cane is for. To demonstrate, she tapped her cane on the pole. "I'm just fine, thank you.”
As the man walked away and Amy continued on her way, her phone rang. It is her co-worker who she was trying to connect with before she left. Answering with her Apple air pod in one ear, she began to have the brief conversation that she wanted to have before leaving. In the distance she noticed that another man was shouting, “Ma’am! Ma’am!” Amy observed him running toward her. “Where are you going?" he shouted at her.
“Hold on” she said to the person on the phone. “I’m good, thanks," she said to the approaching stranger, adding a smile and wave for good measure. She continued on her way.
“Where are you going, ma’am?” he continued shouting.
“I’m sorry. I am on the phone right now and am just fine," she said to the stranger.
Growing more concerned the man said, “Am I on the phone? No ma’am! I’m talking to you!”
Amy finally stopped, told her friend she would call her back, and told the man, “Actually, sir, I am on the phone, and I know where I am going, but thank you.”
Raising his voice and using a highly indignant tone, the man asked “You’re on the phone? Where are you going?”
Just then a young man came up beside Amy and said in a confidential tone, “Don’t worry about that guy. He doesn’t know anything.” He then said to the man, "She's fine.” Feeling better about the situation, the shouting man walked away.
Believing she was finally in the clear and could continue her trip in peaceful productivity, she thanked the young man and continued walking. “I’m sorry about that guy,” the young man said. “But I am happy to help you. I’ll take you to your gate. I’m walking your way, and I know how you feel. My cousin is blind.”
Trying one last time, Amy said, “I really appreciate it. I actually travel here all the time and know where my gate is. I have to do a couple of things first, and I am really just fine. But thank you so much.”
“Am I making you uncomfortable?" the young man asks? “Like I said, my cousin is blind, and I just want to help you to your gate. Can I just walk with you?”
Giving up and recognizing that this is just going to be one of those days, Amy smiled at the young man and said, “That would be nice. Thank you very much.”
Once at her gate, Amy decided to forego calling anyone back. All she wanted at this point was to board her plane, put on some music, and take a break from dealing with the public for a little while until she had landed.
Jordan Moon and his wife Ashleigh are both blind. They live in Phoenix and have a two-year-old daughter who is also blind. Aside from the "Wow, you guys are all blind?” or the “I don’t know if I could live if I was ever in your situation" comments, these microaggressions happen so frequently that the couple tends to attribute them to just being “part of life.” Most of the time they either laugh or ignore the situations, occasionally educating the public as needed. There are times, however, when the toll of these microaggressions become too much to bear and moments of deep breaths, perseverance, and restraint have to get them through.
One of these moments happened while visiting Pittsburgh last year as their daughter Liberti was seeing a pediatric ophthalmologist who specialized in her eye condition. During a day off with no doctor’s appointments and some downtime, they decided to take a nice family trip to walk around and explore the area. So, using his cane, Jordan proceeded to pull the stroller behind him because he is better able to control it and navigate around obstacles, curbs, and steps. Ashleigh was behind the stroller, helping to turn the front wheels in case there was a turn or if it started to veer. As they made their way down the sidewalk parallel to traffic, they started feeling tension in the air. “Sir, there’s a pole! Ma’am, be careful of the turn.” The couple ignored them. As they made their way to a street crossing, they continued to feel the tension building. Cars began to honk. People waiting to cross offered to pull the stroller for them. When they made it across the street, they felt the “wows!” As they continued on their way, the sidewalk, which was an older one with many cracks, was uneven. This, of course, made the stroller harder to control.
Nonetheless, they maintained control, and the safety of Liberti and the couple was never in jeopardy. But you would have never known it. Just as anyone would, they slowed down over rougher terrain. Unfortunately, what was clearly prudent precaution was perceived as struggle. There was a gentleman who tried to grab the stroller to help. There were people asking them where they were going. There were people asking, speculating, and commenting on whether the baby was okay. The majority of the time intended to be spent enjoying the new city was spent trying to convince a skeptical public that they were enjoying the city.
What started off as a calm day with the goal of taking a nice stroll ended up as a stressful day with a stroll that was cut short. All too often, when blind parents like Jordan and Ashleigh simply want to enjoy time with their families, microaggressions like this occur. Blind people can have all the confidence in the world, but if the world doesn’t have confidence in them, then what good is it? Jordan and Ashleigh haven’t let these moments stop them and continue to happily take part in family time in public. But it is to the blind parents whose philosophy doesn’t mirror the Federation’s or who don't have the self-confidence to continue that these microaggressions are extremely damaging.
The first step to change is acknowledgment and understanding. We need to acknowledge and explain how microaggressions may create obstacles for blind people in our society. Additionally, we need to recognize how we might be judging each other within our blind community as a consequence of our lived experiences and microaggressions. It is common that we model the ways we have been treated onto each other. As we move toward a more inclusive society that values all people, it is critical that we continue to acknowledge and educate each other in the ways microaggressions permeate our lives. We need to make a conscious effort to acknowledge, address, and educate ourselves and the public to make a positive change in the world. If you do not know, you cannot change it. Let me be the first to say, I hear you, and I stand with you.
by Gary Wunder
In response to our shelter-in-place orders around the country, chapters, affiliates, and our national body have conducted a number of life sessions. Sometimes the subject of these gatherings has been a banquet speech or a well-known piece of Federation literature. Participants on the calls seem pleased to have the opportunity not only to read but to comment on some of these, and a few have expressed the view that our literature should be updated to reflect today's language and circumstances.
I would feel very uncomfortable trying to update pieces written by Dr. Maurer, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. tenBroek. What I would feel really good about is receiving or helping to write articles with a present-day perspective that discuss the philosophical issues they were highlighting or spotlighting new issues that now get or should get our attention. Can some ambitious writers take on restating the thesis of the “Cross of Blindness” by Professor tenBroek? Is someone interested in offering their perspectives on blindness as a handicap rather than a characteristic? When compared to the writings of Dr. Jernigan and Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Maurer's writings are less likely to use what some will consider outdated language, but perhaps someone is up to embracing one of his speeches and relating it to your present-day experience.
In a recent survey, readers of the Braille Monitor made it clear that they wanted to hear from more authors and that they should be more diverse. This is a fantastic opportunity, so let's see if we can take a few people whose names are not normally seen in these pages and give them the opportunity to write pieces that will one day be regarded as Federation classics. Please understand that you will get all the help you need from the editorial staff. Our job is to make you look good, and, in fact, that is the way we make ourselves look good. So please think seriously about one of your favorite pieces of literature and throw yourself into the task of bringing your present-day perspective to it. Consider issues not addressed and start addressing them.
You can write to me at [email protected] or call at 410-659-9314, extension 2360. Let's not just go build the Federation; let's add a new coat of paint.
by Katie Carmack
From the Editor: This fine piece was taken and slightly modified by Katie when she learned we were interested in publishing it in the Braille Monitor. Katie was a school teacher who thought her ability to teach was disappearing as fast as her sight. She now believes differently, and she is learning that what she wants in life comes as fast as her ability to believe, to train, and to work for her attainable goals. Here is what she says about her experience at the Colorado Center for the Blind:
“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be, and he will become as he can and should be.”
― Stephen R. Covey
Last week in Philosophy class we discussed EXPECTATIONS. One of the questions asked was what expectations do I have for myself? The truthful answer is that over the years I have consistently lowered my expectations of myself. Let me give you an example: when I stopped working last year I thought a lot about what I could do next for my career. I started thinking of jobs that didn’t require a lot of technology, that were close to my house, and that required minimal reading/writing. Basically I was setting expectations for myself that were lower because I was blind. No one else set those expectations—I did. Then I came to school and something awesome happened; I met people who were blind.
Before school I had only met a few people who were blind, but I didn’t have any friends or relatives who were blind. At school EVERYONE is blind (except a few staff), and those blind people are rocking their lives! These are students and teachers who show me daily that I don’t have to limit my expectations. No reason I couldn’t do a job that requires technology—one of the students here could run circles around most of you on the computer. No reason to choose a job due to location—my travel instructor is totally blind and spends his days traveling all over the city teaching us how to travel. No reason to choose a job based on how much reading/writing it requires—I’m surrounded by people who use technology and Braille daily to complete their jobs, take notes, read college books, write papers, etc. It’s inspiring to witness and pushes me to expect more from myself.
So as this new year begins, I find myself reconsidering my future career in a new light, no longer using my blindness as an excuse to expect less from myself. Hmmmmm.... I have reevaluated, and I chose me and my blind brothers and sisters. We are a team who will go as far as we can, as far as we want, and we, like all good teams, will help one another. A New Year’s resolution or a lifelong commitment—you guess. I know.
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 LaShawna Fant
From the Editor: LaShawna Fant is a member of the National Federation of the Blind from the state of Mississippi. This submission is an interview with Mr. Eddie Spann. He is the principal of the Mississippi School for the Blind (MSB) in Jackson, Mississippi. He is an African American teacher of the visually impaired whom Dr. Fant selected to highlight for his service in blindness education for Black History Month.
LaShawna Fant: Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. You have been an educational giant in the field of blindness in the state of Mississippi for a few decades. Please introduce yourself to the people.
Eddie Spann: My name is Eddie Spann, and I am a native of Clinton, Mississippi. I was born with congenital glaucoma. I have been married to my beautiful wife for over twenty years, and I am the father of two boys, Troy Michael and Edward Elijah. My wife and I are both educators, serving both general and special education students.
LF: What has been your educational background?
ES: My educational background includes being a graduate of the Mississippi School for the Blind, University of Southern Mississippi (BS), Jackson State University (MS), Mississippi College (Ed.S.), and doctoral studies at Walden University. I have degrees in Adapted Physical Education, Exercise Science, Special Education, Education of the Visually Impaired, and Educational Leadership. My areas of teacher certification include English, Social Studies, Visually Impaired, Gifted, Physical Education, Educationally Handicapped, and Career Level Administrator.
LF: Being you have served in the field of education for several years, what have been some of your jobs?
ES: I have served as a SPED/Inclusion Teacher, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Behavior Specialist, PE Teacher, Social Studies Teacher, Coach, English teacher, Principal, Assistant Principal, Vocational Coordinator, Transition Coordinator, Consultant, VI Teacher Project Coordinator/Instructor, and Adjunct Professor in K-12 and College/University settings.
LF: Wow! You have had some impressive occupations. What keeps you inspired to serve?
ES: God has graced me as a servant leader who is concerned about the needs of others. I enjoy helping students and adults strive to reach their fullest potential. I have taught every disability area of special education and most areas of general education. It never ceases to amaze me the impact that I am able to have on individuals I work with and teach. I always try to leave an area better than what it was when I arrived. Teaching for me is definitely a calling. It was never my intent to enter this field, especially working with the visually impaired. When I graduated from MSB, my desire was to enter the medical field and help rehabilitate heart patients. I was through with MSB and wanted a different path in which I could show others, that as a visually impaired person, I could do anything I set my mind to do. Dr. Craig Bushner, one of my professors in undergraduate school, encouraged me to take some education courses so I would have something to fall back on if I could not find a job in the medical field. His words of encouragement made education seem so attractive, and thirty-some years later I am still intrigued by the opportunity to help others excel in life.
LF: What brought you back to Mississippi School for the Blind after seventeen years?
ES: I am returning to the Mississippi School for the Blind after leaving seventeen years ago. I am a graduate of MSB, and I love seeing students leave here and excel in life. MSB gave me the tools and knowledge to become what I am today. It was not until after I graduated from high school and entered college that I learned to appreciate what the staff at MSB had taught and instilled in me. I came back because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of the students, impact the staff and parents, bridge alumni and stakeholders, and make MSB a great place for educating students with visual impairments and blindness in this state.
LF: We are thankful to have you as the principal at Mississippi School for the Blind. What are some of your goals?
ES: Some of my goals are:
LF: Mr. Spann, those are some critical goals for blind students. How long have you been a teacher of the visually impaired? Also, how important do you think it is to obtain this certification when educating blind students?
ES: I have been a teacher of the visually impaired for almost thirty-two years. I think it is critical for students to have highly trained and skilled teachers who are certified in educating the visually impaired. In order for visually impaired students to reach critical goals, having these will level the playing field in relationship to their sighted peers.
LF: It is Black History Month, and you are an African American teacher of the visually impaired. Who in Black History has encouraged you and how?
ES: There are several individuals in Black History who have influenced me the most: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President Barack Obama, David Patterson, and Martha Louise Morrow Foxx. Two of them are visually impaired: David Patterson and Martha Louise Morrow Foxx. All of them never let societal prejudices prevent them from accomplishing what they were pre-destined to do in life.
LF: Do you have any final words you would like to leave for the readers of this interview?
ES: Never let negative words discourage you from being all that you can become. Always put God ahead of everything, pray, and trust and believe that you can become great. Every time a door shuts in your face, ask God to open another door with better opportunities.
by Jenivieve White
From the Editor: Ask anyone who works as a member of the national staff what words come to mind when they think of kindness, gentleness, helpfulness, and someone who is always there to be of assistance. I believe that there would be a nearly unanimous consensus that the definition is for Jen White. I’ve never heard her say the word “no” except when I asked if she was too busy to help me. I can’t think of anyone more committed to staff morale and taking personal responsibility for helping to raise it. One of Jenivieve’s assignments is to work with the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in getting books for blind students and their parents Brailled and distributed. Here is information she believes you need to have:
The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults has collaborated with Scholastic to bring the Dragon Masters series of books to all blind children and their families. This seventeen-book series written by Tracey West is an adventure-packed world filled with dragons, fantasy, and diverse characters. A magical Dragon Stone chooses a few lucky children to live at King Rowland’s castle as dragon trainers and carefully matches the right dragon to each trainer. Quests and battles against evil bring children and their dragons together. Each child has to communicate with and trust his or her own dragon, and the adults have to trust the children’s abilities. Although the Dragon Masters series has battles galore, it focuses on how the young dragon masters prepare for battle, build relationships, trust their instincts, and support one another. Each book includes a teaser for the next book in the series, which will keep young readers anticipating the next book!
You can find the Braille file for each book on the Action Fund website at: https://www.actionfund.org/resources/dragon-masters. Each file can be downloaded and put onto a Braille output device or embossed to create your own Braille book. Below is a listing of each title in the series:
Book 1: Rise of the Earth Dragon
Book 2: Saving the Sun Dragon
Book 3: Secret of the Water Dragon
Book 4: Power of the Fire Dragon
Book 5: Song of the Poison Dragon
Book 6: Flight of the Moon Dragon
Book 7: Search for the Lightning Dragon
Book 8: Roar of the Thunder Dragon
Book 9: Chill of the Ice Dragon
Book 10: Waking the Rainbow Dragon
Book 11: Shine of the Silver Dragon
Book 12: Treasure of the Gold Dragon
Book 13: Eye of the Earthquake Dragon
Book 14: The Land of the Spring Dragon
Book 15: Future of the Time Dragon
Book 16: Call of the Sound Dragon
Book 17: Fortress of the Stone Dragon
So get all fired up like the breath of the dragons, and go to https://www.actionfund.org/resources/dragon-masters.
by Gary Wunder
My grandmother was a good one for sayings, and she repeated them often enough that one did not forget them. One of her favorites was, “Live and learn.” She often said this when she was surprised, but as I got older, I came to understand that it was not just an acknowledgement of the unanticipated but a fact about an opportunity given to us each day. I came to realize what she was stating was a two-pronged philosophy: one is never too old to learn, and each day offers a wonderful opportunity to go to bed better informed than when he or she woke earlier in the day.
Often much is made of what is gained through sight, and far too often the implication is that one must have sight in order to learn. All of us are living examples that sight is not required to learn, so we take exception to the statement. But the part we should and do acknowledge is that vision does provide opportunities for sighted people to learn passively without any awareness they are learning. For a person who is blind, the learning must be active, and knowing what one does not know can be difficult.
In the last few years, I have been surprised to learn that there are a number of physical things I don’t know. For example, one of my daughters told me that I got into a car differently from the way most people do. My method was to walk to the car, open the door, turn 180°, back up until my legs touch the frame of the car, and then sit down. For at least sixty years this is the way I’ve done it, but I understand the more common way is to walk to the car door, open it, step into the car with one foot, pivot, sit, and then bring the second foot into the car. I used to wonder why people got mad at me when we lived in the country, and I got mud on the back of my pant legs. I never thought to ask how that was avoidable.
One day we were sitting around the table and someone said something that I considered a little snarky. I decided to make a similarly inappropriate remark, but instead I used a gesture. I proceeded to give them the finger. The reaction was not what I anticipated. It turns out I did that wrong as well. My method was to hold my right hand palm down, use my thumb to hold all of my fingers, and then extend the middle one. Not so. Now giving the finger is not a normal part of my regular social interaction, but at least I thought I knew how to do it. It turns out that the hand is turned palm up facing you, the finger is extended vertically, and it is then waved in the direction of the person who has done something you consider worthy of the gesture. Learning to flip the bird is not something I would encourage in polite company, but at least in my family not everything is polite, and not everything considered impolite is so regarded.
My mother-in-law Shirley owned a carnival. She and her husband Joe lived in De Soto, Missouri, and this was their home base for the business. Each week during the season the carnival would move from one location to another. Sometimes this meant separating from people one really cared about and not knowing when she would again meet them. She told her grandchildren she did not like saying goodbye, so she told them that they should part by using what she coined the “De Soto wave.” You guessed it: the De Soto wave was using the middle finger. Her grandchildren were surprised when their schoolmates did not understand the De Soto wave, and Grandma Shirley was reprimanded by her children. But one did not change the behavior of Grandma Shirley with a reprimand, and the tradition continued.
On the day of her funeral, as a last goodbye, her family all gave her the De Soto wave. Several days later my brother called me in confusion. He said, “Gary, I saw your mother-in-law’s funeral pictures on Facebook. I know you all loved her, so why did everyone give her the finger?” I told him the story, and he liked it.
Now I am curious how I can travel through six decades of life and not have someone observe that I was doing some very basic things wrong? Was it respect? Was it a desire to avoid confrontation, the assumption being that I would be defensive? I don’t know. I guess that not knowing the small things didn’t determine my career, success, or my likability as a human being, but I certainly wish I had learned at age ten or twenty that I was doing these things differently from others. There is nothing wrong with an alternative technique if it is better or as good as the one being replaced. Neither of these cases required an alternative technique, and in the case of getting into the car, my technique was not an alternative but was clearly inferior.If I have had these situations in my life, my assumption is that others have as well. What might we share that will be helpful? Can we spare one of our colleagues a little public embarrassment by sharing? Can we remove even the smallest obstacle that stands between us and people who can see? Lots of callers tell me that they don’t wish to use the alternative techniques of blindness because they are made to look different, and I understand the burden of being and feeling different. Many times I think that the techniques we use far outweigh any difference that is observed, but I am a strong advocate for minimizing things that I do if I don’t get something in the bargain. It turns out the saying “Live and learn” offers a wonderful opportunity. Are there others who wish to share?
Recipes this month were contributed by members of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania.
by Jenn Harding
1 lb. of ground turkey or beef
1 onion diced
1-15 oz. can of black beans
1-15 oz. can of kidney beans
1-28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1-16 oz. bag of corn
1 package of Ranch dressing
Method: Cook ground turkey/beef till brown. Add diced onion to sauté. Then put ground turkey/beef onion mixture in a crock pot. Drain beans and add along with the rest of the ingredients. Cook for three hours on high or six hours on low. Serve with chips and cheese.
The recipe can also be made ahead of time. Cook ground meat and onions. Allow to cool. Add drained beans, meat mixture and everything else to a freezer bag. Remove air and freeze. When you want to cook it, dump everything in a crockpot and cook for six hours on low.
Broccoli Cheesy Chicken
by Jenn Harding
2 lbs. boneless/skinless chicken
1 can of Campbell's cheddar cheese
1 can of Campbell's cream of broccoli
1 bag of frozen broccoli
Method: Add chicken (can be frozen) and cans to a crockpot. If frozen, cook for five hours on high then add broccoli and cook for another 30-40 min. If chicken is raw, cook for three hours on low then add broccoli and cook for another 30-40 min.
Slow Cooker Broccoli Casserole
by Lynn Heitz
Do you enjoy broccoli casseroles but don't want to heat up the oven? Get out the slow cooker or crockpot and enjoy these casseroles year-round! Credit:
2 packages (10-oz each) frozen chopped broccoli, mostly thawed
1 can condensed cream of celery soup, undiluted
1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp pepper
1 cup crushed butter-flavor (Ritz) crackers
2 tablespoons butter
Method: In a large bowl combine the broccoli, soup, one cup of the cheese, onion, Worcestershire sauce, and pepper. Spray slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Pour broccoli mixture into the slow cooker. Sprinkle the cracker crumbs evenly over the top. Cut butter into small portions and dot over the crackers.
Cover slow cooker and cook on high for 2-1/2 to 3 hours. Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese over the top of the casserole and cook another 10 minutes or until the added cheese melts. Serves 8 to 10.
by Jan Lattuca
This is great to bring to someone in need of a meal and fun to eat at home as well.
1 lb. ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
1 green pepper, diced (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
8 oz. tomato sauce
1 can green beans, drained (or 8-10 oz. frozen green beans, cooked)
3 cups mashed potatoes
4 oz. grated cheddar cheese
Method: Cook meat, onion, green pepper, salt and pepper, stirring frequently to crumble and thoroughly cook the meat. Drain off grease. Add tomato sauce and green beans, and simmer for just a few minutes to heat through. Place this mixture in a 2-quart casserole. Spread mashed potatoes over meat mixture; sprinkle cheese on top. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees. Serves up to four.
by Jan Lattuca
This is pretty tasty, even if lentils aren’t at the top of your favorite foods list.
2 lbs. onions, chopped or sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 stick margarine
1 cup lentils
2 cups coarsely-grated carrots
2 cups beef broth
1 bay leaf, optional
1 cup dry red wine
salt and pepper to taste
Method: In large pot, briefly sauté onion and garlic in margarine. Add lentils, carrots, broth, and optional bay leaf; simmer, covered, for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add wine and simmer five minutes more. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove bay leaf and serve. Serves four.
by Jan Lattuca
This is too easy to be as tasty as it is.
1 cup sugar (half can be brown sugar, if desired)
1 stick margarine, melted and cooled
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts
Method: Beat eggs in large bowl. Stir in sugar, cooled margarine, and vanilla. Sift together flour, cocoa, and salt; add to egg mixture. Fold in chips and nuts (optional). Pour into lightly-buttered nine-inch pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until set. Cool. Can serve warm or at room temperature.
by Linda Mackey
1-1/2 cups Keebler® Grahams Honey
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/2 cup margarine or butter, melted
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 medium cooking apples, cored, peeled, thinly sliced
Method: In medium bowl stir together crackers and 1/2 cup of sugar. Add margarine or butter. Toss until combined. Set aside. In small bowl stir together remaining sugar and cinnamon. In 8” x 8” x 2” pan, alternate layers of apples, cinnamon mixture, and crumb mixture. Cover tightly with foil. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove foil. Bake for an additional 15 minutes. Serve warm. Serves six.
by Linda Mackey
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 cups diced onions
2 cups peeled, diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup sweet white wine
4 cups chicken stock
29 oz. pumpkin purée
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1-pint heavy cream, room temperature
Method: In 6-quart pot, over medium heat, melt butter; add onions, carrots, celery, salt and pepper. Sauté until tender; about 8 minutes.
Deglaze the pot with wine; reduce by half. Add stock, pumpkin, brown sugar, honey, and cloves. Bring to boil; reduce heat to medium-low; continue to cook about 30 minutes. Stirring occasionally. Cool.
Once the mixture has cooled, working in batches, transfer pumpkin bisque to blender (about 2 cups at a time). Purée until smooth. Transfer puréed pumpkin into another pot. Once all bisque is puréed add heavy cream slowly. Stir until combined over low heat.
Homemade Cornbread Version 1
by Brian Mackey
1-1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
4 tablespoons sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Method: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Sift the dry ingredients. Add milk, egg, and butter. Beat well and bake in an 8-inch greased pan for 30-40 minutes. Note: The only thing I do differently is I bake it in a cast iron skillet. The cast iron gives it a nice crust!
Homemade Cornbread Version 2
by Brian Mackey
1 cup of flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup of sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoons of salt
1/4 cup of canola oil
2 tablespoons mayo
1 cup of milk
Method: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt with a wooden mixing spoon. Add eggs, oil, mayo, and milk. Use wooden mixing spoon and stir until mixture is smooth. DON’T over stir the mixture, or it will become too runny.
Slowly pour the mixture into a 9 x 9” baking pan. Bake for 23-27 minutes or until golden brown on top. Allow to cool for a few minutes, cut, and enjoy!
Tasty Chili (LCB)
by Brian Mackey
1 lb. ground beef
1/2 onion, diced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 pkg. chili mix (any kind)
water as directed on chili mix
1 can baked beans (any kind)
shredded cheddar or Mexican cheese
Method: Brown ground beef with diced onion until done. Drain off excess grease and rinse with hot water if needed. Drain tomatoes and save liquid to use as part of water amount on chili mix. Add tomatoes, chili mix, and water to the beef and cook down for about five minutes. Add beans and continue to cook until beans are warm. Individually sprinkle with cheese and serve with crackers or cornbread. Serves about 4-6.
Avocado Black Bean Casserole
by Justin Salisbury
This recipe is super simple, vegan, and will not sit heavily in your stomach. You can eat this and go right to the gym. If you ever need to freeze avocados, maybe because too many of them got ripe at one time, cooking them is a great way to use them after you thaw them. I am not vegan, but I find many vegan dishes quite enjoyable. Eating vegan dishes is great for your health, your wallet, and your planet.
2 large avocados
1 15-oz. can of black beans
1 cup of brown rice
The Greater Portland Chapter in Maine held its elections with these results: Leslie Landry, president; Gerard Landry, vice president; Randy Bellavance, treasurer; Kyle Miller, secretary; Sarah Bellavance, trustee #1; Courtney Straffin, trustee #2. Congratulations to all who have chosen to serve.
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.
Magnifier for Sale:
I have a like-new DaVinci HD Magnifier with OCR. I can no longer use it and would like to sell it if I can for $1,995.00 or best offer. It is very heavy, so shipping costs may be around $50. Please write to Richard L. Ray Jr. at [email protected] or call 720-389-8576 or 303-710-4834.
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