Vol. 64, No. 3 March 2021
Gary Wunder, Editor
Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, by the
The National Federation of the Blind
Mark Riccobono, President
email address: [email protected]
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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. 3 March 2021
Illustration: The Presidential Release
The Washington Seminar Roundup
by Gary Wunder
Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act
Access Technology Affordability Act
Americans with Disabilities Voting Rights Act
Twenty-First Century Mobile Apps and Website Accessibility Act
Congratulations to our 2020-2021 Scholarship Program Winners
Announcing the 2021 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest Winners
We are Women and Sisters Forever
by Danielle McCann
Walking While Blind in Manhattan During the Pandemic
by Peter Slatin
Leave a Legacy
Meet Our 2021 Teachers of Tomorrow
Seeing is Believing, or is it?
by Gary Wunder
Federation Philosophy and Reproductive Rights
by Justin Salisbury
Independence Market Corner
by Ellen Ringlein
Using Labels to Assist us in Our Life Hacks
by Danielle McCann
Copyright 2021 by the National Federation of the Blind
The Presidential Release was started in 1973, a revolutionary new way for the President to speak with chapter members directly. Through the years, the technology has evolved, but the purpose has remained the same. Analog cassettes are a thing of the past, having been replaced first by digital thumb drives. Now, in addition to these, we have a way to broadcast the release to any member wishing to hear it and, as time allows, to ask questions of President Riccobono. By the time you read this, the March release will be history, but be prepared to come and listen on April 1, and no, I’m not going to say April Fools.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mark Riccobono smiles while giving the Presidential Release; the American flag and the National Federation of the Blind flag can be seen behind him.]
[PHOTO/CAPTION: A view of the Presidential Release recording studio. The recording equipment is in the foreground with the lights and camera in front and President Riccobono at a table near the back.]
by Gary Wunder
Some things are so important that, unless national disaster prevents it, they continue to happen year after year. This has long been the case with our Washington Seminar. Sometimes the snow has been so deep that the National Federation of the Blind showed up when most of the Congress did not. Sometimes the House or the Senate changed its schedule so that our week let us meet fewer congressional members than we would have liked, but we showed up. Now COVID-19 greatly restricts travel and limits access to the capital building, but still we show up.
In 2021, showing up took a different form: we met by the hundreds with our senators and representatives, but in this year of the pandemic, we did it virtually. Instead of going to their offices, we honed our technical skills, adjusted our microphones, positioned our cameras, put on our good meeting clothes, and invited members of Congress to our offices. The agenda was still the same: advancing the issues of blind people to further our integration into society on terms of real equality.
Technology is often seen as a liberator, and especially so for blind people. But the interesting thing about technology advancement in the digital age is that we rarely find ourselves pressing for new and innovative technology to meet special needs of the blind. Instead, we find ourselves working hard not to fall behind. In the case of medical technology, mobile apps, websites, and voting, the request is not that some special devices be made for blind people but that the devices and services already made for sighted people don’t end up leaving blind people behind. Whether medical devices talk or provide some tactile interface can be as serious as life and death. Whether mobile apps and websites are usable with screen reading technology will determine how freely we can engage in the normal commerce of the nation, get an education, and take a job. Even the Access Technology Affordability Act is premised on the idea that we need special technology to use equivalent tools that are commonplace for people who can see.
In keeping with tradition, our students had a virtual seminar on the morning of February 8. Our Government Affairs team sponsored a seminar in the afternoon that included a description of our four bills and two sessions in which we did role playing, with the formidable John Paré as an esteemed Senator Paré listening to our concerns. This year we had a pre-Great Gathering-In meeting which allowed the hosts of our Nation’s Blind podcast to talk about the meaning the seminar has had in their lives. Chris Danielsen observed that sometimes our delegations are disappointed when we meet with staff members, but he related a story about a congressman who initially told us no, his staff member who told us to be patient, and that very congressman signing on to our bill just three weeks later. His message: Don’t discount the value of the people your congressman trusts for their expertise and judgment. Melissa Riccobono observed that the greatest things she got from her first Washington Seminar was the notion that if she could persuade people in DC, she most certainly could persuade them in her local community and her state affiliate. But the real thrust of the podcast culminated in this statement: Nobody can tell your story like you can, and there is nothing more influential to a representative or senator than hearing your story.
Then it came time for the 5 p.m. Great Gathering-In, and here are the remarks President Riccobono made to begin the evening’s festivities:
by Mark Riccobono
We gather today—not in our nation’s capital but from everywhere, both virtually and at our national headquarters. We gather to prepare to influence and advise our nation's leaders. We, the blind of this nation, again commit to showing up, regardless the circumstances, to make sure every voice is heard. In the past we have shown up through snow, bitter cold, travel woes, and other situations where members of Congress did not even make an effort to come to Washington. Now we add to our list a worldwide pandemic that requires social distancing and prevents all people from meeting face-to-face with their representative leaders. Hearing our voices will neither be denied nor delayed.
In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” We come together today to build a future full of opportunities regardless of the difficult circumstances of the moment. We have found a way to lift our voices—the voices of all blind people, with individual tones, harmonized into a collective voice. We welcome every blind person regardless of race, creed, color, religion, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, national origin, citizenship, marital status, age, genetic information, disability, or any other characteristic or intersectionality of characteristics, to be part of this movement. We lift up the voices of all blind people, and we intend for the unified choir of the voice of the nation's blind to be heard in the halls of power.
We also lift our voices in solidarity with our blind Black leaders during this month honoring the history of Black Americans. Our blind Black leaders have demonstrated that a class of people, historically held down by our democracy, need not destroy it to secure justice. Our blind Black leaders continue to show that the strength of struggling to improve our democracy is something we all can be proud of supporting, a democracy that accepts every voice lifted to it equally and that welcomes full participation. We come to this Washington Seminar being led by the example of our blind Black leaders. Our goal is to lift every voice so that all people, including the blind, may enjoy the benefits of our nation. We will "march on till victory is won."
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” was written by the Johnson brothers and first performed in 1900. The older of the brothers, James Weldon Johnson, was a lawyer, diplomat, professor, prolific writer, and poet. In describing the power of this beautiful anthem, he noted many years later that it had the effect that all good movements have on the human spirit: "Someone heard it, was moved by it, and kept on singing." This is what we intend to do together for blind people through the National Federation of the Blind. "Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us."
We, the blind, bring our authentic and diverse experience to the halls of power so that the harmful impacts of low expectations and inequality can be heard. We seek not for our nation's leaders to walk in our shoes, but rather for their actions to be guided by hearing the journey we share—not one, or ten, or one hundred of us, but thousands of blind people striving to live the lives we want with dignity and respect. The darkness does not come from our lack of eyesight but rather from the lack of hearing and acting upon our stories that have held us down in the past. "Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us."
Abraham Lincoln said, “The legitimate object of government is to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they cannot, by individual effort, or at all, or do so well, for themselves.”
We have formed the National Federation of the Blind—a powerful and forward-marching vehicle for collective action. While our movement gives us hope and determination, while we intend to speak and act for ourselves, we alone cannot remove the artificial barriers that stand in our path. We seek to have our hopeful solutions heard in the halls of power so that our voice, our priorities, can be more tightly integrated into our democracy. We seek the protection of government to ensure that the blind can vote—regardless of whether the vote is cast in person, through the mail, or through other means. We sing of opportunity equal to all other Americans. We seek adoption of our hopeful solution to empower the blind to obtain their own accessible technologies to participate in education, seek employment, and lead in our communities. We sing of independence and self-sufficiency. We sing so the stories of our struggle to manage our personal medical care in our homes can be heard. We expect that our solution be considered so that we can enjoy the blessings of opportunity in this nation along with others. We sing with hope that artificial barriers will no longer threaten our lives. We sing to open the doors to full participation in the digital era by having the government protect our ability to independently navigate websites in education, commerce, health, community, government, employment, finance, and all of the other aspects of living fully in our society. We sing for integration into society on terms of equality, "Facing the rising sun of our new day begun."
President Biden said in his inaugural address, "We'll press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and significant possibilities. Much to repair, much to restore, much to heal, much to build, and much to gain.”
We, the blind, have come again to lift our voice with hope and singing of partnership. We reject the idea that our song is one that only appeals to one or another political party or perspective. The diversity of our perspectives collectively focused are a song that all Americans should hear. Regardless of political ideology, our song is a hopeful charge of empowering individuals to live the lives they want through our shared democracy. Our song calls for eliminating barriers and expanding full participation. Allowing each of this nation's citizens to help with the rebuilding and gain from the shared riches of community is the future we sing of together.
This week is only a moment in time on our march—one opportunity for our choir to sing. We will show up, day after day, and week after week, until we have the equality we deserve. We will show up with solutions and prepared to put our hands to the building. We will continue to lift our voice in the halls of power, in the courts, in the boardrooms and classrooms, and in the streets. We, the blind of this nation, gather together to demonstrate our love, hope, and determination to live the lives we want. We come from varied backgrounds, perspectives, and intersectionalities. We seek to serve as an example to the nation that we are stronger together: improving democracy, creating healing, building, and participating fully in our communities.
This is the significance of our Washington Seminar. This is the movement we share. This is the bond of faith we hold in our march together. "Let us march on till victory is won." Let us sing of living the lives we want. Let us go build the National Federation of the Blind.
At the conclusion of those rousing remarks, our director of social media, Danielle McCann, talked about the way we could mark our progress to the world as the seminar progressed. Our hashtag, which can still be reviewed by the curious reader on Twitter, was #nfbindc. We used the same on Facebook and Instagram. Danielle encouraged us to use these outlets not only to document our progress during the week but also to share our stories. They have value not only to the Congress but to all of those who follow us and need to know why we do the work we do for the blind of this nation and the world. Lastly, she reminded us to refrain from committing a senator or representative before they have had time to express that commitment themselves.
Anil Lewis reported on some of the activities of the Blindness Initiatives group he heads. He reminded us that we come to the Washington Seminar not just to make requests of power but to be a part of that power: defining problems, coming up with solutions, and demonstrating how, together, we can create real opportunity for blind people by working with those we elect to Congress.
He went on to say that, as impressive as our programs are, the need to convert them to a virtual platform has tested our initiative and helped us define what is really important to communicate. One unexpected benefit is that we have had to come face-to-face with the technology challenges that have to be addressed by so many of our students. This has allowed us to address in an even more serious way the accessibility of educational platforms and what we must achieve for true educational equality.
President Riccobono talked for a moment about the live Presidential Release, the large numbers it can reach, and the opportunity for questions and answers that it provides. It is scheduled for the first day of each month and can be found on the Zoom platform, on our NFB website, and as a broadcast on YouTube.
Rebecca Chang is a member and is a financial coach who is going to make fully accessible courses available to the National Federation of the Blind. Although the logistics are not yet set, there will be three courses: Investing with Confidence, How to Choose the Right Investments in Your Employer’s Plan, and The Wealth Formula.
Our annual Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee has for many years been chaired by our corporate secretary, James Gashel. Everette Bacon will assume the responsibility for chairing the committee in 2021, and he will do this while serving as a member of the National Board of Directors and as the affiliate president for the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. Everette explained that the Jacob Bolotin Award is to honor outstanding individuals and organizations who have made a major contribution to the advancement of blind people. This annual award is now soliciting applications and will be until April 15. Those wishing to nominate an individual or organization should go to nfb.org/bolotin.
One of our most active programs is legal advocacy, but there is no way we can tackle all of the cases that need legal attention. Due to our limited resources, we look for those cases which are likely to have a broad systemic effect. Anyone interested in seeing the scope of our legal activity should go to https://www.nfb.org/programs-services/legal-program. Likewise, anyone who believes he or she has a legal issue they think we should know about should take advantage of the contact form that appears on that page.
We are continuing to conduct our survey of educational opportunities, and each student is encouraged to fill out the survey after completing every semester. Improving access to kiosks remains a high priority, and its importance is even intensified by the pandemic and the need for social distancing. We are on the verge of two important settlements in this area, so stay tuned.
Jeannie Massey is the co-chair of our Membership Committee, and she encouraged each of us to increase our efforts to find new people as we build the Federation. Last year we had over five hundred new people join, and she believes that this year our goal should be 1,500. Anyone wanting more information about the programs of the Membership Committee can write to our new membership coordinator, Christine Jones, at [email protected].
President Riccobono next introduced Cheryl Fields, a member of our Survivors’ Task Force. In her speech, Cheryl emphasized the fact that we are not only going to make the Federation a safe space with the model culture, but we are going to lead in this area in the same way that we lead on blindness issues. During the week of the Washington Seminar, the survivors committee put together several listening sessions. Cheryl encouraged everyone to look at the February issue of the Braille Monitor to learn more about the committee and how to be in touch. She concluded by saying, “It is our beautiful differences and are single commonality, blindness, that unify us in love, hope, and determination. Let’s continue marching together, and let’s go build the Federation.”
Because it is unlikely that we will have full deployment of the vaccine by the time of our national convention, it will not be held in New Orleans this year. Instead, it will be held virtually, and the convention host is Maryland. President Ronza Othman believes that this will be the largest convention ever, so it is to achieve this worthy goal that we will strive. Registration will open for the convention on March 1, and it will be important that each person who wishes to vote is registered since that is the system we will use.
The 2022 convention will be in New Orleans, Louisiana, and the hotel is honoring the same rates already advertised.
Scott LaBarre and Ryan Strunk were introduced to talk about the Preauthorized Contribution Program. This is a way for members and supporters to make a monthly contribution to the organization that can be deducted from a checking account or credit card. Money raised on the PAC Plan generates almost half a million dollars each year for us, so it is no surprise that we provide many ways for people to sign up and increase their donations. One is by going to nfb.org/pac. Another is by writing to [email protected]. One may also call at 877-NFB2PAC or 877-632-2722. Currently eleven states give over $1,000 a month, so there is much work to be done if we are to do the kind of funding we are able to do in support of our work.
Our executive director of advocacy and policy, John Paré, took the floor, and with the assistance of his team he discussed at length the four issues the Federation is supporting this year. In addition to the presentations, a mock interview was played at the conclusion of the seminar for anyone wanting to hear some interactive activity involving Jim Gashel and a number of other dignitaries.
Patti Chang talked with the group about our Dream Makers Circle. This is our legacy society whose members have made provisions to help the National Federation of the Blind with a contribution after their death. Becoming involved in this group is easy, and Patti is available at [email protected] or by calling 410-659-9314, extension 2422.
The National Association of Blind Students put together a presentation to explain to attendees what the division has meant to them. Their presentation also included an advertisement for a division fundraiser. As one would expect from this group of gifted students, the presentation was quite moving.
In 2020 the National Federation of the Blind awarded more than $100,000 in scholarships, but being unable to meet in person meant that we had to make some alterations to the process. Traditionally we would decide the recipients of our scholarships at the national convention, including those who are specially named and those who include higher amounts. This we deferred until our Washington Seminar, and Chairman Cayte Mendez again introduced the scholarship class and the names of those winners who advanced in the process. All of our winners, including the winner of the $12,000 scholarship and the speech she presented, are found elsewhere in this issue.
With the conclusion of Cayte’s presentation, President Riccobono sent us off to Capitol Hill, albeit virtually, and the meeting was adjourned.
On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening, we all met together to summarize the days progress. Because this seminar has been done virtually, and because the Senate was considering impeachment, delegation contacts continued beyond February 11. But even with the restrictions posed by the pandemic and the odd Senate schedule, we managed to make and keep more than four hundred appointments. Our message continues to be universally embraced by both parties, and the theme of equal opportunity for equal participation rings forth not only on Capitol Hill but throughout the nation. We continue to represent the best of America by showing what a diverse group of people united in a cause can bring about. In the work we do, we not only advance the status of blind people but encourage our fellow citizens through our commitment and work. We are unstoppable in our desire to be a change for good in the land. Below are the four issues the Federation is supporting this year.
Issue--Advanced digital interfaces create barriers that prevent blind individuals from independently and safely operating home-use medical devices that are essential to their daily healthcare needs.
Home-use medical devices are becoming more prevalent and less accessible for blind Americans. The rapid proliferation of advanced technology is undeniable. Most newer models of home-use medical devices, such as glucose and blood pressure monitors, along with the emergence of in-home devices that offer medical care options, such as chemotherapy treatments and dialysis, require that consumers interact with a digital display or other interfaces. This new technology has been and continues to be developed and deployed without nonvisual accessibility as an integral part of the design phase, which creates a modern-day barrier. The inaccessibility of home-use medical devices is not a mere inconvenience; if accessibility for blind consumers is omitted from the medical technology landscape, the health, safety, and independence of blind Americans will be in imminent danger.
Advancements in home-use medical devices have the potential to transform how people live in society but are currently designed for those with no functional limitations.1 This flaw in product design limits options for blind Americans who need nonvisual access to critically important devices that help them to maintain their health and are available to people without disabilities.2
Nonvisual access is achievable, as demonstrated by a number of mainstream products. Apple has incorporated VoiceOver (a text-to-speech function) into all of its products, making iPhones, Macbooks and Mac desktops, and iPads fully accessible to blind people right out of the box. Virtually all ATMs manufactured in the United States are accessible, and every polling place is required to have a nonvisually accessible voting machine. Frequently, a simple audio output or vibrotactile feature can make a product fully accessible at little to no additional cost for manufacturers.
Current disability laws are not able to keep up with advancements due to the expeditious evolution of medical technology and its incorporation into home-use medical devices. Although the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws require physical accessibility for people with disabilities (e.g., wheelchair ramps, Braille in public buildings), no laws protect the blind consumer’s right to technology such as home-use medical devices. The National Council on Disability concluded that accessibility standards lag behind the rapid pace of technology, which can interfere with technology access.3 This trend of inaccessibility will continue if accessibility solutions are ignored. Only a fraction of medical device manufacturers have incorporated nonvisual access standards into their product design, while others continue to resist these solutions.
Calls on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to promulgate nonvisual accessibility standards for home-use medical devices. The FDA will consult with stakeholders with disabilities and manufacturers and issue a notice of proposed rulemaking no later than twelve months after the date of enactment of the act. No later than 24 months after the date of enactment of the act, the FDA will publish the final rule including the nonvisual accessibility standards.
Requires manufacturers of home-use medical devices to make their products nonvisually accessible. Manufacturers will have twelve months following the publication of the final rule to ensure that all of the home-use medical devices they produce are nonvisually accessible.
Authorizes the FDA to enforce the nonvisual access standards for home-use medical devices. Any manufactured device found to be out of compliance, whether by a public complaint to the FDA or by an independent FDA investigation, will incur the same penalties as failing to meet the same safety standards as other home-use medical devices.
Cosponsor the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act when introduced.
For more information, contact:
Stephanie Flynt, government affairs specialist, National Federation of the Blind
Phone: 410-659-9314, extension 2210
Email: [email protected]
For more information visit www.nfb.org.
Issue--The cost of critically needed access technology is out of reach
for most blind Americans.
The high cost of access technology creates a difficult economic reality. Most access technology ranges from $1,000 to $6,000. For example, a leading screen reader is $900, a popular Braille notetaker is $5,495, one model of a refreshable Braille display is $2,795, and a moderately priced Braille embosser is $3,695. According to the United States Census Bureau 69.1 percent of blind Americans are either unemployed or underemployed.1 Consequently, most blind Americans do not have sufficient financial resources needed to purchase these items.2 These financial barriers can ultimately lead to a loss of employment, insufficient education, or even isolation from community activities.
Medical insurance will not cover the cost of access technology. Current definitions of "medical care," "medical necessity," and "durable medical equipment" within common insurance policies do not include access technology. These definitions were adopted in the 1960s “when medical care was viewed primarily as curative and palliative, with little or no consideration given to increasing an individual's functional status.”3 Many states’ Medicaid programs and individual health insurance plans have adopted similar definitions and likewise will not cover the cost of access technology.4
Access technology enables blind Americans to participate in today’s workforce. Blindness is well-defined and measurable,5 but affects each person differently and at different ages. Since individuals’ needs differ, manufacturers have designed various tools that enable each blind American to perform tasks that they were once unable to accomplish themselves due to their blindness. Braille notetakers are frequently used in schools, screen-reading software allows workers to check their email at home, and screen-magnification software can help seniors losing vision learn about community activities. Access technology equips blind Americans to seek employment and stay employed. For the 69.1 percent of blind Americans who are either unemployed or underemployed, it is a vehicle that facilitates the job-seeking process. Despite this critical need, public and private entities struggle to meet consumer demand.6 This leads to untimely delays in the delivery of necessary technology and ultimately harms the blind consumer.
Makes access technology more affordable so that blind Americans can procure these items for themselves. It establishes a refundable tax credit for blind Americans in the amount of $2,000 to be used over a three-year period to offset the cost of access technology. The credit created by ATAA will sunset after five years and will be indexed for inflation.
Provides flexibility for individuals to obtain access technology based upon their specific needs. Accessibility requires an individualized assessment of one’s own skills and needs. Therefore, blind Americans should be given the opportunity to procure access technology on their own to ensure that they are receiving the tools that are most useful for them.
Will increase federal income tax revenue. More blind Americans working means more people paying taxes. It also means that those blind Americans who obtain gainful employment through this tax credit will no longer need to draw from federal programs such as Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance and will instead be paying into the Social Security Program.
Cosponsor the Access Technology Affordability Act (ATAA).
To cosponsor the ATAA in the House of Representatives, contact:
Crozer Connor, senior legislative assistant for Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA)
Phone: 202-225-3311, Email: [email protected]
To cosponsor the ATAA in the Senate, contact:
Ryan Losak, legislative aide for Senator John Boozman (R-AR)
Phone: 202-224-4843, Email: [email protected]
Issue--The constitutionally protected right to vote that is available to all Americans is inaccessible for blind Americans.
Current federal election law does not reflect the guarantee of equal access to voting for people with disabilities that is codified in Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (42 U.S.C. §12132). The Help America Vote Act (HAVA) ensures that polling locations for federal elections have at least one voting system accessible to individuals with disabilities.1 However, the ballots produced by many of the accessible voting machines are different in size and content from the hand-marked ballots, resulting in a lack of secrecy when only voters with disabilities use the accessible machines.
Untrained poll workers, voting machine malfunctions, and the lack of accessible voting machines in polling places prevent blind and low-vision voters from fully exercising their right to vote. The blind and low-vision voter survey conducted by the National Federation of the Blind following the 2020 general election2 found that 27 percent of blind and low-vision voters who voted using an accessible voting machine said the machine was not set up and operating when they arrived at the polls. One-quarter of the voters who completed the survey in 2020 said that poll workers had problems setting up or operating the machine. Fifteen percent of survey respondents in 2020 who marked their ballot using an accessible machine said that poll workers did not provide clear instructions on how to use the machine.
Paper absentee ballots cannot be completed privately and independently by blind voters. An accessible way for blind, low-vision, or other print-disabled voters to privately and independently mark their ballots must be provided, as required by Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and affirmed by federal courts.3,4 However, blind and print-disabled voters cannot mark and submit a paper absentee or vote-by-mail ballot privately and independently. For the 2020 general election, only twenty-six states provided an accessible way for blind voters to mark an absentee ballot.5
Paper voter registration and absentee ballot request forms are inaccessible to blind voters.
Due to the inherent inaccessibility of paper forms, blind and low-vision voters must complete these forms with assistance. In addition, many online versions of these forms are inaccessible with screen-access technology. A 2015 report by the American Civil Liberties Union found that in 2014, only one state had an online voter registration form that was fully accessible.6 Additionally, a 2020 audit of online absentee ballot request forms by Deque Systems found that forty-three states had forms that were not fully accessible.7
Ensure that in-person voting is accessible for blind and low-vision voters, in a manner that provides the same opportunity for access and participation (including privacy and independence) as for other voters. Registering to vote and voting must require the exclusive use of accessible and universally designed processes, including electronic ballot-marking devices for all voters. Ballot-marking devices require the same security that other forms of voting require to ensure the process is safe and fair, and the use of ballot-marking devices at polling locations allows blind and print disabled Americans to submit their ballots both privately and independently.
Require the education of state and local election officials and poll workers in the setup and operation of the machines, including accessibility features. At a minimum, poll worker training should include instruction on how to navigate through the audio ballot, how low-vision features operate, and how to address potential problems with the nonvisual election technology on Election Day. There must be enough in-person voting locations to make it practical and reasonable to use this option. In addition, it is equally important to ensure that the process for registering to vote is nonvisually accessible (including certification and signature requirements).
Require that vote-by-mail ballots and related voting materials (including voter registration) in elections must be accessible for blind and low-vision individuals. It is important to establish that the process for requesting, filling out (including certification and signature requirements), and submitting a vote-by-mail ballot is nonvisually accessible, including electronic ballot delivery and return. Offering an accessible electronic ballot delivery system can provide these voters with an equal opportunity to mark their ballot privately and independently at home using a computer and their own access technology.
Cosponsor the Americans with Disabilities Voting Rights Act when introduced.
Issue--Websites are required by law to be accessible, but without implementing regulations most businesses and retailers have little understanding of what accessible means.
Websites and mobile applications are an essential part of modern living. More than 313 million Americans use the internet,1 and 81 percent of Americans say that they access the internet at least once each day.2 That means that nearly the entire country is accessing websites and mobile applications every day. However, the need to access websites and mobile applications doesn’t stop when it reaches Americans with disabilities. According to the American Community Survey, conducted by the United States Census Bureau, there are approximately forty million Americans who currently have a disability.3 Based on the numbers above, it is more than reasonable to assume that the vast majority of them are using websites and mobile applications.
The Department of Justice announced its intention to publish accessible website regulations more than a decade ago. On July 26, 2010, the twentieth anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the government published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to address website accessibility.4 After that initial announcement, no further action was taken to substantially advance website accessibility.
The past few years have seen a significant increase in the prevalence of so-called “click-by” lawsuits. Many businesses are required by law to make their websites accessible but claim to have no clear-cut definition of what “accessible” actually means. Meanwhile, people with disabilities must cope with inaccessible websites. ADA Title III lawsuits, which include website accessibility suits, hit record numbers in 2019, topping 11,000 for the first time.5 The number of lawsuits has been increasing steadily since 2013, when the figure was first tracked.6
Direct the US Access Board to promulgate accessibility regulations. The US Access Board will have 12 months following the enactment of the legislation to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking regarding website and mobile application accessibility, then an additional 12 months to issue the final rule.
Promulgate standards that strive to harmonize with Section 508 standards. The Section 508 standards promulgated by the US Access Board on January 18, 2017, are established guidelines for website and technology accessibility. Therefore, the regulations promulgated by the Access Board should harmonize with these standards.
Empower the Department of Justice to investigate the accessibility of websites and mobile applications. Either of its own volition or via a logged complaint pertaining to inaccessibility, the Department of Justice will have the authority to investigate accessibility concerns and commence civil action if necessary.
Cosponsor the Twenty-First Century Mobile Apps and Website Accessibility Act when introduced.
For more information, contact:
Jeff Kaloc, government affairs specialist, National Federation of the Blind Phone: 410-659-9314, extension 2206 or email: [email protected]
For more information visit www.nfb.org.
Normally winners of our scholarships are announced in the August-September issue. This happened in 2020, but deciding the named awards and those receiving additional cash was deferred until February and announced at the Washington Seminar. Here is how it was announced in a press release, followed by the remarks of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship winner, Precious Perez:
The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the premier membership and advocacy organization of blind Americans, today announced the winners of its 2020 named scholarships, which were awarded at the kickoff meeting of the organization’s Washington Seminar on February 8. The winner of the organization’s top prize of $12,000, donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults and named in memory of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, is Precious Perez, an aspiring music educator from Massachusetts.
Here is an alphabetical listing of the other winners, with their home state and career goal or field of study. Unless otherwise indicated, each student received a $3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship:
Deiascha-Britte Bancayanvega, California: Healthcare Inclusion (Edith R. and Alvin Domroe Foundation Scholarship, $3,000)
Robert (Rob) Blachowicz, Arkansas: Counseling
Christopher (Chris) Bove, Rhode Island: Public Service
Brianna (Bri) Broadwater, Maryland: Psychology or Education
Sean Carlson, Oregon: Vocational Rehabilitation Instructor
Natalie Charbonneau, Oregon: Animal Genetics and Conservation Research (Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in a STEM Field, $8,000)
Moreblessings Chikavanga, Texas: Civil Rights/Disability Law (Charles and Betty Allen Scholarship, $3,000)
Kevin Darcy, Colorado: Anthropology Professor (Pearson Scholarship, $5,000)
Matthew Duffell-Hoffman, South Carolina: Electrical Engineer
Paxton Franke, North Dakota: Forensic Pathology (National Federation of the Blind Leadership Scholarship, $5,000)
Lauren (Elaine) Hardin, Georgia: Higher Education Student Affairs Administrator
Kaitlyn (Kat) Hippe, Wisconsin: Linguistics and Education (Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship, $3,000)
Emily Kiehl, Ohio: Information Technology
Josh Loebner, Tennessee: Inclusive Technology
Sara Luna, Illinois: Museum Accessibility (E.U. and Gene Parker Scholarship, $3,000)
Victor Marques, Michigan: Vision Rehabilitation Therapist and Access Technology Specialist (JAWS for Windows Scholarship, $5,000)
Griffin Miller, Pennsylvania: Actuary
Jillian Milton, New Jersey: Product Development
Marissa Nissley, New Jersey: Attorney
Sherry Pablo, California: Public Health, Health Policy and Management (special scholarship for first responders and others affected by COVID-19, $3,000)
Teresita Rios, California: Attorney
Dannielle Schutz, Nebraska: Medical Scientist
Nicolas (Nick) Spohn, Pennsylvania: Mechanical Engineer (National Federation of the Blind STEM Scholarship, $3,000)
Logan Stenzel, Minnesota: Finance and Technology Entrepreneur (Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science, $8,000)
Marie Villaneda, Indiana: Orientation and Mobility Instructor (Mimi and Marvin Sandler Scholarship, $5,000)
Monica Wegner, Minnesota: Corporate Attorney (Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship, $10,000)
Alek Wolfe, Vermont: Broadcasting
Brayan Zamarripa, Oklahoma: Media Production (Dr. Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship, $3,000)
Precious Perez, Massachusetts: Music Educator (Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, $12,000)
“The scholarship program is one of our most important initiatives,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “We are proud to honor these blind scholars, who are studying everything from media production to genetics and, in so doing, raising the expectations of what blind people can achieve. Their accomplishments are proof of our conviction that we, the blind of this nation, can live the lives we want; blindness does not hold us back.”
Hi, everyone. I guess this is how it must feel to win a Grammy. I don’t know if that will ever happen to me, but I guess I’m prepared for it now if it does.
I want to thank the Scholarship Committee for this opportunity, the support I’ve received from the leaders I’ve had the pleasure of working with over my seven-plus years of involvement, and those I have connected with this past weekend; this means more to me than you could know. I also want to thank my fellow scholarship winners. I can’t think of a more wonderful group of people to have gone through this process with, and I really look forward to continuing to cultivate these relationships.
I’m really overwhelmed right now, so I’m not going to go on for too long. I feel very validated, very blessed, and I am so very grateful. I really look forward to continuing to help further the Federation family’s work and growth in whatever capacity I’m able. I also want to continue to break down barriers as a blind music educator and performer in the community beyond NFB. So, thank you so very much for believing in me, and thank you for everything.
On December 1, 2020, enthusiastic readers began to log the Braille pages they read as participants in the 2021 Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. For the next seven weeks, until January 18, 2021, contestants kept careful records of the Braille pages they read.
Sponsored by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest was created as a way to encourage Braille literacy among blind children and adults. School-age participants entered the contest in any of five categories: grades K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-8, and 9-12. The adult category was open to anyone beyond high school. Some 120 participants from twenty-eight states and Canada took part in the competition.
At the close of the seven-week reading period, contestants submitted their reading logs. Based on the number of pages read, three winners were declared in each category. First-place winners are awarded $25, second-place winners will receive $15, and third-place winners and honorable mentions are awarded $10. Every participant will receive a T-shirt and a packet of Braille-related gifts.
In addition to the regular competition, participants could be nominated to receive a Breaking Reading Limits Award. These awards are given to readers who face special challenges in their effort to master Braille reading. Such challenges include, but are not limited to, being an English-language learner or having disabilities in addition to blindness.
For many participants the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest was an inspiring challenge. "My son is so excited that he is a winner," one mother wrote. "Thank you for all you do; it is because of the NFB that he has these critical Braille-reading skills." "I am so proud of this student!" wrote a teacher. "She is the most dedicated and consistent reader on my caseload." The mother of a kindergartener wrote, "Thank you for encouraging kids to read and love Braille."
The top reader in this year's contest was Sierra Carreiro, a high school student from Clarksville, Tennessee. Sierra read a staggering 8,461 Braille pages during the contest period.
Following is a list by category of the 2021 Braille Readers Are Leaders winners.
First Place: Judy Sanders, Minneapolis, MN, 3,902 pages
Second Place: Lori Parker, Belgrade, MT, 3,380 pages
Third Place: Tara Chavez, Albuquerque, NM, 2,597 pages
Honorable Mention: Angela Randall, Carrollton, OH, 2,596 pages
First Place: Hank Genelin, Springfield, VA, 2,409 pages
Second Place: Mila Chow, San Ramón, CA, 1,074 pages
Third Place: Emma McDermott, Dansville, NY, 380 pages
First Place: Ellie Mason, Wausau, WI, 521 pages
Second Place: Narjis Karimipour, New Orleans, LA, 496 pages
Third Place: Emma Atkinson, Lincoln, CA, 478 pages
First Place: Nadiya Albrecht, Finksburg, MD, 975 pages
Second Place: Passion Augustus, Ruston, LA, 608 pages
Third Place: Keaton Hamilton, Newmarket, ON, Canada, 588 pages
First Place: Jonah Rao, Columbia, MD, 4,193 pages
Second Place: Isaiah Rao, Columbia, MD, 4,191 pages
Third Place: Faith Switzer, Las Lunas, NM, 3,462 pages
First Place: Sierra Carreiro, Clarksville, TN, 8,461 pages
Second Place: Holly Connor, Clayton, MO, 6,474 pages
Third Place: Samuel Thurston, Chesapeake, VA, 3,282 pages
BREAKING READING LIMITS AWARDS
Nadiya Albrecht, Finksburg, MD
Stella Alford, Indianapolis, IN
Olivia Buck, Bryant Pond, ME
Noah Gohlke, Port LaVaca, TX
Evie Hefty, Sparks, NV
Grace-anna Sullivan, Prescott, AZ
Lily Taylor, Marysville, OH
Luis Villanueva, Kensington, MD
Paul Wales, Silver Spring, MD
Congratulations to all of these winners! Braille readers are leaders!
by Danielle McCann
From the Editor: Danielle McCann is our director of social media on the Communications Team at the Jernigan Institute. She is also a very active Federationist who wishes to thank the women who make her life so much better by being a tremendous source of support and encouragement. Here is what she says in honor of National Women’s Month:
You can hear it in the halls every time we come together. As we’re in lines at the coffee shop or waiting for registration to open, “Here, try this,” or “Let me help you with that.” We share extra cane tips, baby bottles, dog bags, and anything else you could imagine. Along with the physical items, there is usually a friendly word, and it’s not limited to in-person situations. We put out asks on social media about best beauty tips, shoes, childcare, and more. As those who identify as women who are blind, we live at this intersection that could be looked at from the outside as hard to navigate, but even though it gets tough at times, it’s never lonely.
Every time I reunite with my sisters in the Federation, I come away with a sense of kinship. The little tips I learn, like using a clean dog poop bag as a water bowl in a pinch, come home with me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who leaves a gathering armed with advice like this. As we listen to speeches and presentations in general sessions at events, some of us are knitting or crocheting. Several of my closest friendships started with yarn at National Convention. Speaking of convention, my first date with my husband was in Orlando in 2016. I would never have gotten over my nerves without the handful of women from across the country who helped me get ready and sent encouraging texts during that convention. Though we don’t speak often, we can pick up right where we left off, and whether it’s a one-line text or a two-hour long conversation, consisting of 75 percent laughter, we are there for each other.
Cheers to all of you beautiful, powerful, wonderful ladies! May the bonds that bring us together continue to grow stronger.
by Peter Slatin
From the Editor: Peter Slatin is the founder and president of Slatin Group, a New York City-based firm that provides education and training to the hospitality and tourism industry on service to people with disabilities. He is also an award-winning journalist and a 2020-2021 Encore.org Public Voices Fellow. We are fortunate that he is a frequent contributor to this magazine and chooses to lend his talents to the National Federation of the Blind. Here is what he says about dealing with the pandemic as a traveler in New York City:
Crowded sidewalks and roadways have a few benefits to the blind: motion provides clues to what is happening. Before the pandemic, when I approached a corner I could hear whether other pedestrians were walking in the same direction, stopping, slowing or hurrying. I could hear cars traveling in the same direction and zooming past me on a parallel track through the intersection. I could hear other cars idling perpendicular to me, waiting for a light to change, or driving directly in front of me. These were all signals that it was okay to cross—or not.
I soon realized that even with loosened rules, the quiet of COVID-19 was magnifying some already difficult situations. But even these aural signals required pausing to listen for anomalous counter indications from vehicles or foot sounds that may have been masked by other sounds, or could occur as a slight shift in energy, vibrations—what Luke Skywalker might call disturbances in the Force.
A dramatic change in the atmosphere and rhythms of New York began, however, when we entered lockdown from mid-March to early April last year. The normal commotion ceased as the streets went silent, stripped of most pedestrians and vehicles. That's problematic for me, I discovered.
The first morning of the lockdown, Silver Moon stopped letting anyone in without a mask and not allowing more than two customers to enter at a time. I was wearing my mask and feeling pretty funny about it, but another patron whirled around and snarled at me for disobeying the newly posted sign about the two-person rule. I pointed to Inga's harness and received a grumbled apology.
This was the first of many sharp receptions we were to find because we either hadn't seen a sign or noticed people lined up and waiting outside a store with suddenly restricted entry for rationed social distancing.
As the hard lockdown ended in April, the abrupt, unnatural quiet of Manhattan streets began to revert gradually closer to its natural state of constant motion. As people began first to venture out beyond the pharmacy or grocery (or bakery), I knew something had shifted when four people I know stopped me to say hello within a six-block radius of my home.
I was pleased to be seen—but anxious, too. I could neither tell whether someone was masked nor how close we were. I was at a disadvantage. I soon realized that even with loosened rules, the quiet of COVID-19 was magnifying some already difficult situations. For instance, it's been harder to detect approaching vehicles. Internal combustion engines aren't as loud as they once were. And the paucity of cars, cabs, trucks, and buses, in tandem with hybrid and electric vehicles that are virtually silent, means it's often impossible to recognize that one of these stealth vehicles is nearing as I cross the street.
Just like getting lost in a whiteout steps from your front door, my pandemic traffic problem can happen close to home if I let my guard down. Once during the quietest part of the lockdown, with no vehicles detectable in any direction and no pedestrians to track, I decided to dash across West 107 Street, a block from home. I commanded Inga to go forward, and she took several steps before halting suddenly. Thankfully, I was paying attention to her, stopped and caught a glint of sunlight off of a car's surface and the breeze as it rushed past. I finished crossing the street and stood still, stunned at my narrow miss. Inga, of course, got a treat.
With activity at a fraction of its normal volume, I've had to be particularly attuned to what remained. Sometimes, it seemed, this was at a molecular level.
That first night of lockdown, when I took Inga out for her final bathroom break at 10 p.m., I found myself in what felt like a vast cornfield in Iowa—there were no cars, no store lights, and no people except for the man who seemed to appear from nowhere asking for change. The scene repeated itself the next night, with a different panhandler.
There has also been an ominous, opposite problem: emboldened by the relative lack of traffic, impromptu and often large packs of motorcycle dudes took to the streets all summer. They raced up and down Broadway at high speeds and higher decibels, drowning out all other noise and making it impossible to tell whether a person, bicycle, car, bus, or truck was also approaching. Then there's the crosswalk challenge. By the time we got home, I was shaking and sweaty with anxiety about all the people who'd been hanging out along the way.
A few years ago the city began installing what are known as LPIs, or Leading Pedestrian Intervals—visual signals telling sighted pedestrians they have the right of way and several seconds to begin crossing a street before the traffic light changes to tell vehicles they can move. In other words, sighted walkers were getting more seconds to cross. Those of us who couldn't see the LPIs didn't have that luxury.
What New York City was not installing as fast were APS systems—Accessible Pedestrian Signals. These are the beeping tones emitted at intersections that change pitch, rate, or both to let blind folks know it's okay to cross.
Before the pandemic, I began noticing a change in the familiar crossing rhythm at some four-way intersections: cars were neither crossing in front of me nor moving parallel to me. Traffic was stopped in both directions, and nothing would move for what seemed an unusual length of time. I might hear people crossing but had no way of knowing if these were daredevils rushing to beat a changing light or more restrained folk following visual guidance. I had to guess whether the traffic would start in front of me (Don't Walk) or next to me (Walk). I really didn't know what was happening, just that it was confusing and unnerving.
With the pandemic, vehicular and pedestrian noise patterns have shifted, adding confusion to the signals mix: The long wait for a safe crossing got even longer during the quieter months of COVID-19. It became infuriating not to know whether the silence meant it was safe to cross or that hybrid or electric vehicles were swooshing by undetected. I've often found myself tempted to take a risk. But even the city's hybrid bus fleet can bear down silently, and a bus did just that one afternoon as I stepped off the curb. Again, I was fortunate to have Inga by my side.
Why don't I stay home? I mostly do, except I have errands, from grocery shopping to picking up medication. Inga needs to walk, too, and we sometimes use less traveled streets. That can turn into trouble. The first time we did this in May was a big mistake. By the time we got home I was shaking and sweaty with anxiety about all the people who'd been hanging out along the way. I had no idea who was masked and who wasn't. Several people bumped into me, sometimes shouting an apology—or blame—directly in my face from close quarters. Not comfortable.
Now, ten months on, my neighborhood is once again thrumming with a semblance of life. Despite the cold, outdoor tables at nearby restaurants are filled most evenings. I'm happy for the struggling owners and their employees and pleased the city has relaxed restrictions so some places can remain in business. Yet the haphazard way the tables and chairs are set up has created a new problem for Inga and me: an obstacle course. And it's not just these inanimate pieces of furniture. People stand and schmooze, wait for a table to open up, laugh and talk loudly, sending invisible droplets through space and perhaps into my mask.
One night, walking along a block with several restaurants that previously had had no outdoor tables, Inga tried to find her way. Someone started yelling at me to "Get out of here!" I didn't even know where "here" was. A stranger noticed our predicament, came over and explained to the diner that I was blind, that Inga was my guide dog, and that we were trying to get through a tight space with no truly discernable path. The diner continued complaining, and the stranger offered his arm to me. I took it, and he guided us through this maze and the next one before we could be on our way. I'd been so taken aback by the diner's outburst, which alerted me that something was wrong without giving me time to figure out what, that I hadn't responded to him.
The many changes the pandemic has brought to my streetscape interactions as a blind pedestrian are relatively minimal on their own. But one by one, they accumulate and multiply, so the already enervating, intense challenges of navigating safely have come together to heighten my sense of vulnerability all along my way.
Like nearly everyone these days, I am modifying my behavior and working harder than ever to stay safe. The constant threat of contagion has thrown the dangers of life in the city for a blind person into sharp relief; I have always been aware of them, but my reactions are more visceral now and my actions more deliberate. The urge to flee to a gentler place is strong, but it is counterbalanced by my determination to keep learning what I can and the awareness that someplace else will just try me in different ways that are no easier to resolve. The accumulated weight of a daily routine of risk sometimes presses down hard enough to keep me home even when I need to head out. Yet the knowledge that this reaction will only feed on itself and hem me in further… it inevitably leads me to the door and out to the street.
Blind children, students, and adults are making powerful strides in education and leadership every day across the United States. For more than eighty years, the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality. With support from individuals like you, we continue to provide powerful programs and critical resources for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by including the National Federation of the Blind in your charitable giving and in your estate planning. It is easier than you think.
With your help, the NFB will continue to:
The National Federation of the Blind legacy society, our Dream Makers Circle, honors and recognizes the generosity and vision of members and special friends of the National Federation of the Blind who have chosen to leave a legacy through a will or other planned giving option. You can join the Dream Makers Circle in a myriad of ways.
You can specify that a fixed sum of your assets or property goes to the National Federation of the Blind in your will, trust, pension, IRA, life insurance policy, brokerage account, or other accounts.
You can specify that a percentage of your assets or property goes to the National Federation of the Blind in your will, trust, pension, IRA, life insurance policy, brokerage account, or other accounts.
You can name the National Federation of the Blind as the beneficiary on a Payable on Death (POD) account through your bank. You can turn any checking or savings account into a POD account. This is one of the simplest ways to leave a legacy. The account is totally in your control during your lifetime and you can change the beneficiary or percentage at any time with ease.
If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary.
Visit our https://www.nfb.org/get-involved/ways-give/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.
Since the start of 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 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. 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. You can call 410-659-9314 and elect option 4 to donate by phone. Donate online with a credit card or through the mail with check or money order. Visit https://www.nfb.org/get-involved/ways-give 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 withdrawal of funds from a checking account or a charge to a credit card. To enroll, call 410-659-9314, extension 2213, or visit https://www.nfb.org/pac and fill out the form.If you have questions about giving, please send an email to [email protected] or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422.
The National Federation of the Blind is excited to announce the class of 2021 Teachers of Tomorrow. This is an immersive, professional development program that connects teachers of blind and low-vision students to the lived experiences of blind people, equipping participants with knowledge about the skills and attitudes that can help students thrive in school and beyond. The list below includes their name and either the school that the teacher is attending or where they recently graduated.
Andrea Amestoy, Idaho, Texas Tech University
Megan Becker, West Virginia, Marshall University
Kelsey Bink, Missouri, Missouri State University
Annie Biondi, Texas, Texas Tech University
Leslie Borton, South Carolina, University of South Carolina Upstate
Madison Caldwell, Georgia, University of Alabama
Anne Marie Chambers, Missouri, Missouri State University
Rebecca Colagreco, Pennsylvania, Kutztown University
Danielle Driscoll, South Carolina, University of South Carolina Upstate
Stacy Lee Durant, California, San Francisco State University
Kaitlin Fleet, South Dakota, University of Northern Colorado
Martha Hazen, Maryland, University of Massachusetts
Kyra Hoehn, California, San Francisco State University
Sarah Kassim, Louisiana, Louisiana Tech University
Rebecca Kirsch, Texas, Texas Tech University
Jennifer Macías, California, California State University, Los Angeles
Jasmine Motley, California, San Francisco State University
Dorit Resnikoff, California, San Francisco State University
Sarah Scapardine, New Jersey, The College of New Jersey
Dori Senatori, Texas, Texas Tech University
Ashley Walley, Alaska, Stephen F. Austin University
Helen Wright, Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts
“I am so impressed by the enthusiasm, high expectations, and thirst for professional growth that these teachers exhibit. Together we will build community, explore our can-do blindness outlook, and exchange tools to accelerate the success of blind students,” said Dr. Rosy Carranza, our Teacher of Tomorrow director.
To learn more about the Teacher of Tomorrow and other education initiatives, visit https://nfb.org/education.
by Gary Wunder
How many times have we heard statements such as these: “I’ll believe it when I see it,” “You’ve got to see it to believe it,” or "It's true; I've seen this with my own eyes.” In the state where I live, our motto is "Show me,” and although this may mean you can persuade me verbally, mostly it means people want to see the proof.
In last month’s issue, I tried to generate some discussion about what people get through sight that we must gain through input from others and a mindset that is open to active learning. For people with vision, learning can be more passive and less intentional. More frequently than we would like, we see reports that 80 to 90 percent of all learning takes place through vision, followed too often by the implication that the absence of vision means this learning won’t take place for the blind.
About two weeks ago, I saw an advertisement for a podcast called “Talk Description to Me.” The press release announcing an award they have won and how to subscribe appears elsewhere in this issue. Before deciding whether or not to run the release, I thought I should listen to a couple of podcasts. It turns out that what was being described was the events of January 6 at the United States Capitol. Not only did I hear about some of the more violent encounters, but I now have a better understanding of what it means to take an aggressive posture.
At one point in the podcast, the sighted describer explains to his blind cohost that he can’t really tell her what is happening but can only tell her what he sees. He goes on to say that, lacking context, what he sees is determined by the theory he holds about what he is seeing. The honesty was touching as the describer almost apologetically says he can’t tell us as much as we and he would like to know. In his frustration, he correctly attributes both the value of the sense he has and its limitations. He can tell us that two people are talking, but he may not be able to tell us whether they are agreeing or disagreeing. He can tell us that a Capitol policeman is being chased by protesters, but if he has only that scene, he can’t tell us whether the law enforcement officer is running for his life, escorting people to places they don’t belong, or protecting the Senate chamber by acting as a distraction. All three of these interpretations were initially given in press accounts, but with context we now understand that this brave man was keeping people away from a corridor that would have given them access to a number of senators.
This puts me in mind of two incidents in my life that focus on what people see. I was born in Kansas City, but my parents wanted to move. Although they certainly wanted more land and a chance to be city farmers, they made it clear that part of their decision was what we now call “white flight.” The people who brought me into the world were good people, but they had prejudices which they communicated to me and my siblings. Every child was white in the schools my brothers and sister attended, but blindness put me on a different path that let me engage with people of other races, other cultures, and other religions.
As much as my parents and my siblings loved me, when we got to the place of discussing the similarity of human beings and the need for equal treatment, these conversations would always end with the galling statement that “Gary, if you could only see, you would understand. You would see the trashy neighborhoods we drive through. You would see the fancy cars that these people drive. You would see how people arrogantly cut in lines and make a mockery of the rules. We know you believe what you’re saying, but if you could only see, you would understand.” How does one meaningfully engage in such an argument when it all comes down to whether one can see? The implied message was that sight isn’t just information; it is essential in any important decision. I was usually credited with a good brain and judgment, but when it came to combating prejudice, it all came down to what I couldn’t see.
Unfortunately, incidents that overplay sight also find their way into the Federation. The NFB of Missouri annually hold a contest in which chapters compete to raise money for the affiliate. Each chapter nominates a king and queen, and the king and queen from the winning chapter get to sit at the head table, are introduced, and participate in a crowning ceremony. Sometimes the amounts given by the chapters differ greatly, but at other times the contest is a real horse race.
In a year when it was close, there was an allegation that the leadership knew how much each chapter had turned in and was actively working for one candidate by giving money before the official deadline. I was approached by one of the finest members we have, and she came to me because she loves the Federation and trusted me to deal with her issue. Her message was that cheating was going on in the contest and that various members were being solicited for contributions to alter the outcome. Her comment to me was, “Gary, you have to understand that not everyone in this audience is blind. Some folks who are here can see, and they know what is going on. They have told us that money is being collected for one of the teams.” When I started to protest that the exchange of money didn’t necessarily mean anyone was cheating, I had worn out her patience. “Gary, I’m telling you that there are people out here who can see what is going on. Even you are involved. At least twice today you reached into your pocket and gave people money. Again, not everybody is blind, and what is happening is clear to those who can see and those of us being told about it.”
I certainly can’t speak to what other people were doing in terms of raising money, but I know that in my own case, I made no contribution to influence the outcome of the contest. I did indeed remove my wallet twice while on stage. In one case I gave somebody change for a twenty-dollar bill. In another case a member of the host chapter came to me saying that one of our intellectually limited people had gone to the restaurant, ordered a large breakfast, and when asked to pay, just walked out. The hotel staff was prepared to have her arrested. I paid for the breakfast and felt good that I had helped someone get a meal who didn’t understand the system, that I had kept all of us out of legal trouble, and that I had preserved our good reputation with the hotel and its restaurant staff.
We have since changed the contest so that money is turned in at the same time, the amount given by each chapter is announced and confirmed, and there is no chance of one chapter knowing how close it is to other chapters. But the point really isn’t about a contest or rules; it is about sight being equated with knowledge and truth.To see is a wonderful blessing. To hear is a tremendous asset and indeed a blessing. But hearing and seeing are not enough when what is required is real understanding. Without context, both can be misleading. Without context, we can jump to injurious conclusions. The takeaway for me has been that seeing often occurs through a lens of what one expects to see, and hearing is often encumbered by the filter that easily lets through what we expect and retards those things that make us uncomfortable. As important as our senses are, none of them is so important that they can substitute for context, understanding, and good judgment.
by Justin Salisbury
From the Editor: Justin is a frequent contributor who works valiantly to think aloud with his Federation colleagues. He has points of view that some will endorse, and some will reject. As much as he believes in his decisions, most of his writing is aimed at addressing issues of blindness rather than trying to change the minds of others who disagree with him. I like the fact that he is up for a good discussion on almost any topic, but I also appreciate the fact that he believes the Federation has room for many diverse points of view, and the only issue on which we dare not be divided is equality of opportunity for blind people. Here is what he has to say about the controversial subject of reproductive rights and issues we should consider as Federationists:
We often encounter situations where we need to apply our personal philosophy on life to a given situation. This is true for our specific philosophies about blindness, though I believe that it is impossible for any individual to separate a philosophy about blindness from his or her broader worldview. Because I do a lot of advocacy on disability rights, I have built a broad network full of advocates who have taken an interest in some of the work I have done. I regularly enter into conversations about reproductive rights, and some disability rights advocates are confused about how these topics interact with each other.
We often say that everyone is an individual and is entitled to his or her beliefs. This is true. I have also observed the value of collective action, and I trust the National Federation of the Blind, as the oldest and largest organization of blind people, to elevate the voices of leaders who can communicate its philosophy effectively.
My experience is that the first thing that comes to mind when people hear reproductive rights is abortion. I will say straight off that I do not believe that our organizational philosophy implies that abortion should or should not be legal. As we strive to become more diverse and inclusive, we seem to struggle to figure out whose needs take priority. Depending on your political orientation, you may articulate the two major sides on reproductive rights as pro-choice versus anti-choice, or pro-life versus pro-choice. Should we prioritize the needs of the women who wish to be able to choose what happens with their own bodies or the needs of those people who wish to live in a society where nobody is allowed to participate in an abortion? Many people have conditional belief systems on the topic, such as thinking that abortion is acceptable when the conception occurred under certain conditions. I have strong opinions on the topic, but I am not here to talk about them right now. I do not believe that our organizational philosophy says anything about the broad nature of reproductive rights, but it can be used to articulate how and if blindness should be a factor in reproductive rights.
I think the key in dividing up the topics for discussion is not a matter of separating different kinds of reproductive rights, but that the discussion should instead be framed based on the kinds of blindness-related themes that come up in reproductive rights. In my view and current understanding, these themes are (1) having equal access to reproductive health care, and (2) being influenced to make a reproductive decision because of societal attitudes about blindness. Even these two categories can overlap.
When it comes to accessing any kind of healthcare, blind people face a number of barriers. We are often asked to complete printed forms, and this requires us to work with a reader and scribe, thus divulging our personal medical information to everyone who can hear us. Maybe we have to use an online healthcare billing system or patient care management portal, which can also create access barriers. We also need to be able to research our options, which creates a further divide when some of the channels through which sighted people can research their options are not accessible to us. If the healthcare that we want, need, or prefer is located in a place that is difficult for us to reach given our transportation options, this creates another barrier. These access barriers can all apply to blind women seeking reproductive healthcare. Additionally, the cost of healthcare makes it harder for people to access it, which also applies to blind women, a group earning less on average than blind men, sighted women, and sighted men.
For some types of healthcare, access barriers to information in the process are only available visually. Consider the example of pregnancy tests. As far as I know, there is no nonvisual option for reading a pregnancy test. Thus, a blind woman has to ask a sighted person to read her pregnancy test. I will never have this experience personally, but many women have told me that it can be a deeply emotional experience to take a pregnancy test and find out if they are pregnant. Sighted women have the opportunity to have that moment privately and to be the first human being to know if they are pregnant. Blind women are denied that opportunity. From what I hear, blind women do not generally want to count on their mostly-accurate color identifiers to read the color of the test. If vision were a mythical fifth sense that humans never had, we would likely have developed a pregnancy test that could be read through one of our other senses. I am not aware of any that have been developed to date, but maybe the scientists and engineers who want to invent things for blind people will take a crack at this one, perhaps in a way that bypasses the color identification process altogether.
Blindness should not prevent someone from having the same access to reproductive healthcare that would be available to their sighted counterpart. If sighted women can access the online healthcare information system, blind women should have equal access. If sighted patients can fill out the paperwork privately, blind patients should be able to do the same. For affordability, I am not sure that we should offer a disability discount, but there are funding mechanisms to help low-income patients receive care, and they are disproportionately used by blind patients; thus, we may have an incentive to support those funding mechanisms because of their disproportionate impact on our community. Any access barrier related to blindness should be toppled.
Societal attitudes about blindness can interfere in reproductive rights in many ways. We are working hard throughout the country to establish protections for blind parents to be able to raise children. We have over a dozen states that have passed different iterations of our model legislation, including Connecticut, Maryland, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and Hawai‘i. Blind parents and prospective parents have faced much discrimination in the process of trying to become parents or maintain custody of their existing children.
I have heard many discriminatory points of view about reproductive rights for the blind. Some have said that we should sterilize blind people so that we do not risk spreading our blindness to the next generation. Others have said that providers should not give birth control to the blind because blind people should not or cannot engage in romantic encounters anyway. I have also heard that we should force blind women to either have abortions or give their children up for adoption because they cannot or should not be raising children.
I have also heard people speculate that, if a fetus is likely to be blind, the proper action is to seek an abortion so that the child will not have to live as a blind person. Yes, some proponents of prenatal genetic testing say that it is a good thing because then a couple can find out if their fetus is doomed to be disabled so that they can abort it, saving it the trouble of living the life of a blind person. Naturally, many blind people have spoken up loudly against using abortion to terminate a potentially blind fetus. This is a focal point of most of the opposition to a woman’s right to choose from disability rights activists as I understand it. There are many who believe that we would be better off dead than blind. In Hawai‘i, up until statehood in 1959, it was considered normal to kill disabled babies by drowning them in streams or by throwing them off cliffs. It was framed as a matter of human sacrifice. An old legend tells us that the cries that can be heard over cliffs in the evenings are those of the spirits of the sacrificed babies, but an alternative explanation is that these cries come from the birds’ nests built into the sides of the cliffs. This should not be interpreted as any kind of snub at Hawaiian tradition, but I think it provides a clear example of a set of attitudes which has been quite oppressive to people with disabilities. I personally know many people who were born blind, and I can say with certainty that my life is better because they are in it. If they had been sacrificed, euthanized, aborted, or whatever someone would call it, I would not have been able to benefit from the positive contributions that they have brought into my life.
Even though I have more complete personal views on reproductive rights, I do not claim the organizational philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind as support for most of them. I do believe, though, that our organizational philosophy can be applied to say that blindness should not be a factor in a person’s reproductive rights. Access barriers related to blindness should be addressed, and attitudes about blindness should not influence reproductive decisions. No blind person should be told not to have children because they are blind. Nobody should be afraid to have a child for fear it will be taken away. Nobody should be afraid to have a blind child. If they should fear anything, it should be navigating these waters without the backing and the positive attitudes of the National Federation of the Blind. The Federation has created a world where blind people are continuing to approach first-class citizenship, and we all benefit individually as we continue to build it collectively.
by Ellen Ringlein
From the Editor: Ellen is a longtime member and serves as the director of our Independence Market. Here is what she has to say about a new innovation to serve the buying public:
As a service to our members and the general public, the National Federation of the Blind operates a blindness products store known as the Independence Market that sells mostly low-tech items designed to enhance everyday independence of blind people. We will be highlighting a different product every month and listing sale products from time to time.
KENNETH JERNIGAN CORNBREAD KIT:
Our former President, Kenneth Jernigan, loved southern fried cornbread, and he devised this kit. If you have stayed at our National Center, you may have had a chance to sample this delicacy. The kit contains a cast iron muffin pan that makes twelve scalloped-shape muffins, an oil measurer, disposable filling cups, and two cooking templates to guide you in getting the batter into the muffin pan. Dr. Jernigan's "NFB cornbread" recipe is included in both Braille and print, and it can be yours for $15.00 plus shipping and handling. Don’t delay. Supplies are limited.
The following items are on close-out special and the prices have been reduced:
NFB Straight Carbon Fiber Long White Cane: $15.00
This lightweight, hollow carbon fiber, long white cane has a metal glide tip. It is somewhat less flexible than the rigid fiberglass cane and is being phased out of our inventory. We have mixed stock of this straight carbon fiber long white cane ranging from 49 to 69 inches. Please call for availability of specific sizes.
SOLITAIRE AND FOX & GEESE (Two Games in One): $10.00
This game kit features two ancient strategy games played on the same board: Solitaire for one player and Fox and Geese for two players. Solitaire is played with thirty-two orange (ten-sided) pegs, which at the start of the game occupy the holes in the cross-shaped play area. The object of Solitaire is to have one game piece left in the middle after having borne off the other pieces by hopping over them. Fox and Geese is played with fifteen orange pegs as the geese and the brown (six-sided) peg as the fox. The geese are supposed to corner the fox so he can no longer make a move. The fox is supposed to capture the geese so he won't get trapped. Braille and print directions are included.
Additional sale items include a cube talking clock for $5.00, an egg separator for $2.00, a 2.8× monocular for $7.50, and a small black cross-body bag with several compartments and adjustable shoulder strap for $5.00.
For more information about the products available from the Independence Market, contact us by email at [email protected] or by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216, Monday through Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., EST. Our Independence Market staff will be happy to assist.
by Danielle McCann
From the Editor: Being organized is a virtue many of us are too slow to embrace. Of course, we all have excuses. Mine involves a newspaper story my grandmother read to me when I was about eight years old. It was about a robbery in our neighborhood, and the victim was blind. The focus was not on what was stolen or any violence committed during the crime. The thrust of the article was about the sinister behavior of the criminals not only in robbing a blind man but in keeping him from calling the police by rearranging the furniture in his home. The newspaper reported that the blind man was so disoriented that it took him two days to locate his telephone and call the police. My grandmother was outraged at the robbing of a blind man, but I was disgusted by the coverage. At the time I thought it was completely absurd that someone could disorient me so significantly that it would take two days to find the telephone, and I rebelled against the idea that I needed to be organized or that everything needed to be in its place for my sanity and tranquility. I had a memory; I could remember where I put things. Often that meant that I put them where I last used them, and periodically I would go through and put them where they belonged. As my schedule got busier and I obtained more things, my rebellious assertion that I could put things wherever I wanted and have no trouble remembering where they were gave way to the reality that I was wasting a lot of time and energy. Maybe the article had been wrong in its focus, but people arguing for organization weren’t wrong, and whether I was blind or sighted, I benefited from having a place for everything and having everything in its place.
Danielle McCann is a treasure for making the mundane interesting. Recently we were talking about labeling and how much harder it is for blind people who do not have a labeling system. When I was explaining all the systems we have (whether or not we use them), she observed, “You know, it doesn’t have to be that hard.” I asked her to explain, she did, and now I am passing her wisdom along to you:
Whether we’ve put a word to it or not, I’m sure we’ve all figured out easy and efficient ways to simplify mundane tasks. In other words, we’ve all used “life hacks” to accomplish what needs to get done. As someone who is disorganized by nature, I admit that I was well into my thirties before I understood how valuable organization can be.
Once I purged my belongings, I was left with piles of stuff, and without realizing it, I started unofficially labeling items as I put them in their new places. I say unofficially because I didn’t use traditional sticky paper or plastic. Instead, I used what was on-hand at the time, and it has evolved into quite a reliable technique.
I put like items in similarly textured bags. For example, I use packing cubes to store clothes. That’s it; no exceptions. If I relax this rule for myself, I’d end up shoving papers, cosmetics, or other bits and bobs in the cubes, and there goes my strategy to be organized. My Seeing Eye dog’s paperwork, including veterinary documentation and his extra equipment, live in a hat box. Its differently textured from standard cardboard boxes, so even when we’ve moved to a new house I’ve been able to find it easily. The same can be said for my vital documents, technology chargers, and even my pocket slate. They all go in my leather portfolio, technology pouch from ebags.com, and empty plastic “super pack” gum box, respectively. All of these holders feel extremely different from each other, so, I’m confident in finding things no matter where they sit.I hope these small labeling hacks are useful to you and that you figure out a system that works best for your possessions.
Recipes this month were contributed by members of the National Federation of the Blind of Puerto Rico.
by Alpidio Rolón, president of the NFB of Puerto Rico
Ingredients for sautéed vegetables:
3 medium size eggplants
1 medium size carrot
1 yellow onion
1 green bell pepper
7 cloves of garlic
1/3 teaspoon of black pepper
Method: Wash vegetables and peel the eggplant and carrots. Cut eggplant into two-inch pieces. Cut onion in half and then dice. Slice the bell pepper into one-inch pieces and the carrot into 1/2-inch pieces. Using a mortar and pestle, mash the peeled garlic cloves with the pepper until it becomes a paste.
Add a small amount of olive oil into a nonstick frying pan. Add the garlic and black pepper mixture to the pan; then add the onion, bell pepper, and carrot; sauté for a minute or two. Place the eggplant pieces on top of onion, bell pepper, and carrot. Cover the frying pan and let vegetables cook for 20 minutes on medium heat. Set heat to low after 20 minutes. Stir vegetables every half-hour until eggplant is soft. Note: Prep and cook time usually takes about two hours.
Ingredients for white rice:
2-1/2 cups of Uncle Ben’s rice
2-1/2 cups of water
1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
3/4 teaspoon of salt
Method: Rinse rice in colander and place in a small pot. Add the water, oil, and salt to the pot; mix well. Cook on medium heat; cover pot when most of the water has evaporated, then cook on low for about 45 minutes. You will have enough rice leftover that it can be combined with other servings of sautéed vegetables, or some other dish.
Note: Sautéed vegetables are enough for three persons if served with white rice. Vegetables and white rice can be served with slices of amarillos (frozen ripe plantain), which can be cooked for 30 minutes in an oven on a pan sprayed with Pam.
by Lydia Usero, first vice president of the NFB of Puerto Rico
3 well-seasoned skinless chicken breasts
Chef Piñeiro or Goya seasoning powder
1/2 stick butter
2 tablespoon Chef Piñeiro or Goya garlic with coriander
1 cup Ragu Alfredo sauce
Method: Season the three chicken breasts. Put butter into a nonstick frying pan and cook until it melts.
Mix garlic and 1/2 cup Alfredo sauce with the melted butter and spread so it covers bottom and sides of pan. Place the chicken breast and cover them with the sauce. Pour the remaining sauce over the breasts. Set heat to low; cover pan and let cook for 20 minutes. Turn over chicken breasts and let cook for 20 more minutes.
Note: Serving for three. The Alfredo chicken breasts can be served with slices of amarillos (frozen ripe plantain), which can be cooked for 30 minutes in an oven on a pan sprayed with Pam.
by Alpidio Rolón
Ingredients for cake:
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cups vegetable oil
2 cups grated carrots
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift dry ingredients together; add oil; beat eggs and add to other ingredients; add grated carrots and mix well. Grease a 13” by 9” pan and pour batter into it. Bake for fifty minutes.
Ingredients for frosting:
1-1/2 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 stick butter
4 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Method: Melt butter and cream cheese; sift sugar; add vanilla; hand blend.
Note: Raisins and nuts are optional as toppings.
by Lydia Usero
1 15-ounce can Goya pigeon peas
2 cups rice
6 cups warm water
1/2 cup cooking ham cut in small pieces
2 tablespoons garlic with coriander
6 tablespoons cooking base with basil
3 packets Sa-Són Aćcent coriander and annatto
2 packets beef flavor bullions
1 can (7 ounces) drained whole pepper cut in strips
2 spoons tomato sauce (optional)
Method: Place a large pot on range and spritz olive oil into the pot. Put 1/2 cup of cooking ham into hot oil; stir and let cook for about 5 minutes. Mix garlic, cooking base, packs of bullions, packs of Sa-Són and tomato sauce, and stir well. Let cook for a few minutes. Pour in the pigeon peas, stir, and let cook for a few minutes. Pour the water in and let it boil. Pour rice into boiling water and stir well. Cover pot and let cook for 30 minutes on low. Put drained pepper in about 10 minutes before serving. Stir and cover again.
Note: Serving for 5-6. Excellent for rainy or cold weather. You can combine this with tostones (fried green plantain slices) dipped in the following hot sauce.
1 7-ounce can tomato sauce
8 garlic cloves
Method: Mash the peeled garlic cloves in a mortar until it becomes a paste. Spritz olive oil into a container. Add the mashed garlic and mix well. Add the tomato sauce and mix well. Cover until ready to use.
by Bruce Scott, NFB of Puerto Rico member
2 cups diced onions
2 cups diced green bell peppers
1 cup diced celery
6 cloves of garlic
1 7-ounce can of mixed vegetables
1 7-ounce can of corn
1 15-ounce can of beans
1 7-ounce can of string beans
1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 7-ounce can of mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
Cheddar, romano or parmesan cheese
Sauté fresh vegetables in a four-quart pot. Dice onions and green peppers into one-inch pieces, and celery and garlic into half-inch pieces. Sauté in olive oil or light cooking oil until desired tenderness. Once sautéed, remove vegetables to a plate. Add cans of mixed vegetables and corn. Add beans (usually red kidney or pinto), string beans, diced tomatoes, cup of water, and mushrooms. Add meat or seafood of your preference to the pot. Seafood such as tuna fish, herring, squid, or octopus are tasty with this chili as are chicken, turkey, roast beef, beef fajitas, etc. Return sautéed vegetables to pot and simmer for at least 20 minutes. Add chili powder. Serves 4, 5, or 6.
Note: This chili can be served in various ways:
1. Serve as a chili or stew in a soup bowl topped with corn chips (such as Tostitos) and a cheese of your choice, like a grated parmesan, and hot sauce to taste.
2. Serve as a topping over rice, tortillas, or pasta like macaroni, etc.
Optional translation of food items
Green bell pepper, pimiento verde
olive oil, aceite de oliva
chicken breast, pechuga de pollo
string beans, habichuelas tiernas
An Opportunity for STEM Students and Professionals:
Are you interested in a career in a STEM field or already in one? Would you like to connect with other blind scientists and engineers and learn or help others learn the skills necessary to succeed in STEM fields?
We invite you to participate in our STEM mentorship program in the NFB Science and Engineering Division. All who are at least a junior in high school and are aspiring or already in a STEM career are welcome to sign up as a mentee, mentor, or both using the link to this form: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd0p63m3xhR_hX-r3lwEylLtFuipX3_TVOIRRH4fsTcYnUhyA/viewform
Participants will be asked to meet within their mentor pairings at least once a month, and all will be invited to join socials, workshops, and other fun activities. We also host a monthly program-wide seminar series where you, program participants, and other invited speakers are given the floor to share your science and present on a topic of your choice. It is a great opportunity to learn new science and check out how other blind STEM students and professionals are succeeding. Previous talks have included:
If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Newton Nguyen by writing to [email protected]. We look forward to building a community and learning with all of you!
Virtual Law School May be Better:
This contribution comes to us courtesy of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama and is reprinted with the permission of Teen Vogue.
Andrea Dobynes-Wagner, a 30-year-old Black, legally blind woman and aspiring disability rights lawyer explains that before she started law school and nearly everything went virtual this year, she thought she couldn’t do it. Accommodations for disabled people in schools are usually just too sparse and exhausting to fight for. Going virtual allowed her to stay in the comfort of her home, to take screenshots or ask professors to email things—accommodations that might have technically been possible before but that she’s only been reminded she could ask for during the pandemic. After experiencing extreme eye fatigue because of excessive screen time, she got in touch with the National Federation of the Blind. There she joined Blind Law, a division of the group specifically for blind lawyers, legal educators, and aspiring and current law students. “We talk all the time,” Andrea says. “I went to the national convention virtually and have been put on committees now. I get resources and job opportunities and advice, a network of people who completely get what you’re going through or will go through as a law student. And there is no way that if school had been in person that I would have even reached out about this.”
Our Alabama Affiliate is very fortunate to have Andrea as a member of our family. She works currently on our legislative committee and is always open to serve and share her fresh innovative energy, whenever possible to move our initiatives forward. Thank you, Andrea for your commitment to break down misconceptions and barriers faced by our blind community.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
Talk Description to Me Takes Audio Description to a New Level:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Awesome Ottawa January Award to Support Description-Rich Podcast Sharing Visuals of Current Events and the World Around Us
OTTAWA, January 21, 2020—January’s Awesome Ottawa award goes to Christine Malec and J.J. Hunt to support Talk Description to Me, a podcast in which the visuals of current events and the world around us are discussed in description-rich conversations.
“The podcast is a forum that works toward accessible journalism,” explains Christine. “I’m a perpetually inquisitive member of the blind and partially sighted community who is always wondering about something, and J.J. is an audio describer and a natural-born storyteller. Our discussions plunge into current events and topical issues to explore the content of important images and help place vivid descriptions in their cultural context.”
Episodes to date—of which there are already thirty-two—have described the visuals of “Black Lives Matter”; “Justin Trudeau’s hair”; “Minecraft”; “Halloween”; the climate crisis, “Four Seasons Total Landscaping”; and more. They’ve also answered pressing questions like “Sports teams with offensive names don’t have images associated with those monikers, do they?” as well as “What does a Zoom call look like?” and “There isn’t actually a TV in every dentist’s office, is there?”
“In December,” Christine continues, “we hosted a live ‘year in review’ event, at which listeners were invited to ask description questions about the year past and the world around us. They shared with us how valuable our work has become to them. So many of the visual aspects of current events go unexplained for blind and low-vision people. Many listeners described the experience of not having fully realized the extent of this gap until our podcast began to fill it in. As we continue to describe the often frightening and surreal images accompanying journalism,” says Christine, “listener feedback on social media constantly reassures us that our work is including people in the public conversation in ways that have never been available before.”
“As creators of a podcast that discusses and describes the visuals of daily life, social media, and breaking news to those who don’t interpret the world visually,” adds J.J., “I confess that we’ve been feeling the weight, doom, and gloom of recent events rather acutely. Receiving this grant from Ottawa’s chapter of the Awesome Foundation, which doles out positivity and good vibes along with much-needed funds, will keep us buoyed for weeks and weeks to come.”
Christine is a cultural consultant within the blind community, and J.J. is a freelance audio describer of film, television, art, and live events. Both live in Toronto.
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.