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Braille Monitor

Vol. 64, No. 7                 July 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

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National Federation of the Blind
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Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998

THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.

        ISSN 0006-8829


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Contents

Vol. 64, No. 7                       July 2021

Illustration: A Toy Story at Jernigan Institute

Top Legal Terms Our Readers Might Want to Know
by Valerie Yingling

Rise Up!
by Ronza Othman

The NFB Science and Engineering Division and the NFB National Association of Blind Students Joint STEM Zoom Conference Meeting Report for February 28, 2021
by Neil Soiffer, Gene Kim, Newton Nguyen, and Louis Maher

Creating Access in the Arts and Beyond
by Precious Perez

When I Was Almost the Victim of My Implicit Bias
by Patti Chang

A Response from the League of Women Voters of Colorado
by Karen Sheek

Changing the World One Ballot at a Time
by Mark A. Riccobono

To Educate or Alienate
by Nancy Burns

Making it through Adversity
by Svetlana Ehlers

Discrimination Against the Blind Isn't Just a Sighted Thing
by Gary Wunder

I Wanted to Walk a Mile in Those Little High-Heeled Shoes
by Danielle McCann

My Jury Experience
by Dana Ard

You Can Make a Difference

Feeling Through
by Lisa Bryant

Why I am Proud to Be Blind
by Jonathan Mosen

Telling an Uncomfortable and Unconventional Story
by Gary Wunder

Bernie’s Story: It Takes a Village, Resourcefulness, and Cosmic Alignment
by Laura Deck

Independence Market Corner
by Terry Boone

Recipes

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2021 by the National Federation of the Blind

A Toy Story at Jernigan Institute

The Jernigan Institute is a place where many Federationists and friends come and go throughout the year for programs, meetings, and more. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the building has been closed to the public; but in May, we opened the door to a couple of special friends, Dr. Fauci and Helen Keller.

Dr. Anthony Fauci was one of the lead members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and has served as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984. Today, a bobblehead version of him with his arms crossed wearing a white doctor’s coat, a tie, a light blue button-up shirt, dark suit pants, and brown shoes sits in the Office of the President where he enjoys time away from the spotlight of the media. Local members who came to the vaccine clinic in May had the chance to take a selfie with Dr. Fauci by a podium and National Federation of the Blind backdrop.

Additionally, Mattel introduced Helen Keller Barbie in May 2021 as part of its inspiring Women Series. Keller was an educated deafblind advocate. The Barbie wears a full-length striped skirt and a ruffled lacy blouse with a high collar inspired by her time as a student in the early 1900s. Her black hair is in a neat bun at the back of her neck. She is holding a book labeled BRL, which means Braille. Helen Keller Barbie has traveled through the floors of the Jernigan Institute and now resides on the second floor.

Top Legal Terms Our Readers Might Want to Know

by Valerie Yingling

From the Editor: Valerie is in charge of coordinating our legal activity, and in addition to being organized, she is articulate. She is also patient, kind, and friendly, but all of this is already known to those of you who have had the pleasure of interacting with her. Here is her latest effort to better inform us as we read about the Federation’s progress in legal matters:

The National Federation of the Blind has influenced our nation’s legal landscape through high-impact disability rights litigation. NFB cases such as National Federation of the Blind v. Target Corp., HM v. Oceanport Board of Education, and Brown et al v. Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services have driven disability rights case law forward for the nation’s blind and set precedence for other disability rights groups.

We know that the NFB’s legal work is important, but do we always know what a judge’s order or a consent decree mean in terms of success? Civil court terminology can be confusing or counterintuitive. This list of top legal terms is designed to help our members better understand our successes and why NFB’s legal program is a central component in our work to remove barriers between blind people and their dreams.

  1. Amicus curiae: Latin for “friend of the court;” plural is amici curiae. Someone who is not party to a lawsuit may advise on the subject of the lawsuit through the filing of written briefs; the court decides whether to consider the information.
    • Used in a sentence: In April 2021, the National Federation of the Blind joined with other disability rights groups to file an amicus curiae brief in the Winn-Dixie Stores v. Gil web accessibility case.
  2. Consent decree: A court-ordered resolution approved by all parties. In comparison, a settlement agreement is not immediately court enforceable. To enforce a settlement agreement, a party would have to file a breach of contract action, which could be a lengthy and expensive process.
    • Used in a sentence: The National Federation of the Blind and Atlantic Cape Community College entered into a consent decree in 2015 to resolve charges of discrimination by blind students and to establish new accessibility policies and procedures for the school.
  3. Declaratory relief: A court ruling regarding someone’s rights.
    • Used in a sentence: In our complaint against Walmart, the National Federation of the Blind seeks declaratory relief regarding how Walmart’s use of inaccessible self-checkout kiosks violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  4. Dismissal with prejudice: A court order that prohibits an identical lawsuit from being filed in the future. In contrast, dismissal without prejudice would permit an identical lawsuit.
  5. Injunction: A court order that restricts one or more parties from taking a specific action.
    • Used in a sentence: The National Federation of the Blind filed for a preliminary and permanent injunction in our 2020 Pennsylvania voting rights case, Drenth v. Boockvar.
  6. Jurisdiction: A court’s authority to issue a ruling on a case and otherwise enforce the law.
  7. Moot: When a dispute does not exist because it has been resolved or determined to have never existed.
    • Used in a sentence: The National Federation of the Blind joined an appellate court amicus brief for Segal v. Minneapolis Metro Transit after the district court found no evidence of discrimination and ruled that the plaintiff’s request for damages were moot.
  8. Petition for writ of certiorari: Asking a higher court, usually the United States Supreme Court and state level supreme courts, to review a lower court’s ruling. Petition for writ of certiorari is sometimes referred to as “cert petition” or “cert.” When a court denies a petition for writ of certiorari, it means the lower court’s ruling stands.
  9. Remand: When a higher court sends a case back to a lower court, usually because information or facts are disputed.
    • Used in a sentence: The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded Reyazzudin v. Montgomery County, Maryland, in 2015 because facts remained in dispute, including whether the County reasonably accommodated Ms. Reyazuddin and other factors.
  10. Stay: To halt proceedings temporarily or permanently.
  11. Summary Judgment: When a court rules on a case without a trial or further proceedings. In such cases, a court is saying that even if it accepts all of a particular party’s alleged facts as true, the facts do not actually violate the law.
  12. Vacate: To withdraw or invalidate.
    • Used in a sentence: In our 2018 lawsuit against the US Department of Education, the National Federation of the Blind, alongside the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), sought a judge’s order to vacate § 108(t) of the 2018 OCR Manual and reinstate the manual’s appeals process.

For more information about the National Federation of the Blind’s legal program, please visit https://nfb.org/programs-services/legal-program or contact Valerie Yingling, legal program coordinator.

Rise Up!

by Ronza Othman

From the Editor: Ronza is the president of our National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, but this is not her life. She does what she can for the rest of us, but she also makes sure to live a life that is integrated. Here is a bit of what she said to our convention in Maryland:

Recently, I had the opportunity to tackle an item from my bucket list. I’ve always wanted to go parasailing, but I could never quite do so. For those of you who might be curious, parasailing involves being harnessed to a large sail that resembles a parachute and being towed behind a fast-moving boat. The speed of the boat creates an air current that pushes the parasailer up several-hundred feet into the air.

I’ve experienced several obstacles to being able to parasail. Sometimes the weather didn’t cooperate and the wind was too strong to safely go up. Sometimes the water was too choppy or the current too strong to permit safe parasailing. Sometimes my travelling companions decided they wanted to do something else instead at the last minute. One time there was a traffic jam and we missed our appointment. Another time the wife of the boat’s captain went into labor.

Finally, a few weeks ago, the weather decided to cooperate; the current was perfect; my fellow travelers agreed to the experience come hell or high water; we stayed within walking distance from the marina where our boat would set sail; and to my knowledge my captain’s wife was not in labor. There was only one problem—I was recovering from the coronavirus and had virtually no energy to sit upright, let alone walk to the marina, board the boat, fasten myself into the harness, and swing myself back onto the deck of the boat when the sail ended.

But I was committed! I was going to literally rise up regardless of what it took. I dug deep and found the energy to walk to the marina; to board the ship; to find my balance as I stood on deck; to fasten my harness and emergency parachute; to step over rigging and lines, around the sail bar; and sit down on the deck of the boat at the very edge. Then, I rose. And it was incredible!

I spent about ten minutes atop the world. I felt the wind in my hair, the sun on my face, and the energy and joy pumping through my blood. Then the captain dipped me into the ocean, and I got seawater in my nose. But I rose up again and swung myself onto the deck—and for those of you who have been parasailing, I stuck the landing like an Olympic gymnast.

Why am I telling you all about parasailing? Because my experience is a great metaphor for what we in the NFBMD experienced this past year. Despite unprecedented challenges, we were determined to rise up, and we did! We don’t know how to do anything different as Federationists after all.

Andra Day’s song “Rise Up” includes the following lines:

I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
And I’ll rise up
High like the waves
I’ll rise up
In spite of the ache
I’ll rise up
And do it a thousand times again.

We in the NFBMD rise up unafraid, in spite of the aches, and we’ll do it a thousand times again.

The NFB Science and Engineering Division and the NFB National Association of Blind Students Joint STEM Zoom Conference Meeting Report for February 28, 2021

by Neil Soiffer, Gene Kim, Newton Nguyen, and Louis Maher

From the Editor: Most articles in the Braille Monitor can be read by anyone regardless their education or background. But some articles are for a specific audience, and this is one of them. If you are beyond learning or using mathematic beyond the simple four functions, this article may not be for you, but if you are a student who must take a course in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics and aren’t sure how to do it using today’s assistive technology, this piece is right down your alley. If you want to find a career path in STEM, you will get some real world examples of what works, how well it works, and what accessibility issues we need to work on before your grade or your profession depends upon it.

Thank you to Louis Maher for taking the time to write this up, and thank you to the two Federation divisions that offered the seminar.

The National Federation of the Blind's Science and Engineering Division (SED) and the National Federation of the Blind's National Association of Blind Students (NABS) held a joint Zoom conference on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) on Sunday, February 28, 2021. This is a summary of the presentations given at this conference.

Unlike most Braille Monitor articles, this article will not explain everything. Also, the article does not have references for all the devices and programs discussed here. The purpose of this article is to summarize many of the tools and techniques that allow the blind to be successful in their STEM careers.

A recording of this meeting is available at: https://tinyurl.com/NFB-SED-2021-NABS-STEM.

Trisha Kulkarni is the president of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS), and she welcomed the audience to the annual NABS/SED joint conference on how blind individuals are succeeding in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields. She introduced John Miller, president of the Science and Engineering Division (SED), who was the moderator for the evening.

President Miller thanked the speakers for presenting at this event. He said that often a student may have only one science or math requirement to fulfill for that student's degree and said that the SED members would be glad to help students overcome their technical problems.

A summary of the presentations follows:

Title: “Methods for the Blind to Electronically Read and Write Mathematics from Primary School through College”

Speaker: Neil Soiffer

Neil Soiffer was a principal architect of MathML, the standard for putting math on the web. He was the main developer of MathPlayer, which is used with NVDA to make math accessible in Web, Word, and PowerPoint documents. He has published numerous papers on math accessibility and is a member of various standards groups concerned with accessibility on the Web and elsewhere. He currently chairs the MathML Refresh community group that is working on greater browser support for MathML along with updating the MathML standard. He received a BS in math from MIT and a PhD in computer science from UC Berkeley. He has worked at Tektronix's Computer Research Lab, Wolfram Research (Mathematica), Design Science (MathType, MathPlayer), and has now formed his own accessibility company, Talking Cat Software.

Presentation:

Reading Math

Status

How it Works

Side note: If you do not know Nemeth Code, try to learn it! Every VI teacher I know says the most successful students are the ones proficient in Nemeth Code.

Where it Works

You can read this format with JAWS/NVDA using the Thorium program. Two sources for accessible books are RedShelf and VitalSource Bookshelf online.

Screen Reader Reading Differences

Writing Math

WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get)

ASCIIMath

TeX

Markdown

Typing # will generate heading 1, typing ## will generate heading 2, …

Learning Math

Some sites that make use of MathML that are tutorials or explanations

Doing Math

Title - Where Humanities, Social Science, and Engineering Collide: Perspectives on the Value of Interdisciplinary Study and Research

Speaker: Gene Kim

Gene Kim is a sophomore at Stanford University studying symbolic systems, a program that explores the crossroads of computer science, psychology, philosophy, and linguistics. He is an undergraduate researcher with Stanford Shape Lab and has worked on projects in data visualization/sonification and haptic/multi-modal accessibility devices. He lost most of his vision about four years ago from progressive retinal detachment and while he started his nonvisual STEM journey recently, he is excited to share his experiences/techniques with everyone.

Presentation:

Combinatory Play:

“Combinatory Play” was coined by Einstein and is the process of making connections from seemingly unrelated fields to come up with innovative/creative ideas.

Examples of Combinatory Play include deep learning neural networks in computer science (inspired from neuroscience/the anatomy of the brain),

The first ever printing press (Gutenberg printing press) that combined aspects of coin presses and wine presses,

The Google search engine algorithm was inspired by system of frequency/popularity of research citations in academia,

Nike’s high traction rubber shoe design was inspired by the shape of a waffle maker, and Steve Jobs borrowed from calligraphy to design the impactful Mac typefonts, etc.

Tools/Resources:

Resources and tools that helped Gene study STEM.

Numpad shortcuts for writing math: https://www.irongeek.com/alt-numpad-ascii-key-combos-and-chart.html  

Title - Trial and Error: Toward Faster Methods of Learning STEM Skills as a Blind Student

Speaker: Newton Nguyen

Newton Nguyen is a PhD Candidate at Caltech, where he is developing the next generation's greenhouse gas observation network. He was previously employed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and was on the NASA science team for the CLARREO climate satellite mission. He cofounded the Blind STEM Mentorship Program, Caltech Disability Coalition, and serves on Caltech's Graduate Admissions Committee. Newton holds a MS in environmental science and engineering from Caltech and a BA in geophysics from Berkeley. 

Presentation:

Newton is working on a PhD in environmental science and engineering. How was it for him to work on these subjects?

In California, the university is responsible for accommodations inside the classroom, and state agencies are responsible for accommodations outside the classroom. Note that the student is responsible for coordinating these efforts.

Newton did not know this in his first undergraduate semester. He dropped out of his calculus class because he had no books. His first semester was a crash course on how accessibility works.

Newton advises:

1. Work on your accommodations months ahead of time. It can be difficult to get state support. It may take months to get books in accessible form.

2. Get a personal assistant who can serve as a scribe and reader for those times when accessible educational material and equipment are not available. Textbooks often do not come on time, and there are often inaccessible classroom handouts and inaccessible laboratory equipment.

3. Get proper skills. Learn how to read and write mathematics. Use the tools discussed in the talks presented above.

Lessons learned by Newton:

1. How to reach out for help: locate the individuals with the knowledge and resources that you need.

2. You do not know what you do not know. You will need mentors.

3. You will have to know how to acquire technical skills on your own. It can be difficult to find resources online to answer your specific questions.

4. Newton did not have a community to work with him. He was the only seismic engineering student in his university system.

The Science and Engineering division's STEM Mentorship Program was developed by Newton Nguyen, Gene Kim, and Kennedy Stomberg. The program seeks to pair STEM students with mentors. One of the program's activities is to host a monthly STEM seminar where students and mentors can discuss STEM techniques.

To join the program, and for questions about the program, write to [email protected].

Newton is working on a Wikipedia page to explain methods that will enable the blind to perform STEM tasks. He wishes to develop a one-stop page for blind STEM techniques.

Wrap up:

John Miller and Trisha Kulkarni thanked the individuals who produced the STEM meeting including Ashley Neybert who handled the Zoom logistics.

If you wish to learn more about NABS, including how to become a member, go to: https://www.nabslink.org/.

If you wish to join the SED, go to: http://www.nfb.org/divisiondues.

Dues for NABS and SED are $5 a year.

Individuals may join the NABS and SED email discussion groups at nfbnet.org.

Contacts:

If there are any questions about the National Association of Blind Students, please contact Trisha Kulkarni ([email protected]).

If there are any questions about the Science and Engineering Division, please contact John Miller (Phone: 858-774-9286, [email protected]).

If there are any questions about this report, please contact Louis Maher (Phone: 713-444-7838, [email protected]).

Creating Access in the Arts and Beyond

by Precious Perez

From the Editor: Precious is currently the president of the National Federation of the Blind’s Massachusetts Student Division and a board member of the National Federation of the Blind Performing Arts Division. She is also a tenBroek Scholarship winner, meaning she has been acknowledged twice by the NFB for her academic accomplishments, leadership, and willingness to make a difference in the world. She will do her student teaching in the fall and will graduate in December prepared to teach music and performance. Here is what she says about taking the initiative to get an internship and making it all it could be:

I first encountered Mark Degarmo Dance through the Berklee Career Manager in the fall of 2020. At the time they had posted a full-time community engagement internship position for school credit, and I thought it could be a great experience. I applied then, but didn't have as much availability as I knew they would have wanted. I saw the job posted again, this time listed as a ten-hour position in December of last year. I knew an internship would be really helpful with my credits, and I wanted to gain new experience in the nonprofit sector within an arts discipline I was always interested in—dance.

I got a part-time teaching job right after I was offered the internship for the duration of the spring semester. When I wrote back to my now supervisor Hannah DeGarmo about not being able to put in as much time as they deserved and needed, her response was to offer me the opportunity to create and lead independent projects around my interests, putting in as much time as I was able. I'd never seen a company do anything like this, and it was so refreshing. I knew right away that the company's intentions were genuine and that I'd be happy to be a part of the team.

I began by writing a proposal for my independent projects. As a blind Latina performer myself, I knew I had a unique perspective to offer.

Mark DeGarmo Dance (MDD) is a small nonprofit dance company based out of New York City that provides dance education to underserved communities and also puts on virtual performances. As a remote intern, I proposed building connections between MDD and the NFB Performing Arts division, potentially having the company advertised in our newsletter and via our listservs or a membership call. I also proposed expanding MDD's outreach to Spanish-speaking communities, as well as ensuring that their web presence and virtual events were optimized for accessibility. My projects were enthusiastically approved, so I set out with my overall goal being to further the company's mission of accessibility and inclusion not just in statement, but in practice.

My first task was creating a document to keep track of web accessibility. I listed the elements to check for: labeled buttons and links, radio buttons, check boxes, images with alt text, form fields, combo boxes, and headings. I spent my five hours for a few weeks going through each page of the website testing each of these elements with multiple screenreader and browser combinations including NVDA with Firefox, NVDA with Chrome, Jaws with Chrome, VoiceOver with Chrome, and Voiceover with Safari. I noted any images that weren't identifiable and any aspects of the pages that worked or didn't work with different combinations. Once completed, I checked MDD's social media pages, noting the need for alt text on the majority of images and posts made. I found that the website was fairly accessible overall, and there were only a few things to fix. I connected with two fellow interns, one who dealt with social media, and the other who dealt with the website to discuss my findings and explain anything they needed to know about what alt text is and what screen readers are and what they do.

My next task was something I wasn't expecting, but it was great experience nonetheless. MDD had a virtual event coming up, so part of my job was to find organizations that we could push the press release out to who would also share it. I was able to find a fair amount of local organizations in Massachusetts, as well as circulate the information through the NFB performing arts networks.

My final project is one that also encompasses accessibility. I realized that I couldn't market MDD's events to the blind community if they weren't fully accessible. The first thing I did was look into captioning, and I found that Zoom had recently integrated this, so MDD was able to go in and set this up. The next thing I did was to research organizations and companies that provided audio description services. I created a spreadsheet containing all of the information requested by MDD regarding pricing and live versus pre-recorded virtual events. I'll be following this up by reaching out to the founder of the audio description project and the creator of the database I found with a ton of contacts to inquire about volunteer audio description options given that MDD is a small company with a budget.

My time with MDD is coming to a close, and I will soon be handing off all of the information. I've passed this to a fellow intern who will continue where I left off on the search for audio description to make MDD truly accessible. I can honestly say that this company is committed to accessibility and inclusion for all and has been completely receptive to my perspective, my feedback, and my work. It is important for me to talk about my experience because it relates to the arts, to dance, but most of all, to access needs. This company has demonstrated what it really means to follow through with a commitment to access and inclusion in truth. Creating accessible experiences and opportunities begins with a seat at the table, and MDD pulled out a chair for me and saw the significance in my expertise. These are the steps I took to help create a more accessible and inclusive space within the nonprofit sector and the arts. This is a conversation about advocacy, but it is also a positive example. Any company looking to cement its mission within these causes should look to Mark DeGarmo Dance for an example on where to start. I am confident that even after my departure as an intern, they will use this new information to continue evolving and moving forward to achieve equal access and inclusion for all.

When I Was Almost the Victim of My Implicit Bias

by Patti Chang

From the Editor: Patti is a tireless worker on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, but her life isn't captured in that one phrase. She is a caring wife, mother, and a reflective thinker. We are all blessed by her reflections, so enjoy one she has chosen to share:

When I was in school, the most productive way to get printed material into my brain was by working with human readers. Sometimes I was fortunate enough to have a book on tape, but generally what I wanted was not available, and getting at it was not nearly as efficient as using a competent human being who could turn directly to the page I wanted to read, skim by paragraph, and help me review information I had underlined or highlighted. It gave me experience in hiring, supervising, and occasionally firing people who simply could not do the work I needed done.

Knowing that I utilized live reading services, one day I got a call from Fred Sanders who directed the Michigan State University's disabled student service office. His request was that I take on another reader. I was already about three weeks into the term and had all the people I needed, so my answer was an immediate no. His response was that he had a really nice fellow who was in an honor society named Tower Guard, and the people in that organization were required to give a certain number of hours as volunteers. He explained that the young man he wished me to hire had tried making tapes, but because of his accent, no one could understand him. My initial no was reinforced with the thought that I have no reason to hire a reader no one could understand, and I assumed I would be part of that group. I went on my way, glad the decision was made and the conversation concluded.

It turns out that the director was nothing if not persistent. About a week later, he gave me a call and proceeded to take another tack at advancing his argument. He told me that I was taking Spanish, that this reader knew Spanish fluently, that I could certainly use good help in that area, and the director simply couldn't tell a man willing to donate service hours that he had no takers. For reasons that I don't remember now, I said yes. Perhaps it was his sheer tenacity, but I made it perfectly clear that the young man’s job was provisional and that I was making no commitment it would work out. I thought that at a very minimum I could work on my Spanish accent, which at that time was atrocious. It still is for that matter.

So it was that this kind young gentleman named Francisco who was born in Honduras of Chinese ancestry came to read for me. Interestingly I found no difficulty in understanding his accent; if anything, I had a hard time getting him to talk except when he was reading. He was one of the shyest people I knew.

I found him intelligent and quite competent. The reading sessions were pretty much what I expected, except that I noticed that he would stick around for a time after we were done, and he would find convenient excuses to drop by. This made almost no impression on me at the time, but my roommate told me that it was obvious Francisco was interested in me. I confidently replied no. I was certain that the only reason he was hanging around was that he wanted to learn English and that I was doing him a favor by patiently teaching him. I got a similar message from my then boyfriend who said that Francisco was interested, and I gave his concern all the consideration I thought it deserved, which was about zero. This was simply a working relationship, and although I might like him, I would never consider dating anyone who worked for me. It crossed lines that would make supervision difficult, and besides, they were just seeing things that weren't there.

It turns out that early on in our involvement Francisco told his brother that he was interested in me, and he made a conscious decision to wait out the then boyfriend who he was sure I would eventually break up with since he was a “jerk.” About a year into what I thought was a good working relationship after the boyfriend was history, Francisco announced that he was quitting. I was amazed; at that point he was actually getting paid, his volunteer work already having been completed. In confusion I asked him why he didn't want to work anymore, and I assured him I thought that our working relationship was going fine. His answer was clear and direct: "I am quitting because you won't go out with me as long as I work for you." I was taken aback but had to admit that what he said was true.

In looking back on that year, I realized that I was ignoring Francisco despite signs from my roommate and former boyfriend because I never envisioned myself marrying anyone other than a white man. The thought of doing anything different was inconceivable to me. I was limiting my own possibilities by the implicit biases I carried with me, ones that I simply saw as truth, the way life worked, the way things were to be. I realized that this particular bias was one that I had never thought through but had simply considered so self-evident that it required no thought.

Once I recognized my bias and decided to move beyond it, it didn’t take more than two or three dates for me to realize that I was taken with Francisco as well. But isn’t it amazing that he had to do something as dramatic as quitting his job for me to give him the slightest consideration as a romantic partner? Now, after thirty-seven years of marriage, it is hard to believe what I almost let slip away. What a cost both of us would've paid for my bias, not to mention the wonderful human beings we brought into the world, our daughter Julia and our son Johnathon.

I have taken the time to write this article because I think we often approach the idea of eliminating bias as something we do for others. But as my own case so clearly demonstrates, I am the person who benefited most from the elimination of implicit bias, and it was well worth the thinking, the soul-searching, and the challenging of what seemed unchallengeable. I now enjoy something beyond any monetary value that could be assigned. We like all couples have definitely had our ups and our downs; but our song, “Still the One,” pretty much says it all. What would we be missing if I held onto the conviction that my partner must be white?

A Response from the League of Women Voters of Colorado

by Karen Sheek

From the Editor: In the May issue we ran an article by Curtis Chong about the opposition of the League of Women Voters to legislation being considered to make it easier for blind people to cast votes privately and independently, including from their home. The League of Women Voters takes issue with some of the characterizations of what was portrayed as its position, and we gladly print them here. The League’s response is written by its president, and we appreciate the dialogue. We will no doubt have more conversation on this topic as our nation and its blind citizens negotiate systems that are both accessible and secure:

In response to Curtis Chong’s opinion piece published in the May 2021 edition of the Braille Monitor:

With respect, Mr. Chong misstated or left out significant points regarding the League of Women Voters’ stance on ballot security for those living with disabilities, in particular around SB21-188. While we agree completely that elections should be open so that every voter can vote privately, independently, and in a manner that doesn’t require extraordinary effort and negotiation, we also know that the threat of ballot tampering weakens confidence in our democracy. Actual ballot tampering disenfranchises the voices of voters who deserve to be heard and, unlike bank transactions, is difficult to trace because we have an election system designed for secret and anonymous ballots.

LWVCO never opposed SB21-188. We had an Amend position until the print disability amendment passed; then we supported the bill. Curtis Chong worked with LWVCO on April 4th to identify an appropriate print disability amendment.

Update: As of May 20, 2021, SB21-188 with the print disability amendment is awaiting the governor’s signature. The amended bill has LWVCO support.

LWV’s mission is “Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy.” LWV does not stay clear of politics; we stay clear of partisan politics. We want to empower voters who need electronic ballot return but simultaneously defend democracy by not encouraging abuse of electronic ballot return—a process which is vulnerable to hacking.

Mr. Chong stated that some SB21-188 testimony pointed to “security loopholes—even that part of the system which today permits voters with disabilities to receive and mark their ballots electronically.” LWVCO only gave testimony that the electronic return of a ballot is a concern. The current electronic ballot marking and returning a paper ballot is not a concern.

We leave it to election integrity experts to dispute other points that Mr. Chong made.

We also stated the LWVCO position in our op-ed:
https://www.coloradopolitics.com/opinion/colorado-must-limit-use-of-electronic-ballots/article_5764f466-9e76-11eb-b10a-bb6964cd9bda.html

Changing the World One Ballot at a Time

by Mark A. Riccobono

From the Editor: This op-ed is reprinted with permission from The Hill, April 16, 2021.

 In his 1988 children’s novel “Matilda,” celebrated author Roald Dahl penned the line “Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world.” When applied to voting, this sentiment becomes doubly relevant. To have the power to change the world, we must first have the power to make our voices heard through a ballot. For many blind Americans, making our voice heard presents its own set of unique challenges. The For the People Act (S. 1), currently in the United States Senate, sets out to rectify some of these problems but misses the mark in a few critical areas.

In 2002, the Help America Vote Act was signed into law, requiring every polling location to have at least one accessible ballot-marking device. This was a great leap forward in accessible voting because these machines allow blind and print-disabled persons to complete their ballot privately and independently. However, with the resurgence of hand-marked paper ballots in recent years, a new problem has been created. Ballot-marking devices will frequently print a paper ballot that differs in both size and style from traditional hand-marked paper ballots used by the majority of voters. Because so few non-disabled voters use the ballot-marking devices, the distinguishable ballot produced by the machine prevents blind and other disabled voters from having a secret ballot. If officials can determine which bloc of voters a specific set of ballots came from, it becomes possible to discriminate against those voters; and if a particular polling location has only one or two disabled voters using the machine, those voters might as well sign their ballot. To ensure that blind and print-disabled voters can cast both a secret and independent ballot, it is essential that S. 1 be amended so that at least two ballot-marking devices are required in each polling place and that those ballot-marking devices are actively and specifically offered to voters without disabilities.

Furthermore, more Americans than ever before are choosing to vote by mail; therefore, it is essential that blind Americans not be excluded from this opportunity. In that regard, S. 1 must be amended to ensure that the process for requesting, completing, and submitting a vote-by-mail ballot is nonvisually accessible. In this regard, nothing in the bill should limit or alter a state’s obligations under Section 301(a)(3)(A) of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act as amended. This would ensure that Congress is preserving the accessibility requirements of these two landmark laws.

Ensuring the accessibility of in-person and vote-by-mail balloting will guarantee that blind Americans are able to exercise their right to vote in a safe and secure manner without having to wait in long lines and crowded areas for extended periods of time. It is essential to incorporate these two edits into the bill to guarantee that blind Americans have the same opportunity to vote privately, independently, and secretly that is provided to voters without disabilities. Without these amendments to the bill, Congress would be reversing decades of progress in voting rights for Americans with disabilities.

The National Federation of the Blind has conducted numerous blind voter surveys in order to establish a set of voting best practices. Additionally, we have worked to develop numerous innovations in this field over the past decades. We are fully prepared to help Congress in any way that we can in order to guarantee that all Americans, especially blind Americans, can confidently participate in our electoral democracy so that we too will be able to exercise our power to change the world.

To Educate or Alienate

by Nancy Burns

From the Editor: Nancy Burns is a loyal, longtime member who does her best to deposit a nugget of real value to the Braille Monitor. What she has to say is always thought provoking, and this offering is no different. What she offers is her perspective on our obligation to educate the public and the absolute necessity that we mingle if real integration is to occur. Here is what she has to say:

As blind or visually impaired people, we are frequently confronted with demeaning and sometimes insulting questions or comments from the general public. The difficulty is how to respond to these situations without alienating anyone. The sighted public generally has little if any connection with someone who happens to be blind, and therefore long held false assumptions seem to kick into place.

From my years of dealing with such encounters, it has come to my attention that the common belief is that it would be impossible for the sighted person in question to perform typical daily tasks without vision. The truth of the matter is that such opinions are accurate. As blind people we know that it takes training and a positive attitude to become a confident and competent individual. The National Federation of the Blind has for decades provided support and training in these areas. The challenge then becomes how to respond to such a person. These encounters occur all too quickly, and we must think on our feet without hesitation. This is challenging and much easier said than done.

A lively discussion centering around these issues took place during a recent group meeting, and a number of desired responses to these comments were shared. The range of responses went from the use of sarcasm to an attempt to find humor in the situation. Several examples of rather thoughtless questions were reported. Who picks out your clothes for you? Do you know where you are going? Will your dog take you to the right location? May I move your stick? These are just a few of the commonly asked questions. The answers seem relatively simple to those of us who happen to be blind. Occasionally there may even be a bright side to these encounters. Dialog between blind people and the general public does not always occur, but occasionally we are able to clarify a situation. The more we are out there and seen walking independently, catching buses for work, being involved in daily activities, or getting involved in civic organizations, the more we are viewed as “normal.” Each of us is an ambassador of the truth and must respond politely to those never-ending comments from uneducated or unthinking people. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to wear a badge of independence and to share the responsibility of educating and not alienating the sighted public.

The flip side of this is our responsibility to support and educate one another. A proven fact is that we, as blind individuals, are the best instructors for others who happen to be blind. A perfect example of this is the fact that in the past only sighted people taught the use of the long white cane. NFB training centers now exist in which capable blind people administer and work in these programs. We also serve as peer counselors for our blind sisters and brothers. There is no better source of learning than from one another. Questions from how to take college exams to how I coordinate clothes or prepare a meal for my family can be easily answered by a blind friend.

The National Federation of the Blind, as a result of its very existence, provides huge opportunities for training and confidence building. The structure of this nationwide organization provides opportunities to learn and to assume leadership roles. Self-confidence will be gained, and sharing this experience with others who happen to be blind is the very backbone of the National Federation of the Blind.

Making it through Adversity

by Svetlana Ehlers

From the Editor: Svetlana is one of our younger members in the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, but you wouldn’t know it from the presentation she made at the 2021 affiliate convention. It has appeared in the Blind Missourian, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri. Here is what she said:

Have you ever lived on a farm? Living on a farm you can learn so much, like watching a chick hatch. You watch the poor chick struggle and struggle and struggle. Then you see a tiny crack in the shell, so you decide to pull the shell apart because you feel sorry for the chick. Once you pull the shell apart, the chick will eventually die because it must first build its strength by pushing its wings against the shell. It needs that adversity to survive. Adversity can be a blessing as it will grow your confidence, determination, and faith in Jesus Christ.

I was born in Armenia; Armenia is located north of Iran and east of Turkey. I was born at twenty-four weeks; I just didn’t want to waste any more time. Just call me an over-achiever. Poor planning on my part: my eyes didn’t develop right. So my parents could not care for me, and they put me in an orphanage. Over the next nine-year-period, I moved from a hospital to two different orphanages and a blind school. I don’t remember much about my first orphanage, but I remember this one person named Guion who was abusive. She would hit me if I talked or moved. Sometimes I felt she would just hit me for no apparent reason. I also had a friend named Samvel. He was like a brother to me. We were each other’s anchor. I don’t know how I would have survived without him there. He went with me to my second orphanage and to the blind school. I was hoping that when I moved the abuse would stop, and it did for about a week.

After that week the abuse started again. But it was different in this new orphanage. The orphanage staff let the other kids play, but Samvel and I had to just sit and listen to them because we were both blind and couldn’t get around on our own. If I got up from my chair, I would immediately be hit. I think my blindness was considered a burden to the staff. When we went to bed, we had to be asleep as soon as we put our heads on the pillow. Most of the time that was very difficult because it was scary at night. So I just pretended to be asleep and listened to the other kids being hurt by the staff. I started thinking that this was normal, so I figured out ways that I could avoid being abused.

One day a priest named Father Grigor and his wife Anahit came to visit the kids with disabilities. They took Samvel and me and some of the other kids to church every week. They even took us on vacation to a lake for a week. This was the only place where I felt safe and the only time I ever felt loved. This is where Father Grigor introduced me to God. I think this helped me to see that there was something good in life. But then we had to go back to the orphanage. This made me very upset because I had to go back to that place.

That same year Samvel and I went to the blind school. The school was not abusive, but I did not learn much. They brushed my hair and teeth, and they even dressed us. I didn’t even learn how to lift a fork to my mouth. I just put my mouth on the plate and pulled food in. My mom called it my puppy dog eating. If I hadn’t gotten adopted, I would have been finished with school by the age of fourteen. People in Armenia believe that children who are blind don’t need to obtain an education above an eighth grade level.

Then one day the orphanage staff told me that the Americans were coming to steal my organs. I’ve seen kids disappear before. So I was scared when my new mom came and took me away. Once I was adopted, my life changed very quickly. At first I was very immature. My mom said that because I couldn’t touch anything all my life, I made up for lost time and touched everything. Remember I see through my fingers. Imagine me going out to dinner with family and friends. Everyone else looks around to see what each person ordered, but for me, my hands immediately went into everybody’s plates.

My mom taught me how to read Braille, and then my whole world opened up. Everything that I couldn’t see in the orphanage I could now see in books. Since then, I’ve never stopped learning. My goal is to become a lawyer, and I am going to do what it takes to achieve that goal.

Are you wondering what happened to Samvel? Well, he got adopted also. Remember Father Grigor and Anahit, the people that took us to church? I think once I was being adopted they realized they could lose us, so they adopted Samvel. Most people in Armenia don’t care about kids with disabilities, but these folks did. I commend them for going against their culture, because not only did they adopt Samvel, but they also adopted another child from that orphanage who had challenges. Today Samvel is a beautiful opera singer doing concerts all across Eastern Europe. Samvel’s life will be very different from mine. He finished school at the age of fourteen. Because of this, he will not be able to support himself in Armenia. The good thing is that he has a family who can support him. God has a purpose for everything that he does. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jerimiah 29:11.

I wouldn’t wish for anyone to go through what I had to go through in Armenia. It was a horrible experience. No child should ever have to endure that type of abuse. But everyone has adversity in their lives. Some experience adversity more often and to a greater or lesser extent. What matters is how you view your adversity. We can become a victim of our adversity, or we can grow from the challenges that God gives us. I choose to grow from my adversity, and I am going to encourage you to teach your children to grow from theirs as well. Adversity can be a blessing because it will grow your confidence, determination, and faith in Jesus Christ.

First, let’s talk about confidence. If I had not gone through the challenges I did, I would not be the person that I am today. “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’” Eleanor Roosevelt. When you let your kids experience adversity, they will be more self-reliant as an adult. For example, if your child is having a problem with their friend, let them talk to their friend so that they can resolve the issue. Once you let them do that, they will build a sense of self-confidence that will get stronger with time. Dr. Laura Markham says, “Manage your own anxiety so you don't make a habit of rescuing your child. Instead, when she gets into a jam, support her in brainstorming possible solutions. If you lecture, teach, or solve the problem for her, you're teaching her that she can't solve things herself.” (Markham) Also, God commands us to have confidence. Joshua 1:9 states, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Adversity builds determination. This year I wanted to learn how to put wood in our wood stove. I kept telling myself that I couldn’t do it. It was just too hard, and I was afraid that I would touch the flames—ouch! Finally, I decided to use the fireplace tongs to put the log in the fire. I figured out that this wasn’t going to work, so then I tried to put the log in the fire with my gloved hand, and it worked! I had to stop thinking about the negative aspects about putting wood in the fire. You might think that is easy, but again I am totally blind. If I were to touch the flames, that would be very bad. I did melt my dad’s firefighter gloves. You see, they are not designed to actually be in the flames.

He was very surprised, but I haven’t burned my hands. That is okay right! “I really believe in the old expression that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. It’s through adversity that you find the strength you never knew you had.” Christie Brinkley.

Lastly, my faith in God has greatly increased. When I think back to the past, I thank God for what he let me endure. If I did not go through hardships, I would have not reached out to God. So, I encourage you to thank God for your hardships. “… adversity is not the time to abandon the faith that has brought us this far. Instead, we should ask the Lord to use the adversity as a tool to strengthen our trust in Him. Let us pray that God will give us courage, boldness, wisdom, and faith as a result of walking through adversity.” Pastor David Delman (Delman) When you trust in the Lord, he will help you through hard times. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” Philippians 4:13. God is not going to take that hardship away, but he will help you through it.

After listening to this speech, what do you think about adversity? Should we wait until the child is a grown adult to experience adversity, or should we let them start experiencing little adversities now? I hope that you start now because it will greatly increase their confidence, determination, and faith in Jesus Christ. Remember to let your little chicks break out of their shells on their own.

Discrimination Against the Blind Isn’t Just a Sighted Thing

by Gary Wunder

Reading Shawn Calloway’s story in the June issue of the Monitor got me thinking about my first romantic relationship, and what a pleasant thought and a life changer that was. I was raised during my teen years in a small town with a sign saying population 216. Like every young man, I wanted to date, but besides a date for the junior senior prom, mostly I struck out. In my town and in those times, the boy drove the car that picked up the girl, and without a car, there was nothing to do. Our town had a gas station and a post office; neither helped with romance unless one was dating from afar.

My life changed when I came to the University of Missouri Columbia and found that I could walk almost anywhere I wanted to go. The bank, the restaurant, the movie theater, and a nice park were all within my ability to reach without first having to arrange or beg for a ride. It didn’t take long after coming to campus to realize that there was more to college than books. There were girls, women, and one of them in particular liked me and I liked her. I love the touch of the hand, the embrace so much different from hugging mom, and the way it felt when she put her head on my shoulder. I felt more alive than I had ever felt.

She was not at all concerned about the fact that I was blind, but, like the fathers in Shawn’s experience, there was rough sailing ahead. In my story, however, the father was blind, and he was quite sure that his daughter could do quite a lot better than a relationship with a blind man. My girlfriend’s father did not work outside the home. He had very little self-confidence, and one of my girlfriend’s wishes was that she could get him in contact with people who might help change his perception of what life might have to offer if only he had a different view of himself.

After an eight-week summer program, I went off to get myself a guide dog. Sam, my girlfriend, was still uppermost in my thoughts, so one of the first people I called using the payphone at the school was her. When her father realized to whom she was talking, I heard him say, “He’s not calling collect, is he?” That might’ve been a reasonable question from any father, no matter how well he could or could not see.

It is strange to think about what motivates us in the work we do because sometimes those motivations seem contradictory. I was motivated by people who did things I didn’t think blind people could do and therefore opened up opportunities to me I didn’t think existed. I was motivated by blind people who broke down barriers so that I could go to school, hire human beings to read to me, receive special tape-recording equipment that would let me use books on tape, and the programs gave me enough money to buy food and other necessities. But I’m here to tell you that I was also motivated by that father who thought his daughter deserved better than to date a blind man. I might not be able to change his life, but what if I could change life for people of my generation and those who would come after?

My girlfriend and I were both young; we drifted apart without a single bad word or argument, and almost two decades later we started to write to one another. She was never quite sure how much her father’s opposition played in our drifting apart. The part of her who valued being rebellious thought that it played no part at all, but the part who loved her father and wanted to be the good daughter also knew that his opinion did matter.

There is no question that we want to change the opinion of the sighted public about our worth as human beings and our ability to participate in society, but it is equally true that we want to change the minds of other blind people who cannot envision the opportunities open to them if only they can believe in themselves and other blind people. When we pledge ourselves to go build the Federation, it is not organizational momentum or preservation of some legacy that we are talking about. It is talking about having a mechanism to bring about effective change, a structure that lets blind people talk among ourselves, venture to risk new ideas leading to opportunities, and knowing that we have the support of one another as we attempt the traditional or untraditional. If we are to have a hand in building the world we will live in and in the world our children will inherit, we need the right tools, and one of the most important is the National Federation of the Blind.

I Wanted to Walk a Mile in Those Little High-Heeled Shoes

by Danielle McCann

From the Editor: Danielle is our director of social media, and as excited about that as I am, the thing that brings me real joy is that she is willing to write more than 280 character Twitter posts and several paragraphs on Facebook. She writes articles, and I think they are fantastic. Here is her latest offering:

When I was little, I wanted nothing more than to be a Barbie. I was obsessed with tearing open those hot pink cardboard boxes I saw in the store with those beautiful girls smiling behind the clear plastic sleeves. Brush, check; tiny plastic heels, check; incredibly gorgeous doll, check check check. In my mind, the fact that she was white, blue-eyed, super thin, and able-bodied were noted but not so much that I stopped dreaming of my own life of pink luxury.

When the “ethnic” dolls came out, my parents started buying me the one named Theresa. She had a darker skin tone, brown eyes, and brown hair. She still had Barbie’s figure, and her eyes weren’t like mine, but she was a little bit closer to looking like me; my dream was even closer at hand.

In May of this year, decades after I put my Barbie fantasies on the shelf, Mattel released the Helen Keller Barbie, and I got a little bit choked up when I heard. It took me a while to figure out why this doll was making me feel emotional. I texted my brother about her immediately and rambled on to my husband about my long-forgotten love for Barbie, all the while trying not to cry.

I finally realized that what was making me feel this way was my seven-year-old self, recognizing herself in the Helen doll. In recent years, Mattel made a concerted effort to change the body shape of its flagship toy. In addition to “Classic” Barbie, there are now dolls who are shorter, taller, and curvier, like me. They have also made efforts to construct facial features that represent different ethnicities more accurately. Knowing that there is now a doll who is disabled just feels like we’re getting somewhere, like maybe today’s generation of children who play with Barbies will have the chance to see themselves and more easily imagine themselves being able to achieve their dreams despite perceived limitations. It is my hope that Mattel and other toy manufacturers continue to be inclusive when they think of their next big idea.

As an adult, I am nostalgic for the days when all I had to worry about was finding the perfect outfit for my doll or hiding the fact that I cut her hair from my mom. Though I never got to walk a mile in Barbie’s little plastic heels, I definitely have mostly pink footwear. I guess there are some things we’re not meant to grow out of.

My Jury Experience

by Dana Ard

From the Editor: Dana Ard is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho, and in that role she displays so much of what it means to be a loyal, hard-working Federationist. She takes her responsibilities as an advocate seriously, and when we win a right, she doesn’t try shirking the responsibility that goes along with it. We are blessed by her contributions to the Monitor. Here is her latest offering:

I received my first-ever jury summons letter in mid-February. Since the dates that I was to appear were during convention week, I requested a postponement and was soon notified by mail that my dates of service would be April 5 to 9. I was told that I would have to call in at the end of each weekday to find out when I needed to appear at the Ada County courthouse. I called in on the Saturday night before the Monday which began my time of service. I learned that I would need to appear at the courthouse on April 5 at 12:30. When I arrived, I was checked in through security, and a marshal escorted me to the fourth floor and into the large room where the prospective jurors were to wait. There was an informational video played describing jury service.

An hour after arrival, about thirty-five of the one hundred-plus prospective jurors were given placards with a number on them. We were told to line up in order and move to a room where we would be interviewed. My number was seven. The judge, Michael Reardon, asked questions that focused on our critical thinking and analytical skills as well as rooting out and learning about our biases. Near the end of his questioning, he asked if there was anyone who had never been summoned for jury duty. I raised my placard, because although my husband was called at least five times, I had never been summoned for jury duty. He then asked who was excited to serve on a jury. I raised my placard, and I was invited to speak. I explained that I was honored to be there even if I wasn’t selected. I stated that I wanted to fulfill my civic duty and serve on a jury. After a short recess, we returned to our room for a few more comments from the judge, and then the selection began. Numbers were called: four, six, and then my magic number, seven. I was selected to serve on the jury for the trial!

The defendant in the trial was accused of knowingly possessing, depositing, and attempting to cash a stolen third-party check. I took Braille notes on all of the witness testimony as well as the guidance from the judge on what we had to consider when deciding this case of grand theft. When we began deliberations, I thought the case was a slam-dunk. I believed that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; but, surprisingly, not everyone agreed with me initially. After approximately two hours, we reached consensus that the defendant was indeed guilty as charged. Following our rendering of the verdict in court, we learned that the defendant had two prior charges similar to the one on which we had just convicted him.

I am proud to have been able to exercise my civic responsibility as a juror. I am hopeful that my service will demonstrate to judges and attorneys that blind people should not be disqualified from jury service based solely on blindness.

You Can Make a Difference

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:

Plan to Leave a Legacy

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.

Fixed Sum of Assets

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.

Percentage of Assets

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.

Payable on Death (POD) Account

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.

Will or Trust

If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary.

Visit our Planned Giving webpage 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.

Ways to Contribute Now

In 2020, 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.

Vehicle Donation Program

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 Donation

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 our Ways to Give webpage for more information. 

Pre-Authorized Contribution

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 fill out our PAC Donation Form online.

If you have questions about giving, please send an email to [email protected] or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422.

Feeling Through

by Lisa Bryant

From the Editor: For almost two years now, we have been involved in an effort to “Let Us Play Us.” The idea is simple: when a blind person is portrayed, whether on Broadway, on television, or on the big screen, we want blind people considered for these roles. It is not surprising that people with other disabilities want the same. Here is an interview conducted by our own Lisa Bryant, a member of the Keystone chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania. Lisa is a freelance writer, and when she heard about this movie, she decided to see if she could get an interview for the Braille Monitor. She asked, they said yes, and here is our outstanding article:

“I welcome the industry to invite more of us to the table. Let’s take this and build upon it.”
—Robert Tarango, deafblind actor in Feeling Through

The Miracle Worker is undoubtedly the most famous movie featuring a deafblind character. Based on the autobiography of Helen Keller, who was deafblind, the film also tells the story of Anne Sullivan, Keller’s blind teacher. In the film, Sullivan is the only person able to reach Keller—transforming her from a wild, frustrated young girl, misunderstood, and even feared by her own family, to a tender and in her way, communicative Helen.

That was in 1962. The film received multiple Oscar nominations with its two lead actresses winning for their roles. Patti Duke, a sighted and hearing actress played Keller, while Anne Bancroft, also sighted, played the role of Sullivan.

At this year’s Oscars, Feeling Through, a short film by Doug Roland was nominated for its portrayal of a deafblind character. But, unlike more than fifty years ago, Feeling Through casts Robert Tarango, who is deafblind in real life as Artie, the deafblind character in the film.

Based on a true encounter Roland had one night in New York City, the eighteen-minute short tells of a chance meeting between Tereek, (played by Steven Prescod), a young man wondering where he will sleep that night, and Artie who is making his way home from a date. To help Artie, Tereek learns on the fly how to communicate with him; mainly using the print on palm method.

“I knew I wanted to cast an actor who was deafblind,” said Roland who contacted the Helen Keller National Center (HKNC) in the very beginning of the project. He added that it was important that he make the film alongside the community it portrayed.

Roland worked closely with Christopher Woodfill, associate director of HKNC, who is also deafblind. According to Roland, Woodfill provided a host of potential “Arties” from a nationwide pool of actors.

Yet, after several in-person and remote auditions, the role of Artie remained open. That is until interpreter Erin Quinn suggested Tarango who worked in the kitchen of the center. Although Tarango had no professional acting experience, Roland said he knew almost instantly that they had found their Artie.

For Tarango, it was a day he will never forget. “I was working in the kitchen as an aide, just doing what I do every day,” said Tarango. That is until his boss summoned him to a meeting in another building on the center’s campus. “I thought I was in trouble,” said Tarango, never imagining he would become the first deafblind actor cast in an Oscar-nominated film.

But when Roland first approached Sue Ruzenski, Ed.D. and CEO of Helen Keller Services, the parent company of HKNC, she was initially cautious, wondering if the team’s efforts were sincere and if they really did “get it.” “I first thought here is a completely different field coming through. What are their understandings, and will they be respectful?” said Ruzenski. “They could have their own agenda, and it might not be aligned with our community,” she added. It seemed like a risk.

However, once the two teams met, Ruzenski, who is also co-producer of the film, was assured it was a risk worth taking. “Doug was a listener and a learner from the start,” Ruzenski said; adding that Roland was intentional in keeping her and HKNC included at every turn.

As co-producer, Ruzenski assisted with a variety of resources from fundraising to accommodations such as both voicing and signing interpreters. For Roland, providing these and other accommodations never felt burdensome but instead gave even more value to making the film.

“It feels like the wrong approach to look at working with people with disabilities as an extra cost or an extra challenge,” Roland said. Adding that, “Anytime we work with people who are different from us, we learn more about our world and ourselves.” He also said there was the ripple effect of providing a transformative teaching moment for the film crew. Perhaps more important than providing accommodations is a genuine and respectful treatment or in this case portrayal of persons with disabilities.

In Feeling Through, Artie seems to quickly trust Tereek, in one scene handing Tereek his wallet to pay for a juice. Perhaps not surprisingly, Tereek helps himself to a ten-dollar tip (you will have to watch the short for the conclusion to this scene).

During one watch party, viewers were mostly pleased with the film’s treatment of a deafblind actor. But some questioned that scene as unrealistic.

Marsha Drenth is a longtime Federationist and president of the Pennsylvania Association of the Deafblind. She said it was great to have a film giving attention to deafblindness and reaching Oscar-level recognition. “But I don’t think any deafblind person would just hand over their wallet.”

In addressing the criticism, Roland notes that when there are too few stories or examples of a certain group, the one more publicized story becomes representative of an entire community—“which is what we shouldn’t do,” he said. Roland also urges viewers to look at the full context of the film rather than isolating the one scene.

As for future projects, Roland, Ruzenski, and the HKNC team are collaborating on developing a curriculum for high school and college-aged students. One goal of the curriculum is to break down fears and hesitancy in communicating with a deafblind person. Ruzenski plans to involve deafblind staff at HKNC in developing the program.

As for Tarango, who was born deaf, being in the film was fulfillment of an acting career he thought was deferred when he later lost his vision as an adult. He has not so subtly hinted at wanting to do a Feeling Through part two, and he hopes to have been an inspiration to others in his community. “Look at what I just did! You can do it too!” said Tarango.

To hear her full interview on Blind Abilities with both Robert Tarango and Doug Roland go to: https://traffic.libsyn.com/secure/blindabilities/FeelingThrough.mp3, and to watch Feeling Through with audio description go to: Feeling Through (with audio description) - YouTube

Deafblind Awareness Week is June 27-July 3. For more information go to HKNC: Deafblind Awareness Week 2021 (helenkeller.org)

Lisa Bryant is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia. She is an active member of the Keystone Chapter.

Why I am Proud to Be Blind

by Jonathan Mosen

From the Editor: Jonathan Mosen is a familiar name not only to Monitor readers but to those who are familiar with podcasts and personalities who have been prominent in blindness technology for the last couple of decades. Here is something he posted on March 5, 2021, and it is with his permission that we reproduce it here:

I often mention on my Mosen At Large podcast that I am proud to be blind. Recently, I was challenged by a listener and asked how I can possibly be proud of having a serious, debilitating condition.

I am glad to say that disability pride and blind pride as a subset of that is on the rise. Yet it is an incomprehensible concept to some.

I keep a gratitude journal, where I write at least ten things every day for which I am grateful. So it was easy for me to consult that journal, where I have often written of things relating to blindness for which I am grateful and write this piece on why I am proud to be blind. You can hear the audio of this in Mosen At Large episode 119, and I have also uploaded the audio to this page, but here is the text of what I said in case you prefer to read it.

I am profoundly proud to be blind. I am proud of the fact that as a kid, when my older siblings would have been found out for reading at night, I read in the dark as much as I liked, a Braille book tucked under the covers on winter nights.

I am proud to be blind, because it connects me with a proud history. I share a characteristic with a man who gave us the priceless gift of functional, efficient literacy. Louis Braille was an example of “nothing about us without us” in the 19th century, long before we used that phrase. His genius invention was derided by sighted people who were certain they knew what was best for us. He was ridiculed. His code was driven underground, and his books were burned. But he prevailed, because he was blind. He devised his code for himself; he gave it, at considerable personal cost, to all of us.

I am proud to be blind because of all the other blind people who followed in Louis Braille’s footsteps, blind people innovating and inventing for our collective advancement, imagining a better future, and making it real. Whether it be Larry Skutchan with his methodical mind and interminable patience, or Ted Henter with his zeal and entrepreneurship, or David Costution and Glen Gordon who believed that Windows could be truly useable and then made it come true, or the blind people now working on the inside of mainstream companies who are our champions; we dreamed it, we created it.

I am proud to be blind because blind people are the reason the thirty-three RPM record was developed, initially so talking books could be distributed more efficiently.

And speaking of talking books, I am proud to be blind because blind people are the reason talking books exist. Now sighted people are using them too.

I am proud to be blind because the original reading machine was created for us. We started the journey of digitizing printed text that resulted in the scanners that are still commonplace in offices today.

I am proud to be blind because long before the term PDA was in the lexicon of sighted people, we were taking notes, keeping track of appointments, and reading books on devices like Keynotes and Braille ’n Speaks.

I am proud to be blind because we were one of the reasons computers started to talk. Technology is better because of blind people. There are so many examples of technology when we, proudly, have been the blind who led the sighted.

I am proud to be blind because I am not influenced by someone’s physical appearance, but instead gain information from the tone of a voice and the words that are said.

I am proud to be blind because it has made me a more lateral thinker, developing and refining alternative techniques to access a wide range of information so I can thrive in a largely sight-dependent world.

I am proud to be blind because, even though my other senses aren’t sharper than anyone else’s, in fact I have a dual sensory loss, like many blind people, I use them well. It makes me smile when I can tell what type of audio processor is being used on a radio station or when another blind person can tell the kind of car that’s passing simply by the sound it’s making, or when a blind person gives another blind person an instruction like, “When your cane hits a pole on my street that emits a fifth octave A-Flat, you’re outside my house.”

I am proud to be blind because of the legacy of great blind civil rights leaders around the world. Often ostracized and branded radical troublemakers, they confronted and are still confronting today the tyranny of low expectations and the disabling decisions society has chosen to make. They challenged the damaging, fundamentally flawed notion that we had neither the ability nor the right to achieve self-determination, and that it wasn’t necessary for society to be accessible or inclusive or accepting. Their belief in a fairer tomorrow has unshackled us from institutions and shattered disempowering paternalism. Their tenacity has seen the increasing availability of better training, much of it driven by blind people ourselves, and increased opportunity through civil rights legislation.

I am proud to be blind because, as a subset of the world’s largest minority (disabled people), blind people led the way in the disability movement, securing legislative victories long before they were common for much of the rest of the sector. I am grateful every day of my life for those blind people who took on those difficult causes, displayed tenacity, and stated their cases again and again and again until progress was slowly but surely made. I am proud of the personal responsibility I feel as a blind person to always cherish and defend, never take for granted, and constantly build upon the legacy of civil rights victories that I have inherited and benefited from. I am mindful that they must not be squandered, and I am proud to stand up, be counted, and do my moral duty to advance that legacy so that the next generation has even more opportunity than I have had.

I am proud to be blind because it has shaped who I am, it is part of my identity, and it has helped define me. I accept that. I embrace that.

I am proud to be blind because in being blind I contribute to the rich tapestry and the diversity of humankind.

I am proud to be blind because, no matter how many negative signals are sent, I know that being blind makes me no less a person of worth.

I am proud to be blind because the opposite of pride is shame, and my blindness is nothing to be ashamed of.

I am proud to be blind and therefore share a characteristic with talented people from all walks of life. Blind people are parents, devoted, loving parents, some of whom have had their babies literally snatched from their loving arms, an atrocity no capable and loving parent should endure, and all for no other reason than people getting it horribly wrong about blindness. I am proud that we as blind people show those parents love, solidarity, and a steadfast determination to get those children back where they belong.

Blind people are in factories and farms, law practices and legislatures, sandwich shops and start-ups. I am proud of the blind teachers, software developers, businesspeople, mechanics, transcribers, musicians, and even medical doctors. There is very little we can’t do, and there are few professions where you can’t find a blind person, often to many people’s surprise. The only trouble is, the world doesn’t necessarily know that. And that’s the biggest reason I am proud to be blind. Because every day, just by getting on with my life, I defy the odds in a disabling society; we defy expectations where there is little disability confidence. When people tell us we can’t, we show them that yes, we can. It can be exhausting sometimes. We may get knocked down, and sometimes we may feel like we’re out for the count. But eventually, most of us get up again. We apply for that one more job. We work around that inaccessible website. We keep calm and carry on when we’re treated like a helpless child in the street or when walking into a store or when yet another rideshare driver declines to take our guide dog. That takes guts; it takes tenacity. The odds are stacked against us, but we march on, we make progress. Go us!

Yes, I am proud, proud, a thousand times proud to be blind.

Telling an Uncomfortable and Unconventional Story

by Gary Wunder

There are many themes readers of the Braille Monitor will find familiar that raise our emotions and often our defenses. I’m going to tell you a story about an airport adventure. What goes through your mind? Perhaps it is being offered unwanted help. Perhaps it is being asked whether you are a frequent flyer or whether you would like the flight attendant to review the safety procedures for the 737 aircraft. Seldom does your answer matter: you are going to hear that review.

But I warn you that this is a different story. It is not a typical Braille Monitor airport story in which I am asked “Where are you trying to go,” or told “Stand right there until I can get you some help.” Because it is none of those things, I offer it with some reservation but with the feeling that perhaps I have an obligation to say that sometimes the well-intentioned efforts of sighted folks have turned out to work to my benefit.

One evening I land in St. Louis, an airport I’m pretty familiar with, and I realize I don’t have much time until my connecting flight. I am offered assistance, but just when that assistance will show up is a question mark. I politely decline the assistance, throw on my backpack, grab up my laptop, turn to the right, and off I go lickety-split to make my next flight.

I’m really feeling good about how fast I’m going, quite glad for my mobility, and really excited about the fact that whether or not I make this plane is under my control and not someone else’s. What a wonderful thing independence is. How often have I depreciated the gift by taking it for granted.

All of a sudden, two men ahead of me, one to my right and one to my left, yell stop! As a child, I actually had classes in which I was conditioned to stop on a dime when somebody yelled that word. So I did my best to stop, thinking I would explain to them that their good intentions were unnecessary, when I forcefully collided with the arms they had extended in front of me. Indeed that brought me to the stop they had suggested and one I would not have accomplished in time on my own. At the time of the forced collision, my cane tip fell down the first of what was a long flight of stairs. I had trotted off in the wrong direction, confusing the even and odd number of the gates. At the speed I was moving, the cane would not have given me sufficient time to stop. The stairs were steep, there were a lot of them, and each year I hear about someone who dies by falling down a flight of stairs.

I understand that responding to what the cane tells me should be second nature, and most of the time it is. In this case, however, knowing that I knew exactly where I was, where I needed to go, and how little time I had to get there, I was traveling like a calorie-burning fiend. Their action, unsolicited and at the time unwanted, may have saved me from broken bones, saved me from some permanent disfigurement, or even saved me from death. I was lucky. They did the right thing. They violated my boundaries, assumed they knew something that I didn’t, and, without my permission, took matters literally into their own hands. What to say but thank you.

This was certainly not Gary Wunder at his finest. It is not the story I usually tell about the man who can go to any airport in any city, find any hotel, eat in any restaurant, make his presentations, and go back home safely. And yet, this is a true story, one that today finds me safe and comfortable thanks to the willingness of people to get involved when I didn’t know I needed them. It is hard to show gratitude while feeling stupid, but it can be done, and the gratitude and the lessons that came from the experience are ones from which I have learned. Let firetrucks travel like firetrucks. Let me travel at a speed that makes sense, not just for my safety but for the safety of those around me. I will not go at a snail’s pace, in fear of what my next step might bring, but neither will I outwalk the device that tells me whether or not the next step is a safe one.

I was the beneficiary of good, kind people. My trek that day represented both independence and interdependence. In that story is a respecting of my space (no one tried to stop me from going on my own), and it is also a clear violation of my space, thanks be to God.

After several in-person national conventions, I have gotten articles that express anger about how fast some people travel in the hotel when we are in what might be characterized as rush-hour traffic. I have normally toned those articles down to remove some of the bitterness and have often thought about Dr. Jernigan’s notion that many blind people go through a stage of rebellious independence. That may be a necessary part to rehabilitation, but I had no such excuse, and I think the warning to 2022 convention travelers on the run may serve some purpose. At some level we are talking about making the convention a safe space, and I think this should be part of our Federation evolution. We can and must take the time to be kind, and even when there is no yellow light, we should always proceed with caution when the health of others and ourselves is at risk.

Bernie’s Story: It Takes a Village, Resourcefulness, and Cosmic Alignment

by Laura Deck

From the Editor: This is not a traditional Braille Monitor offering. Its author is not a Federationist; its subject is not a Federationist though he makes substantial yearly donations because he believes the Federation has made significant contributions to his life. He believes NFB-NEWSLINE® has been nothing less than a Godsend and wishes he had the benefits of it much earlier in his life. “Many times I wanted to discuss current events with my colleagues but could do so at only the most superficial level. I had the news but not the depth. Now what I have is timely and in full, and I couldn’t be more delighted. I love information, and NFB-NEWSLINE is a very big part of that.

Laura Deck works for Bookshare, and it gets its fair share of credit here; but since we support it, that’s fine with me. Enjoy this well-written article about a real pioneer in breaking down barriers for blind people and showing some very influential sighted folks that we can cut it on terms of equality:

Despite losing his sight at age seven, Bernie Perella’s journey took him from a small town in Pennsylvania to Villanova University, a career at the National Security Agency, and a rewarding, active life without limits.

On the surface, Bernie Perella’s life is not that different from others who came of age after WWII: son of Italian immigrants; idyllic, small-town childhood; college graduate; professional career; and satisfying retirement. But dig a little deeper and a fascinating story emerges. Bernie credits his fortunate life to “the village” that nurtured him growing up, a heavy dose of resourcefulness that helped him navigate daily life, and four momentous occasions “when the stars aligned.” When I spoke to Bernie, he was sitting by his pool in Cape Coral, Florida, waiting for his turn to get the COVID vaccine.

It Takes a Village (or Borough)

Downingtown is a borough about thirty miles west of Philadelphia. Bernie grew up there with his extended Italian family starting in the 1940s. As a young boy, he had problems with his vision. Unfortunately, none of the attempts to save it were successful, and he lost his sight at age seven.

Bernie’s parents were the first members of his village. Although they had only minimal formal education, they found the strength and courage needed to raise a blind child so he could have the best chance to succeed in the sighted world. “My parents provided a wonderful blend of parenting. My mother was protective, but not overly protective. My father encouraged me to try things that I might not otherwise try to do,” says Bernie. “I think they could be an inspiration to parents of other visually impaired children.”

The next member of the village was Bernie’s one-year-older brother, Frank. During their childhood and teenage years, the two were virtually inseparable. They could often be seen running through the open fields, playing and fishing along the banks of Brandywine Creek, and in the evenings playing games with other kids in the neighborhood. “Because of Frank and through his eyes, I felt like any other kid in the neighborhood, and I always felt that I was accepted by them,” says Bernie.
 
The village grew larger because of the extended family and the many neighbors who lived close by. “Neighbors watched out for me. They would call out in Italian to warn me when they saw me trying to cross the street,” Bernie recalled. “Since there weren’t many cars in the neighborhood, I could ride my bike without falling off or hitting anything. I had extremely good hearing and relied on echolocation to navigate. Frank and I would run around the track at the local high school, and I could guide myself by hearing where the gravel track ended and the curb began.”

From Overbrook School for the Blind to Catholic High School

When the time came for Bernie to begin school, his parents realized that the only option was to send him to a residential school for the blind. He enrolled at the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia, which was thirty miles away. Bernie says, “It was difficult for my parents to leave their son in the care of strangers, and it was frightening for me because my parents were not there to provide comfort and reassurance.” As a result, the staff and teachers at that school became members of the village. There he learned Braille and life skills as well as traditional subjects. “When I got to high school age, however, I was worried that the world I was about to enter was not a blind world, so in 1956 I left the school,” he says.

At that time, mainstreaming did not exist. The only option was the Catholic high school, and the priest said Bernie could enroll if he could do the same work as everyone else. That September, he sat in class with all the other students who could see and he couldn’t. “That was an interesting and exciting time for me. The students thought I was a curiosity.” However, as the year progressed, a few of the students offered to read materials for Bernie, and he became lifelong friends with several of them.

Necessity is the Mother of Invention

Bernie had a few textbooks in Braille and relied on the Volunteer Services for the Blind (VSB), a group in Philadelphia that transcribed books into Braille or recorded them on tape. Bernie says, “Everyone at VSB, members of my village, were willing to jump through any hoops in order to get the materials I needed in Braille or on tape.” He continues, “My mother, who never graduated from high school, would record my chemistry textbook while I was at school, even though she didn’t understand a word.” He took notes in class using a Braille slate. After three years, he graduated. It was a very proud day for his parents when Bernie gave the valedictory speech.

Navigating the Campus and Classes at Villanova University

Bernie’s knack for inventiveness accelerated when he entered Villanova. At that time there were no ADA requirements, and most if not all universities had no programs in place to support students with disabilities. Villanova was no exception, and the teachers had no clue how to deal with the four blind students who enrolled that year.

Bernie was on his own in the classroom, but he received some much-needed help from his brother and a few friends who were students at Villanova. Bernie says, “Without their help, getting through the initial enrollment and learning how to navigate the campus would have been much more difficult.” Recording lectures was only partially useful when professors didn’t explain what they were writing or pointing to on the chalkboard. As a math major, equations were especially difficult since Nemeth Braille code for mathematics and science wasn’t widely available.

With the help of a volunteer, Bernie invented his own math notation. His academic accomplishments were impressive, but they didn’t negate the frustrations of sitting alone at 2:30 a.m. trying to do homework without the books. “I didn’t know what the future would hold. All I could do was keep moving forward in spite of setbacks,” says Bernie. Before Bernie finished at Villanova, his brother Frank went off to join the Air Force. Bernie says, “I found it ironic that I was visually impaired, and my brother could fly jet planes for the Air Force.”

Stars Aligned #1: NSA is Calling

After four years of trials and tribulations on campus, he started interviewing with different companies. Interviews were often frustrating. The interviewer would say, “I don’t know if this job will work out because I don’t understand how you can even dial a telephone.” Bernie would respond, “I can dial faster with my left hand than you can with your right.” Even though he was right, it didn’t get him the job.

Bernie really wanted to interview with NASA, but the sign-up sheet was full, so he put his name on another sheet. It turned out he was interviewing for the National Security Agency (NSA). The discussion went very well. The interviewer said, “If we proceed, you have to come to Washington, DC, for further interviews.” “Name the time and place,” said Bernie.

The stars aligned and Bernie embarked on a rewarding career at the NSA as a mathematician, programmer, and systems analyst. “It was a wonderful job, and I learned a lot. I earned the respect of my colleagues, and they didn’t view me as blind.”

Stars Aligned #2: The Optacon

“In the early days of my work, there was no easy way to read anything let alone mathematical equations.” Much of the material was classified, so Bernie couldn’t send it out to be recorded. A colleague recorded several programming manuals for Bernie, and another NSA employee, a mechanical engineer, designed and built a device that allowed Bernie to read computer punch cards. Together with a blind friend at IBM, they figured out how to adapt a computer printer to print Braille. “It was primitive, but better than nothing,” recalls Bernie.

In 1972, Bernie learned about the Optacon, a handheld device with a camera that translates print into a tactile facsimile of the letters. He secured funding to research the device and attended training in Palo Alto, California. “It was like learning to read all over again, but this time with printed letters. Printed alphabet letters were not part of my mental cognizance,” explains Bernie. The Optacon was the start of a new chapter in Bernie’s saga. Finally, after much practice, he was able to read computer manuals and many other printed documents.

Stars Aligned #3: Eyes for Life

The stars aligned once again when on a chilly fall day, Bernie and his friends went to the horse races. One young woman in the group offered to walk with him. “I didn’t know it then, but I was starting a walk for life. Susanne became my wife and eyes. I thought I was getting a new set of eyes with the Optacon, but I didn’t know that I was getting a new set of eyes for real.” Susanne was a librarian and served as the head of the library at the Federal Trade Commission and the US Treasury Department—a career woman as Bernie describes her.

“Susanne introduced me to the great outdoors, and we embarked on a wonderful journey filled with experiences of camping, hiking many trails in state and national parks, and overseas travel,” Bernie recalls. They joined bird watching groups, took birding courses, and found themselves racing across fields in the dark of night, creeping through swamps on the eastern shore of Maryland, and slogging through the jungles of Costa Rica, all in search of interesting birds. “America the beautiful, purple mountains majesties, spacious skies—many haven’t seen those things, but I have.”
           
Susanne was a good researcher and a great reader. She would often read articles from the newspapers to Bernie. “She often lamented that she wished I could somehow read the paper myself,” recalls Bernie. They undertook an effort to discover their ancestral roots which involved many trips to the National Archives and to different places in search of old records.

Bookshare Opens Door to a New World of Books

Unfortunately, Susanne later died from breast cancer, and Bernie grieved for a time. Eventually, he met a woman who works with the autism community who took him to the Closing the Gap conference. There he learned about Bookshare, the world’s largest library of accessible ebooks for people with reading barriers, and he signed up in 2008. Growing up, he was frustrated that he couldn’t read the books and newspapers that everyone else was reading. “With Bookshare, I have access to all the New York Times bestsellers, other popular books, and even newspapers through the NFB-NEWSLINE.” Bernie enjoys reading the New York Times and listening to books using his Victor Reader Stream. “Susanne’s dream of me becoming an independent reader is now a reality,” says Bernie.

Stars Aligned #4: Sara Joins the Village

Following retirement and the subsequent passing of his wife, Bernie’s hoped-for life in the golden years was turned into chaos. “We had many plans for doing things and going places,” says Bernie. “For several years I seemed to be moving aimlessly through life hoping that some new opportunity would present itself,” Bernie recalls. Then, in an unexpected surprise, the stars aligned once again and Bernie met a new friend, Sara, on an internet-dating site. Sara is a retired elementary school teacher who spent many years helping students with learning disabilities learn to read. When the two met, they connected almost immediately. Sara is now the latest member of Bernie’s village, and life became fun again. After spending a couple of winters in Puerto Rico, they decided to build a new home in Cape Coral, Florida, where they now live. Bernie says, “We had lots of fun working on the new house project; Sara picked out all the colors, and I enjoyed working with a kitchen planner to design the kitchen I always wanted.”

Time to Pay It Forward

“A few years ago I was at a Villanova reunion, and my friends and I talked about the importance of giving back,” says Bernie. “My life has been blessed, so I decided to make donations to the NFB and to Bookshare. I really value the NFB-NEWSLINE service provided by the NFB and the books and software for social good mission that Benetech stands for and the communities it serves. I hope that my contribution pays for Bookshare memberships for adults who can’t pay, and the money will go wherever it’s needed to advance the goals of Bookshare.”

As our conversation comes to a close, Bernie says, “I want neighbors to say, ‘That’s Bernie’s house over there;’ not, ‘a blind man lives in that house.’” Given the fascinating chapters in his life’s saga, I guarantee the neighbors say, “That’s Bernie’s house.”

Independence Market Corner

by Terry Boone

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, which sells mostly low-tech items, designed to enhance the everyday independence of blind people. We will be highlighting a different product every month and listing sale products from time to time.

Athletic Balls with Bells

These standard-sized, rubber balls have bells inside that jingle when the ball is in motion.

  1. Basketball: orange AIG08B $15.00
  2. Football: brown AIG09B $15.00

Rattle Soccer Ball - AIG79B $23.00

Now it is easier than ever to play soccer with this rattle soccer ball. This regulation size five ball features dozens of rattles carefully installed between the layers of the ball near the outside. These many rattles make the ball easy to hear when it is in play.

Beeping Frisbee - AIG46F $15.00

You can have hours of indoor and outdoor fun with this soft, beeping Frisbee. This foam disk is covered in bright-orange nylon and contains a continuously beeping locator, which can be switched on or off. The beeping unit can be removed and used as a separate audible beacon. The Frisbee measures 7-1/2 inches in diameter and is 1-1/2 inches thick.

The following items are closeout specials, and the prices have been reduced:

Item                                                                                                      Item #             Sale Price
4X coil aspheric stand magnifier                                                   AIL109M           $5.00
Metal Braille Clothing Labels (Numbers 1-25)                           AIG72B             $7.00
Nine Men’s Morris (Strategy board game for                                   
    two players; includes print and Braille directions)                AIG74N             $10.00
Stereo Earbuds with Volume Control                                           AIA47H             $5.00

We still have the 2X Illuminated Magnifier with 6X Insert and Folding Handle available for $5.00, and the Plastic Letter Writing Guides and the Plastic Envelope Writing Guides are still on sale for $1.00.

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. eastern time. Our staff will be happy to assist.

Recipes

Recipes this month were contributed by members of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland.

Eating Crab at the National Convention Banquet: Some Recipes from the Host Affiliate

The Host Affiliate is encouraging every banquet attendee to eat something crab. Here are some recipes in case you need some ideas. Some of these recipes were taken from earlier editions of the Braille Monitor, reprinted here for convenience. Some are brand new to Monitor readers. Enjoy!

Easy Crock-Pot® Cream of Crab Soup
by Will Schwatka, from the April 2013 Braille Monitor

Will Schwatka manages the recording studio at the Jernigan Institute and is the voice of the Braille Monitor, Future Reflections, and other publications produced by the NFB. He is a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter.

Ingredients:
3 cans condensed cream of potato soup
2 cans condensed cream of celery soup
4 large cans evaporated milk
1 stick butter
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
8 ounces Velveeta cheese, cubed
1 pound crabmeat, shell bits removed
Old Bay seasoning to taste

Method: Combine all ingredients except Velveeta, crabmeat, and Old Bay and heat on low in crockpot until hot, about an hour. Add cubed Velveeta, crabmeat, and Old Bay to taste. Heat on low until Velveeta has melted, about a half-hour. Serve.

Cracker Crab
by Marie Cobb

Marie Cobb is a long-time Federationist who is a member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter. Her reputation as a gourmet cook is legendary.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, chopped fine
2 tablespoons green pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped celery
Dash of salt and pepper
1 teaspoon mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 pound crabmeat
¼ cup cracker crumbs
4 ounces cream
½ cup grated sharp cheese

Method: Place butter into frying pan and sauté onion, green pepper, and celery. Add salt and pepper, mustard, lemon juice, crabmeat, and cracker crumbs. Steam together for two to three minutes. Add cream and mix well. Pour into a greased flat Pyrex baking dish. Bake about 45 minutes at 350 degrees. During the last several minutes of baking time, add the sharp cheese and bake until melted and a little brown. Serves six.

South Mountain Mushroom Caps
by Marie Cobb

Ingredients:
1 large onion, chopped
2 pounds large mushrooms
1 teaspoon basil
1 tablespoon parsley
1 green pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Breadcrumbs
½ pound Monterey Jack cheese
1 pound crabmeat
Butter

Method: Sauté mushroom stems in butter with basil, onion, parsley, pepper, dry mustard, and bread crumbs. Cool. Add in crabmeat. Stuff mixture in mushroom caps, top with grated cheese, and bake at 350 degrees for about twenty minutes or until stuffing mixture is golden brown. Serves four to six.

Choptank Crab Fritters
by Marie Cobb

Ingredients:
2 cups sliced bamboo shoots
1 cup chopped onion
4 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon ginger
8 eggs, lightly beaten
1 pound crabmeat
½ cup butter

Method: Combine all ingredients except butter, adding the crabmeat last. In a frying pan, heat the ½ cup of butter. Drop the fritter mixture by large spoonfuls into the hot butter. Fry to a golden brown, turning once. Makes eight to twelve servings.

Crab Dip
by Katie Cameron

Katie Cameron is blind at heart and a good friend and member of the Greater Baltimore Chapter.

Ingredients:
1 cup lump crabmeat (12 ounces)
4 bars cream cheese (8 ounces each)
1 pound, 8 ounces, shredded mix cheese or favorite cheese
1 cup apple juice
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup mustard
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3 tablespoons minced onions
3 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning, to taste

Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, add ingredients except four ounces of the shredded cheese, stirring well. Place in large casserole dish and bake for forty minutes. When done, spread remaining cheese on top. Serve hot or cold. Goes great on bread, crackers, and bagel chips.

Crab Imperial
by the late Arthur Segal, from the February 1994 Braille Monitor

Arthur Segal had a long NFB career. He served both as president of the Merchants Division and of the NFB of Pennsylvania for many years. When he moved to Maryland in about 1982, he continued his activism both in the Greater Baltimore Chapter and in the affiliate. For many years, he was Santa Claus at the MDPOBC and Baltimore Chapter Christmas parties. He was also a gourmet cook.

Ingredients:
1 pound blue crab backfin meat
1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped dill
Generous grinding of fresh white pepper
8 to 10 drops hot sauce (approximately)

Method: In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Butter a 2-quart baking dish and put mixture in it. Sprinkle with a small amount of breadcrumbs and dot with butter; bake at 375 degrees for twenty minutes. You can also use individual dishes and handle in the same manner. Crab Imperial also makes a good stuffing. This recipe can be used to stuff eight Cornish hens, eight squab, rockfish, or fish fillets.

Maryland Crab Cakes
by the late Arthur Segal, from the February 1994 Braille Monitor

Ingredients:
1 pound crabmeat
1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon baking powder
Generous grinding of fresh white pepper
1 teaspoon dried ground mustard
2 generous-size pieces of bread with crust removed, broken into small pieces moistened with milk so that bread is moist but not sopping wet

Method: In a large bowl mix all ingredients thoroughly and form into eight patties for sandwiches with a two-patty presentation (four large patties for a dinner serving or thirty-two small balls for appetizers). Heat oil (preferably peanut) in an iron skillet, frying cakes or balls on both sides until golden or crisp to touch. Marylanders eat their crab cakes on crackers or hamburger buns and with mustard or hot sauce.

Maryland Crab Cakes
by Darlene Barrett Price, from the October 2018 Braille Monitor

You can never have too many crab cake recipes! Darlene Barrett Price is a long-time Federationist who has held many leadership positions over the years. She is president emerita of the Central Maryland Chapter.

Ingredients:
1 pound backfin crabmeat or any lump crabmeat
8 saltine crackers
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Method: Place crabmeat in bowl and check for shells. In another bowl, finely crush crackers and add remaining ingredients. Gently fold in crabmeat, just enough to combine all ingredients. Shape into six crab cakes and refrigerate for one hour. Heat two tablespoons of vegetable oil in nonstick frying pan. Sauté crab cakes until golden brown.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

A Miracle in Our Midst:
As the editor of the Braille Monitor, I receive many pieces of good news in my incoming mail. This one is particularly good. It is from Joe Ruffalo, and he certainly has experienced his share of illness. Here is what he said in response to an error he found in the Braille Monitor and my response:

Gary, thanks. Yes, feeling great. I still have several doctor appointments over the next several weeks, but here is the beautiful news: After the thirteen-hour surgery, all stage four and stage five cancer was removed. When one of the doctors provided this news, in addition five additional specialists all agreed that no cancer was remaining, and no chemo and radiation would be needed, I was called the miracle man. I owe the miracle to God and the many prayers I received from my Federation family throughout the country. My son and sister received nearly four hundred emails providing prayer and positive thoughts. Many provided personal stories when I met them at chapter meetings, over the phone, and at state and national conventions.

After spending 141 days in several hospitals and rehab facilities, coming home was like being reborn. Gary, I am blessed that God has given me an additional opportunity to care, share, grow, and to make a difference to raise expectations to live the life we want. I will forever be grateful to Him and to all of my extended family.
 
Convention Concert:
The National Federation of the Blind and its Performing Arts Division present: One Voice, a fundraising convention concert!

Join us Tuesday, July 6, at 8 p.m. eastern, anywhere and everywhere to watch blind performers of all styles showcase their abilities on our virtual stage. Enjoy a night of performance and support our work changing what it means to be blind, one stage at a time. It'll be an event that you won't want to miss, so gather the whole family.

To get tickets visit: www.nfb.org/concert. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online or by calling the Independence Market.

We share one voice. We are stronger together. We unite for #NFB21!

Elected:
The Tidewater chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia held elections on April 17, 2021, and the following officers were elected: Stewart Prost, president; Jennifer Blinsmon, vice president; Deborah Prost, secretary; Matt Albright, treasurer; and board members Renee Rogers and Earl Chapman. Congratulations to the newly elected board members.

New Book Available:
Peggy Chong writes: It is finally here—what you have all been asking for: my first book in print. Get your copy today! Read Don Mahoney, Television Star, about a man who decided to keep his blindness a secret and did so for almost ten years. Please get yours, and encourage others to purchase a copy today. This book is a great story for school and public libraries to include in their persons with disabilities collection. Here is the link to the print copy: Don Mahoney: Television Star: Chong, Peggy: 9781098082956: Amazon.com: Books (https://www.amazon.com/Don-Mahoney-Television-Peggy-Chong/dp/1098082958/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Peggy+Chong&qid=1623116661&sr=8-1). Here is my ebook series online: Smashwords – The Blind History Lady Presents—a Series by Peggy Chong (https://www.smashwords.com/books/byseries/24325).

Monitor Mart

The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.

Victor Reader Stream for Sale:
I recently acquired a Victor Reader Trek and am enjoying it so far. With that said, I am ready to part with my ever reliable, dependable Victor Reader Stream 2nd generation, which has been serving me well for seven years.

The Stream is in good working order with one minor glitch. (It is a senior you know!) In order to hear the sound, you need to plug in either a pair of headphones or an external speaker via the headphone jack located directly to the right of the SD card slot. I am including with the Stream a 4 GB SD card, but it can also take an SD card up to 32 GB. I am asking $100 for it but open to negotiation. If you are interested, please contact Brian at 609-680-8488 or at [email protected]. First come first served! Thank you.

NFB Pledge

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.

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