Braille Monitor

Vol. 64, No. 9                 October 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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ISSN 0006-8829

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Vol. 64, No. 9                       October 2021

Illustration: The Beauty of Local Programming and the Magic of Sharing Your News

Apologies from the Editor

Transformative Leadership in Partnership with the Blind: Colorado Raises Expectations for All Blind Americans
by Jena Griswold

Transformative Innovations in Transportation: A Commitment to a Future Informed by the Blind
by The Honorable Pete Buttigieg

Reframing the Fight for Civil Rights: Understanding the Discourse on Equality Verses Equity from a Social Justice Perspective
by Kane Brolin, Dr. Evette Simmons-Reed, Dr. Carolyn Peters, Dr. Lashawna Fant, and Lee Martin

Personal Reflections on Freedom
by Maurice Peret

A Life Well Lived by our Colleague, Friend, and Federation Family Member, Charlie Brown
by Alan Schlank

Leadership and Common Bonds: Transformative Change and Civil Rights Grounding from Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District

How Speaking Out Can Help Prepare for Cloudy Days and Save Lives
by Jonathan Franks

You Can Make a Difference

Living, Loving, and Providing for One’s Family Isn’t New to This Generation
by Peggy Chong

Constitution of the National Federation of the Blind as Amended 2014

Monitor Miniatures

The Beauty of Local Programming and the Magic of Sharing Your News

Having local programming at the chapter level is fundamental to what we do in the National Federation of the Blind. When the Greater Akron Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio thought about ways they could help blind students, they decided to give backpacks to the young people, the contents of which would be determined by the student. The event was a wonderful way to begin bridging the gap that so many of us who grew up without blind role models complain about. It also gave members of our Akron Chapter a chance to meet with young people and their families and to hear in their own words the things that excite and challenge them. It began building a bridge between the organized blind and the teachers who work in the Akron public schools. May every chapter find a way to be so proactive and to make the National Federation of the Blind something that every student can experience, touch, take to their school room, and, at the end of the day, bring home.

Because of the Akron Chapter's efforts and taking the time to share, we have a great lead for the Monitor. Please do the same when your chapter has an event; share it so we may all take strength and direction from you.

[PHOTO CAPTION: Greater Akron president Dave Bertsch speaks to the families about the NFB.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Greater Akron member Camryn Gattuso speaks to students about the NFB Scholarship she won.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Greater Akron member Pat McPherson gives a backpack of accessible school supplies to a student.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Greater Akron members Jessica Stover and Krissy Coen serve pizza and help students with accessible crafts and games.]

Apologies from the Editor

It's not a great feeling to make a mistake, but when there are enough of them that apology is plural, that's even worse. So here goes:

In the August-September issue I did not include the speech made by Lizzy Muhammad-Park, our $12,000 winner of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. Here is what she said:

Lizzy: Thank you, Madam Chair.

Hello, my Federation family. This honor represents your belief in me as a Federation leader and as a future successful blind professional. I would like to give a huge thank-you to the scholarship committee; to the National Federation of the Blind as a whole; to Dr. Ray Kurzweil; to my husband; to my parents, especially my mom; and to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I heard a quote earlier this week which said, “Don't worry about how you can get out of a situation, but instead think of why you were put in it.”

With that, I need to share a little story with you. After four surgeries, a 5-year-old girl had a conversation with her mother that went something like this.

“I can't take it anymore.”

“You have to, baby.  You're strong.”

“No, really, mom, I can't do this again.”

“Are you sure?” The mother wondered what her child's future might hold. “If you don't, you won't be able to see anymore.”

“I don't really care about that. Can I still go to school?”


“Can I still play with my friends?”


“Can I still watch TV?”

“Yes,” her mom said.

“Okay, then, I'm fine with it. As long as I don't have to get another surgery.”

I was that little girl. And after this conversation, my mom told my family about our decision.

“You can't listen to a child!  She doesn't know what it means to be blind!”

Hmm, what did they know?

“No,” my mom said firmly. “If she's okay with it, then we're okay with it. You don't know.  She might be part of a change for blind people.  I believe that she was chosen for this.  God has a plan for her life, so instead of praying for her sight, let's pray for His will to be done.”

Since everyone doesn't have my mom on speed dial, I will leave you with this:  What the world views as weakness can be used for strength.  It is in this way that the least become the greatest. People may underestimate you, and they will doubt you.  But don't let people tell you who you are.  You tell them who you are. Better yet, show them. You are not a victim of blindness.  You were chosen for this.  You are in the right place at the right time, surrounded by the right people, the members of the National Federation of the Blind showing people who we are—I’ve got to start that part again because it's like the best part. The members of the National Federation of the Blind: showing people who we are with everything we do since 1940; Live the life you want and build the Federation.

Thank you a million times over for awarding me this honor. I will do my best to make you proud.


In the same issue I put a picture of Briley O'Connor in the place where our Iron Man Randi Strunk should have appeared. You will also find it here.

I remember reading Hazel tenBroek talking about getting out an issue of the Braille Monitor from the Berkeley office. To paraphrase, she said, "We all set back, took a few minutes to rejoice, and then waited for the list of our mistakes to start coming in. That's no excuse for me, of course, but it's nice not to be alone.

Transformative Leadership in Partnership with the Blind: Colorado Raises Expectations for All Blind Americans

by Jena Griswold

From the Editor: Right now there is tremendous debate in our country over the issue of voting and security. While some are sure fraud is rampant and we must protect against it, others are actively looking for ways to increase turnout and at new technology that will see that every person eligible to vote has a good chance to do it. This presentation is an example of someone enthusiastic about helping blind people vote. Here are some of the remarks used to introduce her by President Riccobono:

President Riccobono: You heard Eve Hill talk about Colorado raising expectations for all blind Americans by enacting a law which we heard in the roll call. It's also been repeated in Hawaii. Our next presenter has the distinction of being the thirty-ninth secretary of state for the great state of Colorado and also the youngest secretary of state currently in the nation. She's bringing new perspectives to the work in Colorado, and she has demonstrated herself as a true champion for equality for the blind through her work to offer electronic delivery of voting and now in Colorado with electronic returns. So, here for some remarks about leadership for the rest of the nation to pay attention to is Colorado Secretary of State, from Louisville, Colorado, Jena Griswold.

(“Colorado Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver plays before her remarks).

Jena Griswold: Good afternoon. Thank you for having me here. I'm Jena Griswold, Colorado's secretary of state, and the song you just played is right on point. We're actually in the Rocky Mountains now, breathing the fresh air, and just so happy to join you.

Thank you, President Riccobono and everyone at the National Federation of the Blind for having me. In Colorado, we're so fortunate to work with Scott LaBarre and his team, including Dan Burke and Curtis Chong. It's an honor to be speaking with you at your eighty-first annual convention.

As Colorado's secretary of state, my office oversees all statewide elections, making sure all of our sixty-four county clerks are working in concert to make sure Colorado's elections are secure and smoothly run.

Colorado is continually among the nation's leaders in voter registration and turnout. In last November's general election in the midst of the pandemic, over 3.2 million Coloradans cast a ballot, more than in any election ever before in state history. Our turnout rate among active, registered voters was an impressive 86.5 percent. While 2020 was a continuation of excellent voter turnout in the state, it's not by coincidence. The fact of the matter is that we work hard to make sure voting is as easy as it can be. I'm proud that Colorado's election model is the nation's gold standard. We utilize vote-by-mail for all, in which every registered voter is mailed a ballot which they can return by mail or in any of our nearly four hundred drop boxes throughout the state, and 94 percent of voters choose to vote through mail ballot. We have early voting, where most voting centers open two weeks before an election. We have automatic voter registration and same day registration, enabling eligible voters to register and vote even on Election Day.

This hybrid of voting by mail and early in-person voting really comes down to one key simple tenet: Access. Colorado's elections are the nation's gold standards because we're able to provide voters with various methods by which to cast their ballots while maintaining security, and when voters know that casting a ballot is secure and easy, they will enthusiastically participate.

But access means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and in Colorado we work hard to make sure that every eligible voter has an equal opportunity to participate in our democracy. I'm proud that, by working closely with the National Federation of the Blind, Colorado continues to set the standard in voting for Americans with no to low eyesight. Just this past legislative session, the state legislature passed the Ballot Access to Voters with Disabilities bill, a collaborative effort with the NFB chapter in Colorado and State Senator Jessie Danielson that uses technology to revolutionize voting for Americans with low to no eyesight.

Starting back in 2019, blind, visually impaired, and voters with a qualified disability were able to receive a ballot electronically. The problem was, after receiving their ballot, voters had to print it out, vote, sign it, and physically return it to the county clerk. This latest legislation removes that additional hurdle of physically returning the ballot by allowing those specific voters who are blind, visually impaired, or otherwise unable to manipulate their ballot to vote and return their ballot using similar methods that our military overseas currently uses.

While we steadfastly protect election access, we're equally protective of election security. We're unquestionably committed to security. Thanks to the measures that we have in place, Colorado has been recognized by the Department of Homeland Security and the Washington Post as the safest state in which to cast a ballot today. Colorado overwhelmingly uses a voter-verified paper ballot. None of our voting equipment is connected to the internet, and after every election, we conduct a risk-limiting audit which proves to a high statistical degree of certainty that the results of the election are correct. What increases the security of electronic ballots is the fact that we use a secure transfer portal which is encrypted. This is similar technology that allows military voters stationed overseas and American voters living in other countries to have their voices heard, and now it's another way that blind voters can have their voices heard as well.

Our commitment to access also extends to the technology we've developed to make voting easier, and once again, the NFB has been an essential partner. This last fall, we implemented ballot-tracking capability statewide, which informs voters via text or email of the status of their ballot from when they're mailed to when they're received by the county clerk. The results after one election were extraordinary, with over 1.7 million voters using the system to track their ballot. That's 53.8 percent of all ballots returned. We're currently working with the NFB Colorado chapter to make the system work even better by optimizing mobile accessibility features. Tracking ballots is an invaluable way to add transparency to elections by removing all doubt that a voter's ballot has been received.

Colorado has also implemented a mechanism by which voters can address signature discrepancies via their cell phone called TextSecure. In a vote-by-mail system, a voter's signature is what the clerks and election judges tend to use to prove that a ballot belongs to the right person. If a signature on a ballot doesn't match a signature on file for that voter, the voter is given a chance to fix the discrepancy before the vote is not counted. TextSecure gives voters the opportunity to easily and conveniently fix those signature issues by making sure our voices are heard. In the last election, 11,085 ballots that otherwise would not have been counted were cured or fixed by voters using this new technology. We consulted with the NFB in Colorado in developing this feature and continue to work to improve it to suit the needs of blind voters.

The NFB plays an important role in how we conduct in-person voting as well. Colorado has solicited and received important feedback on accessible voting devices, feedback that has in turn been forwarded to our voting-system developers and implemented in elections. These voting-system developers can take what they learn from Colorado and implement changes nationwide, improving accessibility for blind voters from coast to coast. What we achieve together in Colorado truly has an impact that makes tangible improvements for voters nationwide.

Colorado also has a voter accessibility independence and privacy task force comprised of local and national disability advocates that keeps us improving and making sure we have elections that work for everyone. The National Federation of the Blind is a leader on this task force, and their input into our elections is a key reason that we can call ourselves the nation's gold standard.

Benjamin Franklin once said without continuous growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning. Any success we've enjoyed up to this very day is stagnant if we refuse to build on it, and if there's one thing we've learned during the past year, it's that one of the greatest risks to democracy is complacency.

As Colorado's chief election official, I'm committed to creating an election model for all the people, but to make sure that we are reaching for that more perfect union, we need every state to ensure that all eligible people, regardless of zip code, color of skin, or ability have access to free and fair elections. That is where you all come in. I urge you to reach out to your state's election officials, and if they aren't already in place, urge them to adopt vote-by-mail for all, early voting, accessible drop boxes in voting centers, same day and automatic voter registration, and accessible elections for all Americans. Democracy is only as strong as our ability to participate in it, and together we can build a democracy that works for all Americans.

Thank you for your work and continued partnership, and thank you again for having me today.

Transformative Innovations in Transportation: A Commitment to a Future Informed by the Blind

by The Honorable Pete Buttigieg

From the Editor: Pete Buttigieg is the Secretary of Transportation in the Biden Administration and therefore is instrumental in setting the tone for policies and programs run by the United States Department of Transportation. Here are remarks introducing him by President Riccobono:

President Riccobono: There's a lot of things we could say about him. He serves currently as the nineteenth Secretary of Transportation for the United States. He has a long history of public service and a commitment to listening and enacting strong and progressive policies that are grounded in the experience of real people. That's why I'm particularly excited to welcome him to our stage this afternoon for the organized blind movement. He is someone who stays grounded in local communities, which we value in the National Federation of the Blind. As an organization, we have long had a relationship with the career staff at the Department of Transportation, and we're pleased that in a short time, just since February, the secretary has shown a commitment already to being part of that partnership with the organized blind movement. Here to talk about transformative innovations in transportation is Secretary Pete Buttigieg!

(“Life is a Highway” playing).
Life is a highway, I wanna ride it all night long!
If you're going my way, I want to drive it all night long...

Secretary Buttigieg: Thank you very much, President Riccobono. Thanks for having me. Thanks for the introduction, and thanks, everyone at the National Federation of the Blind. I'm so thrilled for the chance to speak with you today. I regret that we can't be together in New Orleans, but I am, all the same, so grateful for the chance to be together for an important convening conversation like this. As the oldest and largest organization of blind Americans, as you know, you are a powerful and important voice on behalf of this community and helping all of America living up to its promises for all of its people.

Transportation policy can be an enormous engine of opportunity for Americans with disabilities, but, as you know, it can also be a major source of inequity. Since the passage of the ADA in 1990, the United States has made many important changes to improve accessibility in transportation, but we all know that there's a lot more to do. Too often when a new innovation emerges, there's not enough thought given to how it will impact or how it could be used by people with disabilities.

First, I don't want to miss this chance to thank you for the vital work that you've done on the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act, which finally went into effect earlier this year after more than a decade. When it comes to cars, silence can be deadly for blind and low-vision people, and, for that matter, for sighted people. This law helps to ensure that electric vehicles that are so important to achieving our climate goals don't put pedestrians at risk by running without any recognizable sound. I'm grateful for your advocacy and partnership with our National Highway Safety Administration to make sure these vehicles are safe for all pedestrians so that we can all benefit from climate-friendly technology.

Legislative victories like this are especially important today because our policies badly need to catch up to our technologies and our way of life. Here at the Department of Transportation, we have been working to apply the lens of equity to every project that we support or are involved with. We're striving to identify gaps in benefits and services for people with disabilities and supporting innovation in accessible transportation.

Take automated vehicles (AVs) as an example. AVs have the potential to help blind and low-vision riders get around more easily than ever. But if we've learned anything from the experience with electric cars, it's that we've got to design new technology with the needs of blind and low-vision riders and other users with disabilities in mind from the very beginning. That's why we're asking researchers and innovators to work with disability advocates and people with disabilities to advance accessibility in AV for the blind, for wheelchair users, and more. We're supporting that work through our inclusive design challenge, our automated driving system demonstration grants, and our partnerships with university transportation design centers. We also know accessible public transit is critically important for people with disabilities, and that's why the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) prioritizes grant applications that demonstrate a commitment to improving accessibility and ones that include local disability advocates in the plan. FTA and the Federal Highway Administration also fund the accessible transportation technologies research initiative, which helps to advance new mobility options for riders with disabilities while eliminating barriers and making transportation more accessible.

I'm pleased to let you know that we are strengthening our departmental office of civil rights, which frankly was hollowed out by inaction and vacancies during the previous administration. We're expanding our capacity to handle ADA and Section 504 oversight. We're also hiring a disability program manager to support that effort and working with Irene Marin who leads our civil rights office. So please, let your members and advocates and partners know that we are eager to engage and eager to partner with you all.

Accessibility for us isn't just checking a box. It's not just a buzzword. It's a commitment to ensuring that everyone has the resources and the accommodations they need to access opportunity. And accessibility isn't just about the technology of the future; it's also about dealing with the infrastructure of the past that we have inherited. We are relying on roads, bridges, ports, and other resources built decades if not a century or more ago, and some of it is literally falling apart, which has significant safety implications for all Americans but especially people with disabilities and other underserved and overburdened communities in this country. That's why we need a generational investment in jobs and infrastructure, and it's why we're so excited about the opportunity represented by the president's American Jobs Plan, the core of which is reflected in the historic bipartisan infrastructure framework that was announced recently. This is a deal that's going to create a generation of good paying union jobs, most of which will be available to Americans whether they have a college degree or not. It's got the largest investment in roads and bridges since the creation of the interstate highway system, the largest investment in passenger rails since the creation of Amtrak itself, and the largest investment in public transit ever, including funding to improve accessibility so more Americans can connect to jobs, education, and opportunity. It's also got the largest investments in clean energy transmission and in clean water in American history. And it contains eleven billion dollars to improve safety and a new Safe Streets for All program that would focus on safety for all pedestrians including those with disabilities.

Because the administration is looking at every program and policy through that lens of equity, we're seeing too that across the board, 40 percent of the climate and clean energy investments in this plan go to underserved communities including blind and low-vision Americans. Of course, there's much more we can do when it comes to promoting accessibility across our transportation system, from paratransit to guide dogs on aircraft to the Randolph-Sheppard Program. So you have my word that as long as I'm in this job, you will have an ally and an ear for your voices and your concerns here in the Department of Transportation.

According to the CDC, one in four Americans has a disability. While the nature of those challenges range for different Americans, what we know is that America misses out whenever somebody doesn't get to contribute to the economy, society, and culture of our country as they might. We also know that every American may age into a disability, especially those that impact the interface with the transportation systems across our country.

We know with a country full of Americans ready to do so much more, that no country will succeed if a quarter of its population isn't able to fully participate. Disability is also something that cuts equally across race, gender identity, income, language, and more. This means it's one of the most diverse communities of advocates and activists, internally diverse in such rich and important ways. Many young Americans are stepping up to respond to the call that you have put out to become involved and engaged.

We know also that the innovations that often begin as an accommodation for Americans with disabilities wind up benefiting everyone in ways that hadn't been fully appreciated at the beginning— curb cuts first made for wheelchair users that also now make life easier for people with strollers or roll aboard bags. Closed captioning that was designed for the deaf community today is used by many hearing people as well. Again, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act that you played such an important role in shaping is protecting everyone in this country. All of this is to say that investments that we're making right now are so important to every American, whether they realize it or not. While transportation can be a barrier to accessibility, it can also help break down barriers. That's the spirit we're bringing to this department during this administration with your help.

I'm grateful for your leadership, I'm grateful for your partnership, and I'm looking forward to continuing to work together to make sure our transportation system is safer, cleaner, and more accessible to everybody in the years ahead. Again, I thank you for the chance to be with you today. I look forward to continuing to work with you in the years to come.

President Riccobono: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I know you have a tight schedule; do you have time for any questions?

Secretary Buttigieg: Yeah, let's at least sneak in time for one.

President Riccobono: Okay, we're going to Raul for a question, but while Raul is getting unmuted, let me just say that we appreciate you being here, taking the time, and we know that you're just at the beginning of your journey at the Department of Transportation. We look forward to many years of being able to work collaboratively. Raul, are you out there?

Raul: I'm here, sir.

President Riccobono: Go ahead and introduce yourself and ask your question.

Raul: Thank you for this time. I'm Raul Gallegos from Houston, Texas, and I serve as the president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users, one of several divisions of the National Federation of the Blind. I travel quite a bit, and that travel happens on buses, Uber cars, Lyft cars, etc., and also on airplanes. Earlier this year, on January 11th, as you know, the Air Carrier Access Act was amended, so it went through quite a few changes in an effort to make it so that people stop bringing their counterfeit service dogs on planes. Unfortunately, this has had a weird and burdensome side effect on guide dog users who have legitimate service dogs that have been trained to guide us around, because that is our preferred mobility tool. Some of these provisions involve filling out forms that the airlines may require us to fill out to attest that these dogs that are traveling with us are legitimate service animals. These forms are not accessible. Sometimes they have to be filled out twice: Once might be the PDF itself, and another time to the airline itself, and they're not consistent.

Furthermore, my dog is right around eighty pounds, and there's language in the Air Carrier Access Act that says that if the airline staff determines that your dog may not fit or doesn't fit within that foot space, the blind traveler either has to allow the dog to be put underneath or has to reschedule their plans until there's more room available. While I have every confidence in the flight staff to be able to handle the things on the plane, I don't know that I have that same confidence that a flight person can determine whether my dog can fit there or not when I'm the one who has the training to be able to make that determination. I can guarantee that my eighty-pound dog, with my size twelve shoe, can fit very comfortably in that seat underneath.

My question for you is to ask, would you consider having the Air Carrier Access Act amended so that these types of provisions just go away? We would like them not to be there.

Secretary Buttigieg: Well, I appreciate your raising this, and I do want to take a close look at how this situation can be improved. I know this is an area of concern, and obviously there were some public policy goals that rule was intended to achieve, but as you're describing, clearly there are consequences that may not have been fully understood as it was brought together. It's a good example of how we're really relying on your advocacy and voice and ability to educate us on lived experiences of travel to make sure that we're getting this right in understanding the needs of blind and low-vision travelers in our aviation system.

I know that there are ongoing discussions about this, and I will make sure that my team will be in touch with the Federation and other advocates to provide updates. I'll tell you, it's very helpful to hear you describing in a more direct and specific way how this can create that kind of challenge. I'll be sure that in those conversations I carry that story with me, and again I appreciate your shining a light on that challenge.

Raul: Thank you very much.

President Riccobono: Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here. We're looking forward to following up. I do want you to know that we were going to have Mr. Ron Brown, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana ask you a question, bring a little home feel to it.
(Laughter.) But we know you have a busy schedule, so we'll be following up with you and your team, and we appreciate your partnership with the organized blind movement.

Secretary Buttigieg: Thank you, Ron, happy to be in the company of a fellow Hoosier, and this is our first conversation, not our last. We look forward to the continued partnership.

Reframing the Fight for Civil Rights: Understanding the Discourse on Equality Verses Equity from a Social Justice Perspective

by Dr. Evette Simmons-Reed, Dr. LaShawna Fant, Dr. Carolyn Peters, Mr. Kane Brolin and Mr. Lee Martin, Sr. 

From the Editor: There are lots of things to like about editing the Braille Monitor, but I think my favorite is when I get articles that cause people to sit up and think about issues they thought otherwise resolved. This article asks us to look at two words: equality and equity. Though I could’ve easily used both in sentences, when it came to really analyzing them, I went to my dictionary and then to some of the contemporary discussion about them.

This article is not envisioned by its authors as being the final statement on the words we should use but a suggestion that we strongly consider when each word best addresses what we want to say and those things for which we are willing to work. Here is what this fine list of authors has to say:

Social justice is a phrase that seemingly few Americans view with impartiality. To some, it is a rallying cry for empowerment; to others, a threatening symbol of sanctimonious wokeness. It seems that social justice has become loaded with so much political ammunition that it is often hard to imagine that the principle behind it could be beneficial to everybody. But social justice is really about allyship, and it can benefit people with all different kinds of lived experience. 

Writing in Forbes, multi award-winning Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader Sheree Atcheson defines an ally as “any person that actively promotes and aspires to advance the culture of inclusion through intentional, positive, and conscious efforts that benefit people as a whole.”1 Everyone has the ability to become an ally. Everyone sometimes needs to have an ally. Beneath all the loaded connotations ascribed to it, social justice refers to the practice of allyship and coalition-building work. Its goal is to promote equality, equity, mutual respect, and the assurance of rights between and within communities and social groups. Fair wages, the #MeToo movements, the pointed criticism of policing tactics, and Black Lives Matter have all focused attention on various social justice issues in our society. Although this term previously applied mainly to how economic resources were allocated, more recently it has come to apply holistically to the treatment of different individuals and people groups, access to services and opportunities, and access to political representation. 

Difficult dialogues regarding these social justice issues have been raging in our homes, workplaces, schools, and more recently, within our own organization. Specifically, calls that the blind be recognized as being made up of a complex kaleidoscope of cultural identities, rather than as a composite mass, have been at the forefront of many difficult discussions. Issues such as access, equity, participation, diversity, and human rights are basic social justice principles and are aligned with the principles we historically have fought for as the oldest and largest civil rights organization of blind people. Yet, at national and state conventions, in chapter meetings, in blogs, and on social media, it is evident that, just as in the rest of our country, we in the organized blind movement have been struggling to arrive at consensus, given the different perspectives expressed by Federationists who come from all sorts of backgrounds. Not surprisingly, we have been pondering some challenging differences of opinion when it comes to the approach we should take to all this: 

Despite legislation inspired by the Disability Rights Movement, institutional policies and practices have long created unfair advantages for sighted people, perpetuating a substantial wealth gap between sighted and blind people. This can be described as institutional oppression: the systematic mistreatment and dehumanization of any person based solely on a social identity group to which they identify that is supported and enforced by society and its institutions. Whether consciously or not, people who make and enforce policy base their practice of institutional oppression on a belief that people in a given social identity group are inherently inferior. But this practice is sometimes not obvious on the surface. Typically, organizational diversity initiatives create an illusion of inclusion and fall far short of anything beyond compliance with the letter of the law. Uncorrected institutional oppression results in much of the same thing as before: The group that already had dominant power continues to benefit disproportionately at the expense of other groups that continue to be oppressed in spite of legislative safeguards that should have evened the playing field. 

Keeping this in mind, there is one other huge question that demands an answer: 

For eighty-one years the National Federation of the Blind has been empowering blind people to advocate for our needs in working toward abolishing barriers impeding our pursuit of the “American Dream.” Taking direction from various presidents who have led the National Federation of the Blind over these eight decades, we continuously expand the scope of our vision. Many blind Americans within and apart from the Federation have tasted the sweet nectar of progress resulting from the extraordinary fortitude demonstrated by our members. As an organization we provide a network of support for one another as we seek to raise our voices, increase our visibility, and share our views all over the world. 

In the spirit of advancing our mission, we here discuss the nuances between the term’s equality and equity. We offer this article as food for thought and as an open invitation to keep these critical dialogues going.
Some may view equality and equity as just different rallying cries or buzzwords meaning essentially the same thing; but we caution that words matter. In his banquet speech at the 2020 NFB National Convention, President Riccobono wisely pointed out: “Language reflects belief, and we will not sell out our beliefs. We, the blind, follow our words with the action of living the lives we want.” So, let us start by adding definition to this discussion and then go on to examine how the choice of the term equality or equity aligns with the policies and practices aimed at improving outcomes for different blind Americans.

According to the dictionary by Merriam-Webster, equality is the “quality or state of being equal, where equal is defined as having the same measurement in quality, nature, or status.” Equality aims to ensure that everyone gets the same things in order to enjoy full, healthy lives. Equality aims to promote fairness and justice. But, as we have learned from the outcomes of the civil rights movement, it is achieved only when everyone starts from the same place or needs the same things. Equality presumes sameness and takes for granted that we all have the same experiences and privileges. 

This same dictionary defines equity as “something that is equitable,” where equitable is defined as, “dealing fairly and equally with all concerned.” Equity, from a social justice perspective, involves trying to understand and give people what they need to enjoy full, healthy lives.
A deeper dive into what these terms imply makes it plain that the kind of justice and the types of success that any society seeks to attain depends on whether the first principle that society employs has its roots in equality or in equity.

Equality basically means providing everyone with the same amount of resources regardless of whether everyone needs them. In other words, each person receives an equal share of money, food, health benefits, employment resources, and social services despite what they already started with or lacked from the beginning. Equity, though, is a subtler notion that is harder to attain in practice. Equity is when resources are shared based on what each person needs in order to adequately level the playing field for all who contribute to a society and all who have need of something from that society. Different people—and, by extension, different subgroupings of people within a larger social framework like the United States—have different levels of need for support and assistance. In recognition of this, the equity model creates systems with a mandate to support individuals and groupings of individuals based on their specific needs. The goal of equity is to help achieve fairness in treatment, leading to better outcomes for all even if all don’t get there in exactly the same ways or by receiving exactly the same things in the same proportion. If done properly, equality can be an outcome of an effective and just process; but it is the principle of equity that creates and drives that process. 

So, can equality and equity live in the same room? Which of these two is more valid? Which is more important? In our work to advance the opportunity and security of blind Americans, are we striving to make things equal or to make them equitable? Are we arguing that one of these noble-sounding concepts is superior and the other inferior? Should we keep just one of these concepts and throw out the other? 

We argue that even though they have two entirely different meanings, equity and equality are not competitive ideas, but on the contrary they are complementary. They work hand in hand. One cannot be achieved without the other. Understanding what equity means and how to apply it actually brings us one step closer to achieving equality as the final outcome. Put another way, in order for the world to reach a place in which everything is fair, just, and equal, we need to start with a goal of equity: distributing resources based on who needs them most and who can draw the most long-term benefit from a specific type of approach. We propose that if we are to reach equality as an outcome, we have to tackle the causes of inequity first. Without equity, inequality will persist, and those who are most vulnerable will remain or become even more vulnerable, while those who already enjoy inherent advantage will just keep gaining more advantage. 

There is still another definition of equity: lesser used in civil rights literature, but a definition that is very important to those who spend their professional lives in stewardship of economic resources. In the business world, equity refers to ownership. When Investopedia looks at equity, it refers to "shareholders' equity ... [representing] the amount of money that would be returned to a company’s shareholders if all of the assets were liquidated and all of the company's debt [were] paid off .... It also represents the pro-rata ownership of a company's shares."

You certainly could argue that most of us in the blind community, except for those in the Business Enterprise Program, have struggled to imagine that we could ever own anything substantial. In this country, it could be argued that most of us who are blind have passed through seasons of life when the most consistent income we received came from Supplemental Security Income or SSDI. A lot of us are employed only part-time outside the home or are underemployed in workshops. These outcomes are persistent across the blind community irrespective of the degree of visual impairment, education, or ability that any particular blind adult started with. But we are underestimating ourselves when we say we have no equity. As free citizens of a constitutional republic, with the right to express ourselves, vote, and choose whether to buy or not to buy something, we need to think and act as though we have an ownership stake—an equity stake—in the community, state, and country we live in. We need to ensure that society recognizes we have this ownership stake, because we do have it. Advocating for equity does not just refer to pleading with someone who occupies a seat of power to even the playing field for us and hoping they do it. We who are blind must not wait around for someone else to do this for us. Transforming equity from a dream into a real, impactful process and workable procedure means voting, but it also means showing up at school board and town council meetings. It means getting involved in community organizations that go beyond just the organized blind movement. It means expressing our voice not only on Election Day, but it includes actively getting involved as voting districts are redrawn in the wake of the census every ten years. This is critical for the blind in general; it is especially critical for blind men and women who are African-American. Of course, it is important too for blind men and women who are Latinx or who are members of an East Asian or Pacific Island ethnic community or who are members of a Middle Eastern/North African or Native American ethnic community or who self-identify as multiple disabled or LGBTQ+. 

So, what is an example of how we can apply the principle of equity to the good in our everyday struggle? As we decide what to ask for and where to set our boundaries of acceptance as blind Americans, perhaps we should all ponder the difference between inclusion and access. In a brilliantly written piece published in the March 2020 edition of the Braille Monitor, Peter Slatin unpacks this. In part, he says: "Exclusion and inclusion are passive states assigned to those designated to be either kept out or brought in. The active agent is not the newly welcomed but instead the welcoming committee, which sets the terms of inclusion and will assign and enable a bouncer should one be deemed necessary. Even when those terms are beneficial, the person newly included will retain that sense of being an outsider who has been invited to a party and only allowed to join by the grace of the host. Is it nice to finally be allowed in? Of course—but we have been here all along. ... It is not inclusion that I want—it’s access. And access is something I can actively seek to create or acquire. I may need assistance doing so. I may need to change laws and minds, not necessarily in that order. I may need to fight. In the end though, I will be part of designing what access looks like and how it works."3

The importance of gaining full equity and belonging, as opposed to just accepting inclusion whenever sighted powerbrokers and gatekeepers permit it, is true for not just the technology we use but for every aspect of the society we operate in. According to John A. Powell, director of the othering and belonging institute, at UC Berkeley, states that “belonging is based on the recognition of our full humanity without having to become something different or pretend that we’re all the same”. We are constantly renegotiating who we are as human beings (January 14, 2020). From a social justice perspective, we must go further than asking to be included and hoping those with the power are nice enough to accommodate. We must commit to be a part of the ownership, design, and implementation process. It means not just asking our legislators for help every February at NFB Washington Seminar. Sooner or later, some of us in the organized blind movement who live with other intersecting characteristics need to get elected so we can change unjust laws and oversee the implementation of what we need from the insider’s position.

In what areas do inequity and inequality show up most? There are evident inequalities globally in race, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, education, economic status, and so much more. It is inequity—the lack of an ownership stake—that lies at the core of so much inequality and human suffering in this country and around the globe. Understanding the implications of inequity and tackling it head-on will be important to achieving overall equality as an outcome. We shouldn’t be aiming to treat people as if there were no differences among us or aiming to distribute resources equally to everybody.  It is highly recommended that our movement recognize that it is only by means of equitable processes that we will have the means to get to the outcome of equality. 

To this end, we argue that the Federation should alter the NFB Pledge so that the word equity is used instead of equality: 

As pointed out in a concise article published in the October 2017 edition of the Braille Monitor,4 the statement we recite that is currently known as the NFB Pledge has been in use for nearly five decades. What’s more, it was composed and distributed at the behest of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, the longest-serving leader who has graced the organized blind movement. While the mission of the Federation must remain intact and the rich legacy of our past must never be forgotten, changing times in the society at large calls for a change in the strategies and tactics used to achieve our mission. In July of 2021, the Monitor’s long-time editor Gary Wunder penned these words: “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.” We ask that you strongly consider our suggestion, that you view it through a forward-looking lens, and that you comment on our proposal with the same spirit of fellowship and positive goodwill that has led us to present it in these pages. 


1. Taken from “Allyship - The Key To Unlocking The Power Of Diversity.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/shereeatcheson/2018/11/30/allyship-the-key-to-unlocking-the-power-of-diversity/
2. Antonin Scalia, The Disease As Cure. “In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race,” 1979 Washington University Law Quarterly 147 (1979). Reprinted by University of Chicago Law School, Journal Unbound Journal Articles Faculty Scholarship. https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/journal_articles/
3. For more on this subtopic, check out the article entitled The Trouble With Inclusion: https://nfb.org//images/nfb/publications/bm/bm20/bm2003/bm200313.htm
4. “Origins Of The NFB Pledge” https://nfb.org/sites/default/files/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm17/bm1709/bm170914.htm

Personal Reflections on Freedom

by Maurice Peret

From the Editor: Maurice Peret is a talented, conscientious Federationist. He is what I would consider a deep thinker. He and people like him have caused me a lot of difficulty in my life. When I left home as a senior in high school, I knew there was a lot I needed to learn academically, but I thought myself very experienced in the ways of the world. I knew who the good people were and to stick with them. I knew who the bad people were, and I prayed for the wisdom and good sense to stay away from them. My values were strong, but too often the things I thought I believed depended on categorizing people I did not know and making judgments about circumstances in which I’d never found myself. I made judgments about people of different religions, races, sexual orientation, and cultures, seldom to their advantage. I didn’t really understand why black people marched, the words of my father echoing through my head: if they really are so poor that they need all of this help, why aren’t they out working? I listened without outrage when the commentator Paul Harvey suggested that the nuclear weapon had been given to the United States, for without it how could we hope to combat the hordes of Asia? When I heard about a prison riot, it never once crossed my mind that any imprisoned person should have a single right in the world, for hadn’t he or she already forfeited any rights by whatever they did that got them there?

So then people much like Maurice came along and introduced me to subjects such as sociology and honors history. It isn’t so much what they said in their lectures but in the books they demanded I read. Suddenly Malcolm X was transformed in my mind from a senseless, militant radical to someone who had something to say. Did I have to agree with all of it? I didn’t. Did I have to agree that he made compelling arguments and that they could not be dismissed as irrational or products of a lesser mind? I most certainly did. And who was this Martin Luther King, disrupting traffic and blocking bridges? Well, when studied in his own words and the words of his contemporaries, it was almost unbelievable to me that he was actually criticized for his demands that the activities in which he would be involved must be peaceful and that the human race must be convinced by persuasion, not force. These were not the interpretations of King that came from my home or its location in the world, and taking in this new information was both an intellectual and a moral struggle. What was it that I didn’t understand, and would I ever?

I thought that perhaps leaving college and entering into a professional career might make the world a little easier to understand. Years alive and wisdom seemed to be closely associated, so certainly easier times were to come. But to tell you the truth, they haven’t, and I am still challenged by what it means to be someone other than me, to judge without judging those who have grown up in different environments and have had significantly different opportunities from my own. I will never know firsthand the experience of trying to incorporate blindness and blackness, blindness and being a Muslim, blindness and having a significant disability that is both visible and changes the need I have for meaningful service and meaningfully respectful treatment in our country. The Federation constantly challenges me in trying to establish a bar that is high enough to cause people to jump but not so high that it causes them to fatally trip or, less dramatically, to conclude they will never jump again.

I hope that you will give serious consideration to what Maurice has written, and perhaps, unlike me, you will not be surprised by the burden that falls upon us as adults to actively work at thinking, understanding, and opening our hearts to people and to situations we would’ve easily dismissed. Here is what Maurice has to say:

I intend to examine the weighty, at times elusive, and fluid concept of freedom in general socio-political as well as on personal terms and to show the way in which it applies directly to us as an organization. Often, following one of our annual National Federation of the Blind conventions, it takes me a while to fully digest and absorb the impact. Ever since this most recently held event, however, I have been considering some of the lessons from the 2021 convention in the context of the broader discussion about freedom. In his banquet address entitled Reflection, Revolution, and Race: A Growing Understanding within the Organized Blind Movement, President Mark Riccobono quoted the young Black poet, Amanda Gorman:

"When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?
The loss we carry, a sea we must wade.
We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
and the norms and notions of what “just” is isn’t always justice.
And yet, the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken,
but simply unfinished."

To the extent that our “nation” refers to the people collectively, I wholeheartedly concur. However, we often view “nation” as a self-contained entity, with defined boundaries as in a box or as a set of institutions. Institutions that have outlived their usefulness or moral justification are broken and cast aside and replaced with institutions that are more progressive. The example comes to mind of the period known as radical reconstruction in the Southern United States that triumphantly followed the war that ended institutionalized chattel slavery.

President Riccobono revealed the sometimes-complicated history of the organized blind movement in the context of contentious matters confronted in our nation, particularly as they related to race. I was filled with a sense of pride at the determined and conscious efforts of blind African Americans in the South who initiated and defended their bid to become integrated into the National Federation of the Blind as full and equal members. As our President pointed out, this took many years of determined hard work and advocacy.

In recent years we have also learned from others of our sisters and brothers who bring their intersectional traits to the broader discussion in our movement, and we are consciously richer because of it. We have become even more acutely aware of our socially defined group identities and the characteristics assigned to them, unfortunately sometimes by those who do not share a particular identity and even sometimes by those who do. These assigned characteristics can be harmful and evolve instead into caricatures laden with misconceptions and societal misunderstandings about a group who shares that identity. The “conversation,” as it is sometimes referred to therefore, comes neither easily nor comfortably. We take our cues from the broader discussion in society led by recognized or self-appointed spokespersons who represent various schools of thought. When something emerges from the depths, it is observed as if for the first time. For the rising sentient being, the process of “emerging” has been long and painstaking.

As much as freedom seems to be a universally coveted value, there is wide disparity about how freedom is defined. The question comes to mind as to where freedom fits into what has been dubbed the social contract. Strict libertarians and conservatives decry the limitations on constitutionally protected liberties on a spectrum that ranges from government intrusion into our personal lives to contemporary issues regarding mandated masking and vaccination requirements amidst a pandemic. The thinking goes something like this: “I should be unencumbered in my 2nd amendment right to own and carry whatever firearm I choose, practice my 1st amendment religious expression in whatever fashion and in whatever public or private space I want, and engage in or refuse whatever medical or recreational intervention that affects my body, so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others.”

Civil libertarians, on the other hand, balance the common good against personal freedoms and can sometimes bring judgmental language to the table that further fuels misguided conversation that fails to lead us to a reasoned and productive conversation.

Of course, there are any number of rules that regulate our individual and social existence. We all, for the most part, agree that it is prudent to stop at a red light or stop sign. Western Judeo-Christian society generally accepts essential elements of the Biblical commandments:

10 "But the seventh day is the Sabbath…" "In it thou shalt not do any work,"
12 "Honour thy father and thy mother…"
13 "Thou shalt not kill…"
15 "Thou shalt not steal…"
16 "Thou shalt not bear false witness…"
17 "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house…"

Deuteronomy 4:13

Upon these principles was constructed a common law legal system to enforce these western societal values.

Our democratic republic has eternally struggled with minority rights in the context of majority rule, and our Federation was no exception as eloquently illustrated in President Riccobono’s memorable banquet address. Glaring disparities in our society perniciously restrict individual freedoms of movement, shelter, and employment largely based upon demographic factors such as race, age, nationality, citizenship or resident status, gender identity, and visible or invisible disabilities.

These competing philosophies were poignantly displayed during the rigorous debate over resolution 2021-02 sponsored by Lou Ann Blake, director of research programs for the NFB and passed by the convention regarding Suppression of the Rights of Voters. The contention seemed to focus around barriers imposed upon voters that include requirements of state-issued voter identification and additional medical verification documentation for voters with disabilities. In her address to the convention, Eve Hill, partner at Brown, Goldstein & Levy, said, “ Blind people are at the heart of the civil rights struggle for voting equality. Blind people have faced and continue to face massive barriers to voting. Blind people face inaccessible or burdensome registration requirements, and they face inaccessible election websites that prevent them from getting information on elections and candidates. Blind people face transportation and other barriers to even getting to the polls. So the lack of convenient polling places keeps blind people from voting.”

Terms like voter suppression, voter ID, voter fraud, and ballot equity appear to be highly volatile political triggers. As members of society as a whole, those of us in the NFB also carry deeply held views on issues such as these. Fifty-six years after passage of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, we as blind people continue to struggle for fairness and equality at the polls.

The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) mandated a Federal minimum wage for all workers, with notable exceptions. Created as an incentive for nonprofit agencies ostensibly to provide training and employment opportunities for employees with severe disabilities, a 14-C voucher system was established to exempt certain of these agencies from compensating their workers equal to otherwise able-bodied workers, sometimes even within the same work setting. The concept of freedom is still invoked today to defend this archaic and grossly unfair system of super-exploitation. Ironically, it is argued that without (14-C) provided opportunities, workers with disabilities would have nowhere else to go to exercise their individual freedom to fulfill their need to be productive and find personal satisfaction in performing an honest day’s work with a paycheck, however meager that may be. Anil Lewis, NFB executive director of blindness initiatives, testified in a joint hearing of the House Subcommittee on Workforce Protections and the House Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services. [https://edlabor.house.gov/imo/media/doc/LewisAnilTestimony072121.pdf]

One of the purposes of this hearing was to discuss the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act (H.R. 2373), which would phase out subminimum wages over a five-year period. Seventy-three years and counting, and 14C remains the law of the land.

In 1979, Milton Friedman claimed that we should remove “restrictions on our freedom” by government to fully realize the ideal of freedom (Friedman, 1979, 61). Karl Marx, by contrast, asserted that the concept of freedom couldn’t be achieved through isolated man’s calculation of his interests, but gained through the community where everyone has the means of cultivating his gifts in all directions. In comparison with classical economists’ concept of freedom, consisting in the maximal absence of restraints on the individuals’ choices for increase of their interests (well summarized by Friedman’s concept of freedom), Marx’s concept of freedom lies in individuals’ collective use of rationality or reason that can develop their concrete social relations as a proper sphere of realization of human freedom. [https://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/papers-2004/Kim.pdf] In other words, while we are all unique and separate individuals, we do not exist on our own islands but must adhere to levels of social regulation and enforcement.

A class-conscious view of our history reveals the power of the people to effect and even enforce societal change. The last century bore witness to two tectonic people’s movements that shook the world, the Russian revolution of 1917, and the opening of Socialism in the Americas with the 1959 Cuban revolution. Our Federation was born in the context of massive and often tumultuous labor battles in the United States that established the Counsel of Industrial Organizations, which fueled the women’s rights, anti-war, and the civil rights movement that crushed Jim Crow segregation and other restrictions on individual liberty. These powerful examples endure as evidence of what is possible when we consciously commit our collective energy, time, and resources to effect the change we want to see.

I have oft of late seen the noun “adult” used as a verb as in “adulting,” I imagine this to mean engaging in practices leading up to or otherwise reserved for mature adults. Growing up was like a corridor with rooms that spiraled upward, opening to new and exciting freedoms: a first venture away from home, an independent walk to the school bus stop, the first monetary allowance, getting one’s driver’s license, securing a first job, etc. With each of these newly discovered liberties came another set of rules and restrictions that could even lead to the freedom being taken away. Also with these freedoms came choices, each with their own layers of consequences, positive, negative, or neutral.

We all place value on the decisions we make, often on a hierarchy that can lead to rationalizations. Ah, what the heck? It is just one cookie, after all. As we learn to live in the world, we also recognize the impact of the choices we make upon others around us and our friends, family, loved ones, peers, colleagues, and community. We are uniquely equipped as a species with voices that can be used to express our needs or our indignity when those needs are not met or when our freedoms are treaded upon. A functional element of “adulting,” therefore, seems to involve strengthening one’s ability to make decisions and live with the results of them.

Our organization is also amidst refining what it truly means to be a member of the NFB. Increasingly we urge that newcomers to our movement learn to internalize who and what we are and that our individual conduct and behavior matters greatly and affects the very function of our organization. We learn that blindness is not the characteristic that defines us or our future and that every day we raise the expectations of blind people because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. We come to believe that we can live the life we want; blindness is not what holds us back. We also learn to recognize our privilege and responsibility 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 programs and policies of the Federation, and to abide by its constitution. Federation leaders developed and continue to refine a code of conduct designed to protect the rights and freedoms of every member, regardless of identity or intersectionality.

Since our inception in 1940, the NFB has tried to integrate blind people into all aspects of society and to change public perceptions that our participation and contributions are somehow of less value or worth. Through the power of collective action, we learn what freedoms are afforded us as members in good standing to influence the policies and decisions that affect the nation’s blind. To the uninitiated, this can seem like a very daunting weight to carry. All of us came to the Federation at varying stages of our blindness journey. I, like many others who joined the Federation, became involved and motivated by what I could gain from the organization. I grew in the Federation based upon what was asked of me and which transformed my sense of self-worth and value as a blind person. This was, of course, at odds with the message that rang loud and clear through a thousand points of well-intentioned backhanded acts of kindness that set a lower standard for me because of my blindness.

As a member of the National Federation of the Blind, I have come to understand and take seriously the responsibilities I feel for building the organization through mentoring and helping others when I can. This, to me, is what it practically means to be part of a powerful vehicle for collective action. By learning together and developing our leadership capabilities, we come to understand the fullness of our power and worth in our society. We learn that anything is possible and that we are not expected to accomplish great things entirely on our own. Our Federation stands uniquely strong and decisive in the world in our demonstrated ability to improve the lives of blind people everywhere. We can scarcely afford a pause to consider our accomplishments lest it distract us from the ongoing challenges we continue to confront in an ever-evolving economy and culture.

A Life Well Lived by our Colleague, Friend, and Federation Family Member, Charlie Brown

by Alan Schlank

From the Editor: I had the pleasure of serving for more than a decade with Charlie Brown on the National Federation of the Blind National Board of Directors. I was always impressed by his intellect and commitment, and how pleasantly surprised I was when my boss called me into his office and said, “I have a whole new respect for this National Federation of the Blind you are involved in. I thought that if you cared about it, it must be an organization of some significance, but another man I greatly respect also serves in your group. He and I served together on our senior council of church elders, and his words represent experience, wisdom, and a true love of God. You are lucky to have him in your organization, and so are we.” Charlie’s reputation took on a greater shine, and I felt even more blessed to know him and call him one of my friends.

Here is a tribute to Charlie written by Alan Schlank. He is eighty-one years old and is still a computer programmer and demonstrated for me the first Braille terminal I ever saw and eventually had purchased for myself. Alan was a former affiliate president before Charlie, and he continues to be an active member of the Federation. Here is Alan’s tribute:

Charlie Brown died on August 1, 2021, after a long and harrowing battle with esophageal cancer. It hurts us to write these words, for we will miss his guidance, council, and friendship in Virginia and throughout the National Federation of the Blind.

Charlie received his early education at the Perkins School for the Blind. Although partially sighted, he learned Braille and used it along with print throughout his life. After Perkins he went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and his law degree from Northwestern University.

Charlie came to Virginia nearly fifty years ago and quickly settled with his wife Jackie in Arlington. He joined the Potomac Chapter of the Federation and remained an active member until a retirement move to Winchester, Virginia.

Charlie Brown was truly a man for all seasons. He quickly became active in the Federation, becoming our state president in 1977. He served in this capacity for over twenty-five years, helping to develop the Federation in Virginia into a strong, vibrant state affiliate. He also was active on the national level, serving on the National Board of Directors and for many years as NFB National Treasurer. In this position he helped bring stability and growth to the NFB. He also carried out projects given him by the Federation leadership while at the same time providing his wise counsel to President Jernigan, President Maurer, and President Riccobono. After his retirement from government service, he worked with the Federation, concentrating on the right of blind people to vote independently and cast secret ballots.

Although the NFB was Charlie’s true passion, this was only one part of a very full life. He worked as a lawyer for the Department of Labor and then for the National Science Foundation. It was for the latter agency that he handled ethical issues arising from those receiving Federal grants of money to work on scientific research projects. After his government retirement, he became active in the American Bar Association, where he served on a number of committees.

Charlie was also active in his local community. He and Jackie raised two sons in Arlington. He was an active church member, a member and leader in the Arlington Kiwanis Club, and a participant on numerous boards and committees.

Charlie loved sports. One of his sons played football for VMI, the Virginia Military Institute, and Charlie faithfully attended most home and away games. A granddaughter is a competitive swimmer, and Charlie was always in the stands at her meets.

Our dear friend had an eclectic mind and a prodigious memory. He could—and would—talk to anybody about anything. Once you met Charlie, he quickly came to know you.

At the Virginia state legislature, our beloved friend and colleague knew everyone, and everyone knew him. He lived a full and rich life, giving strength, guidance, and council to all those who knew him. His legacy will live on within Virginia and throughout the National Federation of the Blind.

Leadership and Common Bonds: Transformative Change and Civil Rights Grounding from Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District

A presentation made to the Eighty-first Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Thursday, July 8, 2021

From the Editor: This presentation was recorded prior to the convention with President Riccobono interviewing Congressman Kweisi Mfume. I think this is a most dynamic discussion about leadership and believe you will enjoy it as much as I have:

President Riccobono: I recently had an opportunity to sit down to talk about leadership and the work of the National Federation of the Blind and the common bonds that we share with the transformational change that happens in civil rights. I had the opportunity to sit down with our local representative here in Maryland, Representative Kweisi Mfume, who has known the Federation now for a long time. He wasn't able to be with us in person, but we did film this interview just a few days ago. So, let's roll the interview with Congressman Mfume.

President Riccobono starts the interview: It's my pleasure to close the opening ceremonies of this 2021 virtual convention hosted by our Maryland affiliate by introducing a man who has represented the people of Baltimore City in one capacity or another going back to 1978 when the Federation first made Baltimore its home for our national headquarters. In 1978 Mr. Mfume was elected to the Baltimore City Council, where he began fighting against policies that left out one or another significant segment of the city's citizens. In 1986 he was elected to represent Maryland's Seventh Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. He was reelected four times until he decided to take on another challenge.

In February 1996, Congressman Mfume left his seat in the House to accept the presidency of the NAACP, stating at that time he believed that he could do more to impact American civil rights from his seat at the NAACP than he could in Congress, and he served that organization for eight years.

On November 4, 2019, Mr. Mfume announced his candidacy for the special election for his previous seat in Congress, which became vacant after the untimely death of Congressman Elijah Cummings. Federation members will remember that Congressman Cummings was a strong supporter of the Federation as well and appeared at our convention in 1986.

Congressman Mfume has the distinction of having been elected twice in 2020, winning the special election, electing him to Congress in the spring, and then winning reelection in the fall. In Congress he serves on a number of important committees, including the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the Committee on Small Business, where he is the vice chair, and the United States House Committee on Education and Labor. We are proud that he represents Baltimore and equally as important, the values that we share in our movement regarding equal treatment under the law and within society. Congressman, thank you very much for being with us today.

Congressman Mfume: Well, Mark, thank you very much for that very kind and overly gracious introduction. I do appreciate it. I appreciate even more the fact that I can be joining the convention talking with so many people about issues that I like to believe that we all share the same outlooks on and the same beliefs about. My tenure in office really goes back, so when you said 1979, I remembered that election and I remembered my introduction to people who were part of the Federation, and I got a different perspective then that has never left me. I've tried to always think of it as the perspective of blind people and the challenges that affect blind people.
I know that the Federation believes strongly that blindness does not define you, nor should it ever define anybody at all. I know that you work to raise the expectations of blind people across America to believe, rightly so, that they can achieve anything—absolutely anything—if they have the determination. The National Federation of the Blind provides the capacity for that. I really, really appreciate it. I am not here to sing any songs about myself but to talk to you as someone who for many, many years in public office and in other offices has worked to advocate on behalf of blind people in our country. By the way, the second bill that I introduced when I got here was the national technology act [Assistive Technology Affordability Act or ATAA] that would provide a way for blind people to be able to access the changing technology, and to be able to deduct that so that it would be a writeoff. I don't think there ought to be any impairment or any impediments that prevents people, in this case blind people, from achieving their dream.

It is difficult sometimes for government and for government officials to see every aspect of the people that are part of this nation. I've tried to be just a steady voice on behalf of my blind brothers and sisters, because I have an opportunity serving in a body where I can be that voice and where somebody ultimately will listen. So, it's really great to be here. I tell you, here in Baltimore, every day that I go down I-95 through the Francis Scott Key Tunnel and look over at Wells Street and see the National Federation of the Blind sign there, it's just like looking at an old friend from a distance. Sometimes people ask me, "Why are you staring over there?"

And I just say, "I want to make sure it's still there."

They say, "Keep your hands on the wheel," so I try to keep my hands on the wheel. Thank you for having me. I'll try to respond to any questions you may have. Congratulations to everybody who is participating and over the years have supported each other by supporting this very important organization. Thank you, Mark.

President Riccobono: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for being here. We're very proud to be in Baltimore, as I know you are to represent Baltimore. The connection between our organization and you runs way back, as you've indicated, and you had the opportunity to encounter one of our great civil rights leaders, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who helped to found our headquarters here in Baltimore. I wonder if you have any reflections on any experiences that you had with Kenneth Jernigan, another fellow civil rights leader.

Congressman Mfume: Well, Ken was a great storyteller. I kind of sat at his feet when we were having meetings, literally just to listen to the perspectives that he would offer. They'd always be different perspectives, things that people had not talked about. I particularly liked hearing him talk about his own struggles, but more importantly, his own victories. He was a true and dedicated leader in every sense of the word, and I think about him periodically. I know that his sense, his spirit, his essence is still deeply woven in the organization and its beliefs. If I might go so far as to say that even his spirit continues to be a part of the Federation. So, thanks for bringing his name up. That goes back a way, but that was just another way that I became further aware of the issues that oftentimes people don't think about, because you've got to talk to a blind person to hear those issues. If you're not talking to blind people, you won't know what's on their mind. I don't profess to be the only one that does it, but I do know that's the best way to find out the issues that are affecting so many people.

President Riccobono: Yeah, it's always great to encounter folks that did spend time with Dr. Jernigan. I did not have that opportunity. I was only around in the organization a very short time before he passed away, so I always love hearing from folks who had that firsthand experience.

Before we talk about Congress, which is an interesting topic, I do want to talk about the time when you left Congress to join the NAACP. You know, the National Federation of the Blind is working on addressing the intersection of blindness and other marginalized characteristics. Given your lifelong commitment to civil rights, I'm wondering if you can comment on how our movement specifically can get the capacities of blind people discussed more within other civil rights movements, and then similarly, what might we do to address issues of intersectionality within the organized blind movement?

Congressman Mfume: Well, it's a very good question, and I'll do my best to try to answer it. Just a little bit of background: after having served nine years in the Congress, I felt that I could do more outside of the Congress because of the way it had shifted and had become much different from when I entered it. So in those last two years I felt that I needed to find a way to do more, and perhaps the best way to do that would be to leave the Congress, go back into let's say the streets, but go back into, in many respects, a world that is different from the United States Congress. When I was asked to take over the leadership of the NAACP, I saw it as an opportunity to do that. We work on behalf of marginalized groups and people throughout our country by using the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization as a way to do that. By pushing the envelope, if you will, the organization instead of contracting would expand in terms of the number of groups that it fought for and the number of civil rights and civil liberties that had to be included. Of course, the issues and the rights of blind people were right at the top of that list.
Once you get past the obvious, that people think the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is only concerned about Black people, I have had to say to them that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ought to teach us that colored people come in all colors. When you think that way, you automatically start expanding your outreach. That intersectionality you talked about earlier becomes a natural part of what you do. You keep realizing that there are so many different organizations and groups that have to be included under the umbrella of civil rights that if you don't get that, then that intersection will be one that you'll drive right by, and you won't even know that you've driven by it. But when you do get it, it's important that you share it.

I spent an additional nine years there at the NAACP trying to make sure that we did what we had to do for core constituencies, but I wanted to see that we were smart enough to know that we didn't know that there were constituent groups out there that needed to be a part of this, that needed the same sort of opportunities and protections, and, quite frankly, were civil rights organizations, even though they weren't in that respect. That's how I always saw the Federation: as a major civil rights organization.

I can't really speak about the NAACP now that I've been away from there, except that I continue to say on every platform that I have and with every chance that I have: civil rights does not belong to any one group or any one organization. The rights of individuals have to be looked at as a whole bucket of different rights and a bucket that must include every group and everybody who can clearly make the case that they must have certain protections under the law, and they have to have certain opportunities under the law. So, this notion of expanding opportunities for blind people for me has just been part and parcel of what I've done. I admire the work of the Federation, which does much more than I do. But I also know that expanding opportunities and increasing accessibility and understanding that civil rights does not belong to any one group will build a broader coalition. It's through those coalitions, quite obviously, that we make change. We always have to stop at the intersection of civil rights, human rights, and decency. When we stop on that corner, we realize, like a lot of people do, that you cannot overlook blind people in that process and that those same rights and protections that you are fighting for have to be afforded to all people.

President Riccobono: I appreciate your comments on that. We in the last couple of years were very honored to lead a case against the United States Department of Education for its real failure to adequately process civil rights complaints, and although we brought the case, we were pleased to have the NAACP join us with its intersecting interests in the case. We got a positive outcome in that matter, and it just shows the power of our working together. So we appreciate your comments.

Let's come back to Congress and get your notions on a few things. Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Bobby Scott, has introduced the Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act. This bill would eliminate the payment of subminimum wages to people with disabilities. Would you spend a minute talking to us about the dignity of work for all marginalized groups but also your own feeling about the persistent use of government certificates to pay people with disabilities less than the guaranteed minimum wage?

Congressman Mfume: Isn't that an absolute affront? I mean, you wonder how this could be in 2021 in the United States of America? How could this be looked at as a regular way of doing business? It is an affront to blind people, and it is an affront to persons like myself who are not blind who recognize that you cannot marginalize and minimize people and expect to maximize the kind of output that they have. You can't maximize their potential by minimizing them in other ways. Bobby Scott is a dear friend. He is my chairman of the committee, and I'm glad that he has decided to do this. I'm almost a little sad, though, that a member of Congress or Congress itself has got to initiate something that clearly says that you're treating one group unfairly. I feel strongly about that. This subminimum wage and these certificates and these other things are things we wouldn't do with anybody else. I mean, let's face it: if we did this to other groups, we'd be afraid that there's going to be a backlash. Quite frankly, the government ought to be afraid there's going to be a backlash about this now that it's coming to light as a result of this bill and discussions like this and organizations around the country that are saying, oh, no, I didn't know that. It can't be true, and it can't be happening, but it is, unfortunately, the way that sort of business is being done. I support Chairman Scott on that, and I'm hoping that we get not only a swift hearing but a good hearing. I hope that we can bring in representatives from organizations like the Federation and others who have done the work and toiled in the field for many, many years to give credibility to why it ought to be passed. I'm hoping that once those hearings start—I'll be there, of course—but I hope that the Federation is there making the kinds of statements and points that people need to hear that, quite frankly, will open the eyes of many members of Congress who have not focused on this at all.

President Riccobono: We'll be pushing all the way. We appreciate your support. We look forward to the day that the President of the United States signs the bill eliminating this practice from the laws of the United States. I know we're running short on time, so I think I'm going to jump to asking you about voting. I know that in the special election, you were particularly vocal about making sure that there was enough in-person voting locations in your district to support people who wanted to vote in person. Can you talk to us a little bit about the importance from your point of view of making sure that all Americans can participate in the voting process and especially accessibility in that process for blind people?

Congressman Mfume: I'd be redundant if I said, as I will, that voting is such a right in this country that we should always do whatever we can to protect it and to expand it so that everybody can take part in that right. Unfortunately, that's not always been the way our government has operated. We do things that we think are important, but we don't do them for all people or all groups. I know that people who don't vote have no line of credit with the people who are elected. Therefore, they pose no threat against those who operate against them. I don't want blind Americans in that position at all—where you can't vote or it's difficult to vote—and then you don't have a line of credit with the people like myself who are elected. Sometimes people get elected, and they assume that they got elected without the support of the blind community, which is the strangest thing in the world, but some people actually believe that. So it's important for persons like myself to keep raising issues. By the way, I had four elections in ten months last year, Mark. I wouldn't wish that on anybody at all. But I just became outraged at the first election when I walked into a couple of polling places and noticed that there were blind citizens there, one living not that far from me, trying to talk to the election judges about being able to vote. The judges, good people with good hearts I assume, just were unprepared because the Board of Elections was unprepared. We ought never have had that situation. As many times as we have elections in this country, that should be one of the first things that we think about. I think what happens is that we think of accessibility, and we think of people who can't walk. But we don't always think of accessibility as applying to people who cannot see, and we've got to continue to be redundant about that. So, yeah, I raised a little "you know what" during the election on election day and thereafter, because I didn't think it was fair. They changed their practice for blind people in the seventh district so that they are now able to vote just like anyone else and to be able to do that in a way that they don't have to beg election judges or point out to election officials that they are who they say they are or demonstrate that they know how to vote. Some of the machines have been changed, at least in the second, third, and fourth elections last year, to be able to accommodate blind voters in our district. Unless we talk about that, I don't think it's going to change. It ticks me off when I see that inaccessibility. It's an inherent reaction from me every time because I've worked so long, and I can see Ken on my shoulders now saying "We can't have this; we can't have this." So as long as his spirit is with me, I'm going to make sure I continue to raise those points.

President Riccobono: Yeah, I love it. Two more quick questions. One relates to voting. That is: There are blind people out there who are thinking, wow, it would be great to be able to serve in the United States Congress, but I'm a blind person. There aren't any blind people in Congress. What would you say to an aspiring blind person who is really interested in public service, but, of course, doesn't see anybody like them in the Congress today? What would you say to encourage them to get in the mix of public service and running for office?

Congressman Mfume: The first thing I'd say is there are many glass ceilings out there, and this is one of them. It's about time that it gets broken. There have been instances of blind people running for office. We don't have any elected to the United States Congress, but that shouldn't thwart anybody's efforts. I just believe that whether you're running for the city council or the school board or the mayor or a state delegate or representative from the state or from the Federal Government, the first thing to do is to take that first step forward. Then others will follow, or believe at least that nothing should limit them or their capacity. I always said it's not how you start in life that counts; it's how you finish. In this case it doesn't matter that you are blind. What matters is that you make the effort and that you make the case and finish the race. As sure as I'm talking to you, Mark, somebody will come back and look at these words—hopefully not many years from now but soon—and say that was right because we've elected a blind person to this office or one to that office. All you have to do is do it the first time. It's like any other kind of wall; it will come tumbling down. And it's one of the last walls in this society that I think we're burdened with. I'd love for that wall to come down and that glass ceiling to be cracked, but we need good candidates. If you feel like you are believing so deeply in issues and if it's in your heart to do it, it's not easy, and it probably is harder for a blind person, but I would encourage everybody that feels that way to make the case. Otherwise we'll continue to have people in office who really don't care or sometimes who have so much money that they practically buy the office. That idea of electing a blind person will be something that they never even conceive of. So, we've just got to try, just got to make sure that candidates are from every state and that you challenge not just the issues but challenge the people, challenge the constituents to look at you as they would look at themselves so that they do not see a disability, challenge them so that they're listening to what you say, that they're listening to your heart and your passion, and you'll gather votes. Eventually, again, that wall will crumble, and that glass ceiling will come down, but I would strongly encourage anyone who's considering running to by all means do it.

President Riccobono: Well, Congressman, I think that's a great place to leave it, to close out the opening evening of our 2021 virtual convention hosted here from Baltimore but really happening everywhere. I want to give you the last word as a friend and supporter of the National Federation of the Blind in the United States Congress. Is there anything that you would like to leave the blind of America with this evening?

Congressman Mfume: Well, I believe that sometimes our biggest burdens are the ones that we refuse to let go of. I think that it is important for all of us to recognize not just our capabilities but our purpose. I would dare say, not being a blind person that the purpose of anyone who happens to be blind is to make life better for the rest of us. Perhaps particularly is it your goal to make life easier for other blind people who are coming behind you, some of whom have yet to be born? I suggest it is to make sure that when people—sighted people—look back through the telescope of time, they see all the great efforts that the blind community has put forward and all the great changes that have been made because of the impact of a coalition of people all across the country who believe that their purpose in life is to really change things and to make it better, particularly for blind people, but also for our nation. That's what we really need. It's a noble purpose, and it's one that you just can't make up. It's got to be in your heart, and I know it's in the heart of so many! I know it's in the heart of the Federation because I've watched your work since day one, and I'm just happy to be counted among those you consider to be an ally, particularly now in the United States Congress. I will pledge, as I did in 1979 when I met Ken, that I will do all that I can, and when I can't do something, I will let you know, and then I will ask you to push me harder to make sure that we find a way to get it done by bringing people together around causes and issues that speak to civil rights, civil liberty, and human dignity for everybody in this country. Thank you, Mark.

President Riccobono: Thank you, Congressman. Thank you for being here. Any time you're coming through the tunnel and feel compelled to hit the exit and pull up to Wells Street, come on in. We'll give you a cup of coffee, and we'll share some stories. Thank you for your leadership, and thank you for your time. It's a pleasure.

Congressman Mfume: Thank you, sir. My best to all of you.

How Speaking Out Can Help Prepare for Cloudy Days and Save Lives

by Jonathan Franks

From the Editor: Making accessible emergency warnings on radio and television have long been a concern of the National Federation of the Blind, so it is no surprise that the same concern would be expressed as newer forms of technology seek to provide these alerts. Jonathan Franks is a board member of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas, and he demonstrates what happens when an advocate is both articulate and persistent. Here is what he says:

Throughout the past couple of years, I have noticed that when severe weather is going to impact the Austin, Texas, area, the local NBC affiliate KXAN has been using its Twitter account in an inaccessible manner. Its Twitter account would send out tweets stating “The following counties are possibly going to be impacted by severe weather.” However, the Twitter account would post images with no ALT text or any type of text-based description stating as to which counties will be affected by inclement weather. This clearly is an accessibility barrier for those who use text-to-speech software and who use Twitter. I have used my own Twitter account in conjunction with the Austin Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas’ Twitter account to voice that this is an accessibility barrier and a potentially dangerous issue for people who are blind.

After several attempts, I had received no response from their account. However, after continued perseverance in which I continuously tweeted them from both accounts, thankfully the KXAN Twitter account responded stating that it was not their intention to put any barriers in place for blind people and that they would be working with the necessary team to remedy this issue. The Twitter account responded by saying: “KXAN News Verified account @KXAN_News Mar 17 replying to @nfbaustin Good morning, we hear you loud and clear. It was not our intent to create unnecessary barriers for our visually impaired readers. We will do better. We will make sure our web/weather teams both see your message to us so that our future tweets are more thoughtful to this. That includes working with our developers to try to improve these automatic posts as soon as possible.” Since that interaction, I have noticed that the KXAN weather accounts have sent out tweets that have a text component within them that states which counties and areas will be affected by severe weather. My time with the National Federation of the Blind and experience working with the Housing, Transportation and Disaster Team with Disability Rights Texas have definitely increased not only my ability to strongly advocate for people who are blind, but also my skills in being cognizant of the needs for people with disabilities. I want to commend KXAN for their efforts to recognize their unintentional accessibility barrier and also their willingness to remedy the issue.

You Can Make a Difference

For more than seventy-five years the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality, and with your support we will continue to do so for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by adding the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary in your will. A gift to the National Federation of the Blind in your will is more than just a charitable, tax-deductible donation. It is a way to join in the work to help blind people live the lives they want that leaves a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of blind children and adults.
With your help, the NFB will continue to:

Plan to Leave a Legacy

Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear creating a will or believe it’s not necessary until they are much older. Others think that it’s expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422, for more information. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.

Invest in Opportunity

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. A donation to the National Federation of the Blind allows you to invest in a movement that removes the fear from blindness. Your investment is your vote of confidence in the value and capacity of blind people and reflects the high expectations we have for all blind Americans, combating the low expectations that create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.

In 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 now accepts donated vehicles, including cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, or recreational vehicles. Just call 855-659-9314 toll-free, and a representative can make arrangements to pick up your donation—it doesn’t have to be working. We can also answer any questions you have.

General Donation

General donations help support the ongoing programs of the NFB and the work to help blind people live the lives they want. Donate online with a credit card or through the mail with check or money order. Visit www.nfb.org/make-gift for more information.


Even if you can’t afford a gift right now, including the National Federation of the Blind in your will enables you to contribute by expressing your commitment to the organization and promises support for future generations of blind people across the country. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422, for more information.

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 withdraw of funds from a checking account or a charge to a credit card. To enroll, visit www.nfb.org/make-gift, and complete the Pre-Authorized Contribution form, and return it to the address listed on the form.

Living, Loving, and Providing for One's Family Isn't New to This Generation

by Peggy Chong

From the Editor: Peggy Chong is addicted to history and loves to share her addiction. What she makes clear is that not only have there been big personalities in history who were blind, but many a man and woman made comfortable places for themselves and others through doing the average job in the average place of business, though it may be with some very different techniques. Blind business owners did not start with the creation of the Randolph-Sheppard program, though it has helped many to become successful entrepreneurs. Here’s what Peggy has to say about Allen, a man who provided not only for himself but took on the role of the manly provider for his mother, wife, and nieces.

Allen J. Hurlburt was born in 1852, in Clarion County, Pennsylvania. He had limited vision from a young age. His family thought little about it, not having finances to see a doctor. Little Allen behaved the same as his twin and older siblings by completing chores, climbing trees, and getting into trouble. His family expected Allen to behave as a normal child, and he did.

As a small boy, when he heard a mechanical sound, he had to touch it and know how it worked. He was inquisitive and encouraged to do so by family and friends. When an adult was repairing a piece of equipment, little Allen was there to “help.”

In his teens he found a discarded mouse-infested clock. Allen took it home, cleaned it up, and took it apart. He studied how the insides worked. He adjusted, repaired, replaced parts, and also repaired the exterior woodwork. When he got the clock back together, it ran perfectly for decades.

At nineteen Allen was sent to the Pennsylvania Institution for the Blind in Pittsburgh to learn a trade as a blind man. Already skilled in the mechanical arts, he needed to concentrate on the musical parts of piano tuning and his blindness skills. He learned to type on a print typewriter and to read and write in Braille. These skills were important for correspondence with customers and to keep his own financial records.

In two years, Allen was sent out into the city of Philadelphia to tune pianos at first under the school’s tutelage. When he built up a reputation and his own client base, he went out on his own.

His repair shop, where he fixed clocks, sewing machines and anything else mechanical a customer brought to him, was the headquarters for his piano tuning business. Soon tuning became the lesser of his income as the area was flooded with blind and sighted piano tuners.

In 1880, his father passed away in Muscatine, Iowa, where the majority of his family had moved years before. Allen moved to Muscatine to care for his mother. When he arrived, he found a niece also in need of a home. Quickly, Allen set out to establish a new business in Muscatine. Much of his days were spent traveling the town and meeting potential businessmen. Many said Allen was the first young blind person seeking to do business there. The first several months were difficult for him. Everyone was nice but did not give him any work because they had no faith in the blind man. He tried the music stores, offering to tune and repair their musical instruments. His offers of services as a carpenter and clock repairman were gently refused.

Then one day things began to change, and Allen tells how he began to build his reputation in these words: “A dealer, who had refused to give me his work before, sent word that he wished to see me at his store, and of course, I lost no time in making the trip. When I entered, he said, “I just must have some tuning done; what price will you make me?” I said, “Let me tune a piano first, and we will talk price afterward.” To this, he readily agreed, but said “If agreeable to you, I would like to watch the job.” I said that nothing would suit me better. So, he watched for a time but soon went forward to his work. When I was through and he had tried the instrument out, he asked what kind of a bargain we could agree upon. He knew everyone in the city who had a piano, so it was finally agreed that he should get the work, and I would do it on a fifty-fifty basis.”

News spread quickly of Allen’s ability. The owner of the second music store approached Allen and asked if he would work for him as well. There were only two music stores in town that sold and repaired pianos. Having no exclusivity agreement with the first man, Allen agreed. For the next twenty-two years, Allen worked for the second man at a much better percentage.

Being a carpenter, a mechanic, and a tuner, he offered the full range of tuning services. He outlined in a letter his skills and abilities as a tuner thus:

“Having gone into the business to win, I made my repair department to include the complete re-stringing, pinning, hammering, and felting of both square and upright pianos including all sorts of case, bridge, and sound board repairs and the remodeling of old actions. In one instance, I replaced an entire set of ivories and sharps. This, by the way, was on a Steinway piano, and all have given excellent satisfaction. I have mentioned this chiefly for the benefit of my tuner friends who I trust will at least find it interesting reading.”

Allen did not travel with a cane or a dog guide. He walked to his jobs, to church, and ran his errands by himself. Before there were many automobiles in Muscatine, Allen was seen riding a bicycle around the town. He used sound cues and the ruts in the streets to guide him and his bike.

On April 8, 1885, Allen married Ellen M. Fintel. They had five children. Allen bought a small home at 312 East Eighth Street for his wife and growing family. His mother and nieces lived with them, sometimes for years. In 1900 he built a 1,600+ square foot home on the same lot. Still standing in 2010, it was a large two-story home that accommodated Allen’s family, mother, and other relatives who came to live with them.

The corner lot and the space in the back to have a home workshop made it ideal. His workshop included many tools and machines. Some he bought, but many he made for himself, adapting them to best suit his needs as a blind woodworker. Allen adapted a skill saw that he felt held as much practical service to the sighted as the blind. He shopped this and many of his inventions around to the factories in the area. Each said the inventions were very good and maybe even better than what they had, but they did not purchase any or offer to make and assist him in selling them.

Other inventions included a sustaining pedal that he replaced on some of the piano’s he repaired. He put a backspace key on his typewriter. Around the house were examples of the many improvements made by Allen. His only regret was that he did not have the time and money to put into his inventions to make them pay off.

In his seventies he worked less as a piano tuner. He spent more and more time in his workshop at home. The couple had taken on the raising of two of their grandchildren after their mother Edna, his youngest daughter, had passed away. So retirement was not an option. Repairs of small mechanical equipment brought in money, but his tinkering and invention on a steady basis in his home workshop took away much of the profits.

Looking back at his life, he credits his self-confidence that helped him to build his own business. He thanked his parents for allowing him to explore, take chances, and fail. On his death in March of 1928, Allen had twenty-five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His son, Paul and grandson Allen L. became woodworkers/carpenters, influenced by Allen. Thus concluded a normal and perhaps an extraordinary life, one in which blindness played a part but definitely was not the characteristic that defined Allen or those who depended upon him.

Editor’s Note: Peggy writes: If you would like to schedule a presentation contact me at [email protected].

You can read more of my books at https://www.smashwords.com.

Constitution of the National Federation of the Blind as Amended 2014


The name of this organization is the National Federation of the Blind.


The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind is to serve as a vehicle for collective action by the blind of the nation; to function as a mechanism through which the blind and interested sighted persons can come together in local, state, and national meetings to plan and carry out programs to improve the quality of life for the blind; to provide a means of collective action for parents of blind children; to promote the vocational, cultural, and social advancement of the blind; to achieve the integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality with the sighted; and to take any other action which will improve the overall condition and standard of living of the blind.


Section A. The membership of the National Federation of the Blind shall consist of the members of the state affiliates, the members of divisions, and members at large. Members of divisions and members at large shall have the same rights, privileges, and responsibilities in the National Federation of the Blind as members of state affiliates.

The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of divisions and shall determine the structure of divisions. The divisions shall, with the approval of the board, adopt constitutions and determine their membership policies. Membership in divisions shall not be conditioned upon membership in state affiliates.

The board of directors shall establish procedures for admission of members at large, determine how many classes of such members shall be established, and determine the annual dues to be paid by members of each class.

Section B. Each state or territorial possession of the United States, including the District of Columbia, having an affiliate shall have one vote at the National Convention. These organizations shall be referred to as state affiliates.

Section C. State affiliates shall be organizations of the blind controlled by the blind. No organization shall be recognized as an "organization of the blind controlled by the blind" unless at least a majority of its voting members and a majority of the voting members of each of its local chapters are blind.

Section D. The board of directors shall establish procedures for the admission of state affiliates. There shall be only one state affiliate in each state.

Section E. Any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member or affiliate of this organization by a two‑thirds vote of the board of directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a National Convention. If the action is to be taken by the board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the Convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open board meeting or a session of the Convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect.


Section A. The officers of the National Federation of the Blind shall be: (1) president, (2) first vice president, (3) second vice president, (4) secretary, and (5) treasurer. They shall be elected biennially.

Section B. The officers shall be elected by majority vote of the state affiliates present and voting at a National Convention.

Section C. The National Federation of the Blind shall have a board of directors, which shall be composed of the five officers and twelve additional members, six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during even-numbered years and six of whom shall be elected at the Annual Convention during odd-numbered years. The members of the board of directors shall serve for two‑year terms. Biennially, during even numbered years, at the first meeting of the Board of Directors following the convention at which officers and Board Members are elected, the Board of Directors shall select a Chairperson from among its members who shall not be the same person as the President and who shall serve without compensation.

Section D. The board of directors may, in its discretion, create a national advisory board and determine the duties and qualifications of the members of the national advisory board.


Section A. Powers and Duties of the Convention. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation. It is the legislature of the Federation. As such, it has final authority with respect to all issues of policy. Its decisions shall be made after opportunity has been afforded for full and fair discussion. Delegates and members in attendance may participate in all Convention discussions as a matter of right. Any member of the Federation may make or second motions, propose nominations, serve on committees, and is eligible for election to office, except that only blind members may be elected to the national board. Voting and making motions by proxy are prohibited. Consistent with the democratic character of the Federation, Convention meetings shall be so conducted as to prevent parliamentary maneuvers which would have the effect of interfering with the expression of the will of the majority on any question, or with the rights of the minority to full and fair presentation of their views. The Convention is not merely a gathering of representatives of separate state organizations. It is a meeting of the Federation at the national level in its character as a national organization. Committees of the Federation are committees of the national organization. The nominating committee shall consist of one member from each state affiliate represented at the Convention, and each state affiliate shall appoint its member to the committee. From among the members of the committee, the president shall appoint a chairperson.

Section B. Powers and Duties of the Board of Directors. The function of the board of directors as the governing body of the Federation between Conventions is to make policies when necessary and not in conflict with the policies adopted by the Convention. Policy decisions which can reasonably be postponed until the next meeting of the National Convention shall not be made by the board of directors. The board of directors shall serve as a credentials committee. It shall have the power to deal with organizational problems presented to it by any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division; shall decide appeals regarding the validity of elections in local chapters, state affiliates, or divisions; and shall certify the credentials of delegates when questions regarding the validity of such credentials arise. By a two‑thirds vote the board may suspend one of its members for violation of a policy of the organization or for other action unbecoming to a member of the Federation. By a two‑thirds vote the board may reorganize any local chapter, state affiliate, or division. The board may not suspend one of its own members or reorganize a local chapter, state affiliate, or division except for good cause and after a good-faith effort has been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause" or whether the board made a "good-faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect. There shall be a standing subcommittee of the board of directors which shall consist of three members. The committee shall be known as the subcommittee on budget and finance. It shall, whenever it deems necessary, recommend to the board of directors principles of budgeting, accounting procedures, and methods of financing the Federation program; and shall consult with the president on major expenditures.

The board of directors shall meet at the time of each National Convention. It shall hold other meetings on the call of the president or on the written request of any five members.

Section C. Powers and Duties of the President. The president is the principal administrative officer of the Federation. In this capacity his or her duties consist of carrying out the policies adopted by the Convention; conducting the day‑to‑day management of the affairs of the Federation; authorizing expenditures from the Federation treasury in accordance with and in implementation of the policies established by the Convention; appointing all committees of the Federation except the nominating committee; coordinating all activities of the Federation, including the work of other officers and of committees; hiring, supervising, and dismissing staff members and other employees of the Federation, and determining their numbers and compensation; taking all administrative actions necessary and proper to put into effect the programs and accomplish the purposes of the Federation. The implementation and administration of the interim policies adopted by the board of directors are the responsibility of the president as principal administrative officer of the Federation.


Any organized group desiring to become a state affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind shall apply for affiliation by submitting to the president of the National Federation of the Blind a copy of its constitution and a list of the names and addresses of its elected officers. Under procedures to be established by the board of directors, action shall be taken on the application. If the action is affirmative, the National Federation of the Blind shall issue to the organization a charter of affiliation. Upon request of the national president the state affiliate shall provide to the national president the names and addresses of its members. Copies of all amendments to the constitution and/or bylaws of an affiliate shall be sent without delay to the national president. No organization shall be accepted as an affiliate and no organization shall remain an affiliate unless at least a majority of its voting members are blind. The president, vice president (or vice presidents), and at least a majority of the executive committee or board of directors of the state affiliate and of all of its local chapters must be blind. Affiliates must not merely be social organizations but must formulate programs and actively work to promote the economic and social betterment of the blind. Affiliates and their local chapters must comply with the provisions of the constitution of the Federation.

Policy decisions of the Federation are binding upon all affiliates and local chapters, and the affiliate and its local chapters must participate affirmatively in carrying out such policy decisions. The name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof is the property of the National Federation of the Blind; and any affiliate or local chapter of an affiliate which ceases to be part of the National Federation of the Blind (for whatever reason) shall forthwith forfeit the right to use the name National Federation of the Blind, Federation of the Blind, or any variant thereof.

A general convention of the membership of an affiliate or of the elected delegates of the membership must be held and its principal executive officers must be elected at least once every two years. There can be no closed membership. Proxy voting is prohibited in state affiliates and local chapters. Each affiliate must have a written constitution or bylaws setting forth its structure, the authority of its officers, and the basic procedures which it will follow. No publicly contributed funds may be divided among the membership of an affiliate or local chapter on the basis of membership, and (upon request from the national office) an affiliate or local chapter must present an accounting of all of its receipts and expenditures. An affiliate or local chapter must not indulge in attacks upon the officers, board members, leaders, or members of the Federation or upon the organization itself outside of the organization, and must not allow its officers or members to indulge in such attacks. This requirement shall not be interpreted to interfere with the right of an affiliate or local chapter, or its officers or members, to carry on a political campaign inside the Federation for election to office or to achieve policy changes. However, the organization will not sanction or permit deliberate, sustained campaigns of internal organizational destruction by state affiliates, local chapters, or members. No affiliate or local chapter may join or support, or allow its officers or members to join or support, any temporary or permanent organization inside the Federation which has not received the sanction and approval of the Federation.


In the event of dissolution, all assets of the organization shall be given to an organization with similar purposes which has received a 501(c)(3) certification by the Internal Revenue Service.


This constitution may be amended at any regular Annual Convention of the Federation by an affirmative vote of two‑thirds of the state affiliates registered, present, and voting; provided that the proposed amendment shall have been signed by five state affiliates in good standing and that it shall have been presented to the president the day before final action by the Convention.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

A Report from our Communications Committee:
Liz Wisecarver writes: The Communications Committee discussed several timely topics, including how to support survivors, news about the ongoing affiliate website updates, communication platforms and publications that can be used to reach out to members, and tips for hosting successful virtual conferences. I think discussing how communications can be used to support survivors was a particularly important issue. I also enjoyed hearing about hosting both state affiliate and national level virtual conferences. Thank you to all who attended and participated.

In Brief

Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.

En-Vision America Celebrates Twenty-five Years:
From a beginning in the basement of a home in Normal, Illinois, En-Vision America has grown into a multi-national company helping thousands of patients throughout the United States, Canada, and overseas safely and independently access their prescription labels. From Talking Prescription Labels to Large Print, Dual-Language/Translation, Braille and even Controlled Substance Safety Labels, En-Vision America continues to expand and evolve to meet a growing need.

Thank you for the love and support you have shown us these past twenty-five years. We are glad to be of service. You can reach us with questions at 1-800-890-1180 or email us at:  [email protected].

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.

Braille Computer for Sale:
I’m needing to sell my Actilino Braille computer. It has sixteen cells and weighs one pound. It is about the size of a small billfold and fits easily into a purse or backpack. This is essentially a Braille display with no speech or connection to the internet. The unit is a year old. I paid $2,900 but am willing to sell it for $1,000. If interested, please email Gail at [email protected].

For Sale:
I have a Braille notetaker device with adapter, manual (word document) and case called Actilino. I’d be glad to send it to anyone who can pay $200, and I believe it can be shipped free. If interested, please contact Gail Hamilton at 720-984-8082 or address inquiries to [email protected].

Magnifier for Sale:
I have the Patriot Dazzle 22 HD to sell. It is a desktop video magnifier that incorporates an integrated light, high definition camera, expert optics, and a widescreen LED twenty-two inch high resolution monitor. This is a great unit for reading, writing, viewing photos, and so much more. It is a versatile video magnifier with a twenty-two inch widescreen, and pivot, rotate, and swivel camera for near viewing and far viewing and self-viewing too! I am asking $750 for the unit and this includes shipping. If interested, please contact Paula Kelsey at 540-431-1147 or write me at [email protected].

Items for Sale:
I am selling the following items:

1. A PenFriend 2 voice recorder for $120.
2. A Romeo RB40 Braille Embosser. Asking $150. Does not include Duxbury program floppy disks.
3. Pictures in a Flash machine for $800.

Please contact Jenny Kate Lyon at [email protected] if you are interested.

ZoomText for Sale:
A friend of mine is selling his zoom text 10.2 and is asking $500 or best offer. Please call Jane Lansaw at 918-852-1397, and she will connect you with the seller. 

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.