Vol. 65, No. 1 January 2022
Gary Wunder, Editor
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The National Federation of the Blind
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.
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Vol. 65, No. 1 January 2022
Illustration: Thanking the Builders Who Give Us the Tools
New Orleans Site of 2022 Convention
by John Berggren
Voting is a Blindness Issue
by Lou Ann Blake
The Myth of Functionality: Disability Rights and the Limits of Common Sense
by George Stern
Access Tech, Medical Devices, Websites, and Subminimum Wages
by John Paré
Life Lessons at the Turkey Trot
by Jo Elizabeth Pinto
A Case for Why We Should Not Do Visual Descriptions of Ourselves
by Mark Lasser
Bringing a Closing to Disclosing the Clothing
by Jack Bernard
Just What the Doctor Ordered
by Tatyana Haykin
You Can Make a Difference
Making the Kitchen Your Friend
by Regina Mitchell
Conventions Are for All of Us
by Chris Westbrook
National Federation of the Blind 2022 Scholarship Program
by Cayte Mendez
Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship
by Tracy Soforenko
The 2022 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
by Everette Bacon
Getting the Straight Scoop from Our Mentees
by Maurice Peret
A Tribute from a Friend
by Donna Wood
Are Conservatives Welcome in the National Federation of the Blind?
by Colleen Roth
Independence Market Corner
by Terry Boone
I Am Not My Blindness: What the Blind Community Wishes You Knew
by David Oliver
Jason Broughton has a mission at the Library of Congress: “Expand and be Inclusive”
by Chris Cioffi
Copyright 2022 by the National Federation of the Blind
In the National Federation of the Blind, we are blessed with many volunteers and a dedicated staff who work tirelessly to build the Federation because it is the way we change the world and build it so that blind people live quality lives. But builders need tools, and a big part of our toolbox must have money inside it. Our many supporters make this possible, and, for every gift, we want to acknowledge and thank our donors. We want them to understand that they have not just given a donation; they have given an opportunity that didn’t previously exist.
On December 1, 2021, we held our 2021 Supporter Celebration. Guests were treated to appetizers and beverages, some wonderful hospitality, and a chance for our supporters and members of the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors to meet, renew friendships, and conclude the evening by being a part of the live Presidential Release for December, 2021. This was Presidential Release 511, and in addition to the release, the questions, and the live feedback, two drawings were held. One was to give away a cane decorated by President Riccobono; the second was to give away a cane decorated by First Vice President and the Chairman of the Board Pam Allen. Those who missed it can listen by going to:
[PHOTO/CAPTION: A view of the crowded room with Christmas decorations in the background.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Patti Chang speaks with several supporters around a high top table.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Mark Riccobono wearing a Santa’s beard addresses the crowd.
[PHOTO/CAPTION: Pam Allen and Mark Riccobono smile together on stage a pair of decorated canes lean in front of the table between them.
by John Berggren
The 2022 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in New Orleans, Louisiana, July 5 to July 10, at the New Orleans Marriott at 555 Canal Street, New Orleans, Louisiana 70130. You can reserve a room now at the Marriott by calling 855-821-4288, ensuring you’ll be in our headquarters hotel. If you wish to stay in our overflow hotel directly across Canal Street, call 855-516-1090 to book a room at the Sheraton New Orleans. When booking your room with either hotel, tell the reservations agent that our group is listed as “NFB Convention.”
The nightly rate for both the Marriott and the Sheraton is $109 for singles and doubles. Triples and quads can be booked for $119 per night. You should also anticipate the combined sales tax and tourism support rate of 16.2 percent, and note there is a hotel occupancy fee of $3.00 per night.
Both hotels will take a deposit of the first night’s room rate, taxes, and fees and will require a credit card or a personal check. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately. If a reservation is cancelled before Monday, June 1, 2022, half of the deposit will be returned. Refunds will not be issued for cancellations made beyond that date.
The hotels sit astride the storied Canal Street at 555 and 500 Canal Street respectively, only blocks from the mighty Mississippi River and even closer to the historic French Quarter. Both hotels offer a range of dining options as well as twenty-four-hour fitness centers. You’ll find a rooftop pool at the Marriott while the Sheraton features a Starbucks in its atrium lobby.
The schedule for the 2022 convention is:
Tuesday, July 5 Seminar Day
Wednesday, July 6 Registration and Resolutions Day
Thursday, July 7 Board Meeting and Division Day
Friday, July 8 Opening Session
Saturday, July 9 Business Session
Sunday, July 10 Banquet Day and Adjournment
The health of our members is of paramount importance as we plan for our first in-person convention in three years. Both of our convention hotels are committed to ensuring the safety of guests and have implemented cleaning protocols and elevated practices to deliver on this commitment. The National Federation of the Blind will continually monitor masking policies, vaccination requirements, and other health guidelines that may apply to our convention. Updates will be shared with members throughout the months leading up to convention, so members can plan accordingly.
by Lou Ann Blake
From the Editor: Lou Ann Blake is a talented member of the Federation who also works on our national staff. Her jobs could fill an article, but what we want to focus on here is her work on seeing that the blind have equal rights in voting.
At the 2021 National Convention, we passed a resolution on this subject, and parts of it have brought about spirited discussion specifically about the requirement for a photo ID. To discuss that resolution and the reasons why this and other requirements are burdensome for some blind people, she has written this article. Here is what she says:
Following the 2020 general election, a number of state legislatures passed legislation that require a voter to show a state-issued photo identification card to poll workers, obtain medical certification of disability in order to vote absentee, and to limit the number of early voting centers, Election Day polling places, and ballot drop boxes. In response to this legislation and at the urging of the Resolutions Committee chair, Sharon Maneki, my colleague Jeff Kaloc and I co-authored Resolution 2021-02, Regarding Suppression of the Rights of Voters with Disabilities that was adopted during our 2021 National Convention. This resolution condemns and deplores these laws for creating barriers that make it difficult for voters with disabilities to exercise their constitutional right to vote. To my surprise, this resolution generated some controversy.
The primary focus of the opposition to the resolution was over the assertion that requiring a blind voter to have a state-issued photo ID creates a barrier for voters with disabilities due to the time and expense needed to obtain such an ID. Many who opposed the resolution stated that this assertion was contrary to our NFB philosophy of high expectations and that the requirement to produce a state-issued photo ID to exercise the right to vote is not a blindness issue. I would argue, however, that what is at stake here is not our philosophy but our participatory democracy.
Any American citizen who meets the voting eligibility requirements established by the state in which they reside should be able to exercise our Constitutional right to vote. We should be able to exercise this right whether we live in a rural area or an urban area, whether we have a job or are unemployed, whether we have a disability or not, and we should be able to exercise this right regardless of our socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. Similarly, when members of the National Federation of the Blind meet their state's voting eligibility requirements, our opportunity to exercise the right to vote should not be dependent on our ability to travel to a remote state ID agency. Neither should our right to vote depend on our ability to pay for that travel or the required ID. This is particularly true for blind Americans who have not yet connected with the National Federation of the Blind and our positive philosophy of blindness.
Our organization is a large, diverse family that accepts new members into the fold regardless of their level of blindness skill or their philosophy. We meet these members where they are and then teach them our NFB philosophy that they can live the lives they want. Learning this philosophy and the alternative techniques of blindness is a journey that takes some longer to travel than others. Just like we do not exclude people from joining our family because of where they are in this journey, the exercise of the fundamental right to vote must not be denied an eligible blind citizen simply because they have not yet gained the skills and confidence in their personal journey of adjustment to blindness to accomplish tasks, such as obtaining a photo ID, that have no relevance to their eligibility to vote.
The justification that many state legislators and other politicians use in supporting photo ID laws is election security and to instill confidence in the election process. As evidenced by the many hand counts and audits that followed the 2020 general election, in-person voting fraud is rare in the United States. If legislators are sincere in their belief that requiring voters to show a photo ID at their polling place makes elections more secure, then they should make the process of obtaining a photo ID easier. Requiring voters to show a photo ID at their polling place, requiring a doctor's certification of disability to vote by mail, and forcing voters who want to vote in person to travel further because their local polling place has been closed does not make elections more secure, but it does inconvenience the vast majority of law-abiding citizens who merely want to exercise our fundamental right to vote. Requiring an audit of every election when ballots are tabulated electronically is the best practice for ensuring that election results are accurate, that the election system is secure, and to instill voter confidence.
Another argument that many have made in opposition to the resolution is that it is not about a blindness issue. The exercise of our fundamental right to vote is how we, as members of the blind civil rights movement, elect government leaders who will adopt policies and pass legislation that may improve the ability of blind children to receive a free and appropriate public education, improve the ability of blind adults to receive training in the alternative techniques of blindness, improve the ability of a blind employee to receive accommodations in the workplace, and improve the ability of a newly blind senior to receive books and newspapers in audio format. Any legislation that could adversely affect our ability to exercise our fundamental right to vote is absolutely a blindness issue because it may impede our ability to elect government leaders who support legislation that will improve the lives of blind Americans.
Voters with disabilities represent a significant portion of the voting population in the United States since, according to the Center for Disease Control, one in four American adults have a disability that affects major life activities. Historically, turnout of voters with disabilities has been lower than for voters without disabilities, and according to Rutgers University professors Lisa Schur and Douglas Kruse, the turnout for voters with disabilities for the 2020 general election was 5.7 percentage points lower than for voters without disabilities. Our democracy and its citizens cannot thrive when state legislators pass laws that disincentivize voters with disabilities to exercise their right to vote, further diminishing our voice in determining how our country is governed. As members of the nation's leading disability rights organization, we cannot stand by and let state legislators minimize our voice in the process of electing government leaders who will implement policies and legislation that will affect us all.
by George Stern
From the Editor: George Stern is a twenty-nine-year-old deafblind food writer, linguist, and disability rights advocate currently residing in Lubbock, Texas. He holds a BA in French from Texas Tech University. He has served as president of the Texas Tech Judo and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu club, second vice president of Deafblind Citizens in Action, board member for the CAT-SI (Collaboration and Assistive Technology for Students with Sensory Impairments) program through TTU’s Sowell Center, and is, by his own affirmation and likely many others, seriously one of the better cooks in the country!
George was born in Jamaica, a land of many wonderful things but not of opportunity, especially for people with disabilities. He left Jamaica when he was two years old after an initial misdiagnosis for pinkeye was revised to be bilateral retinal blastoma, a cancer beyond the capacity of George’s home country to treat. The operation to remove the cancer was successfully completed at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of Miami, Florida, leaving George blind and alive. George’s bilateral hearing loss, which doctors think stems from a chromosomal abnormality, did not manifest until he started pre-K, which is when he first wore hearing aids.
In this article George challenges the idea that we who are blind must regard ourselves and be regarded by others as broken human beings, a harsh reality based on our functionality. This concept of functionality is also one that he questions. Enjoy the read, and thank you, George:
"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." The Dickensian obituary of an era—heard in the richly textured voice of Maya Angelou's Mrs. Flowers—seems so apt for our time. I hope the historians and archaeologists responsible for parsing our ruins still have access to him.
It is the best of times because the bald eagle population is on the rebound, dolphins are swimming in the canals of Venice, a plastic-eating enzyme is possibly on its way to mass-production, and, just in general, it's never been clearer that we have many of the solutions to our thorniest problems well in hand if we'd just get out of our own way.
It is the worst of times because institutions, societies, and the planet itself are under incredible stress from the cross-purposing actions of a humankind whose good sense and discernment are being eroded by the sheer volume of information we have available to us.
It is the best of times because old conversations used to churning over the same hypothetical grounds have been shocked out of their complacency by the rude, honest answers of a hitherto inconceivable reality. Thus, as Americans, we now know that neither Black or blue nor all lives matter; it's the economy, stupid. We also know that the presumed superiority of nondisabled minds, bodies, and ways of being and doing, along with the rhetorical cudgel of "functionality" that defends it, are both figments of a fickle context.
One such presumptuous cudgeller is my friend Bruce. Bruce is one of those doing people, forever posting on Facebook about some from-scratch or jury-rigging project or other, or running a comprehension experiment with his guide dog, Fleming. He's also one of those with a sizzling hot take on seemingly everything under the sun, which would be more annoying were he not such a natural storyteller, every sound-off savored in a rich butter of much-examined life experiences and salted with New York bluntness. In another time, a more communally minded place, Bruce would be welcomed as an oracle among oracles, pounding his dominos or mahjong tiles down on a table his life experience and rich voice had earned him a seat at, hearing aids, blindness, and all. But here, where the GDP is G-O-D, his sixty-something years, veteran's status, and encroaching disabilities are a liability, a begrudged public charge on a society that would really prefer he stop fighting the good fight against isolation and accept his irrelevance in the all-important production schema. Life experiences? What percentage of GDP are they again?
Thankfully for us, his friends, Bruce has not acquiesced to this sidelining—at least not completely. But when he wades into the discursive fray around disability rights wielding the cudgel of functionality, I can see that even this Bernie-Sanders-loving, George-Carlin-channeling, born-again-Socialist has swallowed the GDP worshipers' most insidious argument hook, line, and sinker: a person is worth only as much as they can do.
The exchanges tend to go like this: Someone—usually a younger, longer-term disabled person—will put up a post decrying the continued unequal treatment of disabled people by society, with one or several sample incidents appended: the rideshare refusal, a job offer denied on some transparently discriminatory basis, Amtrak trying to charge wheelchair users $25,000 for an in-state, intercity trip. Bruce will show up, sympathetic to the specific plight, but leaning hard into the commonsense and New York straight-talk to assert that, for the disabled, equality is a non sequitur, a wishful pipe dream we'd do well to stop chasing because we're Just Not Equal. It's in the word: "dis" abled, less-than able, not equal to able. Like any good storyteller, he has parables ready to mobilize to his point: A wheelchair user and an able-bodied person apply for the same roofing job. Which one do you expect the contractor to hire? Or: You go to a car lot to buy a car. Your choice is between one with all four wheels and another with one wheel missing. Which do you choose?
The answers here are presumed to be painfully obvious: the roofing company boss and the car buyer will—(must!)—select the least impaired, most functional, most able body; any attempt to frame the two candidates in either scenario as inherently equal (on the basis of humanity or caring) is a patently ridiculous philosophical exercise divorced from reality. Thus, since inequality is just the natural consequence of our impaired functionality, disabled people should defer the impossibility of equality for the more realistic goal of dignity, viz., the right of a person to be valued and respected for their own sake and treated ethically.
The thing to realize about common sense and straight talk is that they proscribe a self-limiting world dependent on unquestioned assumptions, a world in which what goes up must come down. On the other hand, only ceaseless, irreverent questioning of assumptions and an Ender-esque foray into the nonsense of imagination permits us to leave Earth and reach for the stars: what goes up will come down only if it has insufficient velocity to escape Earth’s gravitational pull. Bruce’s parables are bursting at the seams with such unquestioned givens: The human body is reducible to a machine and analogous to a car, though the latter (as yet) lacks the sentient capacity to modify either its functions or situation; the three-wheeled car is summarily dismissed as functionally unequal to the four-wheeled one based on assumed performance in one context, driving, with no inkling that in other contexts, e.g. lighting a nighttime soccer game, facilitating a clandestine sexcapade, or providing a home for woodchucks, the two are effectively equal. The argumentative force of the roofing company hypothetical hinges on our uncritical acceptance of the assumption that being a wheelchair user means you can’t fulfill the functions of a roofer as well as an able-bodied person can, despite the fact that neither the presence nor absence of a wheelchair conveys information that would be truly useful in screening for the position: i.e., can you or an effective agent controlled by you get to the roof? Do you have the experience to know what you or others are doing once up there? Are you afraid of heights? Indeed, the sheer disconnect between this scenario’s assumptions and reality (or even job relevance) illustrates perfectly how common sense and straight talk often veer away from “telling it like it is” into “telling it like I expect it to be.”
The most sweeping assumption of all, though, tacitly underpinning both Bruce’s hypotheticals and much of the pushback against the disability rights equality contention, is this idea of functionality as an immutable, nonnegotiable, objective criterion, always and forever best satisfied by the nondisabled, neuro-and-physio typical human organism. The Breakfast Club Morning Show host, Charlemagne the God, suggests as much in his shutdown of Chelsie Reid, the blind college student who called in to vent about not getting an equal shot at the practical childcare opportunities required for her degree, rebuking her with the “unassailable” logic, “You can’t watch if you can’t see.”
Up until 1990, the State Department refused to even consider hiring blind people, no matter how otherwise qualified, on the basis that, like bus drivers or bank tellers, a foreign officer’s efficacy was supposedly too dependent on visual information to be suitable for the blind. And a deaf person with multiple degrees can file a thousand job applications per day for years to no avail, simply because the person on the other end of the hiring process equates deaf with dumb, different with inferior, and alternative with inefficient or costly.
Yet, a critical look at the historical arc of human endeavor, or robotic design theory, or just everyday life presents a very different reality: functionality is highly mutable, infinitely negotiable, and profoundly context-dependent. Our frail, oxygen-reliant bodies are patently dysfunctional in the crushing depths of the ocean or the vacuum of outer space; but through the cyborg magic of submarines and spacesuits, humans have negotiated functionality for ourselves in even these inimical circumstances. In the intellectual echelons of robotics, preoccupation with the human-shaped, human-presenting machine is yielding to an appreciation of the stranger forms robots can take, and the very different (but often more effective) means they have for being and doing. But the surest proof is in the conceptual pudding the coronavirus has made of everyday life. Its fundamental redefinition of norms has made involuntary, frantic negotiators of those who were hitherto functionality’s default poster children, a transformation that a sizable segment of the population finds discomfiting if the virulence of anti-lockdown protests are any indication.
An NPR report tells of seasoned lawyers flustered by the Supreme Court’s transition of oral arguments to a group phone call format, unsure how to gauge their efficacy absent the nonverbal cues of an in-person situation. Social media is awash in secondhand accounts of people feeling anonymous and conversationally unmoored in our new, perpetual masked ball. The grocery and food delivery apps once derided as first-world frivolities for the lazy, the coddled, and the needy disabled are suddenly in mainstream use, more functional in the pandemic context than all the luxury cars in your driveway. People who never invoked the phrase “mental health” save as a scapegoat for mass shootings have attained an impressive overnight fluency in the language of isolation, mental health, and self-harm, as they question (and protest) everything from the real intent to the necessity to the efficacy of the measures ostensibly implemented to keep them and others safe.
And just like that, with a cough and a sneeze, we’ve entered a reality where the nondisabled population finds itself checking many of the same boxes we disabled people have been doing since forever. Your access to everything and quality-of-life activities constrained by someone else’s assessment of risk? Check. Incredulous that an employer would rather fire and rehire than figure out how to go remote? Check. Frustrated and overwhelmed by the steep learning curve inherent in online learning everything under the sun in our new physical-distancing reality? Check. Shamed for being where supposedly well-intentioned people insist you have no business being, looked at askance for an involuntary bodily reaction, bored and depressed by your isolation from community? Check, check, and infinite checks. Welcome to the fullest, loneliest club on Earth.
Which returns us to the point of difference between Bruce and me. His justification for dignity-over-equality presupposes that equality should be predicated on an immutable, nonnegotiable, objective criterion of functionality, which I hope the preceding arguments have clearly demonstrated doesn’t—cannot—exist. Further, it presupposes mutual exclusivity between dignity—which must work because it demands the possible—and equality, which demonstrably isn’t working because it asserts the impossible. This is actually a lively conversation within the human rights and civil rights communities, which I cannot do justice to here, but let me leave you with a hot take of my own:
Dignity, etymologically linked to the inherently social concept of dignitas, concerns the personal and interpersonal and should be negotiated at that level. Equality, as a legal concept, has to be impersonal (because personal law is by definition partial law). The two aren’t mutually exclusive by default, can indeed even be symbiotic: the impersonal equality mandated by law creating the environment (and setting the expectations) conducive to personal and interpersonal negotiations around dignity, said negotiations in turn developing the relationships essential to sustaining and expanding the impersonal equality and impartiality of the law.
The problem with bringing dignity into the purview of the law is, quite simply, that what law giveth it can take away; the self-same law that confers personhood on a child at conception can reduce a person’s worth to a convenient fraction out of political expediency.
So when and if Corona passes, and the myth of functionality reasserts itself, let us disabled people pursue both dignity and equality, each at its level, and fight the shortness of historical memory to remind our nondisabled fellow citizens where they’re coming from.
Dickens, Charles. “A Tale of Two Cities.” November, 1775.
Morris, Amanda. “Deaf and Unemployed: 1000+ Applications But Still No Full-time Job.” NPR.org. January 12, 2019, 5:01 AM ET. https://www.npr.org/2019/01/12/662925592/deaf-and-unemployed-1-000-applications-but-still-no-full-time-job
Shapiro, Joseph. “2 Wheelchair Users Face A $25,000 Fee To Travel On Amtrak.” All Things Considered, NPR.org. January 17, 2020, 4:13 PM ET. https://www.npr.org/2020/01/17/797410325/amtrak-charged-25-000-to-travel-with-a-wheelchairTotenberg, Nina. “Supreme Court Arguments Resume—But With A Twist.” Morning Edition, NPR.org. May 4, 2020, 5:01 AM ET. https://www.npr.org/2020/05/04/847785015/supreme-court-arguments-resume-but-with-a-twist
by John Paré
January can mean many things for many people. For most, it marks the opportunity to look back on the previous year and have a fresh start for the coming year. In fact, it’s no coincidence that the month is named after the Roman god Janus, who possessed two faces: one for looking toward the past, and the other for looking toward the future. For me, January means that Washington Seminar, an event I look forward to every year, is just around the corner, and this year, because we’re doing things a little differently, we thought we would take this opportunity to tell you about the plans for the 2022 Washington Seminar.
Let’s start with the basics. The 2022 Washington Seminar will take place from Monday, February 7, through Thursday, February 10, 2022. As is tradition, the Great Gathering-In will take place that Monday, February 7, from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. EST, and meetings with your members of Congress will take place the following Tuesday, Wednesday, and for the states with more Representatives, Thursday.
For the 2022 Washington Seminar, we are back at the Holiday Inn Washington Capitol–National Mall. This is the same, familiar location at 550 C St., SW, Washington, DC, that we’ve been going to for decades. This year, due to social distancing requirements, we are allotting only a limited number of participants from each state affiliate, so please speak with your affiliate president regarding your attendance at the 2022 Washington Seminar.
On that topic, this year’s Washington Seminar will be a little different from what veterans of previous Washington Seminars are used to. For 2022, we will be conducting a hybrid Washington Seminar.
Here is how it will work. We recommend that you have two sets of teams: an in-person team and a virtual team. The in-person team or teams would travel to Washington, DC, and conduct the in-person meetings. The virtual team or teams would conduct meetings over Zoom similar to the 2021 Washington Seminar.
As previously mentioned, we will be asking affiliates to limit the number of people that they send to Washington DC. We are asking most affiliates to limit their in-person delegation to two people.
Under the current Congressional rules, visitors must have an appointment to enter any of the Capitol office buildings. Someone from the office you are visiting must escort you from the building entrance to the meeting. After the meeting, you will be escorted out of the building or to another office that is willing to accept the transfer. Congressional rules limit the size of the meeting to a maximum of five visitors, but we are recommending that we limit the size to two people. Of course, virtual meetings can be much larger.
When making appointments, it will be important to keep the escort rules in mind. If you are unable to chain two meetings together (i.e. have one Congressional office escort you to another Congressional office that is willing to accept the transfer), you will have to leave the building and will most likely need to return to the hotel.
Please note: We are not recommending that individual Congressional meetings be conducted as hybrid meetings. By this, I mean that you should not plan to conduct any Congressional meetings where both in-person and virtual attendees are at the same meeting. Whether in-person or virtual, the way you meet with your member of Congress is equally important, and we are not valuing any method above the other. This plan will allow us to benefit from in-person meetings when appropriate and at the same time provide for the safety and flexibility to have virtual meetings when necessary.
For the 2022 Washington Seminar, we are taking four issues to Capitol Hill:
Access Technology Affordability Act (H.R. 431/S. 212)
Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act (H.R. 4853)
Twenty-First Century Website and Application Accessibility Act
Transformation to Competitive Integrated Employment Act (H.R. 2373/S. 3238)
Just because we have determined that these will be the 2022 Washington Seminar issues does not mean that you should stop advocating for them until February. On the contrary, it is essential that we continue to build cosponsor support for all of our bills, especially the Access Technology Affordability Act (ATAA). The more cosponsors ATAA has, the greater the likelihood that it will be included in one of the larger vehicles that are currently moving through Congress.That’s all we have for now, but please continue to monitor the Washington Seminar page on our website to ensure you remain up-to-date with any developments. We know this year will be a little different, but we are still looking forward to seeing all of you (either in person or virtually) next month.
by Jo Elizabeth Pinto
From the Editor: Jo Elizabeth Pinto was one of the ever-increasing number of blind students to integrate the public schools in the 1970’s. In 1992 she received a degree in human services from the University of Northern Colorado. While teaching students how to use adaptive technology, she earned a second degree in 2004 from the Metropolitan State College of Denver in nonprofit management. She freelances as an editor and a Braille proofreader.
Here is what she has to say about her most important role as the mother of a persevering daughter. This is reprinted in large part from the Blind Coloradan, the blog of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. Here is that she says:
Pinto lives in Colorado with her husband, her preteen daughter, and their pets. To find out more about her, including her award-winning novel and her two memoir collections, please visit her website at https://www.brightsideauthor.com.
My eight-year-old daughter Sarah inspired my socks off yesterday. Actually, I was wearing fur-lined snow boots, but she inspired me just the same. I went to watch her participate in her school’s annual Turkey Trot with the rest of her third grade class.
Fortunately, the storm from the day before had subsided. It was still nippy out, and the ground was slippery with slightly melting snow, but the sun shone brightly.
“I won’t win, Mom,” Sarah had predicted glumly that morning. “I’m the slowest girl in the third grade.”
“Just have fun and try your best,” I had encouraged her as she left for school.
The race started, and my daughter was soon well behind the pack. She had left the winter jacket she usually wore at a friend’s house. The one she had on was a hand-me-down from an older cousin. It was too big for her, and the hood wouldn’t quit flopping over her eyes. She had also forgotten to put on gloves that morning. I had let her borrow mine before the race. They were too large for her hands, so she kept pushing the hood out of her face with these hopelessly floppy leather gloves that fit her like swim flippers.
I stood at the finish line as the runners came in. Soon, my daughter was left on the racecourse--alone. My heart sank as the seconds ticked by, lengthening into a minute, then two. A teacher went out to walk the last of the course with Sarah. I could have hugged that woman. At least my baby wouldn’t have to cross the finish line all by herself under the stares of her classmates.
Finally, the dean said, “We have one more friend to cheer on.”
The entire third grade began to chant in unison, “Sarah! Sarah! Sarah! Sarah!”
I held out my arms, and my little girl rushed into them, burying her face in my purple coat to hide her humiliation.
“They’re all cheering for you!” I told her.
“Because I came in last,” she whispered.
“No!” I turned her around to face the other students. “They’re cheering for you because you kept on walking. You could have given up. You could have quit, but you didn’t. You kept right on walking. That means a lot.”
I gave my little girl one more bear hug, and sent her off with the rest of her class to finish the school day. No more fuss. She inspired the socks off me. But at the same time, I hope she learned some valuable lessons about perseverance, about tenacity, about acting with dignity when victory doesn’t come her way. Because, to tell the truth, life will hand her more opportunities to practice perseverance than to take victory laps. She’ll need to remember how to keep on walking when she’s the only one left on the course, when the ground is slippery and her hood is falling in her eyes, when the way is long and lonely. As her blind mom, I know a thing or two about that. But blindness doesn’t give me a corner on that market. Tenacity and fortitude are life skills any mom should be more than ready to pass along to her daughter when the chance arises.
Editor’s Note: For those interested in reading more, Jo writes: This story appears in my mothering memoir, “Daddy Won’t Let Mom Drive the Car: True Tales of Parenting in the Dark.” The book, full of similar lighthearted vignettes and a few more serious ones, is designed to show that while blindness might alter a few everyday logistics of parenthood, it doesn’t change what it means to be a family. It’s available in audio, Kindle, and paperback formats on Amazon or by visiting my website at https://www.brightsideauthor.com.
by Mark Lasser
From the Editor: A topic that has gained a lot of currency in the last few months is whether people who are speaking should give visual descriptions of themselves before their presentations. The articles that have been written and submitted to the Monitor argue that it is unfair to expect people to describe themselves, that it takes time away from more meaningful information that can be exchanged, and that blind people are probably better served by relying on a third party for any descriptions that they want. Obviously, there is another side to this argument, and the Braille Monitor is interested in covering that side as well.
Mark lives in New York City and is a member of the New York City Chapter. He also founded the American Association of Blind Theatergoers. He has degrees aplenty and is able to articulate very well changes he believes we should make in society and in organizations that work with the blind. In his six years as a blind person, he has made a tremendous transition. His résumé includes working for Starbucks and other high-profile companies. Mark currently works as a senior accessibility consultant for Deque Systems. Here is what he has to say:
Hello. I’m Barbara. I’m a White woman in my forties with brown hair and eyes. I’m wearing a green shirt and jeans.
I’m Tony. I’m a twenty-year-old African American man with a shaved head and long beard. I’m wearing a black suit, and there’s a poster of Star Wars in the background behind me.
I’m Brenda. I’m a very overweight woman. I’m wearing a leather vest that is barely concealing my body, and I have numerous piercings in my eyes, eyebrows, and nose.
I’m Chris. I’m a trans person and have an androgenous appearance. My hair is cut high and tight. I’m Asian and am in a home office. I have posters for Picasso on my walls behind me, and I’m not wearing any clothing.
I’m Henry. I’m wearing a MAGA hat, and I’m a Hispanic male in my forties. I have severe acne, and there is a general mess of food wrappers on my desk.
Increasingly, we are all likely running into meetings where participants, understanding that there are blind folks on the call, are opting for a moment of visual description. There has been debate around this practice, and it seems to me that most of the consensus has been positive. I’d like to offer another view as to why this practice is a bad idea with potentially worse outcomes.
The examples above are, of course, meant to be provocative. Typically, people offering to describe themselves to us, including at NFB meetings here in New York City, describe themselves by age, race, gender, and some elements of clothing and maybe their background if visible or virtual. It can take up considerable time if twenty people each take a minute to describe themselves. I have been in a two-hour meeting where almost thirty minutes was taken up by this practice. And what exactly was the benefit? I still don’t know. Had we all been on a conference call, no one would have done this, and I don’t think we’d have been any worse off.
The first conclusion for ending this practice is that it is inefficient and time consuming, with minimal benefit to anyone. However, there are more reasons for discontinuing this practice. We are creating messages that some visual information is more important than other information. Why do we describe gender and age and skin color but not physical fitness, weight, or skin condition? A sighted person would know that a participant has a large mole on their cheek while blind people would not? Would a person who has a large visible scar be likely to describe it to us? Should a particularly attractive man or woman be appropriate in telling us that they are often found to be the subject of attention for people with sexual interests? Is it dishonest or excluding in nature to not describe a rainbow flag in the background? What about describing the book titles on a shelf behind a participant? Don’t these tell sighted people a lot about how the participant wants to be seen since these books are essential set dressing? It is not viable to really describe ourselves to each other in every Zoom or Teams meeting, so we are elevating race, gender, and age, and ignoring what sighted folks often notice such as physical attractiveness, unusual or unconventional surroundings or clothing, blemishes, weight, or things that might be paramount to a sighted user and pointedly avoided in someone providing self-description.
My point is that the exercise is actually depriving us of information while creating a false sense of inclusion. It’s not entirely honest to describe ourselves by the color of our clothes, the amount of pigment in our skin, and our age. Therefore, we are not getting the equivalent descriptions that sighted people get. We don’t know if someone on the call has pancaked makeup on their face, if they are breathtakingly handsome, or if there are visible clues to their sexual orientation. Instead we accept the most superficial and arguably useless details while what we might really want to know is excluded from the visual description.
If we are told someone is fifty, is that a visual description if they happen to look thirty? What if they look eighty? Is the color of one’s hair important or only if it is green or purple? Should we be told if someone has a wart on their eyebrow or a sore on their lip? What if someone is not obviously of a certain race? Are we pressuring people to disclose their race if it is not visually apparent? Should it be required that a meeting participant disclose their religion if it is apparent from visual indicators like a cross necklace or a Star of David?
To be clear, I am a serious advocate for audio description in film, television, and theater. The description is usually created by trained professionals who take many factors into consideration, and this too is an evolving art form. It is an important distinction that audio description is generally written and spoken by objective third-party professionals, which makes it a very different situation from self-describing visual descriptions.
As blind people, we depend on audio description in media to understand context that is otherwise not obvious. Do we really need this in our meetings or in our day-to-day personal encounters? I don’t think so. There is room for disagreement on this subject, and I hope to, at least, provoke some introspection and questions about these practices before they become so standardized that we cannot go back to a time where they did not exist.
by Jack Bernard
From the Editor: Jack Bernard works at a large research university, where he is a lawyer and teaches in its schools of law, education, public policy, and information. The views in this piece are his own and do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of any organizations or individuals with whom he associates or has associated.
As noted in the previous article, the Monitor is open to other perspectives; this is a discussion in which we are glad to hear all points of view. Here is what Jack has to say:
I have noticed a growing trend. Some people are adopting the practice of giving physical descriptions of themselves at the beginning of meetings or presentations. This practice, I am told, is intended to support and welcome people who are blind or visually impaired. While this practice is not yet a dominant norm, it appears to be burgeoning. We should nip this well-meaning effort in the bud because it is unhelpful and begets other problems. In this essay I will unpack for you why I think we should not encourage this practice and, instead, should actively discourage it.
I first encountered this practice about three years ago at the start of a twelve-person meeting. The host asked a participant to begin a round of introductions. The first person offered a three-minute description of herself, including two minutes of details about her face, hair, body, clothing, shoes, jewelry, and tattoos, among other things. Each person, in turn, followed with a similar descriptive introduction. Thirty minutes into our hour-long meeting, it was my turn, and I asked why we were describing ourselves with all these details. I had assumed it was an ice-breaker activity, and I wanted to get a better sense of what I should share. I was told that expressing physical descriptions was “an important courtesy for the visually impaired.” As the only person in that room for whom this “courtesy” was intended, I was perplexed.
Since then, I have witnessed over thirty meetings and presentations where people have introduced themselves with detailed visual descriptions. The trend appears to be increasing in both frequency and diversity of description. For instance, last summer I attended a copyright symposium where the four panelists, after being prompted by the moderator, described their appearance and dress for a couple of minutes each. More recently, I participated in a Zoom meeting where attendees not only added all sorts of information about their looks and clothing but also relayed what the camera was showing behind them. One man debated with himself for twenty seconds about the precise color of the walls in his living room. At another Zoom meeting, people described the coloration, size, and body characteristics of their pets who wandered into view during the meeting. As a newer facet in the practice, some people also take the time to describe the colors and shapes of their masks and facial coverings.
There are many things that could make the meetings and presentations I attend more accessible to me, but none of those things include physical descriptions of the participants. The gesture reminds me of the countless times that well-intentioned people have begun speaking to me loudly and slowly upon learning about my eyesight. Even though they are going to great efforts to be helpful, sluggish shouting doesn’t address real barriers for me. Neither does the practice of introductory physical descriptions.
Because I am confident that my own experiences may not be the experiences of others, I have scoured the literature on accommodations for research, observations, or recommendations that would support this practice. I have found none. I have also reviewed guidance from organizations for people who are blind and/or visually impaired, centers for independent living, the federal government, public goods (such as colleges, universities, libraries, museums, and archives), and organizations that help people learn how to run meetings or make public presentations. I have found no entities recommending this practice. Moreover, throughout my lifetime, I have attended dozens of meetings stewarded by organizations for the blind, and I have never encountered this practice in those settings, nor have I heard people who are blind clamoring for it.
During the past three years, I have also spoken with over 150 people from all over the country and world about this practice, most of whom are people who have limited, low, or no vision. I have not found a person who felt that this practice of self-description meaningfully improved the accessibility of meetings and speeches. Most people did not understand the utility of this practice. Admittedly, a few people told me that they appreciated the idea that accessibility or blindness was being acknowledged. One disability-rights leader told me that a few people had explicitly thanked him for engaging in the practice. My suspicion, I reflected to him, is that, in a world where accessibility is so often an afterthought, people can be grateful when someone is making any effort. But even he did not identify a substantive benefit to the practice.
I am not saying that it is never appropriate for people to describe how they appear at a meeting or presentation. In a meeting about fashion, it may be crucial for people in the room to have a sense of what others are wearing in order to be able to participate equitably in the discussion. If a panel were presenting about beard styles, it would seem highly pertinent to describe the beards on the stage. When appearance or clothing (or walls or pets) are salient to the work or subject at hand, it may be necessary to inspire or require introductions with vivid descriptions. But I contend that this is not most meetings and presentations. So, we should not encourage perfunctory practices, especially when they are unhelpful. And I believe that there are real downsides to promulgating this practice as a rote routine.
It is difficult enough to inspire society to make accommodations that are unequivocally helpful. However, allowing practices like these to take up the little bandwidth we get does a disservice to all the accommodations we need but do not receive. Even people of good will have only so much energy and attention; if we squander it on unhelpful practices, we risk not only opportunities for real progress but also the trust people have in us to ask for what we genuinely need.
People’s time is valuable, and it is disrespectful for us to avert our sensibilities while they are using their time (and ours) under the mistaken impression that we typically need to know how they look and what they are wearing to participate in a meeting. Blind and sighted people alike expressed dismay at how much time this practice takes. Because they felt the practice was not conferring a genuine accommodation, most of the people I spoke with felt it was a waste of everyone’s time to go through the motions of self-description.
Many people with whom I spoke about the practice also felt that it made them or others uncomfortable. I heard perspectives like the following:
“I’ve been blind my whole life. I have never seen any of the colors or what anyone looks like, including myself. I don’t want or need to know this stuff.”
“It must be strange for those people to have to describe themselves like that. It’s just weird.”
“I have no idea what to say about myself. Am I supposed to talk about my shoes, or do I only do that if the person in front of me did? Is there a list of dos and don’ts?”
“I know that I don’t have to describe myself, but I worry that if I don’t that people will think that I am a mean person or that I don’t care about my colleagues who have disabilities.”
“My wife picks out my clothes for me, but she doesn’t usually tell me about what they look like. So, when it’s my turn, I don’t give much of a description because I really can’t. It’s awkward to say, ‘I’m wearing regular clothes and have a white cane’ and leaving it at that.”
“I had no idea that panelists were going to have to describe themselves. I kept wishing I’d dressed better.”
“I feel a little ashamed that people think what they are doing is helping me, when it isn’t.”
“I’m overweight; am I supposed to announce that? It feels so awkward because I know that that is the first thing that many people notice about me. Is everyone else in the room just thinking ‘It’s funny how she isn’t saying the most obvious thing about herself?’ I feel embarrassed every time I’ve been asked to describe myself.”
“The one time I had to do this, I kept obsessing about what the men in the room were thinking as the women described themselves.”
“I am blind, and at this point in my life I don’t usually care what other people look like, and I definitely don’t care about their fashion choices.”
“It feels ridiculous for me to tell a bunch of sighted people at the meeting what they can see for themselves.”
“The last thing I want to do in a meeting is talk; but describing myself with everyone looking at me is even worse.”
“I really hope this doesn’t become a thing. I can’t imagine anything sillier than a bunch of blind people starting our meetings by describing what we think we look like to each other.”
To be clear, sometimes, to provide accommodations or to make society more equitable, people may have to endure some discomfort or inconvenience. But it does not help us to make people, including our own constituency, uncomfortable for no measurable benefit. Asking people to make sacrifices is perfectly acceptable to make meetings and presentations more accessible. But taxing people's time, energy, and attention for empty accommodations is self-defeating. Because most people do not really know what we need, they count on us to point the way.
First, it is important to remember that most people endorsing or engaging in this practice are simply trying to make meetings or presentations more equitable and accessible. They are striving to be inclusive. At the very least, they are going with the flow, after having noticed someone else model the practice. These are our allies, and we should work hard not to alienate them. Therefore, we should go out of our way to be appreciative of the gesture and good intentions, while at the same time shepherding them toward more productive efforts.
I encourage you to speak out when you encounter this physical description practice. Depending upon the context, I have discouraged the practice just as it commenced, when it came my turn to introduce myself, after the meeting to the speaker or chair, or even later in writing to an individual or group. Sincere, noncombative engagement goes a long way. For instance, I have said things like this, "I know that others have been giving detailed descriptions of how they appear in order to make the meeting more accessible for legally blind people like me. And I really appreciate the effort to put accessibility front and center; it makes meetings like this especially welcoming. If we are doing these descriptions to make the meetings more accessible, it's only fair for me to say that these descriptions are less helpful to me than they might appear. But there are some things we could do that would save time and really make a difference for my participation...."
There are many better, more useful alternatives we can encourage that will actually make meetings and presentations more meaningfully accessible. Most people do want to promote a more equitable environment and appreciate knowing how they can effectively remove barriers and promote access. Here are some alternatives that I recommend offering in place of asking people to give physical descriptions. Of course, these are important steps regardless of whether a community has been using the physical descriptions practice.
When scheduling a meeting or announcing an event, prominently describe the accommodations that are already in place, and invite attendees to apprise organizers of accommodations they may need. For instance, here is language I used for a recent meeting: "We have accessible seating and parking on-site. We have ASL interpreters on-call; please let us know if it would help you to have them available to sign at the meeting. If you have questions or if there are other accommodations we can provide to facilitate your full participation, please contact us at…" This kind of language welcomes people to come forward and underscores that the event organizers want to prioritize equitable participation and access.
In preparation for a meeting or event, make sure participants can access and/or remediate materials ahead of time. For most blind people, handouts and on-screen presentations are largely inaccessible. For myself, I have found this to be the most common barrier to my full participation. I often ask meeting organizers to send materials in advance. This accommodation not only helps me participate, but it also helps everyone prepare, which, typically, improves the meeting for all.
At the beginning of a meeting or event, invite participants to let organizers know, now or at any time during or after the activity, if there is anything that can be done to make the activity more accessible. This kind of short announcement will not only inspire people who need accommodations to come forward, but it will put all participants in mind of the notion that people who have disabilities and accessibility are a part of society. This kind of announcement addresses the acknowledgement of what some people want, and it does so more efficiently than the mechanical practice of self-description.
Encourage speakers to use narrative rather than demonstrative approaches to presenting. For instance, presenters who gesture at their slides with laser pointers and say things like, "we are trying to do this and not that" are being demonstrative for only those who can see what the presenters are doing. If the same presenters used a narrative style and said, "We are trying to present narratively and not demonstratively," it would be more accessible for people who can't see the slides and/or the laser pointer.
There are doubtless many other approaches, both general and more targeted, that people and institutions can take to make meetings and presentations more accessible. We should have no compunction about letting people know what we need to be able to equitably participate. At the same time, we should not sit idly by, letting people go through a performative process that they think we need or want. There are better approaches than the unhelpful, box-checking practice of self-description; let's inspire people to use those that actually serve us.
by Tatyana Haykin
Reprinted with permission from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology.
Keren Amiel has always wanted to become a doctor; against all odds, the visually impaired young woman is now officially an MD.
Among the 241 new MDs who received their Technion diplomas this past June, visually impaired Dr. Keren Amiel stands out for overcoming unusual challenges.
“I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, ever since I was a child,” Dr. Amiel says. “I knew it was going to be a challenge, so initially I was apprehensive, but I decided to try.”
Amiel suffers from congenital nystagmus, a condition she inherited from her father, which causes her eyes to “dance” uncontrollably, resulting in significant visual impairment.
Last month, 241 Technion graduates of the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine received their Doctor of Medicine diplomas. Technion President Prof. Uri Sivan spoke at the graduation ceremony; the daughters of Ruth and Bruce, Dr. Vered Drenger-Rappaport and Ms. Irith Rappaport, congratulated the new doctors. For half of them, the ceremony comes two years after their graduation, as no ceremonies were held at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Dr. Amiel, the apprehensions were over when she finally held her MD diploma. Not only that, but over the past year, she completed her internship at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, and started residency in child and adolescent psychiatry at Schneider Children’s Medical Center.
The chief challenge, Amiel says, was being the first, blazing the trail. “The faculty was very supportive and willing to make the necessary adjustments,” she says. “But we had to figure out together what these adjustments were – identify the problems, and figure out how to overcome them. It took some out-of-the-box thinking.”
For example, in anatomy classes, where one has to recognize structures in the human body, she used surgical loupes like surgeons use when performing delicate operations. On one thing, she agreed with the faculty from the start: in no way would her education be compromised; there would be no lowering the bar.
“The Technion encourages one to excel,” she says. “It poses a challenge, and an opportunity to learn from the very best. That’s why I wanted to study here.”
Currently, in her work with young patients, Dr. Amiel’s disability offers an unexpected advantage: it helps her to connect with patients. A doctor can be quite intimidating, but a doctor who is also a human being – less so. “I often ask children what they want to be when they grow up,” Dr. Amiel says. “If a child is afraid he or she won’t be able to achieve their dreams, I can encourage them through telling them about the challenges I’ve overcome.”
Commenting on integration of people with disabilities, Dr. Amiel says: “I think visibility is important. The first time my colleagues in the hospital saw me with my nose glued to the computer screen, I suppose it looked weird. But the more common it is, the less weird it becomes, and that opens the way for more people with disabilities.”
While Dr. Amiel is the first visually impaired doctor in Israel, a few have passed this hurdle previously around the world. The first was Jacob Bolotin, who graduated from the Chicago Medical School in 1912. In more recent times, David Hartman earned his medical degree at Temple University in Philadelphia in 1975, followed by Tim Cordes graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2005. The knowledge that she might be the first in Israel, but others around the world have succeeded before her, helped Amiel persevere, and find the way to achieve the goal she had set for herself.
For more than seventy-five years, the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality, and with your support, we will continue to do so for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by adding the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary in your will. A gift to the National Federation of the Blind in your will is more than just a charitable, tax-deductible donation. It is a way to join in the work to help blind people live the lives they want that leaves a lasting imprint on the lives of thousands of blind children and adults.
With your help, the NFB will continue to:
Creating a will gives you the final say in what happens to your possessions and is the only way to be sure that your remaining assets are distributed according to your passions and beliefs. Many people fear creating a will or believe it’s not necessary until they are much older. Others think that it’s expensive and confusing. However, it is one of the most important things you will do, and with new online legal programs it is easier and cheaper than ever before. If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422, for more information. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.
The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back. A donation to the National Federation of the Blind allows you to invest in a movement that removes the fear from blindness. Your investment is your vote of confidence in the value and capacity of blind people and reflects the high expectations we have for all blind Americans, combating the low expectations that create obstacles between blind people and our dreams.
In 2019, the NFB:
Just imagine what we’ll do next year, and, with your help, what can be accomplished for years to come. Below are just a few of the many diverse, tax-deductible ways you can lend your support to the National Federation of the Blind.
The NFB now accepts donated vehicles, including cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, or recreational vehicles. Just call 855-659-9314 toll-free, and a representative can arrange to pick up your donation—it doesn’t have to be working. We can also answer any questions you have.
General donations help support the ongoing programs of the NFB and the work to help blind people live the lives they want. Donate online with a credit card or through the mail with check or money order. Visit www.nfb.org/make-gift for more information.
Even if you can’t afford a gift right now, including the National Federation of the Blind in your will enables you to contribute by expressing your commitment to the organization and promises support for future generations of blind people across the country. Visit www.nfb.org/planned-giving or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422, for more information.
Through the Pre-Authorized Contribution (PAC) program, supporters sustain the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind by making recurring monthly donations by direct withdraw of funds from a checking account or a charge to a credit card. To enroll, visit www.nfb.org/make-gift, and complete the Pre-Authorized Contribution form, and return it to the address listed on the form.
by Regina Mitchell
From the Editor: Regina is a scholarship winner who walked across the stage in 2017. She has been married to her husband Stan for thirty-six years and serves on the National Federation of the Blind of Nevada Board of Directors. She also serves as the affiliate’s scholarship chair. Her newest assignment is what moves her to write, and here is what she says:
A time, a season, and a purpose.
“My heart sang when I saw Exploring in the Kitchen on the [NFB National Convention] agenda, and I’m excited to get involved,” says a food blogger.
A man wrote, “I am interested in how to read labels, [learning] macro and micronutrients and their impact on blood sugar and the science behind cooking!”
A student attending the Louisiana Center for the Blind wrote, “I want to learn everything under the sun!”
A mom writes, “I am a busy mom. My challenges in the kitchen: time management, kid-friendly recipes for Instapot and coming up with quick and healthy options!”
Another woman writes, “I’m a home cook, who has fun in the kitchen. I am transitioning to a plant-based diet, and I love to bake!”
A dietician wrote, “If there is anything I can do to help, I would be more than happy to. This is a great thing, and I hope it gets more of us comfortable cooking.”
These, along with hundreds of other comments, are the feedback received following the presentation of ‘Exploring NFB In the Kitchen Group.’ The presentation took place at the 2021 National Convention of the NFB, Stronger Together.
My name is Regina Mitchell, and I am a classically trained chef. I began cooking as a teenager after tragedy struck our family. Cooking wasn't a challenge for me due to a heritage of talented home cooks featuring French Creole, Native American and African American cuisines. The first dinner I prepared was chicken enchiladas, a dinner salad, and iced cold Tang for my family of six at thirteen years of age.
I graduated with high honors from Seattle Culinary Academy and was awarded a British Fellowship to work overseas and to be mentored under the tutelage of master chefs. Returning to the United States nearly two years later, I was privileged to work in five-star restaurants with renowned chefs and as an entrepreneur with Fortune Five Hundred corporate executives. I later entered the hospitality industry in Las Vegas, Nevada, providing elite personalized services to global guests at the MGM Hotel and Resorts.
In 2012 I lost most of my sight due to a rare eye condition and was later diagnosed with Bilateral Panuveitis coupled with Sarcoidosis. Within thirty days, I lost my sight.
The career I had trained for as well as the culture in which I was immersed in, both culinary and hospitality, were suddenly gone. I was ravaged by grief, having known no one with blindness at this point nor having any idea of what it would look like nor what it would mean for my family, my future, nor myself.
I had no time to sit and consider any of the above questions. Years prior, I made a promise to my husband to complete university and what a perfect segue. In the spring of 2013, I became a full-time returning student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. During my junior year, I discovered the National Federation of the Blind through the National Scholarship Program. I was honored to be selected as a finalist, attending my first NFB National Convention in Orlando, Florida, receiving the STEM Oracle scholarship as a 2017 Cohort. I graduated in 2018 with high honors, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and neuroscience.
Through a turn of events and a step of faith, I stepped back into the kitchen as a chef instructor teaching blind and low-vision individuals. Then in March of 2020, the pandemic hit us all hard, leaving us isolated and sheltered in place. Slowly programming resumed, and we all entered the virtual world of connectivity, through learning and receiving education. But what about cooking? Let’s take cooking virtual!
So, (comma added) with lots of research and huge support from the Blindconnect Mobility Training Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, a virtual pilot cooking series for blind people began. It became a great success. The virtual classes are centered on teaching the art of cooking to students, using their other four senses.
I realized I had to go beyond just cooking and teaching by hearing, listening, touching, and smelling. I had to also use descriptive language and follow my instincts to develop a new way of cooking and teaching which I call “Intuitive Cooking.” Necessity is the mother of invention, and this is a skill I never thought to use as a sighted chef whose eyes were always in charge.
I discovered that if I allowed my mind and body to actually function as one whole, syncing my body with my mind during the cooking process rather than my eyes being in charge, my brain would be in charge, and my natural intuition would begin to orchestrate a culinary symphony. For me the result of this mind and body interaction was magnificent.
Due to the forward thinking and innovative approach to cooking with blindness, I’ve been featured as an Influencer, both nationally and globally. Most recently, I have been appointed chair of the new national group, NFB in the Kitchen for Food Enthusiasts: Resources and Advocacy to Advance the Accessibility of Online Cooking, Independence, and Self-reliance in the Kitchen.
The passion is for the love of cooking and the feeling cooking gives me. My joy, even when life has placed upon us tremendous pain, has often been found in the kitchen.
The reason for the NFB in the Kitchen Group is to pull like-minded people together for the purposes of learning to cook with blindness, overcoming real fears, and creating healthy meals independently.
NFB in the Kitchen is a group that aspires to:
I am enthusiastic about getting people into the kitchen. I want to stir up that desire and address the fears and obstacles and open up culinary conversations about food, culture, and lifestyle—about eating, cooking, and gathering multicultural snapshots of our food world.
Let’s talk about what you can’t do, what you’re afraid to do, and why we don’t have time to do it. Let’s crack the code to seemingly impossible recipes, food apps, and non-accessible equipment. We are tens of thousands strong, and now we have a safe space to share our food journey no matter our skillset. Let’s step into a brave, new world and make the kitchen our friend again.
For everything there is a time, a season, and, a purpose. Now is the time for NFB in the Kitchen Group. Come and join us. Follow the link below to sign up as a subscriber.
To post to this list, send your message to:
To contact Regina Mitchell, write to [email protected]
CNN The Human Factor Dr. Sanja Gupta
LOS ANGELES TIMES Sunday Food Edition
Las Vegas Sun
Hadley Podcast - Conversation with the Experts
ADNA Audio Description Narrators of America with Roy Samuelson
Tim Black on Air - Blind Like Me
by Chris Westbrook
From the Editor: Chris is a frequent contributor, and for that we are all benefited significantly. He lives in Pennsylvania, and in this short article he encourages people to attend both state and national conventions of the Federation. So many people decide the Federation promises are for real when they attend state and national gatherings. Until then they assume what we have is good reading, but the convention experience says that these Federationists and their claim of what can be done are for real. Here is what Chris has to say:
As some of you may know from my previous Braille Monitor entries, I am deafblind. I wear a hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other. I also must use a quad cane in addition to the white cane. A quad cane is a cane with four feet at the bottom that assists with balance. Despite these challenges, I have been able to enjoy myself at many state conventions, particularly the one I just returned from. I always found a helping hand whether it was from hotel staff or other Federationists, blind or sighted. I much prefer to go with a human guide where I can because I can only be on my feet so long before they start hurting, and I found this choice met with no judgment and real understanding by all Federationists I met. Whether it was attending our deafblind division meeting or a talent show, there was plenty to do.
I would really encourage any Federationist to come to a state convention, even if you think national convention is beyond your abilities. The state convention is a great way to get involved in the Federation and see firsthand how the organization works. I hope all Federationists can experience the nonjudgmental, helping attitude that I experience over and over again here in Pennsylvania. May we all help each other live the lives we want.
by Cayte Mendez
From the Editor: Cayte Mendez chairs the National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Committee. She is a full-time elementary school teacher in the New York City public schools and serves as president of the National Organization of Blind Educators as well as second vice president of the NFB of NY.
Blind and low-vision high school seniors through grad school students ages eighteen and older! Apply today!
Application Window: December 1, 2021, to midnight, Eastern, March 31, 2022
Thirty Scholarships, $8,000 each
Plus more gifts and opportunities to our scholarship finalists!
If you are a long-time reader of the Braille Monitor, you will notice that the above announcement appears somewhat differently from the way it has in the past. As the world moves forward, so must we all. As we in the NFB continue evolving our work on behalf of the nation's blind, we always seek to reflect on and to evaluate our current practices and make any changes necessary to ensure that we are achieving outcomes that further our movement and strengthen our organization. Toward that end, President Riccobono asked a committee of current and former scholarship chairs, committee members, and previous scholarship recipients to make recommendations about the structure of this highly successful program. The Federation's Board of Directors has taken those recommendations even further by proposing a significant increase to what was already the largest scholarship program in the nation for blind people. Be sure to read carefully what appears here.
Most of the core components we have come to recognize as hallmarks of the NFB Scholarship Program have remained unaltered. The application window is a month shorter, running from December 1 through the end of March, but the application itself is still demanding and rigorous, in order to highlight the best qualities of our several hundred applicants. Each student must demonstrate scholastic excellence as well as individual leadership qualities. Applicants are also expected to reflect on their own sense of themselves as blind people and their effect on the world as they complete the application's accompanying essay and undertake interviews with their state affiliate presidents. Each year our committee receives hundreds of applications, therefore, in order to be selected for one of the thirty scholarships, students must clearly demonstrate the exceptional qualities that set them apart.
Furthermore, once the thirty finalists have been selected, they will still be expected to attend our National Convention in its entirety and to fulfill rigorous participation requirements. In order to receive a scholarship on banquet night, each member of the class will have the daily opportunity to engage with their assigned scholarship committee mentors, as they think deeply about, discuss, and learn from the many and varied convention events and presentations. Finalists will continue to be expected to attend and fully engage in events such as the Board of Directors meeting, the Resolutions Committee meeting, Division Day, NABS, and all general sessions, in addition to several events designed specifically for the scholarship class.
On banquet night, just as it has been for some forty years, the presentation of the thirty scholarships will still be a culminating celebration of the convention. Each student will be recognized for their outstanding academic performance and demonstrable leadership qualities as they receive their scholarship. State delegations will still have the opportunity to cheer and celebrate as their finalists officially become scholarship winners, and the sense of excitement and accomplishment will continue to lift the spirits of the crowd.
While nearly all of the essential components of the program remain unchanged, we have made a few updates to the scholarships themselves. First, the base amount of the scholarship values will increase significantly from the $3,000 it has been for decades. With a few exceptions, the amounts for our scholarships have remained relatively static, as the cost of education has skyrocketed over time. In order to carry the weight we want in today's economy, larger scholarships are necessary. Consequently, the Board has determined that each winner will receive $8,000. This amount will include any funds donated by supporters and partners of the Federation.
Instead of a tiered system of monetary amounts, individual awards may be given to winners who stand out in specific areas of scholarship or leadership. Although the cash value of each award will be the same, this will allow our organization to spotlight excellence, while evolving the program to emphasize mentorship, leadership, engagement, scholarship, and participation over competition for higher dollar amounts. The scholarship committee will still maintain the responsibility for determining which candidates receive these specialized awards, but the value of each award will derive more from who or what it represents than from the first digit on the check.
We are also excited to announce that the members of the class will select one of the thirty scholarships themselves. While this award will be financially equivalent to the others, it will give the members of the scholarship class the opportunity to select the person among their ranks who they feel exemplifies the highest qualities of leadership such as inclusion, ingenuity, and the ability to motivate others. This individual will have the opportunity to address the convention on behalf of the class, bringing our banquet presentation to a close on a note of celebration.
The NFB Scholarship Program has two long-time, overarching goals that continue to guide our work. First, the program seeks to support and promote the academic and career success of blind students nationwide by rewarding scholastic excellence. Second, the program serves as an opportunity to grow potential leaders within our organization by selecting applicants who exhibit ingenuity, creativity, and the ability to motivate others and giving them access to Federation leadership at the highest levels through the convention mentoring process. In undertaking the changes outlined here, we continue to further these goals, while at the same time allowing our process to evolve in ways that create an even stronger sense of inclusion, agency, and responsibility among our winners.
Are you a legally blind student? Do you reside in one of the fifty states, the District of Columbia, or Puerto Rico? Will you be pursuing a full-time post-secondary course of study in a degree program at an accredited United States institution in the fall of the 2022-2023 academic year? Will you be eighteen years of age by July 5, 2022, and will you be able to participate in the entire NFB National Convention and in all scheduled scholarship activities from July 5 through July 10 if chosen as a finalist? If you answered yes to all these questions, please visit www.nfb.org/scholarships to begin the online application today!
by Tracy Soforenko
From the Editor: Tracy is a member of our national board of directors and is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. He is also the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund, and it is in this capacity that he writes:
Have you always wanted to attend an NFB annual convention but have not done so because of the lack of funds? The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund invites you to make an application for a scholarship grant. Perhaps this July you too can be in the Marriott New Orleans enjoying the many pleasures and learning opportunities at the largest and most important yearly convention of blind people in the world.
The three biggest ticket items you need to cover when attending an NFB national convention are the roundtrip transportation, the hotel room for a week, and the food (which tends to be higher priced than at home). We attempt to award additional funds to families, but, whether a family or an individual is granted a scholarship, this fund can only help; it won’t pay all the costs. Most years, the grants have been in the range of $400 to $500 per individual.
We recommend that you find an NFB member as your personal convention mentor, someone who has been to many national conventions and is able to share money-saving tips with you and tips on navigating the extensive agenda in the big hotel. Your mentor will help you get the most out of the amazing experience that is convention week.
Active NFB members blind or sighted who have not yet attended an in-person NFB national convention because of lack of funding are eligible to apply. If you have attended the 2020 or 2021 virtual conventions but have never attended an in-person convention, you are still eligible to apply.
This year we will be accepting applications online. Since applications must be completed in a single session online, we strongly recommend you prepare your responses in a document, and then cut and paste your responses into the application form. The application form does not support complex formatting, so we recommend avoiding formatting such as bullet points and fonts/styles.
Effective January 1, 2022, the application form can be found at the following link: https://nfb.org/form/kenneth-jernigan-convention-scho?q=form%2Fkenneth-jernigan-convention-scho
The application will ask for the following information:
If you cannot apply online, you can still apply by writing a letter to your state affiliate president answering the above questions. This letter should be emailed to your state affiliate president. Once you have decided you will apply, please contact your state president in person or by phone to request his or her help in obtaining funding. Be sure to tell the state affiliate president when to expect that your application will be submitted and mention the deadline.
Once your application has been submitted, your application will be provided to your state president via email. It is still your responsibility to contact your affiliate president. He or she must email a president’s recommendation directly to the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee at [email protected]. Your president must email the recommendation no later than the deadline of April 15, 2022. If you have applied outside of the online form, the state affiliate president must email both the recommendation and the application letter.
If you are chosen to receive this scholarship, you will receive a letter with convention details that should answer most of your questions. The committee makes every effort to notify winners by May 15, but you must do several things before that to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:
At the convention, you will be given a debit card or credit card loaded with the amount of your award. The times and locations to pick up your card will be listed in the letter we send you. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist you by obtaining an agreement to advance funds if you win a scholarship, and to pay your treasury back after you receive your debit or credit card.
For additional information, please contact the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee, Tracy Soforenko, at [email protected] or 410-659-9314, extension 2020.
Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention on the national level and join several thousand active Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world. We hope to see you in New Orleans.
by Everette Bacon
From the Editor: Everette Bacon is a member of the national board of directors and the affiliate president in Utah. He also chairs the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee. Here is his announcement about the 2022 Bolotin Awards program:
The National Federation of the Blind is pleased to announce that applications are now being accepted for the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. These prestigious awards, granted each year as funds permit, seek to honor initiatives, innovations, and individuals who are an exemplary and positive force in the lives of blind people and advance the ultimate goal of helping them to live the lives they want. Award winners will be publicly recognized during the 2022 annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in New Orleans, Louisiana. Each recipient will receive a cash award determined by the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee and will also be honored with an engraved medallion and plaque.
Dr. Jacob W. Bolotin (1888-1924) was a pioneering blind physician, the first in history who achieved that goal despite the tremendous challenges faced by blind people in his time. Not only did he realize his own dream; he went on to support and inspire many others in making their own dreams a reality. The awards which bear his name are supported in part by the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust, left as a bequest by Dr. Bolotin’s late nephew and niece to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind to present the annual cash awards.
As chronicled in his biography, The Blind Doctor by Rosalind Perlman, Dr. Bolotin fought ignorance and prejudice to gain entrance to medical school and the medical profession. He became one of the most respected physicians in Chicago during his career, which spanned the period from 1912 until his death in 1924. He was particularly known for his expertise in diseases of the heart and lungs. During his successful career, Dr. Bolotin used his many public speaking engagements to advocate for employment of the blind and the full integration of the blind into society. Interested in young people in general and blind youth in particular, Dr. Bolotin established the first Boy Scout troop consisting entirely of blind boys and served as its leader.
Jacob Bolotin’s wife Helen had a sister whose husband died suddenly, leaving her to raise a son, Alfred Perlman. The Perlmans moved in with the Bolotins when Alfred was eleven and for four years (until Jacob Bolotin’s untimely death at age thirty-six), “Uncle Jake” became Alfred’s surrogate father. Alfred later married Rosalind, and the couple worked on a book about Dr. Bolotin’s life. After Alfred’s death in 2001, Rosalind dedicated the rest of her life to completing and publishing the book, The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story, published by Blue Point Books, http://www.west.net/~bpbooks/mhp.html, with standard inkprint and large type editions available, and also available in digital audio format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled (NLS) program.
Past award winners have:
In 2022 the National Federation of the Blind will again recognize individuals and organizations that have distinguished themselves in accordance with the criteria established to receive a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. The committee will determine both the number of awards and the value of each cash award presented. The Federation determines the total amount to be distributed each year based on income received from the trust supporting the award program. The award categories for each year are blind individuals, sighted individuals, and organizations, corporations, or other entities. Individuals may apply on their own behalf or may submit a third-party nomination, or the committee may also consider other individual or organizational candidates.
Individuals: Only individuals over eighteen years of age may be considered for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award. Applicants must demonstrate that they have shown substantial initiative and leadership in improving the lives of the blind. Examples of such initiative include but are not limited to developing products, technologies, or techniques that increase the independence of the blind; directing quality programs or agencies for the blind; or mentoring other blind people. All individual applicants or third-party applicants nominating other individuals must demonstrate that the work to be recognized has been conducted within the twelve months preceding the application and/or that the work is continuing. Applications by or on behalf of individuals must include at least one letter of recommendation from a person familiar with or directly affected by the work to be recognized.
Organizations: Organizations may apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award in order to further programs, services, technology, or techniques of unique and outstanding merit that have assisted and will continue to assist the blind. Applications from third parties nominating an organization will also be considered. The organization category includes for-profit or nonprofit corporations or organizations or other entities, such as a specific division within an organization. Organizations or third-party applicants must demonstrate that the programs or services to be recognized include substantial participation by blind people as developers, mentors, administrators, or executives and not merely as clients, consumers, or beneficiaries. For example, an organization operating a program for blind youth might demonstrate that a substantial number of the counselors, teachers, or mentors involved in the program are blind. The organization or third-party applicant must demonstrate that it has substantially aided blind people within the twelve months prior to application and that an award would support efforts to build on previous successes. The application must also include at least one testimonial from a blind person who has benefited substantially from the programs or services.
To qualify for an award, both individuals and organizations must provide programs, services, or benefits to blind people in the United States of America.
More information, including an online application, can be found on the National Federation of the Blind website at https://nfb.org/bolotin.
Online submission of nominations, letters of support, and other relevant materials is strongly encouraged, but applications sent by mail and postmarked by the deadline will also be accepted. The 2022 deadline for application submission is April 15, and recipients chosen by the committee will be individually notified of their selection no later than May 15. Receipt of all complete applications will be acknowledged, but only those applicants chosen to receive an award will be notified of their selection. All decisions of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee are final.
The awards will be presented in July during the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Individuals selected to receive an award must appear in person, not send a representative. Organizations may send an individual representative, preferably their chief executive officer. Recipient candidates must confirm that they will appear in person to accept the award at the National Federation of the Blind annual convention. Failure to confirm attendance for the award presentation by June 1 will result in forfeiture of the award.
Those employed full-time by the National Federation of the Blind may not apply for a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for work performed within the scope of their employment. Students may not apply for both a Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award and a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship in the same year.
by Maurice Peret
From the Editor: Maurice is in charge of our mentoring program, so those who have seen his articles about language, politics, and economic systems are in for a different kind of treat. This article reveals the perspective of mentors as they describe the value of our program. Here is what Maurice has compiled:
By now, Monitor readers will have heard about the National Federation of the Blind’s Career Mentoring Program. If I assume too much then perhaps as a review you can read more about it on our website at https://nfb.org/programs-services/career-mentoring.
As I look back on the couple of articles I contributed on it in past issues, however, I must admit that they sound rather dry. It strikes me that the best spokespersons for our program are the mentees themselves. Let me step back, then, and let them tell their own stories:
“My name is Julia Holdcroft, and I am a freshman at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where I am double majoring in journalism and English. I have been part of the NFB Career Mentoring Program since November 2019 when I was a junior in high school.” Julia has been a lifelong Braille user and an aspiring novelist. She likes science fiction and horror. Julia also enjoys painting with acrylics. She currently works for the Love Library Information desk on campus, checking books out for people and providing general information and direction. When asked how she landed this work-study opportunity, Julia said, “I noticed a flier, and I went for it.” She mentioned that she did not choose to disclose her visual impairment on her application. Her academic advisor is also visually impaired.
Julia participated in two prior in-person NFB Career Quest retreats supported by the Nebraska Commission for the Blind & Visually Impaired and especially remembers working on her elevator pitch and participating in a work-based experience at a property management facility in Omaha. “I think the mentoring program gave me an opportunity to really gain a deeper understanding of what an informational interview entails and how it can be useful as a job exploration tool,” she said. In describing her participation in a popular discussion about setting SMART goals in school and the workplace, Julia explained that she really enjoyed being able to have a guideline by which to make goals without them becoming too vague or too much to handle at one time. In reference to another virtual session on volunteering and giving back, Julia explained that she had been able to gain a lot of support from her entire community, which instilled in her a strong sense of needing to give back. Julia further stated, “It also provided me options that I had never before considered.” Julia acknowledged contributions she was able to provide her peers. As an example, she discussed scholarship opportunities since she had been through this rigorous process before. In reference to another of these virtual modules, “I hope my contributions helped other people better understand how to succeed in standardized testing. I enjoyed being able to help others,” Julia said. “The NFB Career Mentoring Program,” Julia stated, “provided me with lots of information that I am almost sure I would not have had otherwise and probably to which most of my peers did not have access.”
In her overall assessment of the NFB Career Mentoring Program, Julia said, “I would definitely recommend this program because you will not find a program quite like it anywhere else to serve people who are blind or have low vision.”
“My name is Maxine Gretchokoff, though some might know me as Michael. I am twenty years old, and I am from Ridgland, Mississippi. I have been a part of the NFB's Career Mentoring Program since 2019. Currently I am enrolled at Hinds Community College pursuing degrees in criminal justice, law, and music. When I first started in the program many, many moons ago, I was a junior at the Mississippi School for the Blind, freshly blind with total loss of vision, and uneducated about what I could truly do as a blind individual. Today I am a sophomore in college, a national scholarship winner, motivated with a plan for my life, and a staff officer in the US Air Force Auxiliary, Civil Air Patrol. I can confidently say without a doubt that I would not have been able to write that last sentence without the Career Mentoring Program.”
“Very obviously the scholarship opportunities module,” said Gretchokoff, “presented by Cricket X. Bidleman, Logan Stenzel, and Justin Salisbury, was pretty important. I would have never gained the knowledge and motivation to complete my application, nor would I have met amazing friends and mentors at the national convention if I did not attend that module and become a national scholarship winner. The self-advocacy module that included a recorded speech from Dr. Kenneth Jernigan entitled ‘The Nature of Independence’ was also really impactful in helping me not be so frustrated at myself for being blind. Independence is a difficult concept to truly embrace, and for a long time I hated myself for well, disabled. That speech helped me see clearly for the first time in a long time. The job search module presented by Pam Goodman was also nice since by that point I had built up so many life skills that I felt confident in speaking with her, learning from her, getting the most I could from the resources presented, and learning how to form professional relationships—not to mention I found out job searching is not as intimidating as it seems. I know for a fact I can compete against sighted peers with the knowledge learned from that module."
Maxine went on to explain that “The one in-person Career Quest weekend retreat that I participated in, back before COVID-19, is a really good memory for me. I was a little embarrassed about being so maladjusted to a setting outside a classroom. I was ashamed of fumbling my way through social interactions, such as something as simple as chatting with folks in a buffet line, and struggled being, well, a socially awkward, freshly blind person who did not have a shred of love for myself. I look back on it though, and I can see how much I have learned, matured, and grown as a responsible citizen. Existing as I do in a purely sighted world and functioning as a key staff officer in my squadron, if I’m not mistaken I serve as the only fully blind person in an air force auxiliary position in Mississippi. I enjoy chatting with any person regardless of ability, and I'm not afraid of buffet lines. I'm also not afraid to ask for help when needed or learn from my mistakes. I have confidence and independence because of putting myself out there with the help of the NFB Career Mentoring Program.”
Taiye Akanni is a twenty-year-old second-year student at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Maryland. He joined the NFB Career Mentoring Program in August 2021, and soon thereafter he and his twin brother Kenny jumped in with both feet in a Career Quest Saturday Seminar at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. In fact, this was the first in-person event held after a long COVID-19 imposed moratorium. During this day-long interactive event, ten mentees:
Taiye, who is of Yoruba heritage, one of the three largest ethnic groups in Nigeria, dreams of becoming a physical education teacher. “Just because I have a disability does not mean I cannot perform a job that is usually thought of as a visual job,” said Akanni. Taiye uses a white cane during the day for identification purposes and uses it at night when his vision is less functional.
“Sometimes people don’t think I’m looking at them when talking because of my visual condition,” Akanni said, “I just assure them that I am indeed looking at them.” He was greatly inspired by his PE teacher and goalball coach, Athletic Director Matt Mescall at the Maryland School for the Blind (MSB), where he attended since fifth grade. Taiye served as captain of several sports teams and played goalball in high school. He was impressed by Mescall’s patience in working with individual students to meet their personal objectives and facilitate problem-solving. Taiye learned about the NFB Career Mentoring Program from his friend, Qualik Ford, a graduate of MSB and a recent graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, one of the Federation’s Structured Discovery training centers. Ford also currently serves as president of the Maryland Association of Blind Students and is a Career Mentoring Program alumnus.
Among the virtual pre-employment transition sessions that he attended, Taiye expressed his appreciation for the detailed approach to navigating the online job application presentation by James Gagnier. In this learning module, he gained a better understanding about how to apply for a job online, create a job account, and became familiar with the specific documents and other information needed to complete a job application. Taiye also learned how to request and obtain professional recommendations and appropriate steps for following up after submitting a job application, as well as effective ways to highlight his talents during a job interview as aptly described by Amy Porterfield. Taiye found the session on self-advocacy in the workplace presented by Jedi Moerke to be most helpful in implementing effective strategies for requesting accommodations from an employer, becoming confident and comfortable enough with his disability to blend into the corporate culture and thrive in the work environment. He took away from another module on notetaking fundamentals presented by Nancy Coffman that notetaking methods vary almost as widely as the unique individuals who employ them. He also grew in his awareness of effective ways of taking control of his access to the print universe in school and at work using human readers.
In answer to the question about what he would say to young people thinking about the NFB Career Mentoring Program, Taiye’s advice to other students is to “shoot for your goals, and don’t let anybody stop you just because you have a disability. Your disability isn’t going to hold you back in anything you want to do. Although it will be challenging, there’s always ways around anything in life. Talk with a favorite teacher or faculty member. Although I had a direction in mind for my future, I found that many high school seniors did not seem to know what their next steps would be. It is important to realize that there will not be anyone out there to hold your hand.”
“My name is Tasabih Elfaki, but I am mostly known as Abbu. I am a seventeen-year-old senior at Sycamore High School in Sycamore, Illinois, and I have been part of the NFB Career Mentoring Program since July 2021. I am originally from Khartoum, Sudan. When I lost my vision as a young child living in Saudi Arabia, where my family relocated and where I felt my disability was neither welcome nor accommodated, I developed a keen understanding of the importance of advocating for myself in every part of my life. Thanks to my mom, I grew up learning that I should never allow people to set limits for me.” Tasabih learned Arabic Braille while living abroad and has since mastered Unified English Braille and uses it all the time. “The module Self-Advocacy in the Workplace, presented by Jedi Moerke, really struck a chord with me and equipped me with various strategies to effectively advocate for accommodations during the job search process, during the actual job interview, and on the job itself. I also learned strategies to advocate for promotion and how to look for other advancement opportunities.” Tasabih explained that the session on Getting the Most Out of Your Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in High School “gave me a newfound confidence in being able to walk into that meeting with a sense of empowerment to advocate for what I knew I needed, rather than simply listening and accepting without question what the team proposed for me.”
“When I joined the NFB Career Mentoring Program in the summer leading into my high school senior year, I was looking for programs and experiences that would give me the knowledge and confidence to approach my future goals and dreams. I always try to involve myself in experiences and programs that would help me get out of my comfort zone and be the person I hope to become. As a way of expanding my horizons of new experiences, I went downhill skiing, joined my school track and field team, and became a club president.” During a discussion about setting Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely (SMART) Goals in School and in the Workplace, Tasabih described how she used this simple formula to successfully campaign and ultimately become elected as senior class vice president. “Without a doubt the NFB Mentoring Program was one of those experiences that affected my life in a beautiful way,” Tasabih said.
The NFB Career Mentoring Program is an important and powerful component of our Blindness Initiatives Department Center for Employment Opportunities (CEO) because we recognize that unemployment and underemployment is among the most stubborn obstacles to achieving social equality, equity of opportunity, and financial security for those of us who are blind or have low vision. Leaders of our organization have placed a premium priority on developing programs and strategies to empower blind people to become equipped with the tools to compete in the job market. In an ever-evolving labor environment, we must be more innovative and creative in implementing these strategies. The young blind and low-vision individuals we have met in this article represent and exemplify a generation better prepared than their predecessors to take on the considerable challenges they face. By being provided with a vast network of positive blind adult role models, they will be able to leverage their gifts and talents to compete equally with their non-blind peers.
If you are a student between the ages of fourteen and twenty-two in Illinois, Maryland, Mississippi, or Nebraska, talk with your state vocational rehabilitation counselor about becoming a mentee in the NFB Career Mentoring Program. Complete our online mentee application at https://nfb.org/menteeapplication.You don’t have to take my word for it; consider the stories of the young women and men who have benefited from connecting with other blind and low vision people. For more information about the NFB Career Mentoring Program, contact Maurice Peret, coordinator of Career Mentoring & Employment Programs, National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, at 410-659-9314, extension 2350, or [email protected].
by Donna Wood
From the Editor: Donna Wood is a person who not only feels gratitude but also takes the time to express it publicly. She writes here about a friend and a too often unsung member of her affiliate whom she believes should be recognized. Here is what she has to say about a valuable friend, mother, and colleague who has given decades to the cause we share:
Susan L. Stanzel has been a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas since 1971. She was not a founding member, but she joined a few years after the Kansas affiliate was formed. She joined early enough that she knew the founders personally.
Over the years Susie has held just about every position in a chapter and on the board of directors. Her most notables are her positions as Johnson County chapter president and the long-time president of the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas. She demonstrated that one could work a full-time job, advance in it, and work lots of overtime when her programming was required, and still be the mother of three wonderful children. She knows how to love, how to work, and how to share, and instead of feeling put upon, she feels grateful that life has placed her on a path of giving that she feared might never be hers.
Susie is one who came before us and allows us to stand on her shoulders so that we may achieve our goals. She sold nuts to raise money for scholarships; she marched on Washington year after year and continued to go after we started calling it the Washington Seminar. She actively served on more committees and task forces, and boards than she can count, and contributed hundreds of hours to these in the service of the Federation. She has heard more times than she can count that she can’t do this or that because she is blind. None of this has stopped her. She keeps fighting, working, and building the NFB. Thank you, Susie, for all that you have done and all that you will do. We are all the better for being a part of the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas that you helped build.
by Colleen Roth
From the Editor: Colleen Roth has been a member of this organization for more than half a century and now serves of the president of our at-large chapter in Ohio. Although she has been active at all levels, her primary interest and focus has been in helping people with multiple handicaps. She once headed a group specifically designated for this purpose, and she has adopted and acted as a foster parent for many significantly disabled people. The words she says are backed up by acts of her heart, and her profession of faith is matched by deed.
Throughout history the pendulum always swings, and when it is at either extreme, those who lurk somewhere in the middle or at the opposite end of the range can feel unheard if not outright excluded. This is the concern that Colleen addresses, and reading her views may require as much tolerance from those who hold different ones as she has tried to demonstrate in reading recent items we have published. Here is what she says:
I feel some concern that those of us who are conservative may be asked to leave the NFB. I joined in 1972. I believed then and believe now that blind people are a cross-section of society. I believe we should all treat each other with respect and welcome those who join with us.
Personally, I am a very traditional Roman Catholic. I do not feel the need to know someone's sexual orientation or gender identity. When I read a book from NLS [The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled], I skip "descriptions of sex or profanity." I know that some people are comfortable talking about sex. I am not one of them. I believe that intimacy should be used primarily for procreation, but I also know that many people feel differently. We must remember that we all have different experiences and upbringings.
I believe that our blindness is something we share. I respect everyone's right to express their opinions about who they are and what they want, but I would like the same respect without being considered uncaring, narrow-minded, insensitive, or politically incorrect.
In 1972 in Ohio, there were two chapters in many cities. One would be predominantly White, and the other predominantly Black. I was one of the people who worked to get one integrated chapter in each city. I understand that many Black people still do not feel welcome in some chapters, and I presume the same to be true for people of other races, including those who are White. While every characteristic we have is a part of our identity, none should be more important in our Federation activities than our shared blindness. It is our focus. Other characteristics that are important to us are those we should embrace with others who share our challenges and goals. In our meetings we should not hide them, but neither should we try to make them the focus of our Federation activity.
The NFB has no room for bigotry. God made all of us, and we are created equal. I believe our motto: security, equality, and opportunity.
I do not want anyone to be unwelcome. I do not care what race you are. Though I am a Catholic, I understand and have tolerance for those who believe in God differently from me. I was astonished when the president of the Maryland Affiliate said she was blindsided when a prayer was said at a chapter meeting she attended. The majority of people in the United States are Judeo-Christian. If you desire a different kind of prayer, you might volunteer to lead it periodically. I can honor that prayer, substituting the God I understand and the trinity in which I believe, and I can do this without in any way disrespecting or disrupting your genuinely offered prayer on behalf of all of us.
Currently, our at-large chapter meets on Zoom. People come in and out; therefore, we do not have a prayer. For over fifty years, our local chapter had prayer, and the Pledge of Allegiance included the phrase “under God” before every meeting. You could choose to participate if you wished, and I regret that President Othman was ever pressured to be a part of something that made her uncomfortable in one of our meetings.
We have freedom of religion in the United States. You can practice any religion though, sadly, not everyone will react with the tolerance and respect we all want in our country. If I lived in some Muslim countries, I would not be able to practice my Catholic faith and might endure torture or death. Praise be to God and our founders for making this a country in which persons of any spiritual belief may worship as called upon by their head, heart, and faith. Even those without a professed faith are free to believe as they believe, and although my soul would rest easier for them if they shared my faith, I’m not called on to force my Catholicism on anyone. Some people participate in communities of faith to learn about other religions and work together so that blind people may be included in their faith community.
My husband and I had several Black foster children with special needs. We also adopted a profoundly disabled child whom we loved very much. She was a gift from God, and we were truly blessed to have her.
We can all learn from each other and should be willing to do so. I believe that we should be treated “equally.” I believe that our NFB Pledge should continue to use the word “equality,” I believe that we should be welcoming to each other and try to maintain good taste. Having said this, let me be clear because this is not an easy path. I cannot in good conscience go against the teachings of the Catholic Church. I can avoid expressing my opinions in a way that could be hurtful to others, but there are limits beyond which my faith will not let me go. It is legal for people of the same sex to marry. This is the law of the land, but it is not in keeping with the scriptures I follow. For two people to be introduced as a married couple at a Federation event, I understand, but if called upon, I will politely ask someone else to do the introduction. My faith recognizes male and female. If members of my Federation family believe differently, I will use the name they prefer, but I cannot affirm the idea that one is born into the wrong sex or that it is changeable. At the same time, I am not required by my faith to publicly question or ask them to question who they are. My interest is not in arguing; no doubt I hold views about things with which they would not concur, but none of this is as important as being unified to fight what comes at us as blind people to be discussed and resolved. I will focus on our similarities and see that our differences don’t detract from the common goals we share.
Now comes what I ask of those who disagree with my faith: Please be sure that the beliefs you or others may call progressive, liberal, or enlightened do not exclude me. Please do not assume that my beliefs are already so well known that for me to state them is an attempt to suppress the things you hold dear. I should not dominate the space, but neither should I give up all rights to it. Tolerance is an easy word to say, but it embodies a concept that is harder to live. For the sake of blind people and our vehicle for action and change, let this be one of our dearest creeds: I will honor the right of others to hold different views from mine, and they will in turn honor mine. We will accept our differences and concentrate our work on our similarities. I may not be able to agree with you, but I will not be disagreeable in my conduct with you and about you. I will treat you as I ask you to treat me, and I will keep first and foremost our common commitment to help one another.
by Terry Boone
As a service to our members and the general public, the National Federation of the Blind operates a blindness products store known as the Independence Market, which sells mostly low-tech items, designed to enhance the every-day independence of blind people. We will be highlighting a different product every month and listing sale products from time to time.
KENNETH JERNIGAN MAP OF THE UNITED STATES: This colorful, take-apart, topographical puzzle map makes it fun and interesting to learn about various geographical features of the United States. Each state is a puzzle piece. The major rivers, mountain chains, state capitals, and latitude and longitude lines are all indicated tactilely. Underneath the puzzle pieces, the map shows the boundaries of all fifty states with Braille state abbreviations. The map measures 32 12 x 18 inches and includes both a Braille and a print reference guide that gives facts about each state. AIG29M $250.00
MAGNETIC CHECKERS: This portable magnetic checkers board makes it easy to play the game on the go. The magnetic board measures 10 34 x 8/34 inches and the actual playing area is approximately 6/12 inches on each side. The white squares are raised, and the black ones are recessed. There are fourteen each of the square (green) and round (yellow) game pieces, as well as five each of the square (blue) and round (red) king pieces. The king pieces are readily differentiated by touch as they feature a smaller square or circle, respectively, on top.
PHASE 10 CARDS (BRAILLE): Be the first to complete all ten defined phases. This game uses numbered cards in four colored suits with "Skip" and "Wild" cards. The game is suitable for two to eight players, ages eight and up. Braille and print directions are included. AIG82C $15.00
UNO CARDS (NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND BRAILLE EDITION):
This is an easy multiplayer card game using numbered cards in four colored suits. Change the flow of the game with Action cards and Wild cards. Four print/Braille Quick-Play reference cards are included. More detailed accessible instructions are available online either at Brailleuno.com or via smart speaker. AIG09C $10.00
SHUT THE BOX MATH GAME AIG73S $10.00
NINE MEN MORRIS GAME AIG74G $10.00
SOLITAIRE AND FOX AND GEESE AIG75G $10.00
CUBE CLOCK AIC01T $5.00
CAMERA BAG AIA48B $1.00
EGG SEPARATOR AIK04E $1.00
For more information about the products available from the Independence Market, contact us by email at [email protected] or by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216, Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. eastern time. Our staff will be happy to assist.
by David Oliver
From the Editor: The following is reprinted courtesy of USA Today and David Oliver. We appreciate their permission to share this with our readers and have only changed what is necessary to conform to Monitor style.
If you're a sighted person, you likely have misconceptions about blind people. That you can close your eyes and suddenly understand what it's like to be blind. That a blind person you see about to cross the street needs your help doing so. That a blind person knows nothing but darkness.
Spoiler alert: None of the above are true for all people with blindness.
"Rather than making assumptions, engage with blind people like you would anybody else," says Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. "Show curiosity about them. And if you want to know if there's something they need, ask them and don't assume."
More than 3.4 million Americans forty years and older are blind or visually impaired, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As many as 21 million people have other vision problems and eighty million have diseases that could blind them, such as cataracts and glaucoma.
Here's a look at what members of the blind community wish you knew.
Occupation: President of the National Federation of the Blind
"A lot of people think 'well, if I close my eyes, there's a whole bunch of things I don't know how to do, that must be really hard for blind people.' But that's not how blind people live," says Mark Riccobono, pictured.
Is saying 'blind people' OK? Or is 'visually impaired' better? "A lot of blind people say, 'Well, I'm not impaired; I don't see myself as impaired' even though the term visually impaired may be, in a technical sense, correct. Part of using the word blind is really owning what blind means, and that blind doesn't have to have the negative connotations that it does in society. Obviously, some people who do have some remaining vision prefer to use other terms to help express that. But what I've found is that a lot of blind people—most—have some remaining vision, even if it's just light perception. By using the word blind, it's their way of owning that. The amount of vision they do or don't have is not what defines them. It's just another characteristic."
What's a big misconception? "A lot of people think 'well, if I close my eyes, there's a whole bunch of things I don't know how to do, that must be really hard for blind people.' But that's not how blind people live. We've learned to live without vision, we've learned the techniques that blind people use to be successful. The things that people perceive as being really hard aren't hard, because we're doing them on a daily basis. We're not newly blind people traveling around the world."
On accessibility efforts: "There's really not many adaptations that we need in the world to be successful and to fully participate. People have tried to invent special textured floors for blind people and textured walls. If the medical websites were just accessible or the businesses we want to attend, that would be a huge leap forward. We don't need textured walls. We use a long white cane, which is a very simple piece of technology, but it does what we need it to do. People try to make the world more complicated than it needs to be."
Keep this in mind: "Blindness can impact anyone of any gender or nationality. Anybody can go blind. We often say if you live long enough, you will be a blind person."
Don't assume anything: "I encounter people in society all the time, who just because I'm a blind person, they assume I need help. If I'm standing at a street corner, trying to answer a call on my phone, invariably, someone's gonna come up and try to drag me across the street. Even though I'm not trying to cross the street. I'm trying to answer the phone. So I would say, be naturally curious about blind people and feel comfortable talking to them about their blindness, the things they may or may not need, but recognize that blind people are interesting for many other reasons."
Occupation: Senior Director of Communications at Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind
Location: Washington, DC
"(Blindness is) very diverse, it's very varied per individual," says Jocelyn Hunter, pictured.
Familiarize yourself with the terminology: "Low vision is a term that means even with conventional methods, like contact lenses, or eyeglasses, LASIK surgery, your eyesight's not corrected to 20/20. So for me, and for other people who have low vision, we might choose to use different devices that enhance the remaining sight, such as a desktop magnifier or magnification software that will magnify information on the computer monitor, or perhaps using bold line paper or a permanent marker to bring us a greater color contrast so that information is shared efficiently and correctly."
What's a big misconception? "Not everybody who's blind or visually impaired will use a long cane for mobility. Some people might use dog guide, or they might choose not to use a long cane or a dog guide, maybe they're using the support of a human guide, or maybe they have enough usable vision where they are not using a mobility device to travel."
Not all blindness is the same: "It's very diverse. It's very varied per individual. It depends on their genetics and the eye disease or the eye condition that they have, it might allow for them to see things differently, it might require that their accommodations be different than their next door neighbor who is also visually impaired."
You don't have to watch all your words carefully: "Someone who's blind, you can still refer to, 'Hey, did you watch that football game last night?' or, 'Hey, you're going to watch the Washington Wizards game tomorrow night or Thursday night?' Again, even if that person has limited to no sight remaining, it's still socially acceptable and encouraged that vision-oriented words are part of that communication."
"I wish people knew that being blind is not your whole life," says Erin Daley, pictured.
Blind people don't always need to be taken care of: "I worked at a program at the Colorado Center for the Blind as a counselor for blind teens and I met a 16-year-old who had never been allowed to even touch the oven or stove. Once I found this out, we spent the next ten minutes touching the entire appliance and, even though she was a long ways away from cooking a gourmet meal, it took away so much of the fear that had been built into her and didn’t have to be."
Blindness does not define you: "I wish people knew that being blind is not your whole life. Regardless of who I meet, it always seems to be the topic of conversation. I am not my blindness. I work, get aggravated at the rising cost of housing, travel to foreign countries, exercise, try recipes I found on Pinterest, and so much more that has nothing to do with the fact that I am blind."
What brings you joy? "My favorite thing in the world is to travel, and I have a goal to visit every country. What holds me back is what holds most people back—my wallet. I have traveled solo to England, China, and Turkey, and my next trip is to the Baltics. It’s definitely interesting to go to different countries and experience their views on blindness.
I also love running, and ran the NYC Marathon in 2014. Other than that, my everyday joy comes from finding new shows to stream and working on writing my novel—which I’ve been working on for a decade. Proof that I can procrastinate with the best of them."
by Chris Cioffi
From the Editor: This article is reprinted from Roll Call with the kind permission of the publisher. We have changed only those items needed to conform to Monitor style.
It took Jason Broughton more than a dozen years to find his calling. The then-Florida biology teacher left his job in 2008 to return to South Carolina to care for his ailing mother. He eventually got a job as a workforce trainer for Charleston’s government, giving talks across the city.
Sometimes he would present at the library managed by Cynthia Hurd, a respected longtime resident. One day she pulled him aside, saying, “I’ve got to tell you something.”
When a branch manager demands your attention, that’s not typically a good thing. “I was like, oh my goodness I must have done something wrong,” Broughton said.
But instead of a reprimand, she handed him a piece of paper.
“I found a job, and I think you'd be perfect for it,” he recalled Hurd saying, as she shared a listing for a trainer at the South Carolina State Library. In previous encounters, Hurd had told Broughton she thought he’d make a great librarian.
“So I applied, got the job, and then my trajectory began,” he said.
Hurd never got to see Broughton rise through the field to become the state librarian of Vermont, and now the new director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, part of the Library of Congress.
She was one of nine people murdered by a white supremacist who opened fire on a Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. Today, the library Hurd managed bears her name, and her influence has stayed with Broughton too.
“She was really wanting to make sure all persons of that community were going to have some form of connection to that library, and understand … they were wanted,” he said.
Broughton was appointed NLS director in August. He took over from Karen Keninger, the first blind person to lead the organization, who retired this year. With the motto “That All May Read,” the service provides free Braille and audio materials to blind people and others who can’t use standard print items.
A lot has changed since Congress established NLS in 1931. Broughton arrived at a pivotal time, as the service tries to appeal to younger users and eases eligibility requirements for people with reading disabilities like dyslexia, broadening its potential base. He must balance the needs of people used to checking out physical items, like cartridges for audiobook players, with those who want to download digital files.
Also on the horizon is the expiring lease on the NLS building in the Petworth neighborhood of Washington, which has been a point of friction for advocates who say the service has been “relegated” away from Capitol Hill.
“I’m in a learning mode right now,” Broughton said, explaining that he hopes to spend the first part of his tenure just understanding how the place and its more than 120 employees work.
Broughton said that though he is not blind himself, he believes he can be an advocate and empathetic to NLS patrons’ needs.
“I can only be the outsider, but I can definitely take much wisdom and counsel and advice from our user groups,” he said.
Broughton was born and raised in South Carolina. His mother was a schoolteacher, and his father was one of the first people of color to be a lieutenant sheriff in Berkeley County. Growing up, libraries were always part of his world.
“I love to actually read,” he said. “I never thought I would see myself be a librarian, because in elementary school I was terrified of the school librarian.”
After Broughton took that job with the South Carolina libraries, he worked his way through a master’s in library and information science. He made a stop in Savannah, Ga., libraries before heading to Vermont.
His first day in his new Washington office was several miles away from the Capitol, in an 88,000-square-foot building on Taylor Street, where staff work, store historic collections and Braille music materials, develop and test devices, and record new audio books. The service also has two distribution centers, in Cincinnati and Salt Lake City.
Bringing the location closer to the Library of Congress’ iconic main campus would “highlight the nation’s commitment to equal access for all citizens,” according to the National Federation of the Blind, a nonprofit group that has called on Congress to fund the move.
Broughton recently met with leaders of the group to hear their hopes for the future, said its Executive Director for Advocacy and Policy, John G. Paré, Jr., who described the meeting as a positive one.
A site near the Capitol would be prime real estate with good access to public transportation, but Broughton does not believe the current spot is “an impediment” to NLS’ mission, saying he “would be pleased, wherever Congress would like to consider us to be, because it is their decision.”
Both Senate and House appropriators proposed fulfilling the Library of Congress’ fiscal 2022 request to boost NLS’ budget by about $1.7 million, to $61.2 million. Finding a suitable new site is an “ongoing discussion,” said Library of Congress spokesperson María Peña.
For decades, NLS patrons visited network libraries or got their reading materials delivered to their doorsteps, in the form of Braille books or audio cartridges. Plenty of people still use the service that way, receiving packages marked as “free matter for the blind or handicapped,” which means the mail can travel postage-free under a law dating back to the early 20th century.
But the service has also tried to keep up with the times, or at least stay a few steps behind. NLS now offers more than 147,000 digital items through its online portal, and counted 4.4 million downloads in the 2020 fiscal year. It launched a mobile app in 2013, designed to be off limits to the general public. (A special copyright exception allows NLS to republish many authors’ works without their permission.)
As he enters his third month on the job, Broughton plans to draw on his experience as state librarian in Vermont, where he was the first Black person to serve in the post. “We had some communities that had very poor connectivity” in the mostly rural state, he said. He recognizes that not everyone has reliable internet, while others may not welcome new technologies.
Next up is an e-reader pilot program. So far NLS has loaned out about 4,500 devices capable of auto-refreshing Braille, a number Broughton hopes will grow to over 9,000 “very, very soon,” as he told the Senate Rules and Administration Committee in October.
Paré said the e-reader deployment is “slower than we would have preferred” and hopes Broughton can speed up the process. “While hardcopy Braille is important in some situations, in many cases, patrons will prefer the possibility to carry hundreds of books in Braille in their backpack,” Paré said.
Broughton said he isn’t the type of boss to come in and begin changing things right away, but he plans to look for ways to expand the service’s offerings for young adults and children and to improve the sharing of materials between its nearly 100 partner libraries and outreach centers, which form a network around the country.
And growing the collection has never been more important, Paré said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2014 that the number of blind adults could grow from 1.4 million to 2.2 million by 2032, the result of an aging population and permanent vision impairment from chronic diseases like diabetes.
Those people will be NLS’ target audience, along with readers unable physically to hold a book and now a wider range of users with perceptual or reading disabilities, after recent tweaks to eligibility definitions. The tweaks brought NLS in line with the Marrakesh Treaty, an international agreement ratified by the United States in 2019 that aims to end a “book famine” for the print disabled.
Broughton said the importance of the service depends on its ability to grow and change.
It’s something that Cynthia Hurd was adept at in South Carolina, he said. She knew not only the existing library services but also looked for programming to draw in new patrons.“To gain in certain areas is not going to be a loss in others,” Broughton said. “And so that allows us this unique opportunity to expand without—hopefully, if I do this right as a director—a loss. It will be to, wonderfully, expand and be inclusive.
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.
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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.