Vol. 65, No. 6 June 2022
Gary Wunder, Editor
Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, by the
The National Federation of the Blind
Mark Riccobono, President
email address: [email protected]
website address: http://www.nfb.org
NFB-NEWSLINE® information: 866-504-7300
Like us on Facebook: Facebook.com/nationalfederationoftheblind
Follow us on Twitter: @NFB_Voice
Watch and share our videos: YouTube.com/NationsBlind
Letters to the President, address changes, subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature should be sent to the national office. Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also be sent to the national office or may be emailed to [email protected].
Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about forty dollars per year. Members are invited,
and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be
made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.
Each issue is recorded on a thumb drive (also called a memory stick or USB flash drive). You can read this audio edition using a computer or a National Library Service digital player. The NLS machine has two slots--the familiar book-cartridge slot just above the retractable carrying handle and a second slot located on the right side near the headphone jack. This smaller slot is used to play thumb drives. Remove the protective rubber pad covering this slot and insert the thumb drive. It will insert only in one position. If you encounter resistance, flip the drive over and try again. (Note: If the cartridge slot is not empty when you insert the thumb drive, the digital player will ignore the thumb drive.) Once the thumb drive is inserted, the player buttons will function as usual for reading digital materials. If you remove the thumb drive to use the player for cartridges, when you insert it again, reading should resume at the point you stopped.
You can transfer the recording of each issue from the thumb drive to your computer or preserve it on the thumb drive. However, because thumb drives can be used hundreds of times, we would appreciate their return in order to stretch our funding. Please use the return envelope enclosed with the drive when you return the device.
Vol. 65, No. 6 June 2022
New Orleans Site of 2022 Convention
by John Berggren
Welcome to New Orleans
Shattering a Record and Shifting a Paradigm
by Chris Danielsen
Getting Back on Track: Dan Parker's 200+ mph Guinness World Record
by Phillip Thomas
Why Challenge Activities: The Benefits and the Risks
by Gary Wunder
You Can Make a Difference
Jacquilyn Billey Obituary
Of Braille and Beanstack, Contests and Collaboration
by Sandy Halverson
A Proposed Amendment to the Constitution of the National Federation of the Blind
Child Care: NFB Camp
TalkBack and VoiceOver: There is a Choice After All
by Karl Belanger and Matt Hackert
More Thoughts on the Treatment of Blind People Experiencing Psychiatric Disorders
by Lisa Irving
A Tribute to Someone Else
by Jerry Moreno
A Minority within a Minority within a Minority
by Stewart Prost
Rich in Heart, Rich Indeed
by Peggy Chong
The White Cane Freedom March
Copyright 2022 by the National Federation of the Blind
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. Space at the Marriott has filled up, but there are still plenty of rooms available right across the street at the New Orleans Sheraton. When booking your room with the hotel, tell the reservations agent that our group is listed as “NFB Convention.”
Call 888-627-7033 to book a room at the Sheraton New Orleans. 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.
We are delighted to welcome you to New Orleans for the eighty-second Annual Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. No matter your interests, our city has something to entertain and inspire you. We are the home of delicious food, rich and diverse culture, famous attractions, unparalleled music, and so much more. We hope you will take a little time to enjoy all there is to offer.
There are several ways to travel from the Louis Armstrong International Airport (MSY) to the Marriott or Sheraton. The approximately fourteen-mile trip takes twenty-five to forty minutes depending on traffic. Taxis are readily available and have a thirty-six-dollar minimum fee for two people. For three or more passengers, the cost is fifteen dollars per person. Rideshare options are a convenient choice. The airport shuttle is another popular way to get from the airport to hotels in New Orleans. It costs forty-four dollars per person round-trip or twenty-four dollars each way. You can reserve a spot on a shuttle online in advance or in person at the baggage claim area. Children under six ride free with their parents.
The shuttle stops at multiple hotels, so if you choose that option, make sure to plan accordingly. For reservations, call (504) 522-3500 or (866) 596-2699 at least twenty-four hours before your flight. Wheelchair accessible vehicles are available but require you to book a week ahead.
Once you have arrived and unpacked, it is time to experience our amazing city! New Orleans was founded in 1718, so we have more than 304 years of rich history and culture to share with you. New Orleans goes by many nicknames. We are The Big Easy, because of our laid back and easy-going attitude. We are the Crescent City because New Orleans was originally built on a bend in the Mississippi River that looks like a crescent. We go by NOLA, short for New Orleans, Louisiana. We are the City of Yes because of our positive attitudes. We have been dubbed Hollywood South because of the vast entertainment opportunities and the movie boom in recent years. Our nicknames give you a flavor of who we are and what you will experience when you visit.
You may be familiar with some of our famous festivals. We celebrate Mardi Gras to kick off Lent, and we definitely know how to have fun! The colorful and vibrant floats, the Mardi Gras beads, the energetic music, and the costumes are unparalleled. We also host the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, often called Jazz Fest, which celebrates the unique culture and heritage of New Orleans. Jazz originated in NOLA in the 1800s. Each year, Southern Decadence happens over Labor Day weekend and is filled with a host of parties, parades, brunches, and events in celebration of the city’s LGBTQ+ community. For more than forty years, this French Quarter-wide fest has been the perfect way to close out summer in the Big Easy. We are also home to the Essence Music Festival, which is the “party with a purpose.” This is the largest African American culture and music event in America. Essence Fest will take place June 30 through July 3, 2022, so if you get to town early, please check it out. These are just a few of our festivals. There’s always something fun and interesting happening in New Orleans.
We have many cultural venues in our beautiful city. These include the National WWII Museum, which honors those who courageously served and showcases America’s contribution to World War II. We are also home of the Audubon Zoo, which houses alligators, bears, and other rare animals and plant life right in the heart of New Orleans. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is the home to 15,000 sea life creatures including a shark you can pet and Zion the Penguin.
New Orleans boasts a number of tours, including walking tours to celebrate the city’s Black history, haunted history, music history, and all of the histories that form its culture. Visitors may want to tour one of our cemeteries, which solved the problem of how to bury the dead in a place that is below sea level by creating elaborate marble chambers above ground.
Those interested in transportation may want to ride one of our historic street cars. In fact, the Canal line runs right in front of the convention hotels. For information about the public transportation and paratransit services, please visit https://www.norta.com/ride-with-us/know-before-you-go/transit-accessibility/paratransit-service or call 504-248-3900 for general info or 504-827-7433 paratransit reservations. We also have ferry boats and riverboats for those who want to cruise the mighty Mississippi.
The Marriott sits on the edge of the French Quarter or Vieux Carré, the heart and soul of New Orleans history and culture. Frequently called the “crown jewel,” you will love the charm and welcoming vibe of one of New Orleans’ oldest neighborhoods and most iconic areas. We have something for everyone and much to explore! It is the heart of the city, and it is renowned for its French and Spanish Creole architecture, delicious food from traditional Creole cuisine to contemporary American, and vibrant nightlife along Bourbon Street. Tour the iconic St. Louis Cathedral, spend some time people watching or communing with the artists in Jackson Square, visit the many galleries and antique shops on Royal Street, or enjoy some shopping at the French Market. Be sure to grab some beignets (pronounced ben yays) and café au lait at the world-famous Café Du Monde just blocks from the Marriott. For music lovers, you will frequently hear live music and street performers wherever you are.
Speaking of food, New Orleans is the home of outstanding Creole and other cuisines. Try a po’ boy, muffuletta, gumbo, turtle soup, red beans, crawfish étouffée, oysters—fried, raw, or char-grilled, and so much more. And don’t forget to enjoy a cocktail, like a Hurricane if you are inclined. In case you are wondering, a po’ boy is a sandwich on flaky French bread stuffed with shrimp, oysters, catfish, roast beef, or whatever you choose, “dressed” with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo. A peacemaker po’ boy is half fried shrimp and half fried oysters. There are many twists on the classic, but you will enjoy whichever combo you choose. And, beignets are square pieces of deep-fried dough topped with tons of powdered sugar or a little piece of paradise as we like to say!
New Orleans is the home of many important individuals. These include the ornithologist John James Audubon, writer/author Truman Capote, artist Edgar Degas, authors William Faulkner and Anne Rice, and returning to the theme of food, the founder of Popeye’s Chicken, Al Copeland. New Orleans is the home of Benjamin Button and Benjamin Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Famous entertainers from New Orleans include Sandra Bullock, Donna Douglas (played Ellie Mae on Beverly Hillbillies), Tyler Perry, Richard Simmons, Mahalia Jackson, Reese Witherspoon, Louis Armstrong, Harry Connick, Jr., DJ Khalid, Aaron Neville, Lil Wayne, Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Randy Newman, Frank Ocean, Irma Thomas, and Fats Domino to name a few. Prominent journalists include Hoda Kotb and Cokie Roberts. Prominent political figures from New Orleans include Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich. Famous sports figures include NFL quarterbacks Eli and Peyton Manning, and Audrey Patterson, the first African American woman to win an Olympic medal. Both from New Orleans, Ruth Benerito invented wrinkle-free cotton, and Levi Spear Parmley invented dental floss. Ruby Bridges, at six years old, was the first African American child to racially integrate the New Orleans public school system, which gained national attention. Betty DeGeneres was a prominent LGBTQ+ civil rights activist. Chef Leah Chase, the “Queen of Creole Cuisine,” served as the inspiration for Disney’s princess Tiana. These are just some of the people who hail from New Orleans, but they give you a flavor of our diverse and rich history and culture.
Regardless of your interests, we are sure you will find something to enjoy and make many happy memories! Your Louisiana family can’t wait to welcome you! Laissez les bon temps rouler; let the good times roll!
[PHOTO CAPTION: Chris Danielsen]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Carla McQuillan, Anil Lewis, Ever Lee Hairston, Pam Allen, Glenn and Norma Crosby, and President Mark Riccobono smile together as they wait for Dan to break the Guinness World Record.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Anil Lewis, Glenn Crosby, Pam Allen, Chris Danielsen, Norma Crosby, Carla McQuillan, President Mark Riccobono, Ever Lee Hairston, Adelmo Vigil, and Roland Allen pose for a picture together inside Spaceport.]
by Chris Danielsen
From the Editor: This is one of the most thorough articles I've ever read, and it transports me to Truth or Consequences in a way that only good writing can. People always ask if there is a word limit for articles in the Monitor. The answer is always no as long as the article remains interesting. Chris shows us how it is done. Enjoy his craftsmanship as you enjoy our journey together:
If you are a fairly recent addition to our Federation family—say within the last five years or so—and your perusal of back issues of this magazine is limited, then you could be forgiven for having reached the year 2021 with little to no idea of the Blind Driver Challenge™ and its significance in our collective history. Perhaps, even if you did know the story, you thought it was a glorious moment in our recent past but not an ongoing effort that would see yet more milestones. Even as you heard that a Federationist named Dan Parker would attempt to achieve a Guinness World Records® title described as "fastest speed by a car driven blindfolded," you might not have connected it to the goal of a car that blind people can drive. You might still think that idea to be a bit of a stretch as you read this paragraph. But if you have the curiosity and patience to read on, I will do my best to explain how the individual dream of a race car driver blinded in a horrific accident and the collective dream of members of the National Federation of the Blind to create a blind-drivable car converged on March 31, 2022. Hopefully, you will also learn how what took place on that momentous day is already changing perceptions—both inside and outside the blind community—of what is possible as the age of partially or fully autonomous vehicles continues to approach.
When in 2001 the National Federation of the Blind broke ground for a major addition to our headquarters facility, the NFB Jernigan Institute, our then President Dr. Marc Maurer speculated on what research projects we might explore. One was a handheld device that could quickly read any printed material to a blind person. That technology, which until recently was called the KNFB Reader and is now known as OneStep Reader, can today be used by any blind person with a smartphone, and products that use similar technology with comparable results are also available. The second was a car that could be driven independently by a blind person. Unlike the reader, which was conceivable to many who had used OCR technology and knew that it needed only to be made much more portable, the blind-drivable car seemed a distant dream, if indeed it could ever be achieved at all. Yet, by 2007 innovators at the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech had agreed to collaborate with us to see if it could be accomplished, at least as an initial proof of concept.
By 2009, audio technology that could help a blind driver accurately steer had been incorporated into a dune buggy, and some of us were able to drive this little vehicle on carefully mapped terrain. By 2011, the guidance technology had been incorporated into a Ford Escape hybrid sport utility vehicle, with the audio prompts replaced by haptic feedback via vibrations in a seat strip and special driving grips worn on the hands. On January 29, 2011, Mark Riccobono, who is now President of the National Federation of the Blind, used this technology to successfully navigate the road course at the Daytona International Speedway, avoid dynamic obstacles thrown into the vehicle's path, and pass another vehicle safely. Gary Wunder recorded the historic event for the Braille Monitor in its March 2011 issue, and his article is available at https://nfb.org/sites/nfb.org/files/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm11/bm1103/bm110302.htm.
Even as we celebrated this achievement, witnessed by some three hundred Federationists and thousands of other Daytona spectators, we were not entirely sure what would come next. The faculty and graduate students who had helped us create the modified SUV moved on to other places and projects, and for a time what we had come to call the Blind Driver Challenge faded into the background of our collective work. Dan Parker, the Columbus, Georgia-based drag racer, who would shoulder a large part of the effort needed to advance the Blind Driver Challenge to its next milestones, was not yet a member of our organization. In fact, he wasn't even blind. Quite naturally, it had not yet occurred to him that he would want or need to think about how a blind person might drive.
That suddenly changed on March 31, 2012. On that day, Dan's car made an unexpected hard-right turn, for reasons that are still unknown, and slammed into a concrete wall at an estimated 175 miles per hour. The catastrophic crash sent the car tumbling and ripped it apart. Dan sustained multiple life-threatening injuries. The trauma was so severe that he does not remember the accident or even the day of the race for which he was qualifying.
After two weeks in a medically-induced coma, Dan woke up and was able to hear the voices of his loved ones. But he was startled whenever they spoke to him, because, he realized, he was experiencing no other indication of their presence. An eye examination revealed that brain swelling had compressed his optic nerves, causing irreversible damage. He would be blind for the rest of his life.
The sudden loss of vision is often a dramatic emotional blow, but since driving has long been considered one of the tasks that blind people cannot perform, it must have seemed especially cruel to Dan Parker. He had been racing vehicles in one form or another since he was eight years old, continuing a family tradition. Dan's father Jimmy raced professionally until 2021, and his late mother, he proudly recounts, won a drag race while she was pregnant with him. Dan himself won the American Drag Racing League Pro-Nitrous World Championship in 2005. So, perhaps even more acutely than most other newly blind people, Dan felt that his life as he had known it was over. He even told his girlfriend Jennifer to move back to her home in Birmingham, Alabama, and forget him, since he did not know how he would make a living. He thought racing was out of the question, and he was not sure how he would continue his business of designing and building race cars either. Jennifer, however, refused to abandon him.
It's worth noting that his accident also left Dan with traumatic brain injury (TBI), some symptoms of which include incapacitating headaches and extreme fatigue. With the perspective he has gained over time, Dan now says that the challenges associated with the TBI are much greater than those that arose from his blindness. He told me that, if medical professionals told him that they could cure one condition but not both, he would be quite content to continue living as a blind person without TBI. If it does not surprise us that a blind person can achieve what Dan has, it is nonetheless worth remembering that his achievements have taken place as he faced an additional challenge.
For six months Dan fought depression and suicidal thoughts, he told Rick and Bubba University Podcast. Then one evening, he went to sleep thinking about a long-held ambition to race a motorcycle on the Bonneville Salt Flats (The Salt) in Utah and had a vivid dream of doing so. He woke up determined to achieve this goal, the setting of which, he believes, saved his life.
As a first step, Dan contacted his friend Patrick Johnson, an engineer with Boeing Phantom Works. Dan's immediate concern was being able to keep a motorcycle on course, given that he could not see the track. Patrick promised to design a GPS-based guidance system that would plot a centerline on the course, use audio guidance to keep Dan from straying too far from it, and automatically shut down the engine if he did. With that assurance, Dan began acquiring the money and parts he would need to build the motorcycle. He also set about the difficult task of convincing the relevant sanctioning authorities that he could safely conquer "The Salt."
As he began work on his bike, Dan also learned to use his iPhone nonvisually, the better to engage in what he has described as a one-man social-media marketing campaign to acquire sponsors, donations, and other support. He contacted the National Federation of the Blind when he learned of the Blind Driver Challenge demonstration at Daytona. After speaking initially with Joanne Wilson, he connected with Mark Riccobono and then visited the NFB Jernigan Institute. President Maurer spoke with Dan and agreed that the Federation would sponsor the "Quest for the Salt." The result of that effort was that on August 26, 2013, Dan Parker completed the first historic independent run by a blind person at the Bonneville Salt Flats with an officially recorded speed of 55.331 mph. A complete report of the event was provided by Mark Riccobono for the October 2013 issue of the Braille Monitor and is available at https://nfb.org//sites/default/files/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm13/bm1309/bm130902.htm.
Dan's achievement was duly celebrated by his new Federation family at the 2014 National Convention, when he began the general session by riding his racing motorcycle into the convention hall.
But Dan had no intention of stopping there, and he looked for a new challenge. On August 13, 2014, just a month after Dan thrilled the convention by roaring down the aisle on his racing bike, a blind man in England, Mike Newman, set an official Guinness World Records title of "Fastest Speed for a Car Driven Blindfolded" on a Yorkshire airfield, reaching a speed of 200.51 miles per hour. Dan decided to bring the World Records title to America.
As he began the slow and steady work of acquiring a car and rebuilding it to his specifications, other developments were accelerating too. Car companies and other players in the technology and transportation industries ramped up efforts to create fully autonomous vehicles. Uber and Lyft experimented with autonomous vehicle technology, hoping to someday replace their human drivers with automated vehicles that could respond to passenger requests sent over the internet. Technology companies like Google and Apple were also discussing creating or enhancing autonomous-vehicle technology, and car manufacturers began to incorporate some "self-driving" features, such as automated parking assistance, into their existing models. These efforts continue to advance, and while the age of autonomous vehicles is not approaching as quickly as some predicted, both the development of the technologies and of policy proposals on how to regulate them are ongoing.
Advocates argue that the primary benefit of self-driving technology is safety. Under many circumstances, computers driven by input from high-tech sensors and cameras make better driving decisions than humans do. Autonomous vehicles will, therefore, increase road safety and cut down on, if not eliminate, automobile accidents. Another common argument advanced for this technology is its potential to enhance mobility for people with disabilities, and the blind are often specifically mentioned.
While the National Federation of the Blind had emphasized the idea of a car actively driven by a blind person rather than a fully autonomous vehicle that would simply drive a blind person around, we realized that we did not want to be excluded from the autonomous vehicle revolution if and when it occurred. We further realized that being included in that revolution would require two things. First, autonomous vehicles would need to be designed with user interfaces that were nonvisually accessible, allowing blind people to identify them, instruct them as to the desired destination, and monitor their operations. Second, the public would need to accept the idea that it was safe for a blind person to be the operator of these vehicles; their miraculous technology alone might not be enough. Licensing laws and other regulations would have to prohibit discrimination against blind drivers.
With these goals in mind, the Federation began to leverage our existing relationships with transportation and technology companies, as well as with the Auto Innovators, formerly the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers—a relationship begun during our days of advocating for the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. We also established new partnerships, such as with Cruise, a spinoff from General Motors, specifically dedicated to the building of autonomous cars. We joined some of these new allies in pushing for legislation that would advance the technology. The Federation's primary objective was that any such legislation both require accessibility and prohibit discrimination.
Meanwhile, Dan Parker continued his own mission. He achieved another important milestone on March 31, 2015, exactly three years after the date of his accident, when he graduated from the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Dan appreciates all of his blindness skills, but specifically working in the Center's wood shop is what he credits with increasing his self-confidence and teaching him ways to use power tools as a blind person. This, in turn, has increased his ability to do hands-on work in his own machine shop at home in Columbus.
In 2017 Dan acquired a flood-salvaged 2008 Corvette C6 and set about repurposing the gutted car to seek the Guinness World Records title. Over the next three years, he equipped the vehicle with a roll cage, an eight hundred-horsepower racing engine, a parachute, and other parts that he purchased with sponsorship funds or received as donations. Race cars have brakes, of course, but a parachute is also deployed to slow them down as they approach the end of a run. He also designed and machined several important features of the car himself. Race cars do not have radiators to constantly cool the engine as they move, since they must be aerodynamically designed, making a radiator grill impractical. Dan replaced the car's radiator grill with an air-intake system that he designed so that air flowing into the engine would help to propel the vehicle in much the way a jet engine propels an airplane. He also engineered a wing extending from the rear of the vehicle and a flat "belly pan" for its undercarriage. Both of these elements would help resist lift so that the quick acceleration and high speed would not cause the car to become dangerously airborne. Unlike many race cars, the Corvette was also equipped with mufflers; it needed to be quieter than similar vehicles to help Dan hear the cues from his audio guidance system.
The guidance system itself had evolved from the one used for the racing motorcycle. While that system used voice prompts, Dan and Patrick ultimately decided on audio tones in the left or right ear to signal deviation from the centerline plotted for each course. In addition to using GPS coordinates and external censors, the guidance system incorporates input from the car's own internal gyroscope, giving the computer that powers the system granular information about the car's "yaw" (side-to-side movement) so that it can recalculate the car's position relative to the centerline hundreds of times per second.
Dan's efforts continued to attract national and international attention, including from the internet TV show Jay Leno's Garage. This program set up a demonstration that took place in February of 2020 at Spaceport America. Billed as the first United States commercial spaceport, this facility occupies 18,000 acres on a high desert plain in southern New Mexico, between the cities of Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences. It has made news for hosting the highly-publicized and expensive "space tourism" flights of the Virgin Galactic Blue Origin space plane. That plane is housed inside the facility's dome-shaped, state-of-the art terminal and hangar facility. Crucial for Dan's purpose, Spaceport America's runway is twelve thousand feet long and two hundred feet wide, ideal for the record attempt. The lessons learned and the relationships with Spaceport America officials forged during the Jay Leno's Garage filming would set the stage for the record attempt that would occur there a little over two years later.
In late 2020 President Riccobono reached out to Dan to ask if he would like to try to achieve the record attempt under the rubric of the Blind Driver Challenge. Cruise, the autonomous-vehicle manufacturer mentioned above, was eager to sponsor the effort. The planned record attempt was jointly announced by the NFB, Dan Parker, and Cruise on April 5, 2021.
While Dan continued to make his own preparations in Columbus, a staff team from the NFB Jernigan Institute held regular meetings with Cruise to discuss publicizing the effort, acquiring sponsors, and creating branded assets (such as the racing gear and helmet Dan would wear and the "wrap" featuring NFB, Cruise, and other sponsor logos that would envelop the car itself). On the NFB side, this effort was led by Anil Lewis, the executive director for Blindness Initiatives, and Stephanie Cascone, our director of communications and marketing. Other regular participants in the meetings included myself and Danielle McCann, the NFB social media coordinator, along with Anna Adler, assistant to Outreach Director Patti Chang. Michael Campbell, Cruise's public affairs manager, took charge on the company's side, with Sophia Morales of the company's marketing department and Hannah Lindo from its press team also participating. One of the earliest and most exciting contributions from the Cruise team was a "trailer" video previewing the record attempt and featuring the highlights of Dan's personal story. This thrilling video, complete with audio description, can still be viewed at www.blinddriverchallenge.org.
Our Blindness Initiatives Department also handled the crucial task of setting a contract with Guinness World Records (GWR) to officially certify the record title if achieved. GWR sets criteria for each record it certifies and requires either that certification be done on-site by its own adjudicator or that specific evidence be provided. GWR Adjudicator Michael Empric was at Spaceport America for the the three days that were set for record attempts to be made. The participation of an official timekeeper from the Loring Timing Association (LTA)—an official certifying organization for many land speed races and records—to accurately measure the speed of the car was also secured.
The GWR criteria for Dan's record were that two passes must be made going in opposite directions within one hour, with the average speed over those passes to be the one recorded as official for certification if successful. This ensured, among other things, that any advantage gained from the wind helping to push the car forward would be counteracted on the return pass. GWR also required that video evidence of Dan operating the vehicle as it achieved the peak speeds be provided. The three-day time window was set so that multiple practice passes to test and prepare the car for the official attempts could be made. Dan also originally hoped to make more than one attempt, with the best speed achieved being the one certified for the record title.
The initial plan was to achieve the record title in the fall of 2021, possibly even on the eighty-first birthday of the National Federation of the Blind on November 16. But the summer 2021 emergence of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus and other factors put that plan out of reach. This led to the final effort being set for the period March 29 through March 31, 2022.
Early in the week of the planned attempts, Dan Parker and his support team converged on New Mexico. The effort required not only the movement of people but of equipment, including a trailer serving as a fully equipped repair shop; another smaller one to carry tools and supplies to maintain the race car during its pit stops between passes; an older, commercial Corvette for practice runs; and, of course, the red 2008 Corvette in which Dan would make the record attempt. The support team included Patrick Johnson, the Boeing Phantom Works engineer who had designed the guidance system and who would also run the laptop that would power it and track the race car's movements. Jason White, a racer himself, also came along to be Dan's safety driver and perform other duties. Dan had equipped the car with an additional steering wheel and control pedals on the passenger side so that Jason could, theoretically, take over in case of an emergency. Such a crisis was not expected to occur, but getting insurance for the event and sanctioning from everyone involved required the precaution. Approximately ten other individuals from all over the country, experts in various areas having to do with race cars and their operation, joined the crew as well.
Federationists also began to converge on Las Cruces. Anil Lewis flew from his home in Atlanta. On Monday, March 28, Stephanie Cascone, Danielle McCann, Will Schwatka (our audio/video manager), and I flew from Baltimore to El Paso, Texas. There, we picked up a rented fifteen-passenger van, which would be needed to transport the other Federationists who were flying in to attend the event, and Will drove us in that vehicle to Las Cruces.
The next day, Tuesday, was set for initial practice runs and, for the NFB team, our first visit to Spaceport America. At 10:00 a.m. Mountain Time, our communications crew, along with Anil and Michael Empric from GWR, made the roughly one-hour drive to Spaceport America from Las Cruces, with Will once again at the wheel. We had already been warned that strong winds might be a general problem, and the weather forecast for that Tuesday predicted gusts of forty to fifty miles per hour. Therefore, we already knew that record attempts were unlikely that day. By the time we arrived at Spaceport America, the wind was indeed ferocious. It took our breath away, sent hats aloft, and drove sand, dust, and other stinging debris from the desert surroundings flying into our faces. When some of the most powerful gusts hit, it was a real effort to stand upright or walk forward. We therefore spent most of our time in the partial shelter of Dan's trailer, talking with him and his team and also conferring with our two main Spaceport America liaisons, Site Operations Director Chris Lopez and Public Relations Coordinator Alice Caruth.
I was able to lean into the interior of the race car and touch the seat that Dan would occupy and the head containment devices affixed to its back in lieu of the headrests we see in commercial cars. In a race car the seat is very low to the floor to accommodate the roll cage and hopefully prevent the driver's head from smashing into the roof if the vehicle flips over. I also touched the rear wing on the back of the vehicle that Dan had designed in order to increase drag and help avoid just such a catastrophe. A photographer from the global news service Agence France-Presse (AFP) was also on hand. But once Dan and his team made it clear that only runs with the practice car, if anything, were likely that day, most of us grabbed lunch from a food truck that we had hired for the occasion and retreated to the van to eat it. We then drove back to our hotel, and later we learned that Dan was able to make some runs in the practice car, reaching a maximum speed of 116 mph and getting the feel of the Spaceport runway. The speed was impressive given the limitations of the practice car and the ferocious crosswinds that did indeed reach fifty miles per hour.
While some of us were heading back to the hotel from this first foray into the Southern New Mexico desert, President Riccobono was on a plane to El Paso with Kyle Walls, another NFB staff member, especially well known to Washington Seminar participants, who would serve as another driver and provide additional support. That night, they joined us for dinner at the hotel, along with board members Norma Crosby and her husband Glenn, from Texas; Ever Lee Hairston, from California; and Adelmo Vigil with his wife Soledad, who live in Las Cruces. Later that evening, first vice president Pam Allen and her husband Roland arrived from Louisiana, along with Carla McQuillan from Oregon.
The next morning, the whole crew left the hotel at 8 a.m. to be at Spaceport America by around nine. We were joined at the facility by Michael Campbell and Sophia Morales of Cruise and Scott Schmidt of Auto Innovators. Bleachers and a small stage had been set up for our comfort and for some presentations we planned to make and broadcast on Facebook Live while waiting for record attempts to be made on the runway. We began one of those presentations, a panel on the importance of blindness skills training, around noon, but learned before we had completed it that a first run with the race car was about to take place, despite the fact that wind conditions, although much better than the day before with gusts only around fifteen to twenty mph, were still not ideal. We shut down the Facebook Live feed and waited for the action to begin. Chris Lopez took charge of our microphone and described the scene to us as a pickup truck that had accompanied Dan from Columbus towed the car, via a towing strap affixed to its roof, to the designated starting point on the runway. The tow strap was then removed, and Dan made the first run. The car reached a speed of 158 miles per hour using only its 800-horsepower engine. This was a promising first run, especially since the plan for the official attempts was for the engine's power to be supplemented via the injection of nitrous oxide, or simply "nitrous" in racing lingo. Commonly known as laughing gas and used as an anesthetic, a modified form of nitrous oxide can serve as a fuel oxidizer in internal combustion engines; in other words, it increases the oxygen supply and thus allows the engine to burn fuel more quickly, boosting the engine's power. Dan estimated that the injection of nitrous would increase the engine's horsepower from eight hundred to over one thousand horsepower.
It was now a little before 1:00 p.m., and our food truck was only contracted to stay for another hour, so most of us went to grab lunch. Afterwards, with another attempt not immediately planned, Chris Lopez offered to take us inside the terminal hangar facility and see the exhibits there. Intended to symbolize the journey from Earth to space, this unique building has an entrance that is below ground level and accessed via a kind of alleyway where one can experience the steel walls of the structure rising on either side before entering its main door. Once inside, visitors enter an exhibit space with various items, including an extensive wall mural depicting the history of space observation and experimentation in New Mexico, which is more extensive than many realize. (Robert Goddard conducted early rocket experiments in the area, and there is a testing facility for NASA rockets at White Sands, which is also an alternative landing site for the agency's spacecraft.) We passed a window from which the actual Blue Origin space plane itself could be glimpsed through artificial fog that constantly swirls around it for security reasons. Another section of the building, not accessible to the general public, is for Spaceport America's commercial passengers and is equipped with a lounge, restaurant, and other amenities. Inside the facility, we completed the interrupted Facebook Live presentation about blindness skills training and then headed back outdoors.
Dan had made another run in the Corvette, again without nitrous, reaching a speed of 176 mph. By now, however, official closing time was approaching, so although Dan and his team were permitted to continue work, most of us left and headed toward the nearby town of Truth or Consequences, or "T'rC" as the locals call it, to collect souvenirs. In a typical example of the generous support we received from Spaceport America, one of its security officers escorted us there in his personal vehicle on his way home. We stopped to take some scenic photos at the Elephant Butte Dam, one of the earliest WPA projects from the Great Depression (predating even the Hoover Dam) and then proceeded to the town proper. After a stop for postcards and snacks, we headed back to Las Cruces.
Everyone had been hoping that by now, the end of March 30, at least one record attempt would have already occurred, but since a day of practice runs had been lost to the unfavorable wind conditions on March 29, the effort was behind schedule. Dan's team was therefore unable to join us for what could have been a celebratory dinner after a first successful attempt. The rest of us feasted at a tropical-themed Mexican restaurant that Adelmo and Soledad Vigil recommended. We were all tired, and some of us who had not worn our Blind Driver Challenge hats or uniformly applied sunscreen were noticing the sunburn that the cool wind had kept us from feeling while at Spaceport. But we were encouraged by the progress that had already been made. While eating dinner, however, we got bad news. During a quick check-in with Dan by text message, Anil learned that a problem had developed that was preventing the car from switching gears properly. Although some of us assumed this might be a transmission problem and shuddered at the thought, we learned later that the issue was actually a malfunctioning torque converter. Dan's team planned to work through the night, if needed, to resolve the issue. Despite this setback and the late hours it would entail, Dan maintained his characteristic optimism. "If race cars were easy," he texted Anil, "they'd sell them at Kmart."
Dan got little sleep that night. At 1:30 a.m., he awoke with a solution. He mentally designed a "push bar" mechanism so that, if needed, the practice car could roll the race car along the runway until it gained sufficient speed to drop into gear, bypassing the torque converter. Dan's team arose at sunrise and headed to Spaceport, where the push bar was welded in the shop trailer. By the time the rest of us arrived at Spaceport, the problem appeared to be solved, with no time to spare. This was the last day that we could use the facility. The record would be broken today, or not at all.
Thus began several hours of anxious waiting. With the wind finally at manageable levels—though with gusts still reaching twenty miles per hour, conditions that would probably have canceled a traditional land speed race—we set up a tent that we had procured for the occasion, bedecked with NFB and sponsor logos. Some of us sheltered there from the sun, which was still blistering despite the relatively cool air temperature. Others sat on the bleachers provided by Spaceport. We were all wearing our Blind Driver Challenge t-shirts and hats, and by late morning jackets were no longer required. The first practice run that tested the engine with nitrous oxide injected took place at around 11:30 a.m., and the Corvette achieved a speed of 181 mph. And as it turned out, the push bar was not needed, the team having discovered that keeping the temperature of the engine at 120 degrees prevented the torque converter from shutting it down.
The challenges of flight scheduling and the need to meet other commitments meant that President Riccobono and Pam and Roland Allen had to leave Spaceport America around noon that day to get back to the El Paso airport. Before leaving, President Riccobono ceremoniously gave Dan his personal Louis Braille coin. He had also given it to Dan before the run on the Salt Flats, and Dan had the coin in his pocket during that ride. With this good-luck token exchanged, President Riccobono and the Allens reluctantly departed.
Dan made another practice run shortly afterwards. This time, with the nitrous again applied, the car reached 205 mph. After this pass, the car was towed back to the shop trailer. Dan knew that it was now or never. But the car was still driving too rough for his liking, so he instructed the crew to jack it up for some shock adjustments and laid out the plan for what he hoped would be the final and successful runs. With our new friend Chris Lopez having reluctantly given up the microphone to attend an unrelated Zoom meeting, I was charged with doing my best to emcee the proceedings as he had been doing. I positioned myself near the trailer, where Patrick Johnson would be stationed to monitor the guidance system from his laptop while the rest of the team served as pit crew on the runway and listened as Dan gave his instructions.
As I observed this final huddle, it was clear to me, if I had ever had any doubt, that we were not simply plopping a blind former drag-racer into a car to achieve a world record for publicity. Although he was characteristically polite, humble, and soft-spoken, Dan was definitely the man in charge of the project, and his team clearly respected his expertise and authority. They listened attentively, then quickly went to work to help him make the final adjustments. It was Dan's vision and capacity that had brought us to this moment and would determine its final success. His crew was assisting on the technical side, and the National Federation of the Blind and our partners at Cruise and Auto Innovators had provided funding, swag, publicity, and moral support. But in this decisive moment, Dan was in the driver's seat, literally and metaphorically.
The adjustments to the shocks and other final fixes necessitated the removal of all four wheels, but with a dozen or so team members all working at full tilt, the procedure took only an hour or so. By this time, it was around 3:30 p.m. The car was towed to its starting point on the runway. We all waited, quietly, so that we could hear its passage. As we heard the exhilarating sound of its powerful engine coming toward us—a satisfying growl rather than the high whine associated with some racing engines—we cheered and waved. It then proceeded out of our sight and hearing again. All of us would have loved to be closer, but Spaceport America restricts who can be on or near the runway. Our video crew, however, was close to the action, having previously completed Spaceport safety training, and their operation included a camera drone flying over the car's path of travel.
The car stopped at the other end of its course, which used about a mile and a half of the runway. Chris Lopez, having just completed his meeting, walked over to me. He whispered that he had heard the call over the radio in the trailer; Dan had achieved roughly 210 mph, which by itself would shatter Mike Newman's record if confirmed. I announced this to uproarious applause, but reminded everyone that nothing was official. According to the rules set by Guinness World Records, Dan still had to make his return pass. Anxiously, we waited again.
A bit of perspective is perhaps in order here. Most of us cannot really imagine traveling at over two hundred miles per hour. Dan told me that this means that a car is traveling the length of two football fields every second. More people have climbed Mount Everest than have driven a car that fast. Also worth noting: Dan's audio guidance system was so precise that he did not deviate any more than ten feet in either direction from the centerline he sought to maintain. This is acceptable for anyone driving at such high speeds, including in sanctioned races, blind or sighted.
It was at least forty-three minutes before Dan commenced his return pass. The team appeared too busy to do much communicating, so Patrick wasn't able to provide minute-by-minute information. With time ticking by, and knowing that both runs must be completed within an hour, we were all nervous, and we would have been more so had we known what was going on at the far end of the course. The car's engine had to be cooled for the return run. The maintenance trailer on the runway had two deep-sea fishing coolers full of water, a total of fifteen gallons, to accomplish this. But the pumping mechanism meant to transfer the water from the coolers to the engine's water tank malfunctioned, so Dan's crew had to manually conduct the operation, using cups, water bottles, and whatever other containers were at hand, while also re-packing the parachute. At the time, Dan didn't know this himself. To save time, he had remained inside the car, still wearing his helmet and with his molded noise-canceling earbuds still in his ears. He could not hear the chaos around him, and his friends did not bother him with the information, fearing that it would distract him. They simply and miraculously got the job done.
Dan made his return run, and once again we waited to hear his engine and cheered when we did. A few seconds later, Patrick gave me the final, though still unofficial number: 212 mph. Dan later related that Tim Kelly, the timekeeper from Loring Timing Association, had said, "Take her back to the trailer, boys; you did it." But this message wasn't conveyed to home base, because any numbers were still unofficial until the final evidence review was conducted.
When the race car returned to park next to the trailer, the crew's immediate task was to remove its internal camera and hand off the memory card to Michael Empric, who needed to review the video to verify that Dan had been the driver when the car achieved its maximum speeds. We waited about ten minutes as Michael reviewed the video and calculated the average of the going and returning times. Michael was then joined on the small stage by Dan, Anil, our remaining board members, and Alice Caruth of Spaceport for the final announcement. Danielle started a Facebook Live feed on her phone, and I used my own phone to call President Riccobono so that he could hear the news.
"Congratulations!" Empric told Dan as he handed over an official certificate. "You are officially amazing!" Dan had achieved an average speed of 211.043 miles per hour, not just breaking the old record, but shattering it.
After over five years of work, Dan had achieved in an hour what he set out to achieve, on behalf of himself and of all blind Americans. He had also done it ten years to the day after the accident that temporarily convinced him he would never race again and seven years to the day after graduating from the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Dan's own determination, expertise, and blindness skills training, along with the collective support provided by members of the National Federation of the Blind, had transformed his individual dream of racing again and our collective dream of demonstrating more independent access to transportation into reality.
It has been said by many Federationists that the real barrier to blind people driving is not technology, and that seems evident even at this early stage. Our real struggle, as in so many other things, will be raising the expectations of the public, and even of blind people ourselves, so that the idea of a blind person operating a road vehicle is perceived as a real possibility rather than a punch line. We have now demonstrated the capacity of blind people to drive twice, and in the second demonstration the blind driver achieved a speed that most drivers never will, in a car of his own design and shaped significantly with his own hands, tools, and expertise.
Will this make an impression on a cynical public? Perhaps it already has. Almost immediately upon our return from New Mexico, we learned that CBS news reporter Steve Hartman wanted to do a story about Dan's accomplishment. Hartman is known for his segment On the Road, which highlights interesting stories about people across our nation, so in one sense this was not surprising. What was interesting is how Mr. Hartman approached the story. When it aired on April 8, Hartman began, "You're welcome to listen in, but I chose this week's story mainly for an audience of one—Ted, my twelve-year-old nephew who says his blindness sometimes feels insurmountable." Then viewers heard Ted's voice saying, "I thought, like, I was doomed. Although that does sound a little immature. I really want to be like everybody sometimes." Hartman continued: "And that's why, when I heard about a drag racer attempting to set a new world speed record, I thought Ted and others like him had to meet the driver, Dan Parker." The story then cut to quotations from Dan and shots of the record attempt, provided through arrangement with the Film Shark Media video crew. The final scene was a meeting between Ted and Dan that Hartman had arranged, with Dan speaking to Ted directly: "Ted, I want you to know that blindness is not what is stopping you. Surround yourself with believers, and go for your dreams. You can make excuses, or you can make it happen." The story closed with Ted's reaction: "If he can do that," Ted said, "Well then I think I could easily pursue my dream." He added, "Maybe flying an airplane?" And a pleased Hartman responded, "That's exactly what I wanted to come out of this."
The fact that Steve Hartman wanted to encourage his nephew is commendable and unsurprising. What I find interesting is that he chose for his nephew to meet a man who has done the very thing that has long been considered impossible for the blind: driving a car, and not just any car, but a race car that was designed to achieve record-shattering speeds.
The Blind Driver Challenge is and has always been, among other things, an effort to expand the limits of independence and raise expectations, including the expectations that we as blind people have for ourselves. If Steve Hartman, his nephew Ted, and even a fraction of his millions of viewers now see the possibility of blind people driving or flying airplanes as a possibility, then we have not only shattered a record but, perhaps, begun to shift a paradigm. I can remember it being said, even within the Federation, that blind people can do virtually everything, with driving listed as the rare exception to the rule. In contrast, President Riccobono has observed that the original Blind Driver Challenge demonstration at Daytona made him realize that he no longer knew what the limits of independence were and that his understanding of them could, and should, continue to expand. Over ten years after that demonstration, an even more dramatic one is expanding our imagination and the imagination of the public. There is, no doubt, much more work to be done, and one reporter's effort to encourage his nephew does not single-handedly knock down all the barriers we may face. Yet it proves once again that there are members of the public who will meet our most ambitious dreams with open hearts and minds, and it suggests that their number is growing. Along with the significant achievement of a second Guinness World Records title in the name of the National Federation of the Blind, that is something we should celebrate.
I'll close with some thoughts from three of my fellow Federationists who attended the New Mexico event. Norma Crosby, writing for her affiliate's mentoring newsletter, said: "While this was a monumental achievement for Dan, it also demonstrated the capacity of blind people to exceed expectations. Dan not only drove the car, but he designed it and did much of the machine work necessary to build and install the parts that made it work.
I had the honor of being present for the world record attempt, and it was something that I'll never forget. As Dan accepted the certificate from Michael Empric of Guinness World Records, Federation leaders cheered because they understood that Dan's work made it more likely that there will be a future where blind people can access autonomous vehicles just like everyone else. ... So, as Neil Armstrong said when he landed on the moon, 'It's one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind.' In this case, the man was blind, and so is the community that will benefit from his work."
Ever Lee Hairston shared these thoughts: "After graduating from the Louisiana Center for the Blind Training Center in 1991, I began to make extraordinary changes in my life. As a result of the intense training, I acquired courage and developed new skills and began a new transformation. Transformation cannot happen unless one is open to new experiences and willing to consider a variety of new perspectives. It was a phenomenal opportunity to witness Dan Parker's transformation on March 31, 2022, at Spaceport, New Mexico, where he succeeded in beating the Guinness World Record. I believe Dan Parker's training at LCB contributes to his courage.
Thanks to Mr. Parker for inspiring me and helping other blind people to believe in their hopes and dreams. Words are inadequate to express the excitement and joy I feel for Dan and the blind of this nation."
Finally, my friend and colleague Anil Lewis summed up the results of the effort this way: "Working collectively to break a world record is a tremendous public demonstration of the capacity of blind people, and it highlights how our expertise and lived experiences can create opportunities for blind people to live the lives we want while also improving the lives of others. NFB staff and our partners at Cruise put a lot of time and effort into planning the marketing and execution of the event. Our communications team, despite the unpredictable weather—wind and dust storms and various technical issues—did a wonderful job of managing on-site to capture audio, video, and narrative information to promote the purpose of the event and the philosophy of the NFB. Having President Riccobono and members of our NFB National Board of Directors present at the Spaceport in Las Cruces, New Mexico, highlighted the importance of the event. The staff at the Spaceport were supportive and fully engaged in our quest. As a result, they have already begun to brainstorm ideas for partnering with us in the future. We were also joined on-site by a representative from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, another one of our sponsors. We all gathered to support our blind driver, Dan Parker, a true Federationist who in addition to possessing the courage and skill to drive the vehicle, also demonstrates the capacity and intellect to design and build key components of the technology that allowed the Corvette to comfortably exceed 200 mph, along with his team of experts who, despite their ability to recount numerous automobile collisions, continue to fearlessly develop technologies that push the envelope and challenge perceptions of what is possible. Having the Guinness Book adjudicator present to award us our "Officially Amazing" certificate on-site was an excellent way to celebrate the outcome of all of our hard work that was shared by many of our members and friends using Facebook Live. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the members of the National Federation of the Blind who through their active participation continue to raise expectations and challenge society's negative perceptions of blindness. As a result, working collectively, we did more than just set a new Guinness Book World Record; we continue on our journey to prove to the world that blind people have the capacity, intellect, and drive to be fully participating members of society. The work we conduct through our Blind Driver Challenge strengthens our ability to develop relationships with automobile manufacturers, technology developers, and researchers that allow us to influence the design and development of accessible autonomous vehicle technology. Moreover, it highlights our expertise in nonvisual accessibility and affords us opportunities to positively impact the universal/inclusive design of other products and services that will make life better for everyone."
[PHOTO CAPTION: Phillip Thomas]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Kevin Peckam gives Dan and Jason the final thumbs-up before the record pass.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Dan uses earbuds to hear audible cues given by the guidance system developed by Patrick Johnson. In fact, his helmet's foam insert forms an ear muff to seal out noise, and Dan installed several mufflers on the Corvette to bring the noise floor down while running the audio guidance system.
[PHOTO CAPTION: The car's controls are duplicated via a chain system. Dan piloted the vehicle through the timed sector for the record, however co-driver Jason White had the ability to take over the Corvette in the event of an emergency.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Dan routinely checks progress on the car by taking laps around it, listening for what he can't otherwise feel.
[PHOTO CAPTION: In land speed racing, the run times are short enough that active cooling isn't a total requirement, and many racers would rather trade room under the hood (making space for the ram-air intake here) for additional ballast weight, meaning water reservoirs are common, acting as heat sinks. This creates a challenge during a one-hour turn-around, as the water in the system has to be exchanged through an external radiator. Here, crewmembers Jeremy Lehr and Mark Dalquist attach the coolant fittings while Jeff Pope readies the battery charger, which just keeps everything topped off. Meanwhile, Clyde Carlson and Kevin inspect the Corvette for any issues.
[PHOTO CAPTION: One technicality is that the Guinness World Record is for the fastest blindfolded driver, despite the previous record holder also being fully blind, like Dan. To meet the rules, Dan's visor is blacked out and the NFB logo was placed front and center.
[PHOTO CAPTION: There was no bigger smile on that day than Dan's, accepting the Guinness Record on the 10-year anniversary of his accident.]
by Phillip Thomas
From the Editor: How wonderful it is that a sighted professional whose business it is to write about the automotive industry wrote an article for several publications about Dan Parker and the National Federation of the Blind. When asked if we could use one of them for this magazine, he volunteered to write an article specifically tailored to us. We get the beauty of the phraseology of auto enthusiasts and professionals and at the same time a glimpse of the way a sighted person believes this can change the world for the blind and others with challenges.
Phillip Thomas is an automotive journalist with an obsession for motorsports and the people involved. Carrying over a decade of experience building, racing, and photo shooting the machines and minds, he focuses on unique pursuits of speed whenever possible. ... It was never about the cars, it turns out. It was always the people. Here is the splendid piece Phillip Thomas has written for us:
As the crew stared down a runway flanked by high winds and columns of rain, Dan Parker rested in the driver's seat. Around him, a half-dozen gearheads finessed his 2008 Chevy Corvette for the turn-around, a contingency in the tradition of land speed, the final record would stand as an average of two runs in opposing directions made within an hour.
Inside the cockpit, still strapped in, Dan focused while listening to the nuanced clunk and bumps, the notched confirmation of a satisfied torque wrench, the rustling of coolant fittings behind him to chill the motor down. Despite being blind, Dan was here to reset a Guinness World Record at over 200 mph. All doubts had been erased early in the morning with a relaxed 205 mph test pass that flew through the previously-staked 200.5 mph record set by Mike Newman in 2003, but he still needed to run two passes above the old record within an hour, or it all counted for nothing.
His trajectory to this moment began ten years earlier when Dan lost his sight after damaging his optic nerve during a brutal crash in a Pro Mod Corvette. The cause was never fully understood; the Corvette rotated like a rudder towards the wall during a test pass, violently scattering into pieces on impact. Despite reportedly being responsive, Dan doesn't remember much of anything about the moment, but the weeks and months afterwards are forever burned into his memory after waking from a two-week coma.
Dan persevered and outlined a goal for Bonneville's Speed Week, setting a time, place, and a barrier to break. Within a few months, work began on a trike that would debut in 2013 and return in 2014 to secure a 50cc AMA record run during the BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials—a first for a blind driver at the Salt Flats, even with no exemptions made for his lack of sight. And sure, the record might've not even broken the speed limit, but the effort had winched Dan out of a hole he wasn't originally sure he could escape.
Around this time, Dan came into the National Federation of the Blind and their Blind Driver Challenge, an experimental program helmed by the NFB's Mark Riccobono and Anil Lewis that relied on driver assist systems that translated guidance instructions into haptic feedback. "The idea was to get engineers interested in working on innovative non-visual interfaces," said Mark. "It's a very hard problem, right? First thing is getting engineers to believe in the blind people themselves, because they could trust that they could build the technology, but could they trust it in the hands of a person who can't see? So, we've been able to use the Blind Driver Challenge to insert ourselves in the conversation, especially in autonomous cars." The NFB's Blind Driver Challenge has been crucial in breaking down these apprehensions and directly engaging transportation engineers, leading to the partnership with companies like Cruise, which develops autonomous taxi services with feedback from efforts like Dan's to tailor their interfaces for all types of passengers, including the blind. The ultimate land speed record for a blind driver became the natural target, and Dan's experience behind Pro Mods, along with the NFB's development of driver assistant technologies, proved to be a formidable team. "If nobody had ever done what they'd done, it would've never opened the doors for drivers like me," Dan mentioned.
In 2017 the Corvette was purchased and prep began. Dan, having been a chassis builder for much of his life, was still hands-on with every aspect of the design. The chassis was modified to accept a bolt-on aluminum belly pan, while the rear suspension was converted to coil-overs. Horsepower would eventually appear in the form of a 440ci LS3-based unit from 3V Performance, churning out 785 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque. Nitrous was also added to the mix to fine-tune the power delivery, rolling into spray during second- and third-gear. Everything would be programmed to the Pro EFI ECU—nitrous activation, gear shifts, parachutes—removing distractions for Dan and allowing those actions to happen at predictable moments.
A cage was added, of course, but notably for this record attempt, it was built for two drivers: Dan planned to have a co-driver in the car with him, controls duplicated, in case anything went awry during the 200 mph attempt. The East Coast Timing Association would open their doors to Dan during practice attempts with the Corvette, with series owner Steve Strupp lined-up to co-drive with Dan, but things would change ahead of this year's run at Spaceport America while Strupp recovered from a long battle with Covid, placing ECTA racer Jason White alongside Dan. As a fellow Corvette land speed racer, and one who'd proven his skill and tenacity in the past, Jason's role would essentially serve as a protector, assisting in final judgment calls and crew chiefing where necessary to ensure Dan had the best opportunity possible at the record.
Dan's record attempt was assisted primarily with GPS-based guidance. Dan has a pair of earbuds under his helmet to listen for a rising-pitch tone out of the left or right side, which indicates to him how far off-center he is while on course. "Where they had haptic feedback [in the Blind Driver Challenge], I have a lot of nerve damage in my hands from the accident, so I can't feel the haptic feedback they used," Dan elaborated on the decision to go with audio cues. If things go too far sideways, then his co-driver, Jason White, could grab the duplicated controls and bring the Corvette back in line.
Patrick Johnson was responsible for developing Dan's guidance system. Based on Linux, the system takes high-speed GPS data along with input from various motion and direction sensors to accurately locate Dan within a few millimeters of reality, and provide the feedback that helps to guide him back on course. It's a system that began development with Dan's AMA record run during the 2013 BUB Motorcycle Speed Trials at Bonneville, uniquely developed by Dan and Patrick for the speeds needed to break the record—when you're crossing a football field every second at 200 mph, an accurate and fast-responding navigation system is crucial.
At the end of March, Dan and his crew trucked to Spaceport America, an aerospace testing and launch facility near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Dan and Jason White, along with Dan's wife Jennifer, trucked in with the tow rig from Columbus, Georgia. Meanwhile, his crew—consisting of Clyde Carlson, Mark Dalquist, Mike DeFazio, Simon and Patrick Foley, Patrick Johnson, Jeremy Lehr, Errol McCollum, Rick Head, Kevin Peckam, and Jeff Pope—descended from all over the United States to the Wild West. The motley crew of gearheads came from many places in Dan's life, some friends from before the accident, others that joined along the way, many meeting each other for the first time as they began setting up shop on the apron of Spaceport America's runway.
Their week started off on an uncertain note, however. Western New Mexico was displaying its springtime weather with scattered thunderstorms being pushed across the plains by heavy-handed winds, not the ideal conditions for skimming the earth at over 200 mph. The first day was written off as a relaxed start to the week, giving the crew time to get acquainted with the car and begin making adjustments in the tune for the altitude. While the forecast showed that wind and rain were still to be expected, their second day would begin with a few low-speed passes in Dan's personal car, a C4 Corvette with a similar audio guidance system to his land speed C6 Corvette, while Jason took the C6 for 150 mph shakedown passes. The day served to help shake off some nerves for Dan, who'd had relatively limited time to practice with the guidance system.
Starting off with soft passes, a mile at the most, Dan finally began pushing the Corvette up the scale of speed. Without nitrous, his first pass of 158 with a follow-up of 176 proved to be a solid shakedown. They'd found that the converter was a bit too tight, bogging the 440ci LS off the line, though the Corvette quickly found momentum through first gear and clicked off the next two with no complaints. First 158, then 176—and the turn-around between passes was going smoothly too. Crosswinds would try to toss them around, but Dan managed to reel the Corvette back to center, proving the navigation system's effectiveness. Another blast down Spaceport America would result in a 175 and 187 mph result, but issues with the transmission ended the day on a misstep as the team worked into the night digging around for the issue: a broken connector.
The following morning, March 31, 2021, the tone changed slightly around the pits. Many uncertainties lay ahead. The shifting issues hadn't been checked yet, and while we all knew the Corvette had the power to hit its number, the fact of the matter is that they hadn't broken 200 mph yet, and the runway rental was due to end at 5 o'clock that night. Thankfully, the day's first run out delivered a 205 mph sigh of relief, unofficially breaking the record.
Dan wasn't ready to push his luck. Adamant but pragmatic, he drew the team back to the pits to give the car a final once-over, nut-and-bolting every fastener they could think of, and making tweaks to the suspension while also slipping in a slightly more aggressive nitrous routine. They returned to Spaceport America's runway determined and dialed-in for a full-tilt attempt, a shot that first returned a 210 mph result. As soon as he crossed the timing beams, Dan's hour began on the turn-around before his crew quickly began exchanging water out of the cooling reservoir and inspecting the car for any signs of debris or failure. In the worst possible timing, the pump that exchanged the water in the Corvette's cooling system with an external cold water tank failed, leaving the crew scrambling to scoop cool water back into the car's reservoir—water bottles, funnels, coffee cups—a bucket brigade on the runway. Behind them, storms continued to flank the airfield from the North, and gusts of wind began sweeping the runway as everyone completed their tasks, hopefully one last time.
From the tone of the engine itself, we could hear that it was chasing more RPM than heard all week. The answer was clear that Dan backed the record even before the radio call came from Loring Timing Association's Tim Kelly, who'd arrived with the timing equipment needed to help certify the runs with Guinness World Records. Even with the 212 mph follow-up shot across Spaceport America confirmed on paper, Guinness still had to review the video footage and confirm for themselves too that Dan piloted the timed 100-foot speed trap. Once the formalities were set aside, it was officially announced: 211.043 mph, a new record for the World's Fastest Blind Driver. Not only that, he broke the record on the day of the tenth-year anniversary of his life-changing accident.
And as succinctly as one could explain it, Dan told the crew in the midst of a dozen hugs, "Y'all, yesterday we said we can. ... Today, we said we did!"
It doesn't have to be blindness; Dan's trajectory is familiar to many. Losses in life will be encountered, often so far outside our control even in the most benign circumstances. Defining yourself through measured struggle is one of the only ways we evolve as people, and for Dan, it served as not just a method to elevate himself out of a dark place, but to bring up those around him who also share his tenacity. By proving that the once impossible was still in his grasp, Dan reset the limits for what anyone can achieve."This project is so much more than just a number," said Dan. "This is about affecting society's opinion of the blind, giving blind people hope that we can live the life we want and go after our dream. And to not let society or people's opinions stop you from chasing those dreams, you've got to think outside the box."
by Gary Wunder
All of us are inspired by those who go beyond the normal, attempt something difficult, and succeed. When blind people do this, we and the rest of the world get just a little more excited. For our part we see in these feats a change in the boundaries we operate within and are glad for the greater freedom and opportunity.
Since we are about changing perceptions about blindness for the blind and sighted alike, it is quite reasonable for the positive and proactive organization we support to be on the leading edge. Whether it is Hank Dekker sailing alone, Erik Weihenmayer climbing Mount Everest, or Dan Parker breaking a land speed record, we do what we can to help. In all of these events we are the facilitators, but the experts are the people we are helping to move forward in their endeavors. We support where they think they can go, they are inspired by our support, and all of us rejoice when they go where no blind person has gone before.
Every organization must set priorities since none of us have unlimited time or resources. At the same time, we acknowledge that we are capable of having multiple priorities and distributing our energy across multiple activities. This is crucial to understand because every challenge activity undertaken brings the question or sometimes the allegation that to do the challenge necessarily means not to do something else. It also raises the question whether the activity is worth what we will put into it, but in many ways these concerns are the same ones we face when undertaking any new program.
With all of the upsides of adventure activities acknowledged, there are downsides that are not well known. By their very nature these activities have substantial risks. People die while sailing; people die while attempting to climb mountains; people die or suffer life-altering injuries by driving cars at high speeds. Blindness is certainly thought to increase the risk, and at least some people believe that this reason should be enough to compel organizations of the blind to stay clear of such activities. In one of the challenge activities in which the Federation has been involved, a parent called to ask that we not sponsor it because she couldn't talk her son out of what she regarded as a foolish activity.
All of this came home to me in a more personal way when I was sitting alone with then President Maurer after the national board had just discussed one of these challenge activities. In a subdued voice he said: “You know, we all talk about how it’s going to be when we succeed, but have you ever had to consider what our reputation would be were we to fail—I don’t mean just failing to set a record, but what it will be like for us if one of these folks gets hurt or killed? Sure, we have confidence; sure we think he can do it; but how long will it take us to live down our reputation of encouraging a blind man to go to his death when we above all people should have known better? What will the press release look like if we fail, and what will I say to the family? How will I atone to the members? What will the presidency look like if this project does not succeed? What will happen to the organization if the leadership decides that fear is preferable to courage? The thought keeps me awake at night, but I do believe in expanding what we can do, I do believe in the expertise of the people we sponsor, and I do believe this advances our cause. Even so, all of this is very sobering.”
I had never considered the downside or how our president might feel an intense sense of responsibility both to the person involved in the challenge activity and to our risk of forever being regarded as a foolish and irresponsible group of men and women. It made me wonder and still does just how often we ask our leaders to carry tremendous burdens but to keep them hidden inside. So when I have the pleasure of reading about and then publishing some challenge activity, I now see that courage is not the lack of fear but embracing that fear and going beyond it. This understanding strengthens my admiration of those who have and who now lead us, and it also increases my appreciation about how seriously we take the challenge of pushing back on the boundaries of what it means to be blind.
Blind children, students, and adults are making powerful strides in education and leadership every day across the United States. For more than eighty years, the National Federation of the Blind has worked to transform the dreams of hundreds of thousands of blind people into reality. With support from individuals like you, we continue to provide powerful programs and critical resources for decades to come. We sincerely hope you will plan to be a part of our enduring movement by including the National Federation of the Blind in your charitable giving and in your estate planning. It is easier than you think.
With your help, the NFB will continue to:
The National Federation of the Blind legacy society, our Dream Makers Circle, honors and recognizes the generosity and vision of members and special friends of the National Federation of the Blind who have chosen to leave a legacy through a will or other planned giving option. You can join the Dream Makers Circle in a myriad of ways.
You can specify that a fixed sum of your assets or property goes to the National Federation of the Blind in your will, trust, pension, IRA, life insurance policy, brokerage account, or other accounts.
You can specify that a percentage of your assets or property goes to the National Federation of the Blind in your will, trust, pension, IRA, life insurance policy, brokerage account, or other accounts.
You can name the National Federation of the Blind as the beneficiary on a Payable on Death (POD) account through your bank. You can turn any checking or savings account into a POD account. This is one of the simplest ways to leave a legacy. The account is totally in your control during your lifetime and you can change the beneficiary or percentage at any time with ease.
If you do decide to create or revise your will, consider the National Federation of the Blind as a partial beneficiary.
Visit our Planned Giving webpage (https://www.nfb.org/get-involved/ways-give/planned-giving) or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422, for more information.
Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.
Throughout 2021, the NFB:
Just imagine what we’ll do next year and, with your help, what can be accomplished for years to come. Below are just a few of the many diverse, tax-deductible ways you can lend your support to the National Federation of the Blind.
The NFB accepts donated vehicles, including cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles, or recreational vehicles. Just call 855-659-9314 toll-free, and a representative can make arrangements to pick up your donation. We can also answer any questions you have.
General donations help support the ongoing programs of the NFB and the work to help blind people live the lives they want. You can call 410-659-9314 and elect option 4 to donate by phone. Donate online with a credit card or through the mail with check or money order. Visit our Ways to Give webpage (https://www.nfb.org/get-involved/ways-give) for more information.
Through the Pre-Authorized Contribution (PAC) program, supporters sustain the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind by making recurring monthly donations by direct withdrawal of funds from a checking account or a charge to a credit card. To enroll, call 410-659-9314, extension 2213, or fill out our PAC Donation Form (https://www.nfb.org/pac) online.If you have questions about giving, please send an email to [email protected] or call 410-659-9314, extension 2422.
March 29, 1938 – April 10, 2022
From the Editor: Jacquilyn Billey had a distinguished, graceful, and dignified career in the National Federation of the Blind. There was no office at the chapter or affiliate level she did not hold or help others to conduct, and she served as the Connecticut state president as noted later in this article. I remember her most fondly for traveling tirelessly around our nation to recruit members and spread the news about this transformative organization that changed lives and increased opportunities for blind people. She will always be a treasure in my memory, and I feel blessed to have known her and had her as a friend and a member of my Federation family. Here is what was posted online on April 15, 2022 and published in the Journal & Courier (jconline.com).
Our dear mother, grandmother, and trusted friend Jacquilyn Billey passed away peacefully on April 10 holding the hands of her daughters. We reflect on the many wonderful qualities she had and the many contributions to our community that she made.
Jacquilyn was born in Wentworth, South Dakota. She was a surprise twin born the day after her sister Marilyn. Their brother Terry was born a year later, so they were all very close growing up. She was also very close with her extended family. Her mom Cosette "Corky" Nicholson had been the youngest of ten children, so there were many aunts, uncles, and cousins who loved each other very much and stayed in close contact all her life. She loved farm life: chewing oats, milking cows, and watching the crops grow.
Jacquilyn started working early in life. At twelve years old, she was helping in the telephone office in Wentworth. You can still visit the building where she was a switchboard operator at Prairie Village. At twenty, she wanted to try living in New York City, so she wrote ahead to a boarding school and got a job as a teacher with housing on the campus. She taught by day and helped take care of the children in the evenings.
Jacquilyn was a very good student. She went to college at General Beadle (now known as Dakota State University). In college she was voted Miss Personality. Upon graduation, she returned to New York City as a teacher. After a time she wanted to further her education, so she enrolled in Hunter College and received her master’s degree in education. She specialized in teaching second grade and special education.
During that time in New York, Jacquilyn met her life partner John Billey, who was there as an exchange student from West Virginia University. Jacquilyn and John married on April 10, 1965. Jacquilyn and John were both intelligent, courageous, loving blind people who supported each other throughout their lives. They have two loving daughters and four wonderful grandchildren who follow in their footsteps.
Jacquilyn worked her entire adult life to better the lives of others. She was a teacher in Newark, NJ, in the 1960s. In the 1970s, she created and directed a program at Manchester Community College to do job training and placement for mentally disabled adults. After graduation from the program, they often got good jobs in the mailrooms and cafeterias of insurance and aerospace companies. During that time, Jacquilyn became the president of the Connecticut affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), a position she held from 1984 to 1990. She oversaw an extensive fundraising and awareness effort that helped the members, through scholarships, to get training in Braille, cane travel, attend college, go to NFB conventions, and to buy computers and other equipment necessary for their careers. There was no email, Facebook, or texting back then; all of her organizational efforts were done via phone conversations and meetings.
In 1984 Jacquilyn took a new job with the National Federation of the Blind which gave her the opportunity to visit almost every state in the country. Her task was to build new chapters of the NFB where none existed and to support the smaller chapters that wanted to grow. The adventures of so much travel were exciting and challenging at times. Like many blind travelers, she depended on her white cane for independence. It was also a symbol of her cause to support and promote the lives of blind people. She carried her NFB-labeled white cane proudly everywhere she went.
In 1988 Jacquilyn was given the Jacobus tenBroek Award from the National Federation of the Blind. This award is for her "dedication, sacrifice, and commitment on behalf of the blind of the nation." She truly gave her all to the organization and to its members.
In the early 1990s, Jacquilyn was ready to set down roots again and took a position as the regional coordinator for the Roswell Office of the Commission for the Blind in New Mexico. She cherished her clients and did all she could to support them in their education, development, and career goals. She also embraced the culture of the Southwest, cooking with hot chili peppers, and listening to opera in Santa Fe.
When Jacquilyn retired, she promptly moved to West Lafayette, Indiana, to be closer to family. She enjoyed time with her grandchildren and made many cherished friends. She took daily walks and found peace in doing yoga.
Jacquilyn leaves behind a legacy of activism, inspiration, and kindness. She was a brave woman who was full of hope for the world. Her friend Janie said recently in a note to Jackie, "I love you because of your sweet outlook on life – always ready to see the good in any circumstances. That's an inspiration. My glass—from my perspective—has always been HALF EMPTY! Not yours—Full to the BRINK!"
Several people commented that she was a friend to all people no matter their race, education, abilities/disabilities, political orientation, or gender identity. Ever Lee Hairston, a member of the NFB Board of Directors, said "Jacquilyn reached out to blind people from her heart. I vividly remember she invited me to my first NFB convention in 1987." That convention was transformational for Ever Lee, like so many other blind people. She said, "Jacquilyn was loved for her inspiration and kindness. Be at peace with that. Follow her lead. Live your life."
Jacquilyn Billey was survived by her two daughters Sara Billey (husband Paul Viola), Andrea Gray (husband Don Gray), grandchildren Alan, Elias, Marisa, and Meredith, her sister-in-law Beth Holland, niece Sonya Holland, niece-in-law Susan Holland, grandniece Tera, and many cousins, friends, and fellow blind people around the world. She was preceded in death by her husband Dr. John E. Billey, sister Marilyn Opfer and brother-in-law Bill Opfer, brother Terry Holland, mother Corky Nicholson, and her nephew Jeff Holland.
Donations in Jacquilyn's honor can be sent to the National Federation of the Blind (nfb.org/get-involved/ways-give). Include Jacquilyn Billey's name with the donation. An annual scholarship will be named after her. Pictures and remembrances of Jacquilyn Billey can be sent to the family at [email protected]. A memorial service will be held in Wentworth, South Dakota, at Rose Hill Cemetery on Memorial Day Weekend, May 29, 2022.
by Sandy Halverson
From the Editor: Sandy Halverson and Braille so often come together in a sentence that it is hard to differentiate between them except that Sandy is complex enough that she is not as easily read and understood as Braille. Her heart and her conviction are transparent, and all of us are the better for her commitment. Here is what she has to say about the most recent Braille Readers are Leaders Contest:
The need for a children’s Braille reading contest was identified by the National Federation of the Blind in the mid-1980s to promote Braille literacy among blind students and encourage increased production and distribution of Braille material. Although I was never a contest participant, I have had multiple opportunities over the years to be involved in supervising and compiling the results of the contest. That work started with hiring a reader, who read hundreds of print pages of Braille Readers Are Leaders entry forms and reading logs and helped me determine contest winners. Then came computer-generated contest participant entries, a different way for me to parse the same data. This year we have come up with even a better way to slay this dragon; we are working with Beanstack as the primary mechanism for gathering contest information. Since the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults currently produces and distributes annual free Braille calendars, continues to promote a monthly Free Braille Books Program for school-age children, and compiled a tactile art supplies kit to encourage blind children and adults to experiment with art, it seemed reasonable to include the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest as one of our programs.
When we became aware that many summer reading programs for children found it more inclusive to judge reading contest entries by the number of minutes spent reading instead of page counts, we began testing the three most popular reading platforms used by libraries and determined that Beanstack was the most accessible for screen reader use. Its staff was eager to answer our questions, include features to meet our contest parameters, and is pleased to be working with us to make improvements we continue to identify.
Whenever there is transition from a relatively well-known process to a totally different system, things will not always happen as anticipated. How many would register? How many prizes would we need, and by whom would they be provided? How many participants would need assistance getting their information recorded in Beanstack? What kind of grand prize would be worth reading lots of minutes to win? With the support of the National Federation of the Blind, we formed a Braille Readers Are Leaders Committee to research possible prizes, define reward levels for minutes read, grand prize entries at certain milestones, and determine which producers of Braille products might consider being donors. The American Printing House for the Blind quickly responded with its willingness to give two Chameleon 20-cell Braille notetakers; Seedlings and National Braille Press gave gift certificates, and Horizons for the Blind provided a variety of tactile pictures labeled in Braille. These were of animals, birds, and flowers at a greatly reduced price. Additional art and Braille-related prizes were provided by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults.
We used email and social media to recruit contest participants. Following contest announcements, we began hearing from parents of blind children and teachers of blind students. A parent asked, “I haven’t received my daughter’s shirt yet. I was wondering if it had shipped yet? I was hoping to film a morning announcement with her wearing the shirt so that she could teach the other students about the contest and reading Braille.” A middle and high school Braille teacher at the Indiana School for the Blind who registered fifteen students said, “Thank you for keeping this amazing contest so successful. It is so important to highlight our Braille readers!”
By the end of the contest, 508 participants had registered and 280 had submitted reading logs. This was the largest number of participants we have ever had, representing thirty-six states, one APO military family, and a Canadian Braille reader reading a total of 471,770 minutes.
On March 4, in recognition of Dr. Seuss’s birthday, the first, second, and third place winners were announced at an American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults Facebook Live event. In addition to the prize packets sent to all participants, winners received a check for $25, $15, or $10 depending on placement.
The winners for the 2021-2022 contest are: Adult, first place, Carol Ann Weeks, South Carolina, with 30,525 minutes; second place, Nicholas Wilcox, Iowa, with 28,356 minutes; third place, Angela Randall, Ohio, with 28,322 minutes. Kindergarten and first grade, first place, Mila Chow, California, with 1,588 minutes; second place, Hope Gernster, Montana, with 1005 minutes; and third place, Jane Gacioch, Missouri, with 855 minutes. Second and third grade winners were first place, Maeve Erb, Utah, with 1,585 minutes; second place Baylynn Lluveres, Minnesota, with 1,524 minutes; and third place, Madison McCombs, New York with 1,224 minutes. Fourth and fifth grade winners were first place, Gabriel Wahlberg, Florida, with 5,000 minutes; second place, Narjis Karimipour, Louisiana, with 2,713 minutes; and third place, Salome Cummins, Missouri, with 2,599 minutes. Sixth through eighth grade winners were first place, Divanai Miguel, New Jersey, with 9,402 minutes; second place, May Resendiz, Indiana, with 8,433 minutes; and third place, Amare Laggette, North Carolina, with 3,755 minutes. Ninth through twelfth grade winners were first place, Faith Switzer, New Mexico, with 2,925 minutes; second place, Hayden Roswell, Colorado, with 2,505 minutes; and third place, Maria de Nooy, Michigan, with 1,928 minutes.
Luis Villanueva from Maryland read 155 minutes and earned our Breaking Reading Limits Award which is presented to a participant who has overcome significant barriers to reading Braille.
Our Facebook Live event ended with the grand prize drawings for the two APH 20-cell Chameleon Braille displays. Our adult winner was Elizabeth Rouse from South Carolina, and Faith Switzer from New Mexico was our high school student.
The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children had received a very generous donation specified for technology for blind students and asked that a winner from each of the remaining categories be drawn to receive either a Focus 40 Braille notetaker or the IRIE Braille Buddy embosser. These winners were Boon Dumrong, grades 6-8, Washington; Salome Cummins, grades 4-5, Missouri; Madison McCombs, grades 2-3, New York; and kindergarten-first grade, Jane Gacioch, Missouri. It was a privilege to contact each winner, assuring parents that I was not a telemarketer and that their child really did win something of great value! Several parents expressed appreciation for the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults and the National Federation of the Blind for our interest in their children and the opportunities and programs we provide.
As a child I loved having hard-copy Braille books under my fingers, whether on my grandmother’s front porch, on a bus, or in bed until I heard my mom get up to put the book away. Darn the noise of those turning pages! These days, refreshable Braille displays make it possible and convenient to have access to as much Braille as we can manage, and many of our school-age contest participants have choices we did not have. So, no matter how many school districts insist that using recorded books or screen-reader computer technology are better than Braille as a primary means of reading and learning, our Beanstack minutes logged show a tremendous and exciting commitment to Braille literacy.There will be another Braille Readers Are Leaders contest during the 2022-2023 school year. The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults is pleased to partner with the National Federation of the Blind to strengthen Braille literacy and to create opportunities to put Braille in the hands of blind children and adults.
From the Editor: We print here a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the National Federation of the Blind that will be considered by the 2022 National Convention. Here it is:
The following proposed amendment to the constitution of the National Federation of the Blind (as amended 2014) was approved for recommendation to the 2022 Convention by the Federation’s Board of Directors on May 12, 2022.
Section E. Any member, local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member or affiliate of this organization by a two-thirds vote of the board of directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a National Convention. If the action is to be taken by the board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the Convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open board meeting or a session of the Convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect.
Remove the word “member”; this section will now pertain to local chapters, state affiliates, and divisions.
Section E. Any local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a local chapter, state affiliate, or division of this organization by a two-thirds vote of the board of directors or by a simple majority of the states present and voting at a National Convention. If the action is to be taken by the board, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to try to resolve the problem by discussion and negotiation. If the action is to be taken by the Convention, notice must be given on the preceding day at an open board meeting or a session of the Convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect.
Section F. Any member of this organization may be suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined for misconduct or for activity unbecoming to a member of this organization, and any non-member may have their engagement in the organization restricted, through standards and procedures established, maintained, and regularly reviewed by the board of directors. These standards will be publicly available as a Code of Conduct for the organization and members will be provided with opportunities to give feedback on the Code on a periodic basis set by the board.
While considering disciplinary actions taken by the board either directly or through the procedures it establishes, there must be good cause, and a good faith effort must have been made to hear the concerns of all parties involved. With regard to handling reports of violations of the code, the board will establish policies and procedures on how such reports will be investigated and then resolved. Any person subject to a ruling under these policies and procedures may appeal that ruling to the board, which may elect to have a subcommittee of the board handle the appeal. However, any three members of the board may, through written request, initiate a full board review of any disciplinary decision issued under the Code of Conduct. The procedures maintained by the board must provide individuals with clear guidance regarding their right to an appeal, the process for requesting an appeal, and the standards used in the board’s review of the appeal.
Any person subject to disciplinary action by the board issued through the procedures and policies authorized by this section may appeal the board’s final decision to the National Convention. Such an appeal must be filed in writing and within thirty days of the board’s decision. The written request shall be submitted to the President and must be signed by five delegates to the next Convention who support hearing the appeal. Notice of the appeal hearing must be given on the preceding day at an open board meeting or a session of the Convention. Due to the sensitive nature of certain matters, any disciplinary action to be considered by the Convention will only be considered in a closed committee meeting consisting of the delegates present and voting and the Federation’s President. The committee shall be chaired by the President unless a conflict of interest prevents the President from chairing the committee, in which case the delegates shall elect one of the other delegates present who does not have a conflict to preside over the meeting. All efforts will be made in any disciplinary meeting to protect the identity of individuals who were harmed. A matter that has not been fully investigated shall never be considered by the Convention. If a dispute arises as to whether there was "good cause," or whether the board made a "good faith effort," the National Convention (acting in its capacity as the supreme authority of the Federation) shall have the power to make final disposition of the matter; but until or unless the board's action is reversed by the National Convention, the ruling of the board shall continue in effect.
If you are bringing children with you to convention, you may want to register them for NFB Camp. NFB provides child care for children 6 weeks to twelve years during pre-convention meetings, General Sessions, and Banquet. We separate the children into groups by age, and the activities are age appropriate, including lessons from the NFB BELL Academy curriculum.
As we did in past years when Convention was in person, we provided parents with the “Camper’s Curriculum,” which outlines the daily activities for the children. These include: games; arts and crafts; O&M lessons; outside water play; walks to nearby attractions; and of course, BELL lessons. The Camper’s Curriculum will be posted to the Convention page as soon as it is prepared.
Each of the Camp rooms is staffed with a Lead Teacher who supervises the staff and children in their room. These lead teachers are from Carla’s Montessori schools or have been working Camp for many years. All of them have experience working with blind children. The rooms are staffed according to the number and ages of the children in each room. These additional staff are members and family members of the Federation.
Carla McQuillan has been the NFB Camp Director since 1996. Carla is the executive director of her Montessori schools in Oregon, and she serves as the President of our Oregon Affiliate and on the National Board of Directors. This year, we are beginning the transition of NFB Camp Director from Carla to Harriet Go.
Harriet is an elementary school teacher in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She teaches kindergarten through third grade students with a variety of learning disabilities in the areas of reading and math. She earned her bachelor's degree in education from Temple University in Philadelphia and a master’s in elementary reading and literacy from Minnesota's Walden University. With more than a dozen years of experience in the classroom, Ms. Go is deeply committed to helping each student reach his or her full potential, academically and emotionally. With a positive attitude, Harriet truly believes that education is a system for creating change and for social good. Harriet has been our BELL Academy Teacher in Philadelphia for many years.
Deadline to Register for NFB Camp is June 20, 2022.
by Karl Belanger and Matt Hackert
June 29 will mark the 15-year anniversary of the launch of the iPhone, which ushered in the age of the smartphone. Just over a year later, on September 23, 2008, HTC released the Dream, running on the Android operating system. Perhaps of greater significance to this magazine’s readership, VoiceOver launched in 2009, making smartphones accessible to blind people. Not long after, the Android operating system also began supporting some rudimentary features to assist those with blindness or low vision. From those early days, however, Apple’s accessibility provided a truly superior experience, but at a significant financial cost. Back then, iPhone models typically cost significantly more than hardware that runs Android. And honestly, that cost difference has changed little over the intervening years. With the sheer magnitude of tasks that can be performed on a smartphone today—banking, scheduling, communication, ride hailing, navigation, not to mention social engagement on a myriad of social media platforms—the need for equal access for blind people to this technology is paramount.
More recently, Google has really honed its game and, in the opinion of your authors, mostly caught up with Apple in terms of the features, performance, and ease of use of their accessibility services. To that end, we have taken it upon ourselves to try a unique comparison. Each of us committed to switch platforms for a week—remove the SIM card from our personal device and install it on one using the other platform. Matt installed his SIM card in a Pixel 4A; Karl installed his in an iPhone 13 Pro. Each of us then locked our personal device in a drawer to avoid temptation and give the other platform a fair shake. And here’s what we found…
[Disclaimer: All testing and evaluation of these products was conducted before April 15, 2022; the accuracy of information in this article should be considered current as of that date.]
Matt Hackert: I have exclusively been an Apple user since I purchased my first smartphone in 2011. On occasion, I have made some attempts to dabble on the Android side of things. Of course, back in 2011, Apple had a clear lead over Android, and my first experiences in around 2013 or 2014 with an Android tablet were unsurprisingly clunky and unpleasant. At the end of 2015, going into 2016, I took another, more serious look, just to be familiar with Android, because I was considering a job teaching access technology and believed that it was important to have some fluency with both platforms. Just as with desktop computers, it is good to know both PC and Mac.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2022, a time when Android has clearly made great strides with TalkBack, including simplified gestures, I was intrigued when my colleague Karl presented me with the challenge that we each trade devices for a week. We would swap out SIM cards and lock our regular device in a drawer.
I felt a bit of apprehension with this challenge, given my past experience, but I felt up to it. And at the end of the week, I can say that the experience was a positive one.
In the authors’ opinion, it is important to note the wide variety of hardware that runs android in comparison to Apple and iOS. While the gestures and functionality remain the same, the performance of VoiceOver on iPhone hardware is still more consistent across devices than that of TalkBack on Android devices. However, another area of significant improvement for Android has been the consolidation of accessibility tools. It used to be that, depending on hardware platform, you might use TalkBack, or you might use the hardware vendor’s proprietary accessibility suite. Thankfully, manufacturers and Google have collaborated and agreed on using TalkBack as the one, de facto accessibility tool across hardware platforms. So, without further ado, here are my thoughts and observations as a long-time Apple user switching to Android:
For the switch from Apple to Android, there are several options. I experimented with two of them, neither requiring a physical connection between devices.
The standard method for transferring contacts, calendars, and photos from an iPhone to an Android involves using Google Drive to create a backup of your device. Using Drive requires a Google account. Of course, using an Android phone also requires a Google account, just as using an iPhone requires an Apple ID, which provides you a roughly parallel experience with Apple’s iCloud services. I have had both accounts for a long time, so I did not need to create a Google account for this project. The iOS app for Google Drive includes the option under Settings to create a backup of your phone. You select which items you want included, and it creates the backup on the Drive cloud storage service. Then, when setting up your Android phone, once you have gotten to the point where you provide your Google account credentials, you will then be able to “restore” the existing data on your Google Drive. The Drive iOS mobile app is very accessible, and I had no difficulty finding the backup feature, selecting the content I wanted included in the backup, and initiating the backup procedure. Also, importing the backup on the Android was equally accessible and painless.
As of April 13, there is a new Switch to Android iOS app developed by Google, which has been quietly released to the App Store. As of the time of this writing, the app has to be accessed directly using this URL: (https://apps.apple.com/us/app/id1581816143). The app makes the process of transferring data wirelessly very simple. It lets you select which things you want transferred, i.e. photos, videos, contacts, and calendars. To begin, the app displays a QR code to scan with your Android phone. This allows the devices to link up wirelessly. You then select the data you want transferred. The app does recommend using a cable since this can be faster. The app also provides instructions for turning off iMessages and Facetime so that you don’t miss texts or phone calls on your android device. It also gives instructions on how you can transfer data stored in iCloud, because the app cannot do this directly.
The only thing you need to know in advance of starting the setup on your new Android phone is the shortcut to turn on TalkBack, the Android mobile screen reader. To do this, press and hold the two volume buttons for approximately three seconds. I was very impressed with the introductory tutorial information the Pixel gave me about fundamental touch gestures for navigating to different elements on the screen. I would add that I found the newer gestures easier and more intuitive to learn than the older “angle” gestures such as down and left, or up and right, etc.
Part of the first few steps during setup include connecting to Wi-Fi, which requires entering a password and signing into your Google account. So early on, I got my first experiences with text entry on the Android on-screen keyboard. One odd inconsistency I ran across was that sometimes the onscreen keyboard included a number row on the alpha entry mode while in other cases you had to activate the Symbols button to enter numbers as well as punctuations. Looking into this further, it turns out that the number row is added for password fields. Further, this is actually a customization option, one of many that are more prevalent throughout the Android experience, meaning that you can specify in your keyboard settings that the number row always display, regardless of the type of edit box. My only other complaint about text entry on Android is that it does feel sluggish compared to what I’m used to on my iPhone.
Since we’re on the subject of text entry, let’s go over the Android Braille keyboard. This is a more recent addition to Android, and it parallels the Braille Screen Input (BSI) feature which iOS has had for some time now. Like TalkBack generally, when you enable the Braille keyboard, you are presented with a tutorial that walks you through how to use it, including instructions of how to orient and hold the phone, practice typing a few letters, and practice with additional gestures that are important such as the space, deleting a character, new line, and exiting Braille entry. As I am a proficient BSI user, I found the transition very quick and smooth, with a very shallow learning curve. I did find myself often trying to use the iOS / VoiceOver “rotor” gesture to try to switch to Braille typing. Some old habits die hard. Otherwise, I actually felt that Braille entry on the Android was just as responsive as it is on iPhone, and so while the keyboard felt a little clunky at times, I could always switch to Braille and be fine.
After initial setup, the next task was to start installing apps. This is not a part of the setup process because not all apps exist on both platforms, and there isn’t always a straightforward one-to-one analogue of iPhone and Android apps. In addition, paid apps require you to re-purchase their cross-platform equivalent if one exists. Many readers may already know that, as an example, even if you paid for Voice Dream Reader on the iPhone, you still have to pay for it again to use it on Android. Searching and browsing in the Google Play Store is much like the App Store on iOS. The layout is somewhat different, but locating and installing an app works pretty much the same way.
As noted, my experience on Android was very positive. It did take some exploration at the beginning to find how to get to things like Settings. I was also disappointed that my preferred refreshable Braille display does not support pairing with Android, although it can still be used as a Bluetooth keyboard. I just don’t get any Braille output. I am also hopeful that BrailleBack, Android’s accessibility for Braille output, will eventually get incorporated into TalkBack so that a separate app install isn’t required to get Braille support. With iOS, VoiceOver already supports Braille input and output without the need to install any additional software.
Another positive experience was the ease with which I could find documentation and answers to questions online. First, Google has extensive documentation about accessibility tools like TalkBack and Brailleback. Many times, getting help was as simple as typing a question in Chrome’s address bar like “How do I open the Apps Drawer with TalkBack?” One of the top Google search results appears with a helpful getting started article on navigating the home screen with TalkBack. Note that there is a nuanced difference between swiping up with two fingers from the bottom of the screen, the Home gesture, and just a two-finger swipe up.
In addition to Google’s robust library of helpful support articles, the access technology community more broadly has picked up on the steady improvements Google has made in accessibility, and you can now find many helpful articles and videos online by reputable sources like APH.
Karl Belanger: As an Android user for the last several years, I had not kept up with the intricacies of using iOS with VoiceOver. While I had briefly used an iOS device from time to time, I had not spent time using iOS as my primary operating system for a few years. After using an iPhone 13 Pro for a little over a week, here is what I found.
Moving data from Android to iOS is accomplished by the “Move to iOS” app in the Google Play store. The app walks you through copying your messages, photos, email accounts, and other data from your Android to your iOS device during setup. While most of the process is accessible, the screen which prompts for what data you want to copy does not indicate what items are selected. This resulted in my first attempt transferring nothing. I selected an item, and nothing about it changed. So, assuming that everything was selected by default, I hit next, only to be greeted with an immediate transfer complete screen. After finishing setup I confirmed that nothing had in fact been transferred, so after resetting the iPhone again and restarting the process, I selected all the different items and got the transfer started. While things were transferring there was a progress bar and time estimate showing on the phones. After it completed, iPhone setup continued as normal. It’s important to note that apps do not transfer over. I wish it were possible to look at your purchased apps or offer to download the equivalent app from the iOS store, but that’s not likely very feasible.
Since apps don’t transfer over from Android, I had to re-download many of the apps that I use. This was easily done through my purchases on the App Store. As is the case for anyone when switching operating systems, some of my apps and all of my purchases don’t transfer over to iOS. This may mean you have to look for alternatives or purchase the same app again when using a new operating system.
One thing which stood out to me was how little on-device help there is for VoiceOver. There is an initial prompt for using the touch and slide gesture to get the home screen, but nothing else exists when VoiceOver first launches. In contrast, Android displays a very detailed tutorial the first time you launch TalkBack, even if you are on the very initial setup screen. Android has a clear advantage here because a Blind person can start to get familiar with TalkBack independently as soon as they pick up the phone. Once setup is complete, the VoiceOver settings screen has some basic info on the gestures to navigate, along with the VoiceOver practice area, but many concepts such as the rotor, VoiceOver actions, and many other gestures really aren’t explained in a way that new users will easily find it. iOS certainly has the edge in other help and training resources, such as the staff at Apple stores, AppleVis, and many other third-party books, audio tutorials and videos. But there is a lot of room for improvement in the area of on-device help and guidance.
After using the iPhone for a week, I noticed a number of little differences, some good and some bad, between the iPhone and the Android experience I’m used to. One thing I noticed almost immediately, and something I missed more than I thought I would, is battery announcements when plugging in or unplugging a charger. On Android, when a charger is plugged in, TalkBack announces something like “Charging Started battery seventy-two percent.” If you’re using a rapid charger, or a very slow one, TalkBack will also announce this and the estimated time to a full charge. The iPhone plays an audio alert when a charger is connected, but otherwise volunteers no information. I have found the Android notifications to be fairly accurate and very useful when I need to top off my battery before leaving work. I also noticed a few differences in typing. The iOS keyboard is definitely more responsive than the Android keyboard, which enables somewhat faster typing. However, if you have set up the Braille keyboard on Android, it automatically comes up whenever the keyboard is displayed. With iOS, it is necessary to enable the keyboard through the rotor, then use the rotor to move away again after you are done typing. Android also presents a very nice tutorial when the Braille keyboard is first launched, while iOS offers only a section in VoiceOver Practice. One point for iOS is that the Braille keyboard does a better job of adjusting to the orientation of the device. On Android, screen away mode requires the charge port to the right, and to the left in table top mode. iOS adjusts to which way you are holding the phone.
The iOS also makes much heavier use of VoiceOver actions. One example of this is in the YouTube app. On Android, after each video are buttons for opening the action menu and going to the channel that posted the video. With the iOS app, these are all VoiceOver actions. On one hand this is nice because there are many fewer flicks to move through a list of videos. This does create a potential barrier for newer users who are not comfortable or who don’t know about actions.
One potential concern on Android, which I noticed a lot more on iOS, is that Android doesn’t have a split tap gesture. Split tap is the act of moving one finger around the screen to find something, then using another finger, possibly with your other hand, to tap the screen and activate the item. Some users find this more effective when typing on the phone. This isn’t possible on Android since the phone will not recognize a tap away from the current finger. Android would also benefit greatly from a direct touch feature. On iOS, Direct Touch allows applications or games to implement their own gestures and functionality, while VoiceOver stops intercepting gestures. On Android it is still necessary to disable TalkBack entirely when using these apps.
Lastly, as of the time of this article, using a Braille display on iOS is far superior to Android. There are far more commands, and more displays are supported. The overall experience is also generally much more stable. The good news is that Google is actively working on improving Braille support, and we are expecting some news on that front soon.
These issues are just things I noticed, and you will need to judge how big a deal these are for you. For example, Split tap was never something I made significant use of, so it isn’t a big deal for me. That said, I know some people who rely heavily on it, so they may not want to switch at this time.
As we discussed, both Android and iOS are very viable operating systems for Blind users. Currently, if you rely on a Braille display, iOS is the clear choice, but that will hopefully be changing soon as Google works on improving TalkBack’s Braille support. As you consider your next smartphone, we encourage you to look at both platforms and consider which has the features that you care about most. We fully expect both Apple and Google to continue to improve their respective products moving forward, and both Android and iOS should remain compelling options for years to come.
For getting started with an Android phone, we recommend the following article from Google:
For getting started with an iPhone, we recommend this article from Apple Support:
by Lisa Irving
From the Editor: As we work to understand issues our members experience in addition to blindness, we also wrestle with the way in which blindness contributes and what we might do to make it less a barrier to equitable and quality treatment. I think we are nowhere near knowing what to do but are genuinely exploring what we may try to improve the situations blind people face while in psychiatric hospitals. Here is another article offering some insight on the treatment received while trying to navigate these facilities as a blind person:
I was moved and reminded of my re-traumatization when I was hospitalized for PTSD some years ago, and some experiences when I participated in an IOP, or Intensive Outpatient Program. I believe that NFB needs to recognize our overall misunderstanding of mental illness and persons living with mental illness. I also believe that our organization has the resources and strength to bring about positive change in this area.
Some statistics suggest that one in four persons live with a mental health disorder such as anxiety, the most common mental health disorder. I could elaborate and quantify the number of people living with depression, bipolar disorder, or other diagnosis. Let’s agree that many of us live with a mental health diagnosis. Some of us hide this fact because of stigmatization. I think Jolean O’Connell was courageous to candidly share some of her experiences (“Psychiatric Hospital Access Barriers: A Call for Change,” Braille Monitor, February 2022). Her story has encouraged me to contribute my own traumatizing experiences when I was hospitalized for severe PTSD and depression.
A year after I was subjected to domestic violence and intimate partner rape, I was hospitalized for PTSD triggered by what’s called an anniversary reaction. My cane was taken away, and I was given a walker. My hat with a wide brim that sinched under my chin was taken away—I wore the hat because I was photophobic. Paperwork was inaccessible. When I was discharged a few days later, I initially had no way of getting home, being hospitalized fifty miles from my home. Under typical circumstances, each of these offenses would have been more manageable. However, I was in crisis and in full-blown PTSD. Obviously, I wasn’t at my best. Additionally, the psychiatric facility had its safety protocols, and it had no idea about reasonable accommodations. To this day, I will never allow myself to be hospitalized. That’s how traumatizing my experience was for me.
About six years ago, I experienced a mental health crisis that left me with thoughts of suicide and depressed. I was referred to an excellent IOP for five months of group and individual therapy. Again, I was not at a good place to logically advocate for myself. Initially, the workbooks were not accessible. That was eventually resolved. I contend that, as a patient in crisis at that time, it was beyond me to work with others to acquire materials in alternative format. Forethought on the part of the IOP staff and others was needed. While in the program, staff were not supposed to touch patients. That rule didn’t apply to staff who routinely objectified me. The unexpected touching and grabbing were highly triggering at that time in my life. When I objected, I was seen as “oppositional.” At another point, while in group, an instructor was writing on a board. When I asked him to read what he had written, I was accused of “attention seeking.” I walked out of class because I was not in an emotionally stable place to deal with the instructor. I was later told that I was engaging in “avoidant behaviors.” Duhh! [an expression meaning one thinks a statement is stupid]
I think the worst experience happened when I met with the psychologist for individual counseling. She assumed that I had hangups about my blindness. I walked out of her office and never returned for individual counseling. To this day, I can feel the physical reactions to these events.
No patient, blind or sighted, should be retraumatized while hospitalized or receiving any form of mental health treatment, individual or group therapy, or Intensive Outpatient Program services. Mental health clinicians and auxiliary staff need to plan for patients with disabilities. Policies and procedures need to be developed and in place prior to providing treatment to blind or disabled individuals needing mental health services. The NFB’s Human Services Division deserves the full support and resources from the President, the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors, and all affiliates to ensure proper education of mental health professionals and reasonable accommodations for blind persons living with mental health challenges (mental illness). We must do all we can to see that facilities are prepared to support our population.
by Jerry Moreno
From the Editor: Jerry recently contributed an article in the December 2021 issue entitled “Seed to Harvest.” Here he is again with a wonderful offering in memory of our recently departed friend Joe Ruffalo. Here, as modified for Joe, is one of his favorite poems. Our thanks to Jerry for sending it to us with his loving tailoring so that it better fits our beloved Joe:
“A Tribute to Someone Else” was one of Joe Ruffalo's favorite poems. I have taken the liberty to modify it.
We were saddened to learn recently of the death of one of our most valued acquaintances, Someone Else. Someone's passing created a vacancy that will indeed be difficult to fill.
Else was with us for many years and for every one of those years did far more than a normal person's share of work. Whenever leadership was needed, this wonderful person was looked for to bring results. "Someone Else can work with that group." we all said.
Whenever there was a job to do, one name was on every list—Someone Else!
And it was common knowledge that Someone Else was generous toward volunteer organizations. If there was a financial need, everyone just assumed that Someone Else would make up the difference.
Were the truth known, we all expected far too much of Someone Else. Now Someone Else is gone! We wonder what we are going to do.
Someone Else left a model to follow, but we wonder—WHO is going to do all those things that Someone Else did.
That someone else was Joe Ruffalo. He would often say at times, “we are blinded by our ability to see”; “the more we try, the more we succeed.”
“Everything is impossible until you do it.”
“Keep believing. Keep dreaming. Keep learning. Let's work together. Let's make a difference!”
by Stewart Prost
From the Editor: Stewart Prost is the chairman of the NFB in Judaism Group. He is married to Debra, and they live in Virginia. They enjoy travel, eating out, going to the beach, swimming, going to plays, and watching movies.
Stewart’s list of activities and leadership reads like a who’s who, with long-term leadership in the NFB, his synagogue, and many civic organization. He knows what it means to be integrated and active in his community. Here is what he has to say about the traditions of his faith and religion as well as ideas about how to increase participation from the Jewish community:
For over two thousand years, Jewish people have migrated and lived in most nations throughout the world. Except for the modern state of Israel, Jews are a minority in all areas of the world, including the United States. Among people who identify as Jewish, there is a minority of persons with disabilities, and within that group there is another minority who are blind or have low vision. People who are blind and have low vision are a minority within a minority within a minority. You get the picture.
Judaism is more than just a religious faith. It is history, culture, family connections, and community. Like many other religious groups, Judaism is made up of different denominations. These denominations include Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Re-constructionist, and others. Each denomination has different traditions, practices, and approaches to what it means to be Jewish. This is no different from what you find in Christianity (e.g., Protestant, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Russian Orthodox).
When many people in synagogues and other Jewish institutions think about accommodating people with disabilities, the first thing that comes to their minds is making physical changes such as putting in wheelchair ramps. When it comes to people who are blind or have low vision, the one thing people always think about is magnifiers as a "one size fits all" solution. In many synagogues the prayer books used are not available in Braille or even in an electronic format for people with Braille notetakers. People think large print is the answer for everyone without normal vision. This is also the case with materials for Bible study and other learning opportunities. As blind people we wish to be equal participants in all aspects of Jewish life.
The NFB in Judaism Group was formed many years ago so that members and other blind people who happen to be Jewish can share concerns and ideas with each other and work to be part of their Jewish communities and the NFB. In addition to meeting during national conventions, the group has begun to meet using Zoom during the year.
One area of discussion for this group has been finding ways to reach out to other blind people who are Jewish, thus encouraging more Jewish people to become active NFB members.
In thinking about being as inclusive as possible, NFB national divisions, committees, state affiliates, and local chapters should consider the practices of observant or traditional Jews. A traditional or observant Jew is an individual who observes the practices of traditional Judaism. This includes most Orthodox, many Conservative, and some Reform Jews. However, these practices will vary from individual to individual. Here are general examples of traditional Jewish practices:
Observance of Shabbat (the Sabbath). Shabbat traditionally runs from just before sunset Friday evening to just after sunset Saturday evening. This time is considered holy by observant Jews and is therefore differentiated from the rest of the week. During this time, some people will not drive or use any motorized transportation, will not use electronics, will not conduct financial transactions, or will not attend to regular business activities. Again, these practices will vary from individual to individual and from denomination to denomination. (There have been some changes in practices due to the pandemic.) Traditional Jews follow these same practices during major holidays, which include the following:
NOTE: Jewish holidays do not occur on the same date every year. They are based on a lunar calendar, which is modified to keep each holiday within the same season of each year. Please consult the Diversity and Inclusion calendar developed by the NFB's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.
Special dietary practices, referred to as Kashrut or keeping Kosher: In general, this includes separation of milk and meat, not eating pork or shellfish, and eating meat that is produced in a special way. Some people who keep kosher will eat fish or vegetarian dishes outside the home or in kosher restaurants; others will not.
The items above are a very basic description of traditional Jewish practices and do not include everything, nor is it possible to go into detail about the thinking behind all of these practices. There are many Jews who do not follow all or even part of the practices of traditional Judaism.
Here are some suggestions that would make NFB activities more inclusive to observant Jews:
In areas of the country with high Jewish populations, have chapter or affiliate activities on Sunday afternoon or during the week rather than on Saturday. At the very least, when possible, avoid having activities on Saturday morning, since this is when services are held. (This would be the same as holding activities on Sunday morning when many Christians attend church services.) If at all possible, avoid holding NFB activities on major Jewish holidays.
If meals are a part of any activity, offer either to arrange for kosher food or at least a fish, vegetarian, or vegan option. If there are people who choose not to eat out in non-kosher settings, allow them to arrange or bring in their own food to enjoy with everyone else.
If invocations are a part of any NFB activity, Jewish members should be invited to lead some of the invocations.
The NFB should stand ready to advocate for our Jewish members to be full participants in all of its activities, as well as those of the Jewish community.
Jews are a minority in our country and in the NFB. Therefore, it may not always be possible to accommodate all of these practices. For example, a local chapter may not be able to meet on any day other than Saturday because of transportation. If a meeting must take place on a Saturday, having it in the afternoon would allow some Jewish members to attend after their morning services. If a national division, committee, or group cannot avoid having a meeting during a major Jewish holiday, schedule another session of the activity on a different day. This would increase participation in that activity.The NFB has a lot to offer blind people who happen to be Jewish. At the same time, those people have a lot to offer our organization. We need to do all we can to reach out to and include people who are a minority within a minority within a minority.
by Peggy Chong
From the Editor: Peggy Chong continues to change what we once thought we knew about the history of blind people. Certainly there were many who experienced lives far bleaker than they might have been, but Peggy makes it clear that this is not the whole story about blind people functioning in the world as they found it. Here is her latest offering:
This month I give you a short story about the full life of a blind Alabamian who left a legacy lasting over one hundred years after his death. The story is important not just because he was a remarkable blind person, but because he was a remarkable man.
John Stackhouse Laverty was born May 11, 1856, in Parkesburg, Pennsylvania. He was blinded at age thirteen while playing with a gun cap on a stove. Being a middle child in a well-to-do family of six children, John had ample support to stay safe at home with his parents and participate only in church and civic activities with other members of his family. But that was not the Laverty way.
John attended the Pennsylvania School for the Blind, where he finished his education in six years. He learned to read and write in Braille, learned to play piano, and excelled in math. He graduated in 1876 at the top of his class and began looking for employment.
John was hired by the Louisiana Institution for the Education of the Blind at Baton Rouge in 1877. An unsettled, new school, it took students between the ages of eight and thirty-five, focusing on grammar-school-level education and training for self-support. He married and began his family in Louisiana.
Six years later, John took a position as teacher of music at the school for the white blind in Talladega in 1883. Within a few years, he was being paid more than fifty dollars a month, more than some of the other male teachers. He introduced courses in piano tuning for the boys. Several of his students earned a comfortable living after graduating as tuners.
The first orchestra and band began under his supervision. He introduced classes in stringed instruments besides the piano to round out the band and orchestra, teaching the children to listen and cooperate musically as individuals and in a group.
For a blind man, John did well financially. Still, he set up his own piano tuning business on the side, no matter where he moved. His tuning business helped expand the tuning department at his schools. He played piano for many community functions. He invested in the Laverty Ore Banks Company and a local railroad in Talladega, but investing was not one of his greatest assets.
John opened a music store in Talladega in September of 1888. The store carried musical instruments such as pianos, guitars, and mandolins. Inventory also included sheet music, music boxes, sewing machines, and even “talking machines” or record players as they would later be known. Until the store made enough significant income to live on, he continued to teach at the school for the blind for twenty-one years, until 1904.
His home was his early music studio where he taught local individuals in cornet and other instruments. One of his first students was Lee De Forest, the father of radio. After John opened the store, classes were primarily given there. When a blind student of John’s showed promise as a piano tuner, he hired him in his stores. One student lasted for forty-five years.
All his children were musical. John taught them to play instruments at a young age. In 1895, John organized the Laverty band and orchestra that played for every political, community, and church activity around Talladega. Sixteen sighted members of the band shared equally in the program with solo opportunities. Among the members were his children. A favorite piece he wrote that was played by the band was the Margaretta Polka that he wrote in honor of his last child.
Their home attracted out-of-town visitors to Talladega. Fred Emerson Brooks, the poet, visited Talladega in 1895, was hosted at the Laverty home, and entertained with his poetry and humorous stories.
John opened a second store in Gadsden in 1905. Sons Charles and Robert joined the management of the Gadsden store. John traveled by himself to places as far away as New York to purchase pianos and organs regularly.
In 1913, John entered the Democratic primary to represent the Talladega area in the House of Representatives. The cause of the untrained, adult blind was his primary reason for running for office. Several men sought the Democratic nomination, but John won the appointment with his plea for the education of the adult blind. Well known in the community as an efficient and generous businessman, he secured the support and votes of the sighted.
John made it clear from the start that he had no financial interest, nor would he ever have, in the program his legislation created. His teaching days were over. Although his skills and honesty as an administrator were never in question, he refused to profit from the legislation.
John’s first bill was introduced within the first months of his service. It provided funding for services for a training school for the adult blind. The bill went through many compromises as it passed through the house and senate. He championed the cause of the lack of training for the adult blind by getting stories in local papers expressing the need for such schools. John sent typed copies of his speeches to editors across the state and of course Montgomery, the state capitol. News editors wrote editorials in support of a training school for the adult blind.
In a speech John wrote to one of his fellow legislators and ended up sending to all members of the legislature, the governor, and many newspapers, “The blind of Alabama do not ask for pity: they implore you to help them to become self-reliant by helping to give them an opportunity in the struggle of life.”
The bill passed and was targeted for white blind adults only. John himself did not exclude the “colored blind” but may have been confronted with the death of the bill if a provision for whites only was not included. He would not live to see the day when colored blind men and women of Alabama received rehabilitation services.
John served in the legislature from 1915 to 1919. Committee assignments included the powerful Appropriations Committee and Education Committee. His wife accompanied him to the capitol and served as his reader. John typed up his own speeches and letters to be presented to his sighted companions, his constituents, and the media. He died August 2, 1921, after a short illness at his summer home. He left his business to his sons, who passed it on and on for five generations. A great-granddaughter of John’s still gives presentations on her great-grandfather John Laverty and family, highlighting their contribution to Alabama.
At-Home COVID-19 Test Template Letter:
The NFB has created a sample letter members can use or modify when advocating at the state level for distribution of accessible at-home COVID-19 tests. The template letter is available at https://nfb.org/resources/covid-19-resources/covid-19-home-test-information. Please coordinate with your affiliate and chapter presidents if you intend to send a letter to your local government officials.
East Valley Chapter Elections:
The National Federation of the Blind of Arizona's East Valley Chapter held its elections on January 15, and we elected Megan Homrighausen, president; Mark Feliz, first vice president; Justin Hughes, second vice president; Tony Sohl, secretary; Jenny Kasl, treasurer; and board members Connie Ryan, Matt Mazak. Thanks to all of you for your willingness to lead and encourage.
Lincoln Chapter Elects Officers and Directors:
Elections were held at the February meeting of the National Federation of the Blind of Nebraska’s Lincoln Chapter. Elected were Jamie Richey, president; Nancy Coffman, first vice president; Amy Eidenmiller, second vice president; Audra Kramer, treasurer; Tammy Freitag, secretary; and board members Maura Loberg, Cheryl Livingston, and Christine Boone. Congratulations to the 2022 Lincoln Chapter board. We all look forward to working with the chapter and the community to better the lives of the blind in Nebraska!
Social Security Administration Kiosks:
The NFB continues to monitor the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) implementation of our 2020 settlement agreement regarding visitor-intake-processing kiosks. With SSA field offices recently reopening, we are gathering information about the accessibility of SSA’s current visitor-intake-processing methods. If you have visited an SSA field office since their reopening in April 2022, please contact Valerie Yingling at 410-659-9314, extension 2440, or [email protected] to share your experience. We are specifically gathering information on whether the field offices are using kiosk, web-based, or human check-in processes, and whether these processes are accessible to blind individuals.
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.
Braille Circulating Library Adds New Books:
Whether you prefer audio books or the feel of a book on your lap and words on the page, the Braille Circulating Library is ready to help you!
Founded over ninety-five years ago, the Library loans both Braille and audio material. Recent additions to the Braille collection include a fiction series and a nonfiction book.
The series, Forever Faithful, by the popular Christian fiction writer Karen Kingsbury, consists of three books and is available for loan in Unified English Braille. Titles include Waiting for Morning, A Moment of Weakness, and Halfway to Forever. If you’ve suffered tragic loss of family or painful separation from beloved childhood friends, you may identify with the characters as you walk through these circumstances with them.
The book Love and Respect, by Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, presents a refreshing view of these basic elements of the marriage relationship. It too, is available in Unified English Braille.
Having been in existence for several decades, the Library also carries many books in standard Braille. There is no membership fee, and all loans are free of charge.
The Library’s website, Braillecirculatinglibrary.org, is an online extension of the Library that was designed for better navigation for those who use assistance software such as JAWS. There, you’ll find the catalog listings and useful links, and you’ll also be able to view the many inspirational items available for loan in Braille and audio formats. By registering on the site, you’ll also be able to access the online audio library.There are several ways to contact the Library. From the site you have the ability to send a message through the contact page. However, if you prefer not to use a computer, give the library a call at 804-359-3743, or send an email to [email protected]. Whichever method you choose to make contact with the Braille Circulating Library, you’ll find a unique variety of resources not available elsewhere. We look forward to hearing from you!
Tune: “As Those Caissons Go Rolling Along”
Words by the Sligo Creek Chapter of the NFB of Maryland
Over hill, over dale, we have hit the concrete trail,
As our white canes go tapping along.
Down the block, cross the street, walking on our own two feet,
As our white canes go tapping along.
On the job or at home, wherever we may roam,
Yes, independent and free, NFB!
We can find our way at night or in the day,
As our white canes go tapping along.
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.