Braille Monitor               August/September 2022

(back) (contents) (next)

The 2022 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards

by Everette Bacon

From the Editor: Brave, pioneering, and full of perseverance would begin to draw the picture of Dr. Jacob Bolotin. Decisive, hardworking, and thrilled with their task would describe the committee that selects the winners of the annual awards that recognize Dr. Bolotin. Here is the ceremony that took place to honor the pioneers and innovators of today who are recognized for their work, Dr. Bolotin's example, the generosity of Dr. Bolotin's family, and the hopes for blind people that all of this represents:

Everette BaconEVERETTE BACON: Welcome, Federationists, to the fifteenth annual Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards! Are you excited? [cheering and applause] All right, I know I am.

How many of you in this room have read The Blind Doctor? [applause] Good, I'm glad to hear it. It's a fabulous book about a man who has faced so much adversity in his life. Starting from birth when he was first recognized as being blind, he faced bullying and discrimination in his early years. Then, when he went on to public school, he faced tons of discrimination and not being able to get his materials. Then, when he went on to college, he was kicked out, it was said he'd never make it, he had to fight his way through and get his materials. Then, when he gets out of college, he announces that he wants to become a medical doctor, and he has to fight with programs to get into medical school, gets denied, gets told he's not going to be able to get there, and he makes sure to never lose that ambition, lose that tenacity. He gets there eventually and becomes a medical doctor.

After he becomes a medical doctor, he tries to get hired. What does he get told? No, we can't hire you. You're blind. We can't hire a blind doctor. Finally, he gets to the point where he's a practicing medical doctor, and he gets to where he's running a veterans services hospital in Chicago, Illinois.

This man was the epitome of what the National Federation of the Blind stood for before there was ever a National Federation of the Blind. I believe this man put the militant in NFB! He was militant before any of us were militant! This is an exciting book. It's an honor to be able to present this award in his name.

We are so excited about the different honorees that you're going to hear about in just a second. We have five outstanding honorees for the 2022 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. Will, why don't you run that tape! [video playing]

NARRATOR: Federationists and guests, The National Federation of the Blind is proud to introduce the 2022 recipients of our Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards, made possible in part by the generous support of the Alfred and Rosalyn Pearlman Trust and the Santa Barbara Foundation. These individuals and organizations have broken down barriers faced by blind people in innovative ways, changed negative perceptions of blindness and blind people, and pushed past existing boundaries to inspire blind people to achieve new heights.

The three individual winners are: Caroline Karbowski, founder of See3D.

CAROLINE: See3D is a 501c[3] nonprofit that I started back in 2017 when I was in high school, and we organized the printing and distribution of 3D printed models for blind people. We send them to people, mainly in the United States, but all over the world. We've sent them to people in seventeen countries and twenty-seven states.

The Bolotin Award Winners: Shanta Danielle Arul and Elisa Beniero of Netflix, Jenetta Price of Blind Girl Magic, Everette Bacon (presenter), Caroline Karbowski of See3D, Tyler Merren of ReVision Fitness, and Karen Anderson accepting for 64 Ounce Games.

So I saw an article when I was in eighth grade about 3D printing telescope and microscope images so blind people could make their own scientific observations and not just have to rely on descriptions made by sighted people on the scientific data. They were 3D printing labels of the telescope and microscope images. When I saw those photos, I thought, "Wow, like I know Braille; I can use my Braille skills to add Braille to 3D models. Because in eighth grade a lot of people were asking me, why are you learning Braille? You're a sighted person; you don't need this. I was always looking to find some extra uses to apply my Braille skills, so seeing this article really inspired me then to think about 3D printing. My high school had 3D printers, and I wanted people to use them. A lot of my friends wanted to use them, but we weren't sure what to make. They were just devices that we had. So I thought, well why don't we make models for blind people, and I can add some Braille labels to them, and we can submit the idea to our tech competition that happens for high schools each year in Cincinnati, Ohio. So I had my tech club work on having a website, and they made some models that they designed. I worked with my mom, who had some friends who are TVI's, and we gave models to their students. I met some blind people in Cincinnati just by chance. I just happened to see them in the community, and I told them about my project, and they connected me with the NFB. Some people wrote articles about See3D that really helped us gain more publicity so more people knew about our program. It all started out by us posting a website with a Google form where people could make requests for models and we'd print them at our high school. Then people would give us feedback on the models, and we've improved them since then.

Now, being at OSU, which is Ohio State University, we then got funding to become a nonprofit, really develop our program, and now we ship models all over the world and have a community of people who 3D print and distribute models.

Tyler Merren, athlete, trainer, and founder of ReVision Fitness:

TYLER: It's extremely difficult for someone who is blind and visually impaired to get their hands on the knowledge and experience that they need for doing regular fitness. I knew this from my experience learning through classes, but I realized how much of a need there was out there. A few years ago, I started tumbling around this idea in my head, the idea of creating a fitness program specifically for people who were blind and visually impaired. I started talking to some people and doing some interviews of folks who had gone before me and made the same attempts and learned what worked and what didn't. Now I have a project up and running called ReVision Fitness, and it's a fitness program specifically designed to help people who are blind and visually impaired step into the fitness world and not just step into it but advance as well.

Jeanetta Price, blind poet and founder of Blind Girl Magic:

JEANETTA: Blind Girl Magic is the type of magic that struts in the room with her white cane extended, her hips shifting like the motion of the eyes of the sighted. Who would have guessed that this blind girl possessed magic? Abracadabra.

Now that you're convinced that I have magical superpowers, would a supernatural add so much as well? That would, will be, a yes for success.

As I leap over obstacles in life, dodge negativity, slam misconceptions of society, slap "I can't" in the face with "I did that," is the fact that Blind Girl Magic goes back to Harriet Tubman. [cheering in the crowd] Yes, way back to Harriet Tubman. She was born into slavery, escaped to freedom, but she did not stop. She went back and back and back to lead others to freedom. Blind Girl Magic is built on the shoulders of phenomenal women. Blind Girl Magic is the independent movement that is leading our blind sisters to freedom from depression, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, anger, bitterness, rejection. Then, abracadabra; you are set free. Blind Girl Magic lives within me. [applause.]

Our two organizational winners are 64 Ounce Games, for advancing inclusion in Braille literacy through accessible play. Here are the company cofounders, Richard and Emily Gibbs:

RICHARD: 64 Ounce Games is the campaign that designs what we've been calling accessibility kits. We do a lot of other things now, but that's where we started. An accessibility kit is used once you purchase a retail game, and then you purchase a copy of our accessibility kit. It has Braille stickers, 3D printed pieces, board overlays—anything that might be required for that particular game in order to play. These are board games; don't get them confused with video games. We don't do that; I don't know how to program enough to make that happen.

EMILY: So our accessibility kits take a board game off the shelf, and you put it together with our kit to make a completely accessible game.

RICHARD: We're firm believers in Braille. We believe that Braille gaming is Braille literacy. My wife is a teacher of blind students, I know the Braille code myself and have been using it for years. We are firm believers that Braille opens up opportunities, and by making these games accessible, we hope by extension that we are making people realize that Braille is useful and Braille is important, and Braille offers opportunities that you would not get otherwise.

EMILY: Absolutely. One of the major tenets of our company and what we want to do is support Braille literacy, and we firmly believe that through fun and through games is one of the best ways to learn Braille.

NARRATOR: Our other organizational winner is Netflix, for excellence in audio description, accessibility, and disability representation. Here is dubbing and accessibility team member, Elisa Beniero.

ELISA: Since Daredevil launched in May 2015, our library has grown exponentially, not only in English but in other languages as well. We have started providing audio description in other languages, starting with Narcos, which had audio description in neutral Spanish, and then we had Marseilles, which was in French. The number of local audio description titles is constantly growing with the number of local productions. I don't know if you know this, but we have created at least one audio description in over fifty languages. Our latest addition was Pashto audio description, which we created for a short documentary, Three Songs for Benazir, (
and we're currently working on Punjabi audio description which will be available later this year for a thriller that is going to launch about longtime gangs and their rivalries in the south of Punjab. So we're excited for all this growth that we have. At the moment we have 18,146 hours of audio description, and I checked this morning and we have 18,000 hours of audio-described programming and of these 11,728 are in English.

NARRATOR: These winners will each receive a trophy and a monetary prize to advance their work to help blind people live the lives we want. Now the National Federation of the Blind proudly presents them with their 2022 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. [applause]

EVERETTE BACON: What an outstanding group of award winners. Aren't you excited! [applause]

Great. We received over fifty applications for this year's award. So if you did not get an award or the person or organization you nominated did not, you can do that again next year. The Rosalind and Alfred Perlman Trust is so awesome and gives us the ability to give these awards each year, so again, please continue to send in those applications. We want to give them, individual or organizational awards.

Now I want to recognize the committee members who helped me choose these award recipients. Mary Ellen Jernigan of Maryland, Dr. Natalie Shaheen of Illinois, Second Vice President Ron Brown of Indiana, Steve Jacobson of Minnesota, and new board member-elect Donald Porterfield of Arizona. [applause] Now before we go to the awards and how much they're getting, let's read what is on their trophy. Beth:

BETH BRAUN: “Presented to” applicant “by the National Federation of the Blind and the Santa Barbara Foundation, July 2022.” There's a medallion at the top of the award, and one side of that medallion reads: “Dr. Jacob Bolotin,” and then there is his likeness, “1888-1924,” and then the inscription below that reads: "Celebrating his life, the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust." The back of the medallion says: "The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award," then there's the NFB logo, and it says: "Celebrating Achievement, Creating Opportunity."

EVERETTE BACON: Thank you, Beth. We'll do the individual awards first. The first winner, winning the amount of $5,000, Caroline Karbowski! [cheering and applause] Eric Duffy, who nominated her, said this: "She does not ask if it is possible for a blind person to accomplish a specific task. Rather, instead, she asks, ‘How can we make this task more accessible?’” [cheering] Caroline, congratulations.

CAROLINE: Thank you so much.

EVERETTE BACON: Our next award winner, again, winning the amount of $5,000, Tyler Merren, ReVision Fitness. [cheering and applause] Now, J.J. Meddaugh, who nominated Tyler, says this: "We've known blind people for many years who have mastered fitness, workouts, and athletics. That part isn't new. What Tyler has done, however, is create a platform that is usable and applicable to people at any level of fitness. Where previously you would need to find an existing fitness coach or someone willing to explain various workouts, Tyler has brought this information into an engaging and accessible app which can be used by virtually anyone at any time. Whether it's a simple exercise like a pushup, or a more advanced routine, the app likely has you covered." [cheering and applause] Tyler, here you go my friend, congratulations.

TYLER: Thank you, I really appreciate this, thank you.

EVERETTE BACON: Our next and final individual award winner is Jeanetta Price of Blind Girl Magic. [cheering and applause] Jeanetta, we are giving a $15,000 award to you. [cheering] Blind Girl Magic provides blind support groups, workshops, and retreats that taps into the magic of a world of out-of-sight possibilities. Her mission in life is to help others tap into their vision by utilizing writing as an instrument of healing. She volunteers by sharing her gift of poetry in person that inspires the blind community and beyond. Jeanetta Price, congratulations, my friend.

JEANETTA: Thank you.

EVERETTE BACON: Now we'll go on to our organizational winners. The first one is something that's been near and dear to my heart because I've been using their services since 2006—actually, no, sorry, let me take that back—Since 2003, when a certain Blockbuster Video fired me. I immediately cut up my membership and joined Netflix. I've been a member ever since! [applause.] And I've watched them bring audio description and all kinds of other accessibility to their platform. So I'm so honored and excited to give them this award.

Netflix is an honorarium award. They told us they didn't want to take any funding, but they're excited to receive the award. They want to put the funding back into the National Federation of the Blind. [applause] Not only does Netflix guarantee audio description (AD) for all its original content, but it listens to blind customers and is adding audio description to other popular series such as Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Netflix offers audio description in numerous languages and even offers AD in English for some of its foreign titles.

Whenever the organized blind has brought an issue to Netflix, such as making Squid Game accessible with English AD [cheering] or offering guidance on screenplays featuring a blind character, Netflix has listened. Netflix even has an upcoming feature that will have an authentic blind person playing a blind character! [cheering and applause] How is that for authenticity! [applause] Elisa and Shanta, this is such a pleasure to give to you. Thank you.

Now, our final organizational award winner: 64 Ounce Games! [applause] We are awarding 64 Ounce Games with our largest award, $20,000. [applause] Karen Anderson, who nominated them, said this: "We in the National Federation of the Blind know that Braille and tactile literacy open endless possibilities, and for nearly a decade, 64 Ounce Games has worked to unlock that world of possibilities and fun by putting Braille and tactile graphics at the fingertips of more blind children and adults. To do so in a fun and engaging way, they created and sell accessibility kits that, when paired with a mainstream game sold at any retailer, make that game fully accessible!" [cheering and applause] So, unfortunately, Richard and Emily Gibbs, who are the owners of 64 Ounce Games, contracted COVID a couple of days ago and had to go home. Now, accepting their award and making sure that they'll get their award is Karen Anderson, who nominated them. [cheering and applause]

Thank you, Karen. Emily, are you there?

EMILY: Yes, we're here.

EVERETTE BACON: Would you like to say a few words, Emily?

RICHARD: I'm here as well, this is Richard Gibbs. Thank you so much for this honor. We're happy to be able to be here with you today virtually. We want to thank our family, especially both of our parents, who have supported us over the years. They've helped us to make more games for BELL Academy, they've been invaluable to help with our five kids, and despite being skeptical, they trusted us when we left two days after our wedding to start a new adventure in a small city. Perhaps you've heard of it—Ruston, Louisiana! [cheering and applause] There, Emily completed her TBS. We made many blind friends, and we saw the need for accessible board games in this community. In particular, we'd like to thank Dr. Ruby Riles, who is the reason that we both know Braille. From there we moved on to teaching, and eventually we found ourselves on a new mission—to help make the games that I love accessible.

EMILY: Our initial Kickstarter found support in the sighted board game community and the organized blind movement. So many people in this room have helped make our dream a reality. We have always had the support of our Federation family. Rachel Olivero, and Karen Anderson have been there from the very beginning supporting and playing our games. We would not be here today without their confidence in us. The Texas affiliate—especially Norma and Glenn Crosby—they have been our play testers and our advisors from the very start. We intend to use this award to continue to bring games to the blind community, to expand our Braille teaching tools, and to refine our tactile graphics. We have big plans for the future. Thank you again.

EVERETTE BACON: Let's give all of these winners a huge Federation cheer! Mr. President, these are the 2022 Bolotin Awards.

(back) (contents) (next)