Vol. 66, No. 4 April 2023
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]
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.
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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.
There are plenty of reasons one might travel to Houston, Texas, the fourth most populous city in the United States. One might visit for the nearly three-week-long Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The city’s vibrant arts scene boasts the largest concentration of theater seats outside of New York City. And no Houston resident would let a visitor forget that the city is home to the 2022 World Series Champion Houston Astros. There is little question that Houston has a great deal going for it. The city’s real draw, however, is that it will play host to the National Federation of the Blind’s 2023 National Convention.
It has now been more than fifty years since the largest gathering of the organized blind last convened in Houston, Texas, and our return in 2023 will be an event not to be missed. The Hilton Americas-Houston hotel (1600 Lamar Street, Houston, TX 77010) will serve as our convention headquarters hotel. Situated in the heart of downtown Houston across the street from the beautiful twelve-acre Discovery Green Park, the Hilton Americas is an ideal location for our annual event. Ballrooms, breakout space, and sleeping rooms are all stacked in the same tower housed on a single city block, simplifying navigation and minimizing travel distances. In-room internet is complimentary to all attendees as is access to the health club and swimming pool on the 22nd floor. There are several dining options on the hotel’s lobby level (including a Starbucks for those of you requiring a caffeine fix) and many more choices within easy walking distance from the Hilton’s front door.
The nightly rate at the Hilton Americas-Houston is $119 for singles, doubles, triples, and quads. In addition, the sales tax rate is 8.25 percent, and the hotel occupancy tax rate is 17 percent. To book your room for the 2023 convention, call 1-800-236-2905 after January 1 and ask for the “NFB Convention” block. For each room, the hotel will take a deposit of the first night’s room rate and taxes 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, 2023, half of the deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.
We have also secured overflow space at the wonderful Marriott Marquis Houston. The Marriott is only a three-block walk directly across Discovery Green, or attendees can walk entirely indoors through the George R. Brown convention center, connecting both hotels on the second level. You will find many of the same amenities at the Marriott as well as a Texas-shaped lazy river pool. The room rate at the Marriott Marquis is also $119 per night for singles, doubles, triples, and quads. To book a room, call 1-877-622-3056 after January 1. Again, ask for the “NFB Convention” block. Similarly, the same deposit and cancellation policies apply.
The 2023 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement. A wide range of seminars for parents of blind children, technology enthusiasts, job seekers, and other groups will kick the week off on Saturday, July 1. Convention registration and registration packet pick-up will also open on Saturday. Breakout sessions continue on Sunday along with committee meetings. Monday, July 3, will kick off with the annual meeting, open to all, of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. National division meetings will follow the board meeting that afternoon and evening. General convention sessions will begin on Tuesday, July 4, and continue through the afternoon of Thursday, July 6. Convention ends on a high note with the banquet Thursday evening so be sure to pack your fancy clothes. The fall of the gavel at the close of banquet will signal convention’s adjournment.
Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a rule, we ask that prizes of all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not include alcohol. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a Texas-sized grand prize to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you to convention or send them in advance to the National Federation of the Blind of Texas at 1600 E Highway 6, Suite 215, Alvin, TX 77511.
The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made—all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2023 National Convention. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, make your reservations early. We plan to see you in Houston in July.
Vol. 66, No. 4 April 2023
Houston, We Don’t Have a Problem
by Norma Crosby
Celebrating 2023 Women’s History Month: Two Women Share a Historical Position on how a Leader in the National Federation of the Blind has Helped to Shape their Vision into Reality
by Suzanne Turner and Rachel Kuntz
Growing My Federation Heart Started with a Scholarship
by Kinshuk Tella
We Need Your Help
Normality: The Key to Low Expectations
by Cricket Bidleman
A Moving Report from the Director of the National Library Service for the Print-Disabled
by Jason Broughton
Accessible Pharmacy Labeling in Each State
by Sharla Glass
NFB BELL® Academy: Raising Expectations, Changing Lives
by Karen Anderson
Federal Tech Is Inaccessible, but Now Blind People Can Do Something about It
by Eve Hill
Supreme Action to Shatter Low Expectations: Living Blind and Serving on the Bench
by Richard Bernstein
Cooking Is My Passion
by Regina Mitchell
The Right to Participate Fully in Twenty-First Century America
by Anne Raish
by David Andrews
Lessons from my Federation Family
by Cassie McNabb McKinney
Copyright 2023 by the National Federation of the Blind
by Norma Crosby
From the Editor: Norma Crosby requires little introduction given she is the treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind and the president of our Texas Affiliate. If you had any doubts about whether there are things to see and do in Houston in addition to our annual convention, read on:
H-Town and Space City are just two of the names you’ll hear used for Houston. This dynamic city may be a little different from what you imagine. Do people wear hats and boots? Well, some do. Do we all ride horses? Mostly during the trail rides associated with the world’s biggest rodeo. Oh, and some of our police officers in the downtown area ride them as well, but most people drive cars or take the bus or train. Do we all speak with a Texas drawl? Not really. Lots of folks from other parts of the country and around the world move to Houston every day, and about 145 languages are spoken here. So, some of us sound like we were born here, but what Houston sounds like is changing.
Houston is a city with a world-class symphony, ballet, opera, and theater scene. It is the epitome of southern cool, with a food scene that is the envy of most American cities. It is a mix of old and new, oil barons and tech geniuses. It boasts the world’s largest medical center, and best of all, it is host to the 2023 convention of the National Federation of the Blind.
As every Braille Monitor reader knows, the Hilton Americas is the headquarters hotel for the convention, and it sits just across the street from the twelve-acre Discovery Green Park. Discovery Green is a mix of beautiful gardens, art installations, and family-friendly fun. It plays host to free musical events, yoga classes, and a playground for the kids. There is a scent garden, the listening vessels, weekly jazz concerts, and more. There are two restaurants in the park. They are The Grove and The Lake House. This oasis in the middle of downtown is not to be missed, and you can walk to everything it has to offer from either the Hilton or the Marriott Marquis, our overflow hotel. For more information, go to discoverygreen.com.
Of course, Houston’s 665 square miles offers much more than Discovery Green, and I’ll tell you a little more about some attractions you might want to visit while in town. Some of what I’ll describe will be nearby, and, fair warning, some won’t. We have a saying here, and hearing it might help you understand what traveling around Houston is like. We say, “It takes an hour to get to Houston from Houston.” That means it is a spread-out city, y’all. With that in mind, here are some things to know about visiting Houston.
Space Center Houston is a main attraction in Space City. It sits approximately twenty-five miles south of downtown and has daily tours. Our affiliate is working to develop a scheduled tour with transportation to and from the Center. For more information, check our website at nfbtx.org, after May 1.
Galveston isn’t inside the vast area that is Houston. In fact, it is about fifty miles South, but I am mentioning it here because we know some of our members use convention time as vacation time. Galveston is Houston’s playground, and it is a great place to visit if you love the beach, waterparks, shopping, rides, and more. We aren’t likely to be able to arrange a tour because, even though it’s close, you’ll probably want to spend more than one day there. We recommend that you look at Galveston.com to decide what you want to do while you are there. You can also call our office at 281-968-7733 for suggestions about Galveston. We go every chance we get.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science (HMNS) is working with our affiliate to make sure visitors have a great time when they visit. We are planning to provide a tour on Saturday, July 1, and other activities associated with the museum may happen throughout the week. The museum’s King Tut exhibit includes an accessible 3-D piece built by John Olson and his team at 3-D Photo Works, and that exhibit will be available during our tour. The staff at HMNS wants to make our members feel welcome just as our affiliate does. So we hope you’ll join us for the tour we have planned. You’ll be able to learn more about registering and paying for your tour on our website, nfbtx.org, after May 1.
The Children’s Museum of Houston has been rated the number one children’s museum in the nation by Parents magazine. With over 90,000 feet of interactive exhibit space, kids twelve and under are welcome to explore all the museum has to offer, and their parents are welcome too.
The world champion Houston Astros play baseball less than a half mile from our hotel, and while I’m not encouraging you to miss the great evening activities and meetings, I will say that the Astros will be home on the weekend following our convention. We are currently exploring the possibility of getting a group together for the game versus the Seattle Mariners scheduled for July 7. If you’re interested, let me hear from you. Just send a quick email to [email protected], with the subject line “I want to see a great baseball game.” You can write beautiful prose about your love for the Astros in the body of the email, and I’ll touch base with you if there is enough interest to get a group together. A decision will be made by May 15, so respond soon.
I’ve told you some about what you can do while you are here, but let me give a short bit of advice for getting here. Houston has two airports. George Bush Intercontinental Airport is north of the city. It is approximately twenty-two miles from our hotel. William P. Hobby Airport, commonly called Hobby, is less than ten miles from the hotel. If you are flying, you’ll save cab or rideshare fares by flying into Hobby if you can. If you live close enough to ride a bus or a train, both the Greyhound station and the train station are located downtown. In fact, the Greyhound station is so close that your driver may not be super happy about the one-mile trip.
President Riccobono and our team at the national office, the Texas affiliate, and everyone who is planning a meeting or seminar are all working hard to make certain you leave the convention with a renewed spirit and a desire to go and build the Federation. The City of Houston is determined to welcome our members with open arms, and we promise you’ll leave town reinvigorated for the coming year.Come back next month for more information about what to expect at NFB 2023, and go to nfbtx.org after May 1 for tour information. Feel free to call our office with questions before the convention. We can’t wait to see all of you in Houston, and we will enjoy hearing from you before you get here.
by Suzanne Turner and Rachel Kuntz
From the Editor: This is an interesting perspective on celebrating Women’s History Month, an unexpected thank-you at an unexpected time. What a tribute to the person they celebrate and we give a tribute to them for doing this. This article is one in which a man is thanked for his commitment to the cause of women in employment:
Suzanne Turner is a member of the NFB Employment Committee from the Ohio affiliate and here are her thoughts.
The slogan “behind every great man there's a woman” was adopted in the 1960/70s feminist movement, first having been used in the 1940s. The implication behind the saying is that the great woman is often ignored or taken for granted. Since that time, women have been making enormous strides, and that motto today is now a humorous cliché. Although women are continuing to fight for equality in every aspect, there are men who have aided them in that pinnacle fight. Those men who help you to raise your expectations, seize your potential, and help to shape your future are a value to women’s history. Therefore, I want to take liberty in turning the tables on the slogan to talk about a great man behind two blind women.
The month of March gives recognition to women across the world who have achieved significant contributions. The 2023 theme is "Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories." This theme recognizes "women, past and present, who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, news, and social media."
As I write this article, it is only fitting that I share with a dear and honored friend in its creation. She and I respect and are grateful for the National Federation of the Blind for supporting our groundbreaking ideas. Although we reside in affiliates on separate coasts across the country, we serve together in spirit. We also share in the love for inspiring, the hope to motivate, and the determination to make a difference in the lives of the blind. However, our greatest privilege is to work within the framework of the Employment Committee chaired by Dick Davis, who is blind at heart.
In 2011 I met Dick at a national convention by attending my first employment seminar. I was elated to be in the room with those who were collaborating on solutions for assisting the blind with employment opportunities. I left refreshed, reborn, and ready to pull up my sleeves and get to work. As a benefit counselor and employment coordinator at a nonprofit, I knew that talking about sourcing for jobs was cheap. Needless to say, I had a plan and pitched it to Dick. He graciously gave me the green light to facilitate a job fair at the 2012 National Convention. There were twelve employers providing on the spot interviews and taking resumes. Although I am not sure if any of the attendees back then were successful, it was the start of what now is the National Federation of the Blind Career Fair. In 2022 over thirty employers were present, hosting over one hundred job applicants. Consequently, each year there are three National Federation of the Blind Career Fairs that are open to all job seekers within and outside the Federation.
Dick Davis is the innovator for creating seminars on resume writing, job preparation, upper mobility, and more. He has created a network of successful blind individuals who are committed and dedicated to assist the blind with getting, keeping, advancing, and regaining a job. Moreover, his article on the “70 Percent Solution” states that, “Employers don’t want to know what they can do for a blind job applicant; they want to know what the applicant can do for them.” This is why the Employment Committee’s focus is driven by communicating the importance of interpersonal skills, mobility training, self-care, self-work, tolerance, and work direction, which mirrors a vocational prospective.
Dick gave me an ability to share a dream that had been festering within for years. I am an African-American blind female who was a victim of Section 14(c) who found herself packing spoons and forks in a box for less than the minimum wage in 1985. I was told that I would never be a competitive employee and this by someone who should have provided me with an informed choice. After all, I graduated at the top of my class in high school and was accepted into the University of Alabama. Despite those setbacks in the workshop, I obtained a graduate degree, retired twice from the federal sector, and now am living the life I want. Dick took a chance on me, giving me an opportunity to prove that my talents and energy were valued. Without the man behind this woman, I would not be completely invested in the Federation. His confidence in my abilities has not waivered. I have known Dick over a decade, and his leadership is a treasure. His manners and civility should be taught since it is such an important life skill in how we relate to one another. He has the ability to disagree without disrespecting the opposing side, then offering a resolution. Dick truly cares about people.
As I stated, there are two women that have been affected by Dick’s influence, discipline, and dedication. In 2016 during the Ohio annual state convention, I invited him to participate in a panel discussion called “Career Building Exchange Symposium” where he and six experienced professionals in blindness discussed topics on career exploration, sourcing and networking, and the importance of the first impression to name a few. Dick also spoke to the general assembly, introducing programs and services at BLIND Inc. His dialog captured the imagination of a young woman who was newly blind and exploring her vocational options. Rachel Kuntz was captivated by his presentation and soon enrolled as a student at BLIND Inc. She was so impressive that the organization made her a job offer. After accepting, Rachel is thriving professionally and fulfilling her purpose as a confident and successful blind woman.
So, the great man behind the two women from Ohio has extended greatness within us by providing equality, security, and opportunity, yes to Rachel and me, but also to the Employment Committee and blind job seekers everywhere. It is Dick’s passion for the blind that binds us together because he has shown us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves; we are colleagues determined to help transform dreams into reality.
Rachel Kuntz is also a member of the Employment Committee from the Arizona Affiliate and here is her tribute.
As Suzanne has thoughtfully noted, Dick Davis has been instrumental in changing the course of my life. At the 2016 Ohio affiliate convention, I was carefully reviewing my list of things to do, and I was interrupted by a man who wanted to tell me a joke. I cannot remember the joke now, but I do remember that I was so busy and focused that the joke went over like a lead balloon. Who was this ill-timed jokester? I am sure that you could guess that it was none other than Dick Davis.
Since our first meeting, Dick has never wavered in his support of me and wholeheartedly encourages my ambitions. I am privileged to call him a mentor and friend. I will never forget how Dick cared for me during those early days of COVID quarantine while my family lived states away. His occasional visits bringing me dinner made it possible to endure the isolation. I can never repay him for his acts of kindness. He and his wife Pat have been an important part of my life now for eight years.
Suzanne mentioned some of Dick’s many accomplishments that have been a key component to the success of the Employment Committee and job seekers. I am going to take a moment to enlighten readers to lesser known work he does behind the scenes. On any given day Dick will receive dozens of phone calls, text messages, and hundreds of emails that will ask him for help with their resume, job search, or job interview. No matter what he is doing at any given moment, Dick will stop to give a job seeker a few words of encouragement and helpful advice. If you have ever reviewed the jobs list, you will no doubt note the volume of work this has entailed over the years.
Dick has taken many road trips to visit with an employer or business interested in hiring a blind person for the first time. He has a straightforward way about him that makes the employer feel as though they have known him forever. Dick is tremendous at creating opportunities at places like FedEx and elsewhere, assuring them that with the appropriate accommodations blind people are capable of working on the same level as their sighted employees. This action alone has opened more doors than could be counted in our community.
Dick, who came to the organization by working for Kenneth Jernigan in Iowa, holds a steadfast belief in the limitless potential of blind people. I can only imagine that throughout his tenure as the Employment Committee chair, he has helped thousands of people gain the knowledge and courage to land that first job. This year, he is at last passing the torch to a new Employment Committee chair. Because of his legacy of success, we know that he has left every aspect of the committee strong and prepared for the next generation of leadership. Thank you, Dick, for all that you have done for our community and for continuing to be the great man behind great women like Suzanne and me.
by Kinshuk Tella
From the Editor: This article is gratefully reprinted from The Voice of the Nation's Blind, Monday, March 7, 2022. As you can tell from the title, the author is a winner of a national scholarship, but there is so much more that he reveals. If I had to describe this contribution in one word, that word would be wisdom. Enjoy:
For me, every day is Earth Day. Nature always fascinated me. It began with catching insects in my backyard as a child and constructing miniature rainforests in glass terrariums. It has now led me to conducting research in the field of environmental geology at Miami University.
When I was growing up, I learned about the environmental issues we face today: deforestation leading to the extinction of species, melting glaciers leading to the decimation of our freshwater supplies, just to name a few. I am driven to develop and apply science-based solutions for these environmental problems and more. This drive is why I am on track to graduate with my Bachelor of Science degree in geology and environmental science in the spring of 2023, with an additional master's degree in environmental science, focused on policy analysis. It is what takes me this summer to an internship in the Silicon Valley of northern California, to ensure environmental compliance for Tesla, the world's largest electric vehicle company. Above all, it is why I'm dedicating my life to fighting climate change, personally and professionally, for decades to come.
I didn't always have the confidence to pursue these dreams. Growing up in an average suburban town in southwest Ohio, I lacked the positive blind role models that I did not know I needed. Being raised in a traditional South Asian household, my blindness was seen as a shameful disease to be cured. My own parents unintentionally gave me vitamin A toxicity from the gallons of carrot juice I was force-fed as a child. I internalized this mindset of shame, sitting in the back of the classroom to look like I was sighted, handwriting notes I could never actually read.
This mindset only changed when I found passions worth self-advocating for. I joined the marching band in seventh grade and built confidence by finding pride in the hours of hard work that I put into shows and concert performances. This coincided with my entry into the natural sciences. I took advanced placement classes in related fields, and finally I was able to put a career choice to what I have always enjoyed. But despite these passions, I still was missing a community.
Upon getting involved with the National Federation of the Blind, I went from lacking role models to having a community full of successful people who were breaking down the barriers they faced. My love for advocacy has led me to get involved in leadership in disability spaces at every level. I serve on the board for the National Association of Blind Students (NABS), the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, and the Miami Valley Chapter. I co-founded Prism Marching Arts, the first all-inclusive special needs marching arts program in the Midwest. We put instruments in the hands of people who otherwise never would have been given such opportunities in their communities. In these ways I pay forward the opportunities that I have received, to everyone, no matter who they are and where they come from.
The National Federation of the Blind's Scholarship Programs, at both the state and national level, were the vessels that brought me into this community. This program showed me that I was not alone, that there were thousands of other blind people pursuing their dreams and redefining what it means to be blind. At first I simply viewed this program as a monetary award for my educational pursuits. But oftentimes the best experiences come as surprises. I quickly realized that the scholarship program offered much more than that scholarship; it offered invaluable mentorship, engaging community, and surplus fuel for my growing Federation heart. Blindness is the characteristic that brings us together, brings us to fight for our rights, and brings us to make the world an equitable place. I truly believe that programs like the National Federation of the Blind's Scholarship Program help mold these characteristics and experiences into a vessel for collective action and self-growth.
For me personally, I can say with certainty that the NFB Scholarship Program has been a catalyst for allowing me to gain the confidence to pursue my dreams, to take my career in the direction that I desire, and more.
If there is one lesson that I have learned, it is that we all live internally in different worlds, but at the same time we live physically in the same world. Our perspectives differ, but our resources and actions affect us the same. We live in an era in which the Earth and its systems are at a critical point, a point where climate change is arguably the greatest issue we face. This is why I dedicate my studies and future work to the environmental issues humanity faces today. I hope to work for the betterment of tomorrow and to make a world we can call our own.
Very soon after I went blind, I went to my first convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Though as a six-year-old I was not scared about my future as a blind person, learning about the NFB and going to conventions showed me tons of independent blind people who I could look up to. Real life superheroes that I could aspire to be like. - Abigail
Blind children, students, and adults are making powerful strides in education and leadership every day across the United States, but we need to continue helping kids like Abigail. 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 can continue to provide powerful programs and critical resources now and for decades to come. We 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:
Below are just a few of the many tax-deductible ways you can show your support of the National Federation of the Blind.
By visiting the menu, choosing donate, and selecting the National Federation of the Blind, you commit to giving to the National Federation of the Blind with each ride.
We accept 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, extension 2430, to give by phone. Give online with a credit card or through the mail with check or money order. Visit our Ways to Give Page at: https://nfb.org/give.
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 877-NFB-2PAC, or fill out our PAC Donation Form https://www.nfb.org/pac.
The National Federation of the Blind legacy society, our Dream Makers Circle, honors and recognizes the generosity and imagination of members and special friends 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 percentage or 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 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.
In 2022 our supporters helped the NFB:
by Cricket Bidleman
From the Editor: Cricket Bidleman is a name I think we will hear more often in these pages. She is now our marketing coordinator, but many of us know her from her winning of a national scholarship and her ongoing activity as a Federationist both before and during her time at Stanford. She has interesting observations on normality: is it something for which we should strive, or is it a barrier given its definition and our difference as blind people. Here are some of her thoughts:
“Wow, the way you did that was so efficient. I almost forgot you’re blind.” This kind of rhetoric is annoyingly common in society. The first time I heard something to this effect was when I was very young. I was bothered, but not greatly so, and then I wondered why I was bothered. I couldn’t articulate my feelings, so I actively tried quashing them. After all, these kinds of things are normal.
The explanation is simple, and yet in some ways, not so. What does normal mean?
I read Dr. Kenneth Jernigan’s Blindness: A Left-Handed Dissertation, which asserts that normality is the comparison of a minority to a majority. Jernigan uses the example of most of society being geared toward right-handed people, because right-handed people are in the majority, and are thus normal. He then asserts, and rightly so, that society is geared toward the sighted “normal.”
Think about it. Windowpanes, visual art, technology, movies, vehicles… very few of these are designed from the start keeping the blind in mind. We are an afterthought because we are not “normal.”
This lack of universal design forces the blind to use alternative techniques, which we must often create ourselves; or we are forced to ask for accommodations for equal access, which again places the burden on us. In most cases, we must do both of these.
Even the language that society uses, though perhaps not offensive, is still in favor of a sighted majority. “He’s blind to the issue.” “I was blindsided by that.”… I am not advocating for the elimination of such expressions but am using them to illustrate a point: the word “blind” is clearly used as a negative here. Dr. Jernigan uses the example of someone being “left behind,” or even that it’s good to be “on the right side of history.” The cases are similar.
“Wow, the way you did that was so efficient. I almost forgot you’re blind.” This, I believe, is intended to be a compliment. However, I don’t view it as one, and I’m confident that very few of my blind friends would either. Why is it good for someone to forget an aspect of my identity? If they do this, it’s not unreasonable to guess that they are also forgetting the obstacles that society puts in my way. It would be different to say, “You did that efficiently, despite the extra steps you had to take because of society’s lack of accommodations.” This is ignoring the fact that many women wouldn’t be pleased with people saying, “I almost forgot you’re a woman,” LGBTQ+ people wouldn’t be happy with someone saying, “I forgot your sexuality,” etc. Why does society expect me to be pleased with this language?
When I told people that I was accepted to Stanford, or later when I said I was going to/had gone there, one of the common reactions was “I’m impressed. I bet most blind people couldn’t do that.” I think that’s true, but not because of our disability. It is true, once again, because of the expectations that society has of us. The blind are expected to work in sheltered workshops, not as movie directors; we are expected to let others take care of us rather than to get independence training; we are even expected to let others dictate our needs, because somehow blindness is associated with lack of intelligence, or hearing, or speech.
These expectations create notable obstacles between us and the fulfilling of our potential. The world would have more blind movie directors if society let go of the thought that blindness prevents us from doing it. If people expected us to get independence training, the caretaker mentality would surely lessen. If people asked directly what we need, listened to our replies, and then internalized those, we wouldn’t be forced to shout into the void as often.
Circling back to the concept of the normal majority, I find the contradiction between this constant comparison of blind people to sighted people and the low expectations of the blind incredibly strange. The sighted cannot have it both ways. If we are compared to the sighted, then the expectations should be the same. If we are viewed as inferior as a product of our disability (which is, by the way, out of our control), then why are we being compared to a different population?
Why is normality even important? The concept automatically forces a divide between majorities and minorities. Universal design is less possible if people try catering to the majority rather than to everyone. If anything, this concept of normality is a way for the privileged majority to not stretch their horizons, to seek comfort in the fact that so many others are like them.
Blindness can certainly be correlated with lack of success, but it should never be mistaken as the cause. It is true that 70 percent of the blind remain unemployed. It is true that blind people in general do not excel at heavily visual tasks and that most blind people do not make a living through science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). However, it is truest of all that this is not a product of blindness but a product of society. Lack of proper education, lack of creativity, an unwillingness on the part of the majority to stretch beyond what one perceives to be our limits—the defeatist mindset that comes with the thought, “Oh, they’re blind, so they do blind-people-stuff. They can’t see, so why should we try to help them understand visual concepts?”
In the end blindness itself does not prevent us from doing anything. Low expectations and lack of accommodations do. Start with the premise that blind people should be held to the same standard as everyone else. Acknowledge the difficulties that society puts in our way with lack of universal design, and add that if this was not the case, we could do anything that our sighted counterparts can. This is a much healthier mindset.
by Jason Broughton
From the Editor: In this presentation you will see many notes about laughter, cheering, and applause, but I have removed many of them because they occurred so often that at times they get in the way of the written message. It is clear that our librarian also has talent as a comic, so as you read this, appreciate the uplifting feeling that moved our audience. Here is what President Riccobono said to introduce our presenter:
We have just one more presentation this morning, and it is one that we always look forward to, and the individual presenting to us is at his first convention. The National Federation of the Blind has a long-standing relationship with the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. After all, we're the customers! We're really pleased to note that the new director of this important government program has made the relationship with the National Federation of the Blind a priority, and he has elected to continue that relationship.
Prior to joining the Library of Congress in 2019, he became the first African American to serve as Vermont's state librarian. For over a decade, he held numerous library roles in both South Carolina and Georgia, where he used his prior training as an educator to focus on such issues as workforce development and public outreach. I've had the opportunity to meet with him a number of times since he took the role—I think even during maybe his first week or so. It was my first time getting to meet him in person. He's been here for a number of days—I think right before the Presidential Report, he came up. So he's not just dipping in and dipping out. He's actually here to participate. Here to speak to us from the Library of Congress is Jason Broughton:
[Intro music: Take a look, it's in a book, a reading rainbow! I can go anywhere, friends to know, and ways to grow, a reading rainbow!
I can be anything, take a look, it's in a book.
JASON singing along: It's in a book...
[Music fades out]
How nice to be welcomed with that. [Applause] How nice! Oh, a microphone is a deadly thing for me to have, because I like to talk! So just know that I hope to keep my comments concise and informative and engaging.
Well, good afternoon. My name is Jason Broughton, and I'm the new director for the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled, and some would say I am the new Karen Keninger, who was the prior director, whom I also know as well. If I had to use descriptive text to describe myself, for those who want to know, Black male, bald headed, 6'4”, 225, and the body of a Greek god! [Laughter and cheering, and applause] That's just what you need to remember. Well, I did lie a bit. I'm only 6'1''. The rest is true. [Laughter]
As I said, I bring you greetings from the Library of Congress, and with that, I'd like to thank you for having me here today. I and our deputy director, Jason Yasner, are both in attendance, so there are two Jasons at the NLS. [Applause] Thank you to President Riccobono and NFB leadership for the invitation and the opportunity to talk about the importance of literacy, collaborative partnerships, and the National Library Service.
Literacy begins with an understanding of one's world, which includes people, the environment, and daily activities. Providing people with meaningful, diverse, and robust library resources and collections helps to develop basic concepts and contributes to independence as well as enhancing one's quality of life.
As we know, literacy is more than just reading and writing. I grew up in a rural area in South Carolina, out in the boonies, known as Craws. In stating that, I loved learning, which meant I enjoy reading a lot. But that sometimes was at odds with my parents and in the community, because when you read a lot, sometimes you think you know a lot. I used to get some feedback—so you might have heard the following phrases as well if you enjoy reading—"How can you learn so much yet know so little?" "Book sense is not common sense." And of course, my favorite that I heard on a show known as the Prairie Home Companion: "To those people who think they know all of it, it is especially annoying to those of us who do.”
Communication and literacy are interconnected; when you have a literary and literacy rich environment, it supports people in being their best selves. It helps a person to grow. Right now, in the library world, the new sexy thing is guess what? Accessibility. It's the talk of the town in libraries! With that, however, at NLS, we believe that accessibility should always be done at the beginning of a project or process—[applause]—Not shoehorned in at the end. Accessibility leads to discoverability, which aids in literacy. Democracy depends on literate people navigating through the bureaucracy, dealing with the hypocrisy, being pushy about equality, ensuring there is diversity, while keeping their curiosity. [Applause] It's important!
You have a lot of different choices—still not as many as I think a lot of you would like to have. But there are more. And amongst them is the National Library Service. So why choose us? Well, we celebrate our ninety-first year this year for being the library for the blind and print disabled. Thank you!
I'm going to list off a few things as an update to let you know what we're doing to help with literacy and ensure we are hearing from you. With that, in conversation and collaboration with NFB, we work together to discuss with the US Postal Service what Free Matter for the Blind should be with respect to distribution of mail, packages, and parcels. You should expect an announcement from them this month about what they plan to do to improve Free Matter for the Blind. Our deputy said something interesting, however, during the conversation that I think all of you should know, and I want him to take credit for this if it makes it in the report. One of the things that became very unique is that in some cases, people did not realize that free matter for the blind is a first-class mail service. With that, the comment was made that maybe we should change it from calling it Free Matter for the Blind and calling it First-Class Matter for the Blind because we all know you are already first-class.
Other actions that we're doing: We are piloting Braille On Demand, where you can be provided one Braille book a month. We are ensuring that our workforce at NLS, within the Library of Congress, is representative of the service population. So we are still growing and also working on that.
When it comes to our collection, we've started to modernize that through the Marrakesh Treaty. We now have over 2,800 new works on our Braille Audio Reading Download, which you know as BARD. Thanks to you and others, we've had over 41,000 patron downloads this year, and we've added 131,000 NLS titles to the World Intellectual Property Organization, known as WIPO. We also have thirteen new foreign languages we have introduced. Something that has surprised us in a wonderful way: some of you have personally emailed me and called me to learn how to get into this pilot for our refreshable Braille displays. We now have them in thirty-seven states, and that number is growing. Over 4,000 are now distributed, and by the end of the year we hope to have an additional 6,000 deployed. The expectation has gone beyond what we could have ever imagined. It is absolutely stunning, and we are reporting this to the Library of Congress and to Congress itself, who is also aware.
We have eased access for the reading disabled. We now serve over 10,000 reading-disabled individuals, a 50 percent increase to our service. We also have duplication on demand where you can have one cartridge with multiple titles. That's going to be a cost-efficient item and also a space-saving item for our network libraries.
For the future, here's what we're thinking. We have, in a sense, some updates that we're going to do to BARD when it comes to microservices. We're also doing things with large print and embossed Braille; tactile and graphic displays will be things of prominence in our future.
For those who have been waiting for us to research and hopefully develop something that's really going to be a game changer that takes some time, we are working to research a smart speaker, an Alexa for you to simply audibly say "Alexa, I'd like to have..." and it becomes available. It is taking us some time, but we are still in a positive mode to look to see when that will become available.
We're also expanding our collections. We're having wonderful outreach and partnerships with the United States Postal Service, and one of our biggest and most proud items is doing what we're doing with the Veterans Administration in the form of a VA rapid signup. We hope this will help more people who, in a sense, have unfortunately had vision or impairment come to them to ensure that they understand that we are here to help assist in their quality of life.
I would like to thank NFB for your continued support on an effort that has been going on, as I understand it, for over twenty years. For those who might not know, and again, this is just what my staff tells me, we once were on the Capitol Complex in DC, and we were temporarily moved for a unique little reason, and unfortunately, fifty years later, we are still on that temporary move. Congress itself has the decision to decide if NLS will relocate back to the Capitol Complex. [Cheering and applause] Conversations continue. We are very optimistic. With that, I'd like to thank NFB for your support and words and kindness.
As I begin to close, I'd also like to thank and give you an update on an award we give known as Library of the Year, and with that, our regional winner was going to be, and is, the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library in Seattle, Washington, and the sub regional was the Panelis Talking Book Library in Clearwater, Florida. I'm quite sure that makes a lot of people happy, which is wonderful and a thing that we love to have every year.
As I begin to close, I want you to know that we have a focus group that we're conducting from 12:30 to 1:30 in Gallery 4. We seek your input, your insight, your comments, and also if you'd like to sign up for any beta tests that we're looking at with our NLS technology. Because we want to hear from you. As I tell my staff, one of the things that's really important that they need to understand as I take the helm is that we don't need to worry about being right. We need to GET it right. And that's very important in this business.I'm making my comments concise because we are getting close to 12:00, and since we are in an international food city, one thing I've learned is you do not come between people and their food! So, as they say here in New Orleans, let the good times roll! [Cheering and applause]
by Sharla Glass
From the Editor: At one time labeling by a pharmacy would have seemed nonsensical to me. I only had a few bottles, and I could certainly label them myself. Then things became more complicated: now I have a stack of prescriptions, and little techniques such as looking at the pill size, looking for a unique bottle, or remembering exactly where I keep a certain medication aren’t as reliable. Of course I’ve never had good access to the instructions, so over time I’ve come to learn how important they are. Enjoy this article by Sharla from Envision about the way states are implementing legislation to see that we too have labels we can read:
“We see what’s happening and know it’s just a matter of time before our state has a mandate,” the pharmacy executive said. These encouraging words are because NFB affiliates have been approaching their legislatures and Boards of Pharmacy to say accessible prescription labels are a health equity and health literacy issue which needs to be addressed immediately.
Due to the hard work of many NFB affiliates, we’ve reached the point where the industry is anticipating a shift in public policy nationwide in the near future. Who are these affiliates? What have they done to create this shift in pharmacy thought? How do we push forward to make this prediction a reality?
The first two states to pass accessible prescription labeling laws were Nevada in 2017 and Oregon in 2019. The pandemic didn’t stop Frank Perez at the National Association for the Blind of Puerto Rico from advocating over and over again to achieve a victory in Puerto Rico finally signed by the governor in January 2023.
In 2022 the NFB of Tennessee championed a bill and navigated a unique situation because their state is one of the few that actually owns and runs its own pharmacy services through TennHealth. This meant having to make some amendments to avoid legislation getting caught up in fiscal reports. In the end their law passed directing the Board of Pharmacy to do the work of gathering stakeholders to help determine the rules. That rulemaking process is just beginning.
These were all quickly followed by an amazing collaboration in Washington between the NFB, ACB, and Health Equity Circle to pursue accessible prescription labeling and prescription label language access simultaneously. So many people testified for this bill. Though it died on the House floor, advocates so inspired the legislators and Board of Pharmacy that they committed to rulemaking even without a bill. Rulemaking is officially underway, a rough draft and public comment period already completed. One of the things that I will always remember is the House Health Committee chair’s comment that she was appalled that this was not already something being provided. She and many others assumed that this was already standard practice.
This has further inspired other affiliates who have difficulty getting a bill sponsored to try this alternative route. In January 2023 Camille Tate went before the Florida Board of Pharmacy and gave a presentation. The Board’s first response was that they thought it would cost too much to be implemented and needed to be legislated, but after more questions about ADA and Braille technology, they agreed they would need to do more research and discuss it again at a future meeting. Once again, like in Washington, we found that people assumed that it was already being done or it was impossibly difficult to do, but education is the key to progress!
January also brought Roger Crome and Sheila Wright in front of the Missouri Board of Pharmacy. They gave a wonderful presentation which was followed by comments at length given by Board Member Douglas Lang R.Ph., who, surprisingly, had served as a pharmacy representative on the US Access Board working group that developed the “Best Practices for Making Prescription Drug Container Label Information Accessible to Persons Who are Blind or Visually-Impaired or Who are Elderly” (https://www.access-board.gov/rx.html) in 2013. The board also had another pharmacist with a vision impairment who said she herself could benefit from a large print or audible label. The board felt that knowledge of labeling options and best practices are not widely known, and perhaps a public relations campaign to pharmacists and the public would be a help. They also agreed to work with the legislature on the multiple bills the NFB was able to get introduced this session.
We also are following efforts by the NFB of Hawaii and the NFB of Maryland who both found sponsors and have bills scheduled for committee hearings in the coming weeks. There are many other affiliates that are seeking sponsors or gearing up to approach their Board of Pharmacy including NFB of New York, NFB of Arkansas, and NFB of Michigan.
Links to all the bills mentioned and sample draft language can be found https://www.staysaferx.org/p/blog-page_10.html.www.StaySafeRx.org or you would like help tracking accessible labeling bills in your state, contact Sharla Glass at En-Vision America, 941-702-6602 or [email protected].
by Karen Anderson
From the Editor: The National Federation of the Blind is deeply committed to building opportunities for blind children. One of our longstanding youth programs is BELL® Academy. The program launched in Maryland in 2008, and it quickly spread nationwide. In this article BELL coordinator Karen Anderson shares her passion for the program and explains what it can mean for blind children and their families.
"Every day we work to raise the expectations for blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams."
I have committed these words to my memory and to my heart. When someone asks me what the National Federation of the Blind is, and, specifically, what I do within the organization, these are some of the first words off my tongue. I keep them in mind as I work with our members to develop our education programs. High expectations for blind people are at the center of everything we build. Our NFB BELL® Academy has been running for more than a decade now, raising expectations for blind kids across the country. We have changed a tremendous number of lives, and that number is growing all the time.
The National Federation of the Blind Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy was started by members of the Federation in Maryland. They realized that blind and low-vision children were being held back by low expectations and weren't getting access to nearly enough Braille instruction. For two weeks in the summer of 2008, kids came to the Jernigan Institute for learning and fun. They made edible Braille dots, cooked using Braille recipes, and listened to blind mentors read Braille stories. They didn't have to learn Braille; they got to learn Braille alongside their peers in a space where they were encouraged and challenged. These kids learned that Braille wasn't just about boring worksheets; they discovered that literacy could be fun. Equally as important, they learned a host of skills that helped them become independent. These students learned to carry their own trays while they used their canes in the lunch line. They learned to pour their own drinks, to open their own snacks, and to clean up after themselves. All of these skills were modeled by blind adults who used these skills every day and who had high expectations for the BELL students.
Over the following decade NFB BELL® Academy spread across the country. Blind adults volunteered to show blind kids what is possible, and in many cases those blind kids grew up and came back to the program as BELL volunteers. Each summer we raised expectations for blind kids and their families.
When COVID-19 hit the world, we took NFB BELL® Academy to Zoom. From the extensive BELL curriculum we chose lessons that we thought would work well in a virtual setting. We sent boxes of materials for those lessons to hundreds of families across the country. While the structure of the NFB BELL® Academy In-Home Edition looked different, the core message was the same. The program promoted high expectations for blind children, supported by blind mentors and role models.
In the summer of 2023 bells will be ringing across the country once again. As we have since 2020, we again will hold our NFB BELL® Academy In-Home Edition. This year's virtual BELL Academy will run for three weeks, from July 24 through August 11, and it will be very similar to the programs of the past two summers. Students will be placed in the beginner, intermediate, or advanced track, based on their current Braille skills. Each participant will be sent a box containing materials specifically geared for their track. Each track will meet on Zoom for an hour every weekday, doing various lessons together along with a teacher and blind mentors. In addition, because we know how important it is for blind kids to have a chance to talk with one another, we will hold a social hour on Zoom every weekday. This social hour is a space where students can talk with each other and with blind mentors. They can discuss those things that are unique to the experience of blind students—what do you do with your cane on the playground? How do you find a spot where you want to sit in the lunchroom at school? During social hour we also learn things that many sighted kids learn simply by observing, such as how to do popular dances. I love hearing from former BELL participants that they were able to dance with their peers at a birthday party or family wedding because of what they learned in BELL.
I am also delighted to share that several states are planning to hold in-person NFB BELL® Academies this coming summer. Nothing is more powerful for a blind child than being in the same room with other blind children and blind adults. I look forward to hearing about all of the activities our BELL students participate in with their blind mentors. I want to hear about their new ways of decorating their canes and learning shades. I look forward to hearing about the community-based instruction (or field trips, for those of us who don't speak Educationese) that each BELL Academy goes on. I especially look forward to hearing about the mentoring relationships and connections that will last far beyond the summer of 2023.
I know that what we do makes a difference. I know that our programs stand apart from other programs offered to blind children. Still, talking with the parents and students from previous NFB BELL® Academies impresses upon me just how much of a difference we actually make.
In January of 2022 I got a call from a parent who was trying to figure out how to help her daughter, Lynn. This twelve-year-old had spent her life struggling to read and process visual information. Only recently had she been diagnosed with cortical visual impairment, or CVI. The parent had started teaching Lynn Braille and it was going well, but the family wasn't sure Lynn was eligible for BELL Academy. I beamed when I told Lynn's mother that yes, absolutely, we would love to have Lynn join us for the 2022 NFB BELL® Academy In-Home Edition. The family was actively working on Braille throughout the winter and spring, so I agreed to touch base with them closer to the start of BELL. At that point we could figure out which track Lynn should be placed in so she could be challenged but not overwhelmed. By May this young lady, who had struggled with reading for her entire life, had learned the entire Braille code and was placed in the advanced track. She attended our social hour nearly every day, and she was always eager to ask questions and give suggestions to her peers and to the younger students. Almost every day she came back with a story about how she had tried a new nonvisual technique she had learned in BELL Academy. I saw her confidence grow throughout the three weeks of the program. This young lady was realizing she was not a broken sighted person, but a blind person who could use alternative techniques to live a full and happy life.
Recently I talked with Lynn's mom again, and we discussed what Lynn was going to do for the 2023 summer. She expressed surprise that so few programs she had found throughout the past year demonstrated the high expectations her family had become accustomed to during BELL. One program Lynn attended told students that, if they learned to do their chores well at home, they could someday get a job doing piecework. Lynn's mom knows that Lynn is capable of more. I am so glad that Lynn's family has connected with the National Federation of the Blind and become surrounded by a group of people who know that Lynn is capable of more as well.If you want to register for the NFB BELL® Academy In-Home Edition or see whether your state or a state near you is hosting an in-person BELL Academy, visit nfb.org/bell. I look forward to hearing more from Lynn and our other BELL participants about how their expectations have been raised by participating in NFB BELL!
by Eve Hill
From the Editor: Eve Hill has been a highlight of many convention sessions in her many roles as a litigator with Brown, Goldstein & Levy, an official in the Department of Justice, and now as the chief counsel of the National Federation of the Blind. Here she speaks directly about whether the laws pertaining to accessibility are enforceable and ultimately to whether the law is just the law or whether it can become our reality. Here is the first of many articles that I hope she will write for the Braille Monitor.
The United States Department of Justice just released a report (https://www.justice.gov/crt/section-508-home-page-0) on the federal government’s compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 requires federal agencies to make sure all their technology is accessible to people with disabilities.
But the DOJ report shows that many agencies are not taking this duty seriously, even twenty-five years after Section 508 was passed. For example, although across all tested agencies one out of ten websites were inaccessible, if one agency were removed from the count that number rose to three out of ten websites being inaccessible. Across the federal government, two out of every three pdf documents on federal websites are inaccessible. Most of the inaccessible pdfs aren’t even tagged—meaning there has been no effort to make them accessible.
Some agencies have dedicated virtually no resources to accessibility, some barely test any of their external websites, and several don’t even test the accessibility of their internal websites. Less than half of internal (intranet) websites that were tested were compliant. More than half of the agencies reviewed haven’t even made their accessibility statements compliant with Office of Management and Budget requirements. This is not a sign that compliance is difficult—it’s a sign that federal agencies can’t be bothered.
Part of the reason federal agencies take their accessibility responsibilities so lightly may be that it has been hard to enforce those obligations. But that is about to change. The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals just issued a decision that gives us the tools we need to insist that these statistics improve. In Orozco v. Garland (https://nfb.org/blog/understanding-orozco-v-garland-appeal-and-why-it-important), the Court held that a blind federal employee can sue his employer under Section 508.
The federal government tried to argue, and the lower court agreed, that federal employees could not enforce Section 508 against federal agencies because it incorporated the “remedies, procedures, and rights” of Section 504, which applied to federally-funded entities, not federal agencies themselves. The DC Circuit disagreed, finding that such a reading would make no sense, since Section 508 only applies to federal agencies, not federally-funded entities. The court found that Section 508 only incorporates Section 504’s “remedies, procedures, and rights.” It does not incorporate Section 504’s coverage limitations. The court also found that Section 508 enforcement was available to federal employees, not just members of the general public with disabilities.
So federal employees with disabilities can now sue to enforce their right to accessible technology. They can no longer be ignored by their federal agency employers. They can no longer be forced to rely on part-time or ad hoc work-arounds while the underlying technology they’re forced to use remains inaccessible.
The National Federation of the Blind was proud to support Mr. Orozco’s case and looks forward to holding the federal government accountable. Hopefully, as a result, the next Section 508 report from DOJ will show more progress.
by Richard Bernstein
From the Editor: This was a very moving presentation from a blind person who exercises the levers of power. It is one that kept us in our seats as we were ready to bolt for the stairs in preparation for the banquet. The presenter is a Supreme Court Justice on the Michigan Supreme Court, and this is what President Riccobono said in introducing him:
We've talked during this convention about the difficulties in getting support through the courts of this nation for the viewpoints that we hold about disability and equal access. One reason that we struggle with the courts is that, when you look at the judiciary system, especially at the federal level, you don't see any people who exhibit the qualities that we have, especially as it relates to disability! In fact, you might think by the folks that are serving on the bench that America doesn't have any people with disabilities! Well, our speaker here is a blind person, and he's serving in a significant position on the court. He's doing so in the state of Michigan. He's bringing his lived experience to the effort, of course. You'll recall that in our leadup to the 2020 elections, one of the states we worked in was Michigan on accessible voting. And, you know, blind people face trouble with voting all the time. But when one of the blind people who has trouble voting is a justice to the state supreme court, it gets a lot of people's attention! [Laughter and applause] So don't think that just because he serves in a significant position, he's immune from the problems that blind people have. He's still a blind person, and he brings that authenticity, that lived experience to the work he does every day, and it drives his passion. He uses his legal talents to advance our nation, but also through his lived experience, our cause as blind people.
He has come to our convention. We're glad to have him. And he is someone who I think is at this convention for the first time. Here's the Honorable Richard Bernstein!
I got a call a short time ago, and it was a call that probably many of you have had—and a conversation that many of you have had. It was a wonderful young prosecutor, and he told me, "I love practicing law, I love being a prosecutor, and the thing that I want to do more than anything is to serve as a judge. But I went before the committee,” and he said they told him, “You have all the qualifications, would be an outstanding judge, but we simply can't take you because you're blind.” [Crowd jeering and booing].
In what other situation, in what other group would that be okay? Imagine to say to somebody, “The only reason you can't have this job, the only reason you can't be promoted, the only reason you can't have advancement is solely and exclusively because of the way that God made you and the way that you were ultimately created?”
I am certain that every single person in this room, throughout their educational process or at their workplace has had to contend with that self-appointed expert who feels that they know everything about blindness—when they have no knowledge, no training, and no expertise. Yet, so often in our workplaces, we have to be subservient to this mindset and to these types of people.
I would venture to say that even in our social lives, blindness will always play a role. It's always so funny that as you're growing up, people will say, "I found the perfect girl for you!" And I'll say, "Oh, that's great, tell me all about her," and they'll say, "Oh, she's blind." [Laughter] And I'll say, "What else?"
"Well, she's blind." [Laughter] That's it! She's blind. She's perfect for you because she is blind. [Laughter]
You know, it's interesting. We as blind people have to contend with so much. It is always the same people who feel that we aren't capable of handling certain jobs or doing certain things, and yet these are the same people that will always say things to you like, “Oh, have you read about this blind guy that climbed Mount Everest?” As wonderful and amazing as that is, we don't all climb Mount Everest! And the irony that so many of us who are blind have to contend with each and every day is this paradox. [Crowd agreeing]
When we try to go for employment, try to go for jobs, people have this natural instinct to exclude us because they can't believe that we can actually perform the duties that are before us. But then, at the same time, there are these ridiculous expectations that they feel that we have to meet because they always know about that one blind guy: “There's this ONE blind guy that I know! And he does all these things.” So we get compared to people in an unrealistic fashion.
I think the reason that I am so excited to be a part of the NFB is I thank God for this organization; thank God for its work! [Cheering and applause] Thank God for its efforts! But most importantly, thank God for its advocacy. Because it's people like the NFB who are making life better for each and every one of us. They're not exploiting us. They're advocating for us. They're dedicated to doing the types of things that make our life better.
Listen: for all of us who are here today, whether you were born blind or whether you're in a more challenging situation where you have lost your vision suddenly and are now having to learn how to be blind, there are real challenges that come with blindness. There are real difficulties that come with blindness. It is something that we have to contend with and live with and experience each and every day.
Yes, there are so many people that are out doing extraordinary things, and that is fantastic. But what we have to focus on are the basics. We have to focus on the fact that, according to the Census, over 80 percent of our population is currently unemployed. Now, that is not because we are not capable. That is not because we are not talented. That is not because we are not hardworking. It is solely and exclusively socioeconomic, which is exacerbated by our disabilities.
You know, I want to be very direct, because I think it's important. The worst thing that someone can stand up here and say is, "Well, if I can do it, you can do it," which I find to be infuriating. That is so outrageous! [Laughter and applause] And it is so offensive, and so arrogant! Because ultimately, what we know here at the NFB is that every one of us has our own story. [Cheering] Every one of us has our own unique experience. And I just like to be honest, direct. That's just my nature as a judge. You just say it honestly and directly to people. Let's just put it out there. If I had not been born and blessed to come from the family that I come from, where I had the absolute best of everything—I had the best of schools, I had the best of teachers, I had literally the best of everything because my family was able to provide that—but if I hadn't been given those advantages, those unbelievable socioeconomic advantages, there is no question that I would be part of the 80 percent who are currently unemployed and having to struggle. [Applause]
So I think the idea of this conference and the idea as to why we gather and as to why we are together is because the NFB represents the reality of the world, and the NFB represents the reality of what blind people have to face and contend with each and every day. I don't have a lot of time to be with you today, because you've got some extraordinary speakers, but I'm hoping that we will have much more time in the future.
There's a certain thing that I really do want to highlight, and I really do believe needs to be focused. When people say—like they said to this young prosecutor—that being a judge is simply unattainable for you because how can you do this if you can't see, they are missing the most important element of this. What makes a good judge is not your academics. It's not your intellectualism. It's not your ability to research and to write and to publish, and it is certainly not your ability to see. What makes a good judge, what makes a good leader, is what every single person in this audience has. It is life experience. Everyone here today understands what it means to truly have to struggle. Everyone in this room understands what it feels like to be left out. Everyone in this room understands the general feeling you have when people discriminate against you for something that is beyond your control. [Applause] The reason that the NFB has to be loud, the reason that the NFB has to be active, the reason that the NFB has to be engaged is because often it's the case that, when you ask what makes a good judge, when you ask what makes a good lawyer, when you ask what makes a good doctor, when you ask what makes a good professional, when you ask what makes a good person, it is solely and exclusively the notion of living with struggle—understanding struggle, understanding adversity.
Here's what I want to say to everybody who is here at this conference. This is the notion. If you learn to live with struggle, and you learn to face adversity like everybody has here today, you can live your life with passion. You can live your life with purpose. You can live your life with meaning. And you can live your life with a mission that will allow you to transform the world which we know. You're here because you have that mission. You're here because you have that passion. You're here because you understand why you were ultimately created. We're a powerful organization, for we are a powerful people. And when we go forth into society and into the world at large, and people give us opportunities, they are not doing it out of charity. They are doing it because we add to their organization. They're doing it because we teach people the lesson of resilience. We teach people the lesson of strength. We teach people the lesson of struggle. We teach people the lesson of mission and purpose.
I conclude with my favorite biblical story that goes to the essence and heart of why we are here and why we're so dedicated to doing what we do. It's the story of the angel coming upon Jacob deep into the night. As the Bible teaches us, there existed an intense battle that ranged until dawn. And when the sun rose, the angel blessed Jacob and gave him a new name, the name of Israel, which translates to mean "one who struggles with God." But as scripture teaches us, Jacob was not left uninjured. For after the struggle, he was given a shattered hip. He would walk with a limp, and he would know great pain for the remainder of his days.
I believe that scripture teaches us this valuable lesson because it was only through Jacob's struggle, it was only through his setback, it was only through his frustration that he was able to connect, appreciate, and understand the challenges and the hardships of his fellow man. And it was only through that ability that he was able to become a leader and the father of a nation.
Let us go forth and take our struggle, find our passion, and continue to do what we do as blind people: make the world better for everybody. [Cheering and applause]
by Regina Mitchell
From the Editor: This is taken from the Spring 2023 issue of Future Reflections. This is what Debbie Stein said to introduce the article:
When Regina Mitchell received an NFB National Scholarship in 2017, she planned to become a neurobiologist. Yet, as so often happens, life led her in a very different direction, back to her true passion—cooking. In this article she recounts the long journey of this passion, from its roots in her early childhood to the work she is doing today.
I've loved cooking for almost as long as I can remember. I grew up as a fully sighted child in southern California, the oldest of four. When I was very small, my mother allowed me to assist her in the kitchen when she prepared small dishes such as salads and dressings. Later she taught me to make meals that included more steps, such as tacos, enchiladas, spaghetti, and my childhood favorites: sloppy joes and awesome tuna melt. I grew to appreciate every process of cooking, and I loved creating dishes that my family enjoyed.
Both of my grandmothers lived within a few blocks of one another, and they shared their knowledge and love of cooking with me. My maternal grandmother, born in Arkansas and the mother of thirteen children, taught me the secrets of making southern family-style meals such as casseroles, burritos, fried and smothered chicken, gravy, biscuits, and fruit preserves. My paternal grandmother, born in New Orleans, taught me the secrets of refined French Creole cuisine. She also introduced me to the rustic fare of Cajun cooking with bold flavors of étouffée, all kinds of gumbos, jambalayas, and seafood Creoles. In addition, I learned the magic of cooking vegetables such as squash, green beans, beets, and the mysteries behind great salads.
After I got married, I learned more cooking secrets from my husband's mother, who was born in Texas. She taught me to make a wide variety of dishes such as smoked brisket, grilled salmon, pastas, and pilafs. One dish for which I never got the recipe was her outstanding spaghetti sauce.
After a few years of marriage, my husband and I moved to British Columbia, Canada, and we also lived in Seattle, Washington. The advantage of living between two countries was that I discovered the totally different cuisine of the Pacific Northwest. Instead of the Southwestern dishes I was used to, I began to enjoy the abundance and varieties of fresh coastal seafood and the offerings of coffee houses, vineyards, farmers' markets, and herb farms. My curiosity led me on a quest for more knowledge of the fundamentals of food science. I took my passion for cooking to another level; I decided to pursue it professionally. I followed a lead and enrolled at the Seattle Culinary Academy.
In culinary school we were taught fundamental, technical, and safety skills. A huge emphasis was placed on proper knife skills. We moved from basics to advanced lessons in stocks, soups, sauces, international cuisines, culinary trends, and the use of fresh herbs (I even started my own herb garden). I learned to cook for vegans, vegetarians, and pescatarians, and I studied organization, discipline, and time management. I learned how to run a kitchen, and I received training in how to manage a restaurant. Although I chose culinary cuisine, courses in the baking school were required. I hadn't had much experience in baking, and I found it a bit challenging, yet it was a powerful tool in my creativity and understanding. During my two years in culinary training, I learned well over 120 lessons, concluding with several externships. All of my training began with basic skills, then layered those skills upon others, just as one builds a dish by layering flavors.
When I completed my schooling in Seattle, I applied for a fellowship to train under master chefs in Great Britain. I lived and worked in Scotland for four months while I trained at the Stakis Hilton Hotel in Edinburgh. From there I went on to train at the Metropole Hotel in London. I studied in Paris, Barcelona, and Rome, and I finished my fellowship at the film festival in Cannes on the French Riviera. Altogether I trained in Europe for eighteen months.
I finally returned to the United States in the late 1990s. In the early 2000s I worked with master chef Julia Child and Emeril Lagasse at NOLA's. At Sur La Table in Seattle, I worked with local and guest celebrity chefs, and I assisted chefs behind the scenes at food shows on Seattle stations. Eventually, I created a wildly successful niche for myself, providing a restaurant-style service in the homes of elite clients and creating corporate executive team building experiences.
One day I got a call from the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. They were building a new boutique hotel in Las Vegas, and they wanted to hire people who were used to dealing with high-end clientele. I had worked with several Fortune 500 executives and many celebrities, and I felt I would be a good fit. I went to Las Vegas for the interview.
The interview was a grueling process that stretched over three days. In the end I was one of fourteen people who were hired. My family packed up and relocated to Las Vegas. I transitioned from being a chef in the culinary profession to being a butler in the hospitality industry that specialized in personalized elite services to global nomads, royalists, celebrities, and gamers. My favorite guests were those who saved for months to enjoy just one night of luxurious pampering.
Then my life underwent a dramatic change. Between 2012 and 2013 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called lupus. Lupus can affect any system in the body. In my case I started to have severe eye pain. In 2014 I was diagnosed with bilateral panuveitis (inflammation of all layers of the uvea, from the front to the back of the eye). To my consternation my doctors suggested that I take a medical retirement. They were convinced that my work in hospitality would be impossible due to my vision loss.
So I left my job. I sat at home week after week, month after month. While sitting there I realized my losses; I had lost my sight, lost my career, and lost the independence of driving, cooking, and navigating my previous world. I was utterly disheartened, discouraged, and disappointed that life had dealt me such a traumatic blow. I was a burden to myself, and I felt I was a burden to my family and friends.
There had to be something I could do to become active again! I made a decision to return to school to finish my bachelor's degree. I enrolled in classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).
I had no idea what was ahead of me as a returning blind student. I still had some residual vision, but I soon realized it wouldn't be enough. I sat in class and could barely see my professor's face. I ordered textbooks and could barely see the print on pages. I truly didn't understand the gravity of my circumstances.
One day I met with one of my professors about the problems I was having. He referred me to the Disability Resource Center (DRC) on campus. There I met my advisor, Raquel O'Neill. Raquel was the first blind person I ever knew. Almost overnight my life was transformed. The DRC reformatted my books and showed me how to use a CCTV and the speech output on my smartphone. I learned many other skills that I needed for academic success. Raquel later referred me to BlindConnect, the only blindness training program in Las Vegas, which provides life skills training, employment training, and peer support programs. At BlindConnect I learned the basics of daily living skills and the use of a long white cane. I signed up for paratransit services and gained peer support.
In 2017, nearing my last year at UNLV, I found myself running low on funds. I did a Google search for scholarships for blind students, and I found a scholarship program run by an organization called the National Federation of the Blind. I applied for a national scholarship, and to my joy and amazement, I received a call from Julie Deden in Colorado. She told me I was a finalist, and I would be attending the national convention of the NFB in Orlando, Florida.
In July of 2017, I flew to Orlando and attended my first NFB National Convention. I was the oldest student in my scholarship cohort, but blindness and NFB have no age barriers. At the convention I found a safe place where I truly belonged! The whole experience was inspiring and beautiful! I was honored to receive a STEM scholarship contributed by Oracle.
When I returned home from the convention, I was eager to get involved with the NFB of Nevada Southern Chapter. It wasn't long before I became president of the Southern Las Vegas Chapter.
In 2018 I graduated with honors from UNLV. In addition to the general commencement ceremony, I was asked to present as a guest speaker in the African American Heritage commencement ceremony.
In the summer of 2019 I returned to BlindConnect to attend weekly peer support meetings. Shortly, I shared with Raquel O'Neill my desire to join in partnership with BlindConnect and share my cooking skills and passion with this new community I am embracing. I had exceptional culinary skills, but I needed some techniques specific to blindness, which in time I would learn.
A few months later, however, the COVID-19 pandemic brought face-to-face classes to a halt for several months. The cooking classes later resumed on Zoom, and for eight weeks I taught theory and techniques. People really enjoyed the classes, but I wanted to give more. I decided to demonstrate, describing my cooking process step by step. I tried to describe everything I was doing as I went along. I call it, "Intuitive Cooking." I give an audio description of what an ingredient should feel like and how it should taste and smell. The students were thrilled. Many had never cooked on the stove or in the oven. Now they began recreating the same meals in their own kitchens.
Because I held my classes online, geography was no barrier. My classes opened up to people all over the country. The media was curious: Who is this blind chef who is teaching blind people? The media began to pursue interviews for podcasts. The LA Times ran an article about my work. CNN flew down and observed one of my classes and later featured a small segment on The Human Factor with Dr. Sanjay Gupta and the local paper's Review Journal.
National Federation of the Blind President Mark Riccobono invited me to chair a group for cooking and food enthusiasts. We called it the NFB in the Kitchen Group.
As I reflected on my long history with cooking, I realized that it's very important to give children experience in the kitchen from an early age. The Wisconsin Parents of Blind Children reached out to me to teach a few cooking sessions to their families. We started with monthly sessions during the summer. I've taught them blindness skills and tool use, such as using a pizza cutter and a food processor in place of a knife. Safety always comes first! We've learned how to make lava cake, meatballs, smoothies, quiche, and pumpkin pie. Currently my youngest student is eight years old. These children are fearless, learning independence in their own kitchens and challenging obstacles!
I feel tremendously blessed as I look back over my life! Blindness has brought its challenges, but it has enriched my life as well. I've often said that one of my superpowers is welcoming new experiences, and so it is here! I have met many amazing people, people I never would have known if I hadn't lost my sight. I have learned new skills I never would have mastered as a sighted chef.
I'll do whatever I can to encourage people to get into the kitchen! I tell students to start without heat: making salads, sandwiches, and vinaigrettes. Visit the deli and find out what's available to taste. Discover herbs such as lavender, verbena, basil, and rosemary. Be open to spices such as anise and cardamom, and try leeks, golden beets, wild mushrooms, and other produce. Experiment with making your own spice blend. Don't be intimidated by long-winded recipes. Read them carefully and pare them down to the essentials. Just make something. Enjoy eating what you create.
I learned patience from my mother and grandmothers, and I learned to love what I do. I think my students sense that. They understand that my knowledge is freely given.
Sometimes every day becomes the same as the one before. Sometimes in the midst of it all we lose our joy of eating, let alone cooking. And we are desperate for a little dose of kindness and an open, safe space.
The table is central to our lives. It's safe, open, and inviting. We believe in sharing life through great food at our own table. Over food, stories are told, our days unfold, our family histories are gleaned, and often we sort out our differences. The table is a safe space, the place where we are nourished. As blind people we can take that step into the heart of our homes, make the kitchen our friend. We can make space at the table and fully take part in our nourishing traditions.Editor's Note: You can visit Regina Mitchell at her website, chefregina.com. To get in touch, email her at [email protected].
by Anne Raish
From the Editor: Civil rights has no meaning if there is no enforcement, and Anne Raish came to the 2022 Convention to say that there would indeed be enforcement. These are the words President Riccobono used to introduce her:
Earlier this week, we talked about using all of the tools at our disposal to secure equal access protections for blind people from all branches of the federal government. We continue to recognize that we do have many allies in our work, especially to secure 21st century access rights for blind people, and one of those is our next presenter, who is the principal deputy chief for the Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division in the United States Department of Justice.
She has been with the Disability Rights Section since 2010, serving as a trial attorney before coming to be in her currently appointed position. She has a long resume of contributions to civil rights work. We're very honored to have her here at this convention, especially as we continue to be very concerned and feel quite an urgency about making sure that we set the standard for all websites, from employers, public accommodations, and other public entities, that they be fully accessible to blind people! [Applause] So we welcome her to discuss the right to participate fully in 21st century America. Here, from the Department of Justice, is Anne Raish.
Good morning, everyone. I am really delighted to be here to have the opportunity to speak with you all about the Justice Department's work to advance the right to full participation in 21st century America. And I'm especially excited to be gathering in person for the first time in a really long time! [Cheering and Applause] At the Justice Department, we recognize that perhaps nothing is more fundamental to participation in the 21st century than technology. Now more than ever, technology is the cornerstone of how we communicate, learn, and do business. This was made even more abundantly clear during the height of the pandemic. During that time, to stay home and physically distance, we relied on technology even more to do our grocery shopping, to work, and to consult with our health care providers.
We are at a critical point for people with disabilities and technology. The pace of technological change is staggering. While advancing technology can open doors for many people with disabilities and provide the means to move closer to the goal of full, equal, and truly integrated access, cutting-edge technological advances can leave people with disabilities behind, especially if the entities that develop, manufacture, and offer them do not make their products and services accessible on the front end.
When Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504, the internet and information technologies as we know them today did not even exist. For that reason, although the ADA provides and guarantees rights in a variety of acts and activities, it does not mention the internet. Accessibility must be built into the digital environment just like accessibility must be built into the physical environment. [Applause] Enforcement of these laws by the Department of Justice has resulted in public entities, businesses, and some technology developers taking new approaches to accessible technology. My goal today is to share with you all the department's role and tools as it relates to enforcing the ADA in accessible technology. I'm going to talk about some recent work in this area, and then I'm going to talk about how we can work together to enforce full participation
The Disability Rights Section, where I work, is in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. Our work is to advance the rights of people with disabilities using the ADA. We have many tools to achieve this. One of them is regulations. Congress tasked us to provide regulations for the ADA, and we can clarify the obligations imposed by the ADA and how those obligations can be met. Currently the Justice Department is working on a rule to provide technical standards to help state and local governments comply with their existing obligations to make their websites accessible to individuals with disabilities. [Applause] But I want to make clear—because we hear this from some entities—that even without final regulations, the ADA applies to the accessibility of web information and services. [Applause] That's been the long-standing position of the Justice Department, and courts around the country have recognized that web information and services must be accessible to people with disabilities, even without formal technical standards.
As another tool to advance disability rights, the department also provides information and technical assistance to entities who have responsibilities to comply with the ADA. To that end, the department has several technical assistance documents regarding web accessibility and services. Most recently, in the spring, the department published new guidance that explains that state and local governments who offer their programs, services, and activities on the web must take steps to ensure that their communications with people with disabilities are as effective as their communications with others.
This includes services like paying a parking ticket, registering for school, applying for an absentee ballot, and any other government program provided on the web. The guidance also explains that businesses open to the public must ensure that individuals with disabilities have full and equal access to their goods and services, including the services they offer on their websites. This includes retail stores, banks, hotels, medical offices, entertainment venues, and restaurants. The guidance provides examples of common barriers, such as poor color contrast, using color itself to provide information, failing to provide text alternatives to images, and inaccessible online forms, where the forms use labels that can't be detected by screen readers. The guidance then provides a variety of features that businesses and state and local governments can use to make their websites accessible. It also discusses the deficiencies in automated accessibility checkers and states that a manual check of a website can provide a better sense of accessibility.
This may sound like basic stuff. But our hope is that by putting a document out like this from the Department of Justice, it will prompt businesses and state and local governments to put a stronger focus on making their web service accessible. [Applause]
You can find this document on our website, ada.gov, and if there are topics or areas where you feel that it would be helpful for the department to issue guidance, please reach out and let us know. We value your insights and your expertise, and we would like to know about recommendations that you have.
We have another tool that we can use when these other tools fail to bring about sufficient compliance. We also have our enforcement tool, and we can sue government entities under the ADA. [Applause] The department has jurisdiction over all state and local government employers, the activities of all of those state and local governments, and businesses open to the public, like hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, and others. We have jurisdiction to enforce the ADA at all of these entities and have brought enforcement actions against many of them. As you know, many technologies that have access barriers include not only commercial and public websites, but mobile applications, educational software, audio visual multimedia, self-service kiosks, e-books, and much more.
I'm going to talk about employment first. Employment is key to how so many of us spend our days, make a living, and even define ourselves. Under the ADA, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, unless it would impose an undue hardship. Assistive technology and accessible technologies are just some examples of reasonable accommodations. Employers must also test in a way that tests skill and ability on the job, not just measuring disability. Advances in technology have had an enormous impact, but new ways of doing business, if not implemented with access in mind, can limit accessibility or lead to discrimination.
For example, many employers now use algorithm-driven hiring tools to interview job applicants. Job applicants must answer interview questions on video, and those video recordings are then analyzed to see how applicants' facial and voice expression compare to the facial and voice expression of “successful employees.” The risk that the tool might disqualify individuals with speech impairments or facial tics is obvious, but less obvious is how such tools may disqualify individuals with other disabilities. Perhaps more troubling is that job seekers may not know that the tool was used or that it led to their failure in the hiring process. Rejected applicants may have no way of knowing that they have been discriminated against or that they could have asked for a reasonable accommodation.
The department also has many settlement agreements with public employers including a requirement that online job applications comply with web content accessibility guidelines, including Dekalb, Illinois; Isle of Palms, South Carolina; and village of Ruidoso, New Mexico.
Moving on to Titles II and III of the ADA, state and local governments and public accommodations must ensure that their communication with people with disabilities is as effective as communications with others. To that end, they must provide auxiliary aids and services to ensure effective communication. An example of those aids and services are accessible electronic and information technology. They must provide those aids and services in a timely manner and in a manner that protects the privacy and independence of the individual.
In an example of a recent case we did, the Justice Department reached a settlement agreement with the Champaign-Urbana mass transit system in Illinois. An individual who was blind noted that when the mass transit redid their website, they did so in a way that reduced usability for blind users. Specifically, it limited their ability to plan their trips online and travel independently. The Justice Department conducted a survey of the district’s website and identified sixteen different accessibility barriers, including insufficient color contrast, inaccessible hyperlinks, and limited keyboard access. We asserted that, because of the redesign of the district's mass transit website, they excluded people who were blind and with other disabilities' ability to participate in the mass transit program in violation of the ADA. Under the agreement, the district must make the mass transit website accessible for blind users and users with manual impairments. The agreement requires the district to comply with WCAG2.1AA.
Also in Illinois, the department is in ongoing litigation against the city of Chicago to ensure that people who are blind or deafblind have equal access to pedestrian crosswalks. It was filed in district court and last year the Justice Department intervened as a plaintiff, alleging that there are no accessible pedestrian signals at over 99 percent of Chicago intersections that have a crossing signal. Chicago is the third largest city in America, and to put the number in perspective, only fifteen of the city's roughly 2,700 crossing signals have accessible signals.
The lawsuit alleges that this widespread failure by the city subjects people who are blind or deafblind to added risks and burdens that are not faced by sighted pedestrians, such as fear of injury or death. We are continuing to litigate that case, and it remains ongoing.
I want to also highlight some matters we've had with public businesses. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Justice Department learned of widespread problems experienced by individuals with disabilities trying to access vaccine websites for the COVID-19 vaccine. [Applause] These websites obviously provide critical information about COVID vaccinations and enable people to schedule appointments online. A number of major retailers operated vaccine registration portals that were not accessible to people who use screen readers or have a hard time using a mouse. [Applause] In response to this feedback, the Justice Department reviewed the websites of several large businesses, including Rite Aid, Hy-Vee, Kroger, and CVS. The department determined that these corporations' COVID-19 vaccine portals were not accessible to people with some disabilities. For instance, the calendar on Rite Aid's website used for scheduling vaccine appointments did not show screen readers any available appointment times, and people who used the tab key instead of a mouse could not make a choice on a consent form that they needed to fill out before making their appointment. People who use screen readers could not hear the questions on Hy-Vee's online medical screening forms, and people who used the tab key instead of a mouse could not select appointment times. These are obviously critical functions needed to make a vaccine appointment!
The corporations agreed to make content about the COVID-19 vaccine, including the forms for making appointments, conform to WCAG2.1 level AA. [Cheering and applause] We have also done work in the area of self-service kiosks. Last fall the department filed a brief clarifying that the ADA requires public accommodations to provide auxiliary aids and services so that individuals with disabilities can fully and equally enjoy all of their services. Quest Diagnostics provides health care and diagnostic testing services, and requires patients to use an electronic self-service kiosk to check in, input personal information, choose where to wait, and perform other tasks. No staff are allegedly present in the check-in area, so patients who are blind must ask strangers for assistance or bring companions. Our brief explained that the ADA prohibits public accommodations from treating individuals with disabilities differently because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services, including failing to provide effective communication with respect to services offered through visual and electronic means, like self-service kiosks.
I want to mention one more case involving accessible technology, because on this one we are specifically seeking your feedback if you have experience with it. Several years ago, the Department of Justice issued a letter of findings to the University of California at Berkeley, concluding that Berkeley's free online content is inaccessible to individuals with disabilities in violation of the ADA. Berkeley creates and publishes free online content, including courses on its Berkeley X platform, and it provides thousands of hours of audio and visual content featuring conferences, lectures, and other university events and programming. Its online content is made available to the public for free, but much of it is inaccessible to blind individuals and individuals with other disabilities. If you have tried to access UC Berkeley's online content, but you were unable to do so because it was inaccessible, we'd be interested in hearing about your experience. I have an email address that I hope is easy to remember! If you would like to reach out on this, that email address is [email protected]. I'll also leave the information up here so you can reach out if you'd like to.
I'd like to end by talking about how we can work together to dismantle barriers to access in 21st century American life. There are many ways that we can collaborate. As you may have done in the past, you can report an ADA violation through the Civil Rights Division's website, which is civilrights.justice.gov. You can contact us to inform us of lawsuits filed under the ADA in which we might participate by filing a brief or intervening as a plaintiff. You can recommend technical assistance, and you, of course, can comment on our pending regulations when they are published. Together we can have a significant impact in eliminating barriers to access. The Justice Department will continue to use every one of its tools to advance full participation in 21st century life. Thank you again for having me here today to share some of our work in this important area, and we look forward to our continued collaboration. [Cheering and applause].
MARK RICCOBONO: Thank you very much, Anne. We appreciate the work that the Department of Justice is taking on, and we certainly appreciate the notion that regulations are not needed, that the law is very clear about the requirement for the internet to be accessible. We agree with that! [Cheering and applause] On the other hand, the Department of Justice has a lot of weight and tools that it can apply in this area, and we just want to share by show of voice our support for strong regulations from the Department of Justice protecting our rights on the internet. How about it, folks? [Loud cheering and applause]
If you could just share that message back at the Department of Justice, we would appreciate it! Thank you for being with us today. [Applause]
by David Andrews
From the Editor: This article appeared in the Spring Issue of the Minnesota Bulletin. Here is the way it was introduced:
(Editors’ Note: Dave Andrews is a Federationist well-known for his management of the listservs and technological acumen—and possibly just as famous for his talents as a cook. In this article, we have the privilege of his thoughts on raising children and advice to new and aspiring parents.)
We can read stories in the Braille Monitor and other places about blind parents who have problems with the medical or social services establishments believing that blind people are unable to parent kids. It’s true that children do get taken away from blind parents, and blindness can be used against us in divorce proceedings and other legal matters.
I am pleased to tell you that none of this happened to me. I think there are a number of reasons that this was true including being prepared, talking to other blind people who are parents, and having a spouse that believes in the capacity of blind people to raise our kids. There is probably also a dash of luck!
First, I tried preparing myself to raise a baby. I practiced things like changing diapers and feeding on a life-sized doll. My wife was extremely helpful in showing me how to do things—thanks Michele!
Second, I talked to other blind people. Nadine and Steve Jacobson and others were very helpful. Since I am also the owner of NFB lists, I asked questions there. There are a number of lists which can be helpful. They include Blind Parents ([email protected]), Blind Kid—for sighted parents of blind children ([email protected]), and in Minnesota, Minnesota Parents ([email protected]). On these mailing lists people help each other, and support each other. None of us has all the answers—we now call this “crowd sourcing.”
This is not to say that everything was smooth sailing. For example, the kids and I were at Lumberjack Days in Stillwater one year and went up to a ride for the kids to get on. The operator said to Rosa, “Isn’t it wonderful the way you are able to take care of your dad and lead him around.” Rosa was five at the time. Who was leading whom? I calmly explained things to him. A couple times in public parks I was told that I shouldn’t have kids because I couldn’t adequately supervise them. This is a small sampling of the bumpy road of a blind parent.
This illustrates my first point, “be prepared.” You need to think about these kinds of situations in advance and rehearse possible answers. These incidents seemingly always come out of the blue when you least expect them—so you need to be prepared. You don’t want to answer out of anger or not answer at all. This is hopefully an educable moment for people, and you don’t want to lose the opportunity. I always want to come back with a sarcastic answer. But they may not get it, and if they do, it will only make them mad. So stay calm and logical. Thinking of possible situations that may occur in the future and their answers will help you keep your wits about you.
Finally, things did not ultimately work out between Michele and me, but when we got divorced, we agreed we would try and do what was best for the kids. I think she believed in me and knew I could take care of the kids when they were with me. She has always been willing to give me advice in those areas that I did not know much about.
Together we have raised two bright, engaging, and committed young adults. Carlos is a sophomore at Century College majoring in computer science and doing well. Rosa joined the Navy and is about to be stationed on the aircraft carrier George Washington. They say it takes a village—and it does!
by Cassie McNabb McKinney
From the Editor: This article is taken from Future Reflections, Spring 2023. Many of us know the message we send about being blind, but the Federation is so much more as it shapes our view of life and the respect we have for every human being. Cassie is the mother of two, and here is a moving and interesting story she relates about being a mom:
The lessons that we are taught in life come from those who are the closest to us, those in the inner circle with which we surround ourselves. My parents and grandparents served as examples for me. They taught me to be respectful of all people and to show love rather than hastening to anger. Above all they taught me to believe in myself and the dreams and goals I had for my life.
During the summer of 2003, I extended my circle when I met the National Federation of the Blind. Leaders in this organization reinforced the lessons I had learned from my family. They set an example by living full and productive lives as blind people.
Throughout the years I have had many opportunities to serve our organization in positions of leadership. Each time one of these situations has arisen, I have learned even greater lessons about myself. All of the roads I have journeyed within my Federation family have prepared me for one of the most challenging and rewarding opportunities in life: parenthood.
On January 13, 2016, Robert Dennis McKinney came into this world. He was a healthy baby boy with a lot to say and the lungs to make sure that everyone heard him. As he grew it became evident that he had inherited not only my nose and my sass; he also inherited my eye condition. This knowledge was not the stress to me that it might have been without my growth through the Federation. My Federation family had empowered me to be the very best advocate for Robert that I can be.
At seven years old Robert is now quite the self-advocate. He has no trouble voicing his needs to his teachers and instructors. He tells them exactly what he needs to be able to learn alongside his peers. His immersion in the Federation from a young age has put all of this into motion.
Now, fast forward two years. On May 19, 2018, Timothy Otis McKinney made his grand entrance into the world. His brother had been more vocal, but Timothy was simply a force to be reckoned with. We soon learned that Timothy has autism. The day we received his formal diagnosis, I froze in my seat. I was utterly speechless.
Where had all my courage gone? I had had the courage to fight for my oldest son, to get him what he needed. Was it not the same for Timothy? Of course it was!
The Federation is a movement of the blind, for the blind, but it is so much more. At its core the Federation supports individuals who struggle with so much more than blindness. It is an organization that builds and empowers. It is an organization whose core belief is that we are a family. A family does what it has to do to help where help is needed.
I have had wonderful support from my family and friends throughout my life. My Federation family has taught me invaluable lessons about advocacy and self-advocacy. It takes real courage to stand strong when the rights of our children are on the line and it is our duty to protect them. Not only must we defend the rights of our own children; we must fight for the rights of the children of our nation.Years from now, when Robert and Timothy are older, they may reflect on their lives and the people who have shaped who they are. No doubt there will be a circle of people who have surrounded them, a circle of people they have learned from. I know in my heart that when they think of those important people in their lives, they will think of the National Federation of the Blind.
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.
From the Editor: This comes from Rudolf Volejnik, Vice President Emeritus of the Czech Blind United.
Dear music-loving and music-creating community,
You are cordially invited to take part in the International Competition for Blind Composers 2023. All essential information, including the Application Form, can be found under the link https://jandeylconservatory.cz/competition-2023/index.php?lng=en.
The prize-winning compositions will be financially rewarded, appropriately promoted, and performed live in public. Don't hesitate to apply; the deadline is June 30, 2023. Together with our appreciative audiences, we look forward to experiencing your best creative achievement.
This new contest represents the continuation of a long tradition of organizing prestigious international performance and composition competitions of blind music professionals in the Czech Republic dating back to the 1970s.
This invitation message has been issued by:
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.