Braille Monitor

Vol. 67, No. 1               January 2024

Gary Wunder, Editor

Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, by the
National Federation of the Blind

Mark Riccobono, President

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ISSN 0006-8829

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Vol. 67, No. 1                      January 2024

Why Do Some Voting Advocates Fight Equal Access for the Blind?
by Mark Riccobono

Online Voting for the Blind: Security Should Not Supersede Access
by Curtis Chong

Why the NFB is Bringing STEM to You
by Ashleigh Moon

Deep in the Federation Lies a World of Breakthroughs
by Michelle Felix Garcia

We Need Your Help

A Report of the Blind Christians Group
by Tom Anderson

An Investment with Huge Returns
by Peggy Chong

Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship
by Tracy Soforenko

A Hot Time in Houston
by Maryanne Melley

When College is Not Right for Your Child: Preparing for Independence and Success
by David DeNotaris

Full Participation of the Disabled in America: Nothing without Us
by Andrés Gallegos

The Evolution of Overlays
by Curtis Chong

Reflections on Four Decades: Celebrating Parents of Blind Children in the Organized Blind Movement
by Barbara Cheadle and Carla Keirns

Gary Van Dorn Day Brings Dollars to NFBCO
by Peggy Chong

Structured Discovery Practitioners Are Part of the Organized Blind Movement
by Justin Salisbury

The Nation’s Blind Podcast and the Myth of the Model Federationist
by Blaine Deutscher

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2024 by the National Federation of the Blind

Why Do Some Voting Advocates Fight Equal Access for the Blind?

by Mark Riccobono
Opinion contributor, The Hill - 10/27/23, reprinted with permission

Americans with disabilities are now the largest minority group in this country, yet when it comes to voting rights, we are treated as second-class citizens, excluded from the right to vote independently and privately in most states.

To make matters worse, groups like the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, and Free Speech for People seem to want things to stay that way. These advocates claim to “uphold the values of democracy,” “empower all people to make their voices heard,” and fight for “free and fair elections.” You would expect them to be working to make voting more accessible for everyone. But, as the transformative membership and advocacy organization of blind Americans, the National Federation of the Blind, of which I serve as president, is deeply dismayed because these three groups and others have repeatedly done the exact opposite.

That’s why this past summer, our national convention, the supreme governing authority of our organization, took the unprecedented step of unanimously adopting a resolution calling on these groups to follow their own mission statements, to support secure methods for online ballot marking and return, and to stop blocking efforts to make voting more accessible for all.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted over three decades ago and requires that every voting option be accessible to voters with disabilities so that all voters can vote independently and privately, whether in person or by mail. Yet millions of voters like me and the members I represent still do not have the ability to do so.

In-person voting remains fraught with barriers. Transportation issues make getting to a polling place challenging, and many polling places continue to have barriers to equal access.

Once at a polling place, voters with disabilities often encounter poorly trained poll workers and malfunctioning accessible equipment, costing us time or, worse, forcing us to enlist strangers to help us vote, thereby violating our right to privacy and independence. Even if the equipment is working, these same groups question its security, calling it too insecure for other voters to use and suggesting that only voters with disabilities be allowed to use it. Ironically, this position implies that it is less important to protect the security and integrity of our ballots and effectively segregates us from other voters, which makes our ballots more vulnerable to attack. 

Voting by mail is also inaccessible in most states. Blind voters and others are unable to mark or handle paper ballots. As a result, we must rely on others to mark and return our ballots, giving us no privacy or independence and violating the rights afforded by the ADA.

It is unsurprising, then, that voters with disabilities vote at lower rates than other voting groups. Even in 2020, when turnout was the highest in over a century, voters with disabilities still had a seven-point turnout gap from voters without disabilities and were twice as likely to report difficulties voting. The gap has remained roughly the same over the last fifteen years. 

But there’s a proven fix to the barriers faced by blind voters and voters with other disabilities that prevent them from reading, marking, or handling printed ballots. Over a dozen states now offer fully accessible absentee voting with electronic ballot delivery and return, which enables us to vote independently and privately using our own assistive technology. These options are also utilized by military and overseas voters in over thirty states. 

Systems used for electronic ballot delivery and return have been rigorously tested, and cybersecurity experts have affirmed that they are secure. Research from the Federal Voting Assistance Program has even found that for some voters, electronic ballot return options like these are more secure than postal return. More recent research from the Government Blockchain Association found that systems that digitally protect ballots with encryption are much more secure than traditional paper absentee ballots. But in spite of the evidence—and the promise of even stronger technology in development—groups like the Brennan Center for Justice, Common Cause, and Free Speech for People have repeatedly worked to oppose legislation to offer those options in states including ColoradoMaryland, and Rhode Island. These efforts directly contradict the mission statements of these advocates and are wrapped up in misleading assertions and unfounded concerns about security.

Without accessible options, we must rely on another person—whether in the voting booth or at home with a mail-in ballot—to fill out our ballots for us. This violates our right to a secret ballot. After every election, the National Federation of the Blind hears from members that their loved ones or voting assistants incorrectly marked their ballots, sometimes deliberately.

Make no mistake. Election security is critically important. No voting method should force any voter to risk the integrity of their ballot, and no method should be vulnerable to hacking. But security and accessibility are not mutually exclusive.

It is time for voters with disabilities to be treated as first-class citizens and afforded full and equal voting rights. As blind people, we are working towards that goal. Who’s with us?

Online Voting for the Blind: Security Should Not Supersede Access

by Curtis Chong

From the Editor: Voting privately and independently becomes ever more important as America becomes more polarized and far too many of us make decisions on the people we love and will associate with based on their political opinions. There was a time when the use of a sighted assistant was essential for a blind person to vote, but with the advent of ballot-marking devices and other machines, those days are no more. Here is what Curtis Chong has to say in remarks that first appeared in the Blind Coloradan, the official publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado:

The ability to vote using a secret ballot that can be marked privately and without coercion has long been a fundamental cornerstone of America’s democratic system. For centuries, blind voters were forced to rely on the help of election judges, trusted friends or relatives, or other human readers to mark their ballots. This deprived them of the right to a truly secret ballot. Blind people like me, who wanted to participate in the democratic process, put up with this lack of true secrecy and independence as long as there were no viable alternatives available.
The 1972 presidential election was my first opportunity to participate in the electoral process. At that time, the only way that I could vote was with the help of an election judge. This didn’t bother me too much—I was used to working with sighted readers. There were no alternatives available that would have given me the chance to mark my ballot independently and secretly. I voted this way for more than three decades.

The first non-visually accessible systems for marking and casting ballots at the polls were developed because of the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) in 2002. These systems had tactile keys and text-to-speech technology to provide a nonvisual interface to the ballot. Once the blind voter finished marking and checking the ballot, these systems would print something which, for all intents and purposes, was the same ballot as that cast by other voters. I used an accessible voting machine during the 2004 presidential election to mark and cast my very first truly secret ballot. The personal freedom I felt after having done this was liberating.
Two years later, I went to the polls to vote in another election. I had forgotten how to use the voting machine. The equipment had changed anyway. I had to spend extra time learning how to use the new system before I could get down to the actual business of marking the ballot. I felt more than a little frustrated and annoyed with the whole experience. When I discussed this with my blind friends and colleagues, I heard that I was not the only blind person who experienced this. I had to familiarize myself with a system which I would use only once every one or two years.

The online voting systems available today—in particular, those systems which enable ballot marking and return via email or through a Web portal—offer blind voters the chance to receive, mark, review, and return our ballots using technology we can confidently and proficiently operate. The ability to return a ballot electronically is critical for blind voters who don’t have ready access to a printer—especially if travel to a polling center is difficult or impossible. This type of system enables blind voters to work with familiar software and hardware—something that is impossible using the accessible voting equipment at the polls.

Security pundits have said that returning ballots electronically is the least secure way to return marked ballots and is guaranteed to corrupt the voting process. Stories in the media give greater emphasis to this argument. They fail to point out that voters who are blind or who have print disabilities still deserve the ability to return ballots electronically, security concerns notwithstanding.

Many people (and some of the media) claim that online voting is equivalent to eliminating the paper ballot. This is not true. Usually when a ballot is received electronically, it is printed on the same kind of paper using the same format as the standard paper ballot received through other channels. During the counting process, a ballot submitted through an online system is indistinguishable from one sent in by mail or placed in a ballot box.

I do not quarrel with the idea that the voting process needs to be as secure as possible. Neither do I disagree that returning a ballot electronically is not without some security risk. Where I draw the line is when security experts and others tell us that blind voters and voters with print disabilities do not deserve the opportunity to return their ballots electronically on the theory that security concerns should supersede their right to vote privately and independently.
I fully understand that the electoral process implemented in this country is built on a foundation of trust. When voters place ballots into ballot boxes or send their ballots in by mail, they trust that no disreputable individual will tear up their votes but, instead, will insert the paper ballot into the counting system so that it can be accurately processed. When ballots are submitted electronically, I understand that the electronic information in the ballot has a slim chance of being corrupted before it reaches its destination, but I am willing to take that risk in light of the greater accessibility that I enjoy by using the electronic ballot return process. Online voting is a technology that is still relatively new. Blind voters like me and voters with print disabilities appreciate having this capability. We can and will continue to advocate for this type of system in states where it doesn’t exist today. Gone are the days when technology did not exist for us to cast a private and truly secret ballot! Security should not supersede our right to cast a private and truly secret ballot.

Why the NFB is Bringing STEM to You

by Ashleigh Moon

From the Editor: Bringing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics programs to blind people opens up many opportunities that for too long we have been told are beyond us. In addition to the programs we have been holding in Baltimore and other places, the Federation is now moving STEM to our affiliates. Ashleigh is a STEM-Access Consultant for blind students, school districts, and organizations that work with blind youth. She provides direct instruction to students in the areas of math, science, and assistive technology. Ashleigh has experience organizing STEM programs for blind youth and is the current coordinator for the National Federation of the Blind's STEM 2U Program. She is the chair of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona's Education Committee and the president of the Arizona Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Ashleigh provides support to families by serving as a volunteer IEP advocate and providing free IEP consulting and has organized IEP seminars for parents and professionals. Here is what she says:

I have helped coordinate some of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) programs for blind youth across the country. People often assume that I believe all program participants should work in one of the STEM fields. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

I do have strong feelings about immersing our blind youth in all that STEM programs have to offer. It is also true that I have chosen a career that motivates me to advocate for the participation of blind youth in any and every STEM opportunity their classmates and peers receive. However, I do not feel that every blind youth should become a scientist, mathematician, information technology specialist, or engineer.

You may wonder why I feel so strongly about blind youth participating in STEM if not to choose this career path. Furthermore, why should you advocate just as strongly for equal participation as I do?

The answer to this question, though multi-faceted, is quite simple: Because the other kids are doing it.

Of course, not all non-blind kids will grow up to work in a STEM field. This may seem like an over-simplification of the matter, but this really is the point. Sighted youth are provided with what adds up to hundreds of chances to participate in STEM activities: in and out of their classroom, from pre-school all the way through receiving that high school diploma. These youth will not all become scientists and engineers, but by having opportunities to participate in STEM, they know that these careers are attainable.

Research demonstrates that participation in STEM activities improves critical thinking skills, teamwork skills, language development, and more. This explains why an increasing number of STEM-focused camps, curricula, and even schools are popping up all over the nation. More and more people are recognizing that participating in STEM learning opportunities helps youth improve their academic skills in all subjects. Sighted students participating in STEM are increasing their academic success and their career potential in endless fields. Blind youth deserve the same opportunity to reach their full potential.

Although I make this point seem cut and dried, many of us know that this is not the case. The variety of access obstacles facing blind youth in and out of the classroom make full and equal participation in STEM challenging. Students often do not have the tactile graphics or technology they need to participate. They often have teachers who are not knowledgeable or who are unprepared to teach what they perceive as predominantly visual subjects to a blind student. How many times have you heard of or can you recall for yourself the blind student being relegated to taking notes in the lab group? Blind students are sidelined, while sighted students interact directly with the experiments and activities. Why can’t a blind student use the open-flamed Bunsen burner or learn how to properly measure out the chemicals for a lab experiment? The expectations that teachers have of blind vs. non-blind students are not equal. Sighted students have hundreds of opportunities to engage in STEM, but blind students are lucky to have half as many. The opportunities that blind students do have are often severely unequal.

The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not a barrier to full participation in STEM in and out of the classroom. We are raising expectations by creating our own opportunities and educational resources for blind youth to help overcome these barriers. Starting in 2004 with the NFB Rocket On program, the NFB has been creating STEM programs for blind youth that prove that equal access is possible. From NFB Youth SLAM to NFB EQ, these programs have shown blind youth, their families, and teachers that STEM careers are not out of reach. You can learn more about these programs and other past NFB STEM programs at nfb.org/programs-services/national-center-blind-youth-science/past-nfb-stem-programs.

The NFB has also led efforts in creating educational resources about how STEM can be accessible to blind people. This year the NFB has released two informational toolkits to assist parents and teachers with bringing STEM access and opportunities to blind youth: NFB EQ for Teachers (nfb.org/programs-services/education/national-center-blind-youth-science/nfb-eq/nfb-eq-teachers) and NFB EQ for Parents (nfb.org/programs-services/education/national-center-blind-youth-science/nfb-eq/nfb-eq-parents). These toolkits are free online resources that focus on how to bring STEM access to blind students wherever they are.

One of the currently running programs, NFB STEM2U, is uniquely designed to bring these amazing STEM learning opportunities directly to blind youth across the country. NFB affiliates in more than ten states will host STEM2U programs in the spring and summer of 2024. The theme of the current program is the James Web Space Telescope. Students will have opportunities to launch homemade rockets, learn how telescopes “see” space, and even build their own model of NASA’s James Web Telescope. Bringing these activities directly to local affiliates eliminates travel and time barriers for students and families while giving them opportunities to participate in a fully accessible STEM experience. Many of these students have limited opportunities like these, where their blindness has no impact on their ability to engage, participate, and learn real science. Will they all decide to go work for NASA, Google, or even the CDC after the program? The answer is likely no. The important thing is that students will build on their problem-solving skills, social skills, and knowledge of how science can be accessible to them.

As the voice of the Nation’s Blind, the NFB knows that blindness is not (and should not be) a barrier to blind youth actively participating in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. This is why the NFB is breaking access and education barriers for blind youth across the country. This is why the NFB is bringing STEM to You! You can find out more and register youth for a local program by visiting nfb.org/stem2u.

Deep in the Federation Lies a World of Breakthroughs

by Michelle Felix Garcia

From the Editor: Michelle lives in Mexico. She has a degree in music from San Diego State University where she graduated summa cum laude. One of her goals is to bring to Mexico what she sees in America when it comes to advocacy, laws, and services. Michelle was a student at the Colorado Center for the Blind from January 9, 2023, through September 21, 2023. Fortunately, this allowed her to attend the convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Houston. Like many of the articles we have been running lately, hers describes her convention experience; her doubt about whether she wanted to go, whether she could handle the crowds, and whether she would enjoy the experience. Here are her conclusions:

“I don’t know if I want to do this,” I said, with visible hesitation. I had requested to talk to Stefanie Parris after some days with anxiety gratuitously creeping into my mind. With a gentle voice and a calm smile on her face, she answered: “Michelle, I believe you should go. You have a constant curiosity for things and an endless desire for learning. If you attend this convention, I think you will love it.”

Was she right? She knew me really well. Stefanie is my home management instructor at the Colorado Center for the Blind, a beautiful place where trainees cook meals for each other, discover the wonders of the world through independent travel, lift each other up, and in the process, find themselves, their limitless potential, and an unstoppable confidence they didn’t even know they possessed.

Stef taught me how to pour hot water into a cup to make myself a hot chocolate on my very first day, when I was extremely scared I would get hurt. With love, patience, and dedication, CCB instructors prove to students time and time again that there is nothing to fear about blindness and that life has an infinity of surprises to offer if only we are brave enough to get out of our comfort zone. Maybe she had a point, I concluded.

My flying experience is relatively little. I have the privilege of being Mexican, from a small peaceful city called Puerto Peñasco, with stunning beaches and a bustling boardwalk. We have no public transportation, and the town is not very accessible to walk in. I came to the Center in January of this year, having never crossed a street on my own before in my twenty-two years of living, and a sighted guide always accompanied me to any place I wanted to go. Now in Colorado, one of my long-term goals was to learn how to fly back home. After only three months of training, Martin, my travel teacher, believed in me enough to practice the one-bus, three-train route to get to the Denver International Airport. Thanks to our relentless determination, I flew alone to see my parents for Easter. The takeoff and my mom’s teary-eyed reaction seeing her daughter so sure of herself going down the escalator without holding anyone else’s hand are precious moments I’ll never forget.

On June 30 at 4:30 a.m., Coldplay’s “Amazing Day” rang in my phone’s alarm clock. I got out of bed, not knowing what to expect. Surely a whole new world of new insight awaited. The lessons began from the moment I had to carry luggage down my eighteen apartment steps. I quickly figured it out.

Time goes fast, and convention was now upon us. It was a calm, sleepy ride to the airport. For a second, I was nervous because an airline employee took my bags, and I thought I’d never see them again. Later I learned this was a normal part of the check-in process. We all received Braille tags to make luggage identification easy. At the sound of tapping canes, dragging suitcases, boarding announcements, and fifty lively people on an airplane, I felt resolute and energized to make this happen.

We had a warm welcome in Houston, figuratively and literally. But the heat didn’t stop us from venturing out into a city most of us had never been to before, using our newly-acquired orientation and mobility skills. When it comes to travel, pizza is an excellent motivator, and a group of friends and I took to the streets to eat at a great nearby restaurant.

Among the animated conversations and the great company, I had forgotten the incessant doubts I’d initially come with. For some reason, I swore I wouldn’t know how to get around in the hotel, even being scared enough to think that I would not find my sleeping room at night. My argument made no sense, taking into account that for my birthday I had my parents come from Mexico and guided them through the Denver light rail to find an ice cream place in the heart of the city near the 16th Street Mall.

My questions quickly vanished as we took the evening to explore the hotel. We read every single Braille sign we came upon and accidentally found what we believe were the banquet kitchens, mountains of Braille books, tactile games and yellow Frisbees we later made fly. My inner nerd cannot help mentioning how I went around the entire Ballroom of the Americas, set up with fancy tables and chairs, until I found the soundboard. My major at university was music recording tech, and audio is my greatest passion in life. I wouldn’t stop until I saw it. By the end of the day, I felt very comfortable with a couple floors and ready to get some rest. By the way, I did find my room.

Saturday presented multiple opportunities for learning that I wouldn’t let go. There were interesting expositions of smart, accessible kitchen appliances, but what I took most away from was the Job Seekers Seminar. I have been actively looking for employment for a while, and I was very inspired by the speakers discussing networking strategies in person and on LinkedIn, when and how to disclose our blindness, and how to turn an employer’s shocked reaction into an advantage and making a company realize the value of hiring a blind person for our brilliant ingenuity, flexibility, and natural problem-solving abilities.

Talking about problem solving, in the afternoon I felt a strong desire for coffee. When my parents visited me last June, I went to their hotel to swim in the pool and asked my dad to teach me how to use a hotel coffee maker since they are smaller and different from the usual ones at home. Feeling armed with the necessary knowledge, I rushed to my hotel room to find a coffee maker with two filter trays. “In which of the two should I put the pouch?” I thought, puzzled. I chose the right because that must be right. And, to my bewilderment, I only got hot, clear water as a result. Later I learned I could brew two cups at the same time. But this was one of the many hilarious joys that come when you are a newbie first-timer.

What a first-timer I was. I had been eagerly looking forward to Sunday because the NFB’s Job Fair was hands-down one of the events I wanted to attend the most. I had taken time to prepare multiple versions of my resume, but it turns out that the day before our flight to Texas, CCB students had the chance to attend an opera in Central City. With the excitement this performance brought, I forgot the copies in my locker. Upon that realization, I panicked for two seconds and started looking for solutions. Four hours before the career fair, Charles, a CCB cane travel instructor and employment coordinator, asked if I had my documents; I was ashamed to admit I did not. Later I dialed the front desk asking if there was a business center in the hotel that I could use as a printing resource, and a mailing store on the third floor saved my back.

With six resumes in hand, wearing black dress pants, a nice burgundy blouse, and heels, I felt ready to take on the world. But not so fast, especially for an introvert like me. Putting my name out there, introducing myself to strangers, and talking about my skills did not come easy at all, but I persevered through and accomplished it seven times. The hardest part was standing in front of people I already knew and talking to them as possible future colleagues. It was extraordinarily intimidating, but I believe it is an essential part of my development as a human being to face my fears. After all, if you never try, you’ll never know. I call this event a total success. Navigating thirty-two tables among a sea of crowded lines is something I feel very proud of having done.

At the Colorado Center, we are truly lucky, because throughout all of convention we are assigned caring, experienced staff members who check in with students daily and ask us about our needs, priorities, and concerns. I had the most amazing mentor. Chris works with the senior program, and she took the time out of her busy day to invite me for lunch. I let her know about my shortage of time for meals, and she let me shadow her to learn how to get food delivery to a hotel. Thanks to her, I did not starve.

Upon hearing how slow my elevator experience was, she took it upon herself to give me an O&M lesson on how to take the spiral stairs. After her handy tricks, my approach for getting places changed drastically, saving me lots of time and not wearing so much on my patience. She even invited me to attend the Braille Book Fair and the 2023 Talent Showcase. We had a great time picking titles and watching the concert together. I was blessed to have her kindness, encouragement, and guidance, making my convention experience even more memorable.

The opportunities for meeting people were everywhere, and I was excited to make new connections. In total, I attended twenty-eight different meetings. I visited the Presidential Suite, where I met Mark Riccobono. I was very glad to tell the Texas affiliate in person that I deeply enjoyed the mariachi with which they welcomed all the Mexican population that showed up to Houston as part of the organized blind movement. As soon as I heard the first notes, I screamed like crazy. I bet every single person from the Colorado delegation knew where I was from. Furthermore, the CCB gave us the opportunity to work two shifts at the Independence Market, where I sold Domino sets, Braille games, and white canes. It was a wonderful chance to practice marketing, a skill I didn’t know I had. At one point I was asked to be a marshal, meaning to yell out “elevators this way” so that people could more quickly get where they were going. I had surely benefitted from these human talking signs myself, and it was now my turn to be one. This pushed me to break my shy tendencies and help others at the same time.

A highlight for me was the last general session. I signed up to interpret the speeches into Spanish and realized that it’s much harder than I thought. But with practice comes improvement, and I had so much fun translating information in real time.

Before the banquet, I couldn’t leave the building without performing one last bit of mischief. I went up to the sound booth to meet the person who mixes and played back the music for the general sessions. He let me touch his board, and we exchanged contact information. I can’t wait to see whether I too can collaborate with audio for the Federation, since it is an organization I believe in. I am a witness to their influence.

Thanks to the NFB’s philosophy, I will never be the same. There’s no doubt it has changed my life.

I overflow with gratitude to the Colorado Center for the Blind for the wealth of things it has taught me. I am forever beholden to my instructors for the personal growth their confidence has led to and the strong belief in myself they have imparted every single day through their structured discovery challenges.

I found myself in the CCB kitchen working on chocolate chip cookies when I heard Stefanie’s voice. I thanked her for having encouraged me to go to convention, and she asked “So, did you love it?” My enormous smile said it all.

We Need Your Help

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.

LYFT Round Up

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.

Vehicle Donation Program

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 Donation

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.

Pre-Authorized Contributions

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).

Plan to Leave a Legacy

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.

Percentage or Fixed Sum of Assets

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.

Payable on Death (POD) Account

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.

Will or Trust

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:

Just imagine what we will do in 2024, and, with your help, what can be accomplished for years to come. Together with love, hope, determination, and your support, we will continue to transform dreams into reality.

A Report of the Blind Christians Group

by Tom Anderson

From the Editor: It is unusual for us to publish the notice of one’s passing and then to run an article written by them. Tom Anderson wrote this article in response to the request that the Braille Monitor makes of all divisions, groups, and committees. Appropriate modifications due to his passing have been made:

The Blind Christians Group held its meeting on Monday, July 3, 2023, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the convention of the NFB held at the Hilton Americas Hotel in Houston, Texas. A large crowd attended this meeting.

We had a panel discussion comprised of publishers of Bibles and other Christian literature.
Craig Leeds, from Braille Bibles International spoke about the work of this organization. They produce the King James Version and the New King James Version of the Bible in Braille. They distribute cartridges of Bibles which were originally produced by Aurora Ministries. They also have a concordance in Braille.

Allen Decker from MegaVoice spoke about the work of this ministry. They produce Bibles on a solar player and also plan to offer teachings from various ministries using this device. Mr. Decker was previously employed by Aurora Ministries and served faithfully with that organization for many years.

Mike Smith and Thomas Bleemel from the International Christian Braille Mission spoke about the work of their ministry. This ministry has made a diligent effort to reach out to blind people in Liberia. It has a lending library and distributes some literature from the Church of Christ.
Riley Johnson spoke about the work of Lutheran Braille Workers. This organization produces the New International Version of the Bible, as well as the English Standard Version in softbound Braille volumes. They also produce other Christian books.

Geri Lyn Rogge from Christian Record Services for the Blind spoke about the work of this organization. It was founded by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. They have produced the Christian Record magazine since 1899. They have a lending library as well.

Following these presentations, Deborah Prost spoke with us regarding the work of Messianic Jewish ministries.

Tom Anderson spoke about reaching out to all about the good news of salvation. Special Touch Ministries has an excellent book, which is available for free, regarding the subject. We also had an interactive discussion regarding goal setting. We will work to produce a document about Bibles that are available from various ministries as well as with mobile apps. Those who attended this meeting also expressed an interest in a weekly bible study conducted via phone conference.

The Blind Christians Group conducted devotions prior to the morning sessions on July 4, 5, and 6. Tom Anderson, Rev. Dr. Carolyn Peters, and Renee Akins spoke at these meetings.

The Blind Christians Group is certainly willing to work cooperatively with other faith-based groups. Those who wish to do so may contact the group's new chairperson, Linda Mentink, via email at [email protected] or via phone (402) 563-8138. When calling, please leave a message if she does not answer. She will get back to you as soon as she can.

An Investment with Huge Returns

by Peggy Chong

From the Editor: When government spends money, the way people feel about it often depends on whether they believe it is an investment or simply money taken from their pocket to benefit the undeserving. Luckily for blind people, most people believe education and vocational rehabilitation to be an investment. Certainly we make this case repeatedly, but what is so interesting about this story is not only the way an investment helped one blind person but in addition what it did to help members of his family, who would live to do wonderful things themselves. Here is the story as it can only be told by Peggy Chong, the Blind History Lady:

In Maryland in the 1880s, the right to an education for blind children was for families who could afford it. The Maryland Institute for the Instruction of the Blind, founded in 1853, was a private school, funded primarily through charities. Parents were expected to pay a tuition of $300 a year per child that covered their education, room, and board during the nine-month school year. Some parents turned to their local communities, family, or friends to help pay for their blind child’s education. Families unable to pay or find sponsors petitioned the Governor of Maryland for a special appropriation granted for only one year at a time.

Oliver Keeney, born on November 22, 1876, in Granite, Maryland, was blind from an early age. His father died when Oliver was only four, leaving his mother Nancy with three small children, the youngest only a year old. Although the extended family had lots of land, cash was not available for any extras. Nancy applied under hardship to the Governor of Maryland to send her son to the blind school.

In 1885 Oliver entered the school, now known as the Maryland School for the Blind. He continued each year until he graduated from the academic and then the piano tuning courses in 1897. Oliver’s tuition was approved and paid for by the state of Maryland each year.

After graduation, Oliver worked as a piano tuner on his own. He had a room at 2616 Oak Street in Baltimore that doubled as his office. Oliver placed his piano tuning tools into a bag or later a cart and pulled them behind him as he walked or rode the trolley to his clients.

In 1900 he became a piano tuner for William Knabe & Co. of Baltimore. One year later, he was promoted to head piano tuner, earning a wage of at least $18 a week. This was six times more than he would have earned if he worked at the workshop for the blind.

William Knabe was a well-established piano manufacturer for more than fifty years. The Knabe Company put out over 18,000 pianos a year in 1908. Their facilities in Baltimore included at least seven buildings and about 300,000 square feet of business space. Oliver took great pleasure in being the last employee to work on the pianos before these instruments were shipped to the most famous concert halls in America such as The New York Metropolitan Opera House.

Oliver seemed to live the American dream despite his blindness. Before landing his prestigious position with William Knabe, Oliver played piano for many civic and church events. He advertised for several days in a local paper and on a bulletin board ahead of coming to town. If anyone wanted their piano tuned, they left messages at his contact at a local store. Usually, he already had one job lined up before advertising in a town. In Woodsboro, he regularly tuned for the Lutheran Church, and on Saturday night, they pushed the furniture to the wall and held a dance. Oliver played the piano and usually a fiddler or two accompanied him.

At one of these dances, he met and later married Alverta May Eyler on December 21, 1905. The couple had seven children, beginning with Donald in 1907 and ending with Wilbur in 1926.

Oliver first owned a brick rowhouse in Baltimore. The basement windows were large to bring in the light from the outdoors. Four steps led up from the public walk to the stoop and the entrance to the first floor. His home was larger than many of his friends could afford, just over eleven-hundred square feet, with a basement for a shop where he taught his boys to tune.

He learned to ride a single bike in his youth. About 1919, he purchased a bicycle for two for the family and for his sons to ride in the front to steer. Son Donald was in the front by his early teens, acting as Oliver’s assistant. By 1920, the family owned a touring car that accommodated at least nine people for long motor trips such as a vacation to Niagara Falls in 1922.

The family was very musical. Oliver wrote, arranged, and published several songs. Sons Donald and Theodore became employed as piano tuners like their father by 1924. Donald also worked as a musician and band leader. Oliver’s children were all still living at home in 1924.

In 1926, the Keeney family was changing; some of the children were beginning to leave home. Oliver purchased a more modern home at 4712 Springdale Ave. in Linthicum, a suburb of Baltimore. Theo continued to work with his father as a piano tuner.

The depression hit the music business hard. No one bought pianos or wanted their current piano tuned. The Knabe Co. was shrinking fast. As the last tuner of pianos, one of his last jobs was to tune the piano purchased by the Royal family in England.

Knabe closed its facility in Baltimore and transferred its main offices to New York in 1933. Oliver was offered a position in Chicago, but he was in his late fifties and did not want to leave Baltimore. The family traded their home for a store near Hammonds Ferry and Nursery Road in Glen Burnie in about 1931. Knabe could not provide full-time employment. Alverta ran the store mostly by herself. Oliver bought and raised chickens in the back and sold fresh eggs. He built and repaired the chicken coops while trying to establish a new customer base as an independent piano tuner.

On weekends, the Keeney Orchestra played for their neighbors, asking only for contributions. With the door opened, they used their garage as their stage. Oliver and the children, even young Wilbur, played until everyone was done dancing.

Donald moved back home and needed to find a source of income. He had hated the tuning business when he helped his Dad. But now, Donald thought that he could repair and sell used pianos from his home and asked Oliver where or who might give him or sell him cheap pianos in need of repair. Oliver and Donald soon had more pianos than they or Donald’s wife wanted in the house.

Donald found a store front in Annapolis and opened Keeney’s Music Store. Later he sold musical instruments, sheet music, and music accessories. Additionally, he offered piano tuning. The business added radios and televisions to their inventory in the late 1940s. Donald bought a bigger building in the 1940s. Oliver came down frequently and tuned pianos for Donald’s customers.

One of Oliver’s Annapolis clients was his old paperboy from the days on Payson Street, now the current Governor of Maryland, Theodore R. McKeldon. Governor McKeldon also hired Oliver to entertain on the piano for one of the events at the Governor’s mansion shortly before Oliver’s death on June 13, 1951.

Oliver’s Legacy

Son Donald, born in 1907, learned to tune pianos and worked with his father, beginning by peddling the front of their tandem bike to and from jobs. He joined the Navy and served as a sailor on the USS Reina Mercedes. He was attached to the Navy Hospital in Anne Arundel, Maryland, and was a member of the Naval Academy Band in Annapolis and played the trombone. His son Donald Jr. served in the United States Army during the Korean War. Donald Jr. learned piano tuning from his father, taking over the family business after his father retired. Keeney’s Music Store was sold by Donald Jr. in the 1980s when he wanted to retire. Yet, like his father and grandfather, he continued to tune pianos until his death.

Theodore, born in 1909, learned to tune pianos. He played trumpet in the family band. In his early adult life, he worked with his father on pianos. Theo went into the Army in 1941, serving on several continents for four years. Following the war, Theo was a budget analyst for a few agencies in the Department of Defense, retiring from the Defense Supply Agency in 1976 after thirty-five years of service.

Calvin, born 1912, was an engineer for steel plants in Baltimore. During WWII, Calvin was deferred from military service because his work in the steel industry made him more valuable at home.

Kenneth, born 1915, enlisted in the Army Air Force, serving in the combat service divisions. After the war, he worked as a postman.

Daughter May, born 1918, graduated from high school and married a man in the petroleum industry. She died in an automobile accident on July 6, 1941

Waldo, born 1921, graduated from Glen Burnie High School in 1941. He went to Pennsylvania to work as a mechanic for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Waldo entered the Air Corps in March of 1942. He was looking forward to coming home and working with brother Donald in the Keeney Music Store to repair radios and TVs. Waldo was lost at sea, July 25, 1945, during a B-29 flight near Saipan. He was a technical sergeant with the 864th Bomber Squadron, 49th Bombardment Wing of the US Army Air Force.

Wilbur, born in 1926, attended the Peabody Conservatory of Music where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He came home to Baltimore to live with his widowed mother and taught music in the Baltimore public schools. Later he obtained a Doctorate in Music from the University of Miami. He taught music in the Dade County School System for more than thirty years and played many musical instruments with competence. After his death in 2016, he left several large gifts, one to the Maryland School for the Blind for $250,000 in memory of his father.

Oliver may not have been the wealthiest man in the state, but the education provided to him by the state of Maryland allowed him to become a taxpayer and not a tax recipient. He demonstrated through example to his children that hard work and service made a better citizen. Oliver gave to his country six sons who served in the military and supported the war efforts. Monetarily, his son Wilbur gave back to the school for the blind more than six times the funds spent on Oliver’s education.

Peggy Chong is a 2023 Jacob Bolotin Award Winner. To schedule The Blind History Lady for a presentation for your business, church, or community group, email [email protected]. Purchase a copy of her book, Don Mahoney: Television Star, at its new low price at Don Mahoney: Television Star: Chong, Peggy: 9781098082956: Amazon.com: Books, and please check out my other works at https://www.smashwords.com/books/byseries/24325.

Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship

by Tracy Soforenko

From the Editor: Tracy is a member of our National Board of Directors and is the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia. He is also the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund, and it is in this capacity that he writes:

Have you always wanted to attend an NFB annual convention but have not done so because of the lack of funds? The Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund invites you to make an application for a scholarship grant. Perhaps this July you too can be in the Rosen Center Orlando enjoying the many pleasures and learning opportunities at the largest and most important yearly convention of blind people in the world.

The three biggest ticket items you need to cover when attending an NFB national convention are the roundtrip transportation, the hotel room for a week, and the food (which tends to be higher priced than at home). We attempt to award additional funds to families, but, whether a family or an individual is granted a scholarship, this fund can only help; it won’t pay all the costs. In recent years, the grants have been $750 for individuals.

We recommend that you find an NFB member as your personal convention mentor, someone who has been to many national conventions and is able to share money-saving tips with you and tips on navigating the extensive agenda in the big hotel. Your mentor will help you get the most out of the amazing experience that is convention week.

Who is eligible?

Active NFB members blind or sighted who have not yet attended an in-person NFB national convention because of lack of funding are eligible to apply. If you have attended a convention virtually but have never attended an in-person convention, you are still eligible to apply.

How do I apply for funding assistance?

This year we will be accepting applications online. Since applications must be completed in a single session online, we strongly recommend you prepare your responses in a document, and then cut and paste your responses into the application form. The application form does not support complex formatting, so we recommend avoiding formatting such as bullet points and fonts/styles.

Effective January 1, 2024, the application form can be found at the following link: https://nfb.org/form/kenneth-jernigan-convention-scho?q=form%2Fkenneth-jernigan-convention-scho

The application will ask for the following information:

If you cannot apply online, you can still apply by writing a letter to your state affiliate president answering the above questions. This letter should be emailed to your state affiliate president. Once you have decided you will apply, please contact your state president in person or by phone to request his or her help in obtaining funding. Be sure to tell the state affiliate president when to expect your application, and mention the deadline.

Once your application has been submitted, your application will be provided to your state president via email. It is still your responsibility to contact your affiliate president. He or she must email a president’s recommendation directly to the Kenneth Jernigan Convention Scholarship Fund Committee at [email protected]. Your president must email the recommendation no later than the deadline of April 15, 2024. If you have applied outside of the online form, the state affiliate president must email both the recommendation and the application letter.

Notification of Award

If you are chosen to receive this scholarship, you will receive a letter with convention details that should answer most of your questions. The committee makes every effort to notify winners by May 15, but you must do several things before that to be prepared to attend if you are chosen:

Receiving the Award

At the convention, you will be given a debit card or credit card loaded with the amount of your award. The times and locations to pick up your card will be listed in the letter we send you. The committee is not able to provide funds before the convention, so work with your chapter and state affiliate to assist you by obtaining an agreement to advance funds if you win a scholarship and to pay your treasury back after you receive your debit or credit card.

More Information

For additional information, please contact the chairman of the Kenneth Jernigan Fund Committee, Tracy Soforenko, at [email protected] or 410-659-9314, extension 2020.
Above all, please use this opportunity to attend your first convention on the national level and join several thousand active Federationists in the most important meeting of the blind in the world. We hope to see you in Orlando.

A Hot Time in Houston

by Maryanne Melley

From the Editor: Maryanne is the energetic president of the National Federation of the Blind of Connecticut. It is obvious that she serves her fellow blind people, but what may not be so obvious is that, when a hotel lets her down and fails to properly staff an event, Maryanne is found behind the serving table and functions just as well as she does behind the head table. Here are the experiences she had at the 2023 National Convention:

The National Federation of the Blind Convention in Houston this year was hot and steamy both outside and in. There were many pleasurable moments and some disappointments. For the most part the positives outweighed the negatives. I send my sincere gratitude to Norma Crosby and the Texas affiliate for hosting an amazing event. I can only imagine the magnitude of effort it takes to prepare for such a task, and Norma handled it with such grace and grit.

It was a wonderful surprise to have the return of local tours at the convention again. The last time I recall this taking place was In Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008. Tours of the Museum of Natural Science, The Houston Space Center, and a Houston Astros baseball game offered a variety of choices. Having President Riccobono throw the first pitch at the ball game to chants of “NFB” from the crowd was incredible. And that’s just the fun stuff. The vast array of meetings that we were offered the opportunity to attend and learn about so many products and issues was enough to keep anyone busy throughout the week. The speakers during general sessions were compelling and informative.

It is difficult to pick favorites for this article and not take up ten pages, so I will only pick three. Saturday’s “What’s New with JAWS, ZoomText, and Fusion” seminar shed new light on many new keystrokes that are up and coming that will make using our computers much more streamlined. But one of the best new features coming out in the autumn will be JAWS assisting you to line yourself up properly for a Zoom meeting. It will be able to tell you if your face is on the screen rather than your shirt and will orient you as to how to fix it. If you forgot to put the dirty laundry away, it will let you know that also. Imagine how professional you will look in a job interview or in a meeting with your legislators if they are seeing your face and a clean background.

Another informative meeting was the National Association of Guide Dog Users. President Raul Gallegos held a meeting with updates on the Air Carrier Access Act for travelers with guide dogs. We have been having issues with the airlines which you may recall hearing President Riccobono speak about. They require us to fill out a form for our dogs before they can fly with us. These forms are inaccessible. Though we would prefer the airlines to have the same ADA laws apply to us, for now thanks to NAGDU there is progress being made to these forms becoming obsolete.

Finally, at the “How to Get Legislation Passed in Your State” session, the information that was shared on electronic ballot delivery and return was frustrating but helpful. Hearing about the hard work that was done on bills being passed just to be vetoed by the state governor was disheartening. However, we are not deterred. With what I learned at the meeting plus the language of Resolution 2023-04, I now feel more confident than ever to approach my legislators in Connecticut to achieve accessible independent voting for the blind.

The only disappointing part of this convention is the same I find at every national convention. It is the lack of common courtesy at the elevators. Many people do not allow those who are on the elevators to get off before they go charging in. They also trample over people who are in front of them waiting in line, even though they have been told that they are there. Why does this happen every year? What happens to we are a loving family when it comes to elevators? Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people were very kind and helpful with swiping their card so people could then press their floor number. Doing both was a challenge. I just wish people would remember from year to year how to behave in a more generous manner. We are all going to the same places. We all must be patient and wait our turn. In the big scheme of things, this is a minor matter but an important one. All in all, let us all keep deep in our hearts and minds what President Riccobono said in his banquet speech. It is up to us, the blind, to change our world for the better. Whether it be accessible websites, voting, medical devices, or more, nobody is going to do it for us.

When College is Not Right for Your Child: Preparing for Independence and Success

by David DeNotaris

From the Editor: David DeNotaris has a long history in blindness rehabilitation, leading agencies in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Through his work and his personal experience, he has gained insight into the issues faced by blind people when they finish school and seek to enter the workforce. Here is what he had to say at a meeting of parents of blind children on a critical subject for those of us looking to find employment for all blind people:

When I was twelve years old, I asked my resource room teacher, Mr. Watson, "What kind of jobs do people like me do?" He said, "I don't really know. If you can figure it out, you'll help yourself and a lot of other people." It occurred to me back then that even some professionals didn't know. You're in the right place—that's why we're here today!

As advocates we tell a lot of stories. We look at the past as a way to build for the future. I was born in October, so I started school in September, before I turned five. I remember in August of 1974 my dad took me to meet the principal at Public School 10 in Belleville, New Jersey. I was able to see a little bit. I didn't use a cane—I probably should have! The principal started sharing with my dad all the reasons why a blind student couldn't attend that school. He said, "We've never had a blind student. Our teachers don't know Braille. And there are a lot of stairs." When he said, "There are a lot of stairs!" I said, "I walked up the stairs to get here."

My father said, "Please give my son a chance. If it doesn't work, we'll try something else." The principal said, "Are you sure you don't want to send him to that school in Philadelphia?" My dad said, "No, sir. It's two hours away."

That night my father's sister and her husband came over. They were people who loved to debate. My Aunt Rosie said to my father, "Why did you take him with you to go meet that principal?" My dad said, "Because I'm not always going to be here, and he's going to have to learn to stand up for himself."

I graduated from public school and attended Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. I got my first job in a community organization helping people with disabilities find jobs and use assistive technology. I served as a job coach and a job developer. I served as the coordinator of assistive technology for the New Jersey Commission for the Blind. I was director of the Bureau of Blindness of Pennsylvania and the executive director of the Office of Rehabilitation.

I have done this for a while, right? And these are some of the things I've learned. The secret sauce is involved parents, involved families. I know—I'm preaching to the choir! But as my dad would say, "That's how the choir gets to be good." It's very important for parents to be great advocates. It's also important to remember what my dad said when I was four years old, "I'm not always going to be here." There's a fine balance between being involved, being a good encourager and listener, and letting kids learn that they have to stand up for themselves. Maybe they're going to have to advocate for themselves in an IEP (individualized education program) meeting or an IPE (individualized plan for employment) meeting. They're going to have to advocate for themselves. We have to help them recognize that they can do that.

In New Jersey we had a program through a university. It was a twenty-eight-day program that prepared students for college. But you and I know that not everyone is going to college, nor should they. We developed another track at the College of New Jersey. We called it the Work Skill Program, WSP. It taught many of the same skills that were taught in the college-bound program, but it also provided work experiences right there on the college campus. Students did jobs that ranged from emptying the wastebaskets and doing maintenance to working in the IT department. For three weeks we worked on soft skills in the mornings, and in the afternoons we worked on job skills. Then at night we would debrief about what we all had learned.

College isn't for everyone. Vocational school isn't for everyone, either. Technical school isn't for everyone. Everybody has different abilities, skills, and talents. It's a matter of figuring out what a student likes and is good at. Do they like to do math? Do they like to create things? Do they like to write?

In closing I want to share one strategy with you. While I was working for the New Jersey Commission for the Blind, I was asked to speak to the Lions Club State Convention. It was going to take place in Atlantic City, with about fifteen hundred people attending. King Lion came into the room and announced, "And now, from the New Jersey Commission for the Blind, David DeNotaris will speak on what we can do to remove this horrible scourge called blindness."

I thought, gee whiz! Honestly, I didn't know what he was talking about! I wanted to come up with a way to help people understand that blindness is not a tragedy, that blindness can be overcome with the proper skills and techniques. So I thought of some ABCs.

A is for access. Access equals success. Access to what? Access to positive role models, access to information, access to inspiration, access to transportation. Access equals success.

B is for Braille literacy. We must be able to write things down! We can't just think we'll remember. When I've run summer programs in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, I'd ask the students, "How do you take notes?" I'd hear, "My teacher, she gives me the notes," "My classmate, she takes notes for me!" or "I just memorize things." If you can't write things down, you can't organize your day. If you can't organize your day, you can't organize your week. If you can't organize your week, you can't organize your month. And if you can't organize your month, you can't organize your life! You need a way to write things down. Do you use your iPhone or your Android? Do you use your BrailleNote Touch? Do you use your slate and stylus? I don't care what you use, but you've got to use something! You need to be able to get information down and retrieve it later.

C is for can you travel independently from where you are to where you want to go? There's not always going to be an elbow around! I use a white cane. I don't care if you use a cane or a dog, but you've got to use something! You've got to be able to travel independently.

I often hear kids say, "I travel with my mom," or "I travel with my paraprofessional." And I also hear kids say, "No one wants to sit with me at lunch because they don't want to hang out with my paraprofessional."

When I travel with an assistant, I let them know it's their job to help me show up, to help me set up, and then to shut up! Shut up and let me do the work!

I just had a good interview with some people from disability services at a good university. I asked them, "Why do some blind students succeed while some others fail? What have you found?" When I ask about this, I hear that some blind students don't know how to travel, they don't know how to take notes, and they don't know how to get along with other people. They may have the hard skills, the academic strength, but if they don't have the soft skills of travel and notetaking and getting along with people, they're at a great disadvantage.

In our community it's very important to network in places like this. It's important to see that if someone else can do it, maybe you can do it, too. When I was young and met people through the NFB, I thought, Wow, I want to learn to travel! I want to be able to present in front of people! I want to use technology! When I'm around blind people who are doing things, it raises my expectations.

So here you are. Listen and ask questions and learn. You're in the right place!

Full Participation of the Disabled in America: Nothing without Us

by Andrés Gallegos

From the Editor: We are sorry to report that Andrés Gallegos died on December 1, 2023. This is most unfortunate, but his passing lends extra weight to his remarks.

Here is what President Riccobono said to introduce this presentation: We're very honored to have the chair with us of the National Council on Disability. The National Council on Disability is an independent federal agency charged with advising the president, Congress, and other federal agencies on all aspects of disability in the United States. Since 2021, Andrés Gallegos has been the leader for NCD. He serves as chairman, and that gives him a lot of responsibility for directing the work that is done by this agency. His background is in the law where he has been recognized widely as a leader in disability rights. He's published widely, trying to advance the ideals that people with disabilities are full participants in society and have the right to live in the world. Unfortunately, he was not able to be with us in person, but we are very happy that he is joining us virtually for the first time at this convention. Please welcome Andrés Gallegos.

Good afternoon. I am Andrés Gallegos, chairman of the National Council on Disability. In case you are not familiar with the council, we are a very small federal independent agency whose statutory mission is to advise the president, his administration, Congress, and federal agencies on all policy matters affecting all people with disabilities in our country and in our territories. I am a member of the disability community, class of 1996, having sustained a spinal cord injury resulting in quadriplegia. What a privilege to address the National Federation of the Blind and its attendees of its national convention on topics of profound importance that directly touch upon your lives.

On July 26, we will celebrate the thirty-third anniversary of our civil rights legislation—legislation that promised full participation of all of us into every aspect of American society. Over the past three decades, we’ve seen a surge in accessible public and private spaces, an increase in reasonable accommodations in the workplace, improved access to public services, and a shift toward a more inclusive societal mindset. Indeed, the landscape of our society has been dramatically altered and improved by the provisions and protections offered by the ADA.

However, as we all know, our journey toward complete inclusivity and equality is far from complete. We have considerable work to do. One need only step outside the National Federation of the Blind’s beautiful facilities in Baltimore and attempt to utilize the city’s sidewalks to know that work still needs to be done. But the work that is truly needed is to empower each other to assert our civil rights collectively to hold to account those that are holding us back, to address ablest policies and practices wherever they arise, all to get closer to a society where individuals are not defined by their disabilities. The National Council on Disability, the federal voice of people with disabilities, in our advisory capacity, works tirelessly to do just that—to push us closer to a time where our day-to-day life is not dictated by the challenges society imposes but by the immense potential that lies within us, to a time where accessibility is not a privilege or reluctantly viewed as an unfunded mandated obligation but recognized for what it is—a fundamental right; where the sound of a medical device speaking out your results is as ordinary as the chirping of birds in the morning or the rustling of leaves in the wind; where navigating websites is as effortless as finding your way around your home, a place you know by heart; where your paycheck is reflective of your talents, your skills, your dedication, and not your ability to see. Our work extends beyond that, as we push closer to a time where being a person with a disability does not serve as a barrier but instead opens doors to greater opportunities; where entrepreneurship and business leadership are reachable for people with disabilities. This is the promise of the ADA that we have yet to realize.

We live in a time where technological innovations and medical breakthroughs can be made in weeks or months, where it once took years. These innovations and breakthroughs have dramatically improved the quality of life for countless individuals around the globe. Yet, it’s imperative that we let our federal and business leaders know that the effectiveness of any technological or medical innovation depends largely on its accessibility and inclusivity. For the over thirty-two million adults in America who report “having trouble” seeing, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses, or who are blind or unable to see at all, the need for accessible medical devices has never been more critical.

Medical devices, including home medical devices, such as glucose meters, blood-pressure monitors, thermometers, insulin pumps, home dialysis machines, weight scales, heart rate monitors, among other devices, have revolutionized the way we manage our health. They have transferred power from the hands of healthcare professionals into the hands of individuals, enabling us to monitor our well-being right from the comfort of our homes. But those who design those devices don’t know what happens when those hands that seek to monitor their health can’t see the readings on a device or what happens when a medical device isn’t designed with inclusivity in mind, leaving those who are blind or have low vision unable to utilize them effectively. The answer is simple yet stark—exclusion, disempowerment, and an increased risk of health complications.

Blindness and low vision should not preclude anyone from accessing the tools they need to maintain good health. When we talk about accessible healthcare, it’s more than just making sure that there is a ramp for me and those like me, or sign language interpreters for the deaf. It is about ensuring that the tools we create are usable by all, regardless of their physical condition or situation. For those who are blind and with low vision, this means designing medical devices with tactile buttons, large embossed markings, voice output capabilities or Braille compatibility. It means rethinking our design process and creating devices that do not rely solely on visual cues but also incorporate auditory and tactile feedback. It means having members of our community at the table during the design process. Nothing without us.

In February 2022, we released our framework to end health disparities of people with disabilities. Designed as a blueprint for our federal leaders to address the decades-long significant health disparities that persist between us and our nondisabled counterparts. One of its forty-three components calls upon the Food and Drug Administration, through administrative action, to establish regulations requiring that intermediate and high-risk medical devices with a digital interface provide a blind or low vision user access to the same services and information and generally the same ease of use, as provided to a user who is not low vision or blind. Over the past year, our main focus has been on working with our federal partners to move towards the implementation of our five core components—enhanced data capturing; designation of all people with disabilities as a health disparity population; designation of all people with disabilities as a special medically underserved population; the adoption of enforceable standards for accessible medical diagnostic equipment; and funding for the development of model disability clinical-care competency curricula and training. We are focusing now on moving forward the balance of the framework’s components, including engaging the FDA to address accessible home medical devices.

If we are in fact committed to addressing health disparities between us and our nondisabled counterparts, we must also ensure that we are able to participate in clinical trials. This is a matter of justice, equality, and scientific validity. We have historically been underrepresented in clinical trials, leaving a significant gap in our understanding of how treatments and interventions work for us. From a justice and equality perspective, we, like anyone else, have a right to participate in clinical research.

Participation provides early access to innovative therapies that could potentially benefit others in the same community. It is therefore crucial that clinical trials are designed and conducted in ways that are inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities. From a scientific standpoint, our exclusion can lead to skewed results. Without representation from our community, we cannot ascertain the safety and efficacy of treatments for us. This lack of data may lead to unexpected ineffectual treatments or missed opportunities for effective interventions.

I am pleased to share with you that we are in the process of developing a policy report addressing the need for inclusion of people with disabilities in clinical trials. About one third of clinical trials in the United States use eligibility criteria that excludes individuals with intellectual disabilities and cognitive disabilities. And approximately two thirds of clinical trials have specific exclusionary eligibility criteria, excluding individuals who may not be able to read or write, those requiring assistance with activities of daily living, those who do not have access to technology or who, in the view of the research teams, do not have the ability to complete study procedures, safely engage in the research, or have the necessary health status.

A study published in Health Affairs last year analyzed ninety-seven interventional protocols in four clinical trials relating to dementia, depression, diabetes, and lung cancer. It revealed that 85 percent of those protocols allowed broad investigator discretion to determine eligibility, and only 18 percent explicitly permitted us to participate. Visual disability was stated as exclusionary criteria in 34 percent of those protocols.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, people with vision loss are more likely to report depression, diabetes, hearing impairment, stroke, falls, cognitive decline, and premature death. Clinical trials evaluating therapeutics and interventions to address those conditions must include people who are blind or with low vision. And while the report is not yet completed, you can be sure that one recommendation will be that federal funds should not support clinical trials that exclude people with disabilities without evidentiary-based scientific rationale. We have to stop permitting federal funds to be used to discriminate against us—period, full stop.

The principle of inclusion extends far beyond healthcare. The empowerment of individuals with disabilities does not stop at equitable health care, but continues through ensuring equitable opportunities in business and work as well. Thus, we shift now our focus from the laboratory to the realm of entrepreneurship and employment—exploring avenues where inclusivity, once again, plays a defining role. This brings us to discussion of the SBA’s Section 8(a) program and the pressing need to eliminate subminimum wage—both are critical areas where we need to foster greater inclusion and equality for people with disabilities.

If you are not familiar with the SBA’s Section 8(a) program, it is a federal initiative designed to support and empower small businesses owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. That program aims to level the playing field by providing these businesses with a range of benefits for federal sole-source contracts, competitive set-aside contracts, and mentor-protégé programs, among others. It provides technical assistance, training, and management guidance. A key feature of the program is its “presumption of eligibility” for certain groups, enabling faster and more efficient processing of applications. It embodies the federal government’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in the business sector. Recognizing a vibrant diverse business community contributes significantly to the economic health and growth of our nation. Inclusion of people with disabilities as a presumed eligible population under this program will mark a significant step toward entrepreneurial opportunities for our community.

Pursuant to SBA’s regulations, a business is eligible for the 8(a) business development program if they are, inter alia, at least 51 percent owned and controlled by United States citizens who are (and I quote) “socially disadvantaged individuals who have been subjected to racial or ethnic prejudice or cultural bias within American society because of their identities as members of groups and without regard to their individual qualities.” The program thus presumes that Black Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian-Pacific Americans are socially disadvantaged and presumptively eligible for the program.

There is a significant body of literature evidencing that people with disabilities are also socially disadvantaged. We achieve lower rates of education, employment, and financial independence. We live in poverty at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities (29 percent compared to 12 percent). We make up approximately 12 percent of the US working-age population. However, we account for more than half of those living in long-term poverty; 17.5 percent of us participate in the workforce, compared to 65 percent of people without disabilities, directly resulting in higher rates of poverty.

Now, if an individual is not a member of one of the presumed socially disadvantaged groups, it does not preclude them from eligibility in the program. However, absent the presumption of eligibility, each applicant must “present facts and evidence that by themselves establish they have suffered social disadvantage that has negatively impacted their entry into or advancement in the business world.” And each instance of alleged discriminatory conduct must be accompanied by a negative impact on the individual’s entry into or advancement in the business world, in order for it to constitute an instance of social disadvantage.

The National Council on Disability believes that this is an unduly significant burden to place on each disabled entrepreneur, and given the stark evidence that people with disabilities are economically and socially disadvantaged, we should be included as a presumed eligible group. To that end, in May of last year I wrote to SBA Administrator Isabella Guzman to address that very issue. Since then, we’ve had a couple of extended meetings with the SBA’s associate administrator and his leadership team, the most recent of which occurred this past May. I wish I could announce that there’s been progress, but I cannot. There’s resistance to our categorical inclusion. The SBA’s encouraging us to submit a formal application for inclusion, which we (the National Council on Disability) cannot as an advisory body. And therefore, we look to engage in conversation with the National Federation of the Blind on this issue very soon.

While we push for categorical inclusion in the SBA 8(a) program, the National Council on Disability continues to advise our federal partners to eliminate subminimum wages that are legally permitted under the Federal Labor Standards Act, Section 14(c). Established in 1938, Section 14(c) allows eligible businesses to pay some people with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage. That was 1938. It is now eighty-five years later. Through an amendment in 1986, the wage floor was eliminated by Congress. Elimination of the wage floor has resulted in some employees with disabilities earning as little as pennies per hour, quite often earning that little, while the employer was making hundreds of thousands of dollars, and in some instances, millions of dollars from that labor. That should no longer be tolerated. It is a matter of basic fairness and equity. We should receive the same wage for the same work as those without disabilities. We have bills to pay, dreams to pursue, lives to lead. We deserve the dignity that comes with earning a fair wage. Subminimum wages reinforce harmful stereotypes that we are less capable or less valuable as workers. This is contrary to the fact that, with the right supports and accommodations, we can and do perform our jobs as effectively as, or better than, our counterparts without disabilities. With the payment of subminimum wages, employers are disincentivized from investing in accommodations that can help us to work more independently and productively. Therefore, eliminating subminimum wage is a key step towards economic equality for people with disabilities.

In closing, let us be reminded of the strength and resilience that lie within our shared vision—a vision of a time where medical devices speak to all who need them, not just those who can see; a time where the process of scientific and clinical trials does not discriminate, but includes every one of us, valuing our unique experiences and contributions; a time where no individual’s paycheck is diminished due to their visual abilities, and where entrepreneurship is not the exclusive domain of any one group, but is open and accessible to all, including people with disabilities.

Each of these goals are not disparate goals. They are interconnected pieces of the same vision—a vision of a society that truly sees all its members; that truly values each one of us; and that truly fulfills the federal promise that was made to us thirty-three years ago; a promise of full participation in a society that understands—nothing without us. Thank you again for this opportunity to address you.

The Evolution of Overlays

by Curtis Chong

From the Editor: At our 2023 National Convention in July, one of the topics discussed was website accessibility and the role of what are commonly called overlays to make that technology more user-friendly for blind people and others with disabilities. After a presentation by accessiBe, Curtis Chong was asked to make this technical gobbledygook understandable to those of us who simply want to go to the World Wide Web and get the products and services we need. Because Curtis’s time was cut, what we are running here are the remarks he intended to give had time allowed.

Why are we talking about overlays and why, two years ago, did we adopt Resolution 2021-04, regarding the use of overlays to make websites accessible to the blind? What is an overlay anyway?

To begin with, since the pundits are telling me that the term “overlay” is the wrong way to describe the automation that is supposed to help websites to be more accessible, let me suggest the term, “accessibility widget.” So, from here on out, at least during my remarks, I will refer to what we used to call overlays as “accessibility widgets.”

The use of automated tools to address some of the more obvious accessibility issues on the web is not really new. To fix some web accessibility issues, website accessibility companies sometimes deployed a limited form of automation along with the accessibility fixes they installed on behalf of their paying customers. None of us knew or cared that this type of limited automation was being used since, after all, we were not prompted to enter a special screen reader mode or do anything else to use a particular website. It was not until about three years ago that people began to be told that any kind of screen reader mode was available for certain websites.

So what is an accessibility widget? Simply put, an accessibility widget is automation that is supposed to be smart enough to find and fix the coding on a website so that it meets the accessibility requirements in the law. Among other things, this technology is said to be able to:

Accessibility widgets can do a lot of other things for people with disabilities other than blindness. Since this is a convention of blind people, focusing on accessibility from the nonvisual access perspective would seem to be the appropriate approach for me to take here.

Accessibility widgets cannot:

Remember, this is only a partial list. Let’s just say that as things now stand today, artificial intelligence, as implemented in accessibility widgets, can fix some, but not all, of the nonvisual access issues which, unfortunately, we encounter too often on the Web. (Let me digress by pointing out that accessibility widgets do not seem to help us to deal with that pesky visual CAPTCHA.)

So, if the accessibility widgets of today cannot fix all of our nonvisual access issues on the Web, why, then, do companies that offer accessibility widgets boast so many paying customers? AudioEye says on its website that it is trusted by more than 95,000+ leading brands and happy customers. accessiBe says that it is trusted by 198,210 small businesses and industry leaders alike. UserWay, a company which styles itself to be “The Leading AI-Powered Web Accessibility Solution” urges us to join “over 1 million websites and millions of users with disabilities who trust UserWay for their digital accessibility needs.” I can only assume that a lot of small businesses and organizations imagine accessibility widgets to be a less expensive and more effective method to make their websites accessible. Since I have already established that accessibility widgets fix some, but not all, of our nonvisual access problems and since we know that there are literally millions of websites that we will never touch, there will be businesses and organizations out there who may never know that they have an accessibility problem—that is, unless or until blind people come along.

To those companies who develop and sell accessibility widgets, we, the blind, may not be the customers who actually pay you, but we are the ultimate beneficiaries if you get it right and the victims of what you do if you get it wrong. You have chosen to use automation which announces the availability of a screen reader mode on the websites you support. For the uninitiated screen reader user, this is a powerful encouragement to turn on this screen reader mode with the expectation that this will make the website more usable for someone running a program like JAWS or NVDA. If turning on the screen reader mode actually works, no harm, no foul. But if it doesn’t, you really need to give us a way to turn off your screen reading mode (if this is even possible) and to reach out to you for help. You have grown your business on the premise that accessibility widgets alone will help your paying customers to deploy more accessible websites. You really need to dispel this myth and do more to encourage your customers to do a lot more than simply implement a solution based on automation. You, the providers of accessibility widgets, need to engage with the blind community so that you can learn from real blind people how your automation works and where it breaks down. Hold listening sessions with real, living blind people. Find out what excites us about the Web and what causes us no end of frustration and annoyance.

What should we, the National Federation of the Blind, do? For one thing, we, the largest organization of the blind in this country, must use our power as a vehicle for collective action by the blind to work with the major players in the accessibility widget marketplace. Resolution 2021-04, passed two years ago at our convention, gives us a framework regarding accessibility widgets and the companies that deploy them. We can use those concepts and principles to engage with companies like accessiBe, UserWay, and others, and we can stand firm in our understanding that automation alone cannot fix all of our nonvisual access issues on the Web. We can learn how to recognize when a particular website is using an accessibility widget, and we can demand to have methods and procedures that we can share with others to reinforce the positive aspects of accessibility widgets while diminishing or eliminating those aspects of the accessibility widgets which stand in our way.

We can and must challenge claims that artificial intelligence and automation are the most effective way to address our nonvisual access issues. We need to continue encouraging organizations and companies to develop the knowledge and expertise they need so that accessibility is considered and built from the ground up in everything they do. We must insist that companies like AudioEye, UserWay, and accessiBe stop leading their paying customers to believe that their accessibility widgets alone are the only way that true accessibility can be achieved, and we should continue encouraging them to partner with us on a basis of mutual respect and understanding.

For those small businesses who cannot or will not establish accessibility teams, if your website is truly not usable by someone who is blind, then come up with a way that doesn’t involve your website where a person can do business with you.

Accessibility widgets are not going away. The companies selling this technology are simply too large, and their technology is simply too pervasive. I know that most people will groan whenever they hear “overlay” or “accessibility widget.” Groan if you will. But I know that if we put our minds to it, we can use our energy, experience, and understanding to move this in a direction which will work for us. Thank you.

Reflections on Four Decades: Celebrating Parents of Blind Children in the Organized Blind Movement

by Barbara Cheadle and Carla Keirns

From the Editor: On July 4, 2023, NOPBC President Emeritus Barbara Cheadle addressed the NFB National Convention. She looked back on the founding and growth of the NOPBC and shared her hopes for the future of blind children in the United States. Her remarks were immediately followed by then-President Carla Keirns. These remarks are taken from the convention issue of Future Reflections, a publication of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults edited by Deborah Kent Stein.

Barbara Cheadle: When I sat down to write this speech, I remembered what Dr. Kenneth Jernigan told me when I asked him for guidance in writing one of my first public speeches. I was totally taken aback when he said, "Be entertaining." And he was right! If you can't entertain, no one's going to listen long enough to be informed or inspired. Those of you who have been around long enough to remember Dr. Jernigan will recall the jokes he told at the beginning of every recorded Presidential Release. They were hopelessly terrible, terrible jokes—real groaners! The worse they were, the more we loved them. We looked forward to them, and within minutes, we were relaxed, happy, and eager to be informed and inspired by the rest of the release.

So, in honor and appreciation of all that Dr. Jernigan taught me, here's, I hope, a good groaner to get us started today.

What kind of shoes do frogs wear?

Why, open-toad sandals, of course!

My husband John and I adopted our blind son, Chaz, in 1980. He was two years old when we met him at the airport with his escort from South Korea, and I fell instantly, irrevocably, in love. He was perfect. We were living in Omaha, Nebraska, at the time, and I had a job with the local Red Cross.

Shortly after the adoption, a job came open in my department that I was positive could be done by a blind person. What an opportunity it might be for the right blind applicant if we could get the job description out through the NFB. I was very excited when I went to my boss to lay this suggestion before her. But as soon as she heard the word blind she shut me down. Her husband, she said, had limited vision. He couldn't drive, or read print, or cook, or clean, and most certainly he could not hold down a job.

I was stunned. All I could think was that in twenty years or so, it could be my newly adopted, happy, beautiful son who, without ever knowing it, had a door of opportunity slammed shut against him. I locked myself into a nearby bathroom stall and sobbed. I knew then that it wasn't going to be good enough to raise a competent, confident child with good blindness skills and a strong work ethic. If I didn't do something to help change the world, he might never be given the chance to live the life he wanted.

By the way, my husband John and I are both sighted. In the mid-1970s, before we had a child or even were married, we worked for the state rehabilitation agency for the blind in Nebraska. We joined the NFB because we wanted to learn more about blindness from the real experts. By the time Chaz joined our family, we had been NAC-tracking, attended state conventions, and a national convention. I had even helped organize and conduct a statewide seminar for parents of blind children. Very few parents showed up at that seminar, and those who did looked sad and desperate. They clearly didn't know what to make of all these blind people, and they were too frightened even to ask questions. I remember thinking, if only there were some way NFB members could get invited into their homes so they could get to know blind people and be comfortable around them! Maybe they could start to learn that it really is okay to be blind.

Fast forward to the 1981 NFB Convention. At that convention, I approached the NFB Parental Concerns Committee, most of whose members were blind parents. I suggested that we start a newsletter for parents of blind children and volunteered to be the editor. I had a vision for the magazine. Of course, it would republish some classic NFB speeches and articles, but also it would seek to generate and publish new material from blind adults and parents and teachers of blind children. Teachers such as Doris Willoughby could share practical tips and strategies that were deeply embedded in the NFB philosophy of positive attitudes about blindness.

As soon as the first issue of the newsletter came out, Dr. Jernigan contacted me to let me know that henceforth the national office would handle the publication. I was to continue working as editor on a volunteer basis from my home in Jefferson City, Missouri. And then YOU, the leaders of local chapters and state affiliates, got to work. There was no internet or social media in those days, but somehow affiliate leaders such as Joanne Wilson and Gary Wunder got their hands on mailing lists of parents in their states. Slowly, issue by issue, the newsletter started showing up in mailboxes around the country.

As you know, that newsletter was later renamed Future Reflections, and, under the capable editorship of Debbie Stein, it continues today to be invited into thousands of homes of parents and teachers nationally and globally. If you haven't read the recent special issue, “The World of Work,” you must. I read it on the plane on the way to convention, and my heart soared with gladness at the inspiring stories.

But the magazine alone wasn't going to be enough. Dr. Jernigan had a vision that encompassed so much more than mine. His was a vision of blind people working side-by-side and hand-in-hand with sighted parents to bring about cultural, legislative, educational, and deeply personal changes in attitudes and expectations. Those changes were required if blind children were ever to have the opportunities they needed to live full, productive, satisfying lives as adults. To achieve these goals we needed parents to be engaged as fully participating members of the Federation.

Historically, very few sighted parents of blind children had joined the organization. Mostly, sighted parents didn't even know about the NFB. If they did find out about us, the information often came with warnings from teachers, rehab counselors, and even some eye doctors, telling them not to get mixed up with that "radical" group of blind people.

To make his vision a reality, Dr. Jernigan sent an invitation to Doris Willoughby, Ramona Walhof, Susan Ford, and me. "Come to Baltimore," it said. He wanted us to sit down with him and write a constitution for a new NFB division, a division for parents of blind children, to be presented and approved at the upcoming 1983 NFB Convention in Kansas City, Missouri.

Why did he choose us? Ramona was a powerhouse national and state leader within the NFB, and she had worked closely with Dr. Jernigan in Iowa. Doris Willoughby was a sighted teacher of blind students and the spouse of NFB member Curtis Willoughby. Curtis was one of the first competitively employed blind engineers in the country. Doris was already well-known for her books (published by the NFB) about the education of blind children. Susan Ford was a blind foster parent of a blind child. She was the chairperson of the Parental Concerns Committee and an active officer and leader in her state affiliate. All of us, including me, had experience organizing local chapters and building membership.

Dr. Jernigan had plenty of experience with writing affiliate constitutions. Most of the details and decisions were not difficult or controversial—except for one. The most important decision we made at that meeting was positively to affirm the right of sighted parents to run for all offices in the new parents' division, especially the presidency.

This decision was a big deal! In the 1980s many members of the NFB could still remember historical attempts of sighted professionals to take over and run—for their own purposes—groups originally organized by the blind. The NFB is an organization of the blind, not for the blind. Therefore it is fundamental that the office of the presidency at the local, state, and national levels be filled by a blind person. This decision was an acknowledgement that sighted parents of blind children had common cause with the organized blind. As the guardians, the spokespersons, and advocates for our blind children, we were natural allies and partners.

That was forty years ago. What has the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, the NOPBC, together with the NFB, accomplished in the past four decades?

In 1982, the year before we organized, the NFB started selling canes sized for children—really, really young children, even toddlers. The NFB was the first entity, agency, or organization to do so. The NOPBC had its first goal and program ready to go in 1983: get those canes into the hands of kids. We started by distributing the video "Kids with Canes" from the Nebraska Services for the Visually Impaired. We distributed that video across the country. For years, Doris Willoughby stocked copies of the video and mailed them from her home.

Next, we started giving away kid-sized canes to children who came with their parents to our NFB National Conventions. Once blind kids got canes in their hands, they refused to give them up. We changed forever the educational practices concerning white canes for children.

In 1984, the NOPBC voted to sponsor a national Braille reading contest for children in kindergarten through high school. Soon parents and teachers started to complain that the youngest kids were reading so much, so fast, that they were running out of Braille books to read for the contest. We even heard suggestions that we should drop the contest categories for early readers! Of course we didn't do that. Instead, we pressured the Library of Congress to increase the number of Braille titles for children. We went to organizations such as National Braille Press, Seedlings, and the American Action Fund. We asked them to provide us with more Braille books for early readers, and they did. When the contest established a category with prizes for children with additional disabilities, the participation of schools for the blind skyrocketed. In the 1990s students who participated in the contest formed an important cohort of research subjects for the groundbreaking Braille literacy research conducted by Dr. Ruby Ryles.

For almost thirty years, the NOPBC's Braille Readers Are Leaders contest proved that Braille-reading kids can be competitively literate with their sighted peers. After a hiatus, the contest is back with a new sponsor and an updated structure—and it is more vibrant and vital than ever. Thank you, Debbie Stein and Sandy Halverson!

Toward the end of the decade, in 1987, NOPBC parents in Minnesota were instrumental in helping the NFB affiliate in that state pass the first Braille bill. Many states followed, including Maryland. Ten years later, a Braille literacy provision was included in the reauthorization of IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Despite legislative progress, the struggle to make Braille the default for blind and low-vision children still continues, but we have not given up.

There was an enormous growth spurt in the decade of the 90s. In partnership with O&M instructor Joe Cutter, we established the annual Cane Walk at convention. We created and distributed numerous videos for parents, including "It's Okay to Be Blind," "White Canes for Blind Kids," and a six-video set, "Avoiding an IEP Disaster." We published The Bridge to Braille, an instruction book for educators co-authored by Carol Castellano.

In the era of the 2000s, we established what has become one of our most beloved convention programs with a grant from UPS—the Braille Book Fair. By this time, our original parent leaders were beginning to age out as their blind children grew up and left home. In 2006, under Carol Castellano's guidance, the Parent Leadership Program (PLP) was established.

From that time to the present we have done so much more! We have a website and a Facebook presence; we have more books, articles, and videos. We established Braille Reading Pals, an early literacy program for preschoolers. We host IEP workshops and Braille and technology workshops for parents.

Our most important program is the one the NOPBC voted to establish in 1984. At that meeting, we unanimously voted to hold a seminar for parents every year at all future NFB National Conventions. The seminar gradually expanded to become a multi-day conference embedded within the NFB Convention. I did a quick count this year, and NOPBC had thirty-five or more named programs, workshops, and activities listed in the convention program, with more than one hundred volunteers behind the scenes making all those programs happen.

Of all our successful NFB programs, how can I assert that this one is the most important? I make that assertion because parents need you—you, the members of the NFB. We need to meet you, talk with you, laugh with you, cry with you, debate with you, collaborate with you. We need you so we can imagine together, with you, what the future might be for our blind children. And when we are new and a little raw about this blindness business, we need your understanding, your love, your patience, and your sense of humor to help us get over our fears and awkwardness. We need you to be models, not only for our blind children, but for us. You are a reflection of what the future can be for our children.

And as we sighted parents grow in our understanding of blindness, you need us. We demonstrate for each other, and for the world, what it looks like when sighted people accept blind people as equals.

The pandemic has upended so many things in our country! It has had a profoundly negative impact, especially upon the educational and social development of our children. More than ever, we and our children need to be in community together, in person, with you, our blind colleagues. The internet and social media present wonderful opportunities to us for the spreading and sharing of the NFB philosophy about blindness. Yet there is no substitute for personal, one-on-one connections. These connections can only bubble up from the grassroots—from our local chapters, our state affiliates, and our divisions. You are the key to our continued progress and successes.

Remember the joke I told at the beginning of this speech? I found it on a plaque in a little nature center near where Chaz and his family live. Just a few weeks ago, my husband, John, read it with our ten-year-old grandson. Our son Chaz was chasing down and corralling our eighteen-month-old grandson, who runs as if he's competing for a place on a high-school track team. Chaz is a great dad. He brings home a paycheck, changes diapers, and walks his son to and from the bus stop. He shares with his wife all cooking, laundry, and house-cleaning duties. But he still finds time to have fun with his hobbies—photography, ham radio, woodworking. And he and his wife are active in a local committee to make their community more walkable, safer, and accessible to pedestrians. I've never asked him if he is living the life he wants, but I think I know the answer.

NOPBC President Carla Keirns: I didn't tell Barbara how old I was when she started the NOPBC. Should I keep it a secret?

My older sister is not blind. She has autism, and she was born in 1967. For those who can do math, my young son can help us out. Five years later, what year is it? 1972. So in 1972, my mother took her five-year-old to the local school to enroll her in kindergarten. And what happened? They turned her away at the door.

Now, my mother tells the story that they said, "It's too bad you taught her that she's five years old. If she didn't know, then it wouldn't be so bad."

It is impossible for me to imagine that an educator really could have said that! But when you and I talk, when people in this room talk about what we are facing, about the challenges we have today, a lot of times we get discouraged. We think, you know, we've been fighting this fight for decades, and it just doesn't seem like we're making progress.

Making progress? You all know we are!

The next year they had to take my sister. They didn't know what to do with her, though. Six years later, my family moved from New Jersey to New York, and my mother decided that my sister needed access to the general educational curriculum. They had her stuck in the resource room for six years.

My mother thought about this, and she decided that the best first strategy would be not to tell them. Yeah, that worked for, about, like the morning. My sister had moderate autism, and it was pretty clear that there was something else going on. So my mother decided that the hill she was going to die on was that my sister deserved an education.

Four years later, my other sister had a visual impairment and dyslexia. She failed the first grade. Twice.

My mother says that when they went to sit in the meeting to decide what to do next with her now eight-year-old—with the vocabulary, by the way, of a sixteen-year-old—the first-grade teacher was maintaining that she was not smart enough to learn to read. The plan was to keep her in the same classroom with the same teacher and the same instructional method for a third year!

So, one, my mother is a force of nature. Two, she was raised a southern debutante. Three, her first job in the mid-1970s was as a chemical engineer for Exxon. So she had to decide ... Southern skills, Yankee skills? Debutante skills, chemist skills?

Cry, argue. Cry, argue.

She went with cry. And she got my sister placed in one of the first twice-exceptional classrooms in the country, what at the time was called "gifted handicapped." That was the year of the first NOPBC convention. And we have come so far! The reason we have come so far is that my mother was on her own. And I have you. We have the laws that you fought for. We have the teachers you have educated. We have the infrastructure that you have built and the other infrastructure that you have torn down. We have a future.

When my son was diagnosed as blind, we found ourselves in the conference room of a small library on Long Island, New York. We went to a room, and there were twelve blind adults. And there we were with our little baby boy, who was five months old. And he gave a high five to all the grownups, and everybody who wanted to hold the baby got to hold the baby.

Then my husband and I sat down in this room full of blind adults, and they were polite. They didn't say, "Why are you here?" But they said, "Hey, can you introduce yourselves?" We explained that we were sighted and our baby was blind. And almost on the verge of tears, I said, "We're here because we don't know what he needs, and we need help."

The president at the time of that chapter meeting was David Stayer. So you all can imagine how this went. David said, "You don't worry about that. We know what he needs. Your kids are our kids."

So our plans for the NOPBC are to continue to do what you do so well. My son has been to Albany for a state seminar. He's been to Jeff City [Missouri]. He's testified before the Education Committee at the Missouri State Legislature. After Gary Wunder, my son Russell spoke at the state legislature, and the special education administrator who was there to testify against our bill cowarded out and didn't talk.

We're about educating parents, advocacy, partnerships, mentorship between blind children and blind advocates and all of you. But I have a problem with advocacy. Advocacy is only necessary when the system doesn't work on its own. What I want for all of us is to build a world in which we no longer need the level of advocacy that we need today.

Thank you to everyone here for being our partners and supporting our kids. Our kids truly are your kids. Thank you!

Gary Van Dorn Day Brings Dollars to NFBCO

by Peggy Chong

On August 18, several Federationists, members of the Denver Disability Community, and friends of Gary Van Dorn, treasurer of the Mile High Chapter of the NFB of Colorado stood in the hot morning sun at 16th and Welton Streets, to honor Gary Van Dorn for his service to the community and to the Federation in particular.

Gary was nominated for the Minoru Yasui Community Volunteer Award by the NFB of Colorado for all he does, highlighting his tireless work to keep everyone informed about the many changes in the public transportation system, new developments that affect rideshare services, and the multi-year, 16th Street Mall re-development project.

The Minoru Yasui Community Volunteer Award is presented ten months of each year since 1977 to an unsung volunteer hero in the Denver area for their selfless service to the community. Gary is the third Federationist to receive the award: Elsie Cowan, in 1977, the first year of the award; Julie Hunter in 2021; and Gary in 2023.

Minoru Yasui (October 19, 1916 – November 12, 1986) was an American lawyer from Oregon. Born in Hood River, Oregon, he earned both an undergraduate degree and his law degree at the University of Oregon. He was one of the few Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor who fought laws that directly targeted Japanese Americans or Japanese immigrants. His case was the first case to test the constitutionality of the curfews targeted at minority groups.

Yasui's case made its way to the United States Supreme Court, where his conviction for breaking curfew was affirmed. After internment during most of World War II, he moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1944. In Denver, Yasui married and became a local leader in civic affairs, including leadership positions in the Japanese American Citizens League. In 1986, his criminal conviction was overturned by the federal court.

In 2015, Senator Mazie K. Hirono nominated Yasui for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award of the United States. On November 16, 2015, President Barack Obama announced that Yasui would receive a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom.

In recognizing Gary, everyone had a different story to tell, a different project he worked on, and a different organization he connected with. His energy and service knows no limits. Even with a full-time job, Gary never has an excuse why he cannot serve.

The half-hour presentation began with speeches from the Minoru Yasui Community Volunteer Award Committee. They presented Gary with a plaque recognizing his outstanding, longtime service to the community and the NFB in particular. A proclamation from the mayor declaring August 18, 2023, to be Gary Van Dorn Day, and a check for $2,000 made payable to the NFB of Colorado in recognition of his efforts was the highpoint of the day. Afterwards, several accompanied Gary to a local restaurant to help him celebrate.

Blind Leader Honored for His Contributions to Denver


Denver, Colorado, (August 16, 2023): The National Federation of the Blind of Colorado (NFBCO) is proud to announce that state board member Gary Van Dorn, Denver, is the August 2023 recipient of the Minoru Yasui Community Volunteer Award. Gary has requested that the $2,000 award he will receive be donated to NFBCO.

Gary moved to Denver in 1991 and quickly joined the NFBCO, becoming very active. He is a busy analyst for the IRS. Yet, he finds time to accept several titles and responsibilities in the organization: secretary of the NFBCO Mile High Chapter, NFBCO state board member, NFBCO Transportation Chair, fundraiser, and official photographer. Gary contributes to the NFBCO in an abundance of large and small ways.

Some of his many projects involve disabilities counsel to the Sixteenth Street Mall redesign. He advises the city of Denver, the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD). Gary provides his insights with various developers and contractors on the needs and wishes of the disabled community. As a member of the Colfax Redevelopment Project, Gary provides the collective voice of people with disabilities, an essential part of the community who needs to be heard when designing new spaces.

Gary collaborated with other organizations at Denver International Airport rideshare pickups. Recommending improvements for people with disabilities, including the blind. Gary serves as a volunteer leader in the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition.

“Gary has been a great mentor to me, especially after I was elected president of the NFBCO’s Mile High Chapter,” said Cody Bair, a blind person who works as a CPA Manager at PwC. “He is always willing to share his time and knowledge with anyone who asks,” Cody added.

“I became better acquainted with Mr. Van Dorn when I first moved to Colorado in the late summer of 2018,” said Curtis Chong, Nonvisual Access Technology Consultant. "Despite his busy schedule and full-time job at the IRS, Mr. Van Dorn kindly took the time to welcome me to Denver. He introduced me to various transportation options for blind people like myself in the metropolitan area."

Chong continued, “When I was persuaded by Mr. Van Dorn to attend an RTD board meeting, I was impressed that many of the board members knew Mr. Van Dorn personally, so frequent was his attendance. Mr. Van Dorn often provided public testimony on various transportation issues and often spoke personally with RTD directors and senior management.”

“Gary does not seek the spotlight,” said Peggy Chong, NFBCO’s historian. “That is why we in the NFBCO are so excited for Gary and grateful for his generous gift through the Minoru Yasui Award.”

Minoru Yasui was a Japanese American. He was one of thousands of Japanese Americans who endured curfews and internment during World War II. Coming to Denver after the war, Yasui passed the Colorado Bar with the highest score recorded that year. He spent his career helping other Japanese Americans as well as other minorities. He was a strong political activist and fought for civil rights. He valued inclusivity and integrity. He acted with vision, perseverance, and compassion.

In 1976, the city of Denver established a monthly Community Volunteer Award in his honor. As a result of this award, more than $982,000 has been given to 514 non-profit organizations.

# # #

About the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado: The National Federation of the Blind of Colorado is the oldest and largest organization of blind people in Colorado. 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.

For information about this initiative, please contact:
Peggy Chong
[email protected]

Structured Discovery Practitioners Are Part of the Organized Blind Movement

by Justin Salisbury

From the Editor: Justin is a committed member of the National Federation of the Blind who believes that his commitment does not stop when he goes to work and resumes on his free time. He teaches with a philosophy that is not an on-again off-again part of his being. Here is what he has to say about Structured Discovery and the role of the National Federation of the Blind in creating and maintaining it:

When I decided to attend Louisiana Tech University to pursue a master’s degree and a professional certification to teach cane travel, I was not simply looking at it as a path to teaching cane travel. I also looked at it as a way to learn more about the organized blind movement. The Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University and its programs were created by leaders in the organized blind movement because there had previously been no university program, at least in the United States, where a blind person could earn a master’s degree in orientation and mobility with a professional certification for teaching orientation and mobility. The National Federation of the Blind was not satisfied with the world being as it was, so we took action, creating a certification board, professional certifications, a university research institute, and university programs. Because the folks at Louisiana Tech understand the importance of a defined philosophy about blindness, the organized blind movement, and the ability to critically think about blindness, my master’s degree program helped me to further develop my own understanding of our philosophy and how to apply it to many of the situations that we face in society.

I once applied for a job that would allow me to work in the public policy space in the blindness field. I remember having a conversation with the prospective boss, and I remember him asking me, after all the time and effort that I had devoted to earning a master’s degree and professional certification, why I would want to throw that all away to work in the public policy space. I was definitely caught off-guard by that question. I insisted that earning a master’s degree and certification in the blindness field was a part of preparing me for a career in the blindness field and that my love for public policy work had been involved in my professional choices from day one. I insisted that Structured Discovery practitioners were inherently focused on the civil rights of the blind and the advocacy work of the organized blind movement, evidenced by how I could earn continuing education units for recertification by performing governmental affairs and other policy work.

One thing that sets Structured Discovery practitioners apart from the rest of the practitioners in the blindness field is our participation in the organized blind movement. I am speaking in trends, not absolutisms. I am not the first person to promote this idea. I learned it from mentors and role models.

During my time at Louisiana Tech, one of the documents that we read for class was the 2004 Institute on Rehabilitation Issues (IRI) Report, which discussed two major models for teaching orientation and mobility. In a chapter written by Jeff Altman and Joe Cutter, one simple line told the story of something that is so incredibly important to me. Offering its preceding sentence for context, here is the quote: “Accordingly, proponents of the Structured Discovery method believe that it is essential that instructors themselves hold a deep, personal belief in the ability of blind people. They do not regard themselves as simply trainers of a particular skill, but rather, regard themselves as part of the movement of blind people from exclusion to full integration and equality,” (Altman & Cutter, 2004, p. 90). The same chapter later included the following passage: “They do not see Structured Discovery as only one choice among many, all equally effective in preparing blind people to learn to travel safely and independently.

Proponents believe that the attitudinal dimension, the emphasis on the civil rights perspective of blind people as part of a minority group, is central to the acquisition of travel skills but, more to the point, the acquisition of confidence and self-respect. They believe that it is vital that the student recognize that blind people live in a world in which their opportunities are constricted by prejudice and misunderstanding,” (Altman & Cutter, 2004, p. 93). The idea that Structured Discovery practitioners are part of the organized blind movement is not new, but it is frequently misunderstood and overlooked.

Mercedes Zapata, a member of our California affiliate, recently earned a PhD from the University of California-Berkeley. She continues to publish research in the blindness field. In one of her recent articles, published in the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, she investigated the relationship between social support that blind people receive through participation in the National Federation of the Blind and predictors of disability identity and well-being (Zapata, 2022). The greater the person’s perceived social support through the NFB, the greater their life satisfaction and the more positive their disability identity. Structured Discovery practitioners want these outcomes for our students and for ourselves, so we participate in and introduce our students to the NFB.

Next, I want to state my own personal discomfort with the continued commitment to the term “orientation and mobility” and why I love how we do not call it that in our training centers. My cane travel instructor was Arlene Hill, and she never let me call what she taught “orientation and mobility.” “Orientation and mobility” sounds inherently scientific and complicated to many people. When a newly blind person shows up for blind services, I could either tell them that I’m going to teach them cane travel or that I’m going to teach them orientation and mobility. I want it to sound like what it is: a foundational skill that ordinary people can do, where nobody should worry that they are not smart enough to do it. “Cane travel training is not viewed as a subset of the broader discipline, but rather, is regarded as the foundational skill needed by blind people to travel independently. Cane travel is regarded as a set of skills and strategies, developed by blind people, that have evolved over time and have been refined as the world has changed. It is not regarded as mysterious or scientific or something that is, or should be, the exclusive province of any group of professionals,” (Altman & Cutter, 2004, p. 91). My instructor, Ms. Arlene, also discussed many of these ideas in her writing about seven years earlier (Hill, 1997a, 1997b).

In my opinion, calling the subject which I have taught “orientation and mobility” helps to perpetuate the Vision-Centered Approach and the Vision Industrial Complex, both of which have been named by President Riccobono. There are many practitioners who work with blind people who decide to align themselves with the Vision Industrial Complex, with its existing power and pervasiveness, and demonstrate their commitment to reinforcing it further in an effort to extract some crumbs of power and prosperity for themselves. Some of them may profit quite nicely. Anyone who challenges or disrupts the Vision Industrial Complex faces a stiff headwind, as the system is designed to reject or crush us. Those who make themselves enforcers of sighted hegemony over the blind are like wasps protecting a nest, and they’ll come after us. This is why collective organizing is so important. We have to work together if we are going to make progress, and the wasps have a playbook for dealing with unruly lower beings. Every play in that playbook begins with getting us by ourselves. If we don’t let them get us by ourselves, then we disrupt the playbook, and we become more threatening to the Vision Industrial Complex.

The Vision Industrial Complex teaches us that teachers of the blind should not be connected to the organized blind movement. Still today, some agencies for the blind tell their employees that they are forbidden from joining the National Federation of the Blind because it would be a conflict of interest. Many of us struggle to get permission from our employers to attend Federation functions because they determine that it is unrelated to our jobs. If our job is to reinforce the Vision Industrial Complex, I suppose it would be a conflict of interest, but if our job is to advance the well-being of the blind, a social minority group, then connecting with the organized blind movement is essential.

Some of the scholars before me have described a reductionism inherent to the Vision-Centered Approach, where practitioners try to measure, analyze, and bean-count our way through everything they do to work with blind consumers. The Structured Discovery approach, by contrast, honors a more holistic way of approaching blind services, where we look at the interconnectedness of the different parts of a person’s experience, as well as the interconnectedness of the collective experiences of blind people and the major institutions in the blindness field.

While it may be possible to learn all other mechanics of providing Structured Discovery instruction without participating in the organized blind movement, I believe that the very process of aligning oneself and one’s teaching with the organized blind movement offers something extra, which is essential for maximizing the contributions toward the liberation of the blind as a minority. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and I cannot imagine trying to replicate the value of being a Federationist without participating in our movement.

The benefits are exchanged equally between Structured Discovery practitioners and the broader NFB. Structured Discovery instructors are having conversations about blindness philosophy and current issues all day, every day, so we are ready for these conversations at any time. Structured Discovery instructors learn things from our teaching experience that can be useful to our movement, which we are often proud to share. Our movement also channels the collective lived experiences of blind people, which can and should inform an instructor’s praxis. Leaders in the National Federation of the Blind can contribute meaningfully to adjustment-to-blindness programming and should be introduced to students in training.

I have not called Structured Discovery a “method,” and I never do. When Structured Discovery is reduced to a method by the powers within the Vision Industrial Complex who practice under the Vision-Centered approach, it allows them to argue that they can employ the Structured Discovery method when they want and then switch back out of it. The key ingredient that makes Structured Discovery work, in my opinion, is what lies in the heart of the instructor and in the culture of the blind services agency where the instruction occurs. It comes from an emotional adjustment to blindness and an understanding as deep as one’s gut that blindness is not scary, dangerous, or anything else inherently bad. When I say “adjustment to blindness,” it can apply to anyone, including the sighted and including those who have been blind since birth. The adjustment to blindness that I discuss is an emotional adjustment to the societal condition of blindness, not the medical condition of blindness. Societal expectations treat children as children, but when blind children reach adulthood, we are often still infantilized in a way that our sighted peers are not. This key difference inspires an enhanced need for support in the adjustment to blindness in the transition to adulthood. Refining our own adjustment to blindness is important for us to help our students to advance theirs, as well.

If an instructor is practicing under the Vision-Centered approach, they cannot truly have the commitment to the organized blind movement and collective liberation of the blind, as well as the emotional adjustment to blindness, necessary to provide Structured Discovery instruction. In other words, it is impossible to be a person or blind services agency that can simultaneously provide Vision-Centered instruction and Structured Discovery instruction. I cannot teach Vision-Centered orientation and mobility in the morning and then teach Structured Discovery cane travel in the afternoon. I cannot switch my worldview that quickly. It’s either oppressive or it’s liberatory; if it is ever oppressive, then it is never liberatory. We need to pick one because we can’t have both.

If a Structured Discovery practitioner shows up at a function of the National Federation of the Blind, I hope that the leaders in that space will recognize them as someone who has made a sincere commitment to our movement, even if that state has never had a Structured Discovery practitioner and even if they are sighted. The other side of that coin is that I expect Structured Discovery practitioners to be true to the organized blind movement, even in spaces where they are the only person who belongs to it, and even if they are sighted. Structured Discovery is much more than a method and nobody can toggle back and forth between the Structured Discovery approach and the Vision-Centered approach. If anyone wants to pursue a career in the blindness field, I consistently direct them to the programs where they will learn within the Structured Discovery approach, which currently include Louisiana Tech, Louisiana Tech, and Louisiana Tech. Participating in the National Federation of the Blind adds something special and irreplaceable for instructor and student. Participating in the National Federation of the Blind is the fundamental ingredient that sets Structured Discovery practitioners apart from the rest.


Altman, J., & Cutter, J. (2004). Structured discovery cane travel. In D. Dew & G. Alan (Eds.), Contemporary issues in orientation and mobility: 29th IRI 2004, Institute on Rehabilitation (pp. 65-96). Washington, DC: George Washington University.
Hill, A. (1997a). Teaching cane travel: A blind professional's perspective. American Rehabilitation23(3/4), 23-25.
Hill, A. (1997b). Teaching cane travel blind? Braille Monitor39(4). Retrieved from https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/bm/bm97/bm970402.htm
Zapata, M. A. (2022). Social Support through a Blindness Organization Predicts Life Satisfaction and Positive Disability Identity. Journal of Blindness Innovation & Research, 12(1). Retrieved from https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/jbir/jbir22/jbir120104.html. DOI: http://dx.doi/10.5241/12-220

The Nation’s Blind Podcast and the Myth of the Model Federationist

by Blaine Deutscher

From the Editor: The Nation’s Blind Podcast is one way that we communicate with blind and sighted people to spread our message about what it means to be blind, and equally important, what it does not mean. Here is a note expressing appreciation for the messages in our podcast, one which offers us the opportunity to better explain how we do some of the things this gentleman says that he cannot do. In this note he gives us an opportunity to explain how some of the limitations he thinks are a part of blindness need not be. With slight editing, here is what Blaine says:

It is evening as I write this. I just wanted to say what a wonderful podcast you two [Melissa Riccobono and Anil Lewis] are running (with appearances from Chris). I found the podcast before I knew it was one of the blind parent podcasts. You did an episode breaking down the myths about the Federation and what you stand for. I really appreciate that because I believe everything mentioned.

I live in Canada and am a member of the Canadian Federation of the Blind. I was first introduced to the Federation when attending guide dog school. As we know, representation from most guide dog schools attend both conventions. Someone mentioned attending the NFB Convention in 2007, and I wanted to know about it. The members I met were "living the lives they want." As we know, low expectations of blind people are what create barriers for us. There are some here in Canada who live the life they want, but I see more people who are a part of the Federation in the states truly living the life they want—lighting fireworks on the 4th of July, taking whatever methods of transportation they desire to get to their destination, etc. I realize that those people who are living this way also attended one of the three training centers you have. I used to be one of those blind people that thought that you weren't independent enough if you didn't take public transportation and relied on fixed routes or carpooling. The one takeaway I got out of that was in some ways those that carpool to work (not because they're blind but because the coworker lives near them) actually had to be more organized than those that took the bus. The one thing I took away from this podcast was a) You don’t have to justify your reasoning for doing what you do; b) Blindness shouldn't be the excuse for doing something. If you take paratransit because you’re blind when good bus service is available, then we should work on that. On the other hand, if you take paratransit because the area you live in (affordability causes you to live with your parents as you are paying off those student loans) doesn't have the greatest public transit, this may be a different story. If it's safer to take door-to-door services at night because downtown in your city isn't conducive for safe travel by a pedestrian, I totally understand that.

I’ve told people here in Canada that I want to attend either the Colorado Center for the Blind or the Louisiana Center for the Blind because I want to improve on what I know, but also to build that level of confidence I believe I can have. I also want to attend an NFB Convention one day in person. As you said, it's the place where blindness is accepted, and you can just be you.

I also read the two articles you noted and still feel the same way about blindness as mentioned above. [The articles were “NFB Philosophy: What It Is and What It Is Not” published in the Braille Monitor in April of 2018, and “The Nature of Independence,” a speech by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan given at the 1993 National Convention.] I do agree with learning Braille and trying to use the remaining vision you have and struggling that trying to learn Braille will possibly help with your reading speed. I know blind people who only learn Braille for basic things like continuing to play cards with friends, label items in their kitchen so they can get their coffee—that's okay too. As I always tell people, my philosophy is I never want blindness to be a reason why I don't do something. I want to be pushed to learn things that I may not know how to do, but I am also aware that certain things I may not want to do just like all sighted people do not like to do the same things. I always tell people that the only thing I can't do is drive a car, but I've never found a way to be a blind treasurer for an organization or sell 50-50 or door prize tickets for an event and be able to read out the winners without having a sighted person to assist. [We should note that techniques exist for blind folks to do all of these things, and perhaps we should devote an article to them that is written by those who are blind treasurers and actively in charge of all elements in the drawing of raffle tickets.] Usually this role is given to a sighted volunteer for that very reason. I've never been able to learn how to run sound/video to play in the background for presentations either for a sighted organization or blind.

Our blindness organization often will have shuttle services pick you up when attending one of their events, carry your luggage, and make sure you get to the location where they are holding it. And, when it's all said and done, they make sure that you get back to the airport. I liked how you mentioned that the biggest thing is letting you be in control of you and your decisions. I know the guide dog schools do that too, but it sure feels good when you make it to an event on your own without hassling others.

My wife and I went to Toronto for a hockey tournament, and I knew ahead of time that there was a transit service that took you to the subway. I asked ahead of time what subway I needed to take to get us close to the hotel, and we managed to get through the airport with plenty of time and made it to the tournament. As sighted people might have done if we were running late, we took a shuttle to the hotel. We had that option, so we tried it. Going home, we asked the hotel to book the shuttle, and he took us to the airport. With a huge hockey bag and a long weekend of playing back-to-back games, it felt nice to get to the airport and check in. I remember reading the article "The Nature of Independence" and it made so much sense; you’re a busy person who has an assistant, and it's easier to send the assistant ahead to scope out the hotel and pick you up from the airport then take you back so you can get home quickly. I also understand why you dictate your speech and have your assistant write it out while you're doing something else.

I wish that the NFB would consider expanding to having an international presence and having contact info for people who want to find out who is doing the same thing in their country. I don't know if the scholarships for attending the convention are for the United States or if it is open to international people too. I would love to come and be a sponge to see how blind people run an event. As I said, our events here have sighted guide and volunteers who literally come running if you start walking to the door. They even go so far as to offer an arm if you ask where the banquet room is or if they see the table with Ohio, they would not offer directions but would say, “Let me take you over there,” without ever trying to explain the directions in words.

As you mentioned, sometimes that service might work, but letting you have that control of what you want to do and how is important. You might want to go over to the bar because you mentioned to a friend that you were going to get them a drink. The volunteer doesn't know if you want to go to the table or the bar. How often I've sat in a chair and had people bring me a drink or something like that. I’m saddened by the way some programs have volunteers as in the case of tandem bike programs, and the volunteers will talk with each other and every now and again come over to the blind people and talk with us, but mostly they leave us alone.

I love your podcast with all the info you're putting into it. Sorry for the long message. Could you make a continuation of this? How does NFB feel about special privileges if you're blind? Here in Canada CNIB has ID cards that get you free transit for city buses, not for paratransit though, and I know I disagree with it. The argument is that blind people can't drive and therefore need to take the bus. As mentioned above, I feel that if one disability gets it, then all should or it isn't fair.

Keep up the great work, and I hope to meet the two of you someday.


Monitor Miniatures

In Brief

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

Seeing AI is now on Android:

The popular app that has been an important tool for iOS users is now available from the Google Play Store. This versatile application provides many functions that are available through what Microsoft calls channels. They include functions such as:

The Seeing AI application is available without charge, is frequently updated, and is a valuable tool to keep in your toolbox.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.