_______________________________________________________________________________

Braille Monitor

Vol. 67, No. 2               February 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

telephone: 410-659-9314
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National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998

THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.

ISSN 0006-8829


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Contents

Vol. 67, No. 2                      February 2024

Convention Bulletin 2024

How Blessed to be Living a Life in which Gratitude Plays a Part
by Gary Wunder

How Difficult it Sometimes is to be a Good Citizen
by Rose Warner

Not Letting the Flood of Doubt Win
by Marinela Ortiz

The 2023 End of Year Board Meeting
by Gary Wunder

An Interview with Kimble Funchess: Mississippi School for the Blind's Music Educator
by LaShawna Fant

Tom Page: Musician, Audio Engineer, Mentor

Marilyn Green: Passionate Advocate, Energetic Worker, and Lover of Connecting with People

When Braille is not the Total Answer
by Gary Wunder

Eureka! It All Matters!
by Cary Supalo

We Need Your Help

Voting Using Android Phones/Tablets
by Curtis Chong

My Career Story
by Shelley Keeland

The Blind Encyclopedist
by Tyler Zahnke

My Perspective on the Ninety-Third Leadership Seminar
by Cindy Scott-Huisman

Introducing Menus4ALL: The iPhone App That Makes Restaurant Menus Accessible for Everyone
by Stephanie Jones

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2024 by the National Federation of the Blind

Convention Bulletin 2024

Join us for the biggest event of the year. Start planning your trip now.

Wednesday, July 3 through Monday, July 8, 2024
Orlando, Florida at the Rosen Centre

If this will be your first convention or if you need a refresh, access our First Timer’s Guide. (https://nfb.org/get-involved/national-convention/first-timers-guide)

Book Your Hotel

For 2024 convention room reservations, please call the hotel at (800) 204-7234. Ask for the “NFB Convention” block. Here are important things to know about the rates and booking the room:

Rates

Our 2024 convention room rate for singles and doubles is $129. Room rate for triples and quads is $139.

Taxes and Deposit

Cancellations

If a reservation is cancelled before Saturday, June 1, 2024, half of the deposit will be returned. Otherwise, refunds will not be made.

Amenities

Please note that the hotel is a no-smoking facility. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, you should make reservations early. The hotel will be ready to take your call beginning January 1.

Registration

Registration for convention will open in March. Registration will be $25 per person plus $75 per banquet ticket. Register early because prices go up if you register onsite in Orlando. Registration includes the biggest event of the year, access to the event app, and communications on the latest news and events.

Request for Door Prizes

Door prizes are submitted from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Prizes should be small in size but large in value—at least $25. Cash is always appropriate and welcome. Please do not include alcohol. Drawings will occur throughout the convention sessions with a grand prize of truly impressive proportions drawn at the banquet. If you have a prize that must be shipped in advance of the convention, please email affiliate president Paul Martinez at [email protected] to make arrangements.

Division, Committee, Group Meetings

Over 200 sessions and meetings happen during convention. If you are a leader in a division, committee, or group that will meet at convention, please don’t wait to organize. Start planning your agenda, goals, and connections now. Stay tuned for details from the Convention Chair, John Berggren.

Volunteer

Thank you to the hundreds of volunteers who help make national convention a big success. If you are interested in learning more about how to get involved, please connect with your state affiliate president. Additionally, register early to get access to all volunteer opportunities.

Countdown to Orlando

The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made—all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2024 National Convention. We can’t wait to be with you in Orlando in July. Visit nfb.org/convention for more convention details.

How Blessed to be Living a Life in which Gratitude Plays a Part

by Gary Wunder

So often my life has been filled with blessings that I have considered them my right, my normal, and have therefore taken them for granted. Perhaps this is not unique, but in my case, it has meant failing to appreciate many things until after they are gone. At my most materialistic, the sadness has come when my long-play record that so degraded that my favorite singer came to sound like he was recording while traveling on a gravel road. Then there has been a tape that wore out or broke, a radio that stopped working.

Of course the more important losses have come in the form of people: relatives and friends who have died or moved away. But the saddest of the sad feelings come from my own action or inaction: people I have let slide out of my life. Only when I realize that I can’t or don't know how to recover the relationship do I feel the real pain for those I have let go. Each time that I am tempted to think of people or things is an obligation or something I'll get too later, I remember the pain and my vow not to keep making those same mistakes.

What can happen with objects and people can happen with organizations. It is harder to envision because organizations are shared with so many that it seems my role must be minor at best. The question then becomes: How important can my participation be?

When I listen to reasons why people want to back off and find myself starting to share in them, one of the first ones is “I’m tired.” There are four reasons I can identify for being tired. One of them is a state of depression that makes life so difficult to get through that one always feels exhausted. This is not something that I know how to address with advice. I have experienced it, and moving beyond that experience required both therapy and drugs. I feel great gratitude that my immersion into this kind of tiredness has happened only twice and has been short-lived.

The second reason for tiredness is that we have the mistaken belief that it is heroic to become exhausted and that seven to nine hours of sleep each day is a perfect waste of time. “You will have plenty of time to sleep when you are dead,” is a common refrain. However, we are learning about the many disadvantages of undervaluing sleep, including a shorter life, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s.

The third reason is boredom. How many times have you run into people who get up in the morning with nothing to do and at the end of the day only have it half done? What makes them tired that day is the same thing that made them tired yesterday and for the many yesterdays that came before. It is also the gloomy prospect that this is what will make them tired tomorrow, the day after, the day after that, and for as long into the future as they can see.

The fourth reason for tiredness is a quite different one, one that is gratifying rather than depressing, and one we have a greater ability to control. It is being tired because we have experienced a day full of activity. We may not have gotten everything done that we wanted, but we have used our time wisely, have enjoyed the effort, and believe that in some small way we have left the world better for some incredibly special people we care about. In doing this, we have also made the world better for ourselves and a more welcoming place to return to in the morning.

When I reflect on some of my most important blessings and contributions, the National Federation of the Blind plays prominently in my mind. I am thankful that it found a sixteen-year-old kid who thought that understanding blindness had more to do with being able to list out my limitations than it did the options that were truly available to me. I am grateful for the role models it provided who stretched my imagination and suggested that I think primarily about what I wanted to do as a human being and then consider what I would have to do to make that happen as a human being who is blind. I’m thankful for the techniques I’ve been taught that have meant I didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, and when new techniques have been required, I am glad to have been welcomed as we build upon that wheel so that it gets larger, covers more distance, and has more traction when the going gets rough.

When I find myself deciding that I have given my fair share, that I deserve to retire from the fray, and that it’s time for someone else to carry the load, I remind myself how tedious boredom can be, how excessive time for self-reflection can lead to despair, and how isolation and the loneliness that comes from it has not in the past led to happiness and there is little reason to believe it will in the future. I think about how easy it is to destroy a thing by failing to give it the attention it needs and how much more difficult it is to rebuild. Undoubtedly there will be a time when I cannot make contributions to the organization we share, but for as long as I can, I’m going to make sacrifices, and I’m going to set aside times such as Thanksgiving, New Year’s, and other important holidays to count my blessings, one of the foremost among them being the people who share in the love of our organization.

How Difficult it Sometimes is to be a Good Citizen

by Rose Warner

From the Editor: It is interesting to hear the irritation in the voices of those who get called on to serve on juries. Usually these folks are sighted, and their immediate goal is to figure out a way to dodge the obligation. Those of us who are blind usually have a different take; we are hopeful that we will be called upon, and any irritation springs from the knowledge that we will likely be disqualified on the basis of blindness. As Rose clearly shows in this story, the problems don’t begin with rejection; they start with just showing up. Here is what she says:

I got the “dreaded” piece of mail—the one everyone tries to avoid. For the first time since moving to Denver in May of 2022, I was summoned to jury duty.

Luckily, I don’t dread jury duty. In fact, I look forward to it and have had “serve on a jury” on my bucket list for as long as I have been eligible to serve. You see, I’m currently a law student at the University of Denver. I have an unusual interest in the justice system. What better training to become a lawyer than to have firsthand experience in the courtroom as a juror?

Anyway, I got up early on Wednesday, November 15, 2023. I arrived at the courthouse, ready to serve. I waited in a long security line with other potential jurors, and I noticed that everyone took out all of their metal items as if they were going through the dreaded line at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). I also noticed a sign that said, “prohibited items,” but I couldn’t read it. Besides that, what could I possibly have that would be prohibited anyway?

I emptied my bag: my metal water bottle, my metal coffee mug, my wallet with a metal zipper—along with my keys, charger, and cell phone.

As I’m about the put my now very light backpack through the scanner, I suddenly remembered—I had a monocular and a battery-operated magnifying glass in my bag. I alerted the security guard about these items in my bag to see if I needed to take them out. The security guard said, “Binoculars aren’t allowed.”

Undeterred, I said, “I am legally blind, and this is an accommodation.” The security guard went to check.

When the security guard returned, she informed me that magnifying glasses were okay, but I needed to put my “binoculars” back in my car. With wide eyes and utter shock, I replied, “I didn’t drive here. I don’t have a car to put them into. I’m legally blind.”

Then I’m informed that I must put the binoculars in a locker at the aid center. I asked where that is. The guard said, impatiently, “It’s on 14th street.” Without bothering to give me directions, they sent me on my way.

Exasperated, I left the courthouse to Google “the aid center.” As it turns out, they didn’t open until 8:00 a.m. After going to the wrong place—it was a hotel that was open—I got good directions to the aid center. Once there, I was shown a locker to put my monocular in. I went back to the courthouse, stood in the security line, and took all of my metal objects out of my backpack again.

I finally got to the jurors room and took out my laptop, ready to work on my final paper for my Military and Veterans Advocacy class. Before I knew it, two jury pools were selected. I looked around and thought to myself, there are not many people left. I know—if they call another jury pool, I am going to be on it.

The lady calling the juror numbers came to the podium and asked the remaining potential jurors to look at their number. My number was easy to remember—6868. She calls the first number, 6868. So I gather my things and head to the door at the back of the room. Once the rest of the pool is called and arrived, we are informed that we will be doing everything in the order we were called in. I will be first to enter the court room, first to sit down, and first to be questioned to determine if the lawyers choose me to be on the jury.

As soon as we are lined up in front of the courtroom door, I tell the clerk, “I just want to let you know that I am legally blind. I don’t want this to be a red flag. I want to partake in my civic duty, but in case the judge makes a hand motion or I need to read something, I just want you to know I won’t be able to see it—and the security guard took away my monocular.”

She says, “Thanks for letting me know,” and she entered the courtroom. Shortly, she returned, and we potential jurors entered the courtroom. We all rose for the judge. Then we were given a short synopsis of the case. We were told that it’s a DUI.

Before we do anything else, the judge said, “Juror number one, can you come to my bench please?”

I approach the bench. She and the lawyers inquire if I think I can be a juror. I assure them that I can, but I tell them that if there were exhibits, the monocular would be helpful for me to see it better.

The judge seemed shocked that the security guards took away my monocular and she assured me that I would get it back. I ask, do you want me to go get it? She says, forcefully, that I’m “not going anywhere.” I explain that I was told I had to put my monocular in a locker—that I only know the code to—at the aid center. She asks, clearly frustrated—where’s that? I say—14th street.

The next thing I know, the judge is calling a twenty minute recess so that I can go BACK to locker to get my monocular. The clerk walks me out.

At this point—I feel a bit bad. Everyone—the defendant, the lawyers, the judge, the clerks, and the potential jurors, are all waiting on me to get my monocular. But on the other hand, I am incredibly glad and relieved. My faith in the justice system had just been crushed. I had a bit of an identity crisis, wondering how I would ever be a litigator if I was not permitted to have an accommodation I rely on in my workplace?! I knew the security guards were wrong—but in that moment—I did not feel I was in a position to argue, as I did not want to cause a scene nor hold everyone else in the security line up behind me.

I went back to retrieve my monocular, and with the clerk present, the security guard says nothing about the “prohibited” monocular.

Once I’m back in the courtroom, we must answer about ten questions to introduce ourselves to the lawyers. In the process I disclose that I’m a part-time law student and that my dad works in the law enforcement field. Then the lawyers give their opening statements and ask the jurors specific questions.

Finally, it’s time to pick the jury. As it turns out, I, along with a practicing attorney, are both cut from the jury. I had been cut in situations like this before—I think because of my dad’s profession.

I left assured that I was not dismissed because of blindness, but because of my knowledge, interest, and exposure to the justice system. I respect and appreciate the judge who proceeded over that trial so incredibly much, and I hope that the security guards learned a thing or two about reasonable accommodations that day, too. Hopefully, the next blind person to serve on a Denver jury will have a smoother process than I did—and by the way—in case you were wondering, binoculars were NOT on the list of prohibited items in the courthouse.

Not Letting the Flood of Doubt Win

by Marinela Ortiz

From the Editor: Marinela is the second vice president of the Writers' Division and writes this article to describe her struggle to achieve the goal of getting her master’s degree. She has a rare form of retinitis pigmentosa which leaves her with no tunnel vision but peripheral vision. She is a published author and is working on her series, Backwards Fairy Tale, and teaches assistive technology in Daytona Beach, Florida. Here is what she has to say about her struggle to make it through school, to find a job, and to continue her upward climb to be certified as an assistive technology professional through the Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America (RESNA). Until I read this article, I did not know that, currently, college graduates often decorate the top of their mortarboards with motos and doodads.

I woke up in Fairfax, Virginia, on a cold morning on December 14, 2023. I was walking across the stage again, this time to receive a degree higher than a bachelor's, which I had worked hard for over the past two years. My fiancé and I arrived after 12:30 to the arena in which the ceremony was going to be held. My main cheerleader, RJ, helped me don the green gown and the light blue hood to represent my degree program. He also gently placed a braided chord across my shoulders, and the exciting part was the cap with its green and gold tassel with song lyrics that echoed in my head and which I kept close to my heart through my studies. I also looked up to the clear blue sky and said to myself, "Are you watching, Mom?"

Blindness was the reason that some people told me that I could only get a bachelor's degree and nothing more. I believed those words that broke me down while I was at the University of Central Florida. I hoped to go into the counseling graduate program to become a blind services counselor myself. I also worked on a minor in exceptional education. Unfortunately, I was placed in my writing and rhetoric minor as a result of pressure from my school and rehabilitation counselor. I knew I had talent in the field in which I minored; it was something I was good at, but I found it hard to find a job and start a career. It took me three years to find a paying job even after changing my career goal to assistive technology. Before that job materialized, I got work experience doing volunteer teaching at a blind rehab center where I was a past student. Also I had to improve my student interaction skills by volunteering in my county's school district.

Once hired in 2018, I still felt like I was missing something and pursued a master's program. The University of Massachusetts Boston was my first choice, and I was able to get into the school on provisional status. The coursework focused more on visual impairments when it came to assistive technology rather than on the broader spectrum of technology for people with other disabilities. This school was oriented to teaching so one could get the CATIS (Certified Assistive Technology Instructional Specialist) certification, its passage being part of the requirements in completing the program. It was not an easy program due to the way some items were visual, and some of the assignments caused me to question how they relate to assistive technology. Eventually, I was told to withdraw due to my grades slipping. My reading comprehension was also questioned during Zoom meetings I had with my professors. I felt so upset that I threw my functional visual assessment kit that I spent my hard work and money on across the room. I did call some people to tell them the news, and they were surprised that I had to leave a program I worked so hard to get into. One person who cheered me up was my mom, who told me that I would figure it out and get my master's. I let her words sink in and gave myself some time to heal before applying to another school.

George Mason University was my second choice if things didn't work out. I looked into their program and noticed they focused more on technology for other disabilities in addition to blindness. I applied in August and waited for the email to give me my status. Halloween weekend in 2021 was when I saw the acceptance telling me that I was a George Mason Patriot in their Assistive Technology Program. A condition of my admission was that I had to pass my first four classes with a B or above. I met that demand by studying hard and working on my assignments every week throughout my two years at the school.

What I didn't know is that with the victory came challenges. I had to move into a new place where my fiancé, roommate, and I would have to live together in a two-bedroom apartment. It got flooded out during a hurricane, so again we had to move. But the true and most significant challenge was losing a parent. On February 9, 2023, I was at work after finishing up some schoolwork earlier in the morning. There I received a call from my dad telling me that my mom was in the hospital. She was battling COVID and was in a coma due to her other health complications. I was devastated. I felt even worse when she was taken off life support the next day. I felt like I was losing a part of myself when I recalled how much my mom was there for me when we found out about my blindness and was upset for me after every doctor's visit at Bascom Palmer in Miami. What would I do without her encouragement and affirming statements such as when she said I was stronger and braver than her? She said this after my giving her the news about being terminated at the University of Massachusetts. She said, "I know you can figure things out! You're strong."

In the end, I accomplished a major feat when going through my remaining semesters at George Mason University. I pushed away my doubts about myself and came out on top. Gaining new knowledge gave me a new outlook on possibilities for people who are disabled. This made me feel wonderful, feeling my heart pound as RJ and I went up the ramp leading to the stage. Hearing him counting down as we walked up was exhilarating. As we walked across, he and I stopped, and he lifted my arm into the air as a way to say, "Champion!" I had my pictures taken and headed back to our seats, where the remaining graduate program names were called from the College of Education and Human Development. The song that I had on my cap played in my ears as done by my all-time favorite band, Newfound Glory singing it. The line that resonated most was, "I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I'm meant to be; this is me!"

You may contact [email protected].

The 2023 End of Year Board Meeting

by Gary Wunder

One of the wonderful Federation events the week after Thanksgiving is the in-person meeting of the Board of Directors. This is an intense time of information gathering, shared deliberation, and making the tough decisions that go hand-in-hand with an organization that thrives on risks, choices, speculation, and faith in one another.

One inspiring part of being with the Board is watching as frustration and difficulty is transformed into resolve and an even greater commitment. We've been working at this for eighty years with what may be the foolish idea that we will work ourselves out of a job. What is transformative is to see how our leaders energetically and creatively convert frustration into resolve and shared problems into a bond of faith that we will be here for as long as it takes. It is affirming to watch as the promise that we will not sell out those who have worked for eight decades is made real, and the actions we take during these meetings will make the decades we have to offer meaningful in a way that does honor to our founders as well as love and respect for the blind people of today and tomorrow.

What is presented here is by no means a comprehensive list of things the Board discussed and addressed. Rather, it is an attempt to share the diversity of issues our leaders must confront, and, at the suggestion of the President, this is the editor’s best attempt to do this without violating the many confidential issues that were on the floor. The Board also considered and passed a number of policies to strengthen support for and guidance to state affiliates. These policies have not been covered here, but they will be rolled out to affiliate presidents at their annual retreat held immediately before the 2024 Washington Seminar.

One of our biggest challenges this year, and likely in the next, has been financing. We have enjoyed great public support by asking for it through the mail, but this form of fundraising is dying as postal costs go up, the price of creating and doing the mailings continues to rise, and fewer people choose to give using the postal service. When people believe growth in the economy is unpredictable, a reduction in giving follows. The drop is usually not immediate, and often it is cyclical. But new times will require the kind of innovation in fundraising that we demonstrate in our programs year after year. The idea that as members we must worry about our chapters and affiliates and that the national treasury will find its own way has no relationship to reality, if in fact it ever did.

To thank those who have made substantial contributions, the Board again held a supporter celebration both to say thank you to our donors and to share a bit with them about what their donations have made happen. We also shared a video message about the work that remains for all of us to do.

There was tremendous excitement when we talked about the Museum of the Blind People’s Movement. Our initial fundraising is encouraging, but we have a long way to go to meet our goal. Most certainly the amount to do this right will definitely increase because of inflation and the passage of time.

It is hard to believe, but even our new building is now two decades old. Many of the warranties that came with the new product have now expired, so we encounter the maintenance obligations that anyone with a building must address: heat, air-conditioning, repairs to the roof, plumbing, and the list is very familiar to all of us who own houses.

The Board is very proud of the work we do in contracting with the Library of Congress for Braille certification. Through our work, we continue to bring new transcribers into the field, and this is completely consistent with our goal of making more Braille available on more subjects and to more people.

STEM2U continues to be a groundbreaking program and one that has expanded to our affiliates. We continue to teach the teachers so that students have quality training closer to where they live.

Our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL®) program was a success again in 2023. We had both virtual and in-person programs, and of those, ten were conducted locally.

In keeping with tradition, the Board decided the issues we would take to the Washington Seminar. In 2024 these will be the Website Software Applications Accessibility Act, the Medical Device Nonvisual Accessibility Act, and the Blind Americans Return to Work Act. The fact sheets and more information about the Washington Seminar can be found at https://nfb.org/washington-seminar, and a full report will appear in the March issue.

We continue to view with real excitement our Teacher of Tomorrow Program, because it gives us the opportunity to influence the education of many more students than we can gather for the seminars we provide and lets our influence be felt on a daily basis. Our motto: “If they will not teach the teachers, we will do it.”

Our early childhood initiatives are always a source of inspiration. These initiatives include giving parents print and Braille materials to work with their preschoolers, along with some advice for instruction. We also provide children with their first cane and again provide parents with some instruction they can use in being their child’s first cane travel instructor.

The Board continues to discuss the future of the International Braille and Technology Center, admiring what it has done while taking on the challenge of figuring out what it should do in the future. Our role may evolve from maintaining a physical location to a dynamic online presence, leveraging web, podcasts, and local technology vendors to maximize our effect on blind people wanting to know more about the alternatives they may employ. The Board welcomes thoughts from all Federationists about what our constantly evolving International Braille and Technology Center should become.

We continue to participate in the accessible cities project, not only to enhance the freedom of blind people to function independently, but to work against those trends that threaten our independent mobility as we try to navigate in the places where we live and visit.
We continue to be involved with the developers of autonomous vehicles, our emphasis being on their usability by blind people. It will do us little good to have a vehicle that can drive itself if the interface to tell it where to go and to find out where we are on the route requires vision.

We continue to be involved in the area of accessible COVID testing, which leads, of course, to all of the other in-home testing that is becoming a reality. As it is with every other aspect of emerging technology, keeping tabs on all that is ongoing is a significant challenge.

The Board is very excited about the membership initiatives and the technology that has been developed to support them. Members having access to their profile and chapter presidents being able to onboard new members are significant contributions to recruiting blind people into our movement.

The Board continues to discuss the role of divisions. Sometimes divisions enhance the advancement of a cause, but sometimes a committee or a group might better address the issue with less fuss and maintenance. Work on the Monarch, a joint project of the National Federation of the Blind, the American Printing House for the Blind, and HumanWare, continues to fascinate the Board. It is clear that getting this technology in the hands of blind students will significantly enhance their ability to deal with graphics and to enjoy the benefits of Braille being displayed in multiple lines.

After ten years we are now reviewing our branding and seeing that our key messaging continues to represent the kind of organization we are, the kind we aspire to be, and the message we want to send to the public about the authentic experience of blind people. More information will follow in later issues of this magazine.

In wrapping up this report, it is important for all of us to remember that member input is absolutely critical for the Board to do the best job it can. All of us who have suggestions, opinions, or questions should remember that each of us can write to the National Federation of the Blind Board of Directors at [email protected]

At the end of what was essentially a three-day session, everyone left with a sense of pride and enthusiasm at the work we have done, the strong realization that there is much work remaining, and the clear conclusion that being leaders in the National Federation of the Blind is not a ceremonial honor but a real commitment to enhancing the life opportunities of blind people. Although this is certainly no game we play by being leaders in the National Federation of the Blind, what we do or fail to do has real consequences. It is clear to any observer that we will embrace the challenges, meet them with innovative solutions, and do everything we can to keep the promise of a future that is brighter tomorrow because of the work we will do today.

An Interview with Kimble Funchess: Mississippi School for the Blind's Music Educator

by LaShawna Fant

From the Editor: Mr. Funchess has been at the Mississippi School for the Blind for two years. This is LaShawna's way of introducing him to our nation's blind. LaShawna has undertaken this task for several folks. Thanks to her for helping us getting to know one another more than we would without her effort.

LaShawna Fant: Hello, Mr. Funchess. It is a privilege and honor to interview you. Please introduce yourself to the readers of this flagship publication.

Kimble Funchess: My name is Kimble Funchess. I grew up in Crystal Springs, Mississippi. My mother was a custodian for our local school district, and my dad worked for Western Auto. My parents had thirteen children, nine girls and four boys. I am a proud husband and father of four beautiful daughters and also a loyal fan of the New Orleans Saints.

LF: Where did you attend college, and what was your experience overall?

KF: I attended Jackson State University for undergrad and graduate school. My major was Music Education. Later, I attended Mississippi College and earned a Master of Education in School Counseling. My experiences at Jackson State University were life changing. As I got older, I realized the value of the relationships developed while we were students in the band. It continues to amaze me how our band directors had their hands on the pulse of how important being a part of Sonic Boom of the South was for students who grew up in the neighborhoods surrounding our campus, let alone a young aspiring trumpeter from my hometown. Many of my experiences as a band student helped me to grow into a young adult. Being in the band at Jackson State, traveling with the band, and long rehearsals greatly affected my life. The Sonic Boom of the South and the Jackson State University Music Department were truly defining institutions in our lives. They were there to help guide us in the classroom setting and learning that took place outside of the class, which positively affected the whole student's life. The sense of nurturing during that time is the model I use today as an educator. Later, during my graduate studies at Mississippi College, the Counseling/Psychology Department supported my efforts to effectively infuse counseling practices into my daily instruction as a music educator. The professors helped me bridle those ideas and concepts into a fundamentally sound template and further add to it as a long-term plan. My experiences at both of these great institutions were beneficial to my personal and professional life. I have a great relationship with many of my college professors. Several are my mentors and life coaches. They continue to positively affect my growth as an educator and, most importantly, as a person.
 
LF: That's great! Why did you become a music educator and band/choral director, specifically of blind students?

KF: As I matriculated through the Copiah County School District, I quickly developed a love for music. After marching for several years in the Sonic Boom of the South and watching the band directors, I developed a passion for teaching. While in college, I was fortunate to perform with artists such as Johnnie Taylor, The Spinners, and The Fifth Dimension. Those opportunities allowed me to perform with The Temptations, The Four Tops, The O'Jays, The Williams Brothers, Dorothy Moore, Bobby Rush, and many more. After all of those experiences, I knew that the gift I was given to play, write, and perform music was not just for me. I knew that I wanted to share it with the next generation. Each opportunity is an occasion to grow. In my career, it was time for a new form of growth. I knew I had something to offer students who learn differently, and working at Mississippi School for the Blind would stretch my talent and growth as an educator. Additionally, I appreciate the experience of educating the students at Mississippi School for the Blind. Every day, I strive to provide them with experiences and skills to help them as students and throughout their lives.

LF: Mr. Funchess, thanks for sharing your passion for educating the students. What are some of your goals in better equipping the students?

KF: One goal is to continue using the daily practice of infusing life skills into daily instruction. Music is a catalyst for doing that and consists of the tools to create good citizens who are musicians. Learning to play an instrument is a by-product of practicing these skills. As a daily practice, students will be encouraged to value focus differently. We will practice a counting exercise while using breathing for four counts. We will inhale for four counts, hold our breath for four counts, and then exhale for four counts. As it relates to music, the students are experiencing the value of a whole (four counts).

By participating in this activity, the students have to concentrate on that one central exercise point. After repeating this activity three times within a one- to three-minute window, we develop our focus muscle. Let's say we do this activity five days a week for one-to-three minutes daily. We can increase our focus muscle for some time. As we reinforce this activity daily as a tool in music education, it quickly becomes a tool that students can and will take to their core subject areas. It also becomes an effective cross-curricular tool. Once we develop a sense of consistency, the student will learn to manage this tool independently. This is my belief and hope. Lastly, I will continue to aim to employ descriptive language, hands-on learning, community-based opportunities, structure, and accommodations.

LF: Please let the readers know what "Mindfulness Through Music" is and how you utilize it to help individuals.

KF: Mindfulness Through Music (MTM) is a program founded and developed by my wife and me. MTM infuses the arts, mental health nurturing, focusing, paying attention to details, and valuing problem-solving as a daily practice. This helps the young professionals navigate the way to become effective learners and reach their full potential. MTM is available for school programs. We have partnerships in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas. You can find more information about Mindfulness Through Music on Facebook and Instagram. Please Like our page, and follow the work that we are doing.

Here are links to our Mindfulness Through Music pages:

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100094348626318&mibextid=LQQJ4d

https://www.instagram.com/mindfulnessthroughmusicllc?igsh=ZGNjOWZkYTE3MQ==

LF: How long have you played the trumpet, and what drives your passion?

KF: I started playing the trumpet in the fifth grade. I saw Mr. Louis Armstrong on television playing the trumpet. After he finished, he did that famous laugh while his arms were opened wide, and the audience erupted in applause. They embraced what he was sharing, and he gave the same love back to them. I told my parents: "Whatever he had, just give me a little bit of that, and I'll be okay." The trumpet quickly became my identification, and I have played it ever since.

LF: You have traveled to many places and have had several opportunities to work alongside famous musical artists. What have been some of these opportunities, and what are some things you learned?

KF: I have been blessed to perform all over the United States and parts of Europe such as Amsterdam. I can literally say that I have performed with a Steel Band in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and even Abu Dhabi. Having the opportunity to record/perform with artists my family grew up listening to has been so valuable to me as I become older. I often reflect on conversations with Johnnie Taylor, The Williams Brothers, Willie Clayton, Dorothy Moore, Lenny Williams, Mavis Staples, Boo Mitchell, Charlie Pride, B. B. King, Mr. Willie Mitchell, Dr. Benjamin Wright Jr, Harrison Calloway Jr, Eddie Cotton, Castro Coleman, Ali-Ollie Woodson, and countless musicians and people that I have learned from through my experiences. I have learned that it is genuinely about establishing rapport, building relationships, sharing experiences, and paying it forward.

LF: Wow! Those were beautiful experiences, and that is such rich information. Regarding your heart and the person you are, what are five words to best describe you?

KF: Determined, purposeful, driven, intentional, and altruistic.

LF: How important is family and community to you?

KF: Family is important to me because it is a foundational pillar. My family is a continuous driving motivator for me. They gently remind me that it is not all about me, and I must be mindful of my decisions. I am conscious that I stand on the shoulders of my parents, siblings, family in general, and many others who have invested in me on my journey. They sacrificed so much. It is my turn to model specific characteristics, behaviors, and other attributes as I make my greatest effort to pay it forward and leave the next generation in the best possible position for life. That is what has been done for me, and it is still being done for me in many cases. This is why it is vital for all of us to be mindful of who is in our season of paying it forward.

LF: What are some of your hobbies and things you like to do for fun?

KF: I enjoy yardwork, in particular weed-eating and trimming, because I like to have a tailored or unique look to our yard. That is relaxing for me. I also enjoy having downtime where I do not plan activities, meet deadlines or tasks, or have to be somewhere. As adults, we have enough of that already. I also enjoy watching Westerns, old movies, and movies with Louis Armstrong in them. I remember when we were younger, we would see the reruns of the Golden Classic movies on Sunday evenings. That was a pastime for my dad and me. He could only stand a few of them for a short period. LOL.

LF: It is certainly good to enjoy life. Who have been some of your mentors?

KF: Truthfully, I have had many mentors; by this, I mean my middle/high school band directors, the music department at Jackson State University while I was a student, and the Counseling/Psychology Department at Mississippi College during my studies there. Also, Mr. Harrison Calloway Jr. and Dr. Benjamin Wright Jr. have been my mentors on this journey in the music business. More importantly, I appreciate how they encouraged me to embrace the artist within and grow as a music educator when investing in me as a trumpeter, horn arranger, and horn section contractor.

LF: What would you want your legacy to be?

KF: I would like for my legacy to be that I could balance life as it happened and be supportive and attentive to my family. I was ever evolving in my career regarding growth to make a valuable difference. Mostly, I made someone's life better, was concerned about making a difference, and was genuinely concerned for all humankind.

LF: Do you have any final words you want to leave with the readers?

KF: My final words to leave with the readers who are determined, driven, or intentional in their efforts to leave the world in a better place than they found it are to:

Tom Page: Musician, Audio Engineer, Mentor

Thomas O. "Tom" Page was born on December 28, 1972, in Gainesville, Florida, the first of three children born to Thomas L. and Leslie Page. His eyesight issues first became obvious when he was a toddler, around two to three years old, as he struggled with tracking in the dark. However, intervention did not come until he reached the first or second grade when he was prescribed glasses, which, he recalls, did not improve matters much. At the age of fourteen, “when I started wanting to drive,” he remembers, Tom learned his diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa.

Throughout his early education, Tom’s family moved a lot, residing in Florida, Kansas, and Illinois, among other places. Once diagnosed, he was exempted from school activities that seemed inappropriate to administrators (such as photography and sports) rather than being accommodated to participate in them. Although there was consideration of him attending a nearby school for the blind in Jacksonville, Illinois, when he lived in nearby Springfield, he decided against it.

Tom attended Wichita State University and earned a degree in experimental psychology. He then accepted a job at his alma mater as a statistics liaison. His journey towards adopting blindness techniques and becoming a Federationist began when, seemingly from one day to the next, he found it increasingly difficult to read job-related materials, even with the most powerful magnification he could access. “People had been telling me I was blind for years,” he says, “and I finally decided that maybe I needed to listen and figure out how it is that blind people survive.” He connected with a rehabilitation teacher named Donna Wood, also a leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Kansas. Initially, she visited him every two weeks at his home for one to two hours. During one of these visits, he recalls, she made it clear that he would never fully develop good cane travel skills with such limited instruction. She advised him to put on sleep shades and practice walking in his neighborhood. As time passed, he graduated to moving beyond his own block, crossing busier streets, and becoming a truly proficient traveler.

While Tom worked on his blindness skills, he also began his career in music following the end of his employment with the university. He formed a guitar duo with a sighted guitar teacher and friend, and they began to seek paid gigs wherever they could. Donna Wood, who had been encouraging Tom to investigate the Federation, shrewdly hired the duo, known as Grandpa’s .38, to perform at Federation meetings and state conventions. “She worked it pretty well,” Tom recalls with a chuckle. His involvement was further cemented when he won an NFB scholarship in 2004 while pursuing his master’s degree in interdisciplinary research methodology at Wichita State. Like many other Federationists, Tom says attending that national convention in Atlanta was a critical turning point for him. “I barely knew myself as a blind person, but suddenly I was fully immersed in the world of blind people,” he remembers. “It was quite an experience, and I decided I wanted more of it.”

Tom was elected to the Kansas affiliate board shortly after. He became first vice president when Donna Wood was elected president, and when her health no longer permitted her to serve in that role, he was elected to succeed her in 2013 and has held the position ever since. He was elected to the national board of directors at the 2023 National Convention in Houston, Texas.

Outside of his Federation involvement, Tom completed his master’s degree, but by that time his music career was allowing him to make a living, and in 2009 he was able to purchase a local commercial building to house his own recording studio as well. For the past several years, he has been touring with the band Haymakers, which has released four albums. The latest of these are Waconda Flyer, which contains primarily original material, and 100 Years of Hank, the band’s tribute to the legendary Hank Williams. Their website is www.haymakersict.com, and their music is also available on digital platforms. Many Federationists had a chance to enjoy their performance at the 2023 National Convention. Tom also makes recordings for other musicians at his studio, as well as occasionally taking other voiceover and audio engineering jobs.

While Tom enjoys leading the Kansas affiliate, serving on the national scholarship committee, and his new role as a national board member, he finds the greatest meaning through mentoring others. He fondly recalls recently celebrating the achievements of a young Kansan who graduated from a cooking program and secured her first job. “The big things we do are of course critically important, like advocating for systemic change at the national and even international level,” Tom says. “It’s gratifying and gives me a huge sense of pride in our movement when years of effort pays off in a big way. But what I really appreciate most are those small moments that demonstrate how we make a difference in the lives of blind people.”

Tom and his partner, Nicole Taylor, live in Wichita. His sister Katie is the associate dean of the architecture and design school at Kansas State University, and his brother Will works as an appellate attorney in New York. “As a musician, I guess I’m the black sheep of the family,” he jokes. But Tom is, in reality, pleased with where his life journey has led him so far, and his mentees and peers throughout the Federation are certainly enjoying and benefitting from his many talents.

Marilyn Green: Passionate Advocate, Energetic Worker, and Lover of Connecting with People

In a remarkable journey marked by resilience, adaptability, and a deep commitment to advocacy, Marilyn Green has risen to prominence in the National Federation of the Blind. Elected to the National Board of Directors in July of 2023, Marilyn's story is one of overcoming obstacles, shattering stereotypes, and forging a path of leadership and inspiration for many.

Early Life and Challenges

Born on June 12 in Blue Island, a suburb of Chicago, Marilyn's life was characterized by a quiet, introspective nature. Perhaps this came from being an only child or, just as likely, it is one of the native attributes that has made Marilyn a special person. When asked about her family life, Marilyn humorously remarks, "I have lots of kids, but no tuition."

Marilyn did not initially think much of her vision and never considered herself blind. She understood that she wore thick glasses, but she was confident that the reason she sat at the front of the room was that was where the smart people sat. Her blindness stemmed from an amalgamation of cellulitis, glaucoma, and cone-rod dystrophy. If she moved more timidly than others, sometimes on tiptoe, she chalked this up to being cautious, an attribute that she considered totally consistent with being smart.

It wasn't until she started experiencing debilitating migraines at sixteen that the reality of her situation began to unfold. Not one to look for excuses or reasons to complain, she considered the migraines a difficulty she would just have to deal with, and if they came on as a result of reading too much, she would just do a better job of managing her reading load.

Education and Early Career Struggles

Her academic journey, though challenging, was marked by determination and excellence. Marilyn attended Edgar Allan Poe Classical School during her elementary years and Morgan Park for her junior high and high school education, the latter being a renowned magnet school. She cherished her high school years, forming friendships that remain strong to this day. “Some of those friends were hard to make, and perhaps that is why they have endured.”

Marilyn pursued higher education at DePaul University, majoring in english literature and women’s studies. Loving literature, it is no surprise that her first job was in publishing. Struggling with the intense reading load and unable to differentiate between font changes due to her worsening vision, Marilyn faced the harsh reality of having to admit to blindness and techniques that blind people would use, or taking what she saw as the high road, refusing any accommodations, and quitting her job. The fact that she was valued in that job was clearly evidenced by the suggestion of her supervisor that together they work on accommodations, but Marilyn would have none of it. She called her mother with the message, “Mom, I’m coming home.”

Finding Her Path

It was in this period of introspection and recalibration that Marilyn found a new calling. She transitioned to a role at the Chicago Public Library, where she thrived as a reader advisor. Her responsibilities ranged from teaching computer skills to conducting financial literacy classes to educating on landlord-tenant rights. However, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted another career shift, leading her to her current position as the director of an agency for the blind.

Impact and Advocacy in the National Federation of the Blind

Marilyn's work with the National Federation of the Blind has been transformative. She passionately advocates for those of us who are blind, emphasizing the importance of maintaining personal connections and thinking beyond oneself. Her legislative work has been instrumental in increasing the number of cosponsors from Illinois for national legislation. Moreover, her efforts in mentoring, raising funds for scholarships, and her involvement in the Story Bank Program of the Federation have been invaluable.

Marilyn's personal life is as vibrant as her professional one. Despite her busy schedule, she finds time for yoga, loves travel, and is an avid Spanish speaker, something that serves her well when she goes to Puerto Rico, a place she loves.

Marilyn joined the Federation by being part of the member-at-large chapter and quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the state president in 2020. Her first national convention in Florida was a turning point, solidifying her commitment to the organization and its cause. Her decision to attend was pragmatic. She reasoned that if she liked it, she would participate, and if she didn’t like it, she would visit Disneyland and other tourist attractions. She instantly felt a part of all that was going on, and as she participated, her commitment to the organization grew.

The Essence of Leadership

Marilyn's approach to leadership is grounded in humility and self-awareness. She believes in the importance of not losing oneself in titles and positions. Her friends describe her as fun-loving, adventurous, and an excellent communicator—qualities that are essential in a leader. Her life mantra, "I never plan to forget who I am and where I’ve come from," reflects her grounded and genuine approach to life and leadership.

Marilyn Green's journey is a testament to the power of perseverance, adaptability, and the human spirit's capacity to overcome challenges. Her story is not just about dealing with blindness but about seeing the world in a more compassionate, understanding, and inclusive way. As she continues her work with the National Federation of the Blind, Marilyn vows that success will not be the path that leads to arrogance, indifference, and an insurmountable distance between her and those who get so much from her. On the contrary, she will continue to advocate for a world in which every individual has the opportunity to thrive and contribute meaningfully, and she will do so as quietly and unnoticed as she can.

When Braille is not the Total Answer

by Gary Wunder

I feel so grateful to have been born in a time when Braille was available, providing a great way for blind people to read and write. I use it for labeling, notes, phone numbers, and even editing things that I write or review that other people have written. I understand the concept of an outline because of Braille and have a better feel for the grouping that goes into a paragraph.

Not getting people Braille is such a crime against their potential that sometimes we forget that Braille can be as inaccessible for blind people as print. If you are a blind person with neuropathy, you may not be able to feel let alone differentiate between the dot patterns that distinguish letters and words. If you learn Braille later in life, it may never serve you well for reading long letters, articles, or books. If, despite your best efforts, you can't read Braille at a speed you consider effective for reading a book, entertaining children, or speaking publicly, what alternatives exist?

What I want to talk about today is cases in which Braille is not enough and caution against an emphasis on Braille that suggests to others that they cannot be fully successful or meaningful blind people or Federationists if they aren't proficient users of the system of reading by touch. We would not stand for people being shamed because they could not read print, but sometimes we are perceived as shaming people for not reading Braille. I want to suggest that there are alternatives, and that while Braille is just as important to blind people as print is to sighted people, we must continue to look for alternatives when our senses and our situations do not allow for either of these reading methods to suffice.

If people can learn and use Braille efficiently, we know that audio as a substitution is wrong. Audio does not allow us to learn to spell passively through repeatedly observing a word under our fingers. Neither does it help us to learn spelling to repeated exposure to words so we can envision their shapes in our head and decode them into letters. We know that audio does not make clear when we are moving from one paragraph to the next. At the same time, many of us also know that we love Talking Books, and there are many situations in which we simply don't care about what we are missing or we will find other ways to get it. A phone number may be more easily retrieved in Braille, but a good audio device provides a great way to put it down. After years of listening to speech synthesis and compressed speech, many of us can listen to audio more rapidly than we can read Braille, and I suspect most of us find it more pleasurable to fall asleep to an audio book than Braille or large print.

Print and Braille both lend themselves to reading from a manuscript, ensuring that every word spoken is well-considered and not an off-the-cuff remark. Speaking from a manuscript may also be desired by presenters who want their remarks reprinted as delivered. If a presenter cannot read Braille or print, how can the benefits above be realized? One answer has been proposed by Bruce Gardner in his creation of what he calls the Audible Teleprompter. In its most basic form, the presenter listens to the words he wants to speak and then delivers them with the emphasis he wants for the audience to hear. The text the presenter listens to may be the monotone presentation given by many text-to-speech systems, but the presenter uses the full range of human options in his delivery. At a minimum this includes emphasizing words through vocalization, by pauses, or by the volume of one’s voice.

The key to this effectively working depends on two things. The first is the ability to stop and start speech from the listening device and have it stop immediately and restart after the last word spoken. The second is sufficient practice so that what is said represents what is demanded of a good public speaker. This practice is also required of one reading from Braille or print. Being able to read aloud is a necessary skill for delivering a speech, but an effective presentation goes far beyond the recitation of words. Beyond intonation and pauses, an effective speaker must account for audience reaction, up to and including shouts of support, applause, or even heckling. Although the goal is to speak from a clearly written presentation, every good speaker knows how to roll with the audience and to make a brief remark in response. Most of us who present try to place in our remarks something that someone earlier in the day has said, be that a meaningful observation, an interesting question to consider, or a humorous remark. The presenter has to be skilled in adjusting to changing time constraints such as delays in the schedule that must be made up somewhere, and the event planner takes some time from the presenter’s speech.

Although the Audible Teleprompter was created with blind people in mind, a search of the web reveals that there are others who have trouble speaking from a manuscript, and there are commercial devices that rely on an earbud and wireless technology. One of the websites I came across offers the hardware and training, but determining the cost of the product, the length of the training, and the specific hardware used is made difficult by the requirement to first undergo an interview to see if one is eligible. I did not think this necessary in order to discuss the Audible Teleprompter but did find it interesting that others have developed a similar solution for presenters who presumably have sight.

One thing I use Braille for is labeling, and I consider it tremendous. I realize, however, that this is not the only solution. Some who cannot feel Braille can feel the bump dots that we sell in the Independence Market. They can easily be used to mark the location of buttons, though admittedly they do not convey their functions. One can easily conceive of a homegrown system in which one bump dot on a can designates corn, two dots for peas, three dots for green beans, etc. The same system can be used for frozen foods or beef or produce. When the labeling system becomes too complicated for memory, a small digital recorder may suffice to generate the list.

In addition to the low tech solutions for labeling, there are also several systems that allow for affixing a label which, when read by a device, will announce the contents of a package or any other item that needs identifying. Two that readily come to mind are the PenFriend and the WayAround. There are also a number of systems that can read the electronic label used by most stores to speed the checkout of items and keep track of inventory.

I know there is always some fear in discussing alternative ways of doing things when there is the possibility that the alternative may be used as a shortcut. For the longest time, I had a hard time getting blind people to understand that dictating to a computer could dramatically increase their output. I could demonstrate that the system worked, but the real fear from skeptics was that blind folks would avoid learning keyboarding skills with the idea that they were no longer needed if one could simply talk to the computer. While there's always a chance that some may choose the seemingly easier path to productivity, this possibility doesn't justify neglecting the development and promotion of alternative methods. Canes, dogs, Braille writers, slates, refreshable Braille displays, and digital players and recorders are tools we use; they do not determine our worth as blind people. Like anyone who carries a toolbox, it behooves us to know how to use each tool and, based on that knowledge, determine which tool to use when.

Eureka! It All Matters!

by Cary Supalo

From the Editor: Dr. Cary Supalo is a research chemist, a consultant with Educational Testing Services (ETS), and the founder of Independence Science, a company that develops and markets tools that make science measurement equipment accessible to blind students. In his presentation at the 2023 Convention of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Supalo talked about the magic of science and how parents can help their children consider this a viable career option. This article originally appeared in the 2023 Convention Issue of Future Reflections, the newsletter for parents of blind children produced by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults.

Children often ask the question, what is science? As you can imagine, this question has many different answers. Science can simply mean investigating phenomena around us and seeking answers to scientific questions. To others it might mean trying to gain a greater understanding. And to others, it might mean applying the scientific method to try to understand and explain a phenomenon. I think a simple definition would be fundamental problem solving. How can we ask scientific questions and answer them? This fundamental critical thinking skill set can and usually does go beyond scientific questions. Your child can use this valuable life skill to figure out how to go from Point A to Point B. It might also mean for your child what to do to make a chocolate cake from scratch, or to explore plant life in the back yard. Do you see where I am going with this? Fundamental problem solving is at the core of what scientists do for a living.

Moving on, chemistry is the study of matter. There are different branches of chemistry. Some of these branches are organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry, biochemistry, and physical or theoretical chemistry. Many blind people tend to go into the theoretical realm of chemistry. This area of chemistry involves lots of complex computations that are usually done on a computer. However, most chemists are experimentalists. These are the ones who get to design experiments and conduct all kinds of chemical reactions and perform extensive diagnostic tests, depending on the theory being evaluated.

In my graduate research at Penn State University, I studied inorganic chemistry, which is the study of the transition metals or the D block elements on the Periodic Table. My research interest involved the synthesis of different transition metal-supported catalysts. We were investigating how hydrogen gas could be produced from different organic materials for the purposes of serving as an alternative fuel source. I worked in conjunction with researchers from Universal Oil Products and other chemical engineers from the Illinois Institute of Technology in downtown Chicago.

Much of the research instrumentation I was expected to work with was not accessible with any access technology. Therefore, I had to come up with work-arounds. My primary tool at that time, in the early 2000s, was a human research assistant. I will simply call this assistant a lab technician, or lab tech for short. I had to recruit my lab techs from the pool of undergraduate chemistry and other science majors. I interviewed and hired them, and in some cases fired them when things did not work out well. These individuals were paid a decent wage for undergraduate students. I was able to work out a funding structure for their pay. My research advisor, the chemistry department, and the office for student disability services each paid one-third of the assistant's wage. Thus the financial obligation was spread around so I could get the hours I needed to do my work.

I always needed to have several lab techs available in case someone called in sick. Sometimes exams would get a little overwhelming during a particular week, and thus the techs were unable to work. Lab tech time was almost always scheduled in advance, but sometimes the research experiments required working at non-normal hours, i.e., at 2:00 a.m. Scientific discovery does not always work on a schedule that is convenient to us, but rather when Mother Nature says the discovery will be revealed to us as scientists. It is up to us both to be there and to recognize the discovery when it happens, and of course to document observations and other key data.

Next, I will mention the documenting of observations. Blind people need to have good ways to take and keep organized notes. I use electronic notetakers. However, the slate and stylus is also a popular method. Some may record observations on a computer or smart tablet device. Whatever the tool, the important thing is for a blind person to have an accessible way to record their own observations.

Also, blind people need to know what is and is not important. We must know what types of clarification questions to ask at the appropriate times with minimal, if any, disruption.

We must also have good communication skills and develop an innate ability to read other people's behavior through inflections in voice and direction of speaking. Overall, we must know how attentive others are to what we are saying.

Another challenge is to communicate visually by drawing visual graphics. Many blind students like to describe graphics in words. This tends to be all right for a blind audience, but for sighted colleagues in a scientific meeting, this method does not often go over very well. Being able to draw graphical representations using raised-line drawing kits is a good starting skill to develop. This method may eventually transition to drawing on whiteboards for groups of people.

I had the pleasure of serving as an assistant professor of chemistry at a state university. I was asked to teach first-year general chemistry lab courses and upper-level science education methods courses for future teachers. My ability to draw molecular structures, chemical equations, and other mathematical calculations on a whiteboard helped my instruction a great deal. My students tended to be very vocal if I did not write something clearly!

I also was expected to grade lots of handwritten homework, lab reports, and quizzes. I accomplished this by employing a human reader who read the response to each question, and I assigned the points that were properly earned. Eventually I was assigned a grader to assist me with the application of rubrics and other answer keys that I prepared.

In the end, a lot of what was required to serve as a faculty member was good time management, the ability to use alternative skills of blindness, and the capacity to think outside the box. A blind faculty member must figure out how to access information which, by its very nature, is not innately accessible.

Now, why is all of this relevant to you? Some of you are wondering, how can my son or daughter succeed in science? I will say that science is not for everyone. However, for a long time, blind students were discouraged from pursuing science careers at all. We were told that science is too visual, or that lab work is not safe. A teacher might simply say, "I have no idea how you can do this work."

I am here to ask you today if your child has an interest in science. One good indicator is they ask lots of inquisitive questions about why things are the way they are. Or maybe they like doing math problems. Or they like animals and/or going to science museums. The key thing for you as parents is to encourage them and keep them engaged in science activities. Enroll them in enrichment programs, take them to science museums where they can take part in firsthand, engaging activities. Sometimes if you can get a group of blind students together to go to a science museum and let the staff know several weeks in advance, they can arrange a special hands-on session for you. It just requires a little planning. Once you have done this, please write about your experiences for Future Reflections. Share your ideas with other parents about things they can do to keep their children engaged in science activities.

With regards to IEP meetings, I have learned in recent times that it is important to document the types of access technology your child will be using in their classes. For your information, multi-line refreshable Braille devices are coming in the extremely near future. You can see some of them on display in the exhibit hall at this convention. It is expected that these devices will be commercially available within the coming school year. If you want your child to have the use of these technologies for their schoolwork and their K-12 standardized tests, make sure these technologies are mentioned in their IEP.

Finally, I want to circle back to my initial message. Scientists perform fundamental problem solving each and every day. No two days are ever alike. If you can learn how to ask good questions, you can be a scientist. If you can learn how to apply the scientific method and use data to answer questions, you can become a scientist. Knowing your blindness skills, leveraging human assistance when necessary, and understanding the limitations of access technologies is just as important as what access technology can do. If your child can learn to do all of these things as they mature, they will be able to pursue almost any career path they choose. I hope that some of them will want to study science. Not all of them will, and that is all right. It's one thing for them to choose not to pursue science as a career; it's quite another thing for them to be told they cannot study science, that science is out of reach for them because they are blind.

I am going to end with one of my favorite quotations from a famous 1980s movie, Back to the Future. "If you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything.” Thank you very much.

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 this year, 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.

Voting Using Android Phones/Tablets

by Curtis Chong

From the Editor: Voting privately and independently is definitely one of our top priorities. Curtis is one of the more active members working on this issue, and he makes this request:

I am working with a company called Tusk Philanthropies on mobile voting using iOS and Android devices. Tusk Philanthropies is devoting quite a bit of resources to the development of test mobile apps for voting and ballot validation. This outfit has done a lot to involve blind people in the testing effort. Tusk Philanthropies spoke to the general session at one of our national conventions, and their team has come to in-person national conventions in recent times to run focus groups to test their work.

I am hoping to find people who are familiar with and regular users of Android who might be willing to become a part of the testing effort to ensure that the mobile voting app works well for blind/low vision Android users. I am not seeking an Android geek. Rather, I am looking for a person who understands and uses Android who can think like a nontechnical voter. If mobile voting is going to become a reality in our lives, it needs to work for everyone—not just for the technologically-gifted.

No money is to be made for this effort, I regret to say. If you are interested in participating in this effort, please write to me at [email protected]. Together we can make private and independent voting a reality for blind people.

My Career Story

by Shelley Keeland

From the Editor: Shelley Keeland wrote this in response to our request for information that we could use during Blind Equality Achievement Month. It arrived too late to appear in our October issue, but the story has tremendous value no matter when we run it.

When I was asked to share the story of my career and how it came to be, I thought about how important it is for me to talk about not only how I was able to achieve my dream, but also how important it is to have a support system along the way. I am totally blind, and I was a court reporter in juvenile court for twenty-eight years. I am the first and only blind person in Arkansas to become a court reporter and the second person in the United States. One woman before me was able to somehow find a way to read her steno shorthand notes and provide verbatim transcripts of court proceedings. My situation was different because I attended a school that taught not only the steno and the proper way to produce a transcript but also something we call computer-aided transcription. We type the shorthand on our steno machine and then transfer all of this information to a computer software program via Bluetooth, which translates most of that steno into English text right on your computer screen. The training for this career is so challenging because we must be certified to type 225 words per minute at 95 percent accuracy. As you can probably imagine, it is so hard to know when you enter a training program if you can ever achieve this level.

It’s not just about determination. It’s about whether your brain can work so quickly that you automatically take down everything you hear without having time to think about what you’re doing. In fact, if you start to think about whether you dropped a word and try to catch up, you lose your rhythm and become thrown off completely. The drop-out rate for court reporting students was somewhere around 95 percent, and they weren’t blind. I had no idea if I could make it through the training because there was no guarantee that I could ever write fast enough on the steno machine.

We also realized at the time I began the program that we didn’t have the Braille or speech technology to read any of the steno I was writing. Our goal was to use computers in the end, but students at the school had to type speed tests directly from their steno notes on a typewriter the old-fashioned way. I learned the steno shorthand and could comprehend it in my head, but I never saw what I wrote myself until I was almost ready to graduate from school. We eventually found the screen reader that could read both the English text and also any steno that did not translate in the computer program as English, but I couldn’t have made it through school without the help of my sighted friends. If another student decided they didn’t write well enough on a speed test to type it and turn it in for a grade, they would practice by reading my steno to me and typing it for me. We all learned the same shorthand theory, so they could just ask me to tell them what I meant when I had a misstroke.

I finally became certified in 1991 after nearly three years of hard work toward that end. Then I had the difficult task of trying to find work and break the barriers we all face when we have a disability because employers often don’t want to give us a chance. They either think we can’t do the job or they don’t want to spend the money to make the job accessible. I worked out the accessibility part with the help of Division of Services for the Blind here in Arkansas, so I just had to find a job. It took nearly two more years for that to happen. Finally, Judge Wiley Branton gave me the shot I needed. He was a newly appointed judge to the bench in 1993 and started building his staff from scratch. He hired me, and we were able to work together to make sure we had a solution to any unforeseen issues. I wasn’t following in the footsteps of another court reporter in that court, so we all started learning together.

Now that my career is mostly over, since my retirement in 2021, I still stop and wonder how this could happen. There seemed to be so many obstacles that it couldn’t work. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have a good support system around you. This is also the month where we try to interest potential employers in learning about what we can do instead of what we can’t do. We recently lost Judge Branton, but he gave me so much when he decided to think outside the box and give me a chance. I hope this story can help others realize it is possible to achieve our dreams, but we can’t do it alone. It truly takes a team, a lot of courage and determination, and belief in yourself. My support group here in Arkansas is the National Federation of the Blind of Arkansas. Together we have built a family so that we can find strength in each other and work toward promoting change in the future to try to eliminate, not just for us, but for future generations, some of the barriers we have faced.

The Blind Encyclopedist

by Tyler Zahnke

From the Editor: I remember that we were roundly criticized by some for sponsoring Erik Weihenmayer in his attempt to climb Mount Everest. What good would it do for the average blind person? Read to the end of this article and see for yourself.

Tyler likes to write and has always wanted to be a contributor to an encyclopedia. He is making his dream come true, and here is his story:
 
I live in the Grand Rapids, Michigan, area, and I am a musician, singer, songwriter, writer, and I am one of the only examples in history of a blind encyclopedist. Now, I'm sure there are quite a few of you who are wondering just what an encyclopedist is. According to the online edition of Merriam-Webster, an encyclopedist is "One who compiles and writes for an encyclopedia."
 
You might be thinking that there are millions of people now, both sighted and blind, who could call themselves encyclopedists, given that sites like Wikipedia and Everything2 can receive contributions from pretty much anyone. However, this article refers specifically to professional encyclopedists: people who contribute to and often get paid for contributing to carefully-inspected, academic-quality encyclopedias such as Encyclopedia Britannica, World Book, and New World Encyclopedia. I am proud to say that, after years of being an amateur encyclopedist at crowd-sourced websites, I have taken the next big step, and I am now a paid contributor to New World Encyclopedia. At first I was worried, because I had never heard of any other blind contributors to professional reference works, but luckily I was able to work with them, use their accessible editing software, and there was exactly one accessibility issue that came up, and they were extremely willing to help me through that. But getting to be the blind encyclopedist I am today was quite a journey.
 
Information, and the sharing thereof, has always been a fascination of mine; being born in the late 90s, I was aware of the power of the internet from a young age. Shortly before I went into the third grade, I discovered Wikipedia when looking up fun mathematical facts about Skewes' Number and googolplex, and around the same time, I saw some educational pieces about encyclopedias on a VHS tape of some 1950s Mickey Mouse Club shows. My journey with wiki-based websites and encyclopedias was only beginning; often, when Googling various topics, I would find either Wikipedia, Wiktionary, or the unrelated site WikiAnswers. A few years later, the Fandom site, known at the time as Wikia, intrigued me; they hosted many websites that were like mini-Wikipedias for specific subjects; Harry Potter Wiki, Disney Wiki, Blind Wiki, and so on. The concept of online communities devoted to sharing certain types of information was fascinating. The very idea that there are these sites where members can contribute information by editing the article and submitting the edit, with knowledgeable administrators and experienced editors, who ensure the accuracy of this content, was something I saw as a truly revolutionary concept. When I was in elementary school, I had no idea that Wikipedia was publicly editable, but I was well aware that it was a gigantic trove of information—a collection so large that it would fill several sections of a library if printed! At first, when I was told that Wikipedia was publicly editable, I was shocked; the information on there seemed so carefully written! But, over the following year, I realized how highly structured the site was, and I came to the conclusion that there wasn't much to worry about. However, I researched so much more than encyclopedic topics. Thanks to my love of words, I discovered the Wikipedia-affiliated online dictionary, Wiktionary; because I enjoyed scripts and quotes from movies and TV shows, I discovered Wikiquote; because I enjoyed reading information in a book-like format, I often used Wikibooks to study computer programming. Though I used many websites to get news, especially Google News, I quickly developed a fascination with Wikinews. I was starting to realize that I was becoming one of those wiki people: The people who know that wiki isn't just short for Wikipedia; I was one of those people who knew all the Wikimedia Foundation-owned websites, but I was quickly becoming aware of plenty of completely unrelated wiki sites!
 
Just as I was turning thirteen, I taught myself wiki markup code so I could edit websites such as Wikipedia effectively; I started out editing the above-mentioned Fandom sites, as they were closer to my writing style at the time, as opposed to the more professional style of sites like Wikipedia. Though I still haven't written an article for Wikipedia to this day, I started fixing occasional spelling and grammar errors on Wikipedia within a few months, while doing editing and even administrative duties on some Fandom wikis. Eventually I noticed that there was so much the Internet had to offer as far as wikis go, and Fandom was only a small part of it! As 2010 went on and I continued to be fascinated by today's technology, I eventually came to WikiIndex, a guide to the wide world of wikis on the web. This is where I started to realize that Wikipedia was not alone as far as general encyclopedias that allow users to link from article to article so seamlessly. The now defunct website 1911Encyclopedia was literally an encyclopedia from 1911, specifically Encyclopedia Britannica, that had been pasted into wiki software, and volunteers made the information more connected. But even if you don't count historical encyclopedias, other encyclopedias were being powered by wiki technology, including an extremely liberal encyclopedia called RationalWiki and an extremely conservative one called Conservapedia, as well as a wiki encyclopedia where every article had to be carefully approved by certified experts, Citizendium, which was created by a Wikipedia founder who left the Wikipedia project early on. Encyclopedias started to fascinate me even more, and not just wikis; my favorite non-wiki encyclopedia was the official Britannica website, which always has the latest articles, as opposed to the wiki with articles from 1911. I very quickly learned about the history of wiki technology; very few people realize that there were wikis before Wikipedia, including WikiWikiWeb, a community for programmers, and MeatballWiki, a community for people who enjoyed online communities including wikis. Like many other people, my knowledge of wikis started with Wikipedia, I eventually learned about all the wikis that came before it, though even better were the Fandom wikis, the other similar encyclopedias, and other sites that came after Wikipedia that put different twists on the wiki encyclopedia concept.
 
In June 2010, while I was exploring some of Wikipedia's competitors, especially the ones with a political bias, I would often read about even more encyclopedias and wikis, and sometimes it felt like the more wikis I read, the more wikis I would find! Well, one of these encyclopedias had an article that discussed the history of wiki sites and wiki encyclopedias—New World Encyclopedia! It was said to be an encyclopedia that made use of wiki technology while being checked over and approved by people with academic backgrounds, much like Citizendium. However, according to the article in this other encyclopedia, New World Encyclopedia pays their writers, while the average wiki, even Citizendium, is volunteer-powered. As soon as I read this article, I decided to check out the requirements for a paid writing position at New World Encyclopedia. Though the site had only a fraction of the number of articles that Wikipedia has, each article seemed to have a professional touch to it that most wikis just didn't have. I guess you could say the same thing about something like Citizendium or Scholarpedia, but NWE just seemed to have more articles while still having those professional quality standards.
 
I remember that day in the middle of June 2010 when, after only seeing a couple of its beautifully polished articles, I decided to look at its application form for writers. The form was beautiful and accessible, with several questions that you would expect to see on a job application, including a place to upload a résumé. Of course, at the time, I had no idea how to make/format a résumé, and perhaps at that age I wouldn't have had much experience to put on it anyway. However, the encyclopedia was shrouded in mystery. Sure, anyone could read its thousands of officially approved articles in their entirety for free, but it was amazing to see a website that looked exactly like a wiki encyclopedia, but with no login button! Much like Willy Wonka's factory, those products just kept coming out; yet nobody ever saw anyone go in. It was a feeling of wonder. What kind of wiki doesn't have a login button? You just go on there and read but can't submit anything. Sure, other non-wiki encyclopedias like Britannica are like this, but since this one looked exactly like a wiki, with the table of contents on the article, the "Powered by MediaWiki" banner at the bottom of the site, and so on, I wasn't expecting such professional content and editing from a wiki, and the website started appearing in my dreams at night. I had dreams about being one of the lucky writers invited to contribute to this fine reference work, submitting a great wealth of knowledge related to music, literature, film, television, and technology, emailing with experts in these fields, getting paid every month for my contributions, and learning new things while also providing information so others can learn new things as well. I had a feeling that, once I had experience and a résumé, I would be able to be part of this beautiful yet somewhat mysterious website.
 
As I continued to gather volunteer experience throughout my teens and early twenties, often through contributing to wiki websites like WikiIndex and Encyc, and spreading the good word of accessibility at NFB of Michigan state conventions and other NFB of Michigan-connected events, occasionally I would think back to those dreams of contributing to the New World Encyclopedia. When I was seventeen, I started writing music reviews that would then be forwarded to artists, managers, and producers in the industry. This was my first time getting paid for my writing, though it was mere cents per review since this was just a little task anyone could do without a résumé.
 
Shortly after turning eighteen, I started doing some freelance writing for a content provider, so I got to write custom articles for those who ordered them from the content provider site. In some ways, this experience felt like my encyclopedia dream come true. I got to write articles, sometimes on a small handheld device and sometimes on a laptop, and as soon as the articles got accepted, they were added to my pay table so they would know how much to pay me on Monday. This gig went fairly well until the end of the year, when the company's small staff couldn't manage all of the tens of thousands of writers who were signed up for these gigs. I went quite far while it lasted, going from a three-star writer, picking up random assignments, to a four-star writer with a writing coach. During these gigs, I got to write for everything from news websites to ads for social media, and I even had an opportunity to be a co-author of a novel. But my contributions weren't quite what they were looking for, so they ended up finding another co-writer. The fact that I was in the final two is something I will never forget.
 
I took a brief break from my wiki volunteer writing when my freelancing started, but it wasn't long until I returned to volunteer writing, though less frequently than before. I looked around for other writing gigs, and I even experimented with MyLot a little bit. This is a social media site that shares its advertising revenue with users, but due to my posts not being all that popular, I only got a few cents here and there, similar to the now defunct site Postloop, which pays users to comment on forums and blogs as a form of traffic sharing; users get points, and those points can be cashed in. Still, I did not get paid much, and the content provider freelancing paid more, though it still wasn't much. But all of these experiences taught me a lot about writing for an audience.
 
By 2017 my priorities had shifted, and I was focusing on getting music performance gigs rather than writing gigs. In that year, mostly I did volunteer performing, but due to making connections with various arts organizations, I had my first paying music gig in 2018. At this point, I had gone back to volunteer writing, for the most part for the sake of contributing information to sites that needed it. I wrote for cryptocurrency wikis not having certain coins and programming wikis not having a certain example in a certain programming language, and, on rare occasions, a music website not having information on a certain music company.
 
In May 2019, I finally found a paying gig; I got to write a series about historical music albums for Channillo, a subscription service for books and other written material. However, because I did not have that many subscribers, I did not get paid all that much, though, since the issues are still online and subscribers occasionally still read them, I get occasional residuals, as small as they are.

At this point in my life, I often wanted to do more paying gigs, whether they be writing or performance. I knew I was going to need to take a big step to make myself more marketable; I was going to need to make a résumé!
 
Originally, I was scheduled to do some résumé building work with the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons in 2019. I did pick up a few tips at the time, though admittedly my work with them slowed down a little bit during the pandemic. At least I was starting to feel more confident and independent, and when they offered to help me find internships, I happily accepted, instead of limiting myself to writing and music. Throughout the next few years, I did several internships, including social media for a musicians union, accessibility evaluation and background music searching for a marketing firm, and accessibility evaluation and research for a music school. But at this point I was fully confident to say yes to Selective Case Management when they offered to help me build and format a résumé! By October 2022 I had a completed résumé, though this was followed by some more music gigs, preparation for another internship, and lots of music practice for college. Because I am a music major, and after all of that was out of the way, a technical difficulty that involved needing to wait almost a month for a computer repair shop to receive a part they ordered delayed me a bit. Luckily, right before that technical issue, I put my résumé in a format where it could easily be accessed, and Selective Case Management gave me that little extra push to convince me that my résumé and cover letter were ready to send out to potential employers. So, at the very end of April, I sent it off to the place I dreamed about thirteen years ago—a site that I would still visit occasionally, pleased that it was still online and actively being edited—New World Encyclopedia.
 
Five days went by without a response, but Selective Case Management convinced me to send a follow-up email. I created the email right away, and within a day, I got an email telling me to send writing samples. Being a freelance writer, I had writing sample files prepared for this situation, mostly articles about albums that I wrote for Channillo. I replied with these samples within minutes, and I was surprised to receive an introduction document with a link to the writers’ guidelines and even a paragraph about payment! This made me feel like I had a good chance of being accepted, and on May 5, right before I went to a Cinco de Mayo block party, they told me that within the next few days they would be setting up an account for me! I couldn't believe it! Only people who have been accepted get accounts on this website! I had a spring in my step for the next week, though I was also aware that I had to organize an online festival for an organization for which I was volunteering. This is probably what made my first article for New World Encyclopedia so difficult—the knowledge that I had so much to do besides that. Luckily, within a week, I got the whole article about session musicians complete, though it, like many other New World Encyclopedia articles, ended up having so much Wikipedia content in it that it needed a Wikipedia source template at the bottom, new sections were needed, and a more academic-grade references section to make the article more professional.

Though the first article was frustrating, it was so exciting when I submitted each revision to the site. Being a wiki, the writers-only website was the same kind of interface as a lot of the volunteer writing I had been doing for years, and therefore it was just like the dreams about that site that I had thirteen years ago when I was only thirteen. At the beginning of June, when that paycheck came in the mail, I was so thrilled! Being a wiki, the writing and editing process was perfectly accessible, and I managed to complete the entire article without the editor knowing about my blindness. However, once I had to create the formatted invoice, an accessibility issue appeared. Though I was given a template invoice that I happily edited and made my own, with the editor still oblivious to my blindness, she needed a picture of my signature. Though I can sign my name when told where to sign, taking a picture of said signature would require some assistance, but once the editors realized I was blind, they decided that my email and my name on the document was enough as long as the editor placed her signature on it as evidence that it was an approved invoice. So with that out of the way, it was 100 percent accessible smooth sailing from there!
 
Though the session musician article from May is still my only full encyclopedia article to this date, in June I found out that the encyclopedia also features short definition pages for words. Since the English language and other languages as well are a deep fascination of mine, and I enjoyed many English classes throughout my life, I asked about doing some of these definitions since they are quick, short, and a lot of fun. Since June I have done over seventy-five of these definitions, receiving a paycheck every month since I got accepted. In September, I also got approved to write a Did You Know column. The encyclopedia has had a Did You Know column for many years, and because I am a big fan of collecting fun little factoids, I decided to ask about contributing some. So now I am defining words, collecting fun facts, and hoping one day to write another full article.

My dream of getting paid from home to contribute to a large information collection with nothing but a laptop and an Internet connection was finally realized—not just any collection of information, but the very same encyclopedia I dreamed of as a teenager! Whenever that check arrives in the mail, my face beams with joy, much like Charlie Bucket when he unwrapped that Wonka chocolate bar and, upon seeing the Golden Ticket, realized that he is one of very few people in the entire world to get to see the inside of this mysterious factory. Sure, anyone on the internet can read New World Encyclopedia, but the joy of being fully approved to contribute information and be part of this reference work cited by many a podcaster and YouTuber discussing everything from science to history to religion is tremendous. Sure, there are millions of people who have the right to contribute to Wikipedia, but the number of people with accounts on New World Encyclopedia is in the hundreds, and only sixteen are recognized on the website's community portal as currently active contributors. Being one of these contributors makes me feel like I am an important part of information collecting in the world of professional/academic information, and it gives me the desire to be an inspiration to blind people around the world. Whether blind or sighted, pursuing dreams like computer programming, submitting essays to literary magazines, or contributing to reference works is essential. Doubts, whether due to blindness or other reasons, should not hinder you. Success is uncertain unless you try. After many dreams about the encyclopedia and saying I would try to apply if I only had a résumé, eventually the desire was so strong that I made the creation of my résumé a priority, and here I am today, one of the world's only blind encyclopedists! Sure I may have started out at volunteer encyclopedias like Encyc and Wikipedia, with the slight fear that professional encyclopedias would one day disappear thanks to the volunteer sites, but I pushed through, checked the professional encyclopedias every so often to see if they still existed, and once my résumé and life were in the right place, I went for it! Much like twenty years ago when I learned about a blind man successfully climbing mountains, professional encyclopedias have always been one of my mountains, and every paycheck, email from the editor, or change made to one of my contributions by an editor reminds me that I safely made it to the top of the encyclopedia mountain, and I will continue to create beautiful things on top.

My Perspective on the Ninety-Third Leadership Seminar

by Cindy Scott-Huisman

From the Editor: For more than half a century, the National Federation of the Blind has been holding leadership seminars at our national office. Those who attend are recommended by affiliate presidents and other leaders in the movement. Cindy recently attended a seminar and shares her reaction to being invited, planning to attend, and the experience while in the seminar.

It was an honor and a challenge to attend the ninety-third Presidential Leadership Seminar. I had heard about leadership training from a friend who has really taken me under wing. It was so exciting to receive the phone call letting me know I was being asked to attend. The dates for Leadership Seminar for the autumn of 2023 fell on my thirty-third wedding anniversary. There was no way I was going to turn down the chance to learn more about leadership alongside other selected participants, so I gently informed my husband about my conflict with celebrating on the exact day. This would be for the first time. I softened the news with an invitation to come to Baltimore on my last day of training so we could spend a few days together. It all worked out wonderfully well. We enjoyed exploring Baltimore and look forward to returning.

It felt like there were a lot of unknowns prior to attending the Leadership Seminar, even with several emails from the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, written to prepare attendees. There was a reading list that included the book, Walking Alone and Marching Together, convention banquet speeches, and other reference materials. There was also a detailed document about staying at the Jernigan Institute, as well as helpful information about navigating the airport and ground transportation.

Even with all of these preparations, I'd have to admit that I was feeling more nervous than excited the morning my husband dropped me off at the Little Rock airport. I have had very little experience traveling alone. I am grateful for this opportunity to have expanded upon my solo travels.

I had heard about the benefits of attending a National Federation of the Blind Training Center from folks who have gotten to go to one of them and was intrigued by the account from Andrew Leland about time he spent at the Colorado Center, in his book, The Country of the Blind: A Memoir at the End of Sight. I have not attended one of the training centers, and I have trouble seeing myself breaking away from life as a small-business owner long enough to attend. So, if I use my imagination, it seems like this three-and-a-half-day super-intense leadership training will possibly be the closest I'll get to attending one of the training centers.

I felt more independent and empowered after Leadership Seminar—more confident and focused. I learned an incredible amount from each and every person involved, not just by their words but by their example through a jam-packed schedule of sessions, touring the entire building, and during meal-times. There were various activities and discussions that addressed leadership, ideals, and blindness. The different aspects of what the National Federation of the Blind does came to life and had new meaning when I got to visit all the areas of the Jernigan Institute. It's inspiring to be in the space where the future Museum of the Blind People's Movement will reside. Spontaneously, not on any agenda, conversations occurred about topics such as fundraising, and it was so interesting to exchange ideas with others.

I was fully sighted until shortly after I turned fifty-one late in 2017. Our son lost his central eyesight in 1999 at age seven, so the blind/low-vision world was not completely foreign to me. I have tried to transition from sighted to where I am now by tackling the day-to-day obstacles. I show up each day and learn new ways of doing life. These improvements are mostly incremental steps. Anything a person does on a regular enough basis becomes easier over time. The mental eagerness to accept the invitation to attend Leadership Seminar was a knee-jerk reaction. The reality of pushing myself way beyond didn't hit me until days before my departure. The wheels were all in motion at that point, and I knew there was no backing out. If we don't make those movements toward doing something new and perhaps a little uncomfortable every once in a while, how else do we expand our abilities and comfort-zone?

I don't know the actual age-range of the leadership participants involved in the ninety-third Seminar, but I can guess that it is a wide range. There were approximately twenty of us. We all brought different backgrounds, perspectives, experiences, and talents to the table. During the very first informal gathering of participants, I was sharing about a TSA worker talking more about me than to me, saying that people who are "visually impaired" don't have to take off their shoes. I have traveled multiple times since sight-loss, and no one has ever mentioned this before, so I was wondering what that was about. One of the much younger participants remarked that people who are over seventy don't have to take off their shoes when going through security in the airport. This made me laugh, because I didn't know if she was commenting on my age or volunteering a random "fun fact." We may never know.

There are specifics that I'll not go into about attending Leadership Seminar, mainly because we want to preserve the experience for others who will attend in the future. We found out that the ninety-second Leadership Seminarians had voted to not allow recording of the sessions during the ninety-third Seminar, so it was up to us to pay attention and take notes. This helped to facilitate more open and honest discussion about relevant topics and matters happening in state affiliates currently. By the ending segment of our Seminar, the Twisted Pilots followed suit and also voted to not allow the following Seminar to record their sessions either.

Each Leadership Seminar earns a name for their group. How did we get the name Twisted Pilots? We aren't certain, but there were some theories.

One special moment that I'll never forget was, on the day of our wedding anniversary, President Riccobono had me call my husband, and the whole room full of seminarians sang to him. There was no rehearsal, so we weren't all singing the same exact song, but the love came through, and it was thoughtful, exuberant, and appreciated.

The entire nomination process for attending Leadership Seminar is perhaps a bit mysterious among members. The one thing I know for sure is that the final decision about who is invited to attend is made by President Mark Riccobono. Around the time I was selected to attend, I was approaching three years as Central Arkansas Chapter President. I was recently elected to serve on the NFB of Arkansas affiliate board, and I had attended my first national convention. Are any of these roles or involvement kind of a prerequisite? I can't say for sure, but I'd presume that active leaders are more likely to become noticed. The purpose is to cultivate strong leaders in our movement. I do understand that participation in at least one national convention is essential in providing the perspective needed to get the most out of the experience. It is a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow, and it enriches my confidence immensely.  It feels like something really special that we got to be a part of, and I feel enthused and blessed.

The Twisted Pilots have a new network of other leaders across the country. We are occasionally in touch, and it's proven to be a valuable resource. It's an experience I'm sure we all cherish.
I am thankful to President Mark Riccobono for selecting each of us to attend. So, if you ever get the call inviting you to attend a Presidential Leadership Seminar, I sincerely hope you will carefully consider attending. I believe it will change your life for the better.

Introducing Menus4ALL: The iPhone App That Makes Restaurant Menus Accessible for Everyone

by Stephanie Jones

From the Editor: I got a note about this app as a result of a suggestion from Everette Bacon. After talking with Stephanie, it seems this is a valuable app for readers to know about. Here is her introduction to a new way to read restaurant menus and more:

Friday night is here, and I'm eager for the weekend to begin. My friends and I have plans to visit this new, popular restaurant that I've been excited to try. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to view the menu online because it was an image format that my screen reader couldn't interpret. Moreover, I doubt that the restaurant will have a Braille menu. With the expected crowd, the wait staff may not have time to read through the menu with me either. Although my friends will be kind enough to help, I'd like to access the menu independently.

This is where Menus4ALL comes in. It's a groundbreaking iPhone app that provides access to over one million restaurant menus throughout the United States and 80,000 more in Canada. It's the only app of its kind on the market, released in December 2022, and is designed to be entirely accessible from the start. Accessibility is fundamental to the app, not an afterthought. Menus4ALL is compatible with low vision customizations, refreshable Braille displays, VoiceOver, and Voice Control to help everyone access restaurant menus confidently and independently.

Menus4ALL App Tabs

Discover an extensive network of accessible restaurant menus with Menus4ALL. Begin your journey by using our fourteen-day trial, and then enjoy unlimited access to the app for just $2.99 per month. Alternatively, you may receive two months free with a $29.99 annual membership. For additional details or to book a Menus4ALL group presentation, please contact our Vice President of Marketing, Stephanie Jones, at [email protected]. Share your accessible restaurant experience with us on Facebook, Instagram, or Menus4ALL.com.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Some Inspiration from our Brothers and Sisters in South Carolina

This is taken from the Palmetto Blind. It was written in mid-December, so what appears here represents looking forward into 2024. The first piece is written by affiliate president Marty McKenzie, and the second by David Houck, a man who is celebrating his fortieth year of service as a staff member for the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina. Here is what they say:

Marty on the subject of winning teams: The key points are: Teams must understand each other and their roles, capitalize on each member's strengths, reach consensus as a team, build trust, and respect each other. We are a winning team.

David concludes the newsletter with a "FINAL THOUGHT:"

HAPPY NEW YEAR! When midnight strikes on December 31, 2023, after all the holiday get-togethers and parties are over, the 2024 New Year dawns as a clean slate. We take into account our blessings for those who have gone before us, paving our way toward a bright future. It is time to awake, become active, participate in those things which make life better for everyone, and actively participate!

When we all work as a team, we can conquer huge tasks and make a real difference for all concerned. Let's not sleep through the winter season, hoping that spring will solve our problems. Don't spectate, but participate!

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.

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