Vol. 35, No. 5 May
Barbara Pierce, Editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille,
on cassette and
the World Wide Web and FTP on the Internet
The National Federation
of the Blind
Marc Maurer, President
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
NFB Net BBS: (612) 696-1975
Web Page Address: http//www.nfb.org
Letters to the president,
subscription requests, orders for NFB literature,
articles for the Monitor, and letters to the editor
should be sent to the National Office.
subscriptions cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars
Members are invited, and non-members are requested, to cover
the subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to
National Federation of the Blind and sent to:
National Federation of the Blind
1800 Johnson Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF
THE BLIND IS NOT
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
Vol. 35, No. 5 May 1992
by Hazel Staley
PRINT: WHY THE DEBATE?
by Jody Ianuzzi
AT CHANGING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BLIND
by Michael DeAngelis
INCREASING YOUR CHANCE OF JOB SUCCESS WHILE STILL IN
by Lorraine Rovig
TO DOG WORLD
by Ed and Toni Eames
SIMULATED BLINDNESS AGAIN
JOIN THE NFB
NETWORK AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE
by Sharon Gold
ALL THE WORLD'S
A STAGE FOR THE BLIND AND SIGHTED ALIKE
by Jerry Whittle
BLIND TEACHER KEEPS HIS VISION
NEWSLINE FOR THE BLIND GOES ONLINE
A SOCIAL SECURITY ADVOCATE FOR YOURSELF OR SOMEONE ELSE
by Barbara Pierce
FOR BLIND INDIVIDUALS: A DESCRIPTION OF SOCIAL
SECURITY'S WORK INCENTIVE PROVISIONS IN THE DISABILITY INSURANCE
AND SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME PROGRAMS
by James Gashel
Copyright National Federation
of the Blind, Inc., 1992
[LEAD PHOTO/CAPTION: By the time you read this issue of the BRAILLE MONITOR it will be under two months and counting to the beginning of the 1992 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Queen City is one of the loveliest in the South. Pictured here is the view of the city's east side. Marshall Park appears in the foreground, and a number of buildings which make up the Charlotte skyline comprise the background of this photograph. See you in Charlotte.]
MORE ABOUT CHARLOTTE
by Hazel Staley
From the Editors: It happens every year. May arrives in Baltimore accompanied by hundreds of reservation forms for the National Convention. This year will undoubtedly be no exception, but you must make your reservations soon. Time and rooms are running out. Remember that single rooms are only $30 per night; doubles and twins, $35; triples, $38; and quads, $40. These prices are in addition to tax. Write to: Convention '92, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; or call Anthony Cobb at (410) 659-9314. Room deposits of $40 are required and may be paid by check, money order, or credit card. For further details refer to the December, 1991, Braille Monitor.
Hazel Staley, President of the National Federation of the Blind of North Carolina and a lifelong North Carolinian, has gathered more interesting and useful information about the convention hotels and the city of Charlotte. Here is what she has to say:
Since many of you have called requesting information about the hotels and food service in Charlotte, I would like to take this opportunity to respond to those questions en masse.
The Adam's Mark Hotel
This hotel has two excellent restaurants. Appleby's is open from 6:00 a.m. to midnight, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The deli lunch is quite good.
The Bravo restaurant is open from 6:00 p.m. until 10:00 p.m., 11:00 p.m. on weekends. As these hours indicate, only dinner is served here. The food is primarily Italian, and meals range in price from $10.95 to $22.95. An interesting feature of Bravo's is that the waiters and waitresses entertain guests by singing opera at each table during dinner every evening except Sunday.
The Adam's Mark has a cocktail lounge (C and J's) featuring a band every night. There are indoor and outdoor pools and a health room with Nautilus equipment, whirlpool, and saunas for men and women.
The Radisson's restaurant, the Azalea Room, is open from 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., serving breakfast until 11:00 a.m. The food here is primarily American. Specialties include seafood, pastas, savory grilled items, steaks and aged prime beef, and an extensive wine list.
The Lobby Court Lounge overlooks the new glass gallery. It is a great place to relax, enjoy conversation, and watch people. There is a new exterior amphitheater with a seating area and a bubbling fountain. Great for a friendly, comfortable outdoor gathering. The rooftop pool deck has all new furnishings, ready for swimming and sunning.
Guest rooms have all new facilities, including new space age TV sets with remote control and state-of-the-art telephones with computer accessibility. Every guest room has complimentary HBO, CNN, and ESPN.
The Radisson is connected by a skywalk to unique specialty shops, dining and business services, and the convention center. Room service is available daily from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Ice and soda machines are located on every guest floor. There are also facilities for people with physical disabilities.
The North Carolina suite will be located in the Radisson. Please come by to see us.
The College Street Holiday Inn
This hotel has a lounge; a deli; and a full-service restaurant, the College Street Station. Room service is available from 6:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. It has complimentary coffee service and a daily newspaper, USA Today, available Monday through Friday.
All guest rooms have safe deposit boxes and cable TV with HBO and ESPN. Non-smoking rooms are available. The hotel offers same-day valet service and complimentary airport shuttle service. There are also facilities for people with disabilities.
Fitness facilities feature rooftop track and spa. Also on the roof are a pool and pool-side bar. This is where we plan to have our beach party on Sunday evening, June 28. Gary Luper and the Shuffle will provide beach music for the party. Beach music is very popular in the Carolinas. Please plan to join us for what we believe will be a great way to kick off our convention.
Within walking distance of all the hotels, except perhaps the Adam's Mark, are the public library, the Overstreet Mall, Spirit Square, and Discovery Place. Located at 301 North Tryon Street, between 6th and 7th Streets, Discovery Place is a hands- on science and technology center. One of its features is the Spitz-Voyager Planetarium, one of two of its kind in the world and the largest in the United States. Both children and adults will enjoy a visit.
You will love the delightful atmosphere, excellent service, and delicious food at the Marriott. The Sweet Bay Dining Room serves traditional American favorites in the spirit of Carolina hospitality. Chatfield's English pub atmosphere makes it a popular meeting place, where you can get your favorite drinks and snacks.
There are an indoor heated pool and health club, which has a sauna, whirlpool, weight room, locker rooms, StairMaster, and exercise bikes. Each Mariott guest room has color TV, in-room movies, individual climate control, and Yale door lock security. Other amenities of the hotel are a gift shop, rooftop garden, and sidewalk cafe in the atrium lobby. Laundry and valet service are available.
Adjoining the Mariott is the Independence Center, an office building with one floor of retail space, which includes the following stores: Hallmark Cards, Walden Books, The Limited (a young people's clothing store), Charley and Barney's restaurant, Stand 'n' Snack, Take a Break, Todd's Flowers, and a print shop.
Newton Thomas and his Big Band Group will provide music for the dance on Wednesday evening. This is an eighteen-piece band composed of high school teachers and college professors in the area who just enjoy playing together. Mr. Thomas's wife, Wanda, is the vocalist. The dance will be held in the ballroom at the Adam's Mark.
A country band called Winchester will provide entertainment for the barbecue on Thursday evening. The barbecue will be held in the Walton Center at the Master's Inn, which is approximately three or four miles from uptown. Bus transportation will be provided.
Outside the Hotels
At the information desk in each hotel there will be information about entertainment and dining in the area. We can also suggest restaurants only a short cab ride away, where you can get meat-and-vegetable dinners for five and six dollars. If your taste runs to hamburgers, hot dogs, and tacos, you may obtain these from street vendors. Oh, yes, there is a McDonald's in the area. There is something for everyone.
Some people have expressed interest in visiting in North Carolina either before or after the convention. For assistance in planning this part of your vacation you may call (800) 847-4862.
Here is one useful reminder for guide dog users to keep in mind. Charlotte requires dog owners to pick up after their dogs when they defecate. Failure to do so could result in a fine. We will have plastic bags and paper towels available at the information desks in each hotel to assist you in meeting this requirement. Twenty-four hour veterinary service is available if needed. Call 376-9622.
BRAILLE OR PRINT: WHY THE DEBATE?
by Jody W. Ianuzzi
From the Associate Editor: Let us begin by conceding that there really are some legally blind children who are appropriately being taught to read print. If the child can truly engage in sustained reading of normal print in most light with comfort, and if the strong likelihood is that the youngster's vision will remain stable, there is no sensible argument for insisting that Braille be taught unless the child or parents wish to have it done. But there are thousands of blind adults today (and our numbers are growing) who deeply regret that no one required us to learn Braille at a period in our lives when mastering it would have been relatively easy.
Many parents and children, wrestling with the denial that is an inevitable part of coming to terms with significant vision loss, cling to the presence of whatever tiny amount of residual sight there may be as an indication that their worst fears at least have not come to pass. To the public mind blindness is synonymous with helplessness, hopelessness, and incompetence. Facing their children's blindness for the first time, parents, who are after all members of the general public, can be forgiven for reacting out of ignorance and on incorrect information.
The betrayal of blind children that is harder for knowledgeable blind adults to forgive is that of the special education teachers who should know better. But even here we must remember that they too are the product of their past inadequate education and their current environment. These educators are not the first professionals to confuse correlation with causation: Given a choice between learning print and Braille, children with residual sight will usually choose print. The conclusion to which every teacher incompletely trained in Braille is eager to jump is that the cause of this behavior is the difficulty and complexity of Braille. Or again, offered the chance to be excused from doing assignments in Braille, blind children will almost always opt for less work. The conclusion is that Braille is slow and inefficient. The actual cause in both these examples is that blind youngsters are normal kids, who like to be a part of the gang and who are delighted to get out of homework whenever possible.
A little honest reflection about this situation suggests that the real culprit here is the inadequate and inappropriate education of the special education teachers, who are not competent or confident themselves in using Braille and who also believe that their students should not be expected to compete successfully in school or in life.
We of the National Federation of the Blind know just how damning and demeaning such a wholesale dismissal of blind students really is. There are too many studies of children's conforming exactly to their teachers' expectations for us to observe this phenomenon with unconcern. Recognition of what is happening to today's blind students fuels the Federation's state- by-state effort to require teacher competence in Braille reading and writing for those educators devoting their careers to teaching blind and visually impaired students. We must take every opportunity to educate and encourage good teachers about what they can do to assist and support their blind students, and we must confront those who would dismiss our efforts to improve the educational possibilities for these youngsters.
Jody Ianuzzi is the President of the Monadnock Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of New Hampshire. She knows firsthand about limited opportunities and disappointed expectations. She is articulate and outspoken, and her message is compelling. She sent a copy of the following article to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, who wrote to her about her concern for literacy among blind children. Mrs. Ianuzzi has suggested that those with personal stories about Braille literacy or difficulties faced because of the denial of Braille instruction write letters to her describing their experiences so that she can pass them on to Secretary Alexander. Her address is Jody Ianuzzi, 55 Castle Street, Keene, New Hampshire 03431. Here is what she has to say about teaching Braille to children with a little residual vision:
Literacy has become a fashionable issue in the United States today. So many people have slipped through the educational system unable to read that it has become an embarrassment to their educators. Most of these people hid their illiteracy from their teachers or simply dropped out of school at an early age. This situation exists all across the country, but what about the one student population illiterate due to the decisions and actions of their teachers? These students are the blind children of America.
I would like to address the resource and itinerant teachers with the adult voice of their students. I consider myself to have been functionally illiterate for most of my life! When I was growing up as a blind child in the public school system in Connecticut, I didn't have to learn Braille; I could read print. I was a high partial, and with my nose in the book I could read my first grade primer. It was work, but I could make out the letters. By the fourth grade the print began to get smaller, so I had to try even harder. In the seventh grade I was assigned to remedial reading classes because my reading speed was still at the third grade level. In high school I got all my work done; it just took me four times as long as my classmates. I loved learning, and I wove wonderful dreams for myself of academic success after high school.
I went off to college, but instead of succeeding, I fell flat on my face! There was no way I could keep up with the work load using the reading skills I had been taught. My totally blind friends had little trouble taking notes, reading, organizing their readers, etc. I told myself that I should have done better than they; after all I had some vision. But the fact was that I couldn't study as a sighted student, and I didn't have the skills to study as a blind one.
When I was a child, I had an itinerant teacher. She came to visit once or twice a week to help me with my class work and to evaluate my progress. I remember that she spent the majority of her time tutoring me when I fell behind. My mother was upset because the totally blind students always had priority over the partials. We got the teacher's leftover time. We weren't really blind, but we weren't really sighted either.
I am thirty-eight years old, and I am now learning Braille. It isn't a difficult task; memory is reinforced by using the signs. I love Braille! My reading time and speed are not limited as they are in print. I find Braille to be a refreshing experience with endless possibilities.
Reading print has always been like trying to listen to music on a distant radio station: the sound is so faint and there is so much static that it is hard to appreciate the music itself because listening is so much work. Reading Braille is more like sitting in a symphony hall. The music fills you without your even having to work. My well-meaning teachers thought they had made the right decision for me. Oh how I wish I had learned Braille as a child.
My story is not unique or exceptional. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of blind adults now recognize that they missed out on a proper education. Perhaps this is because the retrolental fibroplasia generation (people born prematurely after World War II and exposed to too much oxygen in incubators) was the first to attend public school in numbers, and the methods of educating blind children who did not attend residential schools had not been established. Itinerant teachers of blind children were pursuing a brand new specialty. Now the next generation of blind students is attending public school, but the methods of teaching them haven't improved over the years. Instead, some of the misguided attitudes and ideas that were born in the infancy of this new profession have been institutionalized as established methods. When I was a student, fifty-two percent of blind students were learning Braille; now only twelve percent of blind children are doing so. Clearly illiteracy is increasing.
I was recently a speaker at a conference for itinerant teachers of blind children, where I attended a seminar on the subject of Braille or print for low vision students. I left this seminar feeling bitter, not for my own experience (I am changing that) but for the blind children of today. There are blind children with less vision than I have who are being taught print only. Their teachers believe that they are making the right decision. These children will be able to get by using their vision, but they will never be able to compete successfully with their peers.
The impression I got from listening to these teachers of blind children is that they perceive Braille to be a difficult system to learn. Imagine what would happen if music teachers decided not to teach their students to read music because they had come to believe that musical notation was too difficult to learn, much less to teach. How much music would students learn to play if their music teachers couldn't read the notes? Unfortunately, not very many teachers of blind children are fluent in reading and writing Braille themselves. No wonder so few blind youngsters are mastering the code.
Blind children are like all others; they don't want to appear different. If they are given a choice, they prefer print because their friends read print. But a low vision child already looks different while struggling to read with his or her nose inching across the page, collecting printer's ink. Wouldn't teachers do better helping to instill confidence in their blind students as competent Braille readers instead of insisting that they become poor print ones? Sighted children are delighted to learn about Braille, but they have little understanding or compassion for the poor print reader, who can't keep up with them. The sooner the blind child realizes that it is no big deal to be different, the easier his or her life will be.
At this conference I was also told that the low-vision child might not want to learn Braille and that it is impossible to teach these kids what they don't want to learn. Suppose a sighted child didn't want to learn print, or the music student didn't want to learn musical notation. What would the teacher's response be? How much can any child be expected to learn if he or she is permitted to impose their own preferences on their early instruction in the fundamentals?
I believe that unconsciously teachers of blind students give children a choice posed like this: Which will it be? the easy, acceptable, right way to learn, using print, or the difficult, different, old-fashioned way of reading, using Braille. Given any choice in the matter at all, which would any child select? Why can't teachers make Braille special in a positive way? Braille was originally based on a system devised by the French army to send secret messages at night. The night writing was later perfected by Louis Braille for use by the blind. Why not give children the feeling that they are learning a secret code? The blind child can read in many places where his or her sighted friends can't: under the covers without the use of a flashlight, in a car traveling at night. You can read Braille books without people reading over your shoulder. You can even read your Braille book in your desk without your teacher's knowing it. Why not make Braille fun!
The debate at this conference included discussion of the question whether or not a blind child could learn print and Braille at the same time. Wouldn't the child become confused? But the two systems don't compete for the same space in the brain. Can a child learn to use a calculator and a touch telephone at the same time? The two keyboards are reversed, but children don't find this confusing. The child knows that one is a phone, the other a calculator. I know a two-year-old who is learning English and German from her bilingual parents. She is having no difficulty learning the differences. If children can learn all these things simultaneously, why should educators draw the line at learning Braille and print at the same time?
Many teachers believe that there are so many new high tech aids available for blind children that it is no longer necessary to teach them the out-dated system of Braille. But how practical are some of these expensive, bulky devices like the closed circuit television when a child has to use it in a very limited and special environment? Will such devices be useful for obtaining all the information the child needs? Braille is portable, lightweight, and versatile.
The slate and stylus and the Brailler are simple, low-tech devices, but if you want to consider high-tech, portable equipment, there are new laptop Braille note-taking devices, such as the Braille 'n Speak. These aids were never mentioned at this conference. The only aids discussed were those that depended on some limited sight.
There are many tools available for use by blind people, and none should be relied on exclusively or ignored. Each has its own place. Just as a carpenter needs many tools to build a house, a blind person can use many tools to acquire information. The Optacon, for example, is a slow but useful device for reading mail, and there are many other technical aids to assist a child who cannot use print efficiently and comfortably. But just as a carpenter can't be expected to build a house using only a hammer, no one tool should be used as the single device to help a blind child.
Conducting an evaluation to determine the reading method for a child is usually done under ideal reading conditions and in short periods of time. Is it reasonable to expect that a child will always have ideal lighting for reading and writing? How long can the child read before headaches or eye strain make it impossible to continue? Does the eye strain of reading contribute to increased eye problems? For example, when I was growing up, we didn't realize that my straining to read was inducing acute glaucoma attacks which have further decreased my vision. First and foremost a reading method should be comfortable and enjoyable to the reader. How much would you read if it always hurt or was always work?
When selecting a reading method, it is natural to think of the primary use to which we put it, reading books. But there are many other applications for reading and writing that have to be considered in choosing the most efficient method. Taking notes in class, doing research, labeling, maintaining recipes, filing addresses--these are all examples of the way we use reading. Thus, someone who can read print to a limited degree might not use print for note-taking because of the amount of time it takes to write legibly or to decipher the notes later. In this example Braille would be faster. Labeling in Braille is more practical in many cases simply because it is impossible to get close to the labeled items to see them or to shine enough light on the print to read it--the back of an appliance or an array of canned goods on a storage shelf, for example. Blind children may not be dealing with these problems now, but they will as adults. The very purpose of education is to prepare youngsters for what they will face in the future!
One can reasonably ask whether today's older blind students are being taught how to order their own books from Recording for the Blind, whether they are learning to hire, supervise, and use readers for study and research in preparation for college. Blind students must know how to balance their schedules to accommodate their special study needs, whatever they happen to be. If blind students are to compete successfully in college and in life, all these are necessary skills.
I told conference participants about my experience as a low- vision student and about how I was learning Braille as an adult. Without thinking of the implications of her statement, one itinerant teacher turned to me and said, "If you're learning Braille, then good luck!"
Too many teachers of the visually impaired are limited by their own visual perception of the world. If they woke up tomorrow with low vision, many would try to funnel all the information they need through woefully inefficient eyes rather than learning to maximize their unimpaired senses. It is past time for them to think blind and not be limited by their vision.
If I could speak directly to open-minded teachers, I would say to them: When you evaluate your students, don't just think of how they are coping at the present; think ahead. What will happen to your students in college and as adults? Are you giving them all the skills they need to prosper in life, or will they have to be content with just getting by? Remember, if that is their fate, it will not have been because of their blindness but because they lacked the skills they needed to conduct their lives effectively as blind people. Ask yourselves this question: In twenty years will your students be grateful to you for teaching them the skills they needed, or will they be learning them on their own and trying to make up for lost time?
ANOTHER LOOK AT CHANGING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BLIND
by Michael DeAngelis
What should a conscientious, well-adjusted blind person do when he or she is confronted, not with the perverted and twisted caricature of blindness as portrayed in George of "Good and Evil" fame, but rather the accurate but powerfully negative representation of blindness in a scrupulously produced commercial selling equipment that can occasionally lead to the restoration of sight? This is the dilemma that faced Michael DeAngelis of Waterbury, Connecticut, last fall. The General Electric Company began airing an advertisement filled with pathos for its Magnetic Resonance Imaging system, which, among other things, can identify tumors on the optic nerve.
In a clumsy allusion to the old Bette Davis movie of the same name, the ad was originally entitled "Dark Victory." Recent enquiries about it have uncovered the interesting but disquieting information that the name has been altered to "Blind Ambition," also a title already used, this time for a book and a made-for- television movie about Watergate. If this change was supposed to be an improvement, the writers have missed the mark rather badly. The blind can hardly feel flattered by a switch that abandons maudlin sentimentality for a bad pun, pointlessly applied, along with a suggestion of political shenanigans. In any case, the ad consists of a vignette about a patient mysteriously losing sight, complete with a happy ending when the sufferer has his vision restored.
Mr. DeAngelis wrote a thoughtful letter to General Electric, and the answer he received underscored one of the problems blind people face. General Electric maintained that it had fulfilled its obligation to the public by making sure that the outline of the story the ad told was true to the original patient's experience. Moreover, to be certain that they did things correctly, the producers arranged for an optometrist to be present on the set during the entire filming process.
It is not reasonable for us to expect that education will enable the general public to abandon its conviction that becoming blind would be a fearful tragedy. At least corporations trying to make money from developing procedures that may restore sight will not be eager to downplay the disruption of life associated with the onset of blindness. But surely they can be taught not to make the tiresome mistake of assuming that a medical professional is the best, even the only, expert to advise on the content of advertising which includes blind people. "Dark Victory" would certainly have benefited from the presence of a well-adjusted blind person to provide advice. At least the most maudlin aspects of the film might have been diluted.
Perhaps more to the point, we must begin to insist that sponsors take some responsibility for incorporating blind people in advertising as normal consumers of products. No one faced with the personal crisis of vision loss is likely to adopt an upbeat attitude just at first. But the steady appearance of competent blind people in commercial land would send the message that life does go on with or without vision. The Huxtable family on "The Bill Cosby Show" does not accurately represent the average African-American's lifestyle. The deprivation of the inner city is no less agonizing because of this program, but the fact that American culture has evolved to the point at which the Huxtables can provide a role model gives hope to us all. Perhaps the day will come when blind people will not have to lodge protests in an effort to achieve justice from corporate America. Here is Michael DeAngelis's experience as he tells it:
On September 23, 1991, I joined the organized blind's protest against the ABC Television network's sitcom, "Good and Evil." My own role in the successful protest against the ABC fiasco was relatively small. I did not take my place in the front lines by picketing outside the ABC television studios. But I did manage to fire a verbal salvo from my home by expressing my sense of outrage at the inane sitcom in a telephone call to ABC Television Productions in New York City. I shared the sense of vindication when I learned that the organized blind's efforts to remove this obscenely unfunny program from the air were successful. This victory was appropriately celebrated in several articles which appeared in the December, 1991, issue of the Braille Monitor. As important as this victory was, however, a little reflection indicates that victory in one battle will not guarantee success in a war and that winning a war does not necessarily secure a harmonious and lasting peace. The prudent strategist assesses objectives achieved and casualties suffered. Successful on one front, do we remain vulnerable on others? These considerations confronted me with some urgency when I became aware that, at the same time as the organized blind were engaged in a protest against ABC's absurd sitcom, two representatives of the U.S. power structure were affronting me, as a blind person, with two other equally pernicious distortions of what it means to be blind.
Though dismayed and outraged by ABC's caricature of blindness in "Good and Evil," I was not surprised that such an inane distortion should exist in a sitcom. The program must have seemed funnier to a chimpanzee than to a reasonable human, but it was rudely sobering to see both a widely-acclaimed political analyst and a paragon of American corporate power blithely publicize no less distorted caricatures of blindness. Appearing on national best seller lists and discussed widely on radio and television talk shows, Ken Auletta's book, Three Blind Mice: How the Networks Lost their Way, was a jarring reminder of the depth of discriminatory and stigmatizing attitudes toward blindness, which remain imbedded in all levels of our society.
Even more jolting was the weekly appearance of the television commercial by the G.E. Corporation during the programs of three high-profile, inside-the-beltway media kingpins: NBC's "The McLaughlin Group," ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley," and CNN's "Crossfire." The commercial, ironically entitled "Dark Victory," depends as much on audio tone and visual imagery as on verbal content to convey its message.
In the world of television, as Marshall McLuhan accurately observed, "the medium is the message."
On November 7, 1991, I addressed the following letter to Mr. James Harman, Manager of Corporate Advertising for the G.E. Corporation, expressing my deep concern over the effect of this commercial on the lives of blind and visually impaired persons in America:
November 7, 1992
Mr. James Harman
Dear Mr. Harman:
Until recently I had believed with millions of Americans that G.E. "brings good things to life." Unfortunately, I have now discovered that this trust has been somewhat misplaced. As a member of the National Federation of the Blind, a fifty-thousand- member organization, and of a community of a million and a half blind and visually impaired Americans, I am appalled and outraged by a television ad which G.E. has aired repeatedly on all of the major television networks. It is an ad which distorts and grotesquely caricatures the quality of our lives, accompanied by appropriately lugubrious sound effects. The ad states:
NARRATIVE VOICE: He was fifty when it happened. In three months he went from perfect vision to almost total blindness.
PATIENT: You know, you can never appreciate the beauty in your life until you can't see it anymore. My wife, my family, my life--everything I cared about--just turned to darkness, and no one can tell me why.
NARRATIVE VOICE: In test after test, doctors were at a loss.
PHYSICIAN: I can't find a thing.
NARRATIVE VOICE: There seemed to be no answer. [Finally, a test was done.] The doctors discovered a tumor affecting his optic nerves, and he was treated. Within days he got his vision back.
PATIENT: Hey, how about a smile!
NARRATIVE VOICE: And everything that came with it.
Contrary to the impression conveyed by this ad, millions of blind and visually impaired people throughout the world have lived productive and personally fulfilling lives while countless others blessed with normal vision have not discovered a nirvana of bliss. The prevention of blindness is a concern we all share, but G.E.'s exploitation of blindness as a desert of loss and meaninglessness in order to sell a product, regardless of how well-intentioned its purpose may be, is an unconscionable act. May I urge G.E. to withdraw the patently offensive portions of this ad from the air and join companies like IBM and Hewlett- Packard, which have made use of their resources to provide an equal opportunity for the blind to participate fully in our society.
That was my initial letter, and later that month I received the following letter from Mr. Harman.
November 22, 1991
Dear Mr. DeAngelis:
Thank you for your letter of November 7 detailing your concern about our "Dark Victory" TV commercial. Although this is the first letter of this kind we've received since airing the commercial in June, your points are valid, and I'd like to take a moment to give you our response.
The commercial developed from an actual situation when an individual began losing his sight because of a tumor on his optic nerve. In fact, several tests were performed which yielded no results. It was only after a GE MRI scan that the tumor was located and surgery performed that allowed the patient to actually regain his sight.
In the development of the commercial we took special care to review the case and the commercial premise with Dr. Ronald Laws, chief of neurosurgery at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Laws both agreed with the premise and encouraged the development of the commercial as an accurate portrayal of real life clinical situations involving this hardship. Following this and interviews with the actual patient on which the commercial was based, we felt confident that our commercial was both accurate and sensitive to both parties. In addition, we contracted with a licensed optometrist to be present during each day of filming of the commercial to ensure that all aspects of the commercial are accurate and portray realistic clinical situations.
The points stated in your letter are quite valid. However, we did not set out to give the impression that blind people do not live full and productive lives. Rather, we attempted to show the intense concern expressed by this patient at the prospect of losing his sight and the technology available to all patients who might experience a similar situation. Please rest assured that we will sell none of these products to individuals. However, we may be able to educate people who might be faced with this situation and enlighten them to ask their physician for further information. As your letter pointed out, the prevention of blindness is an objective we all share, and we feel this commercial is, in fact, well-intentioned and based on actual and clinical fact.
We, too, strive for equal opportunity for the blind, and all others, to fully participate in our society. We don't believe that this commercial inhibits that goal.
James R. Harman
Manager, Corporate Advertising
General Electric Company
There you have Mr. Harman's answer. Early in December, in what may have been G.E.'s condescending confession to the wrong understanding of equal opportunity for the blind, a public service announcement regarding the use of dog guides for the blind accompanied the "Dark Victory" commercial during the "This Week with David Brinkley" program.
On January 7, 1992, I addressed the following letter to Mr. Harman:
Dear Mr. Harman:
Thank you for your letter of November 22, 1991, responding to my letter of November 7, 1991, in which I expressed concern regarding the effect of G.E.'s television commercial "Dark Victory" on the lives of blind and visually impaired persons in America. Your willingness to review the commercial is a hopeful sign of G.E.'s constructive intentions in this matter.
Regretfully, however, your review has not recognized that the value of such a commercial must be judged, not by its intent, but by the objectivity and accuracy of its perceptions and the devastating effect it may have on the ability of the blind and visually impaired to have an equal opportunity to participate fully in all areas of our society. Whatever else the ad conveys, its overwhelming impression is that blindness condemns a person to the loss of what people most value highly in life. In the words of the ad, "My wife, my family, my life--everything I cared about just turned to darkness." The message of the ad, as well as your description of it, fails to comprehend that the real tragedy being addressed is not physical blindness, but the moral, intellectual, and emotional blindness of a society incapable of acknowledging the many and varied ways in which all humans truly see.
Ironically, the same medical authorities whom you cite as lending credibility to your ad all too often become stumbling blocks to their patients by propagating irrational fears of loss of vision and withholding from them knowledge of the many alternative techniques for overcoming the effects of visual loss. Much more common than the rare incidents in which impending blindness may be prevented by an MRI are the numerous instances of visual loss, which need not become tragic disasters conceived in hysteria. I am confident that G.E. can become more enlightened in the use of its marvelous array of technological and commercial resources, living up to its promise to "bring good things to life."
While it is always disturbing for the blind to be affronted by such stigmatizing caricatures as appeared in the sitcom, "Good and Evil," in the title of a book called Three Blind Mice: How the Networks Lost Their Way, and in G.E.'s "Dark Victory" commercial, the continued appearance of such distorting images should be neither surprising nor discouraging to the community of the blind, who struggle to free themselves from the bondage of discrimination, endured not for months or years, but for millennia. We would be naive to believe that such stereotypes will completely disappear as long as bigotry and ignorance, companions of discrimination, lurk in any area of society.
While continually challenging the stereotypes which inhibit their freedom, the blind must be careful to avoid the danger of turning moral victories into Pyrrhic victories. If our immediate goal is to suppress and obliterate all negative stereotypes, rather than to confront and challenge them with moral and intellectual clarity and righteous indignation, is our struggle being waged more in the spirit of Jesus confronting the Pharisees when they identified blindness with sin, or in the spirit of the fanatics who have placed the author of Satanic Verses under sentence of death? The blind who battle for freedom under the banner of democratic ideals can never have common cause with the tactics of tyrannical minds, no matter how noble the goal may be. The Grand Inquisitors of the Middle Ages burned heretics at the stake, convinced that the cancer of heresy should not be allow to spread to others. One of the first acts of those who received power in Germany in 1933 was to burn books expressing ideology opposed to their own. In a day when Berlin Walls are crumbling in the realm of political ideologies, we must avoid erecting new barriers to communication with those views we find unacceptable or threatening.
Now and for the foreseeable future, the blind will need to confront and challenge, not suppress and obliterate, the shadows and ghosts of discrimination. There are times when life seems to imitate art. The blind may find wisdom in the advice of a good poker player. As singer Kenny Rogers aptly puts it, "You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run. You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table. There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done." For the blind the time has come to deal a new hand.
[PHOTO: Lorraine Rovig standing at podium microphone. CAPTION: Lorraine Rovig, Director of the Job Opportunities for the Blind program.]
FOR INCREASING YOUR CHANCE OF JOB SUCCESS
WHILE STILL IN COLLEGE
by Lorraine Rovig
From the Associate Editor: At this year's Mid-Winter Conference of the National Association of Blind Students held on Saturday, February 1, in conjunction with the annual Washington Seminar of the National Federation of the Blind, one of the many interesting presentations was a talk given by Lorraine Rovig, Director of the Job Opportunities for the Blind (JOB) program. Miss Rovig was addressing an audience chiefly composed of college students, so her remarks were aimed particularly at that group. They were, however, appropriate for job seekers of every age and circumstance. Here in large part is what she had to say:
"Ideas for Increasing Your Chance of Job Success--While Still in College." That's easy! contacts, competence, variety, and jobs while still in school.
If you haven't started yet, despair not: just start now-- this weekend.
Good grades versus good contacts--how much time should you spend studying? For most professions, but not all, a B average is as good as an A. Try to maintain a B in most of your courses. And for most professions you need to average at least a B in a majority of the courses in your major; or you better change your major. If you can get a 4-point grade average while crafting a well-rounded, more sophisticated you, so much the better. If something's got to give, a well-rounded you and a 3-point will often serve you better than a 4-point with no frills added.
There are exceptions to the rule that a 3-point is good enough, by the way. For example, if you want to become a high- priced lawyer in a prestigious law firm or jump into a better- than-average position in management, you will need superior grades along with a well-rounded social life; but, if you wish to become a research scientist, multitudes of interests not connected to science might work against your presenting the image of the focused, brilliant researcher.
As blind students you will need to spend time on activities your sighted peers never think about--recruiting and organizing readers, having textbooks prepared in alternative media, getting an early start on term papers. You need time to learn to use the Braille 'n Speak, computer screen review programs, the slate and stylus, an optical character recognition reading system, and other devices to increase your efficiency and ability to work independently. How can you find the time?
1) Register for morning classes. Don't be like some I met during my college years. They acted as if any class that started before noon was a personal attack on their beauty sleep. Getting in the habit of a late start is something you can't afford. They couldn't either; but they didn't know it.
2) Don't allow yourself to get in the habit of an afternoon nap. I saw students do this when I lived in dormitories.
3) Read the book How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakin (L-A-K-I-N). NLS has it on disc--RD 8361. This is the best time management/life planning book I've found. And it's short--160 pages in print.
4) Join the National Federation of the Blind. Check out your local chapter and your state affiliate. Try to go to at least one National Convention early in your college years. If you can't make it to the national convention, come to an NFB Washington Seminar or attend your own and nearby state conventions.
At these events make contact with blind people who are professionals in any field that interests you. Sit down with them and find out what they recommend for success. Talk to me here or call me on the JOB WATS line if you would like to be introduced to possible mentors. That number is 1-800-638-7518.
5) Look for mentors, blind or sighted, in your college community.
6) Look for ways to combine having fun with making contacts. Most people who find jobs do so through personal contacts. Joining college groups is a good way to increase your skill at personal interactions. And it's a very good investment of your time for the eventual job hunt.
7) Study ways to make friends. If you feel you have a hard time doing so, try this. Attend two or three meetings of some group that meets weekly, especially one that has lots of friendly camaraderie, and don't talk, just smile politely at your fellow students and offer the shortest possible friendly replies to direct questions. While you're being a quiet bump on a log, analyze the conversations and interactions you observe. Then, try to use your observations and the resulting understanding of the group's subculture to become a part of the group.
Do not, however, allow yourself to remain a bump on a log. If one group doesn't fit you, try another. These years at college are an ideal opportunity to try out several new yous or just put some polish on the standard model.
8) Join something formal. If I were you, I'd look for a minimum of two groups per semester that will do two or more of the following:
* Train you in a new skill
(canoeing, debating, singing German beer hall songs, whatever);
* Increase your ability in a skill already learned;
* Give you a brag on your resume;
* Introduce you to fellow students in a cooperative environment;
* Afford you the chance, sooner or later, to become an officer;
* Introduce you to professors one-on-one;
* Provide entry to people at work in the profession that interests you;
* Introduce you to possible future employers in a way that will give them a chance to get to know you personally (and this is important too);
* Join groups that help you enjoy life at college. We do better what we enjoy doing.
During the first weeks at college go through every bulletin board at the student union and at your dorm. Read the local student newspaper, the local town paper, and any handouts from the student union offices. Check for the location of bulletin boards in the office suite or the building which houses the professors in your major and minor areas of study. Check bulletin boards in the university library and, if you use it, any sub- library, such as a law library or other specialized materials center. The object is to discover what local groups are available to you.
Consider the comparative merits of local student groups--an honor society, Hoofer Outing Club, the Apple Biters computer users group, the Society for Creative Anachronisms, the Natural Belly Food Co-Op, the No Nukes Is Good Nukes roundtable, Sierra Club, Friends of the Library, the university chess club, the community hot-line for people at risk, campus political groups, and so on.
Check out available student activities--student government, the special services office advisory board, the debate society, the Writers Association, the student newspaper, the school radio station, sororities, fraternities, the yearbook staff.
Consider ways in which you could take an active role in yearly special events--such as annual parades, local big deal football games, Drake Relays Week, Spring Fling.
9) Participate in Something. Some of the groups you join won't be formally organized--should never show up on your resume- -but offer ideas and training you won't get in your room or while studying in the library.
For instance, back at UW-Whitewater I found myself a regular member of the crowd that showed up faithfully once a week in the student union TV lounge. Laughing along with the regulars watching "Batman and Robin" taught me that my sense of humor was shared by other people. What a relief! That lounge was also a free education in current dating customs of American college students while in public view. (You never know what data will come in handy.)
During your years at college try to join groups that will demonstrate to future employers that you get along well with others, have some mental or athletic ability (or both), and are interested in more than--as I see on too many resumes--"Other Activities: Reading and Music." If your only "Other Activities" are "Reading and Music" or "Poetry," for heaven's sake, don't tell that to a prospective employer!
Another thing, even if you plan to take a job working for the particular religious denomination you belong to, you are better off if you do not narrow your choices to only clubs or offshoots of that faith.
Furthermore, for the same reason, don't join only those groups that are associated with blindness or with handicaps. Even if you plan to get a job in a disability-connected field, you will be more valuable to an employer and to those you plan to serve or help, if you stand out as one who moves easily between groups of handicapped people and the broader society.
10) Sometime during your college years, become an officer of something. Something is better than nothing here. Being an officer of anything points to leadership qualities. Some club positions and some groups, of course, give you better brag material for certain professions than others.
If you plan to succeed in business, having been elected treasurer of the judo club is useful; having worked on a successful fund-raising campaign for a campus literacy center or a P.R. campaign for the local Spring Fling might be better.
On Monday I spoke to President Maurer about ideas for this presentation. He said he believes the most important thing for students in college is to learn basic competence in something. I said, I remember some guys at Whitewater that seemed to major in playing poker in the union. Mr. Maurer remarked, if you can become competent at poker, you can make a living at that.
He said, "Learn to be a competent traveller, learn to write. No matter what you study, those two skills will help you get a good job. Most people can't write. Fortunately," he said, "the more you do it, the better you will get."
I agree. I'd add to that--more important than any one grade in any one class is competence in your use of the English language. Make no excuses for yourself. If you make mistakes in grammar, in use of commas, in spelling, in word choice or pronunciation--go thou and learn to do it right. Most schools these days have a remedial language lab. However they disguise its name, find it and take advantage of its services. If it is there, but fails to teach well, look around for a better option. If you must, hire a retired English teacher as a tutor.
Here's one more thing that could make more difference in your ability to get a good job than a 4-point GPA. Using non- standard pronunciation of words, for any reason, is not expected from an educated person. Users of non-standard English must upgrade their speech if they wish to succeed. If you say, "Ax me another question" or "Me and him are gonna study in the libary," you will have to change if you want to make an impression as a college-educated professional, worth a professional's salary.
I've read interviews with actors from places like Brooklyn or Texas who say they taught themselves to speak standard English without their down-home accents in order to get more jobs. If they can, you can. The bottom line is that a little accent can be an asset in a professional job, but non-standard English will be a detriment your whole life long. And unless you wish to stay in the environment that taught it to you, a heavy accent of any kind, which makes your conversation difficult for non-compadres to understand, will be a detriment. Write like a professional; sound like a professional; you'll have a better chance of becoming one.
A word about increasing your competence as a traveller. While you are at this conference, observe the travel skill of those around you. Is someone traveling better than you can? Analyze his or her technique; talk to that person; learn from the best.
Let me ask you a question: If you were the boss looking at the following two resumes, whom would you rather hire as a reporter? Whom would you rather hire as a buyer for your towel factory? Whom would you invite to interview for an Independent Living Specialist position in your rehabilitation agency? Let us presume that both resumes show the basic degree required for your particular business.
The first resume shows a 4.0 GPA with honors; a one-year position on the Mayor's advisory board for People with Disabilities; seven years membership in the St. Paul Evangelical Mixed Choir, and "Other Activities: Reading and Music."
The second resume shows a 3.1 GPA; a reading knowledge of French and German; two years as a reporter for the college paper, one year as editor; one year on a swim team; three years in a folk dance club; membership and an elected office in the National Federation of the Blind, which provided opportunity to plan a fund-raising campaign, make speeches to groups as large as 300 people, and participate in legislative activity on both state and national level; membership in Pets on Wheels; an award for leadership of the dorm committee designing and building the best float in the 1990 Pufferbilly Days Parade; and six different part-time jobs--all at low levels but two using computer skills. Under "Hobbies" is listed: "Visiting Civil War museums and battlefields" and "Collecting Elvis memorabilia."
If you were the employer hiring the reporter or the buyer or the Independent Living Skills teacher, which resume best tells you the applicant is likely to have the ability to learn the job you wish to fill and gets along well with all sorts of people?
I suggest that, over the course of your attendance at an institution of higher learning, you join and participate in at least one group in each of the following categories: professional or pre-professional organizations; groups associated with the outdoors or physical activity; groups involved with mental activity; clubs that give you a chance for leadership; and, of course, the National Federation of the Blind. Depending on your field, I'd suggest a group involved with theater, art, music, or great literature. Some groups will combine two or more of these attributes, so that is a bedrock minimum of three groups over four or five years of college. For most resumes, more would be better.
Jobs While Still in School
It is very, very, very, very important that you get and succeed in some job or jobs while you are still in college. The more job experience you can obtain before you graduate, the easier it will be to convince first yourself and then the interviewer that you can competently handle whatever comes. You say you know how to study, but you don't know how to handle a job? Start talking!--especially with blind mentors. I refer you again to item one: contacts.
You won't add to your resume by going home to your parents' rural farm or not-on-the-busline aunt's home in the suburbs and letting yourself vegetate over the summer. If you are stuck at home somewhere without transportation, consider ways to turn that possible lemon into lemonade. Can you write? Will it sell? Is there a skill you need to learn?
Look for internships in your field. Look for work in your major departmental office and try to parley that into contacts that lead to internships. Train some or all of your readers to tell you about notices of jobs and internships in your field that are posted on departmental bulletin boards or in school papers. Some such jobs are likely to be found in the magazines written for your specialty. Whether you are planning to become a systems analyst or a water hydrologist, there are magazines dedicated to your field. Build in reader time on a regular basis to skim these professional journals.
Find the alumni or career office in your college. Do these folks have a list of alumni who are available for informational interviews? If you've never done one before, can they advise you how best to proceed? (If not, ask JOB.) What other services do they offer? What reference books do they recommend? Does your college subscribe to a computer bulletin board service that features job openings?
Have you ever asked a friendly professor in your specialty to introduce you to visiting speakers or to his or her acquaintances at work in your field? Have you asked directly for help making useful contacts at professional meetings? Have you studied ways to make the rounds, to locate and talk to the movers and shakers in group meetings, business breakfasts, seminars, job fairs? JOB can give you a list of ideas a blind person can use to make contacts in such gatherings.
Something is better than nothing. One job is okay, more is better. Look for jobs that will demonstrate skill with people, skill in organizing, and skill in supervising and flexibility. (Of course, any blind student using readers and drivers, whether paid or volunteer, can demonstrate all that.) Here are some specific places to get job leads:
1) Ask your fellow students at this national conference these next two days how they found their jobs. Ask the blind adults you sit next to or stand beside in line what jobs they have found. If you discover a good contact, ask that person or persons to join you for breakfast or dinner here. Grill them! Remember to take down their home addresses and phone numbers.
2) Sign up for the free JOB Recorded Bulletin, or if you can't handle one more taped magazine coming to your address right now, go borrow an occasional copy from the state library for the blind. Eight times a year that bulletin is as full of ideas as we can stuff it.
3) Talk with friends or friendly acquaintances you know in these clubs and groups you've joined. Let them know you are looking.
4) Talk with your departmental professors. What is available right there on campus or in the community?
5) Talk with the university office in charge of arranging work-study assignments.
6) Have a folder or a drawer just for job leads, job contacts, and other information to help you find jobs at college and between semesters.
7) Ask your relatives for help. Has anybody noticed any job openings? Whom does your father know? Your mother? Your uncles? Your long-time neighbor?
8) If you want a summer job as an aide in a Congressional office in Washington or in a state district office, have you talked to Dan Frye or to Judy Sanders?
9) Would you benefit from a part-time job in a federal government lab or agency? The government has some special opportunities for college students as part of its effort to hire them before they get spoiled by working for commercial entities. Have you talked to Jim Willows about working at Livermore Labs in California, to Karen Edwards or Dr. John Rowley about the Los Alamos National Labs in New Mexico? Have you talked to John Halverson, President of the Public Employees Division of the NFB?
10) Have you explored the metro area your college is in? What would give you an edge in job hunting there?
Contacts, Competence, Variety, and Jobs While Still in School--Do you want more ideas? Register with JOB (Job Opportunities for the Blind). Read the free JOB Recorded Bulletin. This program was designed by the blind for the blind. Our number again is (800) 638-7518. Read the Braille Monitor on cassette, on disc, in print, or in Braille. If you are diabetic, read The Voice of the Diabetic. It is available on cassette or in print.
Mr. Maurer said one more thing I want to pass on to you: "Get used to working hard, and get used to succeeding in what you do." Thank you.
If you or a friend would like to remember the National Federation of the Blind in your will, you can do so by employing the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a District of Columbia nonprofit corporation, the sum of $_____ (or "_____ percent of my net estate" or "The following stocks and bonds: _____") to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."
[PHOTO: Head table and first two rows of participants in NFB Writers Division seminar, Dallas, 1990. CAPTION: You can never tell what opportunities will arise from seminars and division meetings at the annual conventions of the National Federation of the Blind. Like those who attended the Writers Division seminar pictured here, Ed and Toni Eames picked up valuable tips about writing for general interest publications at the 1989 convention in Denver, Colorado.]
FROM DENVER TO DOG WORLD
by Ed and Toni Eames
From the Editor: Ed and Toni Eames, who are among the leadership of the National Federation of the Blind of California, have an interesting story to tell about how the Federation has affected their lives and about their experiences in writing a column for a commercial magazine. Here is what they have to say:
When we were making arrangements to attend the 1989 NFB Convention in Denver, we anticipated meeting old friends, making new ones, getting acquainted with current issues, listening to the presidential report, and participating in the policy-making process of our organization. We could not anticipate the impact this convention would have on the course of our careers.
One of the pre-convention activities we signed up for was a writers' workshop, organized by Tom Stevens. The central topic of the presenter, a free-lance writer from the Denver area, was selling one's material in the commercial magazine market. We had already sold a few articles to Dog World, the nation's largest circulation pet magazine, as well as several smaller circulation magazines. However, we were still quite naive in the business of selling the articles we were writing.
During the workshop session the presenter, Sue Vider, devoted a considerable amount of time to our issue. We wanted to write about assistance dogs (guide dogs for the blind, hearing dogs for the deaf, and service dogs for the physically disabled) for a general audience in order to educate them and foster a greater public acceptance of these working dogs. Since Ed had retired as a professor of anthropology and Toni was no longer working as a rehabilitation counselor, we were seeking an additional source of income.
Sue suggested a monthly column would best suit our needs and encouraged us to contact the editor of Dog World. If successful, we would have a steady outlet for our work and a steady income. She told us to prepare several potential column topics if the editor was interested. We followed this excellent advice and impressed the editor when we presented her with a portfolio of future columns.
By October of 1989 our column had been approved, and we signed a contract. Our first column appeared in February, 1990, and we have now completed more than two years of our Partners in Independence column. In November, 1991, we featured our activities with our guide dogs, Kirby and Ivy, at the convention in New Orleans.
This magazine has a monthly circulation of more than 70,000. Every month we are gratified by the mail and phone calls we receive from our many readers. An unexpected fringe benefit has been our recognition as members of the press. At an international veterinary medical conference in San Francisco, we received press passes. As reporters, we were welcomed at a women's maximum security prison in Gig Harbor, Washington. On this occasion, we interviewed inmates who trained service dogs. We have been invited, all expenses paid, to speak at the World Congress of Dog Clubs in Bermuda. Were it not for the convention and the workshop, we doubt we would have taken the steps necessary to establish ourselves as contractual writers for the nation's largest pet magazine.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: David Andrews.]
SIMULATED BLINDNESS AGAIN
With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has come increased recognition of the importance of education about people with disabilities. Elementary school teachers are conducting units on disability, and business people are taking seminars designed to make them more sensitive to the needs of current or future disabled employees.
In theory all this is good, and perhaps on balance it will eventually be positive. But this is far from certain. Too often these programs rely for their effectiveness on planting seeds of fear and half-truth in the ready soil of pity and guilt. The resulting harvest is labeled as understanding and sympathy but is all too often nothing more than diminished expectations.
On July 23, 1992, the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, Press- Enterprise published three stories by Arthur Olsen. The first was about a university class of students assigned to spend a day under blindfolds. The second consisted of profiles of two university students who are themselves blind, and the third was about the reporter's own experience getting ready for the day while wearing a blindfold. Here are the three articles:
Blind Insight, Sightless Day Shows Much to BU Class
Being blind for a day made Annissa Brown, twenty, a Bloomsburg University junior, feel like there were hundreds of people laughing at her missteps, though there were probably only a handful.
To Jim Toohey, twenty-five, who is studying for his second degree, it seemed more like there was no one around.
"I felt like I was the only one on campus," he said.
About twenty Bloomsburg University students spent all day Thursday--from their first waking moments until 8:00 p.m.-- blindfolded as a lesson in teaching handicapped children.
Gary Doby, an assistant professor of teaching, gave them the assignment. He's done it before, and students usually rebel, objecting on the grounds that they have to do something that day for which they will need to see. He doesn't let them off the hook, and they usually find it rewarding in the end.
"I think that's the whole thing. Go on with your life, but do it differently," he said.
Personality traits come out in the way each student copes, he said. Some students insist on having guides, while others insist on being left to their own devices.
Carole Behling, forty, a non-degree student, doubled up on guides by bringing her mother-in-law and her eleven-year-old son to class.
Peter Shiner, twenty-four, who, like Toohey, is studying for his second bachelor's degree, used only a walking stick.
Shiner and other students discovered that walking with one foot on the grass and one on the sidewalk helped them keep track of where they are going. Until they hit open asphalt, such as the basketball courts on campus.
Class members also felt fear and mistrust of their friends, whom the blindfolds inspired to become pranksters.
Robert Mikesell, a twenty-six-year-old second-degree student, confined his breakfast mostly to bananas and an orange. "I ate things I knew people couldn't mess with," he said.
But Richard Schofield, twenty-one, a senior, described eating pizza on a previous day with a friend who is permanently blind. The man paid for the pizza in his usual way--holding out two bills, he said one is a ten and the other is a one and asked the delivery man to choose the right one and make change.
"I guess you have to learn to trust people," Schofield said.
Some found their senses of smell and hearing heightened.
Doby and a reporter sat without talking in the classroom as students filed in, hoping to listen unobserved.
But Melissa Toth, twenty-four, a second-degree student, knew there was someone next to her.
As Julie Steffen, thirty-five, a junior, came in late, people in the room went silent, listening as she haltingly searched for an empty chair.
Students in the rows near her started calling out: "There's one over here." "There's one behind me."
"How do you guys know?" she said in exasperation.
"We're all staring at you," a young woman joked.
In a way, they were.
BU Students Learn How Much Blind People Can Do
A Bloomsburg University class of future teachers who spent a day blindfolded learned more than how much blind people can't do. They found out how much they can do.
"I found I was able to do things I didn't think I was able to do," said Julie Steffen, thirty-five, a non-degree student.
That's a lesson that blind BU freshman, John Schucker, nineteen, hopes they take with them. Schucker was born blind and attended public schools. He considers himself a mostly normal teenager who does many of the same things sighted guys do, such as riding (but not driving) dirt bikes.
"Going to work or school is as normal a part of life for the blind as the sighted," he said.
"It's one of those situations where you have to either do it or go and sit in a corner somewhere," he said.
His attitude in class has always been: "Here I am. I'm another kid. Teach me. Just realize that there are going to be some differences."
The differences are primarily technical, like taking tests by Braille or having a tutor give the test orally.
A computer science major, he has used a talking calculator and an abacus for math classes.
Larry Hess, forty-seven, of Orangeville, said being blind was harder for him when he lost his sight thirty years ago than it is now.
With practice and experience, the blind students would find they could do more and more, he said.
Those who are born blind, like Schucker, are the best at it, he said.
"If a person lost their sight after they were twenty or thirty, it would be much harder to grasp it," he said.
Seeing What It's Like Not to See--Briefly
Blindness gives you a strong memory and a soft touch.
This I learned after spending Thursday morning blindfolded, trying to see what it's like to be blind.
The idea came from Bloomsburg University professor Gary Doby, who assigned his class of future teachers to spend the entire day blindfolded.
They need to know what their blind students will be going through. I wanted to know what they were going through. So I decided to do one thing blindfolded: get ready for work. This included making breakfast, eating breakfast, showering, dressing, and--in a fit of brash self-confidence--shaving.
Strong memory--I had to work at remembering exactly where everything was the night before and where I put it that morning. A soft touch--I had to use my hands like an insect's antennae-- lightly brushing them across doorjambs, utensils, food.
The day before
The problems started when I got a phone call late Wednesday afternoon.
A Danville man wanted me to call him Thursday morning at about 9:00 a.m., then go and interview him before he started a jail term at 11:00 a.m.
The stakes had been raised painfully. I couldn't take my time getting ready for work; I had a major, early appointment.
And time, Doby warned his class, was the hardest thing to keep track of when you are blinded.
If I took too long getting dressed, the interviewee would vanish for two and a half years into the state prison system. Suddenly, this project didn't seem so quaint.
This was why Doby's students sometimes call him at midnight to try to win a reprieve because of some work or appointment or problem the next day.
His response: If you were blind, you'd have to think of a way to handle the problem.
I did all sorts of things Wednesday evening, trying to seize back control of my day. I set my alarm hours before I went to bed. Though I had recently changed my morning radio station, I tuned it back to the old one because I could gauge the time by their newsbreaks.
In lieu of a note, I left a message on my answering machine to my blinded self with the Danville man's phone number.
Still, my image of the morning--usually the most clearly envisioned part of the work day--had been smacked out of focus and fogged over with uncertainty.
As I got into bed I laid a black, rolled-up kerchief on my nightstand in the place usually reserved for my glasses.
Waking Up: The First Challenge
I woke from a fitful sleep when the clock-radio started blaring. A quick glimpse at the clock and I tied the kerchief around my eyes.
Heading for the bathroom, I told myself this was a trip I had made plenty of times in the dark. Sure enough, it was accomplished with accustomed skill.
I was ready to essay breakfast.
Breakfast: A Success Story
When you have to look for a toaster with your fingers, all that stuff cluttering up the kitchen counter that seemed out of the way the day before becomes very much in the way.
Making toast and a bowl of cereal went smoothly, as I found myself constantly using my fingers for confirmation of the location of the bowl, the level of the milk, the butter on the knife.
A little messy, but it got the job done.
I scorched my fingers only once, when I was trying to retrieve the toast, and vowed to find a better place for the glass cleaner, the pitcher, the napkins, and all the other counter clutter.
Time to hit the shower.
Showering: A Perilous Adventure
Taking my blindfold off so it wouldn't get soggy, I realized there were two dangers: I might slip and fall, in which case I might inadvertently open my eyes and blow the whole project.
Again leaning on habit, I noted that I commonly close my eyes in the shower to wash my hair. This time, I just didn't open them again.
I noticed that I let my calf brush the side of the tub as I stepped out of the shower. More confirmation.
Shaving: A Test of Courage
To shave or not to shave?
Flushed with confidence at the completion of my shower, I decided to go for it.
Besides, I reasoned, not all blind men wear full beards. If they can shave, I can shave.
I managed the feat without cutting myself or ruining the shape of my beard. It wasn't bad for a blind guy's first try.
Later, I noted with satisfaction that none of the men in Doby's class had shaved. One brave woman had shaved her legs.
Dialing for Speed
One more challenge remained: calling the Danville man.
I had been listening closely to the radio to watch the time. Close to 9:00 a.m., I sat down at my rotary phone.
I was surprised to find I remembered his phone number without the audio cheat sheet I had left on my answering machine.
Even so, it took four tries on my rotary phone before I was quick enough to get through the entire number before the computer voice came on to cut me off.
Out the Door in Triumph
Having set up a meeting with the man, I headed for the front door. After I got outside, I finally took off my blindfold and headed back in for damage assessment.
No stubbed toes, no banged shins, no spilled milk or stray corn flakes, and the breakfast dishes were washed and left in their proper places.
But that doesn't mean it would be as easy to be blind.
I did not have to go into the less-controlled environment of the town outside.
I did not have to deal with friends trying to deal with my problem. And in the end, I could open my eyes.
There you have it. Blindness is difficult but inspiring: just ask those who have had a nodding acquaintance with it. David Andrews, Director of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, read the piece and decided that it could not go unanswered. Happily the Press-Enterprise decided to publish the entire letter. Perhaps it did some good. Here it is:
August 13, 1992
I am writing in response to a series of articles which appeared in the Press-Enterprise on July 23, 1991. The articles, by reporter Arthur Olsen, concerned an exercise by Bloomsburg University Professor Gary Doby. In this exercise his students were blindfolded for a day to simulate blindness.
I am a member of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), a 50,000-member nationwide organization of blind persons. The NFB is a vehicle for collective action to improve the lives of all blind persons through advocacy, public education, and self-help. In general we are opposed to exercises such as Doby's for two reasons. First, they are not realistic. The people involved will return to seeing at the end of the day, and throughout the exercise they know that they can peek or take off their blindfolds at any time. Second, and more important, these people have had no instruction in the skills of blindness, what we call alternative techniques, such as cane travel and reading and writing Braille. Consequently most participants are able to perform even the smallest tasks of daily living only with great difficulty or not at all. Thus the lasting impression of most people that take part in such simulations is that being blind is hard, and there isn't much you can do. Their initial fear of the unknown (blindness) is compounded by their experience.
When I was employed by the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, we taught new sighted employees about blindness by blindfolding them for eight hours a day and sending them to the state's Adult Orientation Center for the Blind so that they could overcome their fear of blindness and learn enough of the alternative techniques of blindness to know that they could prosper as blind persons. It was our experience that it takes most people at least four weeks to begin to overcome their basic raw fear of blindness.
Like most exercises this one is not all bad or good. Professor Doby is quoted as saying, "I think that's the whole thing. Go on with your life, but do it differently." The NFB contends that alternative techniques are available to accomplish most things, except those that overtly require sight, such as driving a car. These techniques are not better or worse than sighted techniques, just different. Doby is quoted as saying about his students, "They need to know what their blind students will be going through." This is exactly why his exercise is so damaging. Most, if not all, of these future teachers' students will not "be going through" these things, because they will have had at least some training in alternative techniques. While Doby's motivations are positive, probably all he has done is to increase most of his students' fear of blindness. They will pass their fears and negative attitudes along to their students. Because during their short period of simulated blindness they could do little successfully, these teachers will expect less of their blind students in the future. The unemployment rate for blind persons is approximately seventy percent. In large part this is because of society's diminished expectations of us, including those of the blind people who have absorbed the negative views of teachers, parents, and friends. Because of these diminished expectations we are rarely given the chance to compete on terms of equality.
For up-to-date and accurate information on blindness and the capabilities of blind persons, I urge you to write Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, Executive Director, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230; or call (410) 659-9314.
The final article in the blindness series was written by your reporter, Arthur Olsen. In the article Olsen recounts his experiences with acting as a blind person while preparing for work. The article is replete with negative language concerning his performance of daily tasks and reactions to being blind. He eloquently makes my case for teaching alternative techniques and for making people--future teachers as well as the public--aware of their existence. He goes on and on about waking up, showering, dressing, shaving, preparing and eating breakfast, and making an important phone call. I did all these things this morning without forethought, trauma, or great planning--just as you did.
As I said earlier, the intent of Doby's exercise was good. However, I contend that he may have done more harm than good by increasing people's fear of blindness. I urge him to reconsider his actions.
cc: Professor Gary Doby
Dr. Kenneth Jernigan
JOIN THE NFB NETWORK AND MAKE A DIFFERENCE
by Sharon Gold
From the Associate Editor: Sharon Gold is the capable president of the National Federation of the Blind of California. President Maurer has asked her to chair the NFB Network project. Here is what she has to say:
Today in our changing world, the telephone and specifically long-distance telephone service are becoming increasingly important. Where families once grew up in small communities with well-seated roots put down by their forefathers, today families are spread throughout our vast country. The telephone has become an important tool to bring families together from across the miles.
In our rapidly changing business world, the telephone is also becoming more important. Facsimile machines, which are attached to telephone lines, are used to transmit letters to and from businesses and homes. Data are transmitted between computers by telephone, and frequently individuals access data stored in computers by way of the touch-tone telephone.
Today we know that one in five hundred persons is blind. Because of the increased longevity brought about by advances in medical science, blindness is on the increase. It is anticipated that within this decade an average American family will have a living blind member. Thus the need for the National Federation of the Blind has never been greater.
An important new opportunity has been developed which links the use of long-distance telephone service and the National Federation of the Blind. NFB Network has been established by the National Federation of the Blind in cooperation with Convergent Communications of Tulsa, Oklahoma. People using NFB Network as their long-distance carrier can donate up to ten percent of their monthly charges to the National Federation of the Blind and help to fund our response to the ever growing demands placed upon us.
Convergent Communications guarantees that its basic rates are never higher than AT&T's standard Dial 1 rates. In addition, Convergent Communications offers a ten-percent discount to subscribers. This discount can be donated in total as a tax- deductible donation to the National Federation of the Blind, or subscribers can choose to split the discount with the NFB, keeping five percent and donating five percent. Each month the subscriber's statement will include an accounting of the tax-deductible donation to the NFB.
Convergent Communications uses AT&T lines and the AT&T calling card validation databases for NFB Network. If a subscriber's local telephone company charges a fee to switch to the NFB Network long-distance service, upon notification Convergent Communications will credit the subscriber's long- distance account with the amount charged. If the subscriber is not satisfied with the NFB Network long-distance service, Convergent Communications will pay to return the subscriber to his or her old long-distance carrier.
NFB Network is an outstanding way for Federationists, our families, and friends to accrue regular tax-deductible donations to the National Federation of the Blind while speaking with other family members and friends and while carrying on our routine business activities. An NFB Network recruiting program has been established. Federationists are encouraged to complete the NFB Recruiter box located in the lower right-hand corner of the enrollment form when completing their personal enrollment in NFB Network and when recruiting family members, friends, and business associates to this new long-distance network.
To sign up on NFB Network, complete the self-addressed, postage-paid donor enrollment form at the bottom of this page and mail it to Convergent Communications. If you wish to use the telephone to sign up for NFB Network, you may dial Convergent Communications at 800-848-2661. Convergent will do the rest.
INCLUDE NFB NETWORK DONOR ENROLLMENT FORM WITH ARTICLE.
[PHOTO: Jerry Whittle and Cheryl Domingue in costume on stage during the play, "Look Homeward Angel." CAPTION: Jerry Whittle and Cheryl Domingue are pictured here in the Louisiana Center for the Blind 1987 production of the play, "Look Homeward Angel."]
THE WORLD'S A STAGE FOR THE BLIND AND
by Jerry Whittle
From the Associate Editor: Jerry Whittle is a member of the staff at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston. He is also a frequent contributor to Slate and Style, the magazine of the Writers Division of the National Federation of the Blind. It is clear, however, from the following article reprinted from the Winter, 1992, Pathfinder, the publication of the NFB of Louisiana, that he has been bitten by the drama bug as well. Here is what he has to say:
It all started in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina back in 1983. Perhaps the love of acting had started before that year for some of us who had performed in plays in high school or college before we lost our sight. A small band of Federationists from South Carolina decided to produce a play at a mountain camp near Clemson University. The camp had a very large assembly hall that could seat well over two hundred persons, and it also had a small stage with two tiny rooms on each end that could serve as dressing rooms. We did not have any lighting; however, a mechanical friend, Jerry Darnell, said he could build a lighting panel, install some lights, and use a remote control to switch on and off the stage lights as needed. We were set.
With the full cooperation of Donald C. Capps, President of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, we chose the popular Tennessee Williams play, The Glass Menagerie. After the four blind actors met together, we decided to do three performances as a fund-raiser for the state affiliate. None of us had any experience as blind actors. We had heard about blind actors in New York who did readings (no stage movement), but we wanted to act it with blocked movements on stage and without our canes so that we could play sighted characters convincingly. It was much easier than we anticipated. Each of the actors simply learned his or her way around the sets as if walking around a familiar room. One of the actresses, who had some residual sight, requested that a white line be painted across the front edge of the stage so that she could see it and not wander too near the edge. No other special aids were needed in the performance of this play; however, some very memorable moments related to blindness occurred during the three performances.
One came when Suzanne Bridges Mitchell, who played the crippled girl Laura, was supposed to trip and fall on some steps. When Susanne did this scene, some members of the audience almost ran forward to pick her up, thinking she had fallen because she was blind. All in all, the play was great fun. The South Carolina Commission for the Blind radio station recorded the performance and played it to the statewide blind radio network. Also the South Carolina Education Television Network videotaped it and broadcast it over its television network. We proved to ourselves and to many others that we could move about a stage and perform with very little difficulty, and some members of the cast got hooked on the theater.
When I came to work at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in October, 1985, I set myself a goal of getting some of the students and staff at the center involved in doing a play. After I convinced some of them to give acting a try, we started learning lines for Look Homeward, Angel, at a local community theater in Ruston as a fund raiser for the Louisiana Center for the Blind, but more important, we wanted to do it to build confidence and poise in our students and to show the local community that we could produce and act in a legitimate play. Having no one on staff with experience in directing, we enlisted the help of some graduate students in the Theater Department at Louisiana Tech University. We borrowed some costumes from the Theater Department of Centenary University in Shreveport, and we did three performances with little difficulty.
The acting space we used was divided into three levels. We entered at the ground level, where the audience sat, and at the stage level. To get the third, a local building contractor constructed a porch for us across the entire front edge of the stage. To assure that the actors could find the different steps, doormats were placed in front of each set. That was the only special accommodation needed to assist mobility. At one point in the performance, my wife Merilynn had to make an entrance into a puddle where some water was standing on the ground level from the previous night's downpour. Before the performance, we discovered that one of the electrical cords was also lying in this puddle. Merilynn crossed her fingers, stepped before the audience, and began sloshing through the water while I mentally went over all the insurance policies I had on her, searching for electrocution clauses; but fortunately, nothing happened. The rest of the actors in the scene entered behind her, making what was potentially the most electrifying entrance of their lives. Over eighteen actors appeared in the play--fifteen of whom were blind- -and several more blind people got hooked on the theater.
Perhaps the most personally rewarding time of my life as a would-be actor came as the result of an accident. One of the instructors at the center, who had performed in Look Homeward, Angel, decided that he wanted to audition for a play being produced by the Louisiana Tech University Players. He persuaded Merilynn and me to go with him to audition so that he would not feel so uncomfortable trying out for a play with a predominantly sighted troupe. The play was William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life, a play that I had seen at the Warehouse Theater in Greenville, South Carolina, many years before and one that had impressed me greatly. So Merilynn and I acquiesced and ventured to the theater with our friend. We had obtained a copy of the script about a week before, and I had spent much time memorizing the lines the director wanted us to recite.
When we arrived at the audition, the director seemed very nervous in our company. He did not expect to see two blind men walk in to audition for his play, but he asked us to come up on stage to read our lines. Merilynn was also asked to do some lines in (of all things) an Italian accent. All three of us gave it our best. Since I had memorized my lines, I was able to give them added emphasis. The director thanked us for coming and told us that he would post the list of those who would be in the play outside the auditorium the following day.
We left the audition feeling that there was no way that any of us would be chosen. The next day we went by the auditorium after work and discovered to our delight and surprise that Merilynn and I were on the list. I was to play an Arab and Merilynn was to be an Italian mama. Our friend was not selected, but he took the disappointing news good-naturedly.
What we didn't realize was that this particular play would be in the American College Theater Festival competition. In addition to the five performances in Ruston, we would act in Hammond, Louisiana, as part of a statewide competition. We did the play before sellout crowds in Ruston and in Hammond, and it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. We won the competition in Hammond and did one performance in Lubbock, Texas, competing against universities from New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas. We did not win the competition there, but we did perform before an audience of more than four hundred. Needless to say, I was the only blind actor there, but everybody saw my long white cane and knew that I was blind.
The next year I got to play old Adam in William Shakespeare's As You Like It for the Louisiana Tech Theater by merely making a phone call to the director. I did not have to audition for it.
Recently a director from the Ruston Community Theater came to the Louisiana Center for the Blind and asked some of our students to audition for a play he was producing. Jennifer Dunnam, President of the Student Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana and a former student at the center, auditioned and got the part in Wait Until Dark. She did a superb job and plans to be in other plays in the future. She has already performed in four of our plays.
Since that time the staff and students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind have produced at least one play per year. We did one production for an outdoor theater, and we have done three at state conventions and one at a national convention. Many blind people have gained confidence and much stage presence from these performances.
What started in South Carolina has certainly grown into a success story, one greater then we could ever have imagined when we began doing plays at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Since the center opened in 1985, we have had over sixty students participating in plays and gaining confidence and poise as a result. Blind people can act and do it with enough grace and ease to be invited to do other plays by local community theaters. If any blind person has an interest in trying out for a play in his or her local community theater, I would strongly recommend that he or she obtain the lines ahead of time and memorize them so that greater expression can be used. Most important, have the confidence to audition; you may gain a whole new experience from such a venture, and a whole new segment of the sighted community may be better educated about the talents and abilities of blind persons.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: David Ticchi.]
BLIND TEACHER KEEPS HIS VISION
by Marie C. Franklin
From the Associate Editor: This article appeared in the March 8, 1992, edition of the Boston Globe. The subject of the portrait is David Ticchi, President of the Boston Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts. Dr. Ticchi lives his Federationism every day, and as a result he is teaching his students more than mathematics. Here is the profile as it appeared in the Globe:
It is time for Algebra II at Newton North High School, and David Ticchi asks one of his students to take attendance for him.
"Here's my clipboard, Heather," the teacher says, handing his roster to a male student in the front row.
But the real Heather pipes up from another spot in the room: "I moved. I'm in the third row."
"What are you doing in the third row?" the bearded teacher asks jokingly. "You know I can't talk to moving targets."
The confusion in this classroom is understandable: Ticchi is not the regular classroom teacher; he is a substitute. And he is blind.
He is also very quick to say, "I'm a teacher who is blind, not a blind teacher."
For Ticchi, the distinction is important. His classroom is probably one of the most disciplined ever for a substitute, but he says the students don't behave "because I'm blind, but because I conduct myself in a competent manner and demonstrate to them that I know what's going on."
As if to demonstrate, he suddenly asked a student one recent afternoon, "Is that a Walkman I hear?"
"No," said the student, who was, indeed, wearing headphones. "I could swear I hear music," Ticchi continued gently, but firmly.
"He hears everything," another student said.
The teenager with headphones unplugged.
Classroom discipline is a function of a teacher's rapport with students, said Ticchi: "You don't have to have 20/20 vision for that."
"Mr. Ticchi doesn't have to ask for respect," said James Marini, Jr., seventeen, whose father is the principal. "He just gets it."
Ticchi, said Principal James Marini, Sr., is "an outstanding teacher, who has a real ability to communicate with kids."
He is a teacher with "a terrific sensitivity to kids," according to colleague Charles Kramer, and "a wicked good teacher," in the words of student Jennifer Martell, seventeen.
It wasn't always so. A 1967 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross, Ticchi, who had gone to public schools in West Bridgewater, was rejected by numerous school systems when he first tried to get into teaching. "There was prejudice against me in the job market," he said.
In 1971, after serving in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Ticchi found a job teaching English at Day Junior High School in Newton. "This community will always be special to me because they gave me a chance," he said.
For the next seven years he taught full time while pursuing master's and doctoral degrees in education from Harvard. As part of his postgraduate work he produced and starred in "A Blind Teacher in a Public School," a documentary film about his experience as a public school teacher. The project was aired several times on the Public Broadcasting Service.
The film was so successful, in fact, that when Ticchi left teaching in 1978 to begin an eleven-year career in corporate training and marketing, he could not escape it.
"Wherever I went, someone recognized me from the film," he recalled. "It convinced me of the power of the documentary."
Today, Ticchi blends his love of teaching as a permanent three-day-a-week substitute with his love of film. He is currently executive producer of a PBS documentary called "Out of Sight," a biographical portrait of a blind person.
There are, to be sure, certain tasks that Ticchi performs differently from other teachers. For example, he grades papers with the help of readers or his students. He relies on Braille textbooks and audio tapes for curriculum information. He rarely writes on the board, although he is able to, asking students to take the chalk instead.
"Having them put the math problem or paragraph on the board engages them in their learning," Ticchi said.
"When I first told my parents I had this math teacher who was blind, they were surprised because math is so visual," said John MacWilliams, eighteen. "But Mr. Ticchi's real good, and he explains things real well."
During class Ticchi is a modern-day teacher who would make Socrates proud. Tweed jacket off, he finds time to kneel or sit by each student's desk to talk about their work. "Part of that is my style and personality," he said, "but it's also my way of being with their work."
"Make my day," he said to a struggling student who finally finished the problem. "Music to my ears," he complimented another. "That's it; that's it," he called to a third student working at the board.
"When kids come into my classroom, I want them to feel good about themselves," Ticchi said. "Regardless of their academic records or how they're feeling about themselves, I want them to feel my classroom is a good place to be."
Marini, the principal, is effusive with praise: "To every discussion he has with kids, he brings a passion about what it means to get an education."
At Newton North High School, many would say, having sight is not what makes a good teacher; having vision is.
[2 PHOTOS: 1) New NEWSLINE FOR THE BLIND sign; 2) Don Capps and Sharon Gold standing in front of NEWSLINE FOR THE BLIND office. CAPTIONS: 1) The sign about to be installed outside the offices of NEWSLINE FOR THE BLIND in Sacramento, California. Sharon Gold, President of the NFB of California, and Lane Shapiro, Coordinator of Volunteers at NEWSLINE, stand beside the sign, which is propped against the truck that delivered it. 2) Donald Capps, member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind, is pictured here with Sharon Gold outside of the NEWSLINE office, which he toured on a recent visit to the west coast.]
NEWSLINE FOR THE BLIND GOES ONLINE
From the Associate Editor: One of the most exciting new manifestations of the technology revolution for blind people has been the recent availability of daily newspapers through telephone hookup in several states. The first program began several years ago in Michigan with the Talking Newspaper based in Flint. Then the New Mexico Commission for the Blind organized a NEWSLINE FOR THE BLIND in that state. In recent months both Minnesota and the District of Columbia have instituted services.
The latest program to go on-line is that established by the National Federation of the Blind of California. Like the New Mexico Service, it is called NEWSLINE FOR THE BLIND, and the National Federation of the Blind has begun proceedings for protecting this name with a trademark. Here is the notice that was circulated statewide in California in mid-February:
The National Federation of the Blind of California is proud to announce the establishment of the NEWSLINE FOR THE BLIND. This new project of the NFB of California makes it possible for blind persons to have access to the newspaper twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, from a touch-tone telephone. NEWSLINE FOR THE BLIND officially went on-line February 17, 1992, with the Sacramento Bee. During the first week of March, we will begin to read the Los Angeles Times.
If you would like to be among the first to be a NEWSLINE reader, you may telephone the National Federation of the Blind of California to enroll. Once you are registered with NEWSLINE FOR THE BLIND, all you need do is dial the NEWSLINE telephone number and enter your personal identification numbers. You can then choose which of the two newspapers you wish to read and scan through the paper to find the desired articles. Since the NEWSLINE service is operational twenty-four hours a day, you can read what you want to read, when you want to read it. The NEWSLINE computer allows the blind reader to enter a category number for the subject matter to be read and to fast-forward or review the article at will.
The NEWSLINE service is being made available to the blind of the entire state through local and in-WATS telephone numbers. No fee is being charged to in-state subscribers; however, donations to help defray the cost of the NEWSLINE service are invited. It is essential that each subscriber have a personal identification number, which is not to be given to anyone else.
Interested persons are invited to call the NFB of California Office at (916) 424-2226 or (800) 345-2226; or to FAX at (213) 661-4903 to register with NEWSLINE and obtain their personal identification numbers.
That notice was sent to thousands of Californians in late February and has been reprinted in the publications of many service delivery agencies across the state in the weeks since. By late March nearly 500 subscribers had already signed up, and the phones were still ringing steadily. On April 2 the Sacramento Bee printed a story about NEWSLINE in its Neighbors section. It was written by Katherine Martinez. Here it is:
Sight-Impaired Now Able to Listen to Newspapers
While most people are still sipping their morning coffee, a few men and women are reading the newspaper aloud so that thousands of blind Californians can experience what the rest of us take for granted.
Until February 17 the 60,000 blind people in this state had to rely on friends, relatives, and hired assistants to read the daily newspapers to them. But the National Federation of the Blind of California, Inc., spent two years planning NEWSLINE, which allows people to hear recordings of the Sacramento Bee (including Neighbors) and the Los Angeles Times through their touch-tone phones.
Similar to BeeLine, which offers information and minute-long snippets of news, the menu-driven, computerized service allows callers to scan the newspaper and read the articles twenty-four hours a day. Only four other states have a similar program.
"We've changed the way blind people look at the news," said Paul McIntyre, the computer technician.
Blind people in California have not had this opportunity before, said Sharon Gold, president of the organization, who has been blind since birth.
"We're out in the public, in the mainstream," said Gold, who wore a medallion bearing the NFB logo. "We have the same dreams and goals as everyone else. We need to read the paper at our own leisure. We don't want to wait for anyone."
The group has recruited about sixty volunteers to make weekly visits to the NEWSLINE office at 4431 Freeport Blvd. Seven carpet-lined sound booths each contain a headset, telephone, and keypad that enable volunteers to record sections of the newspaper onto the computer system.
McIntyre, who has been legally blind for five years, said the system contains 1,000 megabytes of memory in its hard drive, whereas others contain twenty to forty.
Volunteers begin reading as early as 6:00 a.m., throughout the morning and early afternoon, with some continuing to 8:00 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. They read all sections of the newspaper, including the comics and the grocery ads, which the blind can record and take with them when they go shopping.
"The grocery section is more popular (than other sections) to the blind readers because it's something we've never had," Gold said.
Callers within Sacramento use a local telephone number, while all others use an 800 number. They must punch in a personal security code to access the service, to protect the copyrights of the newspapers. A menu asks them to press certain numbers to read each newspaper, to listen to directions, or to leave a comment. Different buttons allow callers to scan forward ten seconds, backward ten seconds, repeat the story from the beginning, or go on to the next story.
The system can handle twelve calls at once, which will expand to twenty-four when the organization receives more funding. The NFB is funded entirely by public donations. It used a trust fund gift to start NEWSLINE, which will operate on a yearly budget of $100,000.
Scanning to the comics section, a caller will hear a volunteer read "Peanuts." On one particular day, a man's voice described each frame of the comic strip: "Snoopy is behind a stone wall, and Linus is standing nearby...."
It takes about ninety minutes to read the Sunday comics section, said Lane Shapiro, the volunteer coordinator.
And people appreciate the effort. Gold said they are signing up about one hundred subscribers a week for the free service. They have more than 450 subscribers so far, but have the potential to sign up to 60,000. As NEWSLINE recruits more volunteers, it will add the metro or local sections of other California newspapers, making local news throughout the state available to the blind population.
Shapiro said volunteering for NEWSLINE allows people of all ages and backgrounds to meet for a worthwhile cause.
"The reasons range from giving back to the community to having a relative who is blind," he said. "It's an outlet for meeting people."
Pat Scofield stepped out of a sound booth and asked Shapiro how to pronounce a certain word.
"Just spell it out the first time," Shapiro said. Reading the paper is not as difficult as it was a month ago.
"I'm so glad the Olympics are over," he said with a laugh, referring to the trouble volunteers had with pronouncing foreign names.
Scofield used to volunteer at Audiovision, a radio-reading service that has closed temporarily.
"This is an excellent operation," said the Campus Commons resident. "The organization; the setup; the nice, patient people...."
Anne Huff of Land Park volunteers three hours a week because she knows it fills a need. Her mother, who lives in New Jersey, is going blind.
Television newscasts do not give blind people the details and depth of stories that newspapers provide.
"I feel it's a worthwhile job," Huff said.
The NFB is seeking more volunteers. A few weeks ago, a church youth group came in and read sections of the newspaper. Another time a Boy Scout troop visited the office for a lesson in telecommunications.
The staff and volunteers know the program is working because of the messages they have received.
"Every day someone calls us up to tell us how they can use it to advance their daily activities," Gold said.
Students use the service for research, and professionals augment their jobs by staying informed on local and world events.
One man from Santa Monica, whose voice was full of gratitude, simply said, "I wanted to tell you this is the nicest service a blind person can have. Thank you."
Those interested in volunteering for NEWSLINE can call 456- 4446. Donations may be sent to the National Federation of the Blind of California, Inc., at 5982 South Land Park Drive, Sacramento, California 95822.
A SOCIAL SECURITY ADVOCATE
FOR YOURSELF OR SOMEONE ELSE
by Barbara Pierce
Since more than seventy percent of blind working-age Americans are either unemployed or severely underemployed, it is not surprising that many of us have important dealings with the Social Security Administration. Both the Social Security Disability (SSDI) and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Programs are available to eligible blind citizens. Bureaucracy being what it is, however, individual recipients frequently find themselves in disagreement with Social Security officials about eligibility, overpayments, or other serious problems.
It is easy for an individual to feel intimidated. The Social Security Act is complicated, and the regulations written to explain it fill volumes. The regulations are spelled out more completely in the Program Operations Manuals (POMS); and, as if all this were not enough, Social Security officials have summarized particular parts of this body of information in special rulings.
Not surprisingly, even Social Security personnel fail to master all the subtleties of the programs they administer. The regulations that affect the blind are different in some ways from those applying to recipients with other disabilities, and it is easy for an official who works with blind recipients infrequently to forget the exceptions that apply.
As a result the National Federation of the Blind has always worked closely with the Social Security Administration and with blind recipients to see that the latter receive the benefits to which they are entitled. It is always necessary for SSI and SSDI recipients and their advocates to know as much as possible about the regulations governing these programs.
The following article has been written to provide interested people with an overview of the benefits available to blind citizens through Social Security Administration programs. You can order the volume of the Social Security regulations that includes Parts 404 and 416 from the Superintendent of Documents, United States Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. The appropriate sections of the POMS are available for review and/or photocopying (usually without cost) from your nearest Social Security Office, listed in your telephone directory. The National Federation of the Blind is preparing a pamphlet, which includes the following article together with the text of SSA Rulings 83-33 and 83-34, which explain most of the relevant POMS.
Studying these materials will enable Federationists to assist blind recipients in need of help and advocacy. Remember that each year the earnings limits, SSI and SSDI contribution amounts, and other figures are likely to change. That is why we publish a Social Security update in the Braille Monitor early each year. The figures listed in the following article are correct for 1992, but they will have to be revised in subsequent years. Regulation references may also become outdated, but knowledgeable Federationists will be able to explain subtle changes to you. Good luck; investing time in understanding this material is important and useful work.
[PHOTO: James Gashel reads from a Braille magazine. CAPTION: James Gashel, National Federation of the Blind Director of Governmental Affairs.]
RIGHTS FOR BLIND INDIVIDUALS:
A DESCRIPTION OF SOCIAL SECURITY'S WORK
INCENTIVE PROVISIONS IN THE DISABILITY INSURANCE AND
SUPPLEMENTAL SECURITY INCOME PROGRAMS
by James Gashel
This paper examines the work incentive provisions for blind persons who receive (or may receive) Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) checks as well as those who might be made eligible by applying the provisions. The two programs have somewhat different work incentive features for the blind as well as for other beneficiaries. Because of a statutory definition of blindness (found in both titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act), blind people are treated as a separate category in both programs.
The Statutory Blindness Definition
As a practical and legal matter the statutory definition of blindness is itself a work incentive. The definition removes the discretion which the Social Security Administration (SSA) would otherwise have in determining who is blind and, by virtue of that fact, under a disability. By law, a person is statutorily blind if the visual acuity in the better eye is no greater than 20/200 with the best correcting lens or if there is an accompanying restriction in the field of vision such that the widest diameter subtends an angle of no greater than twenty degrees. There are objective ophthalmological examinations that are used to determine the extent of vision loss, and the measurements provide a fairly reliable standard to follow in proving blindness.
Those who are blind by this definition are considered to be disabled under SSDI if they are not engaged in substantial gainful activity. Substantial gainful activity for blind persons is also defined by law. In the SSI program, on the other hand, no definition of substantial gainful activity exists for the blind. In that program people who are blind as prescribed by the definition are eligible if their countable income and resources do not exceed the otherwise applicable limits.
For recipients who are not blind, anxiety over the loss of disability status is perhaps the greatest work disincentive. In fact, by responding to the work incentive features of the law, many non-blind disabled individuals worry that they will prove their future ineligibility for cash benefits. For blind people this should be no concern because of the statutory definitions of blindness in titles II and XVI. As long as blindness continues, approval of an application for benefits should be relatively automatic, provided that the other eligibility criteria are met. Therefore, a blind person can feel less constrained in making repeated work attempts by fears that SSA will use successful work efforts as evidence in disapproving future claims.
The work incentive features for the blind under the SSDI program differ from those available in SSI. What follows is a description of the details of the work incentives available in each program and the differences that one must understand.
Work Incentives for the Blind in Title II, Disability Insurance
Many beneficiaries report that SSA personnel do not give them accurate or complete information about the ways in which working will affect their entitlement to benefits. One of the most common misconceptions is that any work at all causes ineligibility. Beneficiaries say that this is what they are told by SSA's claims representatives. In some cases there may be a misunderstanding of the answer, or the question may not have been precisely put. In other cases it may be a matter of miscommunication. The SSA representative may not consider that a person is working if the work does not represent substantial gainful activity. That interpretation would certainly be understandable, but it tends to leave the beneficiary confused.
Not all work activity affects entitlement to SSDI benefits. Some work activity does affect entitlement to the extent of causing ineligibility. Some work activity affects entitlement only after several months. Beneficiaries must receive competent counseling in order to understand the ways in which working affects their benefit rights. The following sections will describe the relevant eligibility conditions for blind persons and explain the effects of working.
The Substantial Gainful Activity Test
The statutory definition of blindness has already been discussed. Those whose vision is limited enough to meet this definition may be eligible for SSDI benefits if they are not performing substantial gainful activity (SGA). SGA is a primary evaluation factor used to measure the extent of an SSDI beneficiary's work activity. The regulations include SGA guidelines for persons who are not blind and a separate set of guidelines for blind people. This paper focuses primarily on the latter provisions. Some attention will also be paid to the differences in the ways in which the guidelines apply to employees and to self-employed persons.
SGA Evaluation Guides for Blind Persons
The SGA evaluation guides for blind persons are found in SSA's regulations at 20 CFR section 404.1584. The provisions in that section amount to an earnings test for work activity performed in 1978 or later. For all years before 1978 the work activity of blind persons was evaluated under exactly the same standards as are still used for non-blind disabled beneficiaries. The current earnings standards are a clear SGA guideline, following the concept of a monthly exempt amount, although that term is never used. Earnings which are below the monthly standard applicable during any year will not be found to represent SGA. Earnings above the monthly standard do represent SGA. Only countable income is considered, so certain deductions apply.
The 1992 SGA guideline for blind persons is average monthly countable income of $850. Annualized, this is precisely the same as the exempt amount for retirees sixty-five to seventy. That was no accident. The amendment which created the statutory SGA guideline for blind persons established a linkage between earnings permitted under the senior citizens' retirement test and SGA for the blind. The reasoning was that blindness and retirement age (age sixty-five) are both defined and readily determinable. Therefore, the same basic exempt earnings principles should apply.
One major inconsistency must be pointed out, however, between the age sixty-five retirement test and the blind persons' SGA guideline. For senior citizens who earn above the basic exempt amount, the benefit payable is reduced by one dollar for every three dollars of earnings. As earnings climb, the amount payable as a retirement benefit is reduced and more than replaced by the earnings. For blind persons, however, the SGA guideline is a barrier to higher earnings. Blind persons who have average monthly countable income of $855 per month this year will become permanently or temporarily ineligible to receive benefits and will sacrifice several hundred dollars for earning five dollars a month over the exempt amount. The SGA guideline for blind persons has no earnings offset provision as does the retirement test. Advocates and beneficiaries must be aware of this difference.
Comparable Skills and Abilities Test--Age Fifty-Five and Older
Under the SGA guidelines, some blind persons who have attained at least age fifty-five are treated somewhat more favorably than those under age fifty-five. They are subject to a comparable skills and abilities test, rather than a strict SGA standard. This means that the benefit eligibility of many blind persons age fifty-five to sixty-five is never actually terminated, although benefits are not due for any month during which SGA is performed. Conversely (and this is the important work incentive point), benefits are due for any month when SGA is not performed. There is no need for a new application or a new disability determination. Benefit eligibility is only suspended during periods of SGA.
Subsection (c) of section 404.1584 notes that SSA will compare the work of a blind individual who has attained age fifty-five with the skills and abilities used by the individual in the work most commonly performed by the individual before reaching age fifty-five. If the skills and abilities used in working at age fifty-five or later are less than or different from those used in previous work, payment of cash benefits is only suspended during periods of SGA. If the skills and abilities used by a blind worker at age fifty-five or later are about the same as those used before, performance of SGA would actually terminate eligibility after the trial work and extended eligibility periods had been used.
Comparison to Non-Blind SGA Evaluation Guides
The SGA guidelines for non-blind beneficiaries are found in sections 404.1574 and 404.1575 of SSA's regulations. These sections present guidelines for employees and for self-employed persons respectively. The tests described here involve evaluations of significant services, substantial income, and a comparability and worth-of-work analysis (not to be confused with the age fifty-five and over blindness provision just discussed). However, section 404.1584 on evaluation guidelines for the blind does contain a cross reference to specific portions of these non-blind provisions. The referenced portions deal with the way to determine substantial income. It is important to underscore the fact that the significant services and worth-of-work tests do not apply to blind persons, whether they are employees or self- employed persons.
Social Security Rulings 83-33 and 83-34 clearly delineate the differences in the evaluation of SGA for blind and non-blind beneficiaries. The test for blind persons is substantial income only. Substantial income is referred to as a primary evaluation guide. The test for non-blind persons involves both primary and secondary evaluation guides. The primary SGA evaluation guideline for non-blind persons is still substantial income, but the amount is determined by SSA regulations, not by statute as with the blind persons' SGA guideline. The statutory guideline for blind persons is higher than the primary guideline for non-blind persons in SSA's regulations. Also, the statutory guideline is raised annually in accordance with increases in the taxable wage base, whereas the regulation guideline is raised less frequently, without regard to taxable wage base changes.
Both primary and secondary evaluation guides apply to non-blind persons. Use of the secondary evaluation guides is triggered by earnings amounts specified in the regulations. Secondary evaluation guides include assessments of the extent and nature of the individual's work activity and a determination of the worth of the work, regardless of the amount of the individual's gross pay.
SGA Evaluation for Employees
The evaluation of SGA begins with the determination of gross pay in cases of both blind and non-blind people, but countable earnings may often be less than the amount of gross pay for both types of beneficiaries. In employment cases, countable earnings will approximate gross pay, but the amount of any subsidies and impairment-related work expenses must be determined and deducted. Sources of subsidy are discussed extensively in the Social Security Rulings identified in this paper. Subsidies include employer-provided services or pay that does not represent compensation for actual productivity. Impairment-related work expenses, which are deductible from gross pay, will be discussed in detail in a later section.
The subsidy and impairment-related work expense provisions can have important work incentive effects on beneficiaries. If a blind person has gross pay of somewhere in the range of $900 to $1000 per month, it is possible to compute countable earnings of below $850 by applying these provisions. Also, some blind individuals can continue to receive cash benefits while they are purchasing needed blindness-related devices or paying for necessary reader services. These features allow individuals the opportunity to have income and test their ability to work even beyond the trial work and extended eligibility periods.
Blind Employees of Sheltered Workshops
Blind employees of sheltered workshops are in a special work situation. Most major cities in the United States have a workshop in which blind people are hired to produce products for use by the federal and state governments. There are about 5,000 blind people working in these plants. Their wages are often not substantial, and sometimes they are actually below the federal minimum wage. These workers earn Social Security quarters of coverage for their employment, and most should become eligible to receive SSDI checks. Those at the low end of the income scale can work as much as they are asked to and not be in danger of running afoul of the SGA evaluation guides. Full-time earnings at the minimum wage are also below the SGA income guidelines for blind persons. But overtime work or earnings in excess of the minimum wage can bring earnings close to the limits.
According to SSA's regulations and rulings, the possibility of subsidy should be explored in the case of employees of sheltered workshops. Subsidy is not automatic in such cases, even though the workshops do receive government grants and charitable contributions which are used to maintain their operations. It is actually the individual's productivity that must be known in order to make an SGA determination. A portion of the income may be deducted as already described, if it represents a payment in excess of the value of the productivity. Other work situations may also include subsidies, but such contributed earnings are most likely to be found in sheltered workshops.
SGA Evaluation for Self-Employed Persons
There are certain specialized considerations which apply to the evaluation of self-employment earnings, as opposed to wages paid to employed beneficiaries. First, self-employment earnings are not the individual's gross income. Surprisingly, most beneficiaries are totally unaware of this. The person's net self- employment income is the figure which compares to gross pay in employment cases. However, in self-employment cases there are several other types of deductions which can be made. Subsidies and impairment-related work expenses are still deductible to the same extent as in employment cases. However, the cost of impairment-related work expenses cannot be applied against net self-employment income, if the expense was already paid for by the business. Subsidies do occur in self-employment cases, and their value should be deducted from net earnings. The subsidies do not represent the value of any work activity performed, so the value of subsidies should not be included in countable earnings. Many blind persons are involved in special work situations in which the possibility of subsidies should be carefully investigated. There are approximately 3,600 blind people who operate vending facility and food service businesses in public buildings throughout the United States. Their right to do business in these areas is established by law, and their work is significantly supervised by an agency of the state in which the business is located. Space, utilities, equipment, furnishings, and business counseling are all contributed to the blind vendor as prescribed by law. In some instances outright payments of money from vending machines not operated by the blind vendor are also contributed to the blind person's business. These payments are required by law and are unrelated to productivity.
The cost of any services or goods given to the blind self- employed person must be deducted from net self-employment income to determine countable earnings under the SGA guidelines. Social Security Ruling 83-34 explains the sequence of deductions. After determining net self-employment income, the first subtraction from that figure is the reasonable value of any unpaid help. Unpaid help is necessary assistance provided by another person without compensation, whereas an employee's wages would already have been deducted as a business expense. The next subtraction is the actual amount paid by the individual as impairment-related work expenses, if not already taken as business expenses. The third deduction is the value of unincurred business expenses, including items such as contributed space, utilities, equipment, and business counseling.
The purpose of these deductions is to identify the remaining portion of net income, which represents the actual value of the disabled person's productivity. Therefore, any portion of the individual's income which results from significant assistance or outright contribution of services or goods must be excluded from consideration under the substantial income test in the SGA guidelines. The amount remaining is compared to the income guidelines in subsection (d) of section 404.1584 to determine if the individual's work activity is or is not SGA. It is a good idea to prepare a table to display net self-employment income, monthly expenses, and the resulting countable income. A sample of such a table is included as Appendix A.
By applying these deductions and income standards, it is possible for a blind self-employed person to have what may appear at first glance to be a fairly substantial income and still be eligible to receive SSDI checks. Blind persons who receive the vending machine income subsidy, for example, may be paid in excess of $20,000 a year from that source, and none of this subsidy amount counts as income under the SGA guidelines. The deductions of unpaid help, contributed space, and other unincurred business expenses often mean that the individual can have net self-employment earnings of $15,000 or more and still be found eligible under the SGA guidelines. The blind vendor who also receives vending machine income subsidies of $20,000 or more in addition to self-employment earnings of $15,000 could still have countable earnings below the SGA guidelines.
Deduction of Impairment-Related Work Expenses
Impairment-related work expenses are described in section 404.1576 of the SSA regulations and in the Social Security Rulings identified. Impairment-related work expenses for blind persons may include costs of special transportation to, from, and during work, provided that the expenses are work-related and are not paid or reimbursed by someone else. Normal transportation (public or otherwise) to and from work is not considered to be impairment-related. Taxicab service is often considered an impairment-related work expense if other public transportation is not conveniently available. Payment of readers and purchase of specialized blindness-related devices are other typically deductible impairment-related work expenses for blind persons.
The actual cost of impairment-related work expenses is an allowed deduction for both employees and self-employed persons. In self-employment cases, however, these costs are frequently paid by the business, in which case they could not be taken again. It is important to emphasize that the expense must be for a service or item purchased by the individual. Contributed services or goods cannot be counted under this deduction, but they may still be considered as subsidies. In self-employment cases as already described, the value of services and goods given to the individual may also be deducted as contributed help or unincurred business expenses. It is important that these types of deductions not be confused with impairment-related work expenses.
Unsuccessful Work Attempts
The SGA guidelines disregard income resulting from work which a beneficiary was forced to stop because the employment effort was unsuccessful. Normally a work attempt which exceeds six months will not be considered as unsuccessful. Income can be exempted as an unsuccessful work attempt if the individual's disability causes an involuntary cessation of work or a reduction of work activity below the SGA income guidelines.
Trial Work Period
The trial work period is a long-standing work-incentive feature of the SSDI program. The initial period allowed for trial work consists of nine months, not necessarily consecutive. Months of intermittent work with fairly low earnings can use up all of the nine trial work months. On the other hand, there is absolutely no limit on earnings during any of the nine trial work months, and SGA is not a consideration during any part of this period.
At the low end of the scale, earnings of $200 in a single month cause that month to be counted as one of the nine trial work months. In self-employment cases a month is counted if at least fifteen hours of services are performed, regardless of the compensation, and if the work done is of the kind normally performed for pay or profit. Work done purely for training, home care, or therapeutic purposes is not counted as services. These guidelines are often confused with the SGA evaluation guides because they both involve evaluation of work activity. However, it is clear that individuals can easily use all of their trial work months without ever performing SGA.
One problem is that beneficiaries sometimes fail to report their work activity during months of trial work because they know that it does not represent SGA. SSA representatives also have been known to advise people not to report their work until it has lasted for at least nine months. These approaches can lead to significant overpayments. Beneficiaries are disappointed when they have been misled into thinking that they have nine months of SGA-level work coming while still receiving benefits. Incidentally, the amount of earnings necessary for a month to be counted as trial work was $75 for months prior to January, 1990. But even the higher amount of $200 is still well below the SGA income guidelines. To be on the safe side, beneficiaries should report all work as soon as it begins.
The work done during the initial nine months of trial work is used to evaluate the individual's ability to perform SGA in the future. In blindness cases the evaluation is strictly an earnings test as already described. If earnings exceed SGA during the nine initial trial work months, there are no benefit consequences whatsoever. If average monthly earnings exceed SGA after the nine initial trial work months, benefits will be terminated. The termination month is actually the twelfth month of work, including the initial nine months, the tenth month (in which it is said that the disability ends because of SGA), and two adjustment months. There is no limit on earnings during the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth months of work.
When benefits begin after an initial five-month waiting period, the individual is entitled to a trial work period. The waiting period applies when benefits are received for the first time. A waiting period will also be required for any subsequent eligibility period if the receipt of cash benefits was stopped for at least five consecutive years. Beginning in January, 1992, a trial work period will be provided whenever benefits are paid during a new period of disability, whether or not there is a waiting period. Until January, 1992, a trial work month was any month in the past when services or earnings exceeded the amounts described. Now trial work months more than sixty months in the past will not be counted.
Trial Work During Extended Eligibility
Extended eligibility refers to a period of thirty-three months during which an individual can work while benefits are suspended, not terminated. The individual is actually entitled to a benefit check for any month in which SGA is not performed in accordance with the income guidelines. Entitlement is suspended for months when SGA is performed. This extended eligibility status begins with the thirteenth month of work and ends thirty-three months later. After that point a new claim must be filed if future work activity falls below SGA. Re-entitlement is virtually automatic in blindness cases when future earnings are below the SGA evaluation guides.
Period of Disability--Disability Freeze
Blind persons who work should not be concerned that the amount of their future benefits will be reduced because of periods of low or no earnings. If a person is not blind, the benefit computation years include virtually all of an individual's working life, even though earnings may not have been very high some of the time. Years during a period of disability (for non-blind disabled persons) are excluded from the earnings record. However, years following the period of disability must be counted even if earnings are very low because of the disability.
A disability freeze provision exists in the case of blind persons. This means that the period of disability begins in the year when the individual is blind and also has fully-insured status. The individual may not actually be eligible for benefits during that year (or for many years) because work activity exceeds the SGA income guidelines. However, the disability freeze may still be applied in a later benefit computation. If it is applied, all years within the period of disability (blindness) are excluded from the earnings record. This is done so that the individual's highest years of earnings (outside of the period of disability) can be used to compute the highest benefit payable. If the computation of an individual's benefit would be higher by using years of earnings within the period of disability, the freeze is not applied. Thus the blind individual is not penalized by receiving lower future benefits because of attempts to work.
Continuing Eligibility for Medicare
Other than the continued payment of cash benefits in the circumstances already described, extended coverage by Medicare can be an important work incentive. Medicare eligibility for both blind and disabled persons can continue beyond the trial work and extended eligibility periods if entitlement to cash benefits stops due to work activity. The individual must pay the Medicare premiums and may refuse the extended coverage without future penalty in the payment of Medicare premiums.
Extended coverage is available under both parts A and B of Medicare, but the premium payments which apply to part A (health insurance coverage) are different from those which apply to part B (supplementary medical insurance coverage). For the first forty-eight months of working (which include the trial work months), the individual is covered under part A of Medicare without paying a premium. During the same period the individual may retain part B coverage, but the monthly premium (normally subtracted from the Social Security benefit amount) must be paid. After forty-eight months of work, the individual whose benefits have stopped because of work can retain Medicare coverage under both parts A and B by paying the premiums applicable to each type of coverage.
Work Incentives for the Blind in Title XVI Supplemental Security Income
Unlike the SSDI program, there are three categories of eligible recipients involved in SSI--the aged (age sixty-five and older), the blind (using the definition of blindness already described), and the disabled. Blind people are categorically eligible for SSI, but they must also meet the income and resource limits of the law. Nonetheless, categorical eligibility has enormous significance.
There is no test of SGA in the case of blind applicants or recipients under Title XVI. Monthly payment amounts are limited by income but not by SGA. Because of the income disregards and the deduction of allowed work expenses, the payment amount for the individual or couple may decrease gradually as income increases. It is important to note that eligibility never terminates abruptly as the result of earning above the SGA guidelines. Of course, eligibility can terminate abruptly if the resources of the individual or couple exceed the limits. There is no offset of benefits in the case of excess resources as there is in the case of income.
Basic Income Disregards
SSI payments are based on financial need. Therefore, all income must be considered, but not all income affects the payment amount to the same extent. A work incentive is given by disregarding earned income to a much greater extent than unearned income. Almost all unearned income is counted and reduces the SSI payment amount dollar for dollar after disregarding up to $20. SSI follows a monthly accounting period, so the values used are monthly.
The same $20 disregard can count as earned income if there is no unearned income. In addition, $65 of earned income is disregarded altogether. Beyond this, half of the earned income remaining after the first two subtractions is also deducted. In other words, more than half of all of a recipient's earned income is exempt. This income remains the recipient's and is not counted in determining the SSI payment amount. The sequence of these earned income exclusions can be found in SSA's regulations at section 416.1112(c).
Work Expenses for the Blind
Paragraph (7) of the above-cited subsection allows the amount of actual expenses reasonably attributable to working to be deducted from the remaining earned income, in the case of blind recipients only. This subtraction is to be made after the previously-described deductions. Work expenses that qualify under this exclusion are the amount withheld or paid in federal, state or local income taxes; FICA or self-employment contributions to Social Security; the cost of any transportation necessary to travel to and from work (ordinary transportation is included); the cost of meals consumed while at work; the care and feeding of a dog guide; the purchase of special devices, equipment, or supplies; payment of readers used on the job; payment of professional fees and union dues; and any other costs that are necessary and work-related. Self-care expenses do not count.
This deduction of reasonable work expenses for the blind is a work incentive feature unique to blind recipients under SSI. It differs from the impairment-related work expense deduction allowed for the blind and disabled under SSDI and for the disabled under SSI. One difference is that the expenses do not have to be impairment-related. Even ordinary tax withholding, transportation costs, and meals while at work can be counted. This is an important monetary difference from the more restrictive impairment-related work expense standard.
Another important difference is the placement of the subtraction of work expenses for the blind in the sequence of deductions. It follows the subtraction of half the remaining earned income. By contrast, the impairment-related work expense deduction for disabled persons under SSI precedes the subtraction of half the remaining earned income. This means that the remaining income to be divided in half is smaller, and with the work expense deduction taken out early the resulting countable income is therefore higher. The goal of making these subtractions is to achieve the lowest possible countable income and therefore the highest possible SSI check for the recipient. Work expenses for the blind are therefore a major deduction and a strong work incentive. The blind recipient should not lose financially by working.
Plans to Achieve Self-Support
The plan to achieve self support (PASS) is another form of work incentive deduction under SSI. It is available to both blind and disabled recipients. A PASS can be used to exclude any amount of income that would otherwise have to be figured into the determination of countable income. The income which is segregated into a PASS has no bearing on the amount of SSI payable for any month during which the PASS is in effect. However, the same income must be counted if it is received during any month preceding approval of the PASS or after its expiration.
Resources may also be excluded under a PASS. The resource limit for an individual, for example, is $2,000. Under a PASS the individual could save additional money to be used later for buying necessary equipment, paying educational expenses, or starting a business. There is actually no limit on the amount of money that can be excluded and retained as a resource under a PASS.
To have an approved PASS, a recipient must develop a self- support goal and a specific plan designed to achieve that goal. The amount of income and resources to be devoted to the plan are also specified by the recipient. The normal approval period for a PASS is eighteen months with two extensions--one for an additional eighteen months and another for twelve months. There have been cases in which individuals were approved for more than one PASS due to changes in the self-support goal. The result of such changes may be a PASS that runs for more than forty-eight months, but this is unusual.
Recipients who can work can benefit from having a PASS by retaining SSI while increasing their work activity. Income from work devoted to the PASS can then be used for vocational or professional growth. During the period of the PASS the income and resources devoted to it must be retained, used, and accounted for as separate funds of the recipient. The funds can be used only for the purposes approved by SSA and identified in the PASS. A PASS is not approved for normal living expenses. Nonetheless, having a PASS can help a person meet normal living expenses by retaining or even increasing the SSI payment amount.
Determining Countable Income
Appendix B presents a step-by-step approach to determining countable income in SSI blindness cases. These steps are a helpful way of presenting the sequence of deductions which can be applied. If all of the income is earned, a very low figure of countable income can be obtained even though total income may be $1000 per month or more. The SSI payment amount for the individual or couple is the difference between countable income and the payment rate for the state in question. There is a standard federal payment amount for individuals and a slightly higher amount for couples. States may supplement SSI above the standard federal payment amount, and some do. The standard federal payment amounts for 1992 are individuals, $422; and couples, $633. These amounts are tied to increases in the consumer price index determined annually, with higher payments effective in January of each new year.
A Word to the Wise
There are many individual considerations that may apply in particular circumstances and that may significantly affect eligibility or benefit amounts. All of the facts must be presented to the Social Security Administration for a formal determination. Any determination can be reconsidered or appealed in a hearing.
The National Federation of the Blind has made a concerted effort to assist blind people in dealing with SSI issues. It is no accident that blind people are legally one of the three categorical groups under SSI, and the distinctions made between the blind and others have significance. Working with the Congress and the Social Security Administration over a period of many years, the National Federation of the Blind has been responsible for bringing about many of these distinctions. Sometimes we understand the application of the SSI law better than representatives at the Social Security office.
No one can seriously challenge the role that the Federation has played in this area. We have successfully attempted to shape and direct the SSI program toward offering blind people a hand up, rather than strictly providing a handout.
Continuing Medicaid Coverage
Medicaid eligibility is generally linked to receipt of SSI cash benefits. Thus, persons who become ineligible for SSI will usually also become ineligible for Medicaid. However, as a work incentive feature, Medicaid eligibility may often be continued for blind or disabled persons who work enough to lose entitlement to monthly SSI checks. To qualify for this extended Medicaid coverage, an individual must continue to be disabled or blind, need Medicaid in order to work, not be able to afford benefits equivalent to the SSI and Medicaid coverage, and meet all SSI eligibility requirements other than earnings.
The provisions for this special Medicaid coverage are found in section 1619(b) of the Social Security Act. Details of the eligibility requirements and coverage may vary from state to state. Specific information should be obtained from SSA district offices and from state agencies administering Medicaid. SSI recipients who might lose Medicaid eligibility because their income from work exceeds the SSI limits can retain their Medicaid entitlement as long as they continue to meet the nonearnings requirements under SSI, provided that they were entitled to an SSI benefit and Medicaid in the month prior to becoming ineligible because of income from work.
Work incentives are increasingly emphasized by SSA. Beneficiaries who attempt work should not find that they are later penalized for their efforts. However, the practice of sending notices alleging substantial overpayments due to work activity performed is still prevalent. Upon appeal the alleged overpayments are often found to be incorrect. The most common reason for this is that the file does not contain the complete development of the information necessary to apply the work incentive provisions. Even when an overpayment determination is correct, the circumstances often justify a waiver. The most important fact in this regard is that the beneficiary must report all work activity and any subsequent changes that occur. Failure to report means that the individual was at fault in causing the overpayment and recovery by SSA is then required.
Can a blind person work while receiving SSDI or SSI benefits? The answer is definitely yes. Moreover, working while receiving benefits from either program can continue indefinitely under certain circumstances. In many instances earnings of $900 to $1000 per month will not significantly affect continued receipt of cash benefits. Earnings exceeding these amounts place SSDI beneficiaries in great risk of losing entitlement altogether, while SSI recipients are only affected through their benefit amounts. The specific effects of working need to be evaluated in individual circumstances. If beneficiaries and their advocates know the law, working is definitely advantageous both financially and psychologically.
SSDI Countable Income Worksheet
Year Net Self-Employment
Vending Machine Income
SSI Schedule of Income Disregards
The following steps should be used to determine countable income and the resulting SSI payment amounts for individuals and couples. Monthly values are used.
Step 1: Begin by obtaining the total monthly income from all sources. Some forms of income, such as housing subsidies and food stamps, are not counted as income, but it is safe to assume that all other forms of income must be included. If the calculation is being done for an eligible couple, use the couple's combined income.
Step 2: Divide the total monthly income into two categories--unearned and earned. These categories will be treated somewhat differently, so it is necessary to know the amount of income in each. It is possible that one category or the other will have no income.
Step 3: Use this step to determine countable unearned income. Some unearned income can be excluded from the total amount of unearned income. Go to step 4 if there is no unearned income.
(a) In all cases in which there is unearned income, up to $20 is subtracted (or excluded) from the total. If the unearned income is less than $20, the remaining portion of this $20 deduction is subtracted as described in step 4 (a). The deduction of $20 does not increase if the calculation is being made for a couple. Use $20 for an individual or $20 for a couple.
(b) Some SSI recipients participate in a program called PASS (plan to achieve self support). For a recipient to have a PASS, Social Security must approve a plan in advance. Any amount of unearned income being used in a PASS should be subtracted from the remaining unearned income at this point. If there is no approved PASS (or no unearned income being used in an approved PASS), go to step 4. For a couple's calculation, all unearned income being used in a PASS for either or both members of the couple should be combined and subtracted from the unearned income.
(c) The remaining unearned income is countable. Save this figure for use under step 5.
Step 4: Use this step to determine countable earned income. Some earned income can be excluded from the total amount of earned income. Make the following subtractions in the order indicated, stopping whenever the resulting figure reaches zero:
(a) Subtract any remaining portion of the unearned income deduction not used under step 3. If the unearned income were $15, $5 would be left over for use in this step. If the unearned income were $20 or more, none of it would be remaining for use in this step. If there were no unearned income, the entire $20 deduction should be taken in this step.
(b) Subtract $65 from the remaining earned income. The deduction of $65 does not increase if the calculation is being made for a couple. Use $65 for an individual or $65 for a couple.
(c) Divide the remaining monthly earned income in half. One half is excluded, and the other half is countable. From this point forward deal only with the countable half. This is the remaining countable earned income, but there are more deductions to be made.
(d) Subtract the full amount of any ordinary and necessary work expenses for blind persons. If both members of an eligible couple are blind and if both are working, subtract the total amount of their combined work expenses. Costs that may be included are:
1. Income tax payments or the amount of taxes withheld from an employee's wages, including FICA and self-employment Social Security contributions;
2. The cost of transportation to and from work or of any work-related transportation not paid for by someone else, such as an employer;
3. The cost of meals while at work;
4. Dog guide expenses;
5. The cost of purchasing any equipment or supplies used in the performance of the work;
6. Professional fees or union dues; and
7. Any other expenses that are reasonably necessary and work-related. Self-care expenses do not count.
(e) Subtract from the remaining earned income the amount of any earned income being used to fulfill a PASS. As described in step (3), the PASS must have been approved in advance by the Social Security Administration in order for this subtraction of earned income to be made.
(f) The remaining earned income is countable.
Step 5: Determine the total countable income by adding the resulting figures from steps 3 and 4.
Step 6: Subtract the total countable income from the monthly payment amount for individuals or couples. Use the couples' rate only if both persons are eligible for SSI. Subtract the countable income from the combined federal and state payment amounts. Contact a Social Security office in your state to determine whether state supplementation applies. The resulting figure after subtracting the countable income is the monthly SSI benefit amount that should be paid.
By following this explanation step by step, you should be able to calculate SSI payment amounts in many circumstances. Try computing an SSI payment amount with a simple example such as a blind person having monthly earned income of $1,000. Apply the subtractions called for in steps 3 and 4. It is reasonable to expect that the resulting countable income would be approximately $87.00 per month. This $87 must be subtracted from $407--the payment amount for an individual in a state without supplementation. It would be subtracted from a higher amount in a state with supplementation.
[2 PHOTOS: Activities during recent bake sales organized by the NFB of California. CAPTIONS: 1) Members of the National Federation of the Blind of California are experienced hands at conducting bake sales and informational fairs. Members of the Sacramento Chapter are pictured at a local mall handing out literature and Brailling names. In the background a table display of baked goods awaits sale. 2) At the bake sale Linda Milliner, President of the Sacramento Chapter of the NFB of California, presents a local child with a Braille copy of her name.]
This month's recipes are provided by the National Federation of the Blind of California. Sharon Gold, who has served as affiliate president for nearly fifteen years, organized the recipes and provided the commentary. Here is what she has to say:
The National Federation of the Blind is comprised of more than 500 chapters that hold regular monthly meetings to promote the advancement of the blind to full partnership within society. We know that the major ingredient of our quest for equality is public education. Therefore, we spend much of our local NFB meeting time planning activities that will afford us the opportunity to spread our message to members of the public. Bake sales are among the more successful events at which we can distribute NFB literature, show Braille to children, and answer questions about blindness, while augmenting our chapter treasuries from the sale of baked goods.
Cookies, candies, and breads are among the more popular items for bake sales. The following recipes have been prepared by California Federationists for use at NFB public education activities which include bake sales.
by Sharon Gold
When I was in high school, the Flying Saucer was the most popular cookie on our campus. This recipe came from the Supervisor of Cafeterias for the Kern County Schools, Val Valena. Miss Valena was a good friend, and she used to talk to me of her friend, Elena, who was blind and owned a very successful restaurant in San Francisco.
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
1 egg beaten
1/4 cup honey
2-1/2 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup raisins
1-1/2 cups oatmeal
1-3/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Method: Cream shortening and sugar until fluffy. Add egg, honey and milk. Continue creaming. Soak raisins in hot water; wash and drain. Combine oatmeal and raisins; add to mixture. Sift together dry ingredients and add to mixture, mixing well. Using 1/4 cup measure, drop batter onto greased or Teflon cookie sheet. Flatten cookie with bottom of glass dipped in water. Bake at 300 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Cool 3 minutes and loosen from cookie sheet.
TWO-HUNDRED FIFTY DOLLAR
by Mary Willows
Mary Willows is the president of the Ala-Costa Chapter which serves the southern tips of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. She reports that this recipe is alleged to be that of a famous, nationwide cookie franchise.
2 cups butter
2 cups white sugar
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups flour
5 cups oatmeal, blended
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
24 ounces chocolate chips
1 8-ounce Hershey bar, grated
3 cups chopped nuts
Method: Blend oatmeal by pouring dry oatmeal into a blender or food processor and grind until texture is that of a fine flour. Set aside for later use.
With beater, cream butter and both sugars. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix in flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add chocolate chips, grated Hershey bar, and nuts. Stir well. Roll into balls a little smaller than a golf ball. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes 112 cookies.
PEANUT BUTTER COOKIES
by Sheryl Pickering
For more than sixteen years, Sheryl Pickering has served as a chapter officer. She is currently the secretary of the Sacramento chapter. About this peanut butter cookie recipe, she says:
"Peanut butter cookies were a very popular weekly dessert on the student's cafeteria trays during the 20 years that I taught in the Special Education Department of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools Offices. They were also a favorite among the teaching staff. One day I asked the cafeteria baker for a copy of the recipe so that I could make peanut butter cookies for an NFB bake sale. I received a recipe that made over 800 cookies and used 10 pounds of peanut butter, 10 pounds of butter, 20 eggs, 5 quarts of white sugar, 5 quarts of brown sugar, and over 2 gallons of flour. I quartered the recipe, which made the volume more manageable but still required a large mixer. The larger numbers in parenthesis in the list of ingredients make the large version of the recipe; the first number listed in each ingredient is part of the smaller recipe."
1 (2-1/2) pound(s) peanut butter
1 (2-1/2) pound(s) butter
2 (5) eggs
2 (5) cups white sugar
2 (5) cups brown sugar
3-5/8 (9) cups flour
1-1/4 teaspoons (1 tablespoon) soda
1/2 teaspoon (1/2 tablespoon) salt
1/8 (1/2) cup powdered milk
Method: Cream butter and peanut butter. Add sugar and continue beating. Add eggs and mix well. Sift dry ingredients together and add dry ingredients to the butter and peanut butter mixture. Mix well.
Use a pair of tablespoons or a #40 ice cream scoop to drop the dough on a cookie sheet. Place cookies about 2 inches apart. Dip a dinner fork in ice water. Press the back side of the chilled fork tines across the top of each scoop of dough to flatten the scoop to about 1/2 of its original height. The pressure from the fork tines can be used either to make parallel lines across the top of the cookie dough or to make an "X" on the dough. To prevent the dough from sticking to the fork tines, dip the fork in the ice water before beginning to flatten each cookie.
Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes. Makes 50 (200) 3-1/2 inch cookies.
by Sheryl Pickering
Sheryl has used this sugar cookie recipe to make a variety of cookies for many NFB bake Sales. The cookies can be made plain or decorated to represent a special holiday or the season of the year. Sheryl used this recipe to make Easter bunnies, Easter eggs, and other spring decorated cookies for the 1986 Sunrise Mall Spring Charity Benefit Day. These cookies joined with spring goodies and decorations made by other chapter members to decorate the booth. More that 50 Sacramento charities were represented at Charity Benefit Day, and the NFB of Sacramento won third prize and a check of $50.00 in the competition for the booth which best carried out the theme of the day.
1-1/3 cups shortening or margarine
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 teaspoons milk
3-1/2 to 4 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
Method: Cream shortening or margarine with sugar. Add vanilla, eggs, and milk; beat together. Sift dry ingredients together. Add to the creamed ingredients. Mix well.
Place the dough in a bowl; seal well with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Once chilled (at least 4 to 6 hours or, better, overnight) the dough can be rolled on a floured pastry cloth to about 1/8 inch thickness and cut with cookie cutters for fancy holiday cookies. Place cut cookie dough on ungreased baking sheet, leaving space between the cookies for the dough to spread while baking. Sprinkle with colored sugar or other holiday sprinkles before baking or decorate with colored frosting after baking. For variation in this basic sugar cookie recipe, substitute lemon or almond extract for the vanilla.
Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes or until the cookies become golden brown around the outside edges. Allow cookies to cool before attempting to remove from the cookie sheet.
This dough can be dropped by the spoonful onto a cookie sheet and baked as everyday sugar cookies. Dropped cookies should also be baked at 375 degrees but require more time to bake. If stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator, this cookie dough can be kept for several days and baked fresh as needed for children coming home from school, for family company dinner, or for today's NFB bake sale.
MICROWAVE PEANUT BRITTLE
by Lynn Coats
Lynn Coats is the president of the Santa Clarita Valley Chapter and the first vice president of the California Association of Blind Students. She packages pieces of this candy in ziplock bags for quick sale at bake sales and other Federation functions. This Peanut Brittle also has been a popular item in the hospitality area of the NFB of California Convention.
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup white Karo syrup
1-1/2 cups roasted (unsalted) peanuts
1 teaspoon margarine or butter
Method: Mix Karo syrup and sugar together, and microwave on high for 4 minutes. Add nuts and microwave on high for another 4 minutes. Stir in butter or margarine and vanilla. Microwave on high for 1 minute and 15 seconds.* Stir in baking soda (this will cause a foaming action).
Pour onto a metal cookie sheet (Note: Do not grease cookie sheet or use foil.) When candy is cool, it will easily come loose from cookie sheet with a slight twisting action on the pan.
* Microwave ovens vary, so if in doubt, test candy at this stage by spooning a small amount of candy into ice cold water. It should form hard brittle threads. If not, cook an additional 20 seconds or so.
by Stephanie Rood
Stephanie Rood is the treasurer of the San Fernando Valley Chapter and an active member of the California Association of Blind Students. After this delicious fudge is made and cut, Stephanie packages it for sales on seasonally decorated paper plates covered with plastic wrap.
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup evaporated milk
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1 7-ounce jar marshmallow cream
1 cup chopped nuts
1 teaspoon vanilla
Method: Microwave margarine in a 4-quart bowl or casserole dish, preferably Pyrex, on high one minute or until melted. Add sugar and milk and mix well.
Microwave on high for 3 minutes or until mixture begins to boil. Scrape the sides of the bowl, stirring and mixing well. Microwave for 2 minutes. Stir and mix again. Microwave for 3 minutes. Stir and mix. Microwave for 2-1/2 minutes.
Gradually stir in chocolate until melted. Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour into greased 9- by 9-inch or 13- by 9-inch pan. Cool at room temperature. Cut into squares. Makes about three pounds.
DIXIE'S ALMOND BRICKLE
by Dixie Meacham
Tom Niles is an active member of the Glenn-Tehama Chapter, which serves the blind in the northern Sacramento River Valley, an area known for its almond crops. Tom met Dixie, introduced her to the NFB, and now they are making wedding plans. Dixie has become an active NFB member and shared her family recipe for a very successful Christmas NFB sale. Diane Starin, President of the Glenn-Tehama Chapter, reports that by noon of the first day of the sale the chapter had sold 16 pounds of Almond Brickle in 1/2 pound packages. Dixie and Tom went to Dixie's home and spent the afternoon making more candy. The following morning, when they returned to the sale, customers were lined up waiting to buy the candy.
1 cup sugar
1 cup white Karo syrup
1 tablespoon margarine
2 cups chopped almonds
1 teaspoon baking soda
Method: Combine sugar, syrup, salt, and margarine. Stir well and cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves, being careful not to scorch.
Add chopped almonds. Stir well. Cook 10 to 15 minutes or to the hard crack stage (296 degrees) stirring occasionally.
Add soda and stir well. Pour the mixture onto a buttered cookie sheet and spread. It is important to complete this step very quickly, because the liquid mixture will immediately begin to stiffen and then harden as it begins to cool.
by Sandy Ritter
Sandy Ritter is the long-time President of the Antelope Valley Chapter. For fifteen years chapter members have enjoyed this Zucchini Bread as refreshments at chapter meetings. Sandy brings loaves by the bagful for enjoyment in the NFB of California Convention Hospitality Room. In addition, many, many loaves have been sold at NFB bake sales.
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups grated zucchini
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon salt
1-1/4 teaspoons soda
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped nuts
Method: Butter two 9- by 5-inch loaf pans and line with wax paper. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat eggs until light and foamy. Add oil, sugar, zucchini, and vanilla. Mix gently but well.
Sift flour, salt, soda, cinnamon, and baking powder together, and add to egg mixture. Blend before and after, adding nuts. Pour into prepared pans.
Bake for one hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pans, and cool on wire racks. This bread freezes well.
Norma Gonzales Baker of the Austin Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas reports the following:
The Austin Chapter elected officers at its January meeting to serve a one-year term. Elected were Tommy Craig, president; Jeff Pearcy, first vice president; Jeanine Lineback, second vice president; Norma Gonzales Baker, secretary; Zena Pearcy, treasurer; and Aundrea Moore and Buddy Brannan, board members. Our chapter continues to grow, and our presence is being made known in endless ways. We were proud to have been instrumental in helping to pass our Braille bill in the last Texas legislative session. We continue to advocate for the rights of and for first-class citizenship for the blind.
**Medical Computing Resource Guide Available:
We have been asked to print the following:
The Medical Computing Resource Guide (a semi-annual, disk- based periodical) is a directory of information, resources, and services which support the use of computers in health care. The third edition contains descriptions of more than 600 products, services, and organizations. The Guide also contains several articles on various topics about the use of computer technology in health care.
In addition to its general index of information, the third edition of the Guide will feature custom indexes of nursing, dental, educational, office, bioscience, and disability-related health care computing resources; general, on-line, and acronym/abbreviation glossaries; and introductory information for new computer users. The Guide is the most comprehensive collection of this material available anywhere.
Production of the Guide is fully sponsored by CIBA-GEIGY Corporation as an educational service to the health care community. Producers of products and services listed in the Guide do not pay a fee to be included.
NOTE: What the Guide is not. It is not a software directory; it is not a CD-ROM; it is not sold by subscription; and it is not a simple text file.
The Guide is available for IBM-compatible computers. It requires a minimum of 256K of RAM and DOS 2.0 or higher. Installation on a hard disk drive is not required for the 5 1/4" 1.2 MB format, but it is recommended. Installation on a hard disk drive is required for the 3 1/2" 720K format.
The Medical Computing Resource Guide is $15 postpaid ($20 U.S. for foreign orders). Send a check or money order to Resource Systems Management, Inc., 3300 Mitchell Lane, Suite 390, Boulder, CO 80301. For more information call (303) 441-2836.
That is the text of the notice we received. Mr. Andrews, Director of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind has looked over the Guide and reports that it works fairly well with speech output screen review systems.
**JOB Help Available:
Looking for a job presents a challenge to the esteem of every job seeker, yet self-confidence is one of the most important assets during the hunt. Without it you decrease your ability to communicate effectively during an interview as you present your skills and talents. It is easy to become discouraged during a job search. It is difficult not to allow negative thoughts to undermine your confidence. Job Opportunities for the Blind offers its help.
The National JOB Seminar for 1992 will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sunday, June 28, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Join in a positive, learning experience as blind speakers share their tips for success in a job search and on the job.
The JOB Recorded Bulletin and other Job Opportunities for the Blind publications can help bolster your confidence while giving you valuable ideas on techniques for job searching. To receive your list of free JOB publications, write JOB, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, or call Lorraine Rovig, Director of JOB, at (800) 638-7518.
[PHOTO: Portrait. CAPTION: David Schuh.]
**Powerlifter Heads to Australia:
From the Editor: David Schuh, president of the Northcentral Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Wisconsin, sends us an item about his brother, Dennis Schuh. He says that Dennis will be going (his letter is dated April 1) to Perth, Australia, to compete in a world powerlifting championship. David goes on to say that Dennis is "not only a good athlete but also an excellent member of the Northcentral Wisconsin Chapter, having been treasurer since the chapter was formed. Here is the announcement David Schuh sends us:
Dennis Schuh is a member of the United States Association for Blind Athletes. On April 6 he will be heading to Perth, Australia, to compete in the U.S.A.B.A. World Powerlifting Championships held on April 9. He qualified for that event by taking second place in the 148-pound weight class at the organization's United States Powerlifting Championships held in St. Louis, Missouri.
Dennis is married to Margie Schuh, who is also a Federationist. They have a ten-month old daughter named Theresa and are expecting another baby.
**JOB Artists' Breakfast:
Tina Blatter of Lafayette, Colorado, is organizing and chairing a breakfast for artists and crafts people at this year's national convention at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 1, exact location to be announced. In conjunction with the Job Opportunities for the Blind program, Ms. Blatter hopes that anyone who is trying to sell artwork or crafted items will plan to attend. It is called for the purpose of sharing ideas for networking, building an audience of customers, finding or creating good publicity, and turning a hobby into a business. The breakfast will be held at the Holiday Inn. Additional details about the breakfast will be announced at the Board of Directors meeting, Tuesday morning, June 30, and will be available at the NFB information desks in the four convention hotels.
On January 4, 1992, the Citrus Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida conducted installation ceremonies for its chapter officers. They were installed by Melody Lindsey, legislative chairwoman for the NFB of Florida.
The new officers are Hazel Patterson, president; Mike McDonough, vice president; Pete Bliss, secretary; Betty Owens, treasurer; and Grace Thayer, Elizabeth Males, and Bill Hallavan, members of the board of directors. The chapter is busy with many civic projects, including sponsoring White Cane Safety Day and distributing Guide Dog information to the public.
**Free Eye Examinations Available:
We have been asked to print the following:
If you are a U.S. citizen or a legal resident, sixty-five or older, and do not have an ophthalmologist, you may receive a comprehensive medical eye examination and care for any condition diagnosed at no out-of-pocket expense. For free information send a self-stamped, addressed business envelope to the Jewish Heritage for the Blind Outreach Program, P.O. Box 336, 1655 East 24th Street, Brooklyn, New York 11229-9968.
**Pre-Convention Seminar on Concerns of the Deaf-Blind:
The Committee on Concerns of the Deaf-Blind will conduct a day-long seminar on Sunday, June 28, at the Radisson Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina. The pre-convention meeting will begin at 9:00 a.m., break at noon for two hours, and adjourn at 5:00 p.m. Everyone interested in the concerns of deaf-blind people is cordially invited to attend. Consult the pre-convention agenda for room location. For more information contact Boyd Wolfe, chairman of the Committee on Concerns of the Deaf-Blind. See following Miniature for Mr. Wolfe's address and phone number.
**Convention Assistance for Deaf-Blind Members:
Boyd C. Wolfe, chairman of the National Federation of the Blind's Committee on Concerns of the Deaf-Blind, and Brenda Mueller, a member of the committee, have asked that we urge all deaf-blind people who will be attending this summer's national convention and who would like assistance to contact Mr. Wolfe as soon as possible so that the committee can make plans to help all those needing assistance. His contact information is 944 West Main Street, Apt. 1010, Mesa, Arizona 85201; telephone (602) 890- 8061. Please call after 6:00 p.m. weekdays or anytime on the weekends. Both voice and TDD calls can be handled.
The committee is planning a seminar on concerns of the deaf- blind to take place sometime during the convention in Charlotte. Please consult the preregistration material, the convention agenda, or members of the Committee on Concerns of the Deaf-Blind for the time and place of the seminar or for the time and place of the meeting of the Committee on Concerns of the Deaf-Blind.
**Assistance with Usher syndrome needed:
We have been asked to print the following announcement:
The geneticists at Boys Town National Research Hospital (BTNRH) are currently conducting a study of Usher syndrome in an effort to locate the gene(s) which causes the disorder. In 1989 this research group, led by William J. Kimberling, Ph.D., localized the gene for type II. Usher type II is the first autosomal recessive form of retinitis pigmentosa to be localized. It is also the first localization of an autosomal recessive gene causing deafness. This discovery is important because now the gene can be isolated and its mechanism of action understood. Someday it might even be possible to treat or prevent some of the effects of Usher syndrome.
In conjunction with the RP Foundation and the National Institute of Deafness and Communication Disorders, a consortium was recently created with the goal of localizing the gene for Usher type I. This collaboration will facilitate the enrollment of families with affected members as well as aid the collection of clinical information and subsequent DNA analysis.
Research on Usher syndrome depends upon the participation of families with Usher type I and II. To date more than 250 families have participated in this project. Dr. Kimberling's research group welcomes the participation of families with one or several members with Usher syndrome. Participation involves completion of a family medical history form, release of medical records documenting the diagnosis of Usher syndrome, and, in most cases, donation of blood samples by various family members. There is no cost to participating families.
If you would like to discuss participation in the research project, please contact any of the investigators listed below: Dr. Kathleen Arnos, Gallaudet Research Institute (202) 651-5258; Dr. Fielding Hejtmancik, National Institutes of Health (301) 496-8300; Dr. Bronya Keats or Dr. Mary Pelias, L.S.U. Medical Center (504) 568-8088; Dr. William Kimberling, Boys Town National Research Hospital (800) 835-1468; Dr. Richard Lewis, Baylor University (713) 798-3030; or Dr. Richard Smith, University of Iowa (319) 356-3612.
We have been asked to print the following:
Duran Dots Braille Embosser/Printer with cable and software for IBM-compatible systems for sale. Asking $1500 or best offer. Interested persons may write to John Bailey at 4300 Shattalon Drive, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27106; or call after 6:00 p.m., EDT at (919) 922-4245.
On March 11, 1992, women members of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) celebrated National Women's Day. At this event Hermelinda Lopez Miller, an active member of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico, was awarded the organization's Outstanding Woman of the Year Award. Hermelinda Miller has served as secretary of Local 2839 (Human Services) and is the current treasurer. She has served on various committees within her local, including the contract negotiation team, which negotiated a two-year contract with New Mexico Human Services.
Ms. Miller has worked for New Mexico Human Services as a Social Worker since 1983. She became blind at the age of twenty- two and is the daughter of a migrant family. She knew no English at the time but enrolled in evening classes, beginning at the third-grade level. She completed high school requirements in six years with an A average. In 1974 she received a B.A. degree in social work after three years of study, and in 1981 she earned a master's degree in public administration from the University of New Mexico.
She moved to New Mexico in 1979 and led the effort to reorganize the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico, which was the organization that advocated for the establishment of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind now directed by Fred Schroeder, member of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
Jody Ianuzzi, President of the newly-organized Monodnock Chapter of the NFB of New Hampshire, reports that on March 8, 1992, the following officers were elected: Jody Ianuzzi, president; John Perry, first vice president; Ken Benson, second vice president; Ralph Elliot, treasurer; and Alice Reimers, secretary. The new chapter is working hard and growing.
The Writers Division will hold an auction of new, autographed books at its annual meeting on Tuesday, June 30, 1992. Some of the books are in print and some on tape. Those interested in participating in the silent auction portion of the bidding should contact Tom Stevens, 1203 Fairview Road, Columbia, Missouri 65203 for a list of the items in the auction.
The Writers Division will conduct a workshop for writers on Sunday, June 28, on non-fiction publishing. Magazine and newspaper writing will be stressed. Presenters include Barbara Pierce and free-lance writer David Jones. See your pre-convention agenda for details.
We have been asked to carry the following announcement:
In the exhibit hall at the National Convention in Charlotte, the NFB of Nebraska will have wood products at its table. The lamps and plaques will be made out of exotic woods such as ebony, tulipwood, purpleheart, rosewood, padauk, teak, etc. Also, wood furniture pieces (such as small desks, spice cabinets, living room tables, etc.) can be ordered. These products are made by a blind member of the affiliate, and profits will be going to the NFB of Nebraska. For more information contact: Gary Doty, 1812 South Cotner Boulevard, Lincoln, Nebraksa 68506, (402) 489-2494.
We have just received the news that the Pinelas Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida was formed Saturday, March 14, 1992, in St. Petersburg. The group is enthusiastic and should have a bright future. State president Wayne Davis and a number of state board members were present for the meeting. The following people were elected to office: Doug Towne, president; Charlotte Vogady, vice president; Anne Aussiker, secretary; Lisa Towne, treasurer; and Dean Douler, board member. Congratulations to the new Pinelas Chapter.
**WordPerfect Tutorial Now Available:
We have been asked to print the following:
Here, at last, is a book that teaches word-processing skills while you simultaneously work with speech. Until now, visually- impaired people who wanted to learn introductory word-processing concepts had to contend with complex and challenging voice-output operations. Much of the information was presented in a visual format with very little screen description. Learning WordPerfect 5.1 Using a Voice Output Program teaches you how to use today's most popular word-processing program with a minimum of computer expertise.
This manual can be used independently as a self-tutorial or as a teaching tool for instructors. It was written by Kathleen Beaver, who for more than six years has been training blind people to use WordPerfect with speech at the Adaptive Technology Assessment and Training Center in Buffalo, New York. Simple guidelines for setting up a voice program to work with WordPerfect 5.1 are provided, and generic commands enable the user to select his or her own personal voice program.
Detailed instruction in cursor location and placement, editing techniques, and screen description, which are missing from most commercially available manuals, are included in nineteen easy-to-follow lessons. Rounding out the package are an exercise disk and a data disk, giving the user immediate hands-on experience using WordPerfect with a speech system.
Learning Wordperfect 5.1 Using a Voice Output Program is available in print and Braille. The one-volume Braille and print editions each cost $15.95 (plus $3 for shipping.) Both editions include two diskettes (please specify 3 1/2" or 5 1/4" disks). Prepaid orders can be placed with National Braille Press, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02115; or call (617) 266- 6160.
[PHOTO: Eileen Tscharner presents charter of affiliation to president of Spearfish Chapter, NFB of South Dakota. CAPTION: At the March meeting of the Spearfish Chapter of the NFB of South Dakota Eileen Tscharner, vice president of the affiliate, presented a charter to chapter officers. Pictured here (left to right) are Stan Kaitfors, Vice President; Ivan Hix, President; Louis Graslie, Director; Eileen Tscharner; Beryl Goodwin, Treasurer; and Lois Wintemute, Secretary.]
Karen Mayry, president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Dakota, writes to say that at its January meeting the members of the affiliate's Spearfish Chapter elected the following officers: Ivan Hix, president; Stan Kaitfors, vice president; Beryl Goodwin, treasurer; Lois Wintemute, secretary; and Louis Graslie, member of the board of directors.
President Ivan Hix is eighty-four years old, and he is using his years of experience to build and strengthen the chapter. More than twenty members usually attend the organization's monthly meetings. Spearfish is a retirement community, and there are many people who need to hear the Federation's message of hope and optimism. In the months since the Spearfish chapter was organized last August, this energetic group has planned and executed a number of projects and special-interest meetings. Congratulations to the Spearfish chapter; keep up the good work.
**Profile of a Senior:
This profile was passed on to us from the Toledo Federation of the Blind:
Who is a senior citizen? What is one?
A senior is one who was here before the pill and the population explosion. We were here before television, penicillin, polio shots, antibiotics, and frisbees. Before frozen food, nylon, dacron, xerox, Kinsey, radar, fluorescent lights, credit cards, and ball-point pens. For us time-sharing meant togetherness, not computers; a chip meant a piece of wood, hardware meant hard wear, and software wasn't even a word. Co-eds never wore slacks. We were before pantyhose and drip-dry clothes, before ice makers and dishwashers, clothes dryers, freezers, and electric blankets. Before Hawaii and Alaska became states. Before men wore long hair and earrings and women wore tuxedos.
We were before Leonard Bernstein, yogurt, Ann Landers, plastic, the forty-hour week, and minimum wage. We got married first and then lived together. How quaint can one be?
Closets were for clothes, not for coming out of. Bunnies were small rabbits, and rabbits were not Volkswagens. We were before Grandma Moses and Frank Sinatra and cup-sizing for bras. Girls wore Peter Pan collars and thought cleavage was something butchers did. We were before Batman, Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, and Snoopy. DDT, vitamin pills, Cheerios, instant coffee, decaffeinated anything, and McDonald's were all unheard of. We thought fast food was what you ate during Lent. We were before Boy George, J.D. Salinger, and Chiquita Banana. Before FM radios, tape recorders, electric typewriters, word processors, Muzak, electronic music, disco-dancing, and that's not all bad!
In our day cigarette smoking was fashionable, grass was for mowing, coke was a refreshing drink, and pot was something you cooked in. If we'd been asked to explain CIA, MS., NATO, UFO, NFL, JFK, ERA or IUD we'd have said alphabet soup.
We are today's senior citizens--a hardy bunch when you think of how our world has changed and of the adjustments we have had to make.
--Courtesy of Ameritech Publishing