A Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children published by
the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership
with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
Volume 31 Number 4 Convention Report 2012
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
Copyright © 2012 American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
For more information
about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230 • (410) 659-9314
www.nfb.org/nopbc • firstname.lastname@example.org • email@example.com
Volume 31 Number 4 Convention Report 2012
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
by Deborah Kent Stein
Skills and Confidence
by Gabe Cazares
Roots and Wings
by Kayleigh Joiner
Don't Deprive Those Sighted Kids!
by Julia Gebert
ADULTS IN THE MAINSTREAM
What I Learned in Physics Class
by Barbara Pierce
Watering the Bull
by Gary Wunder
The Trap in the Back Yard
by Deborah Kent Stein
Do Something, No Matter What It Is!
by Parnell Diggs
We All Have a Voice
by Penny Duffy
The Tools We Need
by Chantal Alberhasky
One Family at a Time
by Kim Cunningham
Descriptive Video Exchange: Enhancing the Experience by Empowering the Consumer
by Joshua A. Miele
Making Chemistry Accessible to the Blind, One Atom at a Time
by Henry Wedler
Reading Issues: Getting to the Root of the Problem
by Carol Castellano
The Democratization of Braille
by Kevin Carey
The Active Learning Approach: Using the Resonance Board and the Little Room with Young Blind and Visually Impaired Children
by Gigi Newton
HIGHLIGHTS AND REFLECTIONS
Out of This World
by David Hurd
Walking the Runway: The First NOPBC Style Show
by Kim Cunningham
Starting at Zero: Our NFB Convention Experience
by Natae Jones-Beasley
A Place Where We Belong
by Frances Benally
Spheres of Influence: Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
by Casey L. Robertson
The 2012 Bolotin Awards
Presented by James Gashel
Meet the 2012 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class
Presented by Patti Gregory-Chang
Do You Dream in Color? Insights from a Girl without Sight, by Laurie Rubin
Reviewed by Deborah Kent Stein
ODDS AND ENDS
Contributions to the NFB through the Holiday Giving Book can be made by personal check, credit card payment, telephone, and online by visiting www.nfb.org/holiday-giving-book
Checks should be made payable to: National Federation of the Blind and sent to the following address:
National Federation of the Blind
Attn: Holiday Campaign
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
Credit card contributions can be made online by visiting www.nfb.org/holiday-giving-book or by mailing the following information to the address above:
Name on card:
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To make a credit card contribution over the phone, please call (410) 659-9314, extension 2423.
Please indicate if you would like to make your gift anonymously either in the memo line of the check or by including the statement, “I want to make my gift anonymously” when mailing your credit card information. If you are contributing online or over the phone, you will be asked to indicate your preference to give anonymously.
If you have questions or would like more information, please call (410) 659-9314, extension 2423.
Thank you for supporting the NFB!
Future Reflections is a magazine for parents and teachers of blind children. It is published quarterly by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Future Reflections is available free of charge to subscriber addresses in the U.S. in regular print and audio formats and via email, or it can be read online on the NFB website. Canadian subscriptions are $35.00 per year, and other foreign subscriptions are $75.00 U.S. per year. Checks should be made payable to the National Federation of the Blind and sent to the NFB, Attention Future Reflections, 200 E. Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230.
For an email subscription to Future Reflections, visit <www.nfbcal.org/listserv-signup.html> and follow the instructions.
To subscribe to Future Reflections in print or audio format, send an email to ParentOutreach@nfb.org. Put "Subscribe to FR" in the subject line and include your preferred medium in the body. Please include your address, whether you are the parent of a blind child, a teacher, or other subscriber. If you are a parent, include your child's name and birth date.
Are you the parent of a blind or visually impaired child? Don’t know where to turn?
Founded in 1983, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is a membership organization of parents, educators, and friends of blind children reaching out to give each other vital support, encouragement, and information. We have thousands of members in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
The NOPBC offers hope, encouragement, information, and resources for parents of blind or visually impaired children. NOPBC provides emotional support and a network of other families dealing with the same challenges you are facing. We also provide information, training, and resources to empower you to take an active role in guiding your child’s development and education. We can provide information on your child’s rights and on the laws and legislative issues that will enable you and your child to become strong and effective advocates.
Have you ever wondered what your blind or visually impaired child will be capable of when he or she grows up? The answer to that question is that blindness/visual impairment does not have to stop your child from doing anything he or she wants to do. We can connect you with other families and blind adults who can serve as positive mentors and role models. They can teach you the attitudes and techniques that will enable your child to become independent and to succeed in life.
What is different about the NOPBC?
Our status as a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest and most influential organization of blind people in the world, provides many benefits. Our members are well informed about the societal, legislative, and technological issues that affect blind people. We also enjoy the resources, support, and expertise of fifty thousand blind people who can serve as mentors and role models for us and our children. Finally, as our children grow up, they have the Federation to belong to.
No other organization for parents of blind/visually impaired children offers more programs, activities, and training to families, children, and youth. One of our most exciting activities is our annual conference. Every year since it was established, the NOPBC has conducted an annual conference for parents and teachers of blind children as part of the national convention of the NFB. The program has grown to include five exciting days of workshops, training sessions, activities for all family members, including sighted siblings, and countless opportunities to meet blind adults and other families and children from around the country.
What is the mission of the NOPBC?
The purpose of the NOPBC is to:
• create a climate of opportunity for blind children in home and society.
• provide information and support to parents of blind children.
• facilitate the sharing of experience and concerns among parents of blind children.
• develop and expand resources available to parents and their children.
• help parents of blind children gain understanding and perspective through partnership and contact with blind adults.
• function as an integral part of the National Federation of the Blind in its ongoing effort to achieve equality and opportunity for all blind persons.
Most states have an NOPBC affiliate chapter. You can find your state chapter at <www.nopbc.org>. If your state does not have a chapter and you would like to start one, please contact us. We may be able to offer training and other assistance to start a state NOPBC chapter.
What are the programs, activities, publications, and resources of the NOPBC?
• National and State Parent Seminars and Conferences
• Future Reflections Magazine
• NOPBC Website
• Books and Videos
• Blindkid & Other Listservs
• Early Childhood Conferences
• Pop-Up IEP Website
• Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest
• Slate Pals Pen Pal Program
• AAF Free Braille Books Program
• Share Braille Book Exchange
• Writing Contests
• Junior Science Academy
• Youth Slam High School Science Academy
• National Center for Blind Youth in Science Web site
• NFB-NEWSLINE® Newspaper Service
• Where the Blind Work Website
• Free White Cane Program
• Blindness 411 Facebook Group for Teens
• NFB-LINK Mentoring Program
• Scholarship Program
• Straight Talk about Blindness Video Series
• Parent Leadership Program (PLP)
by Deborah Kent Stein
Each convention of the National Federation of the Blind is unique, with its own set of speakers, workshops, and exhibits. Yet every NFB convention has the same sound, a symphony of tapping canes. It is the sound of thousands of blind people on the move.
The people tapping long white canes are the blind women and men who chair meetings, set up displays, sell merchandise, and still find time for fun when the work of the day is over. They are the children who play around the fountain, explore the lobby, and scamper down the halls with their friends. They are the teens who head for the pool or cruise the Exhibit Hall, examining the latest technological wonders. Some of the tapping canes are in the hands of seniors who are taking their first steps toward independence after vision loss.
The seventy-second annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind took place at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas, between June 30 and July 5, 2012. Convention began with "Life in the Mainstream," an all-day conference for parents and teachers sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Other activities of specific interest to parents and teachers were spread throughout the week. Children from infants to age ten kept busy in NFB Childcare, while tweens and teens enjoyed fun and fellowship in a series of Youth Track activities.
Dozens of groups and committees held meetings during the opening days of convention. These included blind parents, blind lawyers, blind students, blind educators, blind people in health and human services, blind musicians, blind writers, blind equestrians, and blind people in communities of faith. Anyone was welcome to attend these meetings, to listen, ask questions, and share ideas. Convention is all about networking!
During the general sessions, more than twenty-five hundred blind people and their families gathered to hear speakers from the fields of education, industry, and the law discuss issues of importance to the blind community. NFB President Dr. Marc Maurer inspired his audience with his annual presidential report, summarizing the Federation's triumphs and challenges of the past year. The week closed on a high note with the Convention Banquet. Dr. Maurer gave a stirring banquet address entitled "The Intersection of Law and Love," and the 2012 NFB Scholarship winners received their awards.
The articles and photos in this issue of Future Reflections attempt to convey something of the substance and spirit of the NFB convention. Some articles are drawn from presentations given at the NOPBC conference or during the general sessions. In others, convention participants relate their personal experiences and explain what convention has meant to them and to their families. The photos capture moments of fun and excitement typical of convention week for all who take part.
If you attended Convention 2012, this issue may bring back fond memories and remind you of moments of discovery. If you haven't yet been to an NFB convention, perhaps you will be inspired to join us in 2013. We hope to see you in Orlando!
by Gabe Cazares
From the Editor: Several blind students spoke to parents and teachers during the NOPBC conference and at the board meeting. They talked about their lives and described the things that helped them become successful. The first to speak was Gabe Cazares, a student at Texas State University/San Marcos.
As parents, you have taken the biggest step in assisting your child to lead a normal, fulfilling, and productive life by being here this week. The National Federation of the Blind is not an organization speaking for the blind. It is us speaking for ourselves. Today I would like to share with you the story of my journey in the mainstream.
I was born and raised with blindness. The males in my family have a predisposition to glaucoma, and I am most certainly not the only blind person in my family. In fact, I've often joked that there are enough blind people in my family to start our own division in the NFB. [Laughter]
But like anywhere else, people's attitudes about blindness run across a full range. Unfortunately, most of my blind relatives have been convinced that they can't accomplish anything for themselves, that all they can do is sit at home and be content with the checks that the government hands out every month. They believe that they'll always need people to do things for them. I can safely say that the majority of the blind people in my family have not been positive blind role models. But I can say also that I've been blessed, because my father, who is blind, has been a very positive influence in my life. Although he is not a Federationist in name, he and my mother have followed the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind without knowing it. As long as I can remember, my mother and father told me that blindness is not an excuse for me to be unsuccessful in life. They taught me that if I want to be an employed adult, I have to work hard and change people's negative opinions and perceptions about blindness.
It was with this sound foundation that I faced all my barriers. The first was a fight for Braille instruction. Many kids are not being taught Braille because some professionals regard it as a last resort. These kids are forced to deal with magnification, large print, and long work hours to keep up with their sighted classmates. My mother was not willing to take me down this avenue. Although her English was limited, her desire for me to succeed was great. She argued and struggled with the professionals during my elementary school years. In the third grade I began receiving Braille instruction. I am forever grateful for that. This was one of the largest contributions that anyone has ever made to my education.
Because I received Braille instruction when I was so young, I have been able to succeed academically. Since sixth grade I was enrolled in pre-advanced placement and advanced placement courses. Not only has Braille opened doors for me academically. During my sophomore year in high school, I joined our school's speech and debate team. Using Braille notes, I was part of the team, and I was very successful. I competed in the district and region, and in my senior year of high school I competed at the statewide level.
The positive attitude and confidence that I cultivated in high school, however, made me think that I did not need blindness training, that my skills were good enough. With this mindset I headed off to college.
I can't even begin to verbalize to you how wrong I was! It doesn't matter how good we think our blindness skills are. There is always something new we can learn from a confident blind role model and from attending a good training center. I struggled that first year of college--not because I couldn't keep up with the academics, but because my orientation and mobility and my skills as a confident blind person were not as good as I thought they were.
Thank God for the National Federation of the Blind. It was my Federation family and my parents, who at the time knew only very little about the Louisiana Center for the Blind, who nudged me in the right direction. All of these people knew I could succeed, if only I received quality blindness-skills training from blind role models who truly believe in the capacity of blind people.
After a long and exhausting freshman year, I took off the summer and the fall semester in 2011 and attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind for six months of intensive blindness training. After experiencing the LCB and learning more about the NFB and programs like the Buddy Program, for kids in fourth to eighth grades, and the STEP Program for high schoolers, I can tell you today, encourage your children to spend a summer at one of our centers. If I had participated in the Buddy or STEP Program when I had the chance, my self-confidence would have been even greater than it was before my time in the adult training program.
I'm proud to say that I became a graduate of the Louisiana Center for the Blind on Friday, December 16, 2011. [Applause] Since then I have returned to college to complete my sophomore year, armed with skills and self-confidence. I completed a very successful spring semester as a transfer student at Texas State University/San Marcos. I have become a participant in academic, social, and extracurricular activities on my campus. It's all because my parents and my Federation family stood behind me every step of the way.
You have a huge stake in your children's lives now that they are young, and you have started looking in the right place. Whether this is your first or your fifteenth convention with the NOPBC and NFB, explore what we have to offer for your children as well as for you as parents, friends, and families. I hope you learn, network, and have lots of fun while you're here this week. Always remember that together we are changing what it means to be blind!
by Kayleigh Joiner
From the Editor: Kayleigh Joiner is a longtime Federationist and an active member of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). She won an NFB National Scholarship in 2010.
The writer Dennis Wheatley once said, "The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence." My childhood education revolved around me using my residual vision. My TVI determined that I was a visual learner. I used large-print textbooks and magnification devices from third grade all the way through high school. Because of this I spent countless hours every evening doing homework, homework, and more homework! No one ever considered teaching me Braille to help speed things up. Doing all my work visually was very painful and fatiguing. My neck hurt and my eyes ached. I was given books on CD, but that didn't help speed things up much either.
In seventh grade I decided that I was done with the pain and strain of reading visually, and that I would teach myself Braille. While my mother began the long journey of fighting with my school district for Braille instruction, I enrolled in distance education classes with the Hadley School for the Blind. I didn't get Braille services from the district until I was a senior in high school.
I worked hard and was able to finish all my other schoolwork in addition to my courses with Hadley. When I informed my TVI that I was teaching myself Braille, she criticized me, saying, "Why would you want to do that? We can always teach you later on." This was my first step in learning that I had to be my own advocate, that only I know what works for me.
My family always held high expectations for me. My mother wouldn't let me use my blindness as a reason not to do something. I was responsible for chores around the house. I participated in gymnastics, Girl Scouts, and a children's performing choir when I was young. As I got older, I took part in school clubs and organizations such as Student Council, National Honor Society, and the Environmental Club. In ninth grade I earned a spot on my high school swim team. Even though it was hard on my mom, she sent me to various out-of-town camps, beginning at the age of six. The camps were important to me because they helped foster my independence and coping skills around being away from home. I was involved in my school choir starting in sixth grade and continued all the way up through high school. Believe it or not, some of the most valuable lessons I learned were due to my being a choir member. In my senior year I auditioned and won a place in my school musical. My choir director didn't want to bother finding someone to help me learn the choreography, so it was up to me to solve the problem on my own. One of the girls who was in the musical was also on the drill team. I contacted her and discovered that she was willing to teach me the choreography one-on-one. The musical was a great success. I sang and danced for six fun-filled nights. I hope I showed the rest of the cast and crew that blind people can perform just like everyone else.
During high school I went to Disney World with my choir. Prior to the trip, I told my mom that I wanted to go on my own, without her chaperoning as she had done on previous trips. I juggled the airport with the rest of the group. I was just one of the crowd of kids.
In high school I ran for secretary of my choir. I learned about writing a speech and explained to my peers why they should vote for me. I also ran for a position with the Spanish Honor Society. Although I didn't get elected in either case, running for office was a great experience. I encourage all families to urge their kids to take leadership positions within their schools.
In 2007 I attended the first NFB Youth Slam, a week-long science, technology, engineering, and math program for blind high school students in Baltimore, Maryland. This was the first time I flew on my own. At first I was quite nervous, but once I arrived in Baltimore and met the Youth Slam representatives, I felt much more at ease. I was part of the computer science track, where, among other things, we learned to program chatbots that could tell us the weather in a particular city. Attending Youth Slam allowed me to experience traveling on a college campus, eating in a dining hall, and living in a dorm. It showed me that blind people can participate in STEM subjects and careers.
Between my sophomore and junior years of high school, my mom and I were wondering how I would take chemistry in the fall. At the national convention we met Dr. Cary Supalo. At the time he was working on his doctorate at Penn State. He came to my school and trained me, my TVI, and my chemistry teacher on how to use various probes to collect data through a computer running the screen reader JAWS. Cary stressed to me the importance of reading the lab procedures prior to class. By reading the procedures ahead of time, I could better understand what was going to happen in the lab. Thus I could ask my fellow lab partners the appropriate questions while the lab was in progress. If it weren't for finding Cary at the convention, my experience with chemistry would have been very different.
In the summer of 2009, I attended the Earn and Learn high school program at the Colorado Center for the Blind. This eight-week program focused on Braille, cane travel, computer technology, and home management. During my eight weeks of training I learned all of the Braille contractions and got my first exposure to JAWS. In July we had the opportunity to hold part-time jobs, and I received my first paycheck. Apart from our core classes, we also got to participate in whitewater rafting and rock-climbing, activities that helped build self-confidence.
This was my first time to learn alternative techniques with the use of sleepshades. At the beginning of the program I struggled to navigate my surroundings. As the weeks went on, my confidence grew.
The week following my high school graduation, I moved to Ruston, Louisiana, where I spent six more months in intensive blindness training at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Upon graduation I was able to cook a meal for forty people and travel out of town independently, and I had doubled my Braille reading speed.
This training, combined with all of my other trainings, prepared me to be successful in college and beyond. College life is so much fun with all the independence that it brings. I am currently working toward a degree in elementary education. It is my goal to get my master's degree and to become a teacher of blind students and an orientation and mobility instructor. As part of my education degree plan in college, I was required to take one semester of a foreign language. One of my options was American Sign Language, or ASL. I wanted to take this class to prepare myself in case I come in contact with a deafblind student. I emailed my professor before we started the semester to let her know that I am a blind student who would be taking her class. Naturally she was concerned, since ASL is a visual language. I had already planned to have an interpreter in the class with me. I would place my hands on hers to feel what she was signing. I also met with a one-on-one tutor outside class one hour a week. My tutor was deaf. We used a combination of ASL and computer to communicate with one another. I would turn on my screen reader and type what I wanted to say to her, and she would type her response back. We found a solution to what others thought would be a problem.
Blind students have to have good problem-solving skills. Chances are good that things aren't always going to run as smoothly as we would like them to! Being able to advocate for oneself is also important. In college it's the student's responsibility to obtain books and talk with professors about their needs.
The NFB has taught me to believe in myself. It has also given me opportunities to hold leadership roles. I am grateful for my NFB family and all it has taught me. I hope you all take advantage of this week and everything you can learn.
by Julia Gebert
From the Editor: By longstanding tradition, blind children give short speeches at the NOPBC board meeting during convention. This year Julia Gebert of Alaska talked about her life and shared her thoughts on being blind.
Good afternoon, everyone! I am Julia Gebert, and I am going into the sixth grade. Some of you may be thinking that I am small for a sixth grader, but I prefer to think of myself as fun-sized. [Laughter] I may be small and I may be blind, but I feel big and completely capable of doing what I need to do.
I honestly don't think much about myself being small or blind. I really do have most things in common with other kids my age, but I realize I am different in some ways. Isn't that true for everyone? Short, tall, blind, sighted? We're all unique.
The sighted kids in my class think Braille is cool and that my cane is cool. What is really neat is that the other kids saw me zooming through math with my abacus, and they wished they could get through their problems as quickly as I do. Now every student has an abacus, and I helped them learn how to use it. That's just one small example of why our schools need more blind kids. (Laughter)
It is unfortunate that some sighted kids don't get an education alongside us blind kids. Mainstream schools can do better for their whole entire school value by having a few more long white canes tapping in their hallways.
From the beginning, my family and teachers resisted the temptation to overprotect me. I am grateful for that. After all, who likes to be told that they can't do things? Because of the NFB philosophy, I went cross-country skiing only two months after I learned to walk! I remember being so angry with my mom one time when I could not get up an icy hill. I told her I was never going to ski again! However, I did make it up that hill. Later, when I was out of the wind and sitting in the warm car, I told her it wasn't actually all that bad. Then I found myself right back on the trail two nights later. Thanks, Mom!
Being in a mainstream classroom is all that I've ever known. I'm glad I don't need to attend a special school for the blind. I don't want to be considered special because of my blindness. After all, I am so much more than just a blind kid. When people first meet me, I'm sure my blindness is what they notice. But once they get to know me, I hope they realize that I have a lot more going on. I've never considered myself handicapped. I do so many things that some people think are outrageous for a blind person. I catch fish, I shoot arrows at the archery range, I go inner-tubing, I downhill and cross-country ski, I rock climb. I've been doing these things all my life. There is not much I won't try. If someone tells me I can't do something, guess who tries it! I do it to prove to myself and that person that it can be done. It's just a matter of attitude, and I've been told I have a big one! [Laughter]
Everyone in the world is different, and everyone has their own unique situation. Life can be a challenge for everyone. You and I are not particularly special in that regard. We all need to do our very best with what we have. We must focus on what we have, which is a lot, rather than bellyaching about what we do not have. Stay busy and challenge yourself. We're all a little scared or unsure at times, but it can be a great confidence booster when you conquer your fears. What once seemed scary to me, like rock climbing and downhill skiing, is now a great thrill and a chance to spend time with friends.
Can you see a future when all blind kids are given exciting opportunities in life? Where they are educated alongside sighted peers? After all, we don't want to deprive any more mainstream kids of an education with us blind!
I'm so lucky to be here at convention with each and every one of you, and I look forward to visiting with you along the way. Now get out there and live life to its fullest!
by Barbara Pierce
Intro by Laura Bostick: Barbara Pierce served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio for more than twenty-four years. She has been active at almost every level of the national organization for almost forty years. Barbara is a 1966 magna cum laude graduate in English from Oberlin College and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Although she was certified to teach English at the high school level, she chose to work in several other fields. These include jobs as a childbirth instructor, hospital chaplain, college administrator, and magazine editor. She edited the Braille Monitor, the NFB's monthly magazine, until 2010 and still works part-time with her successor. She has coauthored two books, A Design of Poetry, a text for high school students; and Do You Get the Message, a coordination handbook for nonprofit organizations. She has edited The World Under My Fingers, a book for the parents of blind children about the importance of learning Braille; and So You Don't See as Well as You Used To, a book by blind seniors for those who are losing vision.
Barbara gradually lost her sight during her childhood. She was introduced to Braille at the age of twelve and to the long white cane at sixteen. She did not, however, become fully adjusted to blindness until her exposure to the National Federation of the Blind in 1974. Its philosophy of independence and equality enabled her for the first time in her life to accept herself as a normal person who cannot see, and not a person who needed to apologize for her alternative techniques.
We tried to line up the whole realm of adulthood in the mainstream for this panel, and this is a rather large topic. I get to talk to you about social life and family life. This is probably not on your radar particularly--you're trying to see that your kid gets enough Braille, enough technology and the right technology, cane travel--all the nuts and bolts that go into the educational life and personal life of a blind youngster. You may not be thinking about the importance of social life, but trust me, when your kids hit preadolescence and the teen years, they are going to be worried about this one! It's important for you to understand that these are real issues, and they are things your kids are probably losing sleep over.
I was mainstreamed all the way through school, and I knew that the friends I had were not in the top tier academically or socially. The first friends I had when I started middle school were kids who needed my help tutoring them. They were kids who were struggling. Since I wasn't doing anything with my study halls, because I didn't have most of my books in Braille and I couldn't read Braille yet anyway, I spent my time teaching them the basics of math and English and science.
I moved up the social food chain as I got older. I made friends with a set of kids who were more successful in school, but they were not the popular ones. I certainly was not dating. I used to lament that all of the boys thought I was a great sister. They would come to me, and because I was blind, they figured I was intuitive and sensitive and understanding of psychological nuance. Besides, I was a girl, so I knew how girls thought. They could tell me all their troubles, and I could advise them. I remember in those years, when I allowed myself to think about painful topics, I absolutely presumed that there was no way I was ever going to marry. First of all, I didn't know any blind people, and anyway, you wouldn't want two blind people to marry each other; and why would any sighted man be interested in getting damaged goods?
I just kept putting one foot in front of the other. I don't know what I thought the final consequences were, because I also couldn't imagine what I could do for a living. I knew I was awfully good in school. I could get A's. I presumed that somehow that ability would transform itself into something, but I had only the haziest notion of how that might operate.
I think I got some baseline experiences on my own. For example, nobody assumed that a blind kid would go to the movies. So when I went to the movies with my friends, I would see to it that in groups further afield from my circle I would talk about seeing such and such a picture. Message: Blind kids go to movies! Hey, guys--if you're listening, considering--you could take me to a movie! They didn't get the message, but you see what the principle is. [Laughter]
You all now have a terrific opportunity. We now have the NFB centers, and even some other centers around the country, such as BISM in Maryland, are using the NFB model. These are places that have really good summer programs for blind teens. The kids go off and do cool things like rock climbing and horseback riding and whitewater rafting and going to baseball games. It gives them stuff to brag about when they go back to school in the fall. You want your kid to have bragging rights! I love reading what Eric Vasiliauskas writes about his blind sons. They go surfing in Hawai'i! Maybe you can't swing it financially to take your kids off to Hawai'i, but if you put your mind to it, you can find exciting things in your area that blind kids can do. What you want is to help your kids understand that their job is to have fun doing the kinds of things that other people do. That's a way to establish the basis for a healthy social life.
As I thought about my own high school experience, I realized that I have a lot to thank my physics teacher for. I had possibly the world's worst physics teacher. We got light and electricity and nuclear energy and a few other things all in the last six weeks of the year, because he spent the first six weeks with us in labs using mirrors and things to make up a slide rule. (Some of you probably don't even know what a slide rule is anymore.) It was a complete waste of physics class, but we had teams that had to do the labs together. Maybe there were girls on my team, but I don't remember them. I do remember that there were four boys. This was at the beginning of my senior year in high school, and I fell in love. The cool thing about it was that the object of my affections fell in love, too. So physics became a very wonderful class! [Laughter] I still remember the 29th of January as the day I got asked to the Senior Prom!
The business of finding that element of life before I hit college was really amazing. If I could make it into a pill and give it to every blind high school girl, I would do it! It gives you a basis of confidence! Sighted girls may be uncertain about dating, too, but at least they watch on television how people smile at each other and make come-on gestures, and how they kiss. They don't have to worry about how you avoid bumping somebody's nose, or what the heck you do with your heavy glasses at an important moment. These were big things when I was in high school, but I got them worked out before I went to college.
The confidence of having a romantic relationship is a big deal. I think every young woman in college will tell you that this is a real issue. A great benefit of going to college is that at least the guys are older. They're not so insecure that they have to find the best-looking, most poised girl to go out with. They can risk being with someone who isn't in the standard mode.
You also have to do some serious talking about what behavior is appropriate for young women and young men. Blind girls don't have to get the message that they need to put out in order to get attention from boys. I've seen blind women fall into that category.
The good news is that your kids have role models. They've seen Marc and Pat Maurer, so they won't grow up thinking that a blind person can't marry another blind person. They see people like Debbie Stein and me who are married to sighted men, and they discover there are men out there who don't write you off because you're blind. These are important learning opportunities. I had to make it up as I went along. I even made it up as I went along when I got married and started having children. I didn't know what I was doing.
When I was about six months pregnant with my firstborn, a faculty wife in the English department where my husband taught made an appointment and came to see me. She sat down and said, "How do you expect to take care of this baby?" Now, today my reaction to that kind of question is, you've got your nerve asking me such a thing! But at the time, the truth of the matter was that I didn't have the least notion of how I was going to take care of a child. Still, I was smart enough to know that every other person who was expecting a first baby probably had to cope with the same feelings of potential incapacity. At least I had the wit to say, "Helga, I don't know. What I do know is that everything I have tackled until now, when I got up to it I could figure out what came next. And I trust that's what's going to happen with this baby, and that I'm going to do fine." I have three adult children, two of them have doctorates, and one of them has two children. I guess I did okay.
I want you to help your kids understand that even if they don't know how they are going to solve the next problem, they are going to be able to solve it. Whether it's how to mow grass, follow a tricky knitting pattern, make a baked Alaska, or change the washer in a sink, there's a way it can be done without sight. Maybe they can figure it out themselves. If they can't, they can turn to someone in the Federation who has already hung wallpaper or whatever it is that they want to do. That's the option you have. Your job is to expect the most from your kids and to hold them accountable. If you can do that, they'll do the rest.
by Gary Wunder
Intro by Laura Bostick: Our next speaker is Gary Wunder. He is the father of four children and he has one grandson. He lives in Columbia, Missouri, and serves as editor of the Braille Monitor. Gary previously worked as a computer programmer/analyst with the University of Missouri Hospitals and Clinics, where Gary was the winner of the Chancellor's Staff Recognition Award, one of four awards presented to a staff of more than five thousand. Here's Gary Wunder.
Thank you very much. Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here.
I've speculated a lot about why I'm one of the lucky 30 percent. They tell us that 70 percent of blind people are unemployed. Seven out of ten don't have jobs, and three out of ten do have jobs. A lot of the three out of ten who do have jobs are said to be underemployed. Why is it that I have a job? I don't think I'm underemployed. My job challenges me quite a lot. What part of having a job is skill, what part is attitude, and what part of it is just plain good luck? What part of my success is what I did, and what part is what was given to me in terms of native intelligence, motivation, and even appearance?
I think a lot of it comes from expectations. In terms of expectations, my parents were unequivocal about some things. One of them was "You will not be lazy. You will do what work you can do. You don't have to do the work that we do, you don't have to do work the way we do it, but you will figure it out. You have a brain, you have a functioning body, and that means that you're going to work. You're going to grow up to be a responsible man. We don't know how you'll do it, but you're going to do it." They told me, "Money is valuable, precisely because it is in short supply. If you want something, make money and save up for what you want. And just so you know a little about the world of work, we're going to give you some work while you're here at home."
My first assignment was to go out in the yard and pick up trash. My grandmother was there when my dad gave me that assignment, and she laughed. She said, "How the heck is he going to go out and find paper in the yard?"
My dad said, "I don't care if he finds the paper in the yard or not. He can carry the trash bag. His brothers can find the trash and put it in there, and he's big enough, he can carry a good lot of it." So my first job was cleaning up the yard.
After a while my father said, "They tell me that you're having a little trouble with cleaning up the yard because of finding the paper, so I'll give you something that may be more of a fit with your skills. You can clean the pigpen." (We lived on a farm.)
Cleaning the pigpen is no great job, whether you're blind or sighted. My father figured that the advantage of cleaning the pigpen was that it was a limited, well-defined area, and I could check my work by using my nose.
My father then decided I did so well cleaning the pigpen that I could water the horse. I thought that was a great thing! Then he got the idea that I could water the bull. I tell you, watering a bull is a lot different from watering horses! You walk up to the bull carrying a twenty-gallon thermos. You may know that water weighs 8.2 pounds per gallon, and when you put twenty gallons in there--well, I was staggering around, trying to get the water thermos up over the fence so I could dump it in the trough. The bull, he was thirsty, so he came snorting toward me, and eighteen of those gallons ended up on my side of the fence! [Laughter]
I've had lots of jobs in my life, some of them pretty good and some of them not so good. One of my first jobs was cleaning bricks. My father bought an old school building and tore it down. He wanted to get some of the money back, so he told me that I had to clean the bricks. That meant whacking on each brick with a little knifelike thing. If you whacked with the right amount of strength, you would knock off the stuff that had attached that brick to the building. If you hit it too many times, you would break the brick, so you had to hit it just right. If you broke the brick, something that could be sold for twenty cents was then worth nothing and had to be hauled away.
I used to put up hay. That was a great job! You had to run along the side of the truck, find the bale without tripping over it, pick up the bale, and throw it up onto the truck. That sounds like an easy thing, but if you throw the bale too close to the front of the truck, you hit the hay that's already up there, and it bounces off. If you throw it once the truck has gone past, you have to pick it up and throw it again, and that's not a good thing.
The first job my dad didn't provide for me was in a sheltered workshop. I had two jobs there. I had a job putting bolts on washers, and I had a job putting pens together. In one way I thought they were great jobs, because I was at home and I had no living expenses. Any money I made I could spend on ham radio equipment. But that work also taught me that a manufacturing job is one where, if you want to preserve your sanity, you figure out a good daydream. You get that daydream to take you through the morning. Then you eat lunch, and you figure out whether that daydream will take you through the afternoon or whether you've got to come up with another one. I realized there's no such thing as bad work, but if I could get better work I was going to get it.
I decided to get a college degree. I got a degree in electronics technology, thanks to our state and federal programs of rehabilitation. After I got out of college I was rewarded for that college training. I went directly into journalism, which means that I put advertising inserts into newspapers. You know, the fliers that Walmart and Kmart slide into your newspaper--that's what I did for a living for a while. The hardest part about that job was that they couldn't care less if you showed up or not. Nothing happened if you didn't come in. They had the attitude, "You probably won't come next time, but we'll pay you anyway."
After that I got a job selling integrated circuits at a retail sales place. Then I had a job for a guy who said, "We're going to turn this business into a fantastic mail-order business. You write me a catalogue."
I wrote him the catalogue. I gave him the catalogue and I said, "When are we going to send it out?"
He said, "There's no way we can send this out!"
I said, "The work isn't good?"
"The work is fine!" he said. "You did exactly what I told you to do! But if we send this out, we'll be overwhelmed with thousands of orders. We're not ready."
I went off and did a phone interview with a guy who wanted me to sell insurance. He was so up on me! He said, "I very seldom get people who interview so well. I think you're going to be great at this job. Come over and we'll shake hands on it and sign the papers."
I said, "What buses run near where you are?"
He said, "Oh no no--if I were you, I'd just drive." [Laughter]
I said, "I don't drive."
He said, "Well, why not?"
I said, "Is driving required for the job?"
He said, "No, but why not?"
I said, "Because they don't let blind people drive."
He said, "I'll get back to you after I talk to my supervisor." It turned out that there was no job.
That made me decide that I needed a lot more training so I could be a lot better than other people at whatever job I applied for. I went to a computer training school for about ten months to supplement my degree in electronics technology, and I got an internship. That internship turned into a job.
How did that happen? The real question the guy had was not, "Can this guy program computers?" He knew I had trained to do that. He wanted to know if this guy he was going to have as an intern could get to and from the bathroom independently. If I could do that, he was probably prepared to give me a job. If I needed nanny care, he probably wasn't prepared to hire me.
That guy signed me up for my first programming job at five dollars and eighty-three cents an hour. I was contracted the day before Halloween in 1978 at $12,134 a year. I put the contract on the refrigerator; I was really proud of it. When I left the university thirty years later, I was earning $62,000 a year, which was a great thing.
I want to conclude by saying that sometimes you can't do what you want, so you start out by doing what you can. The big job won't be where you start. It's what you get when you prove yourself again and again to the person who's going to pay you. Blind or sighted, work is walking uphill every day. It's not one heroic journey, like John Wayne takes in the movies. He shoots the bad guy, and forever his reputation is made.
The expectations you have will determine whether your child lives on SSI or grows up to pay taxes. Is he the child with an unfortunate handicap or, as Michael J. Fox describes himself in his first book after getting Parkinson's, will he be Lucky Man? The way your child comes to think about himself or herself will largely be determined by what you encourage, by the people you bring into your child's life, and by the expectations you have. Being nice can be fatal. You can be nice sometimes, but you've got to be firm, too.
by Deborah Kent Stein
Intro by Laura Bostick: Our next speaker on this panel is Debbie Stein. She grew up in New Jersey and was fully mainstreamed beginning in eighth grade. She worked as a social worker on New York's Lower East Side and helped start a school for children with disabilities in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, prior to launching her career as a writer of books for young readers. Her first young-adult novel, Belonging, drew upon her experiences as the only blind student in her high school. She lives in Chicago and is active in the Illinois affiliate of the NFB. She also edits the magazine Future Reflections.
Last night I got together with some old friends who live here in Dallas, Peggy and Gary. We had dinner and hung around and got ice cream. Somehow we started talking about art and my interest in sculpture. Gary said, "There's a wonderful park here called Pioneer Park, and it has sculptures that represent a Texas cattle drive." Peggy said, "Let's go see it!" and I said, "Yeah!" And off we went.
So at about nine-thirty last night, there we were in Pioneer Park. I got to look at all these wonderful bronze sculptures. There were dozens and dozens of longhorn steers, running in various poses with their tails streaming, and there were cowboys on horses, waving their hats and their lariats, and the horses' manes and tails were flying. The pieces are bigger than life-size, so to reach the cowboys I had to climb up. Gary gave me a boost, and I got my foot onto a cowboy's boot and grabbed hold of the horse's bronze mane. I hauled myself up so I could reach the cowboy's face. They told me he had a really stubborn, determined, fierce expression, and I wanted to find out what that expression was like, how it was shown by the artist. If you have a chance to get over there, go look at those sculptures. They're incredible!
For this panel on "Adults in the Mainstream," I was asked to talk about education. When I started thinking about what I want to say, I realized how much education has to do with curiosity and reaching out to the world. Having experiences like exploring Pioneer Park, getting to look at things, asking questions, trying to learn about things and understand them--all of that has been a very core part of my life. Education is something I interpret very broadly. It's not just what happens in school, but what happens before school ever begins and what happens throughout the whole lifespan. From the beginning, my parents instilled in me a real interest in the world around me, a desire to reach out and get my hands on things, to ask questions and explore and learn.
A couple of years ago my brother unearthed an old reel-to-reel tape that had been made when I was four years old. He found a company that takes old tapes and turns them into CDs. We got to find out what was on that tape made in 1953, back when tape recorders were novel and amazing devices.
The tape turned out to be an interview my dad had conducted with me. My dad was a lawyer, but at one time he had dreamed of being a radio announcer. He loved to play a game with us kids which consisted of interviewing us about things we were doing. He interviewed me at the age of four about a project he and I had been working on--setting traps for mysterious animals in the back yard. We had set a box trap, which was a shoebox propped up by a stick. One end of the stick was tied to a piece of bread with peanut butter on it. The idea was for the animal to tug on the bread and cause the shoebox to fall down over it. We had gone out that day to check the trap, and the bread with the peanut butter was gone. The shoebox had fallen down, but there was no animal underneath it. Dad asked me what kind of animal I thought might have sprung the trap, and I said, "Well, probably it's some animal that likes to eat peanut butter."
I hadn't started school yet, but my dad was teaching me to have adventures, to be curious, to try to solve a mystery. He was also saying that what I did was interesting to other people and was worth paying attention to. It's a moment of my childhood that seems symbolic of what my parents gave me and how they prepared me to go out into the world.
My parents were very curious people themselves. In 1959, at the height of the Cold War, they decided to visit the Soviet Union. They kept hearing about it in the news, and everybody was terribly afraid of it. My parents said, "Let's go see it and find out what it's really like." I was ten years old. I got sent to summer camp, and off went Mom and Dad to see the Soviet Union for three weeks. They came back with stories that lasted the rest of their lives!
When I was in college, I had some very interesting summer experiences. Instead of staying home and reading to get a head start on my next semester, I found exciting things to do. The summer after my freshman year I went to Mexico with a group sponsored by the YWCA. I was the only blind kid in the program. We ran a recreation program for kids in a village outside Mexico City. The summer after my sophomore year I joined another YWCA work project, this one in New York City. All of the participants were assigned paid jobs with social service agencies. I was a top forward deck attendant on the Floating Hospital. The Floating Hospital was a boat that took families from impoverished neighborhoods for excursions up the Hudson River every day. On board they had a dental clinic and a well baby clinic, and there were various other screening facilities, so people could get some basic health care while they enjoyed a fun outing. I think the Floating Hospital was originally established to serve TB patients. After that summer I got to put that job on my résumé. I loved being able to say that I'd been a top forward deck attendant.
The summer after my junior year, I went to California as part of a program for college kids who were interested in the mental health professions. I worked in a day treatment center for patients who had been discharged from state hospitals.
My parents thought all these summer projects were good things for me to be doing. I'd say, "Hey, I got accepted into this program!" and they'd say, "Great! When does it start?" They never said, "Gee, I don't know how you'll find your way around. And you're going to meet a lot of people who've never known a blind person before, who won't understand what you need. How are you going to handle all that?" I'm sure they worried. Probably they thought, oh no! What if she gets lost! What if ... What if ... I guess there are a million what ifs when your kid is going off to California alone for a whole summer. My grandmother said, "I'm so worried about you going out there to work with the inmates!" I said, "Oh, Grandma, don't worry. They're not inmates. They're out now." [Laughter]
Through all those summer experiences, I learned not to be afraid of going off to new places. When I went to social work school, I chose the program at Smith College School for Social Work. I chose it because all of the academics were packed into three summers on campus. The field placements were full-time for nine months instead of two or three days a week as they are in other social work programs. In the Smith program, the field placements were all over the country. You might be sent to Denver, you might get sent to New York City, you might get sent to Washington, DC. You didn't find out where you were assigned until the beginning of August, and you had to start placement in September. You had a month to get yourself to wherever you were going, find a place to live, and start your placement. Because I had worked those summers during college, I knew I could do that. I thought it would be an adventure. I'd get to know new cities, I'd meet lots of new people, and I'd be able to work every day. I'd build up a résumé better than anybody would have from another social work school, because I would have twice as much hands-on experience.
When I started looking for a real job, there was no Section 504, and there was no ADA. There was no law protecting people from discrimination on the basis of disability. I'd walk into an interview and they'd say, "I'll tell you right now--because of your blindness I'm not going to hire you." Still, I could say, "I've worked in a lot of settings, and the things you're worried about are not going to be problems."
Eventually I found a job in social work. I worked in New York City in a settlement house on the Lower East Side. I had amazing and wonderful experiences there before I ran away to Mexico. As Laura said, I lived in a town called San Miguel de Allende and helped start a school there.
I live a pretty quiet life now as a writer in Chicago. I have a grown daughter who has had some adventures of her own. She went off to Ecuador and worked with kids in Quito, kids from villages in the mountains who had never been to school before. She told me, "Mom, I've lived in Mexico a lot, and I want to see some more of Latin America. I want to go and work in Ecuador for a while." I kind of gulped, and I thought, Ecuador! It's so far away! She won't know a soul there! What if ... Then I said, "Great! When do you start?" I knew she would have adventures. She would expand her education far beyond what she could learn in a classroom.
I hope that's something parents of blind kids, and parents of any kids, can take to heart. I hope you can instill in your children a sense of curiosity and wonder and adventure. It is such a gift, and it will carry them far.
by Parnell Diggs
Introduction by Laura Bostick: Parnell Diggs was among the initial generation of Braille-reading students to enter first grade in the public schools of Charlotte, North Carolina. It was 1975, and the president of the United States had just signed into law the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which we now know as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Parnell was born blind due to detached retinas. Public school officials in Charlotte did not want to admit him into the classroom with sighted children, but they had no choice if the school system was to qualify for federal funding. Further complicating the matter was the fact that Bill and Nancy Diggs refused to accept the limitations for their son that society normally placed on blind children. [Applause]
Years later, in 1989, Parnell Diggs met Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and Donald Capps, two great leaders who dedicated their lives to their blind brothers and sisters. Jernigan and Capps shared a message of promise and achievement for the blind and talked about how the blind could accomplish more through collective action. Parnell Diggs embraced their reasoning. He realized that full integration of the blind into society would be his life's work. He came to know that complete social acceptance of the blind lies where training and opportunity meet.
I want to talk with you for a few moments about my perspective on life in the mainstream. When I was born, my parents were young and scared. They realized that I was blind when I was about four months old. My grandmother noticed something about my eyes that didn't look normal. I was taken to various ophthalmologists, and they determined that I had some degree of vision loss. My parents were not aware of the NFB. They knew a guy from their home town who was blind. He didn't use a cane. He shuffled around, and people in that small town knew to watch out for him. My mother tells me he created a bad image for them. They decided their son wasn't going to be like that guy, shuffling around from place to place.
My parents set out to teach me to be what they thought of as normal. They insisted that I clean my room and make the bed. When I went outside to play, they were fairly open-minded about the things that I could do. They didn't overprotect me by any means. I learned to ride a bike and run around playing freeze tag. I got my share of bumps and bruises just like any other child.
Yet from time to time I did things that sighted children maybe didn't do very much. I ran into things now and then and got knots on my head.
Ironically, by teaching me the ordinary things I needed to know as a kid, my parents somehow thought they were making me less blind. They didn't have a very good view of what life could be like for a blind person. When I got older and met some successful blind people, I realized that blind people are just like everybody else. They can run and play when they're kids and have careers when they get older. They can get married, make house payments, and support a family. They can do all the things we expect people to do in this great country.
When I was growing up, I realized it was pretty easy for me to skate by, not opening a book in class. I met with a resource teacher for an hour a day of Braille instruction. But when I was in class with my sighted peers, the teachers would let me skate by if I wanted to. Blind kids are like sighted kids in that respect. They'll do as little as you allow them to do.
By and large, people do not expect very much from a blind person. When I graduated from law school, the governor happened to be in attendance. His daughter-in-law was in my graduating class, so he was there. At that time the law school I attended was the only one in the state of South Carolina. Anyone who wanted to go into a leadership position in the community went to the South Carolina School of Law.
By the time of the graduation ceremony, I was carrying a cane and reading Braille. I'd been involved in the National Federation of the Blind for about five years. I went up the stairs and was crossing the platform, when the dean reached out and grabbed my arm. I thought maybe I had been going the wrong way. When somebody grabs your arm, you wonder what's up. It turned out that the dean wanted to present me to the audience because the school was proud of the fact that they had graduated a blind guy. The governor stood up, shook my hand, and congratulated me on a job well done. (He didn't offer me a job, though.)
I worked briefly for the South Carolina Commission for the Blind as a rehabilitation counselor. I did that for two years after I finished law school because I couldn't find work as a lawyer. I had the chance to talk with young blind people about the things they could be. I don't recall ever telling any blind person, "I don't think your vocational goal is realistic." We would write a plan of employment in accordance with what the client wanted to do.
When I graduated from law school, my dad was a partner in a law firm called McCutcheon, Mumford and Diggs. I wasn't able to get a job there. My dad wanted to hire me, but he was outvoted. His partners didn't think I would bring much to the firm. They figured the law school had seats set aside for certain people, which must explain how I went through the program. Eventually my dad opened his own office, and he invited me and Chris Danielsen, another blind guy, to work there. I learned the ropes from him for a few years and then opened my own law office. I became Mr. Diggs instead of just the boss's son.
If you don't take anything else from what I have told you, remember this. If you're a young blind person, when you get to the end of your time in school, do something. Don't shy away from your career goals, but if a job in your field doesn't jump out at you, do something else. Have a reason to get up and get dressed in the morning. Do something productive, and opportunities will come. Don't wake up one morning and realize that you're forty-five and living on SSI. If you're a parent or teacher, make sure that the people who look up to you understand that they should do something with their lives.
by Penny Duffy
From the Editor: On Monday afternoon, July 2, Penny Duffy addressed the NOPBC board meeting as part of its panel on Parent Power. Penny is the founding president of the newly established New Hampshire Parents of Blind Children.
Hello. I'm Penny, and I'm honored to have the chance to speak with you today. I could never have imagined that my life journey would bring me here. Two short years ago I was an everyday mom with two kids. No one would have foreseen that anything would ever hold them back. They're both very bright, wonderful children.
So imagine my surprise when suddenly my six-year-old daughter, Abby, became blind. I was lost! What would I do? What did my daughter's future hold?
When your first-grader goes blind, you can't go to the bookstore and buy her a book. I know. I looked for hours!
I knew that blindness didn't have to change my daughter's future. I just didn't know how I could guide her to that future out there.
I was lucky. A few months later I joined the NFB and got on its Blindkid listserv. Someone recommended Carol Castellano's book, Making It Work: Educating the Blind and Visually Impaired Student in the Regular Classroom. I attended my state's NFB convention and met blind adults whom I wanted my blind child to know. Ron Gardner, who attended our state convention, told me I needed to go to a national convention. At convention last year, I heard Pam Gebert from Alaska speak about starting her state's NOPBC chapter. I thought that if Alaska, with its small, scattered population, had a parents' division, why couldn't we have one in New Hampshire?
New Hampshire needed the NOPBC. It also needed an NOPBC president. I didn't want that president to be me! I'm not one of those amazing parents I met last year. I don't have any fancy degrees, and I am painfully shy. But there's something about knowing your child needs you that can help you overcome all of those things. I have committed myself to starting a chapter in my state.
I realized it is challenging to find parents of blind children in a small state, but I started small. I started to network. I met people and got my name out. I set up a website and a Facebook page for a chapter that didn't exist. I did everything I could to spread the word that I was looking for families with blind children.
I contacted the special education department at our state's department of education. To my surprise, they were happy to hear from me. They were having as hard a time finding parents as I was. I was pleased to be asked to serve on a committee about accessible instructional materials for students in the state.
This past March, at our state NFB convention, we formed the New Hampshire Parents of Blind Children. I was elected president. It was a very proud moment! We had over twenty people at our meeting, including parents, blind adults, and even some teachers.
We have a lot of work still to do. Last month we held our first fundraiser. We worked with the New Hampshire Association for the Blind, which was holding its annual walk. The association works with nonprofits to form teams, and each team can keep half of the money it raises. Our affiliate formed a team, and half of that team was made up of people connected with the Parents of Blind Children chapter. We raised over eight thousand dollars, and our state affiliate will get half of that money back. A portion of that money comes back to the Parents of Blind Children.
We're working to create a lending library where parents can borrow great books, including Making It Work. We are planning a conference for parents and children in the early spring.
There are so many great things going on! Today I know that people want to hear my voice. Recently I had an experience that showed me I am doing the right thing. I went to an IEP meeting with a mother who is working to get Braille instruction for her child. She was having a hard time getting her voice heard. It became very clear that she knew what her child needed. She didn't need me to tell her what her child needed; she needed someone to tell her she wasn't crazy. She needed someone to tell her she was being reasonable--which she was.
We all have roles in life, and there's no role more important than being a parent. As a parent, your voice is important. Don't feel that people don't want to hear you. Use your voice at your child's IEP meeting, to help out your NOPBC chapter, or to get a chapter started in your state. We all have a voice!
by Chantal Alberhasky
From the Editor: On the Parent Power panel at the NOPBC board meeting, Chantal Alberhasky spoke about how she helped to establish the new Parents of Blind Children chapter in Missouri.
Two months ago, at our NFB state convention in Missouri, we formed a Parents of Blind Children chapter, of which I agreed to be president. I'm the mother of five children. Our youngest son, Drake, has albinism, and due to the condition, he is blind.
Drake was adopted at twenty months. While we were waiting to travel to get him, I looked for information about albinism. When I went to the albinism community, I was told, "Your child does not need Braille. Your child will never need a cane. He will get through life using large print and audiobooks." But the more research I did, the more I felt that something wasn't right.
I decided that Drake was going to learn Braille, that Braille was important. When we enrolled Drake in early childhood education, I was told, "Your child has albinism, and kids with albinism do not learn Braille." I said, "This one does." They did teach him Braille. Then the school district told me, "Your child needs a cane." I said, "I don't think he does." They said, "Yes, he does," and I said, "Fine." At three he had a cane in his hand, and he started to learn Braille. It was fortunate that I figured out he needed to learn Braille, and fortunate that the district figured out he needed a cane!
I tried to stay active in the albinism community, but I really didn't feel like I fit in. I was very pro Braille, and I was beginning to understand how important a cane was for my child as well. By training I am a special education attorney. I went to the state convention of an albinism organization, where I had been asked to do a presentation on the IEP. But I was warned, "Do not talk about Braille. If you talk about Braille, you will get in trouble." Well, in my examples about how I have had to advocate, I talked about getting Braille for my son.
I met a number of other parents in the albinism community, including Holly Miller, who have become active in the NFB. Several of us attended the NFB convention last year. I thought, "Oh my God! These are my people!" Not only did people at the NFB convention believe in Braille and think the cane is necessary, they advocated for those tools. They fight for them. They teach parents, and they help children. Here was everything I believe in.
After convention I was invited to attend the Parent Leadership Program. To be honest, I went thinking, please don't ask me to do anything! I don't have time. I didn't even take notes during the portion of the conference about what to do when you create your new parents' chapter. I refused to take notes, because I was not going to do any of it! [Laughter]
Then I met with Gary and Debbie Wunder. Gary is our NFB state president. Debbie said to me, "I know you're really busy, but would you consider being president of the new parents' chapter in Missouri?" And I heard the words come out of my mouth, "Yes, Debbie! I would love to do that!" Then I had to email Carol Castellano and say, "I lost my notes from the Parent Leadership conference." Carol sent me hers.
I'm excited about working with the NFB to help parents. I really look forward to the things we're planning to do. We're going to have an IEP workshop in September, since that's what I do for a living. It's very important for parents to have the tools they need to fight for their children.
by Kim Cunningham
From the Editor: Kim Cunningham is president of the Texas Parents of Blind Children (TPOBC). In her address at the NOPBC board meeting, she urged parents who attended convention to share everything they have learned with other parents back in their home states.
Six or seven years ago, my daughter, Kayleigh, and I attended our first NFB convention in Atlanta. We were desperate for advice and information that would help her become a successful blind high school student. The moment our feet hit the ground, we were embraced by blind people, people who knew exactly the route she needed to take. I was taken with the NFB, and I knew I wanted to spread the message of hope that the NFB gave to us.
I've worked with and been mentored by some great people! Laura Bostick had just formed the Texas Parents of Blind Children a year before I became involved. Sometimes kicking and screaming a bit, I agreed to join the board. We had a total of five board members. Since then I think that what we've accomplished has been remarkable. All the people I work with make our organization look good. If you want to be president of the TPOBC, you'll look good by virtue of the people around you.
We held a parents' session during our state convention, and Dr. Fred Schroeder came and spoke to us about NFB philosophy. We also heard from a panel of blind college students. We had a very nice evening, though we didn't pull in as many parents as we would have liked. We have exhibited at the AER conference (Association for Education and Rehabilitation). I got fifteen new members while I was there, so that worked. We also exhibited at White Cane Day in Houston. We held four BELL programs in Texas this year.
We also do advocacy work. Families contact us almost weekly, wanting information about how to deal with their school districts. One of our board members, Lety Castillo, is bilingual, which is a big plus in Texas! She is also working with our Rio Grande Chapter, forming a parents chapter in that area of the state. Lety Castillo and Sandra Oliver both worked hard on our fundraisers. This year we held a garage sale that raised over $1,800.
For the second year in a row we partnered with our blind students division. The students were looking for younger kids to come into their division, and we were looking for parents to come to our conferences. Last April we held the Quest for Independence weekend convention in San Antonio. It was a great success. We flew in Hoby Wedler, a blind chemist from California. He did a science demonstration in which parents and students took part. We had some sessions for parents only, some for parents and students together, and some just for students. We started planning the conference soon after national convention last year, wanting to make each of our sessions important. We wanted parents and students to walk away feeling empowered. We wanted the parents to meet positive blind role models. We talked about NFB training centers and programs such as the Buddy Programs and the STEP Programs. We talked about adult rehab programs and how important they are for the success of our children before they enter college. The state rehab agency came in and discussed the long white cane. Our school districts do not offer the long white cane and will not teach students to use it. We tried to empower parents to teach their own children, to put the cane in their children's hands and let them explore.
With all that said, participation wasn't quite what I wanted it to be. I was reminded that I needed to remember something. We are reaching families, even if we reach just one family at a time.
We all possess valuable information about raising blind children. Think about everything you have learned this weekend. Think about how much you can take back to your state and share with the families that couldn't attend, families that didn't know about this convention. You might tell yourself that you're not a leader or that you don't know a lot about blindness. But you are a leader in your child's eyes. While you may be thirsty for more information, you already possess a great deal of knowledge from your own on-the-job training.
Think about the families with newly diagnosed kids. Remember the days when you didn't have a clue. Today you can make the decision to go back to your state and invite three or four families for a play date or a picnic in the park. Share what you've learned, and keep paying it forward. You can give as much or as little time as you have. Contact the people in your NFB state affiliate, and let them know that you'd like their support. Perhaps you have enough time to plan a meet-and-greet event for families at your state convention. You don't have to start out by planning conventions with lots of fancy speakers. You can simply get together with other families to discuss raising blind kids. You will be surprised what can develop from one little gathering!
I'm not a professional. I don't have any initials after my name. What I do possess is a willingness to give back. I have had many opportunities to attend trainings, conferences, and conventions throughout my daughter's life. Among all of these learning experiences, the most important have been my social interactions with blind adults. When I need my car repaired, I call a mechanic. When I need information about blindness, I call my blind friends. This is why I love the NFB! We have a wealth of knowledge from thousands of blind people who can help us along our way.
I hope I've inspired you to believe that you can go back to your state and pay it forward to other families. Sometimes we don't need to reach the masses, but just one family at a time. One candle may light a thousand.
by Joshua A. Miele
Introduction by Dr. Marc Maurer: Here to make our next presentation is the director of the Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Research and Development Center in San Francisco, California. He is an inventor of the Descriptive Video Exchange, which is an idea he'll be discussing in a moment. It's a revolutionary concept that is poised to transform the way we create and distribute descriptive video. Here for this presentation is Dr. Joshua Miele.
I am incredibly honored to be here and to speak to you today. As Dr. Maurer explained, I work at the Smith-Kettlewell Video Description Development Center in San Francisco. The Department of Education is funding the research center. While we sometimes have comments about the department and try to steer it in the right direction, this is a very cool thing that it is doing. The Department of Education is funding this incredibly important research, and I will tell you why.
When I say "video description," many of you may think back to the turn of this century when the Federation began to take an interest in this area. The FCC had created rules that did not include some important provisions, and the Federation found this unacceptable. The provisions were about access to the crawlers on the bottom of the TV screen, giving text-based information related to health and safety matters. Nonvisual access to that information was not in the provisions that were put into place in 2000. The NFB strenuously made it clear that this type of information access was critical and nonnegotiable. The NFB also felt that the FCC's provisions did not go far enough in providing access to broadcast television. The NFB made it very clear in those early resolutions that video description is useful and a powerful medium for getting access to television and other video information.
I would like to let you know, if you don't know already, that the Twenty-first Century Communications and Accessibility Act, which was signed into law in 2010, puts those provisions into place. It also makes requirements regarding video description on broadcast network television. These are similar in many ways to the requirements that were in place before.
My organization, our center, does not really deal with broadcast television. Video description is an important medium. We are looking into the future, where the vast majority of video will not be consumed via broadcast media. It will be consumed over the Internet. The time is not far away. It's really important for us to recognize that video is an increasingly crucial part of our mass culture, our education, our employment, and our entertainment. The amount of video distributed via the Internet is going to increase to the point where broadcast television will be a vanishingly small portion of the market.
We are looking at a coming day very soon when electronic textbooks will contain embedded video. We're looking ahead to a day when most instructional materials will be provided via YouTube or other video-based informational media. These media present serious challenges to our ability to access the things we want and need. The research center that I run is dealing with those challenges. I'm happy to tell you that we have a number of technological and social approaches to address the needs of the blind students of the future.
I'm going to tell you about a couple of technologies and a couple of programs that we're currently running. The first one, the Descriptive Video Exchange that's in the title of my talk, is a tool we have developed at Smith-Kettlewell that gives anybody, anywhere, the ability to describe anything, so that anybody, anywhere else, can hear the description. This technology uses a web-based server to store and maintain all of the descriptions associated with videos available on the web, on DVD, or from streamed sources such as Netflix. The server does not store the videos. The server only stores the descriptions, along with the identification and timing information. The server works with a video player that plays whatever video you want to watch, along with the stored descriptions.
This system gets around a couple of interesting problems. For example, many videos simply are not described. There is no way to get a described version because it doesn't exist. That's one problem. With this system, anybody anywhere can volunteer to describe that video from their own home and upload the information. Then you, somewhere else, can take advantage of that description and play it back in synchronization with the video that you want to watch. [Applause]
This system does a sort of end run around a number of the issues related to modifying and distributing copyrighted materials. In today's model for video description, it's necessary to record a described version of a film or TV show and redistribute that version. To do that, it's necessary to get permissions. All sorts of legal and financial issues are involved. Our system does not modify or redistribute anybody's copyrighted material. It simply plays the descriptions along with the material from a legitimate source. That means it becomes much simpler to create descriptions.
When I was a kid, when my family went to museums, my mom would say, "Duck under this rope. The statue is right in front of you. I'll tell you if the guard is coming." [Laughter and applause] I think my mom planted a deeply subversive strain in my soul. Sometimes, rather than asking for access to the material that you need, you simply have to take that access. [Applause] A number of people say that what we're doing is legal; a number of other people say it might be legal. We'll find out. Whether or not it is legal, it should be. We are interested in moving the technology forward in a proactive way so that when the time comes, we are ready.
What if you don't have that special video player that knows how to get access to the Descriptive Video Exchange? What if you're at a movie theater, and they don't have descriptive equipment installed? What if you're at a school assembly, and they show a movie that no one thought a blind student would ever need access to? We are developing tools that will use Smartphones and a technology very similar to Shazam. You will be able to listen to the movie that's being played in the room where you are, go to the server, and check to see if description is available. If there is a description, your cell phone can play it for you, synchronized with the video. There can be multiple descriptions using this system. There can be multiple languages. There is an enormous number of possibilities presented by this technology. Fundamentally, we are trying to put tools into the hands of the people who consume the material, rather than in the hands of the people who produce the material. [Applause]
What about quality, you might ask. What ensures that the descriptions recorded on this system are any good? Sites such as Wikipedia have put in place a number of systems to ensure quality. These include the ability to edit, the ability to rate things high or low, and the ability to have trusted describers review other people's descriptions and make sure that quality is maintained.
We want to make certain that the description industry is not left behind. Professionals can use our platform as well. Many of them really look forward to doing so. It would cut costs for them and make it much more convenient for them to get their products out to the market, so the professionals are in this loop.
Up to now, the professional description industry has not had much direct input from blind professionals during the production phase of description. Blind people trained in the needs of blind consumers can give valuable input about how scripts should be written, how they should be recorded, what sort of information should be provided, and when it should be inserted. One of the projects that the center is doing, in collaboration with the National Federation of the Blind, is called the Professional Development Workshop for Description Quality Control Specialists. In May of this year a group of nine blind professionals spent a week at the Jernigan Institute. They trained with some of the best-equipped people in the field on how to create, edit, and ensure quality for description. We are making sure that blind professionals will be involved in this industry from the ground up. When jobs open up and people need to be hired, there will be blind professionals available. [Applause]
We're looking forward to next year's Youth Slam, which includes a media track. Every year the students create a video about Youth Slam itself. In 2013 blind professional describers will be available to teach the students how to create their own described video.
Going into the future, there are a number of things that we need to think about. Video description is no longer a luxury. Video description is now a necessity for access to instructional materials. We must be proactive about the technology, about making sure that there are people prepared to create the descriptions of the future using the technologies we're developing. We need to be proactive in making sure that policy and legislation are ready for us. We need to make sure that the blind students of the future are not locked out of video as they once were locked out of access to textbooks.
I want to thank the National Federation of the Blind for allowing me to speak today about the Description Video Research and Development Center, and I want to thank the NFB for being a partner with us in launching these exciting programs. I was assured that you would be a friendly audience, and you definitely have been. Thank you very much!
by Henry Wedler
Introduction by Dr. Marc Maurer: Henry Wedler, sometimes known as Hoby, participated in the first Rocket On! science academy in 2004. He has established a chemistry camp in California, where he teaches blind high school students from around the country. He works in our science programs at our national headquarters. He is a PhD candidate at the University of California/Davis in computational chemistry. Here is Henry Wedler.
Blindness does not hold people back. On the contrary, society's low expectations with regard to blind people are what hold us back. As blind people who want to make a difference, the first thing we need to do is work hard to raise those expectations and change what society as a whole thinks of blind people. This is very important regarding the study of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the STEM fields. Society often thinks these fields are too visual for blind people to understand. In order to achieve success in these fields, we have to have high expectations of ourselves. We need to show other people around us, both blind and sighted, what we are capable of doing.
I learned that I loved chemistry when I was in eleventh grade. I had a chemistry instructor who really motivated us to understand that chemistry is the most fundamental science. It determines, on a molecular level, how the world and the solar system work. I was fascinated! I loved thinking about chemistry, about how atoms and molecules reacted spatially.
But the instructor believed that it was impractical for a blind person to study chemistry seriously. She didn't understand what blind people could do, and I was just a kid, so I didn't know, either. She thought that I would need to have an assistant help me in chemistry lab, all the time, fourteen hours a day. That just wouldn't be practical.
I really wanted to pursue chemistry, so I went to her at the beginning of second semester. I said, "You've really inspired me to study chemistry. I love it. And nobody can see atoms. Chemistry is a cerebral subject. All the chemistry we study is in our minds. The only thing we use vision for is to see when changes take place."
After that she became my most trusted ally. She was my number one supporter when I said that I wanted to study chemistry in college. [Applause]
As Dr. Maurer said, I first became acquainted with the National Federation of the Blind in 2004, when I was invited to participate in the first ever Rocket On! science academy. I'm from the small town of Petaluma, California. I learned a great deal there, but I didn't meet any blind scientists. I knew a few blind professionals, but honestly, I didn't know if a blind person could study chemistry seriously. Then I went to the national headquarters of the NFB and worked for a week with instructors and mentors, blind people who were studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Seeing blind professionals who were scientists, mathematicians, and engineers convinced me to pursue a college degree in chemistry. If that's not inspiration, I don't know what is!
I entered UC/Davis in the fall of 2005. Ironically, the branch of chemistry I liked the most was the most visual--that is, organic chemistry. Organic chemistry deals with how atoms and molecules fit together in space. I didn't know whether science was going to fail me, so I also studied United States history, and earned a degree in that. (If you haven't been able to tell already, I'm a total nerd!) I liked the math classes associated with chemistry so much that I picked up a minor in mathematics as well.
When I started thinking about graduate school, I almost decided to get a graduate degree in history, even though chemistry is my true passion. I didn't want to have a sighted assistant working with me all the time in the organic chemistry lab. I knew I would do all the chemistry in my mind, but mixing chemicals, looking to see when things happened, I'd need a full-time assistant. I wasn't willing to do that.
Then I met Professor Dean Tantillo at the University of California/Davis. He studies computational organic chemistry, and he believed that a blind student could pursue that field. He convinced me of the possibility when I did summer research with him. He and our group members made the whole laboratory accessible, including the computer interface. By the end of the summer I was doing advanced research in computational organic chemistry with minimal sighted assistance, at the same level as my sighted peers.
This experience persuaded me to apply to the PhD program in computational organic chemistry at Davis. I am now working in the field under Professor Tantillo. I wouldn't have been able to do any of this without the support of the National Federation of the Blind.
In Dean Tantillo's group we have been working on three-dimensional printing so I can feel the geometries of my optimized structures, completely without assistance. We use an innovative approach where we three-dimensionally print files that include completed calculations. I can examine them and use my chemical intuition to make changes necessary for the calculations to work better or differently. Inputting molecules into the computer system is hard without a graphical user interface, so right now I'm heavily involved with a project to develop a three-dimensional scanning process. Through this process we print parts of molecules. It's basically a model-building kit, using a three-dimensional printer. We attach ID tags to each piece. I use three three-dimensional scanners to triangulate and scan these structures that I build by hand, completely unassisted, into the program we use. We can create job files that I can do research on, completing a project from start to finish.
What I learned through this process is that one doesn't have to be sighted to study a very visual subject such as organic chemistry. [Applause] When I discovered this myself, I was so elated that I dreamed of showing other blind kids that they could pursue their dreams, no matter how visual the field seemed to be. With the help of the National Federation of the Blind of California and the California Association of Blind Students, and with the generous support of the Lighthouse for the Blind of San Francisco, I founded and teach at an annual chemistry camp. At the camp we show blind students that they can do whatever they want to do in science. We accept ten blind students from around the country. They conduct hands-on chemistry experiments over a two-day period.
When students come to us, they are very timid about studying organic chemistry, about mixing chemicals. A lot of students ask me, "Where are the sighted assistants? How are we going to do this?" I explain that we're using pipets with tactile markings. These pipets are very inexpensive, and a blind person can use them independently. The students are amazed and a bit terrified to do the work. But after half an hour using these pipets, the students get the idea. Every student left camp wanting to be a scientist! They said, "We can do this!"
One of the programs I did at camp was a cooking unit. Students boiled eggs and talked about the chemistry of cooking an egg. They baked cookies and talked about the flavor chemistry of different cookies. Remarkably to me, more than 50 percent of the students had never set foot in a kitchen when the oven was on; their parents were worried about them burning themselves! At camp students worked in the kitchen, using potholders. They left saying, "Wow! Cooking is a lot of fun! We're going to get our parents to let us cook in their kitchens. We might even be the cooks of the family." [Applause]
One of the students here at convention is Newton Nguyen. Newton is a College Leadership Scholarship grant recipient from California. He graduated with high honors from our first chemistry camp. Like most of the other students, he came in feeling like he wasn't going to be able to do science. He wasn't too sure about himself, but he loved science and he loved thinking about chemistry. He left with a newfound passion and a belief that he could study science. I am very proud to say that Newton is currently an incoming freshman at the University of California/Berkeley, pursuing a degree in physics! His goal is to earn a PhD and become a professor of condensed matter physics.
We were extremely honored back in May when we received one of President Obama's Champions of Change Awards for enhancing employment and education for students with disabilities in science, technology, engineering, and math. The award affirmed that the work we do in the National Federation of the Blind day in and day out is being recognized by the federal government. The work that each and every one of us does is so important! It was music to my heart to know that the federal government realized, understood, and was passionate about our work.
At one point I questioned why I like organic chemistry so much. After I joined Professor Tantillo's research group, I realized that I like it so much because it's a spatial science. When I think about organic chemistry, I use the same skills I use as a blind traveler, skills I've used since the beginning. As I walk from my college chemistry building to the student union, I use a map that I have in my head. Why not make the images and the distances between things much smaller and use the exact same mapping skills to think about atoms and molecules, to do organic chemistry in our minds? The mental process I use to walk from here to the atrium of this hotel (not always an easy task!) is the same process I use to imagine how the electrons move when attaching a chlorine or benzene ring.
My point is that blind people may have an advantage when studying sciences such as chemistry and physics. We can imagine things spatially in a way that we have done throughout our lives. Why not make those distances into light years, tens of thousands of light years, and study cosmology?
Recently I got a job hosting a Tasting in the Dark event at San Francisco Winery. I designed the tasting myself. We show people that you do not have to see to enjoy wine, to enjoy the arts, to enjoy life. Every month we blindfold sighted people for about an hour and a half and demonstrate to them that they don't have to see to enjoy what they're doing. They leave with higher expectations and an understanding that blind people can do a heck of a lot more than they thought. Afterwards one of the future winemakers told me, "We're going to taste all our wines under blindfold now. Without the distraction of vision, we can obtain much more information about the flavor and the chemistry." The winemakers learned that they could use other senses that were enhanced when their vision was not there.
As I close, I will say that we need to dream big. That's what the National Federation of the Blind does. I never could have turned my dreams into reality without the NFB. Ray Kurzweil is someone who knows how to dream. The reading machine that he developed just thirty-seven years ago was the size of a washer and dryer. Now many of you carry it in your pockets today, working just as well as ever.
I challenge all of you to go home and work hard. Know that your hard work and your high expectations for yourselves and the blind people around you can change what it means to be blind. Thank you, and a very good convention to all of you!
by Carol Castellano
From the Editor: Carol Castellano is a past president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and serves the NOPBC as Director of Programs. She is a longtime advocate for the rights of blind children in her home state of New Jersey and across the nation. This article is based on a presentation she delivered at the NOPBC conference in Dallas during the 2012 NFB convention.
In my many years of advocacy for blind/visually impaired children, I have received report after report of children who are reading Braille very slowly or reading below grade level. Why does this phenomenon occur so often? Why might a Braille reader struggle? Could the problem be related to the quality or quantity of Braille instruction? Could it be caused by too much audio and too little time spent reading Braille? Could it be the quality of general reading instruction? Could it be the quality of inclusion in classroom reading activities? Could it be the result of a learning disability? The struggle of an individual child might be caused by any of these factors or by a combination of any or all of them.
What can be done to assist the struggling Braille reader? Theoretically, we could improve the quality and raise the amount of Braille instruction. We could decrease audio and increase Braille reading time. We could raise the quality of classroom reading instruction and provide in-service training for the classroom teacher. We could determine if the student has a learning disability. As many of us know, however, for an array of reasons--personnel and cost constraints, access issues around testing, negative attitudes--these potential fixes are not always easy to achieve. The IEP process does not address the issue of a struggling Braille reader very well. RTI might be a better approach.
As outlined in IDEA 2004 (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Response to Intervention, or RTI, is a new approach to early identification of children at risk for academic and behavior difficulties. Created as an alternative to the IQ/Discrepancy or "wait to fail" method of identifying learning disabilities, RTI seeks to identify problems and provide interventions early, before students fail. Characteristics of RTI include:
Students who are receiving good quality classroom instruction are expected to make progress--or to be "responsive" to instruction. If the student isn't responding to instruction, the RTI process looks more deeply into the matter. Is the child receiving high-quality, research-based instruction that is known to be effective? If not, then the lack of response could be due to poor teaching. If the answer is yes, the child enters the next RTI tier. He/she receives more intensive instruction, probably in a small group. Is the child responding (i.e., learning and progressing) to the more intensive instruction? If not, then he/she receives even more individualized teaching.
Barriers exist to the universal application of RTI in the schools. RTI is controversial in the special education field, with some arguing that it cannot really identify children with learning disabilities and that it is yet unproven. Another difficulty is that RTI methods seem to be in conflict with the usual evaluation procedures of IDEA. Lastly, some school districts are using RTI to delay evaluating children for more expensive special education services. Concern reached the point that the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) issued a memorandum in 2011 forbidding this practice.
Just as RTI has the potential to raise the bottom line for other children, it may hold a great deal of promise for blind/visually impaired students as well. Imagine if blind/visually impaired students were expected to make progress in the classroom just like any other student! As it stands, a slow reading rate and achievement below grade level are too often accepted as the norm. If blind/visually impaired students were included in early universal screening, those with reading difficulties might be identified and prevented from falling farther behind. Constant monitoring of progress, using research-based strategies, and applying a problem-solving approach would be good for blind/visually impaired students. In addition, RTI would emphasize the "sameness" of blind/visually impaired children rather than their "differentness."
The RTI process could also tease out Braille instruction issues, reading instruction issues, and the possibility of a learning disability. It could bypass such all too common refrains as, "Oh, it's the Braille--Braille is slower than print and harder to learn," and "This student must have a learning disability." The problem-solving method of RTI keeps bringing more expertise to the table. A good reading teacher will know when the student is not picking up reading as expected. By screening for the National Reading Panel's "Big Five"--phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension--a teacher could provide explicit instruction in areas of weakness. A good Braille teacher would know when a student is not picking up Braille as expected and could change the focus and intensity of instruction.
As varying approaches to RTI begin to appear in each state, parents and teachers of blind/visually impaired children must be involved in the development of appropriate models, demonstrating that blind/visually impaired students can and should be included. This involvement is especially important in view of the fact that some states are ruling out the use of RTI for blind/visually impaired students from the start. Two general rationales for this exclusion emerge. First is the idea that the student's lack of progress could be caused by the visual impairment itself. In "The Legal Dimension of RTI, Part III: RTI Legal Checklist for SLD Identification," the RTI Action Network asks, "Did the evaluation determine whether the child's lack of sufficient progress is attributable, instead of to SLD [specific learning disability], to primarily any of the following: a visual, hearing, or motor disability? mental retardation? emotional disturbance? cultural factors? environmental or economic disadvantage? limited English proficiency?" [Retrieved from <http://rtinetwork.org/learn/ld/the-legal-dimension-of-rti-part-iii-rti-legal-checklist-for-sld-identification>]
We appreciate the RTI Action Network's attempt to pinpoint factors other than a learning disability that might affect a student's progress. However, we must take issue with the premise that visual impairment in itself is a cause for poor performance. Of course, we emphasize that the blind/visually impaired student must have the appropriate tools and techniques in order to make the progress expected at his/her grade level. In addition, we would express the hope that the RTI process in itself could be the vehicle for determining situations in which the student did not have adequate tools and techniques. Finally, we would argue that excluding blind/visually impaired children from universal screening denies the ones who have learning disabilities the chance for early identification and intervention.
The second basis for excluding blind/visually impaired students that appears in the RTI literature is the idea that, because they are receiving individualized and specialized instruction from a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), they are already in the highest tier of intervention. We must clarify for school districts that the services of the TVI are not the sole determinants of literacy and academic success for blind/visually impaired students. In general, TVI services are intended to help the student compete in the mainstream, facilitating the instruction the student receives in the general education classroom.
An offshoot of the above exclusion basis is illustrated by this excerpt from "Response to Intervention: Georgia's Student Achievement Pyramid of Interventions":
Movement between Tier 1 and Tier 2 is fluid and flexible. Adequate time should be given for the Tier 1 instructional program to be implemented before determining Tier 2 support is needed. However, common sense is critical in assessing student performance and individual responses to Tier 1 instruction (i.e., a student with a documented visual impairment would be provided interventions immediately). [Retrieved from <http://www.centeroninstruction.org/files/RTI%20The%20GA%20Student%20
Again, we applaud the recognition that the provision of blindness services should not be delayed. However, we also need to explain that, while the student should indeed receive these services, he/she should also be included in the universal screening that can identify academic problems and learning disabilities.
What Can Help the Struggling Reader Right Now?
We face a profound lack of research on factors that comprise good Braille reading and good Braille teaching. I hope that that gap in our knowledge will be eliminated soon. In the meantime, I don't see why we shouldn't apply current knowledge about reading in general to our Braille readers. Much is known about the characteristics of good print readers, what works for struggling print readers, and the characteristics of children with learning disabilities. I hardly think that applying this knowledge could make the situation for struggling Braille readers any worse than it is today!
As we work toward needed changes in district, state, and national policy on RTI and apply what is known so that we can assist the struggling Braille reader, we can also encourage research on the relevant questions. These questions include:
If we hold high expectations for our blind/visually impaired students, screen early for problems, provide high quality Braille and reading instruction, intervene for learning disabilities when needed, and monitor progress, I have confidence that the results will be a generation of successful Braille readers.
by Kevin Carey
Introduction by Dr. Marc Maurer: I would like to present to you the person who chairs the Royal National Institute of Blind People, coming to us from London in the United Kingdom. We've had conversations in the past year that suggest tremendous opportunities for international cooperation among entities dealing with blindness. Here is Kevin Carey.
Thank you for receiving me here today. I am deeply conscious of the honor, and I hope that you will not mind the frankness of your guest.
I feel that Braille is on the verge of a global catastrophe as great as that which the music industry faced in the late 1990s, as great as that which now faces books, magazines, and newspapers. If we don't do something radical to save it, we, the baby boomers, will be the last generation to take Braille seriously. I think there are five reasons for this crisis. The reasons are not all bad things; they're just the way it is.
The first reason for the crisis is the emergence of a huge amount of audio material, originally on tapes and CDs. Now there is an increase in spoken-word broadcasting of high quality, particularly on the Internet. The second reason is the decrease in the number of congenitally blind children with no other disabilities. Congenitally blind children were once the bedrock of Braille reading.
The third reason is the one on which I'm going to spend the most time--that is, the mystification and professionalization of Braille teaching and the concentration on coding issues. The fourth is the exorbitant cost of Braille production and consumption, and the fifth is the pressure on public-sector and philanthropic budgets.
If you look at these factors, I think the audio issue is relatively simple. We all like and appreciate audio material, but it is a great mistake to think that audio is a proper educational substitute for learning Braille. [Applause] We in our culture have a very special commitment to learning our tactile medium in the same way that seeing people learn print. With Braille we can make sense of the book, particularly the novel, as the author talks to us, without an intermediary. And what's more, Braille is pretty handy if we want to learn to spell.
In most developed countries, the number of blind children with no additional disabilities is falling, while the number of blind children with additional disabilities is on the rise. For the past hundred and twenty years, congenitally blind children have been the life force behind Braille, and there's much less of that force now.
The third reason for the Braille crisis is the biggest one. I use the term mystification because of a large and complex problem area. I see it in terms of four elements: contracted Braille, single signs with multiple meanings, complex rules, and reversibility problems. These factors have meant that the major focus of Braille advocates and Braille authorities, teachers, and publishers has been on rather arcane coding issues. Instead they might have concentrated energies on the simplification of coding and layout, as well as promotion and marketing. In recent months I have received inquiries from people in some of the poorest countries in the world, asking if they should set up a Braille authority, while most of their blind kids don't have access to Braille at all. This orientation shows that the gateway to learning Braille has been operated by professionals instead of Braille being an easily accessible, mass-market product.
Finally, nobody who contemplates the budgetary tribulations of California or ponders South Korea's decision to phase out all paper books from its education system by 2015, can doubt that the cost of Braille is going to put a lot of pressure on expenditure.
My broad conceptual proposal for saving Braille is to democratize it. Take Braille out of the hands of the professionals, and put it into the hands of the people. [Applause] To this end, I have six proposals. Default Braille to teaching uncontracted Braille, provide code choices, promote multimodal self-teaching, create a marketing realm for products, promote Braille embossing, and slash the cost of refreshable Braille.
I think that people like me who promote simplification have been misunderstood. Two key words in the proposals have got to be taken very seriously. They are default and choice. I'll say as strongly and clearly as I can that I'm not proposing to abolish contracted Braille or to prevent anybody who wants to learn and use it from being taught it and having access to texts in it. I am saying that educators should not automatically swallow huge quantities of curriculum time insisting that blind children learn contracted Braille, but should consider it in the context of all the child's competing needs. From my world travels, I suspect that the promotion of contracted Braille depends upon the teacher's love for it rather than the need of the student. Current information technology allows us to give people the choice between contracted and uncontracted Braille. I simply propose uncontracted Braille because it's easier for some people who are struggling with it now, and because I have a great belief in the people out there who want to learn Braille but find it too daunting and difficult.
Regarding code choice, I want to congratulate you in the NFB on your courageous decision yesterday to go with Unified English Braille for the literary code. I came into contact with this controversy with the first proposal in 1989. A quarter of a century is long enough! For literary Braille we want all the advantages that will come with a global market. [For more about the Unified Braille Code controversy, see Robertson elsewhere in this issue.]
Frankly, on both sides of the Atlantic, we've made fools of ourselves over these issues. We've made the mistake that the visually impaired have made down the ages--the same mistake we made over residential education versus mainstreaming, sheltered versus open employment, the merits of Braille versus large print for partially sighted students. The mistake is for one side to think that it has to have a total victory over the other side, until we fight ourselves to a standstill. You did a fantastic job yesterday in breaking that deadlock.
How can it be that in the United Kingdom and the United States, with our belief in markets and choice, we haven't allowed the market to show us a cost and a preference regarding Braille? The hand-to-hand fighting is over, and it's time to move on. This makes me wonder what Braille authorities are for. I think there are things they can do that organizations of and for blind people can't do, such as answering coding questions quickly.
I believe that the real problem of Braille is something in its history. Often Braille has been seen as an elite subject. Braille has been produced at high cost in publishing houses for a small number of people. Because of the contractions, Braille has been difficult to learn. We need to make learning Braille a much simpler and more friendly proposition.
Let me start with how you learn Braille. I'll begin by telling two stories. In a small school for blind children in the shadow of the Himalayas, I saw blind children working like monks from the Middle Ages. They were copying old Braille texts with stylus and slate, replicating previous mistakes and adding new ones. At the other end of the spectrum, not very long ago I went to one of the most advanced centers for rehabilitation training in the world. Newly partially sighted people were working in one room with screens and Braille displays and synthetic speech. They were doing very nicely. The newly totally blind Braille readers were in a room on their own. They had a couple of bits of paper as if it were a punishment. That can't be!
We need to get away from the idea that Braille is difficult to learn and that it is supplied by a cartel of special instructors. We must stop viewing it as expensive, narrow in its product range, and insensitive to consumer preference. We must refuse to see it as a mark of failure, as it was seen in the case I just described.
Instead of Braille being produced in printing houses, it is quite possible now for some of us to emboss it at home. Home embossing might mean that we need subsidies on Braille paper and Braille printers, rather than the subsidy being eaten up by the Braille printing houses. If I can use a scanner and produce a whole novel in my house in a day, what are the Braille printing houses doing? [Applause]
Probably the biggest obstacle for Braille is the criminal price of refreshable Braille displays. [Applause] This subject needs to be tackled on a global basis. We need an absolute technology breakthrough. I'm pleased to say that your president, Dr. Maurer, and I are of one mind. The NFB and the Library of Congress in the United States and the Royal National Institute of Blind People in England are leading a global initiative to bust the market open so that the cost of Braille displays comes down by at least 75 percent. [Applause] We won't stop until we've done it!
For too long, Braille has been the prisoner of a congenitally blind, highly educated elite. If it stays that way, it will die with us. If we are as passionate about its future as we are about its present and past, we have a duty to do for Braille what the digital recording did for music and what the word processor did for publishing. The mistake of the music and publishing industries was to see the future in terms of the past. The industries will recover only when they see the new situation as an opportunity and not as a threat. We should turn our tradition on its head and make Braille a consumer-focused entity, easy to learn, flexibly available, and responsive to market forces.
We've spent far too long burying our heads in our code books, oblivious to a changing world that will not wait for us. In a manner that is repeated over and over again in history, we've adopted the classic defensive posture of the besieged, arguing over ever more arcane points as the enemy's grip tightens.
It is time to break out! It is time to abandon old quarrels and let the citizen and the consumer decide. It's time to abandon old prejudices, and to read and respect research. It's time to recognize the new technologies for Braille production. It's time to plan for an era when public expenditures will decrease, and when philanthropy might falter. Above all, it's time to think of ourselves not as the custodians of a precious past, but as the advocates for an exciting future. We blind people on both sides of the Atlantic need to take Braille out of the hands of the professionals and into our own hands. We want to have the big say on the Braille authorities. We want to be able to simplify Braille and to make it cheap. If Braille isn't ours, it's nobody's.
by Gigi Newton
From the Editor: Gigi Newton is an early intervention specialist with the Texas Deafblind Project sponsored by the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI). During the 2012 NOPBC conference she conducted a workshop on Active Learning (AL), the intervention approach developed by Dr. Lilli Nielsen. She developed this article based on the presentation she gave at the NOPBC conference.
You could say I'm a Lilli Nielsen groupie. Dr. Lilli Nielsen is the pioneer of the Active Learning approach. A native of Denmark, she researched and developed equipment to help children become active learners. She was the first educator ever to be knighted by the Queen of Denmark, based on her dedication to helping individuals with visual impairment and blindness.
Lilli has been in the field of education for over forty-five years. Her research is based on her work with blind/visually impaired children with and without other disabilities. You can read about her research in her book Space and Self.
When I went to my first Lilli Nielsen conference twenty-two years ago, I didn't like Lilli at all. I had spent many years doing the wrong things for kids. As a teacher, I was taught to talk to kids, to teach them language by talking and talking. I was taught to use the hand-over-hand method, to take hold of a child's hands and help him or her manipulate objects. By making the child touch things, I thought I was desensitizing the child to things in the environment. Sometimes kids bit me or pinched me, and I didn't understand why that happened. I wasn't picking up the subtle hints kids gave me. When I grabbed their hands and they bit me, they were saying, "I don't like this!" That was communication!
I was working in early childhood intervention programs, and we developed goals for each child. We had to come up with goals for gross motor and fine motor skills. I saw it as my job to make the kids do all of the things on my list. I forgot to sit back and watch the children. If I sit back and observe, they show me how they get information into their neurological systems so it can make sense to them.
When I say that I didn't like Lilli, I really mean it! I couldn't stand her! She said everything I'd been taught in college was wrong. First of all, she said, "Be quiet. Stop talking to the kids!" I thought, Well, excuse me! How else am I going to put language into them? I was constantly running my mouth when I was with the kids. My daddy used to say I'd talk to a fencepost! But Lilli said children learn by experiencing things. That's what she was teaching us.
Another thing Lilli told us was, "Never, ever touch a child's hands!" I'd been taught that when you want to show something to a blind child, you take the kid's hand and put it on the object. You want to show the child how to do something, you put the kid's hand through the motions. Lilli said that was all wrong. She said the child will explore on his own or her own, once we make the environment interesting enough.
It was a five-day conference, and for the first three days I was very unhappy. Then I fell in love with Lilli. There were a hundred and twenty-five of us adults listening to her, and there was one little boy in the audience. None of us even noticed him. He sat in his wheelchair, not moving, not crying, not making a sound, for three days.
Then Lilli looked over at him and said, "There is no reason for that child to be bored. Put him on the Resonance Board and give him a little break."
She put him on the Resonance Board and continued to lecture. Pretty soon we heard giggling. We heard laughter. We heard toys clattering. This child, who had sat in a wheelchair without moving for three days, had become active. He was laughing! There's nothing better than hearing a child laugh!
After that conference I realized I had been doing many, many things wrong. At the time I thought I was doing what was best. I have apologized to a lot of parents.
When I began to use Lilli's Active Learning approach, I was afraid I would lose my job. If an administrator came to watch me, I would just be sitting there. It looked as though I wasn't doing anything. I'm not afraid to talk to administrators now. I can explain what I do and why I do it.
Teachers and caregivers tend to place children on soft surfaces such as blankets or rugs. However, a soft surface doesn't provide much information to a blind child. For instance, when the child drops a toy, there is no sound to indicate where it landed. It simply disappears.
The Resonance Board is a thin, flexible sheet of wood that gives tactile and auditory feedback whenever the child moves. When the child kicks the board, there is a sound and a vibration. This feedback encourages the child to repeat the movement, and eventually to experiment with other movements as well. The child moves independently, without an adult manipulating his or her body.
Sounds created by the child's movements resonate from the wood. This immediate feedback can help the brain integrate motor activity and listening skills.
I've gotten some very odd looks from physical therapists! I remember one child I visited at home. He was lying on a rug, his legs scissored, his back so arched you could see underneath it. The physical therapist said, "You're not going to put him on that board, are you? It's got no padding!"
Before the session was over, the child's extension had broken up. He had used his hands at midline, and he was bending his knees so that the soles of his feet rested on the board. That night the physical therapist called me. She said, "You need to know that in the three years I've seen him, this is the first time he has ever moved that way without adult intervention." She was a big believer in the Resonance Board after that!
The Resonance Board can be used in a variety of ways. Here are some examples.
1. The child lies alone on the board with favorite items around her.
2. An adult sits with the child and offers favorite items. The adult is the child's playmate, not a teacher. The adult does not talk or do hand-over-hand with the child.
3. The child uses the board inside the Little Room. The adult is an observer. The adult notes what the child is doing and tries to determine which are the child's favorite items and activities. By collecting this data, the adult learns what interests the child; those items of interest can be used in other environments to support progress.
The Little Room is an environment that allows the child to play and explore without distraction or interference. Lilli Nielsen developed her idea of the Little Room based on what she calls the "denning effect." She observed that children up to the developmental age of eleven seek out and enjoy dens, or small, enclosed spaces. As she states in Space and Self, the first room for human beings is in mommy's uterus. As a child grows, the possible denning areas can include the corner of the crib, a kitchen cupboard, the space under a table, the corner behind a chair or couch, or a tent created by draping a blanket over pieces of furniture. I am well over the developmental age of eleven, and I have always been a denner. My current den is a nice, warm bath in the tub. It provides comfort and joy for me. It allows me to enter a calm, peaceful emotional state.
If the child with vision loss can't yet get to or make her own den, the space must come to her. This is the idea behind the Little Room. Dr. Nielsen spent three years researching and testing the Little Room's size and design. It is essential for the child to be able to touch the walls. This is a critical difference between the Little Room and commercially available, open-air, standing activity frames. Adequate ventilation is also crucial. There must be enough oxygen supply that the child can be active and will not fall asleep. The need for proper ventillation is one of the reasons cardboard boxes should not be used.
The items in the Little Room, made of materials such as wood, metal, and fabric, are suspended from the walls with elastic cords. They are within easy reach, and the child can comfortably examine and play with them. When the child releases an item, it returns to its original location. Therefore, the child can locate the item again and repeat the activity. This repetition builds memory for the child. If the child needs time to process what he has done, no adult is hovering over him to interfere. We all know how important it is to have unbroken concentration when we're learning something new. If someone breaks our train of thought, we may not be able to pick up where we left off. We may have to start all over again to learn the new information.
Dr. Nielsen has developed a Functional Scheme Assessment. The assessment is a list of learning skills that can occur when a child uses the Little Room. Here is a sample:
Spatial awareness of objects in relation to the child's body
Ability to grasp objects
Ability to let go of objects
Exploration of objects
Comparison between objects
Mouthing of objects
Separation of objects
Development of auditory skills such as:
When an adult shakes a rattle or other sound toy for the blind child, the child is just hearing a random sound. The sound has no true meaning, and no learning can occur. The child cannot associate the sound with that particular toy. However, when the child can make a sound with an object, he gains an understanding of causation and a sense of mastery. He will repeat the sound and learn that his movement made the sound occur. Then he can start to compare that sound with other sounds.
Lilli Nielsen developed Active Learning as a way to work with blind and deafblind children who are functioning at a developmental age of four years or younger. The approach also has been effective with blind and visually impaired children who have additional disabilities such as autism or cerebral palsy. To benefit from this approach, the child should have access to Active Learning equipment such as the Little Room and the Resonance Board on a daily basis.
Lilli has used Active Learning with people all across the chronological age spectrum, from infants and toddlers to adults fifty years old. I have used the Resonance Board and the Little Room with infants and children and even with a twenty-one-year-old. The individuals had various degrees of functional vision, hearing, and motor skills.
Active Learning equipment can help a child regulate his bio-behavioral states. One mother described her son's first experience with the Resonance Board and Little Room. For the first time in over a year after a serious illness, he was able to calm himself without her physical intervention. When she placed him in the Little Room, he fussed and started to cry. As he flailed his arms, he accidentally hit an object, and he became curious about it. He started to interact with the object, and through this activity began the process of calming himself down. The activity was repeated over and over again for at least forty-five minutes. The mother cried with joy.
I have seen many exciting, amazing things happen for children through Active Learning. I have seen many parents shed tears when their children did things in the Little Room that they had not been able to do before. The children were having fun, and learning was taking place. Teachers of the visually impaired report that children with cortical visual impairment (CVI) appear to start using their functional vision in the Little Room, and use of their visual skills continued outside this environment.
I must caution that, without care, mistakes can be made. The Little Room must be set up with attention to the interests of the individual child. If the Little Room is set up with objects that are not interesting to the child or objects that are incorrectly placed, adults may conclude that the child did not like the experience.
The Active Learning approach has taught me to wait and observe the child. The child will tell me what she needs in order to learn new information. It is my job to set up the environment so she can get what she needs. Lilli Nielsen believes that every child can learn, and every child has the right to learn.
Thank you for allowing me to share some information and a few of my stories. Please feel free to contact me at (512) 206-9272 or GigiNewton@tsbvi.edu.
LilliWorks Active Learning Foundation
2517 Blanding Ave., Suite 110
Alameda, CA 94501
LilliWorks Active Learning Foundation is the only North American distributor of Active Learning equipment authorized by Lilli Nielsen. The foundation's mission is to advance Active Learning through equipment, education, and research. LilliWorks also supplies Dr. Nielsen's books and her videos on DVD.
TSBVI Active Learning Website
This site offers links to articles on Active Learning and provides information about upcoming workshops and conferences.
Contact: Kate Hurst, (512) 206-9224
TSBVI Outreach has begun a monthly discussion group, via Adobe Connect, to share information about Active Learning. The third Statewide Active Learning Conference will be held in Houston, Texas, June 19 and 20, 2013.
by David Hurd
From the Editor: Dr. David Hurd is a professor of geosciences at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. With his colleague, Dr. Cass Runyon, a professor of geosciences at the College of Charleston, he conducted a series of workshops called "Out of This World" with children in NFB Childcare.
During the 2012 NFB convention in Dallas, my colleague, Cass Runyon, and I shared the wonders of space with a group of blind and sighted children in NFB Childcare. This opportunity was made possible through the innovative education and public outreach programs sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA. Cass and I directed several sessions with the children, each involving a lesson on space science. Activities included discovering how much a can of Coke weighs on the moon and the various planets, and learning how the atmosphere of each planet is different. Using tactile materials and models, the children learned about our solar system and even participated in a "planetary fashion show." They discovered the obvious and subtle differences between Earth, Earth's moon, and Mars, and learned about the distances between them.
To help the kids better understand the relative sizes of and distances between the planets, we gave them the opportunity to explore our book, A Tactile Guide to the Solar System. Written by Cass and me and published by NASA, the book incorporates text and tactile graphics.
We have also written two other Braille and tactile books published by NASA. The new books highlight the surfaces of the moon and Mars. Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters explores the craters and crater types on the moon. Each tactile illustration is accompanied by a detailed description and includes a scale centimeter bar. The bar allows blind and sighted learners to estimate crater diameter and depth. This book combines math and discovery without the student even knowing that she/he is doing math and science.
With the help of tactile illustrator John Matelock, Cass and I set out to make the tactile pictures "feel like they look." This process entailed the use of an assortment of materials to make up the masters for the tactile graphics. The graphics were beta tested on a carefully selected group of blind individuals, some gifted tactile readers and some novices. All of them had some background in science. The testing helped the development team tweak each illustration until it feels the way it actually looks and appropriately displays the book's science content.
Each child who participated in the "Out of This World" sessions was given a copy of the newest book to take home. Each of the books includes a CD with the text in an accessible PDF and a professionally recorded audio file. The books are also available with full large-print and Braille text upon request. The books are produced by a company called Haptically Speaking. They can be ordered from <www.hapticallyspeaking.com>. Each title is also available in Braille Ready File format (BRF). The books are distributed free of charge. If interested in a BRF file, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or Cass Runyon at email@example.com to request a copy.
A third book introduced to the workshop participants was just completed this year. It includes an overview of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory and Curiosity Rover, the spacecraft that is now exploring Mars. Through detailed descriptions and five tactile illustrations, readers are introduced to the surface features on Mars and to Gale crater, where Curiosity Rover landed in July.
As anyone can feel, Gale crater stands in stark contrast to the moon's craters explored in Getting a Feel for Lunar Craters. The children quickly discovered that the central peak of Gale is much higher than the crater rims. This is not the case with any craters found on the moon. The Mars tactile book goes on to give a tactile and written explanation of how such a mountain might form inside a crater. It is always fun to see the lightbulbs come on in a person's head when he or she is allowed to explore independently. We try to use an inquiry approach to science. Instead of simply telling students the answers, we let them discover through guided instruction.
Our next project is a tactile book that will highlight the rocks and minerals found on the moon. These minerals have been identified by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, an instrument aboard the orbiter Chandrayaan-1. Discussion is also underway about developing a tactile book that will highlight Pluto and the New Horizon mission, scheduled to reach Pluto in 2015. Another book might summarize the findings of the Mars Science Laboratory.
In closing, here is a hands-on lesson on how much a can of Coke weighs on the various planets. Although some knowledge of math and the concept of gravity are important for a full understanding, this exercise is simplified for all.
What you will need:
An unopened can of Coke
9 empty pop cans
a LOT of BBs
What you do:
Fill each of the empty pop cans with enough BBs so that the weight (in grams) is close to the number given below:
Earth, 383g (approximate mass of unopened can of Coke)
Earth's moon 65g
A scale at a local grocery store works well for this!
This activity is great for tactile learning and gives students a better understanding of the differences found throughout our solar system.
by Kim Cunningham
From the Editor: To the general public, a fashion show may seem to be primarily a visual experience, and the idea of a blind fashion model might seem a contradiction in terms. Yet, under the direction of Kim Cunningham of the Texas Parents of Blind Children, a group of blind models challenged expectations and learned about style and poise at the 2012 convention of the National Federation of the Blind.
In the fall of 2011 Carol Castellano, director of programs for the NOPBC, approached me about putting together a style show during the 2012 National Federation of the Blind Convention in Dallas. Carol had recently attended a style show that involved blind adult models. She thought that teaching our blind and visually impaired children about style and poise would be a lot of fun for everyone, and I agreed. While I had never organized such an event before, I was willing to tackle the challenge. I believed that the event would be a great teaching tool.
We all know that people are judged by their appearance and level of self-confidence. I always encouraged my blind daughter to be aware of her physical appearance. If we expect our blind children to compete for jobs, we must teach them how to present themselves to the public. When our children go to school or apply for jobs, they should be aware of their attire and should understand how others perceive their body language. Confidence comes from the inside out. Teaching our blind and visually impaired children about current fashions, hairstyles, and accessories will strengthen their ability to build friendships and will help them feel confident in who they are. Our children must learn to show others that they are capable and able to fit into whatever situation they encounter at school or at work. We can teach our kids all they need to know for academic success, but if they don't have the tools to fit in socially, they will have a much harder time competing as adults. With all of this in mind, I embraced the challenge of the style show!
Style is not limited to those who have sight. If you attended the NFB national convention in Dallas last summer, you may have witnessed children learning about their own sense of style. The NOPBC held its first style show for students ages five to twenty-five. Applications were sent out six weeks prior to the convention, and all blind young people were eligible to take part.
At the style show, students had the opportunity to walk the catwalk wearing their outfit of choice. Models wore everything from formal dresses to swimsuit attire. Fancy shoes, hats, and jewelry were donned during the show. Some models even decorated their canes!
To prepare for this event, all of the children and young adults went through several rehearsals. They learned the layout of the room as well as the catwalk path. Volunteers worked with the kids to show them the correct posture and how to strut their stuff while they walked down the runway.
After rehearsal, the students quickly changed into their modeling clothes and awaited the cue to walk. As each model walked into the room, the audience heard a bit about him or her, such as name, home state, and hobbies. Once the music began, each model walked with cane in hand down the runway toward the front of the room. The audience cheered, and the models walked with confidence galore! When the models hit their cues they stopped, turned, and struck a pose.
After a thank-you cue was given, each model left the runway to change quickly into Outfit Number Two. Each child or young adult was given the freedom to create his or her own pose and walking style. The only requirement was to have fun!
For the finale, all of the models walked back to the front of the room as a group. They stood together, shoulder to shoulder, and answered random questions from the emcee. Questions ranged from "What is your favorite part of the NFB convention?" to "What do you want to be when you grow up?" It was our intention to give our young people the opportunity to be interviewed while speaking into a microphone. If you haven't used a microphone before, hearing your voice amplified can make you a little nervous. All of our students proudly took their turns and answered questions for the audience. The models took a final bow together and left the room to a standing ovation!
I was so proud of every model who took part in the style show. We had hoped for a positive outcome, and that is what we got! Students learned about the various styles the others wore and how we each are unique in our style choices. They learned that holding the shoulders back shows confidence. They learned how to be interviewed and how to show confidence with the power of their voices. All were given the opportunity to walk independently using their canes to discover their surroundings.
I would like to thank Pamela Gebert, Sandra Oliver, and Lety Flores for their help with the planning of this event. Sandra and Lety purchased miscellaneous items for goody bags that were given to each participant as a thank-you for their time. The goody bags were donated by the NOPBC and the Texas Parents of Blind Children. I would also like to thank my husband, Bobby Cunningham, who assisted me with the music and photography. Bobby donated a fashion portrait to each model. What a great team!
If you plan to attend the 2013 NFB national convention in Orlando, Florida, next summer, please encourage your children to apply to walk. Feel free to contact me if you would like to be sent an application. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Natae Jones-Beasley
From the Editor: Natae Jones-Beasley was formerly a school counsellor. She and her husband have two children and live in rural Tennessee.
It was our first convention. Why did we choose to go this time? Well, our son wasn't old enough to attend before. Actually, he wasn't born yet--that's our excuse!
My husband and I have been blessed with a blind baby. Our son, Moses (or Mo, as we like to call him), was only ten months old when our family made the journey to Dallas on a hot June day. We weren't sure what to expect, flying to the annual NFB convention, especially since we came from several states away and had our toddler and baby in tow. We simply knew that, even though we were at the very start of our journey, the NFB convention and NOPBC conference would be invaluable resources.
I could write many paragraphs about the beautiful venue, the insightful workshops, the motivating speakers, and the wonderful people we met. Instead, I want to share a couple of my "aha!" moments. I had many of them, but the following really linger.
I enter the first session of the NOPBC conference and listen to some college-age blind kids talk about their lives and their plans for the future. A young man is speaking; he really seems to have his life together. He's a kid who is going places. When I see him up close, his wandering eye reminds me of my baby. I have never before seen another kid like this. I feel I am getting a glimpse of the wonderful possibilities that lie ahead for my little one. What a refreshing moment!
One evening, my family is going to a gathering of parents. While we wait in line, me with Mo on my hip, several mothers of blind children chat with us. They immediately recognize Mo's blindness, and they swoon over him. It feels so welcoming! Typically, talking with strangers about Mo goes something like this:
Random Stranger in Grocery Store: Look at him! He's so cute! He's so sleepy, he can barely keep his eyes open.
Me (nicely, with a will to educate): He's not sleepy. He is blind.
Insert various startled reactions.
For the first time ever, it is:
Curious Stranger: He's darling! Is he blind?
Me: Yes, he is.
Insert gushing and ah-ing.
A couple of years ago, I could have been one of those startled strangers in the grocery store. I never imagined that one day I would be the mother of a blind child. I never foresaw how special it would be to meet a baby like our Mo. As I talked with other parents at convention, I knew I was at the beginning of an unexpected, but enormously wonderful, journey.
We definitely took home more than we brought with us to Dallas. The most important thing we carried away was a sense of belonging. Not only are we more connected with the parents of blind children and the blind community, but we have made new friends who also have blind babies! Yes, they do exist! We particularly hit it off with two other couples. We all have babies only a few months apart. One of those babies has the same diagnosis as Mo. We felt an instant bond. It was like bumping into old friends. We keep up regularly on Facebook. I can't wait to see these friendships grow and bloom for our children.
My advice to parents of blind babies? Take advantage of what the NFB and NOPBC have to offer. The best thing we can do is to start building a strong and positive foundation for our families. I'm glad we jumped right in and attended our first convention. We want to offer every opportunity to Moses, and I know this was a perfect start.
Hey, why not start at zero?
by Frances Benally
From the Editor: Frances Benally is the mother of four children, the oldest of whom is legally blind. In her free time, she is a graduate student in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at the University of New Mexico.
When my daughter, Arianna, and I had the opportunity to attend the annual NFB convention, we had a lot of questions. Ari was diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia at six months old, began using a white cane at age three, and started learning Braille when she was five. Now Ari is seven. She has low vision and is in first grade. So far, we had heard almost nothing about the NFB. The only blind people we knew were a few of Ari's teachers and peers.
One day, Ari brought home a flier about a scholarship to the NFB national convention, offered by our state's NFB affiliate. Luckily, we applied and won, but we still did not know much about the Federation. We had never attended any meetings, and we knew only two members.
We had no idea what to expect at the convention. Would Ari feel comfortable in an environment with so many other blind people? How would I, her sighted mom, fit in? How would we converse with or be acknowledged by people who had less eyesight than Ari has? What would the meetings be about? The questions went on and on as we anxiously awaited our trip to Dallas.
I was glad that Ari's father, Aaron, was able to attend the convention with us. When we arrived at the Hilton Anatole Hotel, we instantly were surprised at how many white canes we saw. There was tapping everywhere as blind adults navigated the vast lobby. "Look at all the blind people!" Ari exclaimed. She is the only blind person in our family. She had just finished her first year in public school, where sighted kids taunted her and called her "blind girl." Ari had never known that kind of ridicule before. It hurt her to think that her blindness was seen as something bad. Simply being in that hotel lobby with so many other blind people made her more comfortable with herself. It gave her more than anything our family or her teachers could provide by telling her that being blind is okay.
Our first full day of convention began with the opening meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). We were welcomed by everyone there, and Ari began to meet other blind children. During the meeting NFB President Dr. Marc Maurer said a few words and answered questions from the children. Then Parnell Diggs spoke about his trials and tribulations as a blind person. My husband and I were overwhelmed as we heard how blind people are discriminated against and find ways to enlighten others about blindness. We were overjoyed to know that there are blind role models for our daughter to look up to, role models that we, as sighted people, cannot always be for her. She could now see for herself that blind people are in no way inferior to sighted people.
The NOPBC kept us busy over the next couple of days with workshops on Braille, the Nemeth Code, reading tactics, and tactile instruction. We started to think that the convention was a series of workshops for small groups. Yet we found out that the general sessions are the heart of the convention.
During this time we had the great fortune to meet a fellow New Mexican, Veronica Smith, who is a chapter president. She quickly took us under her wing and became our companion for the duration of convention. She is now our very good friend.
The general meetings were absolutely life-changing. I had never imagined such a concentration of blind people, representing all fifty states, all wanting equality and independence. It was truly inspiring to hear Dr. Maurer, Anil Lewis, and others speak so eloquently and passionately about causes close to their hearts and, though I had not known it before, so close to mine. I had not understood how the issues they discussed affect my daughter, directly and indirectly. I realized that the NFB is absolutely the best place for Ari and our family to be.
For years I thought there were so few people affected by blindness that we were practically alone. Finally my family and I have found a place where we belong, a place where we can ask questions about things that trouble us, a place where being blind is more than acceptable. It is a place where we can relate to the stories other parents tell, a place where Ari can learn to accept being called the blind girl without fear of being subordinate to sighted people. The NFB is a place where Ari is accepted as an intelligent, spirited, kind, beautiful, outgoing person who can do anything she sets her mind to do. Ari had such a great time at convention that she has already made us promise we will attend again next year.
Sometimes people can look back on an experience or event and know that it changed the course of their lives for the better. The NFB convention was a turning-point in my family's life. We found enlightenment and support for all of us, especially for our daughter. Since the convention, we have joined our local NFB chapter, and we will continue sharing the positive NFB philosophy of attaining equality, self-confidence, and self-respect for blind people. We will work to spread acceptance and understanding of blindness by supporting each other, sharing in our successes, and finding solutions.
by Casey L. Robertson
From the Editor: At the meeting of the NFB Board of Directors, Cathy Jackson presented the 2012 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award to Casey L. Robertson of Mississippi. Casey later addressed the NOPBC board, describing her work and her philosophy of teaching.
Introduction by Cathy Jackson: The Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award is a very important award that we in the National Federation of the Blind have established because of our belief in and hopes for our children. This year's recipient has the ability to teach, but first and foremost she has the heart, the spirit, and the philosophy of a true Federationist. She is a natural TVI. Our winner was a student of Dr. Ruby Ryles, and Dr. Ryles gave her a glowing report. I would like to present this beautiful plaque and a check in the amount of one thousand dollars to Casey L. Robertson.
I'd like to read the inscription on the plaque. It says, "The National Federation of the Blind honors Casey L. Robertson, Distinguished Educator of Blind Children, for your skills in teaching Braille and other alternative techniques of blindness, for graciously devoting extra time to meet the needs of your students, and for empowering your students to perform beyond expectations. You champion our movement, you strengthen our hopes, you share our dreams. July 2, 2012."
Casey Robertson: Thank you for honoring me by letting me address such a wonderful group of parents today. I am very honored to be this year's Distinguished Educator of Blind Children and to be here with you, the parents of blind children. You are your child's first teachers. There are many great teachers of blind students out there. I have learned from great teachers such as Ruby Ryles, Krystal Guillory, Amy Phelps, Kristen Sims, and many more.
I like to think that God brought me to teaching. The NFB brought me to the proper attitude, provided excellent training, and taught me how to provide the chance for blind students young and old to achieve their dreams of being independent. I want to share with you today some of my teaching experience and some of my thoughts.
Change is one of the most feared processes at any time of life. People fear change almost as much as they fear blindness and Braille. It is human nature to resist change. However, as Federationists, we must embrace the process of change to move forward and make the dreams of our students come true.
In our nation, general education and the education of blind students are in a crisis. Other populations of students are in even greater crisis--our children with low vision and those with multiple disabilities. I believe that the crisis is due to the stigmas and misconceptions attached to blindness and the belief that these students are simply meant to lag behind.
I also believe there is another reason. I believe that part of the crisis is due to the fact that parents and teachers are often caught up unknowingly in what I call the "bystander" effect. That is, the more people involved in a situation or process, the less likely anyone is to step forward and try to create change. Everyone thinks that someone else will do it. Outside the education setting, if a person collapses on the street, it is statistically proven that the more people present, the less likely it is that a person will step forward and provide help. People wait for someone else to take charge.
The National Federation of the Blind is an organization that helps parents and teachers overcome this phenomenon. NFB and its parents' division, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, offer an abundance of knowledge, expertise, and assistance in the change process.
Change starts with one person, one idea, or one need. Recently in Mississippi we saw the need for a change in our state's Braille bill. For seventeen years, professionals and parents in our state had been restricted because our Braille bill ensured only minimal services for our blind students. This situation was unacceptable. We, as the NFB, do not accept minimal standards. We want the standards to be high. We want great services for our kids.
After many parents unsuccessfully attempted to receive services and books for their blind children, they wanted to sue the Mississippi Department of Education. As lawyers looked at the existing Braille bill, however, they realized that our Department of Education (DOE) was meeting the very minimal standards that the law required. One parent, Wingfield Bouchard, and I looked at laws around the country. We discovered that Mississippi had the weakest Braille bill of any state. We rewrote the bill over a single weekend of long hours. The legislative team at the National Center for the Blind read the proposed bill to make sure it was acceptable. After making a few small changes in wording, the National Center endorsed the bill and we set out to find a sponsor.
Within a week, through a friend's connections, we secured the sponsorship of Rep. Tom Miles, a freshman Democrat who was eager to learn more. We did not seek help from the Department of Education; it had used its influence to weaken the previous bill. When our bill was introduced to the legislature, we had bipartisan support, with a lead sponsor and twenty-two cosponsors.
We went directly into a full-blown effort to educate the senators and representatives about the needs and realities of blind students in our state. We knew we had to educate these elected officials before they could truly understand the issues. Working with the state parents' group, we held informative luncheons where kids read Braille and spoke about their needs. We sent out emails every other day with facts about blindness. We gave out treats that had facts and statistics listed on them. Parents made photo collages of children reading Braille and children who had been denied Braille instruction, struggling to read print with their faces pressed to the page. We made a must-see YouTube video of two students, "House Bill 960." Here is the link: <www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvI_IhdzytY>. We included the link in every email we sent to senators, representatives, and the media.
The Department of Education soon found out about the bill. On the next to last day that the Education Committee was in session, the DOE used its influence to pressure the committee not to bring up the bill. However, we already had drawn up friendly amendments to make compromises with the DOE in order to keep our bill intact.
Then, after all of the compromises and agreements were made, the DOE submitted an alternative bill to the Senate with weaker language. Once again the bill said that students "may" receive services instead of "shall" receive services. The DOE bill passed in the Senate. Due to our efforts at education, the House refused to accept the "may" language and replaced it with "shall." Minor changes in wording can mean the difference between a weak bill and a strong one, the difference between services and no services. Our bill also ensured that students would receive research-based assessments to determine print or Braille as the primary reading medium. It required that they will also have access to books and curriculum materials at the same time as their sighted peers. HB 960, the Blind Persons' Literacy Rights and Education Act, passed in the House and the Senate. It was signed by the governor on April 24, 2012, and on July 1, 2012, it went into effect.
Our bill did not require any expenditures from the state. However, as a connection, we made sure that funding was added to another bill to provide for better training for teachers of the blind and visually impaired. This change was created by a simple idea and the desire for excellence for our children.
It is critical for parents to be informed on issues affecting students. Don't expect your teacher of the visually impaired to inform you on everything your child needs or on current issues in the field of blindness education. Not all TVIs have been trained to believe that blind students can be independent and that low-vision and multiply-disabled children can succeed using Braille.
In a forty-year study conducted by Klingenberg, Fosse, and Augestad, researchers found that of 248 blind students being studied, only 114 were at the appropriate grade level in math. We know that students who are taught math in a format such as Nemeth Code, in which they can write down math problems, are more likely to be on grade level than those without such a tool. Robert Jaquiss, Access Technology Specialist with the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, says he believes that less than 10 percent of blind and legally blind students are learning Nemeth Code for math today. Jaquiss suggests that the other students are being taught to do math orally or are being denied access to the math curriculum altogether. This is in direct violation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which provides for a free and appropriate public education for all students. Jaquiss noted that, without being able to write math down with Nemeth Code, he would not have attained the level of math to become employable at his current job.
Right now a question is about to be voted on by the Braille Authority of North America (BANA). It is the consideration to change the way our students learn math. These facts might be of interest to you when considering if your child is on grade level in math. Amato (2002) examined colleges and universities that prepare teachers of visually impaired students. She found that of thirty-seven universities and colleges, 22 percent provided no training in the Nemeth Code, and 24 percent rated their training in the Nemeth Code to be inadequate (p. 145). DeMario (2000) surveyed two hundred teachers of the visually impaired to find out their competency in Nemeth Code. The results showed that 81 percent of the teachers believed they needed more training and should have had a course on Nemeth Code in their training to become teachers of visually impaired students (p. 9).
BANA wants to move away from the Nemeth Code. It proposes to adopt a new Braille code for mathematics as part of the newly developed system called UEB (Unified English Braille). Parents and teachers need to know about this very important issue and to give their input to the BANA board. This is a place where parents can use their unique sphere of influence to create change.
As an individual, you have a sphere of influence that is unique to you, unlike that of anyone else in the world. You may share friends or acquaintances, but your sphere is unique.
I am different from some teachers because I have grown through knowing great leaders and teachers in the NFB. I have always held the belief that every child can learn, that every child should attain his or her highest level of language and literacy. One child's learning may not be the same as that of the student next to him or her, but we owe it to each child to set high expectations and to facilitate the best level of literacy within that child's potential.
Parents, I beg of you today, never believe that your child cannot learn! Please use your unique sphere of influence to teach the people around you that your child can learn and become the individual that he or she is destined to be. Don't get caught in the bystander effect. Don't wait for change, CREATE IT!!!
I will end with this quote from Dr. Marc Maurer: "If we expected every child to be a genius, we would pour our very best education into every child." Expect the best from your children. I do!!!
Amato, S. (2002) Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 96:3, p. 145.
DeMario, N. C. (2000) Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 94:1, p. 9.
Jaquiss, R. Personal communication, May 28, 2012.
Klingenberg, O. G., Fosse, P., Augestad, L. B. (2012) Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 106:2, p. 94.
Presented by James Gashel
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, August/September 2012
Introduction by Gary Wunder: Late Thursday afternoon, July 5, Jim Gashel, NFB secretary and chairman of the Bolotin Awards selection committee, came to the platform to present the 2012 Bolotin Awards. This is what happened.
Jim Gashel: The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story, written by Rosalind Perlman and published by Blue Point Books, is available from the National Federation of the Blind Independence Market. Dr. Bolotin was born in 1888 and died in 1924. Just think of that--he was only thirty-six years old at the time of his death, but he achieved far more with far less than most of us could do living twice as long or even longer. Starting as a salesman selling kitchen matches, brushes, and even typewriters door to door, Dr. Bolotin broke the mold. He went to medical school, practiced medicine, and taught medicine in Chicago during his lifetime. All of this he did as a blind person, long before there was even a notion of rehabilitation laws like the ones we have today. That's why we remember Jacob Bolotin as a person of excellence with pioneering spirit and pioneering vision.
As the chairman of the NFB Jacob Bolotin Award Committee, I can tell you we keep firmly in mind pioneering spirit and pioneering vision as our guideposts when we review applications. Funds to support these awards are made possible through the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust, which was created by a bequest to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind. The bequest was granted to us by Jacob Bolotin's niece, Rosalind Perlman.
This year we have a total of $80,000 to distribute. Each of the awardees will receive a portion of that cash, along with a plaque to commemorate the award and, of course, our thanks. Here is the text of the plaque:
"Presented to [the name of the recipient] by the National Federation of the Blind and the Santa Barbara Foundation, July 2012." A medallion is affixed above the plaque, and on the obverse the text is "The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award," with the logo of the National Federation of the Blind below. Below that are the words, "Celebrating achievement, creating opportunity." On the reverse is a bust of Dr. Bolotin flanked by the years of his birth and death. Below are the words, "Celebrating his life, the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust."
So that's the description of the award. Now for the 2012 Jacob Bolotin recipients.
For our first recipient, representing organizations of excellence, we are recognizing a particular program led by blind adults to provide opportunities of special significance to blind youth. Although the program being recognized has a single purpose and mission, there are actually ten recipients sharing this award. The program they represent is Braille Enrichment for Learning and Literacy (BELL). The total amount of the award to the BELL Program is $30,000. This will be divided by ten states, who will each receive $3,000. First launched in the summer of 2008 by the NFB of Maryland, the BELL program has reached a milestone in 2012 with ten states participating and providing services at fourteen different sites. This year we will honor the affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind conducting this program in Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Virginia (as well as Maryland, of course). Because of the initiative of these state affiliates, blind children will learn that it is respectable to be blind and it is respectable to read Braille. Using the mentoring concept which the NFB is very good at, blind adults will work with blind youth. Throughout the day children will celebrate their successes by ringing the bell when they learn Braille characters, when they learn Braille contractions, when they learn to travel with white canes, and when they learn that alternative techniques really work. Parents of blind children will also be trained, because the parents are the child's first teachers. When you think of reaching out to blind youth and helping them achieve excellence, of reaching out to parents to set high expectations for their blind children, think of the BELL program. Here to accept the award on behalf of the BELL program--I'm not going to let them all talk; I'd run out of time!--here is Richie Flores. Richie, here is your award on behalf of the states with the BELL program. The checks to the states will be in the mail. [Laughter]
Richie Flores: We appreciate the opportunity to accept this award. Thank you to the Bolotin Committee on behalf of the NFB of Texas and all the other states. We all have one person that dreamed of bringing it to our states. In Texas it was Louis Maher of the Houston Chapter who brought the Texas BELL Program. We thank the Jernigan Institute for creating such an awesome curriculum. In Texas we thank the teachers--Jackie Otwell, Emily Gibbs, Tony Hurt--who helped us teach blind adults to teach the BELL curriculum and spread it across Texas. We appreciate the leadership of our state president, my best friend, my lovely wife: you helped us get to this point. We enjoy sharing the beauty of Braille with blind children. There are twenty programs throughout the summer. We're doing it big. It's actually eleven states now, because Louisiana has jumped onboard. Eleven states have answered the peal of the bell, and I encourage all you guys to ring that bell for Braille literacy. We enjoy placing Braille in the hands of blind children. Thank you very much. [Applause]
Jim Gashel: Thank you, Richie. For our second recipient, representing another organization of excellence, we recognize the DAISY Consortium with an award of $20,000. Founded in 1996, the DAISY Consortium maintains, promotes, and revises international standards for preparation of audio and text content, known as the Digital Accessible Information System, the DAISY standards. Although at its core DAISY makes possible the synchronization of visually displayed text with audio text, even real audio text as I was doing in Blio, I think the major contribution of DAISY has been its standards leading to adding structure to large amounts of digital and audio content. Who in this audience has not enjoyed (so to speak) trying to find your way around text from chapter to chapter, heading to heading, even page to page, when the audio content you were dealing with had no navigation built in? That was before the days of DAISY. DAISY has brought us navigation, and in the fall of 2011 the International Digital Publishing Forum formed an alliance with DAISY so that the DAISY standards have now been incorporated in EPUB 3. This is an event of groundbreaking significance in publishing because it paves the way so that every commercially distributed e-book can be an accessible e-book as well. So, when you think of tools and technology to support mainstream opportunities for literacy and learning for the blind combined with providing vision and leadership, think of the DAISY Consortium. Here is Stephen King of the Royal National Institute of Blind People and the president of DAISY to accept the award.
Stephen King: Thank you so much to the Bolotin Award Committee. Together we can solve the book famine and end the book famine. This makes it just a lot easier. Thank you very much. [Applause]
Jim Gashel: For our third recipient, representing a corporation with a vision of excellence in leadership on behalf of people who are blind, we recognize Baker and Taylor, Inc., with an award of $15,000. Many of us wouldn't necessarily think of Baker and Taylor as a household name. Baker and Taylor is actually the world's largest distributor of physical and digital books, movies, music, and other entertainment products. They've occupied this position in the industry since the company's founding in 1828. Ask anyone in the business of publishing and selling books, ask librarians, and ask schools. They know Baker and Taylor as the industry's leading source for books. Now in the era of e-books, the use of warehouses and trucks to distribute physical copies is really giving way to digital content, where bookstores are online, libraries are online, and books are on servers and in the Cloud. They are available to readers on computers and portable devices. This is a life-changing event for a company like Baker and Taylor, which has been around since 1828. They probably started with the horse and buggy moving those books around. But just consider what that means. As recently as 2008 Amazon started putting books on its Kindle, and Google was scanning the world's books. Now this year over half of the books sold have been e-books rather than tree books. So as an industry leader Baker and Taylor needed a new way of doing business. Rather than turning to the inaccessible technologies they could have chosen, they made a very smart business decision. They chose a technology that had the capability of providing accessibility to people who are blind. They made a deliberate decision to do that. Blio is the only e-book solution for public libraries. It provides now over 300,000 (Arnie told us over 365,000 titles) in our commercial bookstore, far larger than any library or any bookstore operation has ever provided in books that blind people can read. In other words, this is the largest effort to make books accessible at the time they are published that we have ever seen in history. When you think of our goal--same book, same time, and same price--when you think of courage and standing up for accessibility for electronic books to be available to the blind--think of Baker and Taylor. Arnie Wight, the president and chief operating officer of Baker and Taylor, is here to accept the award. [Applause] Thank you, Arnie, and, as I told the others, the check is going to be in the mail.
Arnie Wight: Thank you, Jim. It's a great honor to receive this prestigious award, but it's not something that, in terms of our development of Axis 360 and the support of the Blio reader, can be done in isolation. The reason we were able to accomplish this was truly our partnership with K-NFB and our collaboration with the NFB. If it wasn't for the crew with Jim Gashel and folks at the NFB, who were critical in giving us input into the design and being key to the quality assurance in testing to make sure we met all the requirements, it wouldn't have been the product it is today. So I want to thank them. [Applause]
Jim Gashel: You know something, Arnie, you're right. We would get it done without you, but you sure made it a lot easier. With friends like you, we will overcome.
For our fourth recipient, representing blind individuals with pioneering spirit and pioneering vision--this is Hoby Wedler; he's already talked for himself. I don't think you want me to stand up here and repeat Hoby's bio, because he did such a nice job. Hoby was a product of Rocket On!, our first science academy when we were forming the Jernigan Institute, and the rest is history. Hoby, you better step up here so we can give you a Jacob Bolotin award. [Applause]
Hoby Wedler: Thank you so very much to the Bolotin Committee for this very kind award. I am deeply and sincerely honored to be here receiving it. I said in my talk earlier that really what motivated me to do the chemistry camp and to work hard for blind people is seeing how often blind people are discouraged by low expectations. Knowing that I could study chemistry and do well in chemistry made me feel passionately about allowing other blind students to do that as well. I also said that the most important thing is hard work and never giving up. I think that's very true. Only this work that I did for the chemistry camp is something that I still enjoyed, so it didn't feel like work at all. I also challenge you to go home, work hard, and bring what you feel is necessary and needed in the Federation, because we are all leaders. Thank you very much again. [Applause]
Jim Gashel: Hoby, when the check does arrive, it will be in the amount of $10,000.
Now, for our fifth and final recipient, representing sighted individuals with visionary enlightenment and a genuine understanding of blindness, we recognize Ann Cunningham, Denver, Colorado, [Applause] with an award of $5,000. The view that blind people cannot enjoy or create art that is visually appealing and can be tactilely appealing as well is perhaps one of the last bastions of discrimination that we face. In fact, lots of projects do nice things for the blind around art that provide special opportunities, but the key word is "special," because special often means separate. Working as a tactile artist, Ann Cunningham first got acquainted with blind people when she came to the Colorado Center for the Blind to teach classes beginning in 1997. Her classes include stone carving, sculpture, tactile mapping, painting, drawing, and lots more. Ann also travels with students to gardens, art galleries, and museums and helps them understand that the enjoyment and creation of artistic works are reasonable and realistic expectations for people who are blind. More than that, she has mentored many blind artists and encouraged them to prove their skills while others are encouraging them to go elsewhere. Ann has also taught many sighted professionals about the techniques and tools that she uses. Her recent invention of the Sensational BlackBoard has created a sensation itself. It is a means of employing low-cost technology to create diagrams, graphs, and maps for blind people. When you think of a can-do spirit and a creative problem solver, tearing down barriers and surmounting obstacles, just saying, "Yes," when everybody else is saying, "No," think of Ann Cunningham. Here is Ann Cunningham. As I said to the others, your check will arrive in the mail.
Ann Cunningham: Thank you so much. So little time, so many to thank. I would like to thank Mr. Gashel and the Bolotin Committee, for your endorsement means the world to me. I also have to thank my husband. Everything that goes out of the door at our home, he's helped with. Thank you, Charlie Gider. Thanks, of course, go to my NFB family. Special thanks to Dr. and Mrs. Maurer. Mrs. Maurer has been a strong voice and an advocate for accessible art for many years. Thanks also to Mark Riccobono. We have worked on many projects over the years together, and we are investigating an exciting new possibility right now. I will also always hold a special place in my heart for Dr. Betsy Zaborowski. She was a champion for the tactile arts. But where would I be without a home? And I have to thank the visionary founder Diane McGeorge and the dynamic director Julie Deden, as well as the staff at the Colorado Center for the Blind for giving me a place to live. Most of all I have to thank the students at the Colorado Center for the Blind for joining me in this adventure. Thank you.
Presented by Patti Gregory-Chang
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, August/September 2012
From the Monitor Editor, Gary Wunder: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind's scholarship program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done, including serving as mentors for the members of the current scholarship class. Everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do in the future. On Thursday evening, July 5, toward the close of the banquet, Patti Chang, the chairperson of the NFB Scholarship Committee, came to the podium to present the year's winners and announce which scholarships each had been awarded. Each winner shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil before taking a place at the back of the platform. In addition to his or her NFB scholarship, each winner received a $1,000 check and a plaque recognizing outstanding achievement from Ray Kurzweil and the Kurzweil Foundation; an iPod Touch, which is able to run Blio, the e-book-reading software available from K-NFB Reading Technologies; and a certificate for the latest Kurzweil 1000 reading system software from Kurzweil Educational Systems. This package of gifts added $2,500 value to every scholarship award.
Earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the twenty-eight 2012 NFB scholarship winners and two tenBroek Fellows, who were receiving their second NFB scholarships, came to the microphone to speak directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Patti, who announced their home and school states after each name.
Cody Bair, Colorado, Colorado: Good morning, everyone. I am Cody Bair. I currently live in Greeley, Colorado, and attend the University of Northern Colorado, where I will be a sophomore in the fall, majoring in business administration with an accounting emphasis. My career aspirations are eventually to earn a master's in accounting and become a certified public accountant (CPA), specializing in tax. Hopefully I will get some experience working for a corporation and then start my own accounting firm. This is my second national convention, and I have really enjoyed getting to work with all the mentors. I feel that they have definitely helped me develop as a young leader in the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you, everyone, for everything that you have given to me.
Kimie Beverly, Nevada, Nevada: Hello. My name is Kimie Beverly, and I am from Las Vegas, Nevada, where I will be starting law school in the fall as a public interest fellow and working full time at the Office of the Attorney General for the state of Nevada in the Bureau of Litigation, Department of Personnel. I was first introduced to the National Federation of the Blind in 2003 when I was awarded my first scholarship. Since that time I've become more active with the Federation by holding five positions, including state secretary, Las Vegas chapter secretary, legislative coordinator, fundraising chair, and membership chair. My career aspirations are to continue working in the Office of the Attorney General, and, after I get my juris doctorate degree, I want to become the first blind deputy attorney general for the state of Nevada. From there I hope to become a supervising deputy attorney general, and maybe a chief of one of our departments. Thank you.
Brandon Biggs, California, California: I was told by my coach that I would never play basketball. I didn't believe him. I was told by my theater instructor that I would never navigate a stage safely and that I couldn't sing. I didn't believe him. I was told by my honors astronomy instructor that I would never pass his class without help. I didn't believe him. If somebody tells you you can't do something, don't believe them. I was told by a conductor that I would never sing without help in front of an orchestra. I am getting my music degree at Cal State-East Bay, and I will see you at the Metropolitan Opera.
Matthew Bowers, Tennessee, Indiana: Greetings, Federationists. I come to you all today from the Dynamical Predictability Laboratory at Purdue University, where I am currently working on my PhD in atmospheric sciences. Eventually I intend to become a research scientist and a professor of climatology. Through my research I want to deepen our understanding of Earth's climate, how our behavior as humans affects it, and how it in turn impacts our ability to survive on this planet. I'd also like to serve as a mentor to other aspiring young scientists, blind and sighted alike. So thank you very much for this opportunity and this honor.
Nallym Bravo, Florida, Florida: Good morning, Federationists. I am so inspired and so honored to be here. I'm a student, a senior, at the beautiful Florida International University, getting my degree in English. Afterwards I intend to pursue a master's in higher education administration and student affairs so that I can work at college campuses and work with students on their personal development, their professional development, and civic engagement. Right now I am a director for a nonprofit called Strong Women, Strong Girls. I also work in our disability resource center on campus as a student assistant. I've had the honor and privilege to be trusted to be on our affiliate state board as well as my local chapter board, and also I have had the honor of serving as president of FABS [Florida Association of Blind Students]. I am currently vice president. I am inspired by each and every one in my scholarship class. I am excited for this week, and congratulations to my peers.
Chrys Buckley, Oregon, Oregon: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am the president of the Oregon Association of Blind Students and treasurer of my local chapter. I studied premed at Portland State University with a minor in physics. I plan to go into an MD/PhD program and specialize in internal medicine. For work I tutor science classes, including biology, genetics, and organic chemistry. In my spare time I do a lot of creative writing. I am really, really grateful to be here, so thank you.
The next gentleman suffered through a cancelled flight and arrived late, so he gets the award for starting his convention most stressed out. He is Robert Campbell, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everyone. I am currently a third-year student at the University of Akron School of Law. I am getting ready to graduate, so I am happy about that. When I graduate, I hope to specialize in federal income tax or secure transactions. After I practice law for a few years, I would like to become a professor at a four-year university, where I would specialize in federal income tax and Constitutional law. I hope to become a scholar in that area, so that's why I have authored three articles. Hopefully they will get published in the upcoming year in a law review, and that's all I have.
Jordyn Castor, Michigan, Michigan: Hello, Federation family. I am a sophomore at Michigan State University, studying computer science. I hope to be a software developer as well as to provide feedback to major companies about the accessibility of their software. This is my fourth national convention. I am the president of the Michigan Association of Blind Students, and I am deeply honored and grateful to be here today and to have this wonderful opportunity. Thank you.
Christopher de Jesus, New York, New York: Good morning, everyone. My name is Christopher de Jesus. I will be majoring in psychology and premed in the fall as a junior. I aspire to get my MD degree as well, and I hope one day to serve the military veterans coming back from active duty. In my down time I play beep baseball, so I know what it means to be part of a team. I truly believe that, in order to change this world for the better, all of us need to cooperate as a team, and I look forward to doing that as a psychiatrist. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
Michael Foster, New Jersey, Pennsylvania: It's such an honor to be here with all of you today. I am a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business, studying finance. Last summer I interned at TD Bank working as a credit analyst. This summer I am interning at Google in Mountain View, California. It's an amazing experience. I love it so far; it's the summer of a lifetime exploring San Francisco. It is an honor to be here. Thank you so much.
Pennsylvania has two in a row. This one is a tenBroek fellow, Harriet Go, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I enjoy teaching children. It has always been my passion. When I was an undergraduate student, though, preparing to enter the student teaching of my degree program, some people believed that, because I am blind, I wouldn't be able to handle my duties as a teacher. They tried to take my assignment away. Both the university and the partnering elementary school wanted me not to participate. They asked me to describe how I would handle certain classroom situations, without first giving me a chance to try. However, with the support of my family and my friends in the National Federation of the Blind, I got through that difficult and discouraging time in my life. For that I will always be grateful. Today I am a seven-year veteran of the school district of Philadelphia, teaching elementary special education students. [Applause]
Sierra Gregg, Missouri, Missouri: Good morning. When I was a little girl, my mother told me, "Grab hold of every opportunity that comes your way, and never ever let it go." Over the past few years I've done just that, traveling to Washington, DC, for an internship at the National Archives two summers in a row, proposing, organizing, and promoting a disabilities resource webpage that will be uploaded on the National Archives website sometime this month. But, above all, I believe that the decision to come to my very first national convention has been and continues to be the best opportunity of my life.
Rachel Grider, California, Maryland: Hi. I am so excited to be here today. I am a master's student at Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, and I am getting a double master's in vocal performance and theory pedagogy. I am going to teach theory at a college. This is my first national convention. I am very excited to be involved with you guys. Last night I joined a couple of committees of the student division, and I am excited to join more committees. Thank you for having me.
Brandon "Trey" Lewis, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Good morning. I am a student at the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma. I am getting a degree in music and business to pursue a career in being a talent agent. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
ShaQuantaey Mack, Georgia, Georgia: Good morning, my Federation family. I am currently a student at the University of Georgia pursuing a master's in social work. I also serve on the Georgia Association of Blind Students board. I am here today because several members of the NFB saw something in me that I didn't see in myself, and they decided to take a chance and roll the dice on me. This convention has presented several firsts for me: first time winning a national scholarship and the first time in the wonderful state of Texas; and I am enjoying myself immensely. I'm honored to be a 2012 NFB scholarship recipient. Thank you.
Alyssa Munsell, New Hampshire, Massachusetts: Good morning, everyone. I graduated from Keene State College. I have a BA in psychology and a minor in criminal justice, and I graduated with a 3.8 GPA. I am going to be going to Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, to get my master's degree in social work. I chose social work because I want to dedicate my life to being a strong advocate in achieving security and equality for everybody that I work with hopefully. Thank you very much. I look forward to meeting all of you.
Stephanie O'Donnell, New Hampshire, New Hampshire: I would like to thank Dr. Maurer, the board, the scholarship committee, and the NFB for having me and showing me great wisdom and leadership. I go to Keene State College in Keene, New Hampshire. I am majoring in elementary education. I cheerlead there. I am also a resident assistant. I hope to go on to graduate school and do either special education or higher education working in disability services, because I believe all children deserve an equal opportunity within education. Thank you.
Valeria Paradiso, New York, New York: Good morning, everyone. I am attending Hunter College in Manhattan, and I am currently double majoring in psychology and premed studies with a double minor in creative writing and classical music. I hope to go on to med school. I'd like to go into psychiatry or other branches of medicine, maybe pediatrics. I've thought about teaching on the college level. I teach Braille. I teach Nemeth and the music code, encouraging both sighted and visually impaired individuals to learn. I work closely with the chief of the NLS Library. I am very honored to be here, learning a lot, and this will certainly not be my last convention. Thank you for having me.
Emily Pennington, Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, board members and fellow Federationists. I recently graduated from high school with a GPA of 4.271, and I plan on attending Xavier University to pursue a major in accounting, a masters in business administration, and ultimately go to law school. Even though I don't have nearly the experience that a lot of my fellow winners have, because I haven't even gone to college yet, I aspire in my academics, my personal life, and in my future career to be an ambassador to blind people and show that my disability does not limit what I do. I work very hard, and I try to do everything as best I can. Thank you all for having me.
Briley Pollard, Virginia, Virginia: Over the past year I have too often heard bright young people say to me, "I want to learn Braille, but the school system said no." I stand here today as a graduate student at George Mason University studying education policy because of a mother who fought for Braille; Barbara Cheadle, who taught her how; and blind people like Pam Allen, who have modeled for me what it means to push for what you want, for change with dignity and grace. It is my turn to be that voice for change for children and adults who have none. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Rylie Robinson, Indiana, Indiana: Wow! I am so excited to be here. We are changing what it means to be blind right here in this room. Sometimes it is hard to define what it means to change what it means to be blind. Can it start with the individual? Well, I believe that it can. I will be a sophomore at the University of Indiana/Purdue University Indianapolis, majoring in secondary English education. My goal after graduating from there is to get certification in the education of blind students. Changing what it means to be blind can start by instilling potential in the hearts of blind students. This is where my passion lies. After attending the Louisiana Center for the Blind, I realize that one of the many issues facing blind students today is Braille literacy. I know that working with middle school and high school students in the public schools will be difficult, but I am up for this challenge. Changing what it means to be blind is also on the organizational level. This is where I would like to thank those who made it possible for me to be here. I am proud to be a scholarship winner, and I am honored to help all of you in the NFB change what it means to be blind. Thank you so much.
April Scurlock, Arkansas, Arkansas: Good morning, guys and gals. I am currently a fifth- and sixth-grade math teacher of middle school, so yes, Rylie, it is difficult, I promise you. I am working on my master's degree to teach special ed for grades four through twelve. I'm not sure how I feel about the high school, but I will deal with that later. Yeah, I'm a little nervous. I'm a wife and a mother of two (twelve and fourteen). I am busy all the time; I don't rest. That's part of life, I guess, as we get older. I'd just like to thank everyone. I can't believe I'm standing here. I'm just excited.
Jennifer Shields, Virginia, Virginia: Hello, fellow Federationists. This is my fifth national convention. I have just graduated from high school, and in the fall I will begin my freshman year at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, where I will be studying English. I hope to become a children's book author, and I want to be an editor for a publishing company. I hope that, by doing so, I will help children understand the value and the importance of literature in their lives, whether they are blind or sighted. Thank you for this opportunity.
Michael Sipes, Missouri, Louisiana: Good morning, or as they might have said in ancient Rome, salvete. I plan to go on down to Tulane University to study law. About six weeks ago I graduated from the University of Missouri with two degrees: one in classical languages, as you might have guessed, and one in American history. I am proud to say that I graduated summa cum laude, and I was also the president of a fraternity there, Delta Alpha Pi, the Beta Beta chapter, and we worked to recognize the accomplishments of all disabled students. I was also the vice president of the Mizzou Sight Club, in which we worked with local high school students in trying to steer them toward a college education. I am very happy to be here, and I want to thank you for having me. Good luck to everyone.
Rose Sloan, Illinois, Illinois: Hello, everyone. My name is Rose Sloan, and I am a senior at Northwestern University, where I study social policy. I hope to become an advisor or advocate of education policy one day. I have had many experiences with these types of things, and I just think it's a path I want to go down. I had an internship in Washington, DC, last summer, and this summer I will be working for a state senator in Illinois. In my spare time I love to do gymnastics. I am the president of the Northwestern Club Gymnastics team. I also serve as the vice president of the Illinois Association of Blind Students. Thank you so much for having me here. I'm having a great time.
Kyra Sweeney, California, California: Hello, everyone. It's so great to be here at my lucky thirteenth national convention. This fall I'll be starting my freshman year at Pomona College in Claremont, California, where I will be majoring in English and psychology. I'm considering a career in either psychology or public interest law. My main goal is to be able to make a positive difference in people's lives, much like the NFB has done for mine.
Brandon Terry, Utah, Utah: Good morning, my Federationist family. I stand here truly humbled in the greatness. I am so grateful for everything that has gotten me to this point in my life, the NFB being one of the very strong things in my life supporting me. Only recently I have been elected as Utah Association of Blind Students president. It's a wonderful opportunity, and I am so grateful to serve. I'd just like to say that I am so excited to be graduating next December and will be rolling into a career as a successful young manager in the construction industry. Thank you.
Elizabeth Troutman, North Carolina, North Carolina: Good morning. My dream is to reshape American public education so that all Americans can have the knowledge and skills they need to define their own lives. I graduated with honors from Princeton University. I've worked on legislation, advocated for children's rights, and served on community boards. Currently I am second in my class at the University of North Carolina School of Law. At the same time I am pursuing a master's in public policy at Duke University and giving my heart and patience to my almost-two-year-old. I stand on the shoulders of those who have fought before me and those whose insights I draw on today, and I am ready to lift up the next generation on our shoulders.
Maria Monica Villarreal, Texas, Texas: Echoing the voice of my state president, "Howdy, y'all!" I currently live in Austin, Texas, where I go to the University of Texas. Go Longhorns! I am currently pursuing a double major in political science and American studies, and I will be a junior next fall. I have a great interest in advocacy and public policy, and I am currently interning in Washington, DC, under the director of public policy and advocacy for the nongovernmental organization called Safe Kids Worldwide. I intend to become a lawyer and pursue my interest in advocacy and public policy. I am truly honored to be here, and I thank all of those who made it possible.
Brandy Wood, Alabama, Alabama: Hello. I attend Auburn University in Alabama, and I am majoring in rehabilitation and disability services. I intend to go on to get a masters degree in rehabilitation counseling and teaching. My free time? I don't have any. I have a husband and two children also, so they are it. This is my first national convention, and I am really excited to be here. Thank you.
At the end of the scholarship presentations at the annual banquet, Chrys Buckley, winner of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, came to the podium to speak a few words. This is what she said:
Chrys Buckley: Hi, everyone. I want to thank everyone in the Federation, and especially the people on the scholarship committee, for believing in me. I feel really, really honored to be a part of this scholarship class. Everyone has been welcoming and genuine and inspiring. I think we're all going to go on to be leaders and do great things with our careers. I'm also really thankful for all the mentoring I received this week from the assigned mentors, and also from people throughout the Federation. I feel these lessons will stay with me for a long time, and I think we've all made connections that will last for years to come. In the fall I will be starting my last year as an undergrad, and then this time next year I'll be applying to MD/PhD programs, so I think this scholarship will be a tremendous help in achieving my dreams. The only thing I think of to say is thank you so much. [Applause]
Following is the complete list of 2012 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Cody Bair, Brandon Biggs, Nallym Bravo, Robert Campbell, Jordyn Castor, Christopher de Jesus, Michael Foster, Sierra Gregg, Rachel Grider, Brandon Trey Lewis, Alyssa Munsell, Valeria Paradiso, Emily Pennington, Briley Pollard, Rylie Robinson, April Scurlock, Jennifer Shields, Michael Sipes, Rose Sloan, Kyra Sweeney, and Brandy Wood
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owens Memorial Scholarship: Stephanie O'Donnell
$5,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship: Harriet Go
$5,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Kimie Beverly, Matthew Bowers, and Monica Villarreal
$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: ShaQuantaey Mack and Brandon Terry
$10,000 (NFB) Marvin and Mimi Sandler Scholarship: Elizabeth Troutman
$12,000 (American Action Fund) Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship: Chrys Buckley
by Laurie Rubin
Seven Stories Press, 342 pages, $11.98 paperback
Reviewed by Deborah Kent Stein
Among the widely held stereotypes about blind people is the idea that vision loss and musical ability go hand in hand. The success of performers such as Stevie Wonder, José Feliciano, and Diane Schur reinforces the idea that music is a field where blind people can excel, where they may in fact have an edge over their sighted counterparts.
A number of blind musicians have indeed been successful in the jazz and pop genres. However, very few have won acclaim in the highly competitive and exacting world of classical performance. As one of history's first blind operatic singers, mezzo-soprano Laurie Rubin is a pioneer.
Blind since birth due to Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA), Laurie Rubin grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles. From an early age, her family encouraged her talent for singing. Besides providing her with voice lessons, her parents seized every opportunity to make contact with singers who might promote their daughter's budding career. By the time she was eleven, Rubin was on a first-name basis with country singer Kenny Loggins and tenor Michael Crawford, star of the musical Phantom of the Opera. She began to sing at local civic events, and when she was fourteen she sang the national anthem at the inauguration of Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
Laurie Rubin recounts her dazzling musical trajectory in her memoir, Do You Dream in Color? (The title comes from one of the questions she is asked most frequently.) Her journey has carried her to solo recitals at Wigmore Hall in London and Carnegie Hall in New York, as well as a leading role in a full production with the New York City Opera. Yet threaded through Rubin's story of success are the personal and professional challenges that arise from people's responses to her as a blind person. Rubin writes with aching candor about her teenage struggle to make friends, her exhausting efforts to prove herself worthy of respect at school and beyond, and her crushing disappointments when opportunities are denied her due to the anxiety and low expectations of others.
As a seventh grader at a highly select private academy, Rubin is ostracized by her peers. When she does well on exams, her French teacher assumes that she must be cheating. In one exquisitely painful scene, Rubin discovers that her mother secretly has had her trailed by a pair of social workers on a mission to find out why fellow students avoid her. Eventually, when she makes friends with a handful of fellow outsiders, Rubin concludes that the climate at Oakwood is simply hostile to difference of any kind.
Life takes a dramatic turn for the better when Rubin enters Oberlin College, where she earns degrees in English literature and vocal performance. At Oberlin, diversity is not merely tolerated but celebrated. Rubin finds herself swept into a rich and active social life. Musical opportunities abound, culminating when she is chosen to sing the starring role in a full production of Rossini's La Cenerentola, an operatic recreation of the Cinderella story. Initially Rubin is dismayed by the director's decision to depict La Cenerentola as blind, having her wear dark glasses onstage. However, she comes to realize that the way La Cenerentola is treated by her family reflects how blind people are devalued in society. When he removes her dark glasses, the prince shows that he sees her as her true self.
After graduating from Oberlin, Rubin enters the opera program at Yale. The program is designed to give each of its sixteen students firsthand experience in opera performance. Nevertheless, Rubin is never cast in one of the program's major productions. When she confronts the casting director, she is told, "It would be very dangerous up there on that stage for you, and it would be very hard for you to get around." The decision is unshakeable.
After completing the Yale program, Rubin settles in New York City and joins the hordes of other highly talented, impeccably trained, unemployed musicians. The frustrations of job-hunting are compounded by her realization that she is unequipped to handle the basics of cooking and housekeeping. Though her parents have provided her with splendid academic and professional opportunities, they have also instilled her with a sense of inadequacy in the kitchen. "If I happened to get too near the stove or oven when something was cooking," Rubin writes, "I would hear a shout of, 'No, Laurie! Get away from that. It's very dangerous in here right now!' My picking up a knife would cause gasps, followed by fast footsteps, and the ominous object being hastily taken away from me." The encouragement of her partner and a series of lessons with a rehabilitation teacher turn Rubin into a confident cook. Yet she writes wistfully, "If only I had known in childhood what I know now, all the fine motor skills used for things like pouring, cutting, and stirring would be so much easier for me, and I wouldn't have to give them a second thought. To this day, those things that come naturally to most take extra effort on my part because of my inexperience, not my lack of sight."
Rubin finds her niche at last in the world of new music. She performs in works by contemporary composer John Harbison, and sings the leading role in Gordon Beeferman's new opera, The Rat Land. Working with the director, she finds ways to move about easily on the stage, such as placing rugs to help her walk in a straight line.
Rubin tells a story that will resonate with many blind readers and their families. Perhaps it will speak as well to those unfamiliar with blindness, awakening them to the ways that talent, perseverance, and ingenuity can open the door to possibility.
National Federation of the Blind Scholarships
NFB Scholarship Program
200 E. Wells St. at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
Application Deadline: March 31, 2013
Contact: Scholarship office, (410) 659-9314, Ext. 2415
The 2013 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Program will present thirty academic scholarships to legally blind students who will be enrolled full-time in a postsecondary institution in September 2013. Awards range from $3,000 to $12,000 and include financial assistance to attend the 2013 NFB convention, to be held July 1-6 in Orlando, Florida (departure on July 7). The application form and all required documents may be submitted online. At convention scholarship winners will have the chance to meet blind people in a wide variety of careers and to network with blind students from across the country. This is an opportunity you won't want to miss!
Braille Readers Are Leaders 360
Contact: Meleah Jensen, (410) 659-9314, Ext. 2418
This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the K-12 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. To celebrate thirty years of success, the NFB plans to launch Braille Readers Are Leaders 360 later this fall (watch <www.nfb.org> for the announcement). The new program is a community of twenty-first-century Braille readers, the first ever accessible online community for children who read Braille. The Braille Readers Are Leaders 360 (BRL360) online community will provide a safe place where Braille readers in kindergarten through twelfth grade can share their literacy experiences through book trailers, live author chats, videos of themselves reading Braille, discussions about their favorite books, and much more. Continuing with the Braille Readers Are Leaders mission, BRL360 will promote a pride in Braille and a joy of reading among blind children year round.
Tactile Graphics and STEM Education for the Blind
National Federation of the Blind
200 E. Wells St. at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230
April 12-13, 2013
This two-day conference brings together experts from the fields of access technology, science and math education, cartography, and blindness education to explore ways to make the world of graphical representation available to nonvisual learners. The complete agenda can be read on the website.
Active Learning for Students with Visual and Multiple Impairments
Region 4 Esc, 715 W. Tidwell Rd., Houston, TX 77092
June 19-20, 2013
Contact: Suzanne Scannell, email@example.com
Learn the fundamentals of Active Learning Theory for students with visual and multiple impairments. This approach will help move children from being passive to active learners, utilizing enriched interaction techniques and environments designed for each stage of their development. Participants will learn to infuse IEP objectives throughout the day's activities, choose appropriate materials and adaptations, and design the environment for success. Continuing education credits are available.
Accessibility and education are cornerstones of the work of the NFB. With the rapid expansion of tablets, interactive whiteboards, e-textbooks, and other forms of technology being used in the classroom, the NFB recognizes the immediate need for advocacy among school systems and digital technology companies. Information about your experiences will aid in our collective advocacy efforts. We strongly encourage all students, teachers, parents, and administrators in K-12 schools, universities, and colleges in the United States to complete an online survey. The results of this survey will help engage and guide industry leaders as we work to ensure accessible digital technology in the schools.
Mothers of Blind Children Survey
Contact: Sonja Biggs, (650) 833-9392
Sonja Biggs, a doctoral candidate at Capella University, seeks volunteers for a study on mothers of legally blind children. Participants must be the mothers of blind children in grades one to three. The research will explore how mothers teach school-related skills to their blind children before kindergarten and how these skills affect the child's school performance. The survey will be conducted through telephone interviews using Skype.
Adolescent Sibling Survey
Contact: Carolyn M. Shivers, (330) 704-6291
Researchers at Vanderbilt University are interested in the impact of having a brother or sister on twelve- to eighteen-year-old adolescents. They seek families with two children in which a parent and teenage child are willing to complete a short online survey. Families with and without children with disabilities are welcome to participate. Participants will be entered into a drawing to win a Target gift card worth $50.
Avenues to Learning Braille Using Smartphones
Contact: Lauren Milne, (505) 220-5996
This survey will attempt to gauge interest in the development of Smartphone applications to help students learn the Braille code.
The da Vinci Awards for Accessibility and Universal Design
National MS Society, Michigan Chapter
21311 Civic Center Dr., Southfield, MI 48076
Application Deadline: February 28, 2013
Contact: Patti Radzik, (248) 936-0342
The da Vinci Awards help build awareness and recognize adaptive technologies that can benefit all people, regardless of ability or age, while embracing the universal design principle. Nominations will be accepted in five categories: communication/educational aids, environmental adaptation/daily living or work aids, prosthetics/orthotics, transportation and mobility, and recreation and leisure. Three finalists will be selected in each category. All nominations must include a video component that is no more than three minutes in length. The da Vinci Awards will be presented on April 11, 2013, at the Ford Conference and Event Center in Dearborn, Michigan.
Bookshare and Innovation for Education (BI4E)
In July 2012 Benetech, the parent organization of Bookshare, received a new award from the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. BI4E will encourage publishers to build accessibility into the publishing process at a much earlier phase. It will work on developing free open source tools for content providers and will confront major challenges in making images more accessible. Bookshare plans to double student membership, increase usage, increase the number of educational titles, improve teacher training and parent outreach, and promote better ways to find and read accessible materials.
The Cisco Academy for the Vision Impaired is offering a new online course on computer basics. It will cover computer fundamentals ranging from how to set up and use a screen reader efficiently to how to surf the Internet safely. The course is offered in both Windows and Mac versions. CAVI courses are open to those age eighteen and older.
Weather Alerts on NFB-NEWSLINE®
NFB-NEWSLINE®, in partnership with AccuWeather®, now provides emergency weather alerts on the NEWSLINE service. Instant access to emergency weather is given for your zip code when you make a call to the service. If weather alerts exist in your area, notification of the alert is given immediately after you log into NEWSLINE.
The Perkins School for the Blind, the Helen Keller National Center, and FableVision have combined forces to launch the ICanConnect Campaign. The campaign attempts to provide information about the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program, mandated by the Twenty-first Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is providing support for the local distribution of a wide array of accessible communications technology. Free communication technology and training are now available to low-income individuals with combined vision and hearing loss.
This catalog, updated annually, is available online and is free of charge at all Toys R Us and Kids R Us stores. The catalog is not arranged on the basis of specific disabilities; rather, it emphasizes particular skill sets and/or areas of strength. Categories include auditory, creativity, fine motor, gross motor, language, tactile, and more. Within each category you can search by age and gender.
Fun and Function
Fun and Function designs and develops products for children with special needs, particularly children on the autism spectrum and children with sensory processing disorder (SPD). The company creates toys and other products that are cool, kid-friendly, and affordable. Sold online and in toy stores, products include language and social skills games, dress-up materials, foam scooters and inflatable toys for active play, a space tunnel, and more.
International Children's Digital Library (ICDL)
Books in the ICDL include titles for children ages 3-13 selected and digitized by the Library of Congress as well as children's books selected by international librarians and new books from publishers and authors. Billed as "a library for the world's children," the ICDL was established in 2002. Today 4,643 children's books, written in sixty-one languages, are available free of charge on the website. Languages include English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Mandarin, Thai, and Italian. The library's mission is to share books that help children learn about life in other countries and cultures and help them to understand and appreciate the diversity in our world. No e-reader is required; the books can be read directly online.
The Politics of Blindness: From Charity to Parity
by Graham McCreath
Granville Island Publishing
Blind author Graham McCreath describes the systemic issues that have led to the high unemployment and impoverishment of blind people in Canada. The book is available from Bookshare.org and in paperback from Amazon.com.
Luna and Floyd Visit Their Grandparents: An Interactive Book
by Lauren Levine, Illustrated by Eric Ebbeson
In this read-aloud book for very young children, the story is enriched through interactive games between the reader and the child who is listening. In addition to the text and illustration on each page, there is a suggested activity that goes along with the story. For instance, when Floyd washes his face, the child touches his/her face and names the features. This is a fun book that can encourage movement and concept development.
Blind Ambitions is a new magazine featuring the achievements of blind people and offering information about resources and support groups. To receive a free copy, email Christine Chaikin. In the subject line write: How can I receive a free copy of the new magazine called Blind Ambitions Magazine?
The Coyote's Inkwell invites listeners of all ages to let their imaginations take flight on the wings of fables, folktales, and other stories from around the world. Blind writer and storyteller Michael Lang crafts stories to entertain, educate, and inspire. Lang offers fun and engaging storytelling programs that can be tailored to suit almost any audience, theme, or event. Curriculum-based storytelling programs can enrich and enhance the educational experience.
Part think tank, part cultural center, the newly established Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability at San Francisco State University introduces new ideas about disability and disabled people. The institute is beginning a series of projects at the intersection of disability history, the arts, education, and policy.
Perkins School for the Blind
Contact: Marilyn Beyer, (617) 972-7478 or (617) 513-5569
A landmark collaboration between the Perkins School for the Blind and the American Antiquarian Society has created a new online archive of the correspondence between Helen Keller, Annie Sullivan, and Perkins director Michael Anagnos. The original handwritten letters, penned between 1886 and 1896, are available as image files. Each letter is also transcribed in text format, making it accessible to screen readers.
Braille Plus 18, Second Generation
American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. (APH)
1839 Frankfort Ave., P.O. Box 6085, Louisville, KY 40206
(800) 223-1839 or (502) 895-2405
The Braille Plus 18 combines a Braille keyboard and refreshable Braille display with an advanced mobile platform and accessible software. This device is the first Android smartphone designed for blind students and professionals. A five-megapixel camera can convert menus, papers, and books into Braille or speech. The Braille Plus 18 can also be used to read books from NLS, Learning Ally, and Bookshare.
This digital TV/radio tunes in the audio from all digital TV channels from 2 to 69 and decodes all ATSC-formatted broadcasts. A front panel keypad allows the selection of any available TV channels and alternate audio programs available at the user's location. User's instructions come in Braille or audio format.
Worksheet Wizard allows the user to scan documents directly into the application. It includes tools that assist with the composition of text, ensuring that written text is the best it can be. Users can hear worksheets read aloud, can edit them as necessary, draw within them, and highlight sections.