Future Reflections        Convention Report 2012

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The 2012 Bolotin Awards

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 and Jim Gashel at the podium.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 of the DAISY Consortium holds his Bolotin 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 with Jim GashelAnn 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.

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