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 32 Number 4 Convention Issue 2013
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
Copyright © 2013 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 32 Number 4 Convention Issue 2013
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Flinging Open the Closet
by Deborah Kent Stein
Nurturing Your Pearl
by Carlton Walker
Be Blessed, Be Loving, Be Active!
by Anil Lewis
Talent, Training, and Trust
by Dr. Jessica Ewell
A Life without Limits
by Lindsay Yazallino
WORKSHOPS AND ACTIVITIES
The Dawn of the Age of Tactile Fluency: Let the Revolution Begin!
by Al Maneki
Exploring Life's Playgrounds: Independent Movement for Young Blind Children
by Mary Jo Hartle
Riding the Youth Track with Recorded Sounds and Model Trains
by Steve Hastalis
Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL):
Changing Expectations for the Blind of America
by Mark A. Riccobono, Sandy Halverson, Kayleigh Joiner, and Raveena Alli
Ending the Book Famine: Literacy for the Blind without Borders
by Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder
Kids for Independence!
by Anna Walker and Ethan Solano
A Letter to My Nine-year-old Self
by Kristie Colton
A Passion for Research
by Mark Colasurdo
Gifts My Father Gave Me
by Adrienne Asch
How High Can Tomato Plants Grow?
by Janna Stein
by Rosina Foster
Opening Our Eyes in Orlando
by Amy Roberts Darlington
Reverse Inclusion: Taking a Sighted Child to an NFB Convention
by Faye Corman
Sand and Shoelaces: The 2013 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award
by J.C. Mushington-Anderson
The 2013 Bolotin Awards
presented by Jim Gashel
The 2013 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class
presented by Patti Gregory-Chang
ODDS AND ENDS
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 US 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 USD per year. Checks should be made payable to the National Federation of the Blind and sent to the NFB, Attention Future Reflections, 200 East 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 or unsubscribe from Future Reflections in print or audio formats, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.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, DC, 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
As I prepare this issue of Future Reflections, I ask myself how I can best convey the experience of a National Federation of the Blind convention. Vibrant ... intense ... jam-packed ... The words are the right ones, but they hardly capture the convention spirit. An image springs into my mind--the famous closet from the old-time radio series Fibber McGee and Molly. At some point in nearly every episode, an unsuspecting character opens the closet door and unleashes a clattering cascade of pots and pans, tools, toys, mops, brooms, and boxes. Attending an NFB convention is a bit like opening Fibber McGee's closet. Once you've opened the door, it's impossible to close it again, and you never know what will tumble out.
Each day of convention is filled with carefully planned events, opportunities for attendees to learn about technology, legislation, education, and careers. There are workshops on everything from math and Braille to movement, science, and art. There's a book fair where kids can pick out free Braille books, and there's even a fashion show. Groups gather to discuss areas of special interest: blind writers, blind musicians, blind people in health and human services, blind lawyers, blind parents, blind entrepreneurs, blind people who work in information technology, and blind people in communities of faith. All of these meetings are open to anyone who wishes to listen and to share ideas.
The scheduled activities are rich and informative. Yet for most convention attendees, the real excitement comes from the unexpected, the moments when a door opens and sets loose an avalanche of possibilities. A child with a long white cane steps onto an escalator for the first time. A shy girl finds her way to the pool and spends the afternoon hanging out with a crowd of other teens. A pair of blind college students discover they share a passion for chemistry and compare strategies for participating in labs. And everyone, everywhere, seems to be talking about the latest in accessible apps for the iPhone. Strangers strike up conversations as they wait for elevators or stand in line to be seated at hotel restaurants. By the end of the week, they are strangers no longer, but friends who will stay in touch all year long.
The seventy-third convention of the National Federation of the Blind met from July 1 to July 6 at the Rosen Centre Hotel in Orlando, Florida. Convention began with "No Limits," an all-day conference for parents and teachers, sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Other activities of special interest to parents and professionals were spread throughout the week. Children from infants to age ten played and learned in NFB Childcare, while tweens and teens took part in a series of Youth Track activities.
During the general sessions, more than twenty-five hundred blind people, as well as their friends and families, listened to presentations about our challenges and triumphs. NFB President Marc Maurer inspired his audience with an account of the Federation's achievements over the preceding year. Convention closed on a high note with the annual banquet. Dr. Maurer delivered a stirring address entitled "The Power of Belonging," and the 2013 NFB Scholarship winners received their awards.
Some of the articles in this issue of Future Reflections are drawn from presentations given at the NOPBC conference or during the general sessions. In others, convention attendees relate their experiences and share what convention meant to them and their families. The photos capture moments of fun and excitement typical of convention week for all who take part.
If you attended convention in 2013, the photos and articles in this issue may bring back memories of your own experiences. If you haven't yet been to an NFB convention, perhaps you will be inspired to join us next summer. Come to Orlando in 2014. Fling open the closet and see what discoveries tumble forth!
by Carlton Walker
From the Editor: Carlton Walker serves as president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). She is an attorney, a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), and the parent of a blind child. She grew up in North Carolina and now resides in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania.
Welcome! The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary. When I researched the gemstone associated with a thirtieth anniversary, I was excited to learn that it is the PEARL. As I read further, I discovered that the formation of a pearl closely resembles the process of rearing a successful blind child. I'll explain in a bit.
But first, let's go back three decades. 1983: Ronald Reagan was president, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, and Vanessa Williams became the first African-American Miss America. My most vivid memory of 1983 was staying up way past my bedtime to watch the NC State Wolfpack men's basketball team, led by the energetic, yet modest, Jim Valvano, pull off the unimaginable—winning the NCAA championship and leaving dozens of “better” teams behind. Nobody thought they could do it. I’m not sure they thought they could do it themselves. But they did!
Little did I know that, just a few months later, other energetic, yet modest, individuals would be doing the unimaginable as well. In Kansas City, Missouri, with the support of the National Federation of the Blind and its then President, the late Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, they established a never-before-known organization of parents of blind children partnering with blind adults. This union truly has been an example of endosymbiosis and mutualism. Endosymbiosis occurs when one organism lives within the cells of another. The NOPBC is a division of the NFB—we operate within the structure of the Federation and, as a result, we claim membership in both the NOPBC and the NFB. Mutualism refers to a relationship in which both organisms benefit. The NOPBC receives all means of support from the NFB, and as members, we support the Federation.
As you may know, blindness is a low incidence disability. In addition, the majority of blind persons are adults—there are approximately one hundred blind adults for every blind child (in the general population, the adult to child ratio is about five to one). Thus, blind children are a bit of a rarity. Nevertheless, the blind adults of the NFB and the (mostly sighted) parents of blind children who came together in 1983 to form the NOPBC created a partnership that has changed the lives of thousands of blind children.
When we learned that our daughter, Anna Catherine, had significant visual impairment, my husband, Stephen, and I were taken aback. The doctors and teachers told us that she would be limited in her life because of her vision loss. They assured us that she was better off, though, because at least she could still see some things. They equated vision with success. We believed them. How wrong we were!
Through the NOPBC and the NFB, we discovered that proficiency in alternative techniques and efficiency in using nonvisual tools are the measures of success. We learned that, like other skills, the skills of blindness take time to master, and must be taught by persons with expertise. We discovered many generous individuals who willingly gave of themselves to help Anna Catherine learn and to guide us in teaching her. We discovered the truth of Dr. Jernigan's oft-quoted observation: "The real problem of blindness is not the loss of eyesight. The real problem is the misunderstanding and lack of information that exist. If a blind person has proper training and opportunity, blindness can be reduced to a physical nuisance." And, with the support of the NFB and the NOPBC, it has!
As you may know, a pearl is formed as the result of a foreign particle. Like children, pearls come from many different backgrounds. While we typically think of oysters as pearl-producers, most shelled mollusks, including abalones, mussels, and clams, can produce pearls. When these mollusks encounter a foreign particle in their shell, they produce nacre, also known as mother-of-pearl. Throughout its life, the mollusk applies layer upon layer of this nacre in order to protect itself from the foreign object. When removed from the mollusk, the nacre is iridescent and gives pearls a lustrous quality. It also makes these pearls strong and resilient.
Isn't it remarkable how something unwanted and potentially dangerous can be transformed into something beautiful and elegant? In effect, by creating the pearl, the mollusk has reduced the foreign object to the level of a physical nuisance. In my metaphor, blindness is the foreign object and nonvisual skills are the nacre.
Pearls are not formed overnight, and neither are successful children—blind or sighted. Instead, they must be nurtured properly, with high expectations and age-appropriate skill building. Problem-solving techniques are a must, as is the willingness of the parent to let go and let children build the self-confidence that undergirds all independence. Throughout this week, you will learn from other parents and from blind adults how you can help nurture your pearl.
The mollusk does not desire the foreign article, but it builds layer upon layer of nacre to protect itself from the dangers it poses. Without the nacre, the mollusk is at risk. No parent hopes for blindness (or any other challenge) to visit a child. But, in life, challenges abound. The secret to survival and achievement lies not with avoiding challenges but with finding mechanisms to eliminate the negative impact of those challenges on the child's ability to live a happy, independent, and fulfilling life.
On this pearl anniversary, we invite you to embrace the truth—your child is not limited by his or her vision. Your child does face limits resulting from the lack of blindness skills. Join us as we help you nurture your pearl, building layer upon layer of beautiful nonvisual techniques to create a life of limitless possibilities.
I leave you with the words of the late Jim Valvano: How do you go from where you are to where you want to be? I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life. You have to have a dream, a goal, and you have to be willing to work for it.
Don't give up. Don't ever give up.
by Anil Lewis
Introduction by Carlton Walker: Anil Lewis hails from Atlanta, Georgia. He holds a bachelor's degree in business administration and computer information systems as well as a master's degree in public administration with emphasis on policy analysis and program evaluation from Georgia State University. He has worked as a technology instructor, job help specialist, and client assistance program counselor advocate. He has received many distinguished awards, including being named as Outstanding Alumnus of GSU and the 2003 GSU Torchbearer of Peace. Anil says that his proudest accomplishment, however, is being a father to his son, Amari, who was born in 1997. Dedicated to using his abilities to help eliminate discrimination toward the blind and others with disabilities, he was elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 2003 and currently serves as NFB's director of advocacy and policy.
I want to talk to you about several things today, but all are under the umbrella of No Limits. As Carlton said, currently I am director of advocacy and policy for the National Federation of the Blind. My primary responsibility right now is to shepherd legislation to help repeal the discriminatory legal provision that allows employers to apply for special wage certificates from the Department of Labor that permit them to pay people with disabilities less than the federal minimum wage. Right now there are actually people with disabilities getting paid one penny per hour! The law is still on the books. Talk about No Limits!
I want to talk to you about three things: be blessed, be loving, and be active. First let's talk about being blessed. I'm a Christian from the Southern Baptist tradition. I lost my sight when I was twenty-five, and my life changed. I don't know if you realize this, but people with disabilities aren't always welcomed in the right way in faith communities. Sometimes we become the good works that people want to do. They want to save us from our disabilities. I wrote a blog called "Compassion and Discrimination," about the fair wages issue and society's perception of people with disabilities. It's interesting that this Southern Baptist boy got a blog posted on Jewish Weekly; it goes to show you that, regardless of what faith or tradition you follow, there are the same barriers and the same opportunities for success.
Recently I had the opportunity to give a presentation to a group in Columbus, Ohio. They put me up on the pulpit and said, "Now, you're going to give us the Word." I said, "But I'm not ordained!" I did some research beforehand, and I found two Biblical passages--if you don't mind, I'd like to share them with you. The first one is Exodus 4:11. To paraphrase it, God is talking to Moses, and Moses talks about how he is slow of speech. God says, "Who do you think made you? You and all the other people with disabilities--the deaf, the blind?" I find solace in that, knowing that God made us. God made me who I am, and I'm charged with the responsibility of living my life so that I warrant the blessings that I have received.
The other verse I found is from the New Testament, John 9:3. Basically, it comes from a conversation Jesus had with his disciples. They came across a blind guy, and the disciples said, "Jesus, who sinned, so that this man was born blind?" I love the answer, and I hope you'll love the answer, too. Jesus said, "Neither did this man sin, nor did his mother or father, but that the works of God should be manifest in him." That's what I choose to do--I choose to make manifest the glory of God in the life that I live. We all have a role to play, and disability doesn't prevent us from fulfilling our responsibilities.
Understand, I'm not trying to convert you guys! But I do want you to believe in something greater than yourself, because that's the only way we can get through the day sometimes. There's only so much that's in our control. If you don't come from a strong faith tradition, if you have apprehensions about believing as I believe, I still want you to believe in something greater than yourself. At a minimum, have the faith that we can do more together than you can alone.
A very dear friend of mine, Mark Riccobono, is the executive director of the Jernigan Institute. A guy walked up to him somewhere and said to him, "If only I could heal you! Oh, I wish I was Jesus!" What do you say to that, right? Mark turned to him and said, "Don't we all?" [Laughter.]
Another thing I want to say is, love your children. People say, "That's easy! I love my children." But I want you to love them in a way that's more of a tough love. That's a little more difficult as a parent. As Carlton said, my greatest joy is my son, Amari, who's in this room somewhere. He's also my greatest challenge. I want to teach him in a way that makes him independent. I would do that whether he was sighted or blind. He's a sighted child. If he had been born blind, I would have been very suited as a parent, because I have had personal experiences that my mother didn't have when she raised the blind children she had. That's right—both my older brother and my older sister are blind. My mother didn't have any experience raising a blind child, but she knew how to raise kids! She knew all the things she needed to teach us, because she grew up in that hard world.
As a child I was diagnosed educationally mentally retarded. That term isn't politically correct today--it's called intellectual disability. But back then the word was retarded, and I had to deal with those labels and the stereotypes associated with them. My mom could have acquiesced early on and let that label define who I was. But she told the school, "If you're going to label my son educationally mentally retarded, then you have to provide services." She did a great job advocating for me, all because she knew that I had capacity. She was not afraid of my disability. She knew me. She interacted with me every day, and she knew that I could learn, regardless of what they told her. Because of her efforts, I went from being in a special education class to being placed in the gifted class.
Labels don't really mean anything. People say, "You were just misdiagnosed." Maybe I was--but maybe, just maybe there were people in my circle who taught me ways that I could learn so that I could overcome my disability. [Applause] I own all the labels that were put on me, because I want to stand here and say that we can overcome anything.
My father passed away when I was six years old, and I never really knew him. My mother raised all four of us alone. My mother loved us; she loved us all. I know people always say you're supposed to love all your children the same. Well, I was her favorite. My brother and sisters each thought they were her favorite, too. [Laughter.]
My mom had a natural ability to be a parent. We were raised in the country. My mom taught us to shuck corn, pick peas, and slop hogs. I'm not a chauvinist or anything--but we were taught that everything outside the house, the men did; and everything inside the house, the women did. Mom taught us all to be responsible for the things that we could do.
We finally moved to the city, to what we called the Projects. We went from one apartment to another, each one better than the last, and finally we moved into a house. I cut the grass, pruned the trees, washed the windows, and cleaned the gutters.
Mom knew how to be the parent of sighted children, as I say, but she didn't know how to teach blind kids. Unfortunately, she didn't know the Federation. My brother went blind much earlier than I did. Because she didn't know how to teach him, she believed the professionals she met. I'm not condemning professionals! I recognize that there are good ones and there are bad ones. I don't mean bad as in mean or evil--I mean there are just some who aren't as competent and qualified as they should be in order to tell parents how to raise their blind children. My mother listened to some of these individuals. This was right around the time when mainstreaming was starting to get more and more blind students out of the schools for the blind and into regular classes. I believe in my heart that the more quality education venues we can create for blind kids, the better. Whether it be in schools for the blind or mainstream programs, we need to make sure that our kids are taught.
Unfortunately, my mom didn't know that blind kids could be taught. She also bought into the fact that my brother still had some functional vision. Rather than teaching him skills of blindness, the professionals taught him to use the little vision he had. I have no problem with that, but if you don't complement the use of functional vision with serious alternative skills of blindness, you handicap a child beyond belief. For my brother it was all about sight, all about making sure he could see, and trying to look normal. Now, we strive for normality in the Federation, meaning that blind people can participate in society as full members. It's not so much that we are normal, because the reality is that we are different. A sighted guy can read with his eyes; I'm here reading with my fingers. I'm still normal, but I'm reading in a different way. A sighted person walks in the environment, looking around as he goes. I use a long white cane. I get where I want to go; I'm normal, but I get around in a different way.
They didn't teach those things to my mom. They taught my mom that my brother should use his sight. Had she known the Federation, this is what would have happened. She would have learned that she needed to teach him to do things, the normal things that people do, in different ways. This is something that is very important.
Parents of sighted children are constantly saying, "Don't touch that! Don't touch that!" Well, if our blind kids don't touch it, they don't experience it! My mother would have known to tell my brother to touch things. She would have said, "Look at this. Look at it with your hands!" Sure, he could see it, but he would have seen more details by touching it.
I hear you guys thinking, "It looks bad in society if we have our kids going around touching things." Let me teach you a technique. When you go through a museum or someplace, and you see something that you think would be helpful for your child to touch, if there's a little bitty velvet rope, that's to keep the sighted people away. [Laughter.] It means that you, as the parent of a blind child, go under that velvet rope and let your child touch things. And if somebody looks at you funny, like "What are you doing?" you look at the person with your head slightly tilted, and you look down beneath them, and you roll your eyes up like, "What's your problem?" [Laughter.]
You have to provide opportunities for your child to experience the environment. We have to create our own counterculture. We have to make it so that people will understand that we want to experience our environment.
My brother was an extremely adept athlete. Before he lost his sight, he won all sorts of ribbons and trophies in swimming and track and wrestling. If my mother had known the Federation, she would have known that he needed to learn to use the long white cane. He could see well enough to walk around, but he did a lot of bumping into things. Rather than walking all humped over, looking down at his feet, he could have walked with his head held high.
If my mom had known the Federation, she would have known that it was okay for my brother to learn Braille. He could see well enough to read print if he put the book right up to his face. I remember when he finally went to college, he had big large-print books and big magnifying glasses. He had so much light, he could have lit that book on fire! [Laughter.] Sometimes I read to him. I wish I had known the Federation, too.
If my mother had known the Federation, she would have known that Braille, cane travel, and the use of access technology were essential in order for my brother to live a productive life. She didn't know. Because she didn't know, because my brother didn't learn those skills of blindness, he ended up in one of those institutions I spoke of earlier, where they pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage. There is no value, no dignity, no benefit tangible or intangible, in someone working every day for a penny per hour! Because of that, my brother gave up.
I don't want to let another person end up in that situation. I refuse to let any more people have the experience that my brother had. That's why I'm here. Let this not be the end, but the beginning of our interaction. I don't want any of your kids to fall into that chasm. It's much harder to pull them out than it is to keep them from falling in.
Love your kids with tough love. When I get your kids alone, they say, "What do you want us to do?" I say, "I want you to grow up. I want you to have fun. I want you to go to college. I want you to learn. I want you to do all the things everybody tells you to do--be responsible! And I want you to do some things that nobody else will tell you to do--I want you to party, I want you to drink, I want you to go to clubs. I want you to be out there with your sighted friends, because that's how you develop relationships." I want our kids to have those relationships, because they're going to be running the world someday. They'll only be able to do that effectively if they have friends. I'm telling you this up front--I'm going to take your kids and turn them into social deviants! [Laughter.] I want them to get out there so people say, "Wow! That blind kid is pretty cool!"
Be active in the Federation. We provide a tremendous resource for you. We provide reality checks for your children so they don't grow up thinking they're amazing when really they're not. And when they really are amazing, we want them to know they are. We're a family.
I love you guys. I can say that without hesitation to each and every one of you in this room, whether I know you or not. I love you because you are here and you're willing to make a difference. I love you like you're family. And with family comes responsibility. Part of your responsibility is to be active in the Federation. We can give to you, we can help you in your life. We're investing in you so that you can give back, not only to us in this organization, but to the next parent out there who has a blind child, the next parent who needs to know the truth that you're learning right now. The NOPBC, the Student Division, and the rest of us are all part of one big organization. We all share one philosophy—that it's respectable to be blind.
There's one mission in the Federation--to change what it means to be blind. There's one movement that is going to change the lives of your children, and that's the National Federation of the Blind. Recognize that you're part of the whole. You're part of the family. Because of that, I commit to you by saying, "I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind." Thank you for your time.
by Dr. Jessica Ewell
Introduction by Carlton Walker: Our next speaker on the topic of life without limits is Dr. Jessica Ewell. And she's an opera singer!
It's a great pleasure to be here with you this morning. Thank you to Carol Castellano and President Carlton Walker for putting together such a great seminar. I want to talk to you from the perspective of someone who has been blind since I was a little child. The topic of this seminar is "No Limits," and there are no limits to the things I could talk to you about. I've chosen three aspects of what "No Limits" means for you as parents of blind children and what it can mean for your children as they grow up and realize their potential.
The first thing I want to talk to you about is talent. Each person has the capacity to live for something greater than himself or herself and to share with others so that others can also benefit. Everyone has gifts. If I talk to each of you, I'm sure you can tell me about the gifts your child has. But it's important to let your children experiment and find out what their gifts are. When I was little, my parents were very good at this. They let me play a lot. They let me figure out what I had to give, what I was good at.
I went through all sorts of things. For the longest time I thought it would be really good to be a waitress. I thought I'd be great! I pretended I was carrying trays. Then I wanted to be a judge, so we went through a courtroom spell. People would come up to me and I'd put them on the stand and they would call me Your Honor. It was great! Then I wanted to be a model. And finally I wanted to be a musician.
My parents let me go through all of those phases. They were very supportive. They never said, "How are you going to be a waitress? You can't do that!" They let me discover what I really could do, what I could offer. I discovered that I loved telling stories. I loved bringing music to people and bringing people into the beauty of art, helping them know what is true and good. My parents encouraged me in those things.
The other side of bringing out your child's talents is the tough love that Anil Lewis spoke about earlier. If I decided to take dance lessons, great! But I had to commit myself to those lessons. I couldn't take them and stop and move on to something else. I had to take them for at least a year, and I had to practice.
This discipline applies not only to areas that are unrelated to blindness, but also to training in blindness skills. In order to become successful adults, your children need skills. They're not going to wake up and suddenly be amazing travelers. They have to go through all the boringness of practicing. They have to get lost and find out how to get unlost.
I hated practicing the piano. I remember my cousin babysitting me, and she had been told to make sure that I practiced. I was great at throwing tantrums, because I had a really strong will. My cousin can tell you that I had my mind set on not practicing that day. But luckily for me, she was stronger than I was. She said, "You're going to sit there and you're going to practice."
My parents took me seriously. If you really believe in your child's gifts, you also must believe that your child needs the training that will bring out those gifts and develop them to their fullest. So training is the second piece that I want to emphasize today. Whether or not your child pursues the talent she is developing now, the skills that she learns through practice and discipline will carry over into whatever she decides to do.
Finally, I want to talk about trust. It's so important for you to trust your kids and to give them real responsibilities. I'm the oldest child in my family. I was thrilled when my baby brothers arrived. Then I was even more thrilled when I got a sister--I wanted a sister very badly! I remember being really really excited because my parents let me take care of my brothers and sister. I don't mean they pretended I was taking care of them while they supervised. No, they said, "Jessie's in charge. She's taking care of you. She's the oldest, so she's the authority."
I remember telling my mother that I could rate my grandparents and my aunts and uncles according to how much they trusted me. I said, "Aunt So-and-So, I don't like her because she never lets me hold Ben." And I said, "I love you, Mom, because you're not afraid to let me hold him. You let me hold him all the time." I distinctly remember how much that trust meant to me.
As the parent of a blind child, you may feel it's a little scary to let go. Sometimes it's easier to protect your child than to let him go out and do the protecting. I encourage you to trust your children and let them feel that trust. As they grow up, they're going to become contributing members of society who can give of themselves. They're going to learn that contributing is a heavy and glorious responsibility. Teach them the skills they need so that your trust will be well founded.
I would love to be here for you as a resource. If you just want to talk, or if you want to tell me about your child's talents and accomplishments, I am here for you. Thank you for being here this morning, and enjoy your convention!
by Lindsay Yazallino
Introduction by Carlton Walker: Our next speaker on the topic of no limits, Lindsay Yazallino, is a neuroscience researcher at a little place you might have heard of called MIT.
Thank you to everyone here from the NFB and the NOPBC. I'm excited to share with everyone about my career and my experiences getting to where I am now. I work in a cognitive neuroscience lab. That means that we study how the brain functions. Specifically, we're interested in mental processes. We're looking at how blind people use parts of the brain that ordinarily handle vision. We want to learn what those areas typically devoted to vision are doing instead in people who are blind.
I want to give you some background on how I got to this position. I've been a science geek for as long as I can remember. We talk about there being no limits. Although I grew up blind, the idea was never planted in my head that there could be limits in the first place. My parents simply expected that if all the sighted kids were doing something, I'd be doing it, too. One of the myths out there is that blind people can't do science, that you need sight to pursue a scientific career. I can't think of anything that is less true! I never thought, “I'm blind, but I can do science.” I just thought, “okay, I want to do science, and that's what I'm going to do.”
I took a lot of science in middle school and high school, and I loved it. I knew I was going to pursue a career in the sciences, and so did my parents. They were very supportive of that choice. I earned my undergraduate degree at Brown University, majoring in cognitive science, the study of mental processes. Like many undergrads, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my major. It was a fascinating field, but I didn't have career connections. I didn't know people in the field.
One of the best things I did after college was to take a risk and move to Boston. I wouldn't necessarily suggest jumping into a new city with no job, but as things turned out, that's what I did. I got involved doing research at a lab at MIT, not the lab where I'm involved now. I was working on how blind people use the visual parts of the brain for language. I was working in that lab, getting all kinds of experience--and the next thing you know, I was contacted by my current boss. He knew the researcher I was working for at the time, and he asked me if I wanted to know more about what his lab was doing. I went to visit, and he asked me all kinds of questions. Pretty soon it sounded like a job interview. His questions started to sound like interview questions. I thought, “Wait a minute! What's going on here?” At the end of my visit he offered me a job.
My job is a two-year research position working on a project to design a videogame that will help with navigation. It involves looking at how the brain responds in blind people using a cane and navigating new environments. We're trying to use that knowledge to design a system that will help supplement the O&M curriculum and help blind people learn problem-solving strategies. Ultimately it may increase confidence and independence.
I've been working there since last July, and I couldn't think of a better job to have! We're in a small lab with a very close-knit group of people. We do a lot of functional MRI (fMRI) studies. A person lies in an MRI scanner, and we look at the brain when it's in action. We're not just looking at the structure of the brain, but at what it does when people are in action--reading Braille or navigating in a virtual game or looking at tactile graphics. We can actually see what the brain is doing. With these studies we hope to get a scientific understanding of the brain and to use that knowledge to help with the development of educational methods and technologies so that blind people can be more independent. The people in the lab are operating under the assumption that blind people are fully capable.
We're working on several studies. At this point I'm in charge of two of them. Various members of the lab handle different tasks. I'm in charge of recruiting and training participants and designing the software that presents scripts to be used in the scanner. I'll be doing some data analysis and writing up the findings. When we have our findings assembled and written up, our goal is to publish them in some of the leading scientific journals. I just got my first publication out a few months ago. It was totally awesome! There's nothing like searching the scientific databases and having your own name come up!
I want to leave you with an understanding that "no limits" means, from the outset, not even planting the idea that limits exist. For me it was just assumed that there were no limits in academics. There were no limits in traveling on my own. I love going to airports and exploring. To me going to new places is a normal thing. I don't think, “I'm blind, but I can do these things.” It's just part of who I am. Growing up, blindness was treated as a normal and okay part of who I am. Even though the process of how I did things was different sometimes, ultimately the outcomes were the same. It's so important to have the gut level confidence that blind kids can do the things they want to do and that blindness need not be any kind of influence whatsoever.
I know that raising a blind child isn't easy. I'm very thankful for what my parents have done. They made it seem easy to me, but I'm sure it wasn't always easy for them.
You're going to meet lots of new people at this convention, and I encourage you to enjoy this experience. Thank you so much.
by Al Maneki
From the Editor: Dr. Al Maneki retired in 2007 after serving as a mathematician with the US Department of Defense for thirty-three years. This article is an expanded version of the presentation he gave during the NOPBC conference on July 1, 2013.
Up to now, parents of every blind child have inevitably run up against this vexing problem: "My blind child will be taking geometry next year. How will we handle all of those drawings?" Back in my student days, that question didn't arise until the second or third year of high school. Today this question is more likely to come up in middle school. In my day, from the administrator's point of view, the answer was simple: "We will exempt your child from this required course." As simple as this answer is, it is never the right answer. Yet, most parents, including mine, accepted that answer because they knew of no other alternative. We all knew that it wasn't right, but we accepted it anyway.
When I studied at the University of Hawai'i, I figured out a way to handle the diagrams in a standard geometry class. I discovered the Sewell Raised Line Drawing Kit. Although I lacked the motor skills to draw diagrams on this drawing board, my professors or fellow students drew the diagrams for me. When the time came for me to demonstrate mastery of the subject matter, I verbally described the pictures that other students were drawing. If my descriptions were satisfactory, my professors accepted my answers to their test questions.
Fortunately, today there are better solutions, and fewer parents are saying "yes" to exemptions from required courses. The blind children of today cannot afford to wait until the start of their geometry classes or the start of their college studies to learn graphic skills. It is beginning to be understood that just as Braille is best mastered if it is taught at an early age, we must also begin teaching graphic skills to blind children at an early age. Braille and tactile graphics are inseparable. They belong to the same tactile medium. To describe competence in the tactile medium, whether it is in the form of Braille dots or raised lines, my colleagues and I have coined the term tactile fluency.
In a real sense, Braille and raised-line graphics are part of the same medium for learning and self-expression. In the sighted world, written language and pictorial representations exist because some ideas are better communicated in words and others in pictures. The two complement each other. Sighted people can be equally at ease expressing their thoughts in words or in pictures, depending on which is most suitable to the situation. Likewise, blind people should be equally at home reaching for a slate and stylus or reaching for a raised-line sketchpad.
We blind people are too accustomed to the idea of expressing in words what is best described in pictures. Often it is time-consuming and inefficient to express in words what is best conveyed with diagrams or drawings. This inefficiency must cease! If blind persons are to be tactilely fluent, we must be proficient in drawing and interpreting diagrams as well as in Braille reading and writing. We encourage our sighted children to start reading and drawing before kindergarten; we must encourage our blind children to do likewise. Their first efforts at drawing the simplest objects may appear crude. Yet, with encouragement and more practice, their skills will improve.
Tactile-graphics technology has advanced to the point where we can produce satisfactory diagrams with embossing devices and incorporate these diagrams into Braille textbooks. However, the ability of blind people to draw their own diagrams lags far behind. The Sewell Raised Line Drawing Kit, the APH Draftsman, and other devices still exist. However, the potential to teach blind people to sketch on these boards or to use them as a medium of self-expression has been given minimal emphasis. Furthermore, there has never been an effective way to perform erasures and make changes to tactile sketches.
When future historians examine the records, I think they will conclude that the revolution in tactile fluency began in 2008. In other articles, I've described my first meeting with Mike Rosen and Mike Coleman, two professors in the School of Engineering at the University of Vermont. In the freewheeling way that scholars, scientists, artists, and engineers can let their imaginations roam, we conjured up the inspiration for developing an eraser for the raised-line drawing board. After all, who can imagine using pencils without erasers? In this light, the idea of creating an eraser for the drawing board was compelling. To Rosen and Coleman, the design of an eraser was a perfect fit for the School of Engineering's required course, the Senior Experience in Engineering Design, or SEED.
The National Federation of the Blind is an organization that never hesitates to take bold action when it can support a good idea. When I explained the SEED project and the minimal funding it would require to President Marc Maurer, he immediately said "yes!" The payoff from our SEED investment was immediate. At the 2009 convention in Detroit, we showed the first prototype of our thermal eraser. This was only the beginning. Today, not only do we have a sleek battery-powered thermal eraser, but we now have the beginnings of an entire line of products that allow for the creation, editing, reproduction, and digital transmission of raised-line drawings.
By the spring of 2011 our work in tactile graphics had outgrown the scope of the SEED course. At this point Mike Rosen, Mike Coleman, SEED graduate Joshua Coffee, and I decided that tactile graphics had matured to the point where its work should be organized as a separate corporate venture. With support from NFB and the University of Vermont, we founded E.A.S.Y. LLC, Engineering to Assist and Support You, early in 2012.
I want to say a few words about our company and its four principals: Rosen, Coleman, Coffee, and me. We are deeply committed to the revolution in tactile fluency. Since I have written much about myself elsewhere, I will say here only that I serve without compensation as the chairman of E.A.S.Y. LLC's board of advisors. Rosen and Coleman have given up most of their teaching duties and a good part of their secure university salaries to devote more of their time to our company. Joshua Coffee could have accepted a much better paying position with a well-established company, but chose instead to cast his lot with us. E.A.S.Y. has been organized as a for-profit company. Its mission statement (available at <easytactilegraphics.com>), however, commits us to providing remarkable functionality at affordable prices.
We couldn't have chosen a finer group of people to join us in the tactile fluency revolution. Both Mikes cut their eye teeth on our movement, not only by exhibiting the first prototype in 2009, but also by enthusiastically taking part in our March for Independence in Detroit that year. Mike, Mike, and Josh understand the benefits of an NFB partnership in product development. They are working with us in the best traditions established by our historical relationships with Ray Kurzweil and Deane Blazie.
At the NFB national convention in Orlando this past summer, the E.A.S.Y. staff presented sessions for parents, teachers, and children to show the line of products, collectively known as inTACT, which are either available for sale or under development. We demonstrated how easy it is to use our drawing board and how effortlessly blind persons of all ages can construct many images, some simple, others more complex. With inTACT, there will be no excuse for exempting blind students from geometry and other classes requiring the construction of graphic images. There will be no excuse for not requiring blind students to submit the same drawings that are required of their sighted peers. Classroom teachers and teachers of blind students will be able to grade and return corrected drawings to blind students.
At the NOPBC session for parents and teachers entitled "Making and Understanding Raised-Line Drawings," I used the inTACT digitized sketchpad to construct the Feuerbach Circle for an acute triangle. The purpose of this construction was not to delve into the intricacies of the Feuerbach Circle, but to show how our sketchpad could be used efficiently in a classroom or in a staff briefing. With our digitized sketchpad and software, the triangle and circle not only appeared on my sketchpad as I drew them, but also simultaneously appeared on the projection screen so the audience could view what I was drawing. At that very moment, I could not help but experience sadness and satisfaction about now having the capacity to perform a task I could never do during my student days and working career. I also thought about my early teachers who said that a blind person could never do mathematics because of the drawing and the writing of equations that the discipline entailed. The memory of the many who might have scoffed inwardly at the thought of a blind person doing mathematics is bittersweet.
At the convention, E.A.S.Y. was also invited to hold a session at NFB Camp to teach tactile graphics to blind and sighted children. Ten youngsters took part in our session. Since we did not know what to expect, we were most surprised when all of the students started to draw their own pictures as soon as we explained how the sketchpad works. Although we adults were not always able to know what the drawings represented, all of the youngsters could tell us what they were drawing when we asked them. What we intended as a one-hour session lasted well over two hours. It became very clear to us from our NFB Camp experience that tactile graphics skills can be taken up very easily by blind or sighted children if we afford them the opportunity. Not only will tactile graphics tools be valuable to blind children, they will also be valuable to sighted children with blind parents.
I am convinced that the inTACT line of graphics products is just the beginning of tactile graphics tools. The early successes of the revolution in tactile fluency may spawn competing products. We at E.A.S.Y. welcome the competition, and we will do our best to stay ahead of it. One idea that E.A.S.Y. looks forward to developing, for example, is a way to integrate Braille labeling and raised-line drawings on a single board. But we will not wait for the arrival of the ultimate tools to start the tactile fluency revolution. We will take the tools we have now and use them to the benefit of our blind students.
All of us--E.A.S.Y. staff, families, teachers, and students--are vital participants in the revolution in tactile fluency. We must inform teachers of blind students and school administrators about the new products in tactile graphics and how important it is for our schools to teach tactile fluency. Along with ensuring that our blind children learn Braille, parents must place drawing boards in their hands at the earliest possible age. Just as we encourage sighted children to draw what they see, the mantra for our blind children will be, "Draw what you feel." With these early beginnings, it will become natural for parents to insist that their blind children receive appropriate graphics instruction throughout their school years. We must insist that this instruction be specifically included in every IEP. We are currently in discussions with the NFB Jernigan Institute to include graphics units in all of our BELL summer programs beginning in 2014. Our NFB training centers should incorporate graphics training into their programs as well.
I deeply regret that the revolution in tactile fluency did not arrive over sixty years ago when I was in my formative years and could have benefited from it. I'm sorry that I couldn't integrate text and graphics to deepen my comprehension of many technical subjects. Above all, I know that my career as a mathematician would have been much more rewarding if I had both Braille and graphics tools at my command. However, I am optimistic about the prospects for blind students today. Because of the dual facility in Braille and graphics that they will be able to develop, career prospects for them, especially in STEM areas, will far exceed what we think is possible today. Without further delay, let the tactile fluency revolution begin!
by Mary Jo Hartle
From the Editor: Mary Jo Hartle is a teacher of blind students and the mother of two young children. The following article is based upon a presentation she gave to a group of parents during the NOPBC conference. You can visit her blog at <makingitontheplayground.com>.
I became blind at the age of twelve. As far as the doctors could figure out, I had an allergic reaction to some medication. I am legally blind, with vision that is probably like that of somebody with Stargardt's or macular degeneration or optic nerve hypoplasia--something that affects the optic nerve. I was one of those kids who grew up on the fence between being blind and sighted, trying to do things as a sighted person but not being very successful.
I became acquainted with the National Federation of the Blind in 1999, when I attended my first convention. (I'm so active with the NFB now, I sometimes joke that I should have said no to that first phone call!) Through the NFB I learned to deal with my blindness, and I ended up becoming a teacher of blind kids.
Through the program at Louisiana Tech I got my certification as a teacher of blind students. I also got national certification as an orientation and mobility specialist. After I graduated, I went to work for the national office of the NFB in Baltimore, where I served as director of education. My husband is Jesse Hartle, who is a governmental affairs specialist with the Federation. We've now entered the new world of being parents. This is our daughter, Kayla, on my lap, and we're expecting our second child in September. So this is a very fun time for us.
I want to start today by talking about cane travel for young blind children. Often parents are told, "Your child has some vision, so he doesn't really need a cane." My mom was told that I didn't need a cane when I went blind, because I could still see a little bit. I would argue that anyone who has a visual impairment can benefit from having a cane, even if they don't use it all the time. The cane provides a tremendous amount of information, and this is especially important to children with visual impairments. Children don't realize how much they're not seeing. They think they can see, but they're missing drop-offs and steps, and they're bumping into obstacles that are just slightly outside their field of vision.
It takes time for people to go through the emotional process of accepting a cane. A person has to adjust to the social perceptions that go along with cane use. The earlier a child starts to use a cane, the better off she or he will be in the long run. The child will get used to the cane, and it will become part of who she is. She won't experience the social stigma that kids feel when they adopt the cane at a later age.
Most blind people have some degree of vision, whether it's light perception or a bit more. But our vision is like Swiss cheese--there are gaps in it. If you have a little bit of vision, it might be useful in some circumstances but not in others. Lighting can make a big difference. Some people can't see in the bright sun because there's too much glare. Some people can't see in a dark theater. The cane is a tool that fills in the holes where our vision doesn't work. Providing this tool is a way you can help your children, equipping them to make up for the gaps they may have.
It's amazing how easily little kids take to using a cane! It's only as they get older that they take in society's perceptions: "Don't use the cane! It makes you look blind!" In the NFB we promote using the long white cane, and using the straight cane, especially with kids. It's more rigid than a folding cane, and it doesn't collapse unexpectedly like the telescoping canes tend to do. The NFB canes have a metal tip; that's a big difference between our canes and many others. The metal tip gives a lot of good feedback. You can feel various textures with it, such as asphalt versus pavement. Another great benefit is the sound quality for auditory feedback. When I cross a street I can hear my cane tapping, echoing off the curb on the other side. If I'm in a shopping mall and pass an opening, I can hear the change in the echoes. These subtle things are important. Children start to notice them when they're very young, and they build upon them as they get older.
Another advantage of the NFB canes is that they're very lightweight. When the cane is heavier, the child may drag it rather than tapping it, because his arm is getting tired. The NFB has a program to provide free white canes, and you can get a new free cane for your child every six months. Kids outgrow everything else, and they outgrow their canes, too. You can send your old cane back or pass it along to another child.
Movement is the key to independence. Movement permits exploration by touch, and it is through touch that a blind child learns about the world. As a sighted person, when you walk into a room, you instantly take in the layout. When we, as blind people, walk into a room, we gather information by listening to the echoes and sounds and by walking around and exploring to find out what's around us.
As you know, babies and toddlers take in a lot of information visually, but they also learn by exploration. They reach, they touch, they grab things. Sighted kids want to touch everything. Blind kids have the same need to explore and put together the pieces of the puzzle.
I started a blog a couple of years ago. It's called Making It on the Playground. You're welcome to check it out. It's intended to be a resource for parents and teachers. I post various ideas for activities with kids in different age ranges. I got the idea for the title because I started thinking about how our children visit all sorts of playgrounds. Play is their form of work. From the time your child is born, he experiences all sorts of playgrounds. For an infant, the playground is your lap. You hold him, talk to him, play hand games with him, make faces. If the child is blind, you need to expose him to the same things. Talk to him, bring things to his hands that you would show a sighted child visually.
From the lap the infant migrates to the floor. Again, our blind children need the same opportunities as children who are sighted. Think about what you would do with a sighted child, and then think about ways you can adapt that activity for a child without sight. As the child lies on the floor she feels new textures, touches things, listens to sounds and tries to figure out where they come from.
Parents sometimes hear from professionals, "Because your baby is blind, you can expect that there will be some delays." That doesn't have to be true. Blind children are capable of developing at the same rate as their sighted peers. Deficits happen because the child is missing out on experiences and opportunities that are present in the environment. A sighted baby lies on the floor and reaches for the toys she sees. A blind baby doesn't know those toys are there until you show her. Use toys that make noise, and bring them within her reach so she can touch them and explore them.
When the child is ten or eleven months old, she should start to cruise around. Again, you may need to introduce this concept to your blind child. Place her near a chair or couch and show her that she can pull herself up. Movement is definitely possible for blind children at this age, but they need a different trigger to get them started.
As soon as the child begins to walk, he should have a cane in his hands. You can model for him how to use it. Get a cane for yourself, called a teaching cane. As you move the cane back and forth, let the child touch your hand and feel what you're doing. She'll have her own little cane, and she'll try to copy you. At first she won't have the motor skills to move the cane correctly, in an arc from side to side, but she can start to get the idea about what needs to happen. Encourage her to hold the cane in the right position, cupping it with the hand and swinging it back and forth with the fingers. We recommend that the cane should come to the chin, or even to the bridge of the nose. A longer cane gives feedback sooner, so it allows more reaction time than a short cane.
Musical toys are great for blind toddlers. You can play hide and seek with your child, using a toy that makes sound. Hide the toy and have the child listen and go find it. It's a great way to encourage exploration and problem-solving.
Something I discovered accidentally is the bathroom as a learning environment. Acoustically it's wonderful--it has great echoes! You can improve upon the echoes if you take out the rugs and the towels. Go in there with your child and play with a variety of sounds. Tap a spoon on the floor, or bang wooden blocks together. Your child will begin to manipulate his toys in different ways to get new sounds from them. The toy will make a different noise close to the wall than it does out in the middle of the room. This is great training for later on, when he starts to pick up different sounds with the cane.
The kitchen is also a great environment for learning. Most toddlers are underfoot when you cook dinner, pulling pots and pans out of the cupboards. If your blind child isn't doing that, set her next to the cupboard and pull a few things out for her. Let her play with real-world objects such as spoons, measuring cups, metal bowls, and egg beaters.
Sometimes tactile defensiveness begins when the child touches something by accident that isn't friendly, or when she feels forced to touch something that she doesn't like. You have to work patiently with children to overcome this tendency. It can be done through a variety of activities. You can begin with a substance such as sand or gravel. Have the child dig, make piles, fill bowls, and find toys that are buried. Dried beans and rice are also great. Later you can introduce Play-Doh and clay. Finally, move on to messy play with cornstarch and water—it creates a great substance that stiffens up when you work with it and turns to liquid when you let it go.
Mannerisms, sometimes called blindisms, may begin with blind infants and toddlers. Children may do a lot of self-stimulating activities such as rocking or eye-rubbing. Like thumb-sucking or nail-biting, these can become entrenched habits. Try to distract the child with an activity that will occupy him. When he is a little older you can have a special code word to remind him to stop, so that you don't embarrass him. You can reward him for going a whole day without the behavior. You have to let children know that their sighted friends and relatives don't rock or eye-rub. Sometimes professionals just shrug off the behavior and say it's something blind kids do, but those behaviors set the child apart and make it harder for him to fit in socially.
I want to emphasize that our blind children have the same capabilities as their sighted peers. If you're not sure what sighted children of a particular age are doing, go out and observe. Watch your neighbor kids or your nieces and nephews. Ask yourself if your blind child of the same age is able to do the things those kids are doing. If your seven-year-old neighbor walks a block to get home from school, think about teaching your blind child to take that walk alone. You might start out walking with him, then let him walk on ahead of you. Then allow him to walk with a friend. By the time your child is a teenager and his friends are hanging out at the mall, he should be able to take the bus and hang out at the mall, too.
It can be hard for you, as the parent of a blind child, to separate your normal fear for your child, as a parent, from your fear because your child is blind. Are you reluctant to have her do something because you don't feel comfortable with it as a parent, or because you're afraid she can't do it because of her blindness? Think carefully about these things and try to sort them out.
The environment for people who are blind comes with many barriers. The more you can break down those barriers for your kids, the more they will learn to be self-advocates. They will use the movement they learn in order to gain independence.
by Steve Hastalis
From the Editor: Steve Hastalis has been a dedicated railroad buff since childhood. For thirty-five years he was employed by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). In this article he describes a presentation he gave as part of the Youth Track for tweens and teens during national convention.
I grew up in Chicago, and I have had experience with railroads all my life. As a blind person who would never drive, I understood from earliest childhood that mass transit and intercity passenger transportation would provide me with independence and freedom of movement. My mother and many mobility instructors promoted positive attitudes about city life, independent travel, and the workings of mass transit. I have always enjoyed playing with model railroads, and such play has shown me much about how real railroads work. I want to pass along these positive concepts to the young people coming up through the National Federation of the Blind today.
On Thursday evening, July 4, at our national convention in Orlando, Florida, a group of middle- and high-school students in the Federation's Youth Track Program joined me for an enjoyable and instructive session. We began by introducing ourselves and describing the communities where we live. Significantly, all of the attendees came from small communities with little if any public transportation and no passenger train service. Several participants were the sighted brothers and sisters of blind youth. They had used sleepshades and tried cane travel during the Cane Walk earlier in the convention.
I described operations on Chicago's elevated and commuter trains. When I played recordings of train sounds, someone remarked excitedly, "There's the locomotive!"
I invited the students to examine HO scale tracks (a small, fairly common scale used in model railroads) on a board, including an intersection and switches. I showed them models of commuter train cars and a locomotive, and explained how they fit on the rails. The students gathered around and eagerly examined the equipment. They really enjoyed playing with the model railroad. In the course of all this activity, someone exclaimed, "The train derailed!"
As we wound down, I told one girl that I did not use a cane until I was twelve. She asked me why not, sounding very troubled. She asked me how I got around. I told her that I had many difficult and frustrating moments. I asked her when she started to use a cane, and she told me she was four or five years old. I replied that she demonstrates the progress we have made in the National Federation of the Blind.
by Mark A. Riccobono, Sandy Halverson, Kayleigh Joiner, and Raveena Alli
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, Volume 56, Number 9, October 2013
From the Editor: Mark Riccobono serves as executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute. On Saturday, July 6, 2013, he moderated a panel on one of the Federation's most exciting new programs, Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning, or BELL.
Mark Riccobono: "It's the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting." This quote is taken from author Paulo Coelho's book, The Alchemist, a novel that is now described as an eternal testament to the transformative power of our dreams and the importance of listening to our hearts. The Alchemist was first released when I was a rising senior in high school. At that time my vision was not much better than it is today--20/1000 on a good day in one eye--but I did not think of myself as a blind person. I did not read The Alchemist when it first came out because reading was a painful strain for me. I did not know what my dreams were because in my heart I did not believe that I had the ability to pursue them. I did not accept the opportunity to learn Braille because I did not have any idea why I would want to learn it.
That year was the first time a teacher ever raised the idea of Braille with me. The expectation was not that I would learn Braille, but simply that they could teach me Braille if I wanted to learn it. Why would I want to? What would I gain? How would it help me pursue my dreams? No one presented answers to these mysterious questions. I was left with a riddle that had no obvious answer.
Three years later I found the National Federation of the Blind. Instantly I had a circle of blind friends who took the time to teach me that I had something to offer, that I could pursue my own dreams, and that there were many great reasons to want to learn Braille. In The Alchemist Coelho writes, "When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too." This sentiment articulates my experience with the love and faith I found in members of the Federation and their expectations for me as a blind person.
One of the many gifts I will always treasure from this organization is that my blind friends took the time to teach me why I would want to learn Braille and then to teach me how to read and write the code itself. Since learning Braille more than fifteen years ago, I have joined my blind brothers and sisters in seeking innovative ways to change the expectations related to Braille instruction for children and adults.
In the journey presented in The Alchemist, we find that, "When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." This is true of our movement as well--maybe the way to state it is, "When you dream of something, all the Federation conspires in helping you to achieve it."
Members of our Maryland affiliate were tired of blind children being refused Braille instruction, and they had a dream of raising the expectations for these youth. In fact, it was Jackie Anderson, this year's NFB Distinguished Educator of Blind Children, and another blind mom who feared the low expectations the school system would have for their children and dreamed of building a better model for Braille literacy through the Federation. In the summer of 2008 the first Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) program was held in Maryland. It was immediately clear that this program had the potential to change expectations for the education of blind children around the country. BELL is a two-week summer program to provide young blind and low-vision children with fun, intensive Braille instruction in an environment of high expectations and positive attitudes, with role models from the National Federation of the Blind.
In The Alchemist we are offered the observation that "everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time." After witnessing the impact of the first BELL Program, we brought the model into the Jernigan Institute, added some new components, hired some quality Braille instructors, and piloted our approach in Maryland and Georgia during the summer of 2009. Two affiliates were still not enough. Today we find rising expectations around Braille with the NFB BELL Program being offered this summer in almost 40 percent of our affiliates, but we will not have realized the transformative nature of our dreams until the bell rings for Braille literacy throughout every affiliate in our Federation.
This morning we offer you different perspectives on the BELL Program to demonstrate why we all should be proud of our accomplishments and committed to the progress yet to be made.
Our first presenter represents the long-time committed members of the Federation who understand the importance of Braille and who want to change the expectations. For even the most committed, the notion of undertaking the BELL Program may feel daunting. Here to share her experience, to invite you to raise your own expectations for what we can do together, and to confront your fears about leading the way with the NFB BELL Program is the president of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille and the lead coordinator for the NFB of Virginia BELL Programs, Sandy Halverson.
Sandy Halverson: I'm going to tell you how I went from skeptic (which I'm usually not) to sold on BELL, which I totally am now--how blind kids benefit, and why your state should find ways to join our National Federation of the Blind BELL ringers.
The NFB of Virginia first began to consider conducting a BELL Program near the end of 2009. After a conference call to discuss some of our concerns with the Jernigan Institute education team, we decided that we simply couldn't afford to participate. I was thinking we were done with all that BELL business, when our president, Fred Schroeder, said, "Sandra ..."--I knew what was coming because he never calls me Sandra!--"I want a BELL Program in 2010, and I want you to coordinate it."
So I said, "All right," but I was sure he was crazy, and I was certain it would not work.
Throughout the BELL volunteer coordinator training weekend at our National Center, we talked about funding--we will never raise that much. We talked about recruiting five or six students from ages four to eleven for two weeks--we will never find them! We talked about the supplies, food, and volunteers that would be needed--not happening!
However, since problem-solving is one of my strengths, and because I like the challenge of a project with lots of detail, I ditched my negative thinking and decided to act positively. After all, if I could come up with the hardcopy Braille system we have used since 1980 for tracking Washington Seminar appointments and reporting data collection, surely I could whip this BELL project into shape.
So what does the coordinator do? Identify members in your affiliate, including your parents of blind children division--people who are passionate about blind kids; like fundraising; enjoy being out in the community; and have good Braille, travel, and organizational skills. Someone in that group is likely to be a member of a church that has school and playground facilities that meet our needs. Lots of churches do not charge for their use--though, like the NFB, they appreciate donations. Our members who manage vending locations will often contribute water, snacks, lunch, or whatever else they can; ask them. Become very familiar with the BELL curriculum. You won't be teaching all the classes, but the reading, writing, blindness skills, cooking, and craft projects will determine the supplies, transportation, and volunteers you need.
Our funding comes from local Kiwanis and Lions Clubs, our local chapters, the board of the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired, and one school district--a first-time occurrence for us. This year, for the first time, a mayor's commission on the disabled has said that they will cover the participation cost of two children in one of our programs this summer, a contact made by our scholarship winner, Tasha Hubbard. I certainly had never thought of that committee, but will from now on.
The coordinator recruits a teacher of blind students and helps find parents. Before you decide you don't know any teachers of blind students or parents with blind children, our national office maintains databases of Braille Pals families, Braille Readers Are Leaders contest participants, free white cane recipients, Future Reflections readers, and those who receive American Action Fund Free Braille Books. Your library for the blind and state rehabilitation agency will often mail to families in targeted zip codes, but you get only the names of those who choose to register or contact you directly. Our Jernigan Institute staff will also help with information about teachers of blind students.
Our first Virginia BELL Program did happen in 2010, and Virginia has been ringing bells throughout the state ever since. Jackie Otwell, whom many of you know, was a godsend to Mike Fish and me that year. Mike was a new teacher of blind students, and I was a first-time coordinator. Jackie Anderson, Casey Robertson, and Sheena Manuel are honorary Virginians and phenomenal teachers who are passionate about their work, believe in our positive philosophy of blindness, and love working with blind children.
So what did we do in our first program? None of our students had been to a library containing a large collection of children's Braille books, so we decided to go to the Martin Luther King Library in DC. Our six kids, ranging in age from four to eleven, and lots of volunteers, one per child, used our canes to walk the two blocks to the bus stop. We boarded a bus, got off at a Metro station, had lunch at McDonald's (where our bill was so high I had to run my debit card twice), and rode the Metro. Our students used canes for the first time on escalators and walked several blocks, only to learn that we were in the wrong place. I think the adults had more trouble with the ninety-plus temperature and equally high humidity than the kids did. Retracing our steps and walking even farther was not a good option. I started handing out money like a drug dealer, organized our crowd in cabs, and off to the library we went. The kids had a great time and were absolutely worn out by the time their parents took them home at the end of the day. Our youngest student, Hannah, said, "I went on a bus, the Metro, and a cab. I want to ride in an airplane." I told her she'd have to talk with her mom about that.
One of our kids ate kosher meals and snacks. Her parents packed her lunch items separately so that she'd have to put her sandwich together like everyone else. Kosher ingredients were used in our cooking projects as well.
We went to a museum, a farmers' market, a local chocolate shop, and a boat ride to learn about Eastern Shore of Virginia water life. The field trips were not organized by the sighted for us; we did that ourselves. We didn't drive the bus or other transportation, but we talked about how, as blind people, we could get the information we needed. We talked about how we would transact our business with the drugstore proprietor; McDonald's; and Wal-Mart, where we bought ingredients for our closing ceremony ice cream social, using Braille cards indicating each student's purchase. We're teaching blind kids how to have fun and build self-confidence in their home and school lives. One of our kids was spotted in the grocery store with his mother, using the cane he had resisted at the beginning of our program.
So what's in it for the kids? Carmen and Jada, two of our NFB of Virginia participants, are here attending their first national convention. They do not attend the same school and never met until last year at BELL. Now they talk to each other every day, probably more often than their parents know. They will be participating in our 2013 Virginia Beach BELL Program.
Recruiting is part of everything we do. Each of us was recruited by someone to become a part of this organization. I was pleased to recruit Diane McGeorge after our first year of BELL, and I have gone on to talk with folks from Idaho, Illinois, Missouri, and California. I cannot commend our Jernigan Institute staff enough for their commitment to this program--the curriculum and the resources are always available to us.
Coordinating a successful program takes time--talking with parents on multiple occasions until their child has been registered, recruiting volunteers, finding the location, reviewing IEPs and consent forms, resolving food and transportation concerns, and all the other stuff. A good coordinator delegates and follows up, confirming that all tasks have been completed. You get those guidelines from the curriculum, too.
Thank you, Dr. Maurer, for your support of and commitment to this program to bring our message of hope to the next generation of young blind children. Thank you, Fred, for causing me to do something I didn't think would work. Thank you, John, for not complaining when I have one more call to return, when more BELL supplies are on our front porch, and when you'll have to bring home dinner again. This is why we do what we do, and may there be more of us next year singing "Ring My Bell!" Thank you.
Mark Riccobono: Our BELL Programs create opportunities to engage with outstanding Braille instructors who had not known the Federation previously. They provide a means for us to train future teachers whose broader impact on the educational system will be the change we want to see. Our next presenter is one of those future teachers who will bring the spirit and high expectations of the NFB BELL Program to her work in the field. A blind woman who herself has had to overcome not receiving early Braille instruction in the educational system, and whose mentoring and passion for Braille now help fuel our NFB of Texas BELL Program, here is Kayleigh Joiner.
Kayleigh Joiner: Like many other students in this country, I wasn't taught Braille because of my limited amount of residual vision. My TVI deemed me a visual learner, which made me feel like a broken sighted student. Secretly I began teaching myself Braille, through distance education courses from the Hadley School for the Blind, when I was thirteen years old. My TVI chastised me for teaching myself Braille.
After a five-year battle with the school district, I finally received Braille instruction my senior year of high school. During this battle I realized that I wanted to become a TVI so that I could make sure no other blind students would have to go through the struggles I did. I know firsthand the challenges that come with visual learning for blind students.
In the beginning of fourth grade my mom began to doubt whether large print would be effective for me. She saw me struggle to keep up with my sighted peers. When she approached the school district about these issues, she was blamed because she wanted me to do the same amount of work as my sighted peers. The school district wanted to exempt me from standardized testing and reduce my amount of work as a solution. They never considered Braille as an option or an equalizer. My mother was told, "You don't want her to look different," (as if having my face an inch from the book didn't make me look different already). In junior high and high school it would take me anywhere from four to six hours to complete my homework every day. The IEP team wanted to blame the time spent on the fact that I was taking several AP classes, instead of placing the blame where it belonged: on the choice of reading medium. This is why I am so passionate about the BELL Program.
I want to help reverse the Braille literacy crisis by teaching Braille and other blindness skills to all students, including those with residual vision. I want to ensure that our future generation of blind students is literate. I want my students to believe in themselves. I want to lead by example to show that blind people can be independent, productive members of society.
Even today blind students are being told that Braille is hard to learn. However, through activities such as Braille Twister, drawing pictures with the Perkins Brailler, and beach-ball Braille, the students in the BELL Program realize that Braille is fun and not hard to learn. Some students may be told that Braille is slow; however, in the BELL Program students hear competent blind adults reading Braille and realize that Braille is anything but slow. Through the Captain Whozit skit the students learn that the long white cane is a symbol of independence. They also learn about the positive and negative ways that blind people can be portrayed in books and other media. It is our goal for the students to leave the program with improved skills and a brighter outlook on their future.
I first got involved with the BELL Program in 2010 and 2011 when I shadowed Emily Gibbs, our lead teacher of blind students. In 2012 Richie Flores gave me the opportunity to teach at our three BELL Programs in Texas. During that summer, not only was I teaching blind students Braille, but I was also learning how to be a better teacher. This program has reinforced my belief that even students with additional disabilities can benefit from learning the alternative skills of blindness. One student that I had last summer didn't believe that he could successfully pour water wearing sleepshades, due to his cerebral palsy. Because of my belief in him and his abilities, he was able to accomplish the task with great pride. Another student who was cutting up fruit for a fruit kebab didn't think that blind people could be chefs. This student didn't consider that cutting up fruit was something that a chef would do. I was proud to help broaden her mind about the jobs that blind people have.
This summer I had the opportunity to teach nonvisual skills in our two BELL Programs in Texas. During the beginning of the week I noticed that one student was showing some resistance when it came to wearing sleepshades. He was on the verge of tears. I explained to him that wearing sleepshades helps develop our other senses. Lo and behold, by the end of the week during our sound scavenger hunt this student kept his sleepshades down, and his confidence in using his cane grew. It brings me such joy to see the growth in the students from the beginning to the end of the program. Some students are using their canes more than before, while others have gone from knowing no Braille letters to learning the first five.
One aspect of the BELL Program that distinguishes it from other programs is that blind adults are teaching and modeling the skills of blindness for the students. This program is different from other day programs for blind children because the staff has high expectations for the students and encourages them to be independent.
The BELL Program is a great opportunity for those who want to pursue a degree in education. It allows future teachers to gain experience in working with young children, implementing classroom management techniques, and planning curriculum.
Working in the BELL Program is one of the highlights of my summer. By providing these students with a foundation in Braille, we are helping to ensure that they have a bright future, full of limitless possibilities. These students are the future of our organization, and I am proud to do my part in giving them the skills they will need to succeed and live an independent life.
Mark Riccobono: My wife Melissa became president of our Maryland affiliate shortly after the first BELL Program, and Braille enrichment has been a significant part of our summer ever since. We did not know that two years later we would find an even deeper reason to build the dream of the NFB BELL Program. Our first daughter, Oriana, was born in May 2010. When the doctor first mentioned to me that her eyes did not respond as they expected, I immediately remembered the pain of my own struggle for literacy. The difference this time was that I already knew why Braille was important to learn and that the NFB BELL Program had raised the expectations for early Braille instruction. Our daughter is now three, and we are beginning to teach her the code. Next summer we expect her to be ringing the bell in our Baltimore BELL Program.
Before I introduce our last speaker and our reason for building this movement, let me take a moment to thank my brothers and sisters in the Federation for giving me literacy. On behalf of my family I want to publicly thank Jackie Anderson, Sharon Maneki, and the other members of our Maryland affiliate who have made it possible for our daughter to ring the BELL someday--you have helped ensure that my daughter has greater opportunities than I had. That is why Melissa and I will not stop until all blind children have the same opportunity.
Now for our star BELL ringer. She is a rising second grader at Springdale Park Elementary School in Atlanta, Georgia, who knows that Braille is knowledge and knowledge is power. Here to tell us about what the NFB BELL Program means to her is Raveena Alli.
Raveena Alli: Good morning, my Federation family. Hope everyone is doing well and had a wonderful week so far. I know I did.
My name is Raveena Alli, and I am six years old, but very soon to be seven; my birthday is on July 22. I am about to enter second grade at Springdale Park Elementary, which is in Atlanta, Georgia. So in my hand I am holding a peach: can I hear it for my Georgia family please! [Applause]
So, first of all, before I get started, I have three jokes to share. Are you ready for this? ... I can't hear you! ... Are you ready for this? [Applause]
Why did the boy bring a ladder to school? He wanted to go to high school.
Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9.
Where do pencils go for vacation? Pencil-vania. [Laughter and applause]
Today I am here to talk to you about the BELL Program. As you heard, BELL stands for Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning. Say it very slowly. The BELL Program teaches and supports Braille literacy among blind children like me. I attended my first BELL Program two years ago when I was four, and it was so much fun. The two-week summer program introduced me to that super heavy piece of machinery called a Braillewriter. The Braillewriter is now and will always be one of my very best friends because it has taught me how to write Braille. I also played with muffin tins and balls to help me learn the Braille cell. That was really cool. It took a little while for me to learn my alphabet, but now I have moved on to contracted Braille, and I can even make birthday cards and holiday cards with my Braillewriter.
I really enjoyed the BELL Program because, in addition to learning Braille, we did arts and crafts and a Braille dance that I would really like to show you, but I might fall off the stage, and we wouldn't want that! I also enjoyed chatting, as you can see, and meeting new friends, and we talked a lot at lunchtime, and we went on field trips like to the Children's Museum. Besides learning to read and write Braille, the teacher and volunteers taught us about confidence and making sure we use our canes at all times to get around. They said we have to be independent, independent, Independent!
At camp we also did a lot of role plays, teaching others to be polite and courteous. For example, letting people at the grocery store know that it is okay to talk directly to me. They don't have to talk through my mom to ask about me or my cane. I can politely answer and speak up for myself. We also did role plays to teach a sighted person to ask if help is needed and not just grab my arm; that's not really cool! I might need to take their arm, not the other way around.
Please stand up and repeat after me:
Braille is cool!
It's a wonderful tool.
I like BELL.
Can't you tell?
A special shout out to my Georgia president--Mr. Garrick Scott. [Applause]
Mark Riccobono: There you have the journey of the NFB BELL Program. You do not have to be an alchemist to turn dreams into reality. You need the love, faith, imagination, and commitment that we find in this convention hall—the dynamic combination of elements that comes together to make up the National Federation of the Blind. Let the word go out from this day forward that we will not stop until the bell rings for literacy, freedom, and higher expectations for the blind in every community in our nation. Let's go for Braille!
by Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, Volume 56, No. 8, August/September 2013
From the Editor: Dr. Fred Schroeder is first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind. He also serves as first vice president of the World Blind Union, a consortium of organizations of the blind from throughout the world. Dr. Schroeder delivered the following address before a general session of the National Federation of the Blind convention on July 6, 2013.
On Thursday, June 27, 2013, a diplomatic conference of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) adopted a treaty entitled the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.
The treaty contains two major provisions. First, it calls on nations to amend their copyright laws to make it easier to produce more books for the blind. As you know, for many years United States law has allowed books to be produced in Braille and other accessible formats without first having to obtain the permission of the copyright holder. This authority, known as the Chafee Amendment, has been the law for the past seventeen years, and it has worked well--very well.
The United States is not the only nation that has a copyright exception for the blind. Today fifty-seven nations around the world have copyright laws similar to our Chafee Amendment. The book treaty for the blind will expand this authority. As each WIPO member nation ratifies the book treaty for the blind, it agrees to change its national copyright law to permit books to be produced in accessible formats without having to seek the prior permission of the copyright holder. This will greatly increase the production of accessible works around the world.
Producing more books is only the first step in ending what many have called "the book famine." The second major provision contained in the treaty is the authority for nations to share accessible books across national borders.
Before the book treaty for the blind, countries could not share books with blind people living in other countries. That meant that, if a popular book were published, such as a new Harry Potter title, the United States had to record it for the use of its blind citizens and only its citizens. Every other English-speaking country that wanted the book had to record it over again--the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and so on. You may be surprised to learn that no fewer than sixty nations around the world have English as their official language--sixty countries, all recording Harry Potter books over and over again. And that is just Harry Potter. Think of Fifty Shades of Gray. Now, that's a lot of embarrassed narrators!
Not only did books have to be recorded over and over again in every English-speaking country, they also had to be produced in Braille, large print, and any other accessible format. What a waste! All of that will now change as a result of the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled.
This has been a long process. For many years the National Federation of the Blind, together with the World Blind Union (WBU) and its member organizations, has been working with WIPO on the book treaty for the blind. There have been many heroes along the way, not the least of whom is our own Scott LaBarre. Scott's command of the highly technical provisions of the treaty, together with his ability to articulate our position clearly and convincingly, was critical throughout the treaty negotiations. In addition, there are a number of individuals from the international community who stand out as deserving of public recognition and thanks.
First is Chris Friend from the United Kingdom. Chris, who chaired the WBU's Right to Read Campaign until his recent retirement, was an early leader in the treaty effort. Other important leaders included Dan Pescod, also from the United Kingdom, who is the vice chair of the Right to Read Campaign; Francisco Martinez Calvo from the National Organization of the Spanish Blind (ONCE); and Pablo Lecuona from Argentina. And then there is Maryanne Diamond of Australia. During the time Maryanne served as president of the WBU, she made the book treaty for the blind an international priority and mobilized the blind of the world behind the effort. These individuals, together with many others, worked hard. As a result of their efforts, we now have an international treaty that does not just allow, but encourages, the production and cross-border sharing of accessible books.
It was always our intent that the book treaty for the blind respect the right holder's intellectual property. Our goal was neither to strengthen nor to weaken international copyright law. Nevertheless, many right holders, including some patent-right holders who produce no books at all, believed the treaty posed a threat to international intellectual property law. As a result, they sought to include a number of provisions that would strengthen the protections of right holders. The problem was that these provisions would have made the book treaty for the blind so cumbersome and bureaucratic that it would have been entirely unworkable. Fortunately, the right holders did not prevail, and we have a book treaty for the blind that achieves all that we could have hoped for.
After the diplomatic conference adopted the book treaty for the blind, each of WIPO's 186 member nations was invited to sign the treaty as an expression of the country's intent to seek its formal ratification. Thus far the support of the world community has been overwhelming. On the last day of the diplomatic conference, fifty-one WIPO member states (countries) signed the book treaty for the blind.
But why do blind people and others with print disabilities need a special treaty at all? Is it simply to cheer our otherwise desolate lives? Is it to give us a few more novels and magazines to help us pass our lonely days? Or is there a more serious purpose? Of course there is! According to the World Health Organization, there are 285 million blind and low-vision people in the world, and of these 90 percent live in developing countries. 1 The most optimistic estimates project that today blind people have access to no more than 5 percent of books and other published works--and that is in the industrialized world. For the 90 percent of blind people living in developing nations, access to the written word is less than 1 percent. 2
You can imagine the impact this has on education. We do not know the number of blind children in the world who have access to a good education--particularly the 90 percent living in developing nations. The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) does not report data disaggregated by disability type; nevertheless, UNESCO reports that in developing countries 98 percent of children with disabilities do not attend school--98 percent! And, according to UNESCO, in developing nations 99 percent of girls with disabilities are illiterate.3 What a waste of human potential! Access to literacy is not something that blind people should have to request--not a gift doled out according to the benevolence of others. It is a civil and human right, and it must be treated as a right.
It is time to demand that we be taken seriously. As long as society believes that blind children cannot learn, providing accessible books remains an act of charity. As long as society believes that blind adults cannot work, nothing beyond kindness justifies the production of books in Braille and other accessible formats. As long as society believes that blind seniors are doomed to live out their lives in institutions or in the care of their families, accessible books are nothing more than a palliative to ease their suffering.
But blind children can learn, and blind adults can work, and blind seniors can continue to live full, active, productive lives. To do so, we must have the same opportunities as others, and that means we must have access to the written word—not just to a few of the books available to others, but full and equal access.
The Marrakesh Treaty is a monumental step toward full and equal opportunity, but it is only a step. Now we must work on its implementation. We must put our full and concerted effort into urging the president and the United States Senate to ratify the treaty, and to do so without delay. Blind children cannot wait; blind adults cannot wait; blind seniors cannot wait. Justice cannot wait! We, the National Federation of the Blind; we, the collective voice of the nation's blind; we, who believe in blind people, will wait no longer. The treaty must be ratified.
As we have done throughout our seventy-three-year history, we will continue to press for equality--for full and equal access--until the day comes when all blind people are able to live as others, able to learn and work as others, able to live as fully integrated, productive, active members of society. That is what we have always done, and that is what we will continue to do. It is who and what we are; we are the National Federation of the Blind.
1. World Health Organization Media Centre. (June 2012) Visual impairment and blindness. Fact Sheet No. 282. Retrieved from <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/ factsheets/fs282/en>
2. World Blind Union, Right to Read Committee. (2011) Right to Read Campaign--Fall 2011 update: "Will the EU and USA Join the Rest of the World and Finally Agree [to] a Binding Book Treaty for Blind People This November?" Retrieved from <http://www.worldblindunion.org/English/resources/Pages/General-Documents.aspx>
3. Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities Education Task Force. (2012) Background Note for the Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities Task Force on the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). Retrieved from <www.unicef.org/disabilities/index_65319.html>
by Anna Walker and Ethan Solano
From the Editor: At the NFB convention, parents and teachers hear a great deal about ways to help blind children move toward independence. During the NOPBC board meeting, middle school students Anna Walker of Pennsylvania and Ethan Solano of Missouri explained precisely what independence means to them.
Anna Walker: One Saturday morning I got up and decided to walk around the neighborhood. When I went downstairs to breakfast, my mom said that we were out of yogurt, and I would have to wait until she went out and bought some from the local grocery store. Then, with all the training I got from her, I said, "May I go on a walk?" She thought that just meant a walk around the neighborhood, but I walked to the store.
On my way there a woman stopped me and asked if I was okay. She didn't think that a blind girl should be walking around on her own. I said, "I'm fine, I'm not lost, get out of my face." [Laughter]
When I got to the store and was picking out my favorite yogurt, a man grabbed my arm. I turned around, and he said very slowly, "Can--you--hear--me? I--want--to--help--you!" [Laughter]
I said, "Don't grab blind people by the arm! We are perfectly fine! Please get out of my face!"
I finished my shopping and walked back home. Mom scolded me. She said, "I told you you could go on a walk!"
I said, "I did go on a walk. I just didn't go where you thought I should go."
She said, "Okay. At least you got yogurt. But when you say walk, I mean around the neighborhood."
I said, "When I say walk, I mean walk!"
Ethan Solano: Hello. My name is Ethan Solano. I am twelve years old. I live in Willow Springs, Missouri.
I am here today to talk about no limits. First of all, I don't even know why I am here to talk about this. Why shouldn't I be able to do all the things other kids do? But since I'm here, I might as well fill up my time.
I think giving limits is stupid, not just for blind people but for anybody. After all, my mom is short, but she can still do things--well, most things. She can't always open pickle jars without my brother's help. But more seriously, I don't understand limits because I do lots of things. I do swim team. I also play the violin. I play soccer with my brother. If I had limits I couldn't do the things I enjoy.
There are only a few things I'd like having limits on, like chores. But sadly, it doesn't work that way. I guess I can't have it both ways. I can't have no limits in doing things I like and have limits in chores.
Some of the horrible things I'm forced to do are doing dishes--and I don't mean a dishwasher, but hands in hot water scrubbing all day kind of dishwashing. My mom says a dishwasher uses too much water and electricity. I also have to clean my room and bathroom, collect eggs from our chickens, and much more.
People think we need limits because we can't see. I have a lot of vision compared to most blind people, but I'm probably going to lose it farther down the road. I can still do the things I love to do. If there's a will there's a way. We just have to do things differently. For example, Braille music, JAWS, Siri (which is my personal favorite), a cane, and a talking clock are just a few items that make things accessible. It takes time to learn to use them, but it takes time to learn anything.
One of the best ways to learn these things is to go to an NFB summer program like the one I'm going to in Louisiana this summer. One of the best things about these summer programs is that you get, get, get away from your parents! The reason I say get three times is because it's the best part of going.
Thank you for forcing me to speak. I know you all love me and want to take me home with you. But sadly, my mom has plans for me so horrible they should not be spoken of.
by Kristie Colton
From the Editor: Kristie Colton is a junior at Park City High School in Park City, Utah. She enjoys running, surfing, longboarding, and snowboarding. She has begun the process of researching colleges, and she is interested in criminal justice or criminal science as a career. She is training to run a marathon that will be held in Houston, Texas, in 2014 to raise funds for the Texas Center for the Missing. She gave this presentation at the NOPBC conference, "No Limits."
Dear Nine-year-old Me,
Seven years. It has been seven years since that day. You were in the fourth grade, sitting in a huge chair at the ophthalmologist's office, waiting while your parents talked to the doctor. Secretly, I think you knew the outcome. While you were sitting in that uncomfortably large chair, your parents were informed you have a degenerative condition called Stargardt's disease.
At first, you were quiet. You didn't like to talk about the diagnosis because you were afraid of how it would change you. So, nine-year-old me, I am here to tell you about those so-called "limits" you set for yourself the day you were diagnosed.
Before I can explain your life post-diagnosis, I have to be honest with you. It would be a lie to say you never doubted yourself. You did. A lot. Throughout these past seven years, success didn't come easily. But it was the moments you failed that fueled your desire to do better the next time.
As your vision loss progressed, school inevitably became harder. Print grew smaller and whiteboards got farther and farther away. But with help from your parents and teachers, you found a way to make things work, despite your growing difficulties. Now you're in the top 5 percent of your class.
One passion of yours carried on despite the degeneration of your vision—running. One of the proudest moments you will ever live was the second you crossed the finish line of your first half marathon. Sure, it was cold, and around Mile Nine you were about ready to beg for a peaceful death, or at least a glass of water. But you finished strong and proved that determination can take you anywhere—well, at least 13.1 miles, anyway.
If anything, I can assure you that blindness isn't the end to a life of adventure. Recently, you were lucky enough to travel to Costa Rica, where you stayed with a family in the mountains of Turrialba. And yes, it was embarrassing when you accidentally asked in Spanish if there was ham in the shower, when you meant to ask if there was soap! But that's not the point. The point of this entire speech is to let you know that being diagnosed with Stargardt's will never limit you from attaining your dreams unless you let it.
Other people will look at you and try to set your limits. It is your responsibility to rise above what others expect from you. The satisfaction in showing people you are more than your vision loss is reason enough to try harder.
So my final words of advice to my nine-year-old self are these: You found no limits, not because you're extraordinarily gifted or unbelievably talented, but because you are exceedingly passionate. We do not find limits by discovering the extent of our capabilities, but by unleashing our passions to their full potential. Try new things, follow your dreams, and don't ask "what if?" Life is so much more than having 20/20 vision!
by Mark Colasurdo
From the Editor: Mark Colasurdo is currently a junior at Cornell University. He was the recipient of a 2013 national scholarship from the National Federation of the Blind.
I grew up in a small town called Lacey on the Jersey Shore. It's a suburban/rural area with mostly working-class families. One of my favorite things about where I grew up was being so close to nature. There were always plenty of outdoorsy things to do.
I went to regular elementary and middle school like anybody else, taking a particular interest in science and math. As a result of my studies and my growing love of nature, I tested into and enrolled in the Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Science (MATES). MATES is a local magnet school that offers a central math and science curriculum focused in the areas of marine and environmental science. I was challenged to think critically, I developed a very dedicated work ethic, and I formed a still deeper appreciation for the natural world. I think my experience at MATES helped me become who I am today.
All the while, I had been growing up with several eye problems. Beginning in third grade I developed various forms of glaucoma, had a few retinal detachments, and experienced other vision-related complications. However, whenever anything went wrong, there was always an eye surgery to correct the problem. I'd go back to school and resume my daily life as an almost sighted person.
All that changed during my sophomore year of high school. I was involved in a motor collision that resulted in a retinal detachment in my right eye—which, at the time, was my good eye. Two months and three surgeries later, I was totally blind in my right eye, and I had little vision in my left eye due to earlier glaucoma damage.
At this point, my parents and I began to learn about the NFB, and we researched its three training centers. My mom did some advocacy and negotiation with our school district, and I was given the opportunity to attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB). In the fall semester of my junior year of high school, my mother and I set out for Ruston to learn more about blindness and to get me training in the alternative techniques to sight.
Since I only had time to attend the LCB for a semester, I took an abbreviated schedule. I took classes in Braille, access technology, cane travel, and woodshop. Upon completion of the program in December 2009, I returned to school my spring semester equipped with the blindness skills necessary to pursue my ever-increasing passion for math and science, especially biology.
Today I am a junior at Cornell University, majoring in biological engineering with a minor in neuroscience. My current career goal is to become a research scientist. I hope to attend graduate school and earn a PhD in biomedical engineering, studying tissue engineering and regenerative medicine. Sometimes I go back and forth on whether I'd like to do an MD/PhD program. I think that would be cool because I would be able to translate the advances found in the lab to actual clinical applications rather than having my work stop at research. I have time to figure that out, though.
During my sophomore year of college, preceding this past summer, I worked in a genetics lab for a little while. I learned some of the techniques on the biological end of bioengineering, such as running gel electrophoresis, polymerase chain reactions, and cell cultures. As part of an undergraduate research team, our goal was to determine the function of a specific gene in a bacteriophage virus. We deleted the gene and observed the effects the deletion had on the virus's phenotype. Although the findings were inconclusive, this was my first experience doing real research and formulating original ideas.
That summer, I spent my time doing research primarily on cartilage. It was actually preliminary research toward the work I'm doing now, which I'll explain in a minute. My research last summer entailed examining the cartilage from bovine fetlock joints. The fetlock is the hoof of the cow. We got samples from local slaughterhouses in the morning, which were freshly cut limbs from several different cows. We would take the limbs back to the lab in a garbage bag and proceed to dissect them further, often while they were still warm and bleeding. This could result in blood spurting across the lab whenever we'd cut a vein by accident. On one unfortunate occasion, it splattered onto a girl's clothes. Once we removed the skin from the bone of the leg, we sawed the bone in half at the joint to get at the cartilage. This process sometimes proved a little tricky, as the bones were very slippery from all the various fluids one can find in an amputated leg.
Currently I am working in a tissue engineering lab under Dr. Minglin Ma, and I have my own original research project. I am attempting to fabricate biocompatible, nanopolymeric scaffolds on which to grow cartilage cells. The scaffolds will serve as a backbone for the cells to grow on. Theoretically, with continual cell growth and proliferation, the structure will become a functional, synthetic piece of cartilage tissue. If this proves to be the case, the artificial tissue can be used in clinical applications to replace damaged cartilage tissue, as cartilage tissue lacks capacities to repair and regenerate itself. So far, since the beginning of the semester, I have successfully fabricated a few scaffolds, but I have not yet tried culturing stem cells onto them yet, as I became wrapped up in exams and projects about two weeks ago. I was awarded a Biology Research Fellowship from Cornell and the National Science Foundation (NSF), which will fund me for another summer of research in Dr. Ma's lab.
I have been using a few different pieces of technology to conduct research. Primarily, I use a laptop with JAWS to record and analyze my data. As far as actual research goes, I have been using a method called electrospinning to synthesize scaffolds out of nanoscale polymers. This device consists of a syringe pump, which pumps the polymer/solvent solution through a hose and out of a needle tip. An electrode from a high voltage source is attached to the tip of the needle to charge the polymer as it exits the nozzle. The other, oppositely charged electrode is clipped to a piece of tinfoil. It electrically draws the polymer onto the foil, where it collects to form the scaffold. This process is largely inaccessible. I use my residual vision along with some visual aids from time to time, such as a magnifying glass, to assist in manipulation of the system.
Fortunately, many of the people I work with are very open-minded, and they welcome diversity in the scientific community. As scientists, they are excited to share their work with others. They make accommodations so that I can contribute and carve my own path within the field.
by Adrienne Asch
From the Editor: Adrienne Asch holds a PhD in social psychology and has written extensively on issues in the field of bioethics. She directs the Center for Ethics at Yeshiva University in New York City. Below is an address she delivered at the 2013 NOPBC board meeting.
It is truly a pleasure to be here! I want to thank Carol Castellano for inviting me to speak.
I'd like to talk about some things I learned growing up. Hearing about the gifts my father gave me may be useful to you as parents. My father died twenty-five years ago, and I'm old enough to be the mother of all of the parents here--it was a long time ago that I was a little girl. But I think that some of what my father gave me can apply to any parent of any child, blind or sighted, and certainly any blind child.
I'm probably more a proponent than many people here of nonsexist child-rearing. I'm not necessarily saying that only fathers can do this! It happens to be the case that my particular father did these particular things. Can mothers do it? I'm sure they can. In my case, though, it was my father who taught me these lessons. Of course, if my father were here, the first thing he would say is, "Why aren't you talking about your mother?" He did not choose to take the credit for any positive impact he had.
What do I want to tell you about him and what I think helped me? I think my father approached life, and child-rearing, as an adventure. Sometimes it drove my mother crazy. My mother used to like to plan things, and my father used to like to just show up. Mom would say, "Maybe we should make a hotel reservation," and Dad would say, "Ah, why bother? We'll get there!" I think the adventurous spirit he had about life was a gift for me in his approach to me as a child who was blind. I was blind from infancy due to retinopathy of prematurity. My parents found out that I was blind when I was six or seven months old. They were told that premature children develop very differently from children who are full-term, so they didn't know what to expect. Aside from that, I was their first child, so they didn't have much experience with kids anyway. They didn't know what they were in for in having children, much less having a blind child.
My father started out by calling someone he had heard of whom he thought might be a useful resource. But when he met this guy, who was a blind rehabilitation counselor, he decided he was a creep. He was a nasty character who had low expectations of himself and of everybody else. My father decided we could just forget about that! Instead, he decided to follow his own intuition.
During my first years my family lived in New York City. I remember going to the Lighthouse nursery school, which was a special program for kids who were blind, and I went to a sleepaway camp. Then my parents heard about the New Jersey Commission for the Blind. I realize that things have changed now, but back then, in what some of us think of as the glory days, New Jersey had quite a remarkable program for blind children. The creator of that program, Josephine Taylor, really believed that blind children could go to public schools and function fully, having their books in Braille and getting some help from itinerant teachers. This was in the 1940s and 1950s. No one had heard of mainstreaming or inclusion or IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), but New Jersey did it. They didn't do it perfectly, but they did it pretty well. No, I didn't get all my books on time! Yes, there were moments when my parents ended up making geometry diagrams for me with a tracing wheel. Nonetheless, I got most of my books when I needed them, and I learned to type my assignments so I could hand them in to my teachers.
I started attending my neighborhood public school in fourth grade. I made friends in the neighborhood. I went to Brownies and later to Girl Scouts. It was very important for me to have those experiences. Of course there were bumps. There were times when I was excluded, times when I ran into ridiculous overprotectiveness. But I got great opportunities to learn how to make my way in the world.
I remember coming home in fifth grade and saying, "I really feel as though I don't have the kind of friends that I want. Nobody invites me to go to things with them."
"Well," my father said, "if nobody's inviting you, invite them. Who do you like? Who do you want to get to know?" He said, "To make friends everybody has to go more than halfway. You have to go more than halfway to make friends."
He may have said, "You have to go more than halfway to make friends," partly because I was blind. Blindness was a barrier that he knew I had to break down to connect with other people. But going more than halfway was how he approached life. If you asked my siblings, they would tell you the same thing--they all felt that they had to go more than halfway, and they're not blind. They don't have any explainable disabilities. [Laughter.]
I think it was a very good lesson. I started inviting people to do things. I started taking a lot of leadership. That initiative, whether it was to start a debate club in high school or put on a play or create a choir and orchestra that a bunch of us ran in the summer by ourselves, all of that gave me incredible opportunities to do things, to be active. None of that would have happened without that simple advice: "Go do things! Don't wait!"
Similarly, I remember coming home from sixth grade (which was my least favorite year of my life!) and saying to my father, "I feel as though I have thirty-three guides and no friends." I didn't have an aide leading me from class to class. I had kids helping me find a seat, which I didn't want from them, but I couldn't get them to play with me. It was horrible! My father said, "You know, you're a very good child. Maybe you should go up the down staircase now and then." I had just been told by the greatest authority in my life to break the rules! I had permission to break the rules, so I broke a few. [Laughter.]
A couple of years later I started high school. We had four minutes to get from class to class. I wasn't seeing the people I knew in seventh and eighth grade because they were in different classes. I remember saying to my father, "What happened to all the friends I made? I never see them now!"
"What's probably happening," my father said, "is they're smiling and waving to people across the hall. They're catching their friends' eyes as they run through the halls. They can't catch your eye, and you don't see them smile or wave at you. I understand why you think they're not your friends anymore, but I think they just haven't figured out a way to solve this problem."
Was that true? I don't know for sure. But I thought it was a great way for him to help me see my friends' situation and at the same time recognize my distress. It helped me say to myself, “All right, if they're not smiling and waving at me, don't give up. Call them and invite them to something. They're probably still my friends. They were my friends last year, and they'll be my friends this year.”
Another instance that comes to mind happened when I was eight. I got a pogo stick. Does anyone remember pogo sticks? [Laughter] I was happily playing with my pogo stick in our long driveway, and my father said, "I think I should put a bump at the end of the driveway so you know not to go in the street." Then he noticed that I could tell where the end of the driveway was because there were various trees along the side. He didn't have to put a bump at the end of the drive. One of the things he said about that incident was that he tried to keep focused on learning from me as well as teaching me. I knew more about how to do certain things and what cues I used to do certain things than he did. He learned from that, and I think that was also part of his approach toward life as an adventure--being curious and not having to have the right answers all of the time.
My father didn't have the NFB. He didn't know a lot of blind people, and most of the ones he met he didn't particularly like or respect. He was perfectly happy to meet them, but he didn't like the ones he met. He didn't want me to be like them because he didn't think they were nice people. His goal for me was that I would become the kind of person he wanted all of his children to be. I think that goal was not much modified by blindness.
I've heard people say, "My parents had high expectations for me, but I could never discuss blindness because it was not allowed." In my family that was not the case. I talked about blindness plenty when I thought there was something to talk about. One day when I was in high school, a guidance counselor told me I couldn't take an advanced summer-school course because I shouldn't inflict myself on the new professor. [Laughter] I went home and said, "What in heaven's name is this person saying?" There were some very angry calls to that guidance counselor, and I did take the course!
Similarly, I auditioned for the All-State Chorus in New Jersey during high school, and I got in. There were two of us who were blind that year. We were supposed to go on tour, and the All-State Chorus didn't want either of us to go; they thought we would die or something in Atlantic City. My parents and the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and the All-State Chorus had various meetings, and my parents finally signed some agreement that I'm sure they should never have had to sign, saying they wouldn't blame the All-State Chorus if anything terrible happened to me.
As I was getting onto the bus at four-thirty in the morning to go off to this event in Atlantic City, my father called out, "Adrienne, do you think you could go through a plate-glass window?" [Laughter] I'm sure my friends didn't have a clue what that was about! I loved it!
Like most children, looking back, I have to say that I never thanked my father for a lot of the things he did--for schlepping hundreds of pounds of stuff from home to school when I went to college, including a tandem bicycle and Braillewriter and books, not to mention a few friends here and there. He did all those things that parents do for kids and that kids take for granted.
One other interesting example I'd like to share with you, and then I'll stop. When I was in college I was still living in New Jersey during the summer and taking the bus into New York to visit my friends a lot. Then I would take the last bus back, arriving very late at night. My father would pick me up at the bus at one or two in the morning. In what I suppose was a rare moment of consideration, I said, "Dad, it's really very nice of you to do this."
He said, "Adrienne, if you could drive, you would leave the car here at the bus station and take the bus, and then you'd drive home at night. But you can't leave the car here. I want you to have the chance to do the things that you want to do. At some point you'll get an apartment in New York, but right now you're living at home. I can do this. It's all right." His matter-of-factness, his pleasure in wanting me to have the opportunities I would have had as a teenager who could drive, his sense that having friends and having a life and making my way were as important to me as they were to any other child, was an enormous gift.
If someone had asked my father if he would like me to be able to see, he might have said yes. He might have said, "Sure--I think certain things would be easier." But he didn't need for me to be able to see in order for his life to be all right. There were actually a lot of things about me that he wanted to change much more than my blindness! [Laughter] But as far as my blindness was concerned, I was okay. And that's pretty good!
by Janna Stein
From the Editor: Janna Stein is a teacher of the visually impaired in the Chicago suburbs. She gave this presentation at the 2013 board meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC).
I'm a teacher of the visually impaired in Illinois, and my mom is Debbie Stein, who is sitting here in the audience. I learned that my mom is blind when I was about three. My mom has told me the story. I wanted her to look at a toy, and I said, "Here, look at this." She reached out her hand to touch it, and I said, "No, look with your eyes!"
She said, "No, I can't; my eyes are broken."
I said, "Okay, I just fixed them. Now look." [Laughter.]
My mom said, "You can't fix them. They're always going to be broken."
Then I said, "Okay, here." I handed her the toy and called it a day. From then on I didn't bother to insist that she look with her eyes, because I just wanted to get to the fun. I wanted to get to whatever we were doing.
As I got older, I began to notice when people treated my mom differently or treated my family differently. Sometimes people would stare at us. Sometimes at a restaurant the waitress would hand the check to me, a seven-year-old girl, rather than to my mom. There were countless times throughout my childhood and adolescence when we were offered unnecessary allowances or when people scolded me for not helping my mother when I was off playing and being a kid. But I can honestly say that these incidents never made me feel upset or embarrassed. Those people seemed to think that my mom was in some way defective, but I didn't feel that way. I knew even as a kid that they were wrong and I was right. [Laughter]
My mom was the one who taught me to tie my shoes. She taught me to bake cookies, and she took care of me when I was sick. She was the all-knowing, all-powerful mom that every kid has. So when people treated my mom as though she was incapable, I did not internalize that. I knew those people just didn't understand. They had not been exposed to blind people.
Since my mom has been involved with the NFB, I was able to meet many other blind adults when I was growing up. This contact really helped me understand what blind people are capable of doing. Also, knowing so many blind adults as I grew up was important in helping me build my confidence. I knew I was not the only kid in the world who had a blind parent, and that made it easier for me to deflect any negative or unnecessary attention that we received in public.
My father was the one who originally suggested that I might like to teach children who are visually impaired. My mom never pushed me toward a career in vision. I think she didn't want to pressure me and make me feel that I had to follow in her footsteps. I did look into other areas of special education, but ultimately I decided to take my dad's advice. I pursued a triple master's in teaching the visually impaired, orientation and mobility, and vision rehabilitation. [Applause]
I began my first job as an itinerant teacher of students with visual impairments last August. I was given a diverse caseload in terms of ages and needs. To give you a sense of the kinds of students I had--one student was totally blind and had a high number of weekly minutes with the TVI in his IEP. I had a six-year-old student with low vision who functioned cognitively at a much lower level than his chronological age. I had several students with low vision whose acuities were well above the 20/200 designation of legal blindness. They mostly required instruction in the use of magnification devices.
With each of these students, and with many others whom I didn't describe, my background and experiences with my mom and with other blind people played a role in how I taught and what choices I made about my students' education. Having a blind mom and knowing all that she can do provided me with a vital frame of reference as a teacher. By example my mom had always shown me that a disability of any kind does not signify a limitation on what one can do. With training and modifications, people who are blind or visually impaired can get around independently, take care of a household, pursue higher education, have a career, all the things my mom has done and many more.
So if one of my students is having trouble traveling from class to class in his high school, I'm not willing to jump immediately to the conclusion that he needs someone to accompany him to his classes. I know blind people who navigate independently. I have a kindergarten student with low vision who's reading large print, but I'm not sure how useful print is going to be for her in the future. I know many blind people who use Braille, and I see how fast and effective they can be with it. That experience of seeing how blind adults use their skills really has influenced my expectations of my students.
My mom's example influences my approach to working with all of my students, including my children with multiple disabilities. Because my mom and the other blind people in my life have exceeded the sometimes low expectations of others, I'm more likely to aim high when developing my students' goals. I feel it's always better to provide a student with the chance to prove his teachers wrong and raise their expectations rather than assuming that a goal can't be reached before allowing the student an appropriate amount of time to master a skill.
Notice that I say "an appropriate amount of time." That doesn't mean the teacher should give the student one or two tries and then say, "Okay, he couldn't do it." This is something I've really learned from my mom and other blind people. It came up last spring when the NFB of Illinois put on a seminar for teachers and parents of blind children. Patti Chang, the president of the NFB of Illinois, mentioned that there's kind of a one strike and you're out approach toward blind people when they're learning to perform a new task. There's a real overreaction when blind people make mistakes. One example I heard at the seminar was the experience of a blind child learning to pour water from a pitcher into a glass. When he spilled water on the table, the reaction of the adults around him was to discourage him from pouring water ever again. If a sighted child spilled water in the same way, it's highly unlikely that the reaction would be so extreme.
Change the scenario to a blind child learning to peel or chop potatoes, learning to use a knife. If the child cuts herself in the process, it's even more likely that adults will discourage her from learning to use a knife. The greater the perception of danger, the higher the level of discomfort about letting the blind child learn a particular task. But honestly--who hasn't cut herself or spilled water? If we were all discouraged from trying those tasks ever again, I don't think any of us would be very competent today.
If I can convey one thing with this presentation, I wish to express how important it is for TVIs, O&M specialists, and other professionals to get to know independent blind adults. This exposure will provide professionals with a frame of reference about what to expect from their students. Imagine if you planted some tomatoes. You try to anticipate how high they will grow, but you've never seen a fully grown tomato plant. If your plant grows six inches or a foot, you might think that's great, not realizing that it could grow much taller. It's a silly metaphor, but I think it illustrates my point. If teachers, or parents for that matter, don't know any blind adults who are independent, fully functioning people, it will be vastly more difficult for them to determine what to expect from their students or children.
The NFB is an amazing resource for teachers because it is full of blind people who are self-assured and unlimited by their visual impairments. Programs such as Teachers of Tomorrow and seminars such as the one I mentioned earlier are important ways to get teachers more involved in the NFB. Unfortunately, I think sometimes the NFB sees negative examples of TVIs. The NFB is often called in when parents are at the end of their rope, when something terrible is going on at school. Maybe their child isn't getting Braille instruction, or the school isn't allowing the child to use a cane. So the NFB witnesses a lot of negative situations. I really hope that through these programs, more good and dedicated teachers will become involved with the organization. I think it's a fantastic resource for us.
by Rosina Foster
From the Editor: Rosina Foster is the mother of two blind sons, Roman and Ethan Solano. She is an active member of the Missouri Parents of Blind Children and serves on the board of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). She gave this presentation at the NOPBC board meeting.
When I was first asked to talk on this panel, I really wanted to refuse. With those who know me I am a ham--that is, when the topic is about me. I feel differently when what I say can affect others. The fact that others might listen to me with the intent of using what I say in their lives is scary. However, I feel that this is a terribly important lesson about the power we all have, power we don't know we have most of the time.
First I have to give you a little background about myself so you can understand the power that was released in me. I was raised to respect my elders and those in so-called power. One never talked back, one never openly challenged authority, and one always understood that adults knew what was right and best. It was okay to have your own opinion, but the message was, "Keep quiet, don't make waves, and be good." My father was a teacher, and he always knew best. So as an adult I was well versed in not bucking the system.
This training is difficult to overcome sitting in IEP meetings, surrounded by professionals. I disagreed many times, and I grumbled quite a bit, but never openly or disrespectfully. My school district probably loved working with me back then. I wasn't a doormat, but I always saw their point of view in everything.
So when did that change? It is hard to say, but that is part of the story of my journey to power.
My school district never refused services. We had our own TVI. I have heard all the horror stories, so I was sure that I was awfully lucky. Not only did we get Braille services, but we got plenty of time with the TVI. We lived in a school district that always asked me what I wanted.
When I first met the NFB I really didn't NEED the NFB, or so I thought. I loved the NFB and everything it stood for, but I didn't NEED it. I already expected my kids to pull their weight; I was getting services; so hey, everything was good. I loved the people and the programs of the Federation, so I was still there.
But we began to grow. When my oldest, Roman, was in middle school, I began to ask for technology. Our school got Roman a notetaker, but didn't teach him how to use it the first year. The second year he learned to open and save a file on it. Looking back, I am disgusted with myself for not taking a firm hold sooner—but hey, I couldn’t buck the system too much. I was getting services, right?
Then Roman started to balk at going to his O&M lessons. He was being pulled out for one hour a week and once a month for a day-long trip to work with other blind kids so he could interact with his blind peers. Roman complained that he didn't learn anything new and that he didn't like missing so much of his regular school activities. By then he had attended a couple of NFB programs such as the Junior Science Academy. I told him to learn what he could from his O&M instructor and assured him that we would get the rest from the NFB. I sent him to a middle-school program at the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB). In three weeks he learned more O&M than he learned in two years with our instructor.
During the next year, Roman went to his weekly O&M sessions, but he refused to go on most of the monthly trips. I figured he was still getting services, because I refused to give them up in the IEP.
When Roman was in seventh grade, I started asking for more technology again. We received funds to get him his own notetaker to learn on at home. By now I was truly indoctrinated into the NFB way of thinking—or so I thought. Oddly enough, though, I still had never asked for help, not even with our IEP.
That year Roman attended the LAW program, even though he had no interest in law. He came back outraged and determined that he would help advocate for others, and so did I!
I now knew that Roman desperately needed technology. We got a computer at home and found help to get him his own laptop and JAWS program before his freshman year of high school. I figured we would stumble through it on our own. But by now he was so far behind in the tech wave that it was hopeless. However, we were both more willing to be vocal about what we wanted. First on our list was to get technology training--and no beating around the bush!
When Roman came home from his first midterm exams with a failing grade in computer applications, I was almost happy. I felt like I had some real ammunition to fight with them. Fight with them? Wow, that was new for me!
I also decided that I was going to do this right. I asked Garrick Scott, who had become my friend through my association with NFB, to help me at the IEP meeting. The school was shocked that Roman was failing. They figured computers would be his easiest class. Why they thought so I am not sure. They knew computers was a required class for all freshmen, but they never gave him the training. They did not have JAWS on any of the computers at school, and Roman just sat there in class. He couldn't see the screen to do anything he was supposed to do.
But I digress. I called for an emergency IEP meeting. I also emailed Dr. Denise Robinson from Your Tech Vision and asked how to go about getting her to teach Roman remotely. I wanted the best. Thanks to Carlton Walker I knew I couldn't ask for the best, but that's what I wanted, and I devised a way to get it.
Our school district said they had found someone to teach Roman computer technology. The instructor was in a town ninety minutes away, the same town where he did his monthly group O&M classes. I said I didn't want Roman to be pulled out of class anymore. I gave the director the information about Dr. Robinson, and he said he would call her that afternoon. I was elated, so went right home and told Dr. Robinson to expect his call.
Nothing. A week later the director still had not called her. I called him to ask if he had found anything. He said he found a couple of teachers Roman could go to, possibly once a month or so.
I said, “No! He is so far behind now, he needs intensive work. Please call Dr. Robinson and talk with her. Just talk."
Still nothing. Needless to say, it took several pushes just to get him to talk to Dr. Robinson. But then it was as if a light went on in his head. I don't know what she told him. At that point Roman was still doing all of his homework in hardcopy Braille. The TVI transcribed his work into print. Then his homework was given to the classroom teacher, who corrected the paper and gave it back to the TVI to go over with Roman. The system must have sounded antiquated, even to the school district. Advice from a professional was just the thing.
Somehow the district found it in their budget to let Roman work with Dr. Robinson two to three times per week. The idea was to get him working independently and dealing with his classroom teachers directly.
Mission accomplished? Not quite. I must have been giddy with the fact that now they were really listening to me. At the IEP meeting to put working with Dr. Robinson into effect, I had my advocate ready. I told the district Roman was not being pulled out for O&M anymore. He was already too far behind, he didn't want to go, and didn't feel that he was learning anything. I told them I was unhappy with the redundancy of the training. Roman said he had been learning to cross streets for the past four years. I told them how much he had learned at the Colorado Center for the Blind, and that he didn't feel he was gaining anything from his O&M classes anymore. Oddly enough, the school listened and agreed.
By now I was almost drunk on my power. Keep in mind that I was still quiet and respectful. I told them to find a new instructor, but repeated that Roman was not to be pulled out of class. They would have to find someone who could work with him before school, after school, or even on the weekends. I knew that in our rural location they wouldn't find anyone to fit the bill, but I just let them work on it.
Then my wonderful advocate said he knew a place that could provide all the O&M instruction Roman needed, working with him in the summer. Roman already qualified for ESY (Extended School Year). We just had to think outside the box. Instruction didn't have to be local. I said Roman learned so much when he went to Colorado. I left them with the fact that I would get them information on these training centers.
I don't know if I really expected them to do what I wanted, but I wasn't to be stopped. I called some people I knew. Thank goodness for my staying connected with the NFB, right? Now I actually KNEW people who could make things happen.
Roman's IEP still said that he was to get one hour per week of O&M instruction, but I asked them to add that they were looking into some sort of summer training program.
A few weeks later I left several brochures for the director from a few NFB centers. Nothing happened. I decided to do the same thing I did with the technology. I was going to set everything up myself so they couldn't say no.
I contacted Eric Guillory, whom I had met at the last NFB convention. He runs the youth programs at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I don't think he remembered me, but I didn't care. Roman was going to go to that program one way or another! I told Eric what I was trying to do with the school and explained that I was trying to get the director to contact him. Of course the director never did.
I knew that Roman was not getting services, so I figured I had a little more leverage if the school was behind. I also knew that Roman was getting more mobility from my involvement in the NFB. I let it slide until closer to the end of the year, when the school would be further behind in getting services. I went ahead and filled out applications for Roman to attend the program, as I knew the school would wait and miss the deadline. More conversations ensued with Mr. Guillory, but still the school did not call.
I called another meeting with the school about the issue. Now I was pretty sure I knew that the school would try to find a local instructor or program. However, due to my involvement in the NFB, I was determined that Roman would go to one of the three NFB centers. I was stubborn, and now I felt confident that I could pull it off. After all, I was one of those radical NFB people now!
At the meeting I once again had Mr. Scott as an advocate. I am sure the school was getting tired of me asking to make sure we had a phone for my advocate, but I didn't care anymore. I would be polite, but this was about my child's future. Believe me, I was going to get what I wanted!
At the meeting, just as I suspected, the director brought up the two local programs. I didn't rant or rave, but calmly looked him in the eye and asked him if he had seen any kids come out of those programs. Of course he said no. I told him I had; I had also seen kids who had gone to the NFB programs. I informed him that Roman could already do everything that those local programs offered. He wouldn't learn anything new, so if that was what they were proposing, it was a waste of time. Why send Roman to learn things that he already knew? He was a student, and students need to learn. I asked the director to call and talk with Mr. Guillory. Mr. Scott seconded the idea, pointing out that he would gain more than just O&M but Braille, technology, and daily living skills as well. The director sighed and said he would call that afternoon.
Again, I rushed home to inform Mr. Guillory that a call would be coming at last. I told him things were starting to look positive--a good thing, as the year was almost over. Yet again no call came. I called the director and stated that there were very few slots left for the program. I said I had applied for Roman so that at least the process was underway. The director told me how much the program cost. Now, we all know that schools can't base services on cost, but we also know that they do.
The strategy I finally chose isn't one that I recommend for everyone, but I was confident in my son's ability and our commitment to stay connected to the NFB. I told the director that I knew the Louisiana Center was expensive, but that the program was so extensive that one summer at the high school level was more than comparable to four years of O&M during high school. Guess what! The director called Eric Guillory. Guess what! Roman is with the LCB program right now. Guess what! I feel the power that they say we all have. Guess what else! I had it all along, I just didn't know how to let it out.
Want to know my secret on letting it out? Getting help, feeling confident in my power, and staying connected to the NFB. Without the NFB I wouldn't have gotten help, and I wouldn't have taken my journey to power!!
by Amy Roberts Darlington
From the Editor: Amy Darlington holds master's degrees in English literature and library science. She has worked as a technical writer and archivist/research librarian. Currently she is working at home and homeschooling.
For the past couple of years I have read about the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. I knew that the convention would be a great place for us to learn more about education, technology, and other blindness-related topics. In particular I wanted to learn about blindness skills and how we could help our daughter, Chloe. Since the 2013 convention would be held in Orlando, Florida, we decided to piggyback the convention with a trip to Disney World. So it was that we found ourselves bound from New Jersey to Orlando in July—me, my husband, our eleven-year-old son, and our then five-year-old blind daughter, Chloe.
Because of the low hotel rates, we decided to arrive well in advance to take advantage of all the pre-convention activities. The agenda is so packed that a lot of events actually take place before the convention officially opens. Many of the NFB divisions hold their annual meetings during this time. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) hosts an annual pre-convention conference, which we attended.
The theme of the NOPBC conference this year was "No Limits!" We attended sessions on topics such as inclusive classrooms, Apple products, the ABCs of Braille, and how to support Braille at home. Developers of the new research-based National Reading Media Assessment explained the development of this non-biased tool. And there were smaller workshops on everything from IEP strategies to homeschooling a blind child. In fact, there was so much information that my husband and I had to split up in order to attend all the sessions we wanted. At one point, when a particularly good session ran over-time, I asked him to stay and film the end of the meeting while I went to attend a concurrent session. "Just a few minutes left," I assured him. I didn't guess the presenter would continue for forty-five more minutes, until almost ten that night! I think my husband's arms got tired from holding the iPad up in order to video.
Both of our children attended the NFB Kids Camp and other children's activities so we could participate in meetings. They had a lot of free time to play with other children, and they took part in many special activities. They learned to make tactile art, took a fun trip to Monkey Joe's Inflatable Arcade, and even heard a presentation called "NASA at Your Fingertips" given by a NASA scientist. And of course both kids enjoyed hanging out at the pool.
Because this was our first convention, we felt that our daughter would be more comfortable having her big brother in some of the activities with her. Next time we attend, our son will attend the Youth Track. He can be with older children and can learn more about the Federation.
As parents, we found that the convention encouraged us to take a positive view of blindness. Our daughter has albinism, with low vision and other associated visual impairments. We often find ourselves explaining to people that she has low vision, as it is not always obvious. Frequently people do not realize she is blind until she bumps into something or someone, or until she leans inches from a screen or book to see the pictures. She is learning to read print, but print will need to be very large, at least 24 point.
At the convention we realized that we want Chloe to develop the blindness skills to allow her to do anything she wants, to go into any profession she chooses as an adult. If she learns Braille, she doesn't have to settle for the slow reading speed some professionals tell us she will have because of her low vision. If she has the right tools, she will have the confidence and education she needs to make her own opportunities.
It was interesting for us to see the effect the convention had upon our daughter. No one else in her school is blind, and she hasn't met many blind people. At convention she saw countless people like herself, both children and positive adult role models. We fully realized the impact of the convention when we returned home. Now Chloe regularly has blind individuals figure in her make-believe stories and drawings. "Oh, they're blind," she says, "and here are their canes." She says it casually, the same way she might say that the dolls have blond hair or that they're good swimmers.
One of the most rewarding experiences for us as a family was to take the NOPBC Cane Walk together. It was a great experience to wear sleepshades and have blind individuals guide us while we learned to use our canes. My husband and our son said it helped them understand a little of what it might be like to be blind and need to navigate in an unfamiliar area. My son said it was a little hard for him to keep his sense of direction.
My daughter and I went with a different guide on the Cane Walk. Chloe, ever curious and talkative, kept pushing her sleepshades up and engaging people in conversation, asking, "How blind are you?" Even when I fell behind our guide, I could follow the sound of her constant chatter. Without it I would have had a lot more difficulty!
As I walked along the skyway, confident in following my daughter's voice, I was startled to feel someone grab my arm. A man's voice identified itself as Security and asked if I needed help. That was probably one of the most enlightening moments for me during convention. I realized that many times people make assumptions about blind people when they see a cane. We need to change those assumptions.
And about that cane. Although Chloe had been introduced to a cane several years earlier, she had grown out of it without ever using it consistently. She wasn't encouraged to do so since, as people told us, "she gets around so well." Yes, she gets around well, except when she's in unfamiliar areas, or places that are crowded, or when she's outside on a bright, sunny day. At the Cane Walk, although she kept peeking, she really took to the cane. She decided proudly that the new cane she was given was hers, and afterward she took it with her everywhere. She loved being like the blind adults she met. We purchased a folding cane, and it came in handy later at Disney World. The cane made it much easier for Chloe to navigate in the bright light and through the crowds. We had never realized how much easier the cane could make traveling for her. We continue to work with her on correct cane techniques.
Once the convention officially opened, we were amazed at the number of attendees and the range of reports and topics covered in the General Sessions. If you don't have the chance to attend the convention in person, it is possible to listen via live streaming.
There are so many other aspects of the convention to write about! The exhibit hall was huge, and visiting the booths was a wonderful way to explore different technologies. It also gave us the opportunity to pick out many blindness-related books and publications. And the Braille Book Fair! Oh! We had so much fun finding some Twin Vision books to introduce our daughter to Braille.
The highlight of the convention came on Saturday morning as we were preparing to leave the hotel. Because we were pressed for time, we listened to the live convention stream as we packed. We caught the speech given by Raveena Alli, a second grader from Atlanta, who talked about the Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) program. As we listened in via the stream, we could tell she made a powerful impression on those in the convention hall. Her speech was particularly meaningful to us, as our daughter was preparing to attend her first BELL program in Pennsylvania later in July. We were glad to know that the program could open doors for our daughter and make a real difference to her as she learns to read both Braille and print.
What would I recommend for others planning to go to the NFB convention for the first time next year? Try to get to the conference as early as possible. Attend as many pre-convention meetings as you can. Take technology (or old-fashioned slate or pen) so you can take lots of notes—you'll need to! And don't forget to pack your child's medical records, evaluations, and other documentation. Many professionals were kind enough to take a look at our daughter's records and provide their perspectives. Don't be afraid to ask other attendees for help, whether it's finding a meeting room or choosing a good restaurant. Remember that it's not just a convention, it's an opportunity to make friends and learn. At Disney World after the conference, several Federationists came up and introduced themselves when they heard our daughter's cane.
There is no way we can thank all of the people who helped make our first convention such a positive experience. So many people offered their help with our daughter's situation and took the time to explain new technology and blindness skills. Attending the convention opened many doors for our daughter, and for us as well. We feel we have much more information to draw upon, and we know new people whom we can call on for help. The convention was truly an eye-opening experience for us. We are excited to keep the momentum going and will continue to participate in NFB activities in the years ahead.
by Faye Corman
From the Editor: We know that an NFB convention can make a big difference in the life of a blind child or teen. But what is convention like for the sighted sibling of a blind child? In this article, Faye Corman reflects upon her sighted daughter's experiences at the 2013 convention in Orlando.
There is nothing trivial about planning a trip to the national convention of the National Federation of the Blind. My family decided a few years ago that we would attend the NFB convention in 2013. After all, it would take place in Orlando, Florida, a perfect vacation spot. We saved our money and our Frequent Flyer miles. And, on June 29, 2013, we were off!
As we planned for convention I had only one real concern--my eight-year-old daughter, Camille.
I knew that my husband, Mike, who is blind, would have a great time getting to know people at the Blind Lawyers and Guide Dog Users meetings. He would spend happy hours browsing new technology in the exhibit hall. Our five-year-old son, John Paul, could meet other blind children in NFB Child Care and explore the universe through the Space Camp activities. I planned to attend all the Parents of Blind Children activities I could fit into the week. I was excited to meet personally many of the friends I had met over the Internet and on Facebook.
But what about Camille? As a sighted eight-year-old child, what would she do at a convention for the blind?
The answer? Have the time of her life, of course!
The Rosen Hotel Group is known for its hospitality, but did you know that the NFB is very hospitable, too? Camille was welcomed with open arms to participate in everything that was going on. With dozens of other kids she hung out at the pool every day. She took part in the Cane Walk, and the instructor let her try out sleepshades. Under sleepshades she joined races and games of Marco Polo. The experience gave her a better idea of how her father and brother travel. It was truly eye-opening--pardon the pun!
When we asked Camille what her favorite part of the convention was, she replied without hesitation, "The fashion show." The fashion show is designed primarily for visually impaired and blind children. It provides them with an opportunity to "strut their stuff" on the runway and show off their favorite fashions. It's a wonderful confidence booster and a very fun event. Camille was made fully welcome. Sporting a pink dress that she loves, she escorted her little brother down the runway with pride.
There were many other memorable events throughout the week. A trip to Gatorland was a special treat for the kids in NFB Camp. But for one sighted eight-year-old at convention this year, the fashion show was the highlight she will never forget.
by J. C. Mushington-Anderson
From the Editor: The Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award is one of the highest honors conferred each year by the National Federation of the Blind. In 2013, this honor was bestowed upon Jackie Mushington-Anderson, a teacher of the visually impaired in Maryland and the creator of the first NFB BELL Program. On Wednesday, July 3, she addressed the meeting of the board of directors of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
In a small schoolroom, a young girl sits disengaged from the lesson that is being taught. Although her seat is close to the front of the room, she cannot see the math examples being worked on the chalkboard. The words on the page of the textbook that the teacher has placed on her desk appear to her as marching ants.
As she sits there, she peers at the picture on the book cover, a bucket and shovel on a beach. She begins to analyze the picture. A question pops into her head, "How many grains of sand are present on the beach? How many grains could I hold in that bucket?"
This is my earliest memory of school. My road from that early experience to now has been windy and twisted. From Sands to Shoelaces!
In preparing to speak with you today, I have struggled with what I could say to inspire you, what could ignite you. What could I share with you that would make a difference? After many revisions of some very lofty, academic speeches, I am left simply with my story.
My story is made up of many chapters. Like some of you here, I was a blind child. I am a blind adult, and I am a blind professional. I am a wife and now, like most of you, I am a parent, the parent of a blind child. In sharing my story, my goal is that each of you sitting here may be able to envision and embrace the innumerable possibilities that await your child, your child's bucket of sand.
As I mentioned earlier, I was unable to see my regular printed textbooks while I was growing up. After many discussions among teachers and administrators at that little school, I was enrolled at the Salvation Army School for the Blind in Kingston, Jamaica. There I was immersed in learning many skills.
It was at the school for the blind that I was introduced to Braille. It was there that I learned to make my bed. It was there that I learned to be a competitor in academics and in sports. It was there that I learned to tie my shoes. I am not sure whether the teachers or the house parents there at the school ever could have concerned themselves with the statistics of today. The statistics here in the United States tell us that 70 percent of employable blind people are unemployed and that only 10 percent of blind children are taught to read Braille. I do know that they, as well as my family, held the same expectations for me as for any other child my age.
When my family emigrated to the United States, the recommendation was for me to attend my local school. The assumption was that, because of my residual vision, it was not necessary for me to continue instruction in Braille.
Without Braille, I was not able to achieve the academic levels that I was capable of obtaining. The problem was not because of my blindness, but because of my sight. I had to rely on large print dittos and listening to my classmates read to me from the regular print textbooks. I was forced to produce illegible handwritten assignments. Slowly, I began losing my love of school.
A pivotal moment for me occurred during my junior year of college at Clark Atlanta University. It wasn't until then that I realized I was just passing. I was just existing. I was terrified. I realized that I did not possess the skills and confidence I had pretended to have mastered. Over the years I had really perfected the art of passing.
I did not travel at night by myself. I convinced myself that it was not because I could not see, but because it was not safe. Even with magnification, it was difficult for me to do any sustained reading. I did not know how to use a reader effectively to assist me in conducting research for my many term papers. I did not know how to take my own notes in Braille. I did not know how to obtain accessible textbooks in Braille or print.
As a future elementary teacher, I realized that if I wanted to offer my students the best, I truly had to be my best. This was a critical reason why I decided to attend the adjustment to blindness program at the Colorado Center for the Blind. At the CCB I realized that I did not have to pass. I learned to use alternative skills that would truly allow me to be a competent woman. I was taught many different nonvisual skills. Some of them I now use to prepare new recipes for my family. I learned to use alternative skills of travel. Using these skills last summer, in the space of three weeks, I took my daughters and goddaughters on a trip from Maryland to the Braille Challenge in Los Angeles; to visit family in Jamaica, encountering an unscheduled layover in Florida; and ultimately, back to Georgia. I was able to navigate through busy airports, city streets, and many other unfamiliar settings with the skills and self-confidence that I had gained.
While I attended the Colorado Center, I was reintroduced to Braille. Though I remembered some letters and contractions, it was as if I were starting from scratch. What I gained most of all was my self-confidence. I truly learned how to believe in me.
So, how did I end up standing here before you today? As I mentioned earlier, I am a parent of a blind child. Shortly after my daughter was born, we discovered that she had cataracts. After several surgeries to remove the cataracts and correct the strabismus, we were left with uncertainty about her vision and the long-term health of her eyes. Instinctively, I began to draw upon my early experiences at the Salvation Army School for the Blind, understanding the importance of early immersion into the skills of blindness. I set out to seek the assistance of the "experts."
For two and a half years, we worked with a phenomenal early intervention teacher. As a blind person, I knew what I wanted the end picture to look like for my daughter. As a parent, I wanted to ensure that she had a future filled with endless possibilities. However, I was uncertain of the small steps that were necessary to get her there.
At every visit, I bombarded Ms. Abby with questions. She was patient. Through simple play, she introduced my daughter to concepts that were out of her sight. Ms. Abby worked with us through all of our concerns. She had the same picture in mind of my daughter's future. Her goals were my goals and my goals were her goals.
Ms. Abby encouraged early exploration. She encouraged age-appropriate movement. When we discovered that Aunya was tactually defensive to certain textures, she would not accept my explanation that it was because she could not see. She understood the importance of Aunya learning to rely on her hands to explore her environment. Ms. Abby had learned that this was a critical skill that Aunya needed long before she ever learned to identify the dots in a Braille cell.
My decision to become a teacher of blind students was solidified by two major events. The first occurred during one of the early transition meetings that was held with the TVI from the local school system. During this meeting the TVI informed me that, based on his expertise, Braille instruction was not needed. Deciding that this was not acceptable, I joined several other parents who were facing similar obstacles. We set out in search of a change. This is how the first BELL program began in Maryland during the summer of 2008.
With funding and support from the Maryland affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, I worked with Jackie Otwell, a teacher of blind students. We set out to design an early Braille literacy program modeled closely upon an early literacy program used for my older sighted daughter. Our thought was that the standard literacy skills for blind children should be equivalent to those for sighted children. The knowledge I had gained over nine years as a classroom teacher had shown me the importance of developing early literacy skills.
During that first program, we immersed our nine BELL students in a wide variety of activities that focused on nonvisual exploration. In addition, we worked with each student on developing Braille skills. It was magical!
The philosophy that guides the instruction I provide to my students has taken shape through the experiences of many years. One of my fundamental beliefs is the importance of early immersion into Braille for all students who are blind. By blind I mean anything from low vision to total blindness.
Since 2010 I have had the privilege of working as a TVI in an elementary resource room with a group of wonderful students. I have seen the results of hard work on my part, but most importantly on the part of my students and their families. Within the resource room Braille instruction is implemented as early as possible. The students in our preschool program all receive instruction in Braille. It is easy to discontinue Braille instruction if it is later determined that Braille is not necessary, but it is harder to play catch up.
When planning a student's educational program, I utilize a variety of tools. Each year I review and update each student's functional vision and learning media assessment. Working with each of my students, their parents, and their teachers, I also complete the Expanded Core Curriculum checklist. With these results as well as my observations, I make recommendations for instruction for my students. Though my recommendations sometimes go against the norm, I always side with being proactive rather than reactive.
Throughout the school day, the other TVI in the program and I work with the general education teacher to meet all of our students' needs. Along with instruction in the literary Braille and Nemeth codes, we provide our students with instruction in all areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum for blind and visually impaired students. My goal is to empower my students to take ownership of their learning. I provide them with guidance and instill them with confidence in their skills.
Many of the skills that I teach my students are seamlessly integrated into the general education routine. Earlier this year we encouraged two of the students to apply to the mock NASA Space Team. This is a prestigious program for the school's fourth and fifth grade students. As a result of being selected, the students were required to read the Flight Operator's Manual. Braille, print, and digital recording all were options. We found this to be a natural opportunity to introduce the use of a handheld digital recorder as well as a human reader.
The culminating activity of the space program was an overnight stay in the Shuttle. This was a wonderful opportunity for the students to test some of their life skills. All of the students had to be responsible for their own belongings. They had to provide their own self-care. Should we have expected any less from our blind students? Of course not!
Just as important as instruction in Braille and adaptive technology are the other compensatory skills of blindness. In the spring of 2011 I worked with several teachers to start Parents Connect. This group of parents, family members, or anyone who works with students with visual impairment meets once a month to share questions, concerns, knowledge, and everything in between. We have covered such topics as cooking without looking, self-organization, so what after graduation, adaptive technology, Braille for the sighted, leisure activities, and much, much more. We have taken the students rock climbing, bowling, skating, and out to dinner. The topics that are covered are generated by the needs of the family participants. Through this group, we work collaboratively with parents and family members on supporting the development of all the skills that are necessary for the students.
Let me share a final story with you. Earlier this spring my youngest daughter excitedly ran to my classroom, declaring that she had completed kindergarten. As she bounced up and down, she said, "I am ready for first grade, Mommy." When I asked her why, she plopped her foot on my lap and replied, "See, I can finally tie my shoe without any help." In her young mind this simple task represented the completion. It was her final task. She was not concerned with the many other skills that she had gained over the year. Being able to read a book or write a story was not as crucial. Learning her left and right or learning how to add or subtract did not factor in her equation.
As parents and teachers, we must teach our blind children to tie their own shoelaces--that is, to become self-sufficient. For a blind person, that end goal may include being able to have a career and/or raise a family. They must master many skills before they are able to reach that goal. It is critical for each of us--parents, educators, and any other stakeholders--to understand the importance of each skill. Learning to pick out one's own clothes, learning to use eating utensils, being able to swing on the monkey bars, taking care of younger siblings, being able to communicate with others appropriately are just as important as learning to read or write effectively in Braille or to use the latest and greatest piece of access technology.
In the end, if we are diligent in providing our children with all the age-appropriate skills, they will have innumerable possibilities available to them.
Like the innumerable grains of sand on the beach, innumerable possibilities await your child, if she or he learns all the skills that are necessary for work and participation in society. If you envision the sands of opportunities in your child's future, let's ensure that your child gains all the skills to seize them. Help your children learn to tie their shoes!
Presented by Jim Gashel
From the Editor: The presentation of the Jacob Bolotin Awards is a high point of every NFB national convention. On July 6, Jim Gashel, NFB secretary and chairman of the Bolotin Awards Selection Committee, presented the 2013 Bolotin Awards from the convention platform.
Jim Gashel: Thank you, Dr. Maurer, thank you, fellow Federationists. Thank you again for the high honor of being able to present the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards this year on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind, the Santa Barbara Foundation, and the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust.
A biography of Dr. Bolotin has been published by Blue Point Books. It's called The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story, and it's available from our Independence Market. Jacob Bolotin was born in 1888 and died in 1924. Although he had only a few short years of life, his accomplishments were many. He started off selling brushes and even kitchen matches door to door. Then he went to medical school, he practiced medicine, and he even taught medicine in Chicago. And you know what? He did all that before there was the Rehabilitation Act. There was no ADA; there was no Section 504; there was no NFB. We honor his memory today because he blazed a trail for us. That's why we're here and why we honor Jacob Bolotin.
Funds to support these awards are provided from a bequest to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind from Rosalind Perlman, Jacob Bolotin's niece. This year we are awarding $50,000 to these winners. Each award includes a cash award (which I will specify), but it also includes a plaque. I'm going to read the plaque; here is the text on the plaque. It says: "Presented to [name of the recipient], National Federation of the Blind and the Santa Barbara Foundation, July 2013." A medallion is suspended above the plaque, and the medallion is a special commemorative award. The text on the obverse side reads, "The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award." Then the logo of the National Federation of the Blind appears, and immediately below that logo are these words: "Celebrating Achievement, Creating Opportunity." On the reverse side of the medallion appear these words: "Dr. Jacob Bolotin, 1888 to 1924," then reads, "Celebrating His Life/The Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust."
Jim Gashel: Now for the 2013 Jacob Bolotin Awards. For our first recipient, representing blind individuals of excellence, we recognize James Kubel with an award of $5,000. According to the National Eye Institute, 4.1 million people aged forty and over are affected by diabetic retinopathy, so this is a significant population. Insulin pumps are needed by this population. But, if you look at the totality of all of the insulin pumps on the market today, none of them, not a single one, is fully accessible to blind people. This means that, if you use insulin and you use an insulin pump, somebody else has to help you do it.
Enter James Kubel and the PumpMate. This is an audible remote control that enables a blind diabetic to administer insulin successfully using Medtronic insulin pumps, and to do it without sighted assistance. When you think of blind people who look at a problem and say, "I can solve it," when you think of creative engineering and people who say "yes," when everybody else is telling you to give up, think of the PumpMate and its inventor, James Kubel. Here is James Kubel to accept his Jacob Bolotin Award.
James Kubel: Well, thank you very much. I'd like to thank the NFB; I'd like to thank my associate, Phil Brooks, who worked with me; and I'd like to thank my wife for standing behind me while I fought and fought and fought to get this product on the market. I will continue to fight until I do get it there.
Jim Gashel: I want to thank you for being so short and concise. Now, for our second recipient, this year we have chosen to recognize two organizations for their partnership to improve opportunities for blind youth. These organizations are the National Federation of the Blind of Utah and the Utah Department of Workforce Services, recognized jointly for their groundbreaking Project STRIVE. Let's hear it for the National Federation of the Blind of Utah and for the Utah Workforce Department.
The $10,000 cash award will be made to the National Federation of the Blind of Utah, but this joint award goes with our deepest thanks and appreciation for the leadership and financial participation of the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Project STRIVE is a mentoring program that links up blind people age thirteen to twenty-six with blind adults experienced in such things as orientation and mobility, things like Braille, things like jobs and managing homes and so forth. In other words, we teach each other how to live lives of success.
When you think of reaching out to pave the way for blind youth, when you think of investing in our future, and when you think of public-private partnerships that really work to put blind people to work, think of Project STRIVE and its partners: the NFB of Utah and the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Here to accept this joint award are Adam Rushforth, director of Project STRIVE and Jeff Lanword, deputy director of Workforce Services. Gentlemen, you can take about thirty seconds.
Adam Rushforth: Thank you. As he said, this is a collaborative effort between Workforce Services and the NFB of Utah. We've been doing this for several years now, and I want to spend a second just giving a special thanks to our Project STRIVE participants, many of whom are here today, as well as our instructors: Cheralyn Creer, Barbie Elliott, Brooke Sexton, Mike Harvey, Tara Briggs, and many, many others. Thank you.
Jeff Lanword: Thank you very much for this award; thank you for the recognition. At the Department of Workforce Services in Utah, we have a lot of projects and a lot of funding we put out there. Once in a while there comes one that you know can unleash incredible potential. This is it. So thank you very much for the recognition.
Jim Gashel: Gentlemen, thank you very much. Now, for our third recipient, this year we have also chosen to recognize a partnership of a prominent state agency and an affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind. These organizations are the NFB of Texas and the Texas Workforce Commission, recognized jointly for working to create and conduct Project CHANGE. Although the cash award of $10,000 will go to the NFB of Texas, this joint recognition expresses our deep appreciation and thanks to the encouragement, leadership, and financial support provided by the Texas Workforce Commission.
In 2010 Larry Temple, the executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission, came to our convention in Dallas, and a year later Project CHANGE was created. I won't say any more. You all had a part in this by helping to create the understanding that blind people know best how to solve our problems and address our needs. Larry Temple is a believer, and the Texas Workforce Commission and the governor of Texas have helped to back the project. It's again a mentoring project, linking up blind youth ages fourteen to twenty-four with blind adults (doesn't specify what ages for the blind adults) to work in fields such as science, technology, engineering, math, education, rehabilitation, mass media communications, jobs in food service, and more.
When you think of believing in blind people and creating opportunities for success, when you think of tearing down barriers and opening doors to the future, and when you think about government agencies believing in blind people and understanding that we know best how to meet our needs, think of Project CHANGE and the partnership between the NFB of Texas and the Texas Workforce Commission. Here to accept the award are Kimberly Flores, president of the NFB of Texas, and Larry Temple, executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission.
Kimberly Flores: Opportunity is missed by many because it shows up wearing overalls and looks like work. Larry Temple is an expert in overalls of all shapes and sizes, and he loves the style of the National Federation of the Blind. Without him Project CHANGE would not have been possible. This has been a wonderful learning opportunity, we've been blessed and honored, and we are truly humbled by this recognition. Thank you so much. I would like to thank Norma Crosby for her tireless effort writing and revising this grant for us and for her love and support. I want to thank Richie [Kim's husband] for his leadership, and I want to thank Emily Gibbs for her support as well. Thank you to all of our participants who have been in attendance throughout the convention as well. Here is Larry Temple.
Larry Temple: Thank you very much. Actually, I didn't have much choice; I got outnumbered last year. Ron Gardner, Kimberly, Richie, Kristin Cox from out in Utah--they called and said, "This is a great project, and we need to work on it." I do want to thank Kristin for introducing me to this organization, and I'm proud to be here. Come on back to Texas!
Jim Gashel: For our fourth recipient we turn to a corporation of excellence with leadership on behalf of the blind, and we recognize Desire2Learn with an award of $10,000. For those of us who grew up in the 1960s, the 1970s, or maybe a decade or two beyond, we used to communicate with our teachers by passing hardcopy paper back and forth. But today they don't do that in education. So we learned today that you communicate over the network, and you use learning management systems, or LMSs. These systems are the means in education for teachers and the like to register students, to monitor their progress, to issue grades, etc. So no longer do we get to rush to the bulletin board to check our grades. We have to get onto Desire2Learn and hope it's accessible. In this case it is, although most of these systems are not accessible, and I've actually said that most of them should get a grade of F. Desire2Learn is about the only one of the group that really gets a grade of A--and not just once, but consistently. In fact, Desire2Learn has won for the last several years the NFB's gold certification for accessibility of learning management systems. [Access technology specialist] Anne Taylor says it's a model of accessibility, and I believe it is.
When you think of modern accessible technology used in education, when you think of equal opportunity to compete and to learn, and when you think of a core company value having accessibility in that value, think of Desire2Learn. Here to accept the award is Dennis Kavelman, chief operating officer, Desire2Learn.
Dennis Kavelman: Actually, the real person who is going to accept the award is Karen Hedrick, who really led the efforts at Desire2Learn, and here she is.
Karen Hedrick: Okay, I guess the Student Division knew I was here the whole time, but now you all know I'm not just in the video. I just wanted to say it's been seven years of hard work, working with developers who have great passion for this and are extremely motivated. I wish they could all be here to just breathe in the awesomeness that is in this convention. We are going to keep it going, and we're going to make sure that it stays accessible for all blind users. So that includes blind students, blind instructors, and blind administrators. Thank you so much for this.
Jim Gashel: Thank you, Karen, and thank you, Desire2Learn. Now, finally, our fifth recipient, representing blind individuals with imagination, innovation, and just plain good sense--we recognize Emily Wharton with our highest award this year, an award of $15,000. Now literacy is, I would say, the most fundamental building block of success. Literacy for blind people means competence in reading and writing Braille. Aside from having literacy skills in Braille, no other factor has more impact on whether or not a person will succeed. Emily Wharton understands this.
It's one thing to learn Braille as a child and use it every day in school. But it's a challenge of a different magnitude to learn Braille as an adult and then try to make it relevant and useful as a tool in your daily life. Most of us understand this, and we just give up. But Emily Wharton decided to do something about it. Emily is a communications instructor at BLIND, Incorporated, in Minneapolis. So she's had a firsthand opportunity to observe her students there. And Emily observed what she came to recognize among those students as a poor "Braillitude." She decided to help them get a good Braillitude, and she created Code Master.
Code Master follows the techniques used in teaching sighted people to read, that is, to recognize not just characters but words, whole words. She has people reading within weeks of having the opportunity to learn the Braille code. Not only that, but she incorporates the use of technology into the process, emphasizing the use of Braille displays. More than that, she is making Braille relevant to blind adults, and they are learning to use it right away.
When you think of innovative problem-solving, when you think of first-class training, and when you think of literacy education for all--no excuses for being a blind adult, we can learn Braille too--think of the Code Master system, and think of Emily Wharton, its inventor. Here to accept the award is Emily Wharton.
Emily Wharton: Thank you so much to the Bolotin Committee, to my Federation family, to Dr. Maurer for challenging us to think about ways of innovating Braille, to all the people along the way who've been helpful with this: Peggy Elliott; Shawn Mayo; Dr. Bell; and everybody at BLIND, Incorporated: Sharon, Ryan, Helen, and Chris. If you want more information about what we're doing, it'll be on our website shortly: <www.blindinc.org>. Thank you all so much.
Jim Gashel: Thank you, Emily, and thanks to all of our award winners. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards class of 2013. I want to thank Mary Ellen Jernigan and Ron Brown for helping me out in reviewing all these applications and for their intelligent evaluation. Mr. President, this concludes my report on the Jacob Bolotin Awards for 2013, and I thank all of you for listening.
Presented by Patti Gregory-Chang
From the Editor: Each year the National Federation of the Blind recognizes thirty outstanding blind postsecondary students as NFB scholarship winners. The 2013 scholarship recipients ranged from entering college freshmen to doctoral candidates, and they were pursuing studies in an array of fields, from tax accounting to computational chemistry. At the meeting of the NFB board of directors, the thirty 2013 NFB scholarship winners (including five tenBroek Fellows, who were receiving a second NFB scholarship) came to the microphone to speak directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. The speakers were introduced by Patti Gregory-Chang, who chairs the NFB Scholarship Committee. Patti announced each student's name, home state, and school state.
Conrad Austen, Maryland, Maryland: Good morning, Federation family. I want to take this time to thank each and every one of you for fighting for ever-increasing opportunities for me and thousands upon thousands of other blind students to succeed. I'm a senior at St. Mary's College of Maryland studying history, and I plan on getting a doctorate in history and becoming a professor researching and teaching disability history. I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible, and until then I hope you continue to have a wonderful convention. Thank you.
[Patti Chang: When students win more than one of our scholarships, they are dubbed "tenBroek Fellows." Here is the first of five this year.]
Cody Bair, Colorado, Colorado: Good morning! It's a pleasure to stand in front of you today as a tenBroek Fellow. I'm a student at the University of Northern Colorado, and I'll be a senior in the fall. I'm majoring in accounting, and it's my career goal to obtain my CPA and practice in tax. This summer I'm working an internship for EKS&H [Ehrhardt, Keefe, Seiner, and Hottman], which is a large accounting firm in Colorado. I'm specializing in real estate and partnership tax. This is my third convention, and I have the pleasure of serving as the president of the Greeley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, the treasurer of the Colorado Association of Blind Students, and, as of last night, a board member of NABS. It is my goal this convention to develop as a stronger leader because I know that, while as a Federation we have accomplished a lot, we still have a lot more to accomplish, and I'm committed to working and putting in tireless hours until what we want to accomplish is accomplished. Thank you.
Danielle Burton, Kentucky, Kentucky: Good morning, everyone. I am a freshman this fall, and I am going to major in elementary and special education with an emphasis in moderate to severe disabilities. I plan to teach students who are blind and visually impaired. I chose to do this because I want students to have more opportunities, and I want them to have some things I did not have as a student myself. I appreciate the opportunity to be here today and this week, and I hope to meet everybody. Thank you very much.
Mark Colasurdo, New Jersey, New York: Hello, everyone. My name is Mark Colasurdo, and it is an honor to be here as a scholarship winner. I want to thank the committee for this wonderful opportunity. I first came to the NFB in 2009 during the Youth Slam event and have been a student and mentor at various other STEM events since. I am currently the vice president of the New Jersey Association of Blind Students. In the fall I will be a junior at Cornell University, studying bioengineering. This summer I am doing a research internship up there funded by the National Science Foundation, where I am doing original research studying tissue engineering. In the future I hope to be a PhD scholar and research scientist in the field of biomedical engineering and to continue to participate actively in the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.
Angela DeHart, Kentucky, Kentucky: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Thank you, scholarship committee and board of directors. It is an honor to be here this week. This fall I will be a senior in a program leading to dual certification in elementary and special education, with an emphasis in teaching students who have moderate to severe disabilities. My career goal is to teach students who have autism. Teaching is my passion. It is my job to educate, encourage, and inspire my students. My philosophy of teaching is the same as my philosophy of blindness. If there is one thing I want my students to learn from me, it is that their disability need not limit them, and anything is possible with enough dedication and perseverance. Thank you all.
Stephanie DeLuca, Tennessee, Tennessee: Good morning, everyone! I am honored to be here as a tenBroek Fellow this year. I am currently the president of the Tennessee Association of Blind Students. I am also hoping to defend my doctorate next spring, and with that doctorate I'd like to pursue a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) policy or STEM education policy because I believe very passionately and strongly that everyone, including the blind and visually impaired who are often ignored, have the right to a quality education, and that is how we can move up in the world. So I am looking forward to learning from all of you and learning to be a trailblazer and a leader. Thank you.
Al Elia, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hello, everyone. Thank you to the committee, and thank you to all of you for supporting this organization that can therefore support this wonderful class that I'm honored to be a part of. I have to confess that I took for granted for many years the rights that I have as a blind person. Then, in the late 2000s, I discovered the NFB and how much I owe to this organization for all the rights that I've had my whole life. And I realized that we're still doing that work, especially Massachusetts. You know, I think a lot of people here probably have iPhones--yes? That's the NFB and Massachusetts. And the ATM machines that we all use, that talk to us now? That's the NFB and Massachusetts. So I decided that, after fifteen years out of school and working as a software developer, I was going to go to law school. So that's what I'm doing now, and I hope to continue to do that sort of work, fighting in Massachusetts along with the NFB to increase our rights going forward. Thank you very much.
Molly Faerber, Rhode Island, Rhode Island: Good morning, everyone. Thank you to the members of the scholarship committee and the members of this class for giving me my first national convention. It's been astonishing so far. I'm currently a grad student at Brown University in the department of literary arts, concentrating in fiction writing. In the fall or in this upcoming academic year I'll be teaching two fiction-writing classes at Brown, and I'll also have the chance to teach a group of blind high school students a writing workshop as well. I'm going to steal something that Julie said last night that I think was really great. She said that blind people deserve to be on the stage as much as sighted people do, and I completely agree. I believe that the opinions, the experiences, and the perceptions of the world that blind people have deserve to be written, published, and read by everyone, and I am dedicated to doing everything in my power to make that happen, especially after only these few days of convention. Thank you very much.
Kristin Fleschner, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Good morning, everyone. I'm so honored and privileged to be here. I'm a third-year law student at Harvard Law School. I've been extremely privileged to have a lot of rich educational and cultural experiences along the way. I did my undergraduate education at Vanderbilt University, where I received a bachelor of arts and a bachelor of science. Vanderbilt then sent me to Africa, where I researched violence against women and traveled to over eighteen countries. When I returned, I had the opportunity to work for the former speaker of the US House of Representatives, and since that time I've been a federal government employee. In that capacity I've had the opportunity to testify before Congress and brief some of our most senior policy members. But along the way I lost my vision, and I had a lot of self-doubt. The morning that I actually received my admittance letter to Harvard Law School, I wasn't sure I was making the right decision, and I wasn't sure I should even be going to law school. I actually happened to make one of my first trips to the NFB in Baltimore that day to do a training session that Scott LaBarre was putting on for blind lawyers, and I left that meeting after spending a few hours with about forty blind lawyers wondering if I shouldn't get not only my JD at Harvard but whether I should also get my PhD. I think that this is what this organization has the capacity to do, so I'm here this week to learn from all of you and the rest of the scholarship team here, and I look forward to meeting the rest of you this week.
Juna Gjata, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hello, everyone. My name is Juna Gjata. I am seventeen years old and will be attending Harvard as a freshman this fall. I have the privilege of being here for the first time this year, and it's so exciting. Over the past four years I've interned at a law firm and an investment agency and as a research assistant, and they have only reaffirmed in my mind that I want to be a concert pianist in the future. I have been attending a conservatory for eight years now and have had the honor of playing with six different orchestras and playing Carnegie Hall and Symphony Hall, so my dream is to be a pianist without a day job--sorry Papi.
Fredrick Hardyway, Kansas, Washington: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for this opportunity; this has been wonderful. This is my first convention, and I'm just so amazed. I'm going to Washington State and getting my doctorate in world history with a primary emphasis in African history. My goal is to become a professor. I guess I found out among the scholarship winners that I'm the eldest, so thank you for the opportunity.
Tasha Hubbard, Virginia, Virginia: Hello, Federationists. I am a student at Liberty University getting my master's in professional counseling and life coaching. With that I will be counseling people who have gone through traumatic experiences that left them disabled. My goal is to give them back their hope for life and to teach them that their life isn't over now that they're disabled. I am also the president of the Peninsula Chapter in Virginia. I am the coordinator for the Peninsula BELL Program. I am on the McDonald Fellowship Committee, and I will be running for a position in the Human Services Division later on today. My theme here is giving back.
Chopper Johnson, South Carolina, South Carolina: Hi, folks. It's good to hear a little bit of South Carolina in the house. After starting my undergraduate in the early 90s, I'm finally getting around to graduating with a double degree in secondary education and history in May from the College of Charleston. This is thanks to the scholarship committee. This is my first NFB national convention; it's been a long couple of days already; I look forward to a long couple of more. So that's me.
Tyler Kavanaugh, Kansas, New York: Good morning. Thank you, scholarship committee, board of directors, Mr. President, Madame Chair. It is a great honor for me to be here this morning. I'm going to be a sophomore at the Rochester Institute of Technology, studying software engineering. This is my first national convention, and I hope to become even more involved in the Federation because I only really got kind of involved with it at the state convention in New York last November.
Mi So Kwak, California, California: First of all, I am so honored and humbled to be here today. Throughout my life I have been blessed with incredible mentors and experiences: teachers in Korea who always encouraged me to think bigger, a high school teacher who opened my mind to chemistry, a guidance counselor who gave me an opportunity to speak to a local Cub Scout pack about blindness, band directors who gave me wonderful opportunities such as being a section leader for marching band performing in a concert as a member of Southern California Ambassadors of Music, and marching in the Tournament of Roses Parade as a member of Bands of America Honor Band, and finally, many of my NFB mentors whom I have met throughout this week. This fall I'll be a freshman attending the University of California, Los Angeles, and am considering a double major in music history and communication and a minor in education. Although I'm not sure about the specifics of my career, I would like to become a teacher who could open students' minds and strengthen their self-belief, just like my teachers have done for me. Thank you.
Domonique Lawless, Louisiana, Louisiana: Good morning. I am very honored to be here as a tenBroek Fellow. I'm from Nashville, Tennessee, currently living in Ruston, Louisiana, where I am attending Louisiana Tech, finishing my master's degree in teaching blind students orientation and mobility. I've been in the National Federation of the Blind for thirteen years. In 2005 I founded the Tennessee Association of Blind Students and had the opportunity to serve as its president from 2005 to 2011. I also served on the state board for the Tennessee affiliate as well as served on the National Association of Blind Students board from 2007 to 2012. Although I hold no current board positions, I love working behind the scenes in various education programs, like the BELL Program in Louisiana and soon the BELL Program in Virginia. I look forward to doing anything I can to help the Federation, and I'm looking forward to the rest of convention.
Alex Loch, Minnesota, Minnesota: Hi, everyone. My name is Alex Loch. I'm a third-year grad student at the College of St. Scholastica, earning a doctorate in physical therapy. I will own my own practice--a physical therapy clinic--one day. I live in Duluth, Minnesota, and we're in the process of getting a chapter started in Duluth; so any tips are welcome. In Minnesota we have these things called "Ole and Lena jokes," so I'm going to tell you one: Sven was walking down the street, and he noticed his buddy Ole standing by the jewelry store. He said, "Hey, Ole, vat you doing?" Ole said, "Oh, it's Lena's birthday, and she asked for something with a lot of diamonds." Sven said, "Yah? Vell, vat'd you get her?" Ole said, "Vell, I got her a deck of cards." Thank you all so much; have a lovely convention.
Brooke Lovell, Utah, Utah: Hello, everyone, I'm so thankful to be here today. I'm an incoming freshman at Brigham Young University, and I will be majoring in psychology. I plan to become a marriage and family counselor. This summer I'm interning at a counseling office in Salt Lake City, and I absolutely love it. I have been involved with the NFB for coming up on three years now. I had the opportunity to attend Washington Seminar, and that was right after I became involved with the NFB. Then I was on the founding board of our local chapter and served as the secretary there for two years. I am currently treasurer of our student division, and I have had the opportunity to serve as a junior mentor at the BELL Program and in Project STRIVE in our state. I'm so thankful for all these awesome opportunities that I've had to give back, because I have received so much from the NFB and from my mentors and from you, my Federation family. I hope you all have a very happy day. Thank you.
Julie McGinnity, Missouri, Missouri: Hi, everyone. First of all I would like to thank Patti Chang and the rest of the scholarship committee for giving me this opportunity once again. I'm having a great time. I would also like to thank Lorraine Rovig for all the work she's doing; it can't be easy to be with us all the time! I was recently told that I could only be a blind character in an opera because I'm blind, and all the sighted people are supposed to play the sighted characters. Yeah, unfortunately this is something that we face every day. Many of us in this room have faced this attitude. I would like to become an accomplished performer and be a professor of voice. I would like to teach all kinds of students performance techniques. I would also like to advocate for blind performers because that attitude is wrong, and we need to fix it, guys. Thank you.
Mona Minkara, Florida, Florida: Hi, everyone. I'm actually originally from Boston; I moved down here for graduate school. I am a third-year at the University of Florida, part of the Quantum Theory Project. I am studying computational chemistry. I graduated with my undergraduate degree from Wellesley College in 2009 with a double major in chemistry and Middle Eastern studies. Then I was really fortunate to get a Howard Hughes Medical Institution grant to do a year of pure research, and I decided this is what I want to do with the rest of my life--I love it. Unfortunately, growing up I wasn't really involved with the NFB or anything involved with blind associations. I was not taught Braille, and I did not have enough vision to read large print. I've done everything auditorily, but, coming here, I've decided I'm going to learn Braille. Actually, Julie McGinnity--who just spoke--she just showed me the alphabet; I was able to read a couple of sentences on her BrailleNote, so I'm really excited to see where that takes me. Thank you.
Disa Muse, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Thank you. My associate's and bachelor's were in areas of law, and I honestly just had a mild plan of being a paralegal. But, as I was going through school during the last two years, I've faced more battles than I've ever faced in my life. It was the first time I'd gone to college blind. I battled one professor one semester. I thought, "Good, that'll never happen again." No, next semester, major battle, semester-long. Then voc rehab, and, by the end I said, "Do you know what? They don't seem to understand! I'm part of the NFB, and I don't take no for an answer." I'm now dedicating my life to that type of service for others. Thank you.
Treva Olivero, Louisiana, Louisiana: Hello, everyone, thank you. I am very honored and blessed and humbled to have this opportunity. This is my tenth convention. In the past I haven't been able to go to school to get a scholarship, but currently I am attending the Louisiana Tech master's program for teaching blind students. I'm very excited, and what sparked an interest in teaching was my experience with the Louisiana and the Maryland BELL programs and also the Braille Rocks Program in Maryland. I'd like to thank my mentors from the NFB of Indiana and the NFB of Maryland for all their support. Thank you so much for believing in me and giving me this opportunity so that I can go and teach future Federationists.
Steven Phelps, Utah, Utah: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am a member of the Utah affiliate, and within that affiliate I am the president of the Utah Valley Chapter. I am in my final year of study at the University of Utah. I am working on two master's degrees, one in social work and the other in public administration. I'm also working on a graduate certificate in disability studies. With this combination of degrees and a certificate, I will be able to provide relief and initiate necessary changes for people with disabilities through advocacy, legislation, policy efforts, and administrative leadership. I believe that I can make a difference in people's lives, and this belief has been furthered during recent national conventions, Washington Seminar, and activities within the Utah affiliate. I am committed to furthering the mission of the National Federation of the Blind and its programs and affiliates. Thank you.
Heather Rasmussen, Tennessee, Washington DC: Hi. I've been in the NFB for several years, about six, I think. I owe a lot to this organization. I went to the Colorado Center for the Blind in 2009-2010. It was a truly life-changing experience. That being said, I've never been able to come to a national convention before, and I'm really truly grateful to be here; it's amazing. I have a bit of a different background; I grew up on a goat farm--yes, a goat farm--in Tennessee. I am now at American University in Washington, DC; I'm majoring in international studies with a focus in conflict resolution because it's really hard to get anything done in terms of development if you're being shot at. I'm minoring in Spanish because it's awesome and criminal justice because I have a passion for US prison reform. Coming from an under-served population--being blind--I feel empathy with that population because they're very neglected in this country. For the last year I studied abroad in the University of Ireland in Galway, and I love dogs.
Kaitlin Shelton, Ohio, Ohio: Hello, and good morning, everyone. This fall I will be a sophomore at the University of Dayton, where I am majoring in music therapy with a minor in psychology. I have yet to decide what specific population I want to work with, but I'm considering concentrating in work with teens with all sorts of disabilities; substance abuse and recovery; medical patients; or music therapy in a pediatric hospital. I've had a couple volunteer internships, including one at the Cincinnati Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and I hope to get more in order to sort of figure out my niche and see where I want to go. I'm pretty active on campus. I do several activities, including volunteer organizations, two fraternities, marching band, and a bunch of musical ensembles. As far as the Federation goes, I am active in the Ohio Association of Blind Students, where I currently serve as secretary, and the Community Service Group, and I hope to become more involved as the week goes on. This is my first convention, and I'm really excited and honored to be here. I'm really thankful for this opportunity, so thank you to everyone who's made this possible, as well as everyone here for working for a better future for blind people. Thank you.
Jeri Siqueiros-Ramirez, California, California: Good morning, fellow Federationists. First off, I am very blessed. I feel very blessed to be part of the scholarship class this year, and it is with great humility that I say thank you to each and every one of you, as well as the scholarship committee. I am a graduate student at Cal State University, San Bernardino. I am earning a master's degree in rehab counseling. I currently work as a service coordinator at the department of rehab in California. Rehab is very near and dear to my heart. But I am more than that. I am also a mother, a wife, and a Federationist. I have the privilege of working in the great state of California next to some seasoned mentors. I serve as treasurer of our student division and vice president of our diabetes division, and I am president of the Southwest Riverside County Chapter. But my privilege extends beyond the California borders. I get to work alongside all of you, and I get to be part of the difference we are going to make in this world. Again, I thank you, and I look forward to meeting more of you. Everybody have a great convention. Thank you.
Ivy Wanta, New York, Connecticut: Hi, everyone. I'm so grateful to be here as a scholarship winner. I'm starting at Yale University this fall, hoping to major in physics and planning to have a future in alternate energy sources. I'm also incredibly involved in theater. Throughout my high school career I acted in, directed, or wrote seventeen different plays and musicals. This is my first convention, and I really do feel like this scholarship has given me the gift of the NFB, and I can't wait to take that gift home and get involved in my state affiliate. Thank you so much.
Kathryn Webster, Connecticut, North Carolina: Good morning, my new Federation family. This is my first national convention, and my name is Kathryn Webster. I am originally from Florida, live in Connecticut, and will be starting my freshman year of undergraduate at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. I plan on pursuing a double major in mathematical business and economics with a minor in health and human services, hopefully. My career goal right now is to be an actuarial scientist and a motivational speaker. I am new to the Federation--fairly new--but I am looking forward to this week, and I am loving it. And I just wanted to give a shout-out to Justin Salisbury because he convinced me to highly consider going to the LCB, and he has definitely been a great mentor throughout this whole process. I can't wait to keep on being a Federationist and getting involved. Thank you.
Matthew Yeater, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning, Federationists. I, too, would like to say thank you so much to the scholarship committee for your hard work and dedication, and the board of directors. On behalf of all of us, all of you affiliate leaders, without you guys we wouldn't be where we are, so thank you very much. I graduated from Indiana Bible College last year and am a first-year grad student at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. I've been part of the Federation for five years, recruited by Ron Brown. My first convention was part of the College Leadership Program four years ago, so this is my fourth convention. The leadership seminar changed my life, really. I went back home with a new perspective and an open understanding. During my senior year of college I started the National Federation of the Blind of Michiana, a newly formed chapter. I serve on the building committee where we're celebrating that just last week we got a building donated to us--office space--so we're really looking forward to that. We have a couple of grant writers--one of whom works with the International Rotary--he's a gifts manager, his major is corporate sponsorship--so we're excited for the new developments. Thank you guys for all that you do for us.
Stephanie Zundel, New Jersey, Tennessee: Good morning, my Federation family. I am so thankful, blessed, and honored to have been awarded one of the NFB's scholarships. I will be attending Vanderbilt University in the fall as a freshman. I will be double majoring in speech pathology and psychology. I have also just decided to minor in something that has to do with animals, since I absolutely love animals. I attended the Youth Slam in 2011, and I also just graduated from the LEAD Program, which is led by Joe Ruffalo and Jerilyn Higgins. I just have one quick story to share on why I absolutely love the NFB and why it is such a great organization. This year I was in an AP government class. All the students in this class belong to a national e-Congress, which is a website where students from all over the country create their own laws. These laws are sent to other classrooms across the country, where they either pass or fail. I made a law about how I think there should be a way that blind people can distinguish between money, other than using money readers. It is fine if people disagree with my ideas, but the way these people failed was unbelievable. They told me that blind people never go to stores without a sighted companion. This is why I do boxing--because of my anger--and also why I joined the NFB. The NFB is here to fight for our equality because we know that blind people can accomplish everything that sighted people can. Thank you.
On Saturday evening, July 6, toward the close of the banquet, Patti Gregory-Chang came to the podium to present this year's winners and announce which scholarships each had been awarded. Each winner shook hands with NFB President Marc Maurer and inventor Ray Kurzweil before taking a place at the back of the platform. In addition to the NFB scholarship, each of the thirty winners received a $1,000 check and plaque from Ray Kurzweil; a Google Nexus 7 tablet for access to the Blio ebook reader from K-NFB Reading Technology, Inc.; and a $1,000 cash award from Google. This package of gifts added over $2,000 of value to every scholarship award.
The final award of the evening was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, presented to Jeri Siqueiros-Ramirez, who then spoke briefly to the audience. This is what she said:
Jeri Siqueiros-Ramirez: I'm trying to catch my breath right now and stand at the same time, so excuse the shaking in my voice, please. Good evening, my Federation family. Words can never express the thanks or even the feelings I have right now. In 2007 I sat on the side of the road--devastated--realizing that I was blind. My car was parked; I had called my brother for a ride because I had almost hit a car. In 2009 I had the opportunity, the blessing, to attend my first national convention in Detroit. I partook in our walk, in our March for Independence. I left that convention changing the word "devastation" to "determination"--to dare to dream. It is with great humility that I stand here before you this evening, again truly thanking each and every one of you. I may not know you personally, but we are working together, and that is all I need to know. Thank you, my Federation family. It is my privilege to walk with you as we go to Washington each year and as we walk the streets and show society what it means to work together in changing what it means to be blind. Thank you.
Following is the complete list of 2013 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 NFB Awards: Conrad Austen, Cody Bair, Danielle Burton, Mark Colasurdo, Albert (Al) Elia, Juna Gjata, Fredrick Hardyway, Natasha Hubbard, Tyler Kavanaugh, Mi So Kwak, Domonique Lawless, Alex Loch, Disa Muse, Steven J. Phelps, Heather Rasmussen, Kaitlin Shelton, Ivy Wanta, Matthew Yeater, and Stephanie Zundel
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Treva Olivero
$3,000 E.U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: Angela Dehart
$3,000 The Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Stephanie DeLuca
$5,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarships: Mona Minkara and Kathryn Webster
$5,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship: Chopper Johnson
$5,000 The Mimi and Marvin Sandler Scholarship: Molly Faerber
$7,000 NFB Scholarships: Brooke Lowell and Julie Ann McGinnity
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Kristin Fleschner
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (funded by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): Jeri Siqueiros-Ramirez.
Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation
National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen St.
Boston, MA 02115
Contact: Kimberley Ballard, (617) 266-6160, Ext. 437
Application Deadline: January 9, 2014
The Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation was developed to inspire an innovator to continue the promotion of Braille literacy for blind and deaf-blind people worldwide. Twenty thousand dollars will be granted for professional software and apps, educational software and apps, gaming software or apps that promote tactile and Braille learning, and Braille or tactile-related hardware. Whatever your idea—whether a tactile-based technology project, a viable Braille teaching software, a way to inspire preschool Braille learners through tactile hardware, or Braille hardware for the community—NBP wants to hear from you. The Touch of Genius Prize has attracted innovators from all over the world in the fields of education, technology, engineering, tactile graphics, and general literacy. The prize offers a direct and compelling incentive for researchers, teachers, and to support literacy efforts for blind people. The prize is provided through the generosity of the Gibney Family Foundation, which supports nonprofit organizations that are dedicated to assisting the blind and those who are otherwise challenged.
National Federation of the Blind 2014 Scholarship Program
NFB Scholarship Program
200 East Wells Street
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
(410) 659-9314, extension 2415
Deadline: March 31, 2014
Are you a legally blind college student living in the United States or Puerto Rico? This annual program offers 30 scholarships worth from $3,000 to $12,000 to eligible students, from high school seniors beginning their freshman year in the fall semester of 2014, up through grad students working on their PhD. These merit scholarships are based on academic excellence, community service, and leadership. In addition to the money, each winner will receive assistance to attend the summer 2014 NFB National Convention in Orlando, Florida, providing an excellent opportunity for high-level networking with active blind persons in many different professions and occupations. To apply, read the rules and the submission checklist, complete the official 2014 Scholarship Application Form (online or in print), supply all required documents, and request and complete one interview by an NFB affiliate president (unless the president requests a later date). Applications are accepted for five months, from November 1, 2013, to the deadline.
Learning Ally Scholastic Achievement Awards
20 Roszel Rd.
Princeton, NJ 08540
Contact: (800) 221-4792
Application Deadline: March 1, 2014
Each year Learning Ally presents scholarships to college and graduate students who are blind or have learning disabilities. Nine Mary P. Oenslager Scholastic Achievement Awards are given to Learning Ally members who are legally blind. Three Top Winners each will receive $6,000, three Special Honors Winners will each receive $3,000, and three Honors Winners will receive $1,000 each. Learning Ally offers six Marion Huber Learning Through Listening Awards to students with learning disabilities. The William L. Ritchie LTL Award in the amount of $1,000 is presented to a student in the Washington DC metropolitan area who is legally blind or has learning disabilities. Applications for all of these awards can be submitted online or by mail.
INTERNSHIPS AND ADVENTURES
One Stop Shopping Initiative for NASA Internships, Fellowships, and Scholarships (OSSI: Nifs)
Online Summer Session Application: <http://intern.nasa.gov>
Ages: Sixteen and up
Deadline: May 31, 2014
The National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) offers a variety of internship opportunities for high school and college students year round. Interns may work for six to eight weeks at any of the numerous NASA facilities throughout the country. NASA is committed to diversity, and students with disabilities are encouraged to apply. The OSSI Summer Session application period is open from November 1, 2013, through May 31, 2014. Applications for year-round internships may be submitted at any time.
Developed in partnership with renowned blind mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer, Leading the Way unites students of mixed abilities on incredible adventures. Participants learn the adaptive skills necessary to fulfill their roles as members of a diverse team striving to reach a common goal. In the summer of 2014 Leading the Way Sound Academy will take students who are blind, visually impaired, or sighted on an unforgettable rafting adventure on the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park. Another program, Leading the Way Grand Canyon, will be available to students who are deaf, hard of hearing, or hearing-abled.
2014 NFB Youth Writing Contest
Contact: Robert Leslie Newman
504 S. 57th St.
Omaha, NE 68106
Deadline: April 1, 2014
The NFB Writers Division is again holding a writing contest to promote Braille literacy and excellence in creative writing. Entries will be judged on creativity and quality of Braille. Submissions must be written in contracted Braille unless the student has yet to learn the full system. There are categories for fiction and poetry at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Cash prizes of $30, $20, and $10 will be awarded in each category. Fiction entries may not exceed one thousand words, and poetry may not exceed twenty lines. Entries must be accompanied by a cover letter with the student's name, address, phone, email address, school, and grade. Each entrant must provide an electronic copy of the cover letter and story or poem. Send the hardcopy and electronic versions to Robert Leslie Newman at the mailing address and email address above, respectively.
BlindHow will hold a drawing for an iPad Mini at the state convention of the NFB of Utah in May 2014. If you are blind and working anywhere in the world, you may enter by submitting a post on the BlindHow website, telling about your job and how you do it. It is BlindHow's mission to educate the blind and sighted public about the capabilities of blind people by demonstrating how the blind succeed in the workforce. The posts on the website will be available to anyone who wants to learn about the kinds of jobs blind people do. You need not be an NFB member or present to win.
NFB 2014 Washington Seminar
Location: Holiday Inn Capitol, Washington DC
Hotel Reservations: email@example.com
January 27 – 30, 2014
The National Federation of the Blind's 2014 Washington Seminar will be held on Monday, January 27, through January 30, 2014. As in previous years, it will be held at the Holiday Inn Capitol at 550 C Street SW, Washington DC 20024. The Great Gathering In will begin Monday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. in the Columbia Room on the first floor of the Holiday Inn Capitol and will adjourn at 7:00 p.m. Legislative appointments should be made for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in the Senate and House office buildings. Meetings for NFB members to review the legislative progress and provide guidance will occur Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Room rates at the Holiday Inn Capitol are $177 for single, double, triple, or quad rooms with a 14.5% tax per night. Please do not contact the hotel to make your reservations. To make your reservation, you may call (303) 778-1130, extension 219, or you may email Lisa Bonderson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Room reservations must be made by December 17, 2013. If you wish to have room space for meetings prior to or during the seminar, please have those requests in to Lisa Bonderson by December 17, 2013.
AFB Leadership Conference
Location: New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge
Hotel Reservations: (888) 436-3759
February 27-March 1, 2014
Registration is now open for "Your Bridge to the Future," the 2014 leadership conference sponsored by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). Sessions will focus on technology, leadership, employment, education, orientation and mobility, and rehabilitation.
New Brunswick, NJ
In October 2013, Carol Castellano, author, advocate, teacher, and cofounder of Parents of Blind children-New Jersey, was inducted into the Douglas Society. Induction into the society is the highest honor that Douglas College, Carol's alma mater, bestows upon an alumna. Carol serves as director of programs for the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), and she is president emerita of both the NOPBC and POBC-NJ. She is the author of four books and numerous articles about the education of blind children. Her books include Making It Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School and Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade: Working toward an Independent Future for Your Young Blind Child.
"Electro Man" Stamp
In September 2013, the United Nations recognized the work of six artists with disabilities in a series of stamps called "Breaking Barriers, Opening Doors." One stamp features "Electro Man," a photograph by Pete Eckert, a blind photographer from Sacramento, California. UN stamps can be used to post letters from United Nations offices in New York, Geneva, and Vienna.
Dr. Abraham Nemeth (1918-2013)
On October 2, 2013, the blind community lost a gifted thinker and powerful ally with the passing of Dr. Abraham Nemeth. He died at his home in Southfield, Michigan, at the age of ninety-four. Dr. Nemeth invented the Nemeth Braille Code for Mathematics and Scientific Notation and was a lifelong champion of Braille. NFB President Marc Maurer stated, "Dr. Nemeth had a great mind and a wonderful sense of humor. His invention of the Braille code that bears his name has enabled many blind people to learn, work, and excel in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and his tireless Braille advocacy work undoubtedly changed countless lives. He will be sorely missed, and his contributions will be valued by generations to come." His book is available as an ebook at <www.brailleauthority.org/mathscience/nemeth1972.pdf>.
Dr. Lilli Nielsen (1926 – 2013)
Dr. Lilli Nielsen, a pioneer in the teaching of blind and multiply disabled children, died on June 24, 2013, in Kolding, Denmark. She worked as a preschool teacher, a psychologist, and a teacher of blind students. She is best known for developing Active Learning, a teaching method that encourages children to move and explore on their own. She developed numerous pieces of equipment for working with young blind children, including the Little Room and the Resonance Board. Among her books are Space and Self, The Comprehending Hand, and Are You Blind? Her books and equipment are available at <www.lilliworks.com>.
GAMES AND TOYS
Since its founding in 1978, Discovery Toys has been a leader in learning toys for early childhood education. Each toy is designed for multiple layers of learning. It is the company's goal to deliver a rich experience to children with autism and other disabilities, and most Discovery Toys are fully accessible to blind and visually impaired children. Each toy in the catalog has an autism symbol that corresponds with the specific learning area the toy supports.
Sensory Sun Educational Technologies for Children with Visual Impairments
Sensory Sun is dedicated to helping children with all levels of vision learn, play, and enjoy time together. The website includes articles on teaching math concepts, links to sources of Braille books and accessible games, ideas for making educational materials to use at home, and much more.
Ballyland by Sonokids
Sonokids BallylandTM is a fun and educational computer game for all children, including those with disabilities. The design specifically supports playful learning by children who are blind or have low vision. The game is available in both Windows and Mac versions.
Seedlings Braille Books for Children
PO Box 51924
Livonia, MI 48151-5924
Contact: (800) 777-8552
Seedlings Braille Books for Children is dedicated to producing affordable Braille books for children from toddlers to teens. The 2014 catalogue includes fifty new titles, raising the number of available titles to 1,250.
Temple Beth El Braille Bindery Volunteers
7400 Telegraph Rd.
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48301
Contact: Barbara Mandelbaum, (248) 542-7736 or, on Tuesdays, (248) 851-1100, Ext. 3129
The Beth El Sisterhood Bindery offers a selection of more than 1,300 Braille books for children of all ages. The books are free, and there is no limit to the number that can be ordered. The group is willing to transcribe literary (non-textbook) books that are not yet on the list. Donations of money or Braille paper are most welcome!
The Heart of Applebutter Hill
by Donna W. Hill
Imagine you're fourteen and you're in a strange country with your camera, your best friend, her guitar, and her guide dog. You uncover a secret, and you are instantly in danger. The Heart of Applebutter Hill by blind reporter Donna W. Hill is an adventure-mystery for readers of all ages. The book is available in several accessible electronic formats, and print copies can be purchased at <www.amazon.com/books/dp/1483948226>.
World Braille Usage, Third Edition
Contact: Marilyn Rea Beyer, (617) 972-7478
World Braille Usage, Third Edition, is an international compilation of language codes for the reading and writing of Braille. The new free ebook edition includes Braille codes for 133 languages, up from ninety-seven languages in the 1990 edition. The book contains the most comprehensive collection of Braille codes available in the world today. A special effort was made to collect Braille codes for indigenous and mother-tongue languages, and includes languages such as Ndebele from Zimbabwe and Khmer from Cambodia. Also new for this edition are Braille codes for eight of the most widely used tribal languages in South Africa, several Latin American indigenous languages, plus Hawai'ian and Inupiaq from the United States. All languages in the book are based on a standardized system of phonetics which allows it to include character-based languages such as Mandarin and Arabic. National Braille authorities can use the book to promote consistency within countries' Braille codes, and transcribers and educators around the world can use it to answer questions about proper Braille usage for letters, numbers, and punctuation.
MODELS AND TACTILE GRAPHICS
Load 2 Learn
Load2Learn provides accessible textbooks and images to support learners who are dyslexic, blind, or visually impaired. The service is free to educators in the UK, and there is a charge for overseas members. Thousands of books are available in Word, PDF, EPUB, and audio formats. Accessible images can be downloaded as PDF, Word, or CorelDRAW files. Each image pack includes a large print image as well as SEB and UEB tactile versions ready for production--they are provided as print-ready and editable files.
Tactile Vision Inc.
1550 Caterpillar Rd.
Mississauga, ON L4X 1E7 Canada
Contact: (866) 465-0755 or (905) 566-8416
Tactile Vision Inc. is dedicated to producing printed materials for individuals with special needs. Tactile materials are produced by a unique raised printing method. The process involves the deposition of a polymer on a wide range of papers. Tactile graphics provide print information not accessible to the visually impaired and additional sensory input for individuals with other special challenges. Graphics can be produced from originals submitted electronically or in hardcopy. Floor plans, maps, images of technical devices, tactile games, and children's books can be produced. A wide variety of maps, coloring books, and other materials are available for purchase online.
DNA Molecule with Origami
The DNA molecule is the basic building block of life, and an understanding of its structure is essential in the study of biology. This YouTube video shows how teachers and parents can create a three-dimensional representation of the DNA molecule, simply by making folds in a stiff sheet of paper. The final product can be contracted and expanded to show what happens as bases realign.
EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America
EveryBody is a new online exhibit by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The photographs of people and objects in this exhibition explore themes of identity, stereotypes, laws and legislation, and home and daily life. The exhibition offers well-described photos and accompanying text to make it an interesting visit for all. This online exhibit is accessible with screen reading software and has the capability of enlarging photos for easier viewing.
Braille and Your Baby or Toddler
Hadley School for the Blind
Contact: Student Services, (800) 526-9909
Hadley's newest free course, "Braille and Your Baby or Toddler," is now open to professionals and students in the Family Education sequence. With guidance from parents and other important adults, infants and toddlers can gain the skills they need to become successful Braille readers later on. The goal of this course is to provide the tools and information needed to prepare a child for reading Braille. These include experiences and activities that promote the development of oral language, concepts, and motor skills. The course also introduces the Braille alphabet and numbers for sighted readers, and it discusses the creation of a Braille-rich environment. While available online through eHadley, students also have the choice of going mobile with this course, which is available as an ebook. It can be accessed via several ebook readers including the Kindle, Nook, and iPad. "Braille and Your Baby or Toddler" joins two previously released courses on Braille: "Braille Teaching Methods for Children" and "Braille Teaching Methods for Adolescents and Adults."
Emergent Literacy for Students with Visual Impairments
This free online course is a four-part series on emergent literacy for students with visual impairments with Elizabeth Dennison of the Ski-High Institute, hosted by Washington Sensory Disabilities Services. It uses a combination of archived webinars, PowerPoint presentations, and handouts to present information on all aspects of early literacy.
Helping Your Child with Multiple Disabilities Engage with the World Around Them
Perkins is pleased to present a webcast about involving blind children with additional disabilities in the community. The webcast is presented by Amber Bobnar, creator of the WonderBaby website (<www.wonderbaby.org>) and the parent of a blind son with additional disabilities. The webcast discusses planning with professionals, stretching the comfort zone, learning to make sense of sensory input, and future planning. The webinar includes audio description.
AppleVis: Empowering Blind and Low-Vision Users of Apple Products
AppleVis is an online community-powered website for blind and low-vision users of Apple's range of Mac computers, the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. AppleVis encourages and supports people in exploring the many ways in which these mainstream products and related applications can offer opportunities for personal enrichment, independence, and empowerment. It offers resources and mechanisms for raising awareness of the accessibility of Apple products and related applications, and for promoting further advancement in accessibility.
MathTrax is free PC software that creates audio representations via text description and sonification to make graphs and complex math equations accessible to blind students. It was developed for NASA by Bob Shelton, a blind math professor. Sonification is the use of non-speech audio, such as audible tones, to convey information. MathTrax is a stand-alone application that can be run without an Internet connection, though web connectivity is required for downloading the software.
Bul. Jane Sandanski 43.
Adrijana Prokopenko is an English teacher in a school for blind children in Macedonia. She would appreciate any used or new Braille books in English, as well as any other classroom materials or things that the children can use. Before sending books or other materials, please email Adrijana or write to her in Braille or via recording; she will let you know the best way to send things to her.
HAI Describe--Live Audio Description in New York City
Contact: Rebekah Cross, (212) 575-7660
The Healing Arts Initiative (HAI) is a New York City nonprofit committed to making art and culture accessible to blind and visually impaired residents and visitors. Describe is a service offered by HAI that provides live professional description services to blind theater-goers. Trained describers speak live through a small ear-piece and offer blow-by-blow description of stage settings, live action, costumes, and scenery. For information about upcoming performances, call or email to be added to the email list.
Digital Audio Label
The Safety and Innovation Act now requires that pharmacies provide an accessible prescription drug label for those who are blind and/or elderly. AccessaMed provides blind users with complete, easy access to all of the information on their prescription labels. A one-inch wide by two-inch tall device permanently attaches to any prescription container. A blind or visually impaired person can hear all of the information on the print label at the push of a button. The patient's name, the name of the medication, dosing instructions, Rx number, warnings, and more are all available. No additional equipment is needed. Ask your pharmacist to carry the Digital Audio Label for accessible prescription labeling.