Future Reflections        Convention Issue 2013

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The 2013 Bolotin Awards

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.

Jacob Bolotin Award winners

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.

Project STRIVE

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.

Project CHANGE

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.

Code Master

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.

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