Future Reflections

Volume 35 Number 3                          Fall 2016

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.

Deborah Kent Stein, Editor


Copyright © 2016 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[email protected][email protected]



Night Vision
by Emma Donoghue


Slow Reading Speed: Not a Braille Problem, but a Reading Problem
by Sheena Manuel

The Braille Challenge: Learning through Competition
by Deborah Kent Stein


An Interview with John Olson

Figurative Vision
by Hayden Dahmm

Panel by Panel: Comic Book Access for the Blind
by Matthew Shifrin


Hoofbeats and Life Lessons
by Mary Church

Learning to Raise My Hand--and Find My Voice
by Jo Elizabeth Pinto

Birding by Ear and Beyond
by Donna Posont


Time and Love
by Paula Ann Sprecher


Landing among the Stars: When Teachers and Student Work Together
by Chelsea Cook

Amazon, Blind Federation Reach Agreement on Accessibility
by Mark Sherman

A Step-by-Step Approach to Getting Involved
by Lizzy Muhammad


iPhone vs. iPad: An Educator's Perspective
by Diane Brauner


What Does She See?
by Aaron Rupp

Please Don't Feel Sorry for Me or My Special Needs Child
by Amber Bobnar

The Barrier of the Visible Difference
by Kenneth Jernigan


New NOPBC Board Elected
by Kim Cunningham

General Announcements


Why Join the NOPBC?

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 fifty 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:

Most states have an NOPBC affiliate chapter. You can find your state chapter at <http://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?

Contact Us:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
[email protected]

Night Vision

by Emma Donoghue

From The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits, Copyright 2002 by Emma Donoghue. Reprinted with the permission of the publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

From the Editor: Each issue of Future Reflections strives to provide useful information to parents and teachers of blind children, framed within the positive philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. Future Reflections is not a literary magazine, and to my knowledge it has never included a work of fiction in its thirty-five-year history. However, when I discovered this short story by Emma Donoghue, I was eager to share it with our readers. Emma Donoghue is an Irish-Canadian writer of historical and contemporary fiction. Her 2010 novel, Room, was the basis for an award-winning 2015 motion picture.

The other day in the woods I wandered away from the others and kept walking. The ground was soft as porridge. I held one hand out in front of my face and whenever I stubbed my fingers on a tree I felt my way around it. Whenever I stood on an acorn I picked it up for our pigs. I stood still, and there was no sound at all but the wind shuddering in the branches.

I don't think I have ever been alone in my life before, and I am nine years old.

It was Ned and John who found me; I heard them thudding along from a long way off, calling "Franny! Franny!" Did I not know that I might have caught my foot in a weasel trap, John said, or dashed out my brains against a branch? Ned said our Father would have strapped them if I'd come to harm.

My brothers and sisters are mostly good to me. A blind child is a burden, no matter how you look at it.

They're all asleep around me now: John and Ned and Samuel and Dickie in the big bed under the window, Eliza and Mary and Nelly in the one behind the door, and Catherine and Martha and myself in this one, with Billy tucked in at the bottom and Tabby under my arm with her nose digging into my ribs. It's hottest here in the middle of all the arms and legs. The air smells of cheese.

When I can't sleep, I make a blank page in my mind, and shapes start filling it. I know about the stars; Father told me. I imagine them flaring through holes in the sky like candles in a draught; the edges must get singed. I wonder about the colour of furze, a bit like strong tea, Father says. (I think colour is when you can taste something with your eyes.) And the mountains around Stranorlar, big as giants blocking the path of the sun. I try to decide how each bird feels to the touch, according to its song. The clinking blackbird would feel like the back of a spoon, but the wood pigeon must be soft as the underbelly of a rabbit.

Our Mother is behind the wall, in the kitchen; I can hear her poke the turf. She was so angry, that time I put my hand in the fire, when I was small. But I had to find out what it felt like. She cried while she was wrapping a bit of butter onto the burn. She held her breath so I wouldn't hear her, but I did.

I wish we were all locked up safe for the night. But our Father is still at Meeting, and it's all my fault.

Father is Brown the Postmaster. If there's ever a letter for someone living here, it's he who brings it. Most days he sees to the horses that carry letters through Stranorlar and on to all the other villages in Donegal. He lost a toe in the snow once. It's my job to rub his feet by the fire when he comes home. But not tonight.

He walked me to school this morning, as it was my first day. And my last, I suppose. Tonight he's gone to see if the Elders will let him address the Meeting and say how ashamed he is for what his daughter did. I pray they won't cast him out.

I can hear the room filling up with sleep; the little snores, the sighs, the shiftings from side to side. My sisters and brothers hardly know how to move or talk in the dark. They depend on the light so much that once the candle is snuffed out, the greasy air seems to extinguish them too. Night makes no difference to me, except that I can hear better. Tonight I can't remember how to go about falling asleep. My mind bubbles like a spring that cannot be stopped up.

Words have always been my undoing, I can see that now. It began when I was a small child. The sermon was on eternal damnation, and the new Scottish Minister used words I couldn't understand; they echoed in the rafters. So I tried to fix them in my memory, and afterwards, while the brawn was boiling I asked our Father to look them up in the dictionary. I never thought there was any harm in it.

Since then I've been collecting words, you might say. They help me to get up, say, when I can't find my fingers on cold mornings. Fingers, I say in my head, and there they are, wriggling. Tabby is always bringing me words, even if she doesn't know what they mean. This week I have three new ones: funereal, ambulatory, and slub. Sometimes for a game, Nelly and Catherine make me say all the longest ones I know; if I won't play, they pinch me. My brothers and sisters think words are to be scattered carelessly, like corn in front of hens. They don't know how much words matter.

Martha, on my left, has curled up like a snail; she has the tail of my nightshirt caught tight between her knees. How can they all sleep so sound when our Father is not come home?

What matters even more than words is how they knot onto each other. Sentences are like the ropes the fishermen throw when they're mooring to land. Sometimes they fray, though. Sometimes I put the wrong words in the wrong places, and other times it's not my fault, they'll not fit.

The Schoolmaster says there are rules that govern words, and then there are times when you must break the rules. Mr. McGranahan knows everything, or nearly; he knows seventeen times fifty-three. After they come home from school, my brothers say their dictionary and grammar over and over to get them by heart so Mr. McGranahan will not have to take down his ashplant. I whisper the phrases while I'm washing potatoes or playing pat-a-cake to make Billy stop crying. Also I have learned Watt's "Divine Songs" and Gray's "Elegy," as well as the Scottish psalms. I made a poem of the Lord's Prayer once, and Tabby wrote it down and said it right back to me. Tabby's only seven, but she's quick at her books. If I had the money I'd feed her till she grew fat as a pig, and send her to a good school so she could come home and read me Greek and Latin.

Some days if there's time after bringing the turf in, Eliza or Mary will read aloud: Susan Gray, or The Negro Servant, or The Heart of Midlothian. I take my sisters' turns at spinning the flax, if they promise to read. I hound them to go on as long as the candle lasts. My ears have learned to swallow up every word; I know a novel by heart after three good listenings. My brothers and sisters think me very clever for this, but it's only a trick for getting by. Like Jemmy Dwyer down at the smithy, who lost his right hand to a horse but can tie knots good as ever with his left.

They are all so peaceful when they are sleeping. I pray to God every night for my brothers and sisters, as I was taught, but sometimes I wish they wouldn't wake up.

Often they all talk at once, like threads tangled in a basket, so I can't hear myself think. The other day while we were spinning, Nelly and Martha quarrelled over whether it is called orange or red when the sun goes down behind the chapel. I know what orange is because we were given one once and I had a piece all to myself; it tasted sharp as needles. Red is the colour of mouths, and of pig's blood, but when it dries it's called black pudding, which is strange. I'm sure I know what turf looks like, from the salty smell of it burning, and milk, from the way it slips down my throat, but they tell me I'm only imagining. Our Father tells them, "Leave Franny be." He says wishful thinking is a powerful thing, and nearly as good as eyesight.

The other day I told Tabby to open the atlas on my lap, and move my thumb to all the places there are: Belfast, and London, and Geneva, and as far away as St. Petersburg. I tried to imagine each place in all its colours. Stranorlar is on the far left of the book, next to the edge; it's a wonder it hasn't fallen off.

There, I'm being fanciful again. Mr. McGranahan told me last week, "You will never go far in life, Miss Franny, if you fall a prey to fancy." I love the sound of that: a prey to fancy. But I have every intention of bettering myself, and of going far in life.

Except that today, I threw away my chance, didn't I?

All might have been well if I could have kept my head down. The Reverend Minister's voice sounded so chilled, this morning, over the scrape he made wiping his feet at the door of the schoolhouse. "Mr. McGranahan," he began with his Highland r's that go on forever, "do not let me interrupt the good work; I merely observe."

But he butted in after half a minute of grammar, and somehow I knew it was me his eye had alighted on; I could feel his gaze scalding my cheeks.

"Who is that child?" he said.

Now he knew well who I was, for he came to our house on a Visitation not three weeks ago. But the Master told him my name, and off they went like dogs in the lane, snapping and scrabbling. The Minister asked the Master did he not think it a cruel mockery of such a child to bring her into school. Mr. McGranahan said it was I who had begged to come with my brothers, and what harm could it do me?

"Harm, Brother? The harm of making her a laughingstock in the sight of the whole congregation."

For a moment I was glad I couldn't see; all those eyes turned on me would have been too much to bear.

The preacher went on without stopping for breath. "To attempt to teach a child so blighted, and a girl at that, is to fly in the face of the Providence that made her so."

When Mr. McGranahan is angry he speaks quieter than ever. "Nobody gets the chance to teach Frances Brown anything, Brother, so quick is she to teach herself."

Even then, if I could have kept my mouth shut, he might have saved me. The words behind my lips are no trouble to anybody; it's only when I let them out that I give scandal.

"When I grow up I shall be a poet."


My words hung on the air like a foul smell. I felt the draught when the boys on either side of me shrank back, as if afraid to catch a fever.

The Master began to speak, but my fear made me rush in. "Mr. Milton himself was blind, was he not, Mr. McGranahan? Was he not? Did you not tell us so?"

But the Minister was standing over me now, his words falling like hail. "Milton was a great man. You are a stunted little girl."

Suddenly I was shouting. "Does it not say in the Book of Leviticus, 'Thou shalt not put a stumbling block before the blind?'"

There was no sound at all for a few moments. I stiffened, ready for the blow that would knock me off the bench. But the Minister only took my wrist between his icy fingers and held my arm up high. When he spoke it wasn't to me, and his voice boomed over my head like the Orange drums on the Glorious Twelfth. "Who will lead this creature home so she will not fall in the ditch?"

Up close he smelt like vinegar. I ripped my hand out of his grasp. "I can find my own way," I said, shoving past the other children, past the long chalky coat of Mr. McGranahan, who tried to hold me. I got out the door before I started crying.

As a rule, I can follow any path through Stranorlar and not lose myself, but today I was so bewildered with rage that I very nearly stepped into the ditch opposite the smithy. Only the long grasses at the edge told me I was gone astray. When I got on the right track home I felt the last rays of sun on my face before the mountain snuffed them out.

Once the Browns were great folk hereabouts. Our Grandfather's Father owned a big stretch of land, but he squandered it all. I can see it in my head if I try: a wet green kingdom, with rivers sliding through the fields like thread through cloth. Now all we have left that is grand is our Grandmother's rocking chair. Sometimes our Mother lets me sit in it if my feet are clean. Its back is carved with fruit and flowers and shapes that I can't make out no matter how often I trace them with my fingers.

Our Mother sits in that chair to do her darning. If I hold my breath now I can hear through the wall the faint creak of its rockers--unless that's more wishful thinking. Our Father has been gone for hours. Mother was yawning at supper, but she'll not go in to bed before he comes home from Meeting.

They didn't beat me, when I came home from school, not even when I told them every word I said to the Minister. Maybe they're saving it till tomorrow. I would rather have the beating over with and then I could sleep.

Tabby's face is pressed against my hand on the pillow; I can feel her breath like an oven on my fingers. From the corner, Dickie lets out a faint snore. Martha turns over, without warning, and we all must shift too, myself and Tabby and Catherine and Billy at our feet, all packed together like mackerel in a pot.


If the others were awake I would tell them a story: maybe the one about the cottage that stood in the middle of a village that stood in the middle of a bleak moor in the north country, where lived a certain man and his wife who had three cows, five sheep, and thirteen children. One more than us. Martha likes the tale of the old woman who wove her own hair. Ned prefers the one about the prince with fourteen names.

If I had seven-league shoes and a cloak of invisibility I could be at the Meeting House now. Maybe they're too busy with other matters to discuss a forward child like me. Or else the Elders are arguing with my Father this very moment, their big hands thumping the table. But even if I was invisible, it occurs to me, I couldn't make them listen; I couldn't change a thing.

Once when I was small, our Mother was teaching me to shell peas. They bounced out through my fingers, and when I reached for them I upset the whole basket. Then I cried, and my Mother would have let me go and play on the grass, but my Father made me crawl round and pick every pea up off the floor, and then wash the dust off them, for he said he knew I could do whatever I set my mind to. And he was right. But tonight when he was putting on his greatcoat to go to Meeting, he didn't seem so sure.

I bury my face under the blanket and I make up pictures of things that cannot be. A town with seven windmills, and wolves with hair as long as sheep have, and a well in the woods that will make anything dipped in it grow. Sometimes in my imaginings I take a wrong turning, and scare myself. Then my thoughts feed on each other like worms in the black ground, but I must bite my thumb and lie still and not disturb the others, because we are so many in one room.

I remember the last three being born. We all heard, through the wall, though we pretended not to. Our Mother doesn't make half as much noise as most women, I heard the midwife say. I know I will never make that noise. I am a girl much like other girls, but I'll not grow up to be a woman like other women. Who would have a blind wife if he could help it? But I am a great help with the little ones, our Mother says. I've never dropped one yet.

I was just learning to talk when the smallpox got me, so Eliza says. Before that I could see, though I don't remember it. All I have is a sense of what seeing means, and what a colour might feel like.

Some of the Elders told my Father that by rights I should not have lived after I was blinded. My Father told my Mother what was said, and she cried; they didn't know I was listening. And another time when my Father asked the Minister the reason for my blindness, he was told it might be a punishment from the Almighty for some sin my parents had committed. But they couldn't think which sin that might have been.

I have a handful of pocks over my eyebrows still; I finger them sometimes, to remind me. The Minister must be wrong. Didn't I live, when bigger children died of the same fever? This must mean that I have been chosen for something. There must be another future for me, if I'm not to be a woman like other women and have twelve children. If I do not grow up to be a poet, then what does it all mean?

A heavy step on the path at last: Father. I hear the tired squeak of the latch. My Mother stands up to greet him, and the chair rocks like a branch in high wind.

The voices behind the wall are low, as if telling of a death, but I cannot make out the words. When I sit up, cold air worms its way into the bed; Martha burrows down deeper.

How can I wait till morning?

Tabby wakes when I clamber over her, and mutters something, but I put my hand over her mouth to shush her.

The floor is cold. My nightshirt shifts in the draught as I pull open the door to the kitchen. It makes a terrible creak.

"Franny?" says my Mother.

I can smell the fire, and fresh mud on my Father's boots. At times like these I wish I could read faces. How can I know what way he is looking at me?


I think he's smiling.

I walk towards his voice with my hand out. Something hard stops my fingertips: a book. I take its weight into my hands and feel its cover; it is not one I know.

"It's called The Odyssey. Mr. McGranahan says if you bring it in to school tomorrow he'll teach you the first line."

I turn my face away so as not to wet the paper.

"Go to sleep, now," says my Mother.

Author's Note

"Night Vision" is about the childhood of Frances Brown or Browne (1816-70), known as the Blind Poetess of Donegal, who went on to become a successful novelist in London, living with her younger sister and amanuensis. The best source of information on her is Brenda O'Hanrahan's Donegal Authors: A Bibliography (1982). I have also used the autobiographical sketch that prefaces Brown's first collection of poems, The Star of Attéghei (1844), as well as her best-known work, the children's fairy-tale collection Granny's Wonderful Chair (1857).

Slow Reading Speed: A Reading Problem, Not a Braille Problem

by Sheena Manuel

Reprinted and updated from the blog of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, <blog.pdrib.com>.

From the Editor: When a student who uses Braille encounters reading problems, teachers often assume that Braille is the source of the trouble. Such assumptions may cause teachers to overlook issues common among beginning readers regardless of the reading medium. In this article, Sheena Manuel describes her work with a blind student who struggled with slow reading speed. Sheena Manuel works as the outreach specialist for the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University, teaching Braille and cane travel as a contractor for several school systems in northern Louisiana.

My student, Allonah, learned the Braille code in one year. By the time she entered second grade she loved to share Braille with her classmates. However, her reading fluency did not match that of her sighted peers. She would try to guess at words after looking at the first couple of letters, and she didn't enjoy reading. My co-teacher Leesa Wallace and I knew she had the cognitive ability to be at the same reading level as her sighted peers, but she wasn't getting there. Her reading speed and fluency just stayed at the same place.

We gave Allonah easy books to read and presented her with opportunities to read outside of school. She read in her free time at the library, and her mom even sent videos of her reading Braille at home. But her reading wasn't picking up as we expected, even though she practiced and used the two-handed reading technique. She was reading and reading and reading. What else was there for us to look at?

We discovered something profoundly simple. This was not a Braille problem; it was a reading problem.

I went to the 2015 Council for Exceptional Children Super Conference in Lafayette, Louisiana, looking for ideas for my student. Sandra Strong, an educational consultant and retired teacher, presented on the Read Naturally Strategy (<www.readnaturally.com>). This program was originally intended to improve the reading fluency of sighted children through the combination of teacher modeling, repeated reading, and progress monitoring. However, I saw that it easily could be adapted for blind children. I happened to win the door prize and had the opportunity to get the full Read Naturally program for any grade level. Winning this door prize and knowing that this new strategy was what we needed made it even more exciting!

The kit came with all the books and materials, CDs, and a guide for determining the student's correct instructional level. After determining Allonah's placement in the program, we transcribed the materials into Braille for her to read. The CDs also had audio files of key words and reading passages, which are accessible for blind children and children with low vision. Allonah used the CDs to study the passages and key words independently as she read along in Braille. The repetition of reading the passages along with a teacher, followed by her reading alone, improved her reading comprehension and speed. However, she still needed more work with spelling and phonics.

Dr. Libby Manning's literacy course at Louisiana Tech University uses the Words Their Way Series (<https://www.pearsonhighered.com/series/words-their-way-series/2281883.html>). This program determines the student's spelling level and includes many games and activities to address the identified problem areas. I realized that my student was missing basic literacy skills, such as knowing short and long vowel sounds. After the teacher uses the Words Their Way Series evaluation to determine her spelling stage, the student sorts words that are similar to one another by sound or pattern. The student then reflects on what is similar about the words, allowing her to discover the spelling pattern or rule herself. This method reminds me of the structured discovery strategies that I use with my students when I teach cane travel. My students discover the characteristics and similarities of an environment on their own, without me having to explain it to them.

The Words Their Way Series contains lots of activities and games to reinforce skills. My student might search in her Braille book for words with the same vowel sound or pattern, write sentences using certain words, and even create her own games. She completed a daily "word study contract" to earn points; normally she earned forty points per reading session (four days a week), and she needed three hundred points to win a prize. Prizes have been a big motivator for Allonah, as they are for any child. You can give her a whistle, a pair of princess wings, or even a dollar, and she is on top of the world!

Once we began using the Words Their Way Series and the Read Naturally Strategy, Allonah's overall reading skills noticeably improved! After using the Read Naturally Strategy for four weeks and working on phonics with the Words Their Way Series for about three weeks, she began to love reading as never before. Her regular education teachers saw a difference in how hard she worked to read accurately and to participate in class.

I didn't come up with all of these solutions myself. I had the insights and expertise of my co-teacher and other colleagues to help identify my student's struggles and to reinforce her literacy skills. I wish that we had caught the problem earlier, but I am very glad we didn't go another year wondering what the problem was. We are pretty certain that we found the solution to this student's slow reading speed. It was not a Braille problem, but a reading problem.

During Allonah's third grade year, we continued to use these strategies. In addition, we brought in the response-to-intervention specialist (RTI). This additional support provided my student with a variety of interventions five days a week, for at least thirty minutes per session. The RTI specialist used fluency strips and passages to help increase Allonah's fluency and stamina. With these programs in place, she was able to read books such as Because of Winn-Dixie and The Stories Julian Tells side-by-side with her peers.

After learning about some of the strategies that exist for children with reading problems, I decided to further my learning and add "become a reading specialist" to my professional growth plan. During the past few quarters, I have learned that reading is a complex set of skills. During the reading process, children sample either by letter, word chunks, or phrases. Next they predict what the word may be. Then they use a cueing system to check their prediction, and finally they confirm what the word is by using a different cueing system. We use cueing systems even as adults. As we read, we think, did that make sense? Did it sound right? Did it look right? It's important that we teach children to use all cueing systems while they read. Most importantly, we should MODEL, MODEL, MODEL what good readers do and what good readers sound like. Dr. Carrice Cummins, a professor of education at Louisiana Tech, has us recite in each course why read alouds are important. "Read alouds are the most influential way to help a student become a proficient reader."

During the spring and summer quarters, I added read alouds to my lesson plans. Allonah enjoys sitting on the floor or standing around listening to me read to her. I get to see her excitement while she listens, and she's interested in what will happen next once I stop reading. This strategy helps her hear how good reading sounds, motivates her to read, enhances her vocabulary, and just lets her relax and enjoy. Read alouds can be more than just listening and reading; reading aloud can be interactive.

After taking Dr. Cummins' reading courses at Louisiana Tech, I have learned that we, as teachers of blind/visually impaired students, must become knowledgeable in reading techniques and strategies on a deeper level. We must understand that fluency is more than just getting a child to read at a faster rate. Fluency is about reading accurately, rapidly, with expression, and for deep understanding. Some strategies teachers can use are:

For more information on reading strategies check out my WIX READ 536 tab at <http://snm063.wix.com/reading>.

Allonah continues to work hard to improve her reading, but sometimes she has mixed feelings about using Braille when her peers raise questions. Some of her peers don't understand that she has some vision--why does she need to use a cane and read Braille, even though she can see them? As teachers, we continue to encourage her and work to educate her family, peers, and classroom teachers on the importance of using nonvisual techniques.

Recently we held a Carnaval de Jeux (Carnival of Games), geared toward sighted peers and hosted by blind role models. The games highlighted the fun we have in Braille class, building Allonah's motivation to use Braille and nonvisual techniques beside her peers. We tried to answer the questions her peers may have about how blind people live and work. We have high hopes that when Allonah begins the new school year, her peers will still have the carnival fresh in their minds and will look forward to our next one.

The Braille Challenge: Learning through Competition

by Deborah Kent Stein

From the Editor: Since the Braille Institute began the Braille Challenge in 2000, this annual event has invoked the lure of competition to promote the use of Braille. In 2011 the Braille Challenge received a Jacob Bolotin Award for service to the blind community, one of the highest honors presented by the National Federation of the Blind. To learn more about the Braille Challenge, visit <brailleinstitute.org/braille-challenge-homepage.html>.

"I began my career working with agencies that provide mentoring programs for at-risk youth," explains Sergio Oliva, director of national programs for the Braille Institute of America, Inc., in Los Angeles. "Blind youth fall into the at-risk category due to the high rate of unemployment among blind adults, estimated at almost 70 percent. Studies show that 90 percent of the blind people who do hold jobs are Braille readers. So what better way to help blind kids succeed than to promote the use of Braille?" The Braille Challenge emerged as a means to encourage Braille readers to achieve their highest potential through competition with their peers.

The Braille Challenge began officially in 2000 with a handful of regional contests scattered across the United States, followed by finals at the Braille Institute headquarters in Los Angeles. The contest grew year by year. Forty-seven regional competitions were held in 2016, taking place in forty-one US states and three Canadian provinces. Altogether 1,122 Braille readers took part.

Each regional contest is sponsored by a school or agency for the blind. Every regional contest has its unique flavor, but all adhere to the same basic rules and structure. On Braille Challenge Day the contestants are grouped into categories based on grade, from apprentices (grades 1-3) to varsity (grades 10-12). Within each category the students face a series of contests, or challenges: reading comprehension, spelling from dictation, and proofreading. An additional challenge for the high school students is the interpretation of tactile charts and graphs. "Graphics are used a great deal in high school and college courses," Oliva explains, "but Braille readers tend to have limited exposure to them. A lot of kids think they can't understand tactile graphics, and they try to avoid them. We've seen that they can improve a lot with practice. The contest helps motivate them to work on those skills."

At the end of Braille Challenge Day, the students with the highest total scores in each grade category are awarded prizes and certificates. The names and scores of the participants in each regional contest are then sent to the Braille Institute. The top ten winners in each grade category are invited to take part in the finals in Los Angeles.

Meredith Day, a third-grader from Finksburg, Maryland, was among the ten finalists in the apprentice category in 2016. On June 14 she traveled to Los Angeles with her parents and her older brother, who is also a Braille reader. Although the competition was the main focus, the trip was a memorable family vacation as well. "We went to Disneyland and California Adventure," Meredith recalls. "We went to Santa Monica Beach and Santa Monica Pier, too." The ocean was too cold for swimming, so they spent a lot of time at the hotel pool. "A bunch of kids from the Braille Challenge were there," Meredith says, "and we got to hang out together and make friends."

"The parents had a chance to get to know each other, too," Meredith's mother adds. "That was one of the best parts of the experience."

When asked whether she was nervous before the contest, Meredith said she was fine. "Mostly the Braille Challenge was fun. I liked the reading comprehension part the best. The stories were really interesting."

After the participants turned in their entries, a panel of judges tallied up the scores. Awards were presented at a formal banquet. The winners received cash prizes and Braille devices from HumanWare. Meredith Day came in first place in the apprentice category. She was the youngest first-place winner in the 2016 finals.

Improving literacy is one of the best ways to enhance opportunities for at-risk youth. Braille Institute remains deeply committed to the Braille Challenge and its focus on Braille literacy. It has touched the lives of thousands of Braille readers, helping them gain the tools they need to succeed.

Listed by category, the following are the winning finalists in the 2016 Braille Challenge.

First Place: Meredith Day, Maryland
Second Place: Faith Switzer, New Mexico
Third Place: Logan Strickland, Florida

First Place: Brooke Petro, Kansas
Second Place: Ian Receveur, Indiana
Third Place: Maggie Wehrle, British Columbia

First Place: Julia LaGrand, Michigan
Second Place: Joey Parra, Arizona
Third Place: Ryan Menter, Maine

Junior Varsity
First Place: Mitchell Bridwell, Indiana
Second Place: Richelle Zampella, Oklahoma
Third Place: Emily Bowe, Arizona

First Place: Cricket Bidleman, California
Second Place: Keisha Anderson, British Columbia
Third Place: Kate Antolak, Florida


An Interview with John Olson

From the Editor: At its 2015 national convention, the National Federation of the Blind celebrated the seventy-fifth anniversary of its founding. Speakers related some of the organization's historic achievements; conventioneers enjoyed a dance with a 1940s theme; and 2,480 Federationists broke a Guinness record by forming the world's largest umbrella mosaic.

Another tribute to the NFB's seventy-fifth anniversary was a series of 3D-printed photographs on display outside the main meeting hall. Based upon photos from the Federation's vast archives, each panel represented a decade in the organization's history. Visitors could touch and explore images of the Federation's presidents and other leaders at historic moments. By touching strategically placed sensors, they could also hear excerpts from key Federation speeches.

The display at the 2015 NFB convention was created by 3DPhotoWorks, a company dedicated to making photographs and paintings accessible to the blind. In the following interview, 3DPhotoWorks founder John Olson explains the company's mission and the ways that 3D printing can change the world for the blind.

Deborah Kent Stein: Please share a bit about your background. How did you get interested in creating 3D photos?

John Olson: My father was a farmer, and I spent my early years on a farm in Morris, Illinois. I attended a one-room schoolhouse that didn't even have indoor plumbing. As a teenager I discovered photography, and I decided to become a photojournalist. This was during the 1960s, and the United States was involved in the Vietnam War. I was drafted and sent to Vietnam when I was nineteen. While I was there I took a series of photographs that were sent to Life magazine. Life published some of my photos of the Battle of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive, and the images became famous overnight. When I was only twenty I won the Robert Capa Award for Superlative Photography, one of the highest honors in the field.

When my tour in Vietnam was over, Life offered me a job. I was the youngest staff photographer the magazine had ever hired.

At that time Life was the place to be for a photojournalist. My work took me all over the world. I even covered the White House and traveled with President Richard Nixon. Everything I'd dreamed of as an Illinois farm boy had miraculously come true.

About eight years ago, I found myself reflecting upon my long career. Images had brought me amazing success and deep satisfaction. I wondered what life would be like without visual images. What was the world like for people who are blind?

DKS: Was anyone in your family blind? Did you have any blind friends?

JO: No, I had never known a blind person in my life. But somehow the idea of creating images for the blind seemed really compelling to me. During Labor Day weekend in 2008 I sat in my office and began to develop a printing process that I hoped would allow blind people to appreciate art and photography as much as I do.

Not surprisingly, I faced a number of challenges. I had a concept in mind, but I had no data to back me up. How would I do it? Would it be valuable to blind people? I realized that I needed to conduct some hands-on research. I needed to create a protocol, introduce it within the blind community, and listen to what blind people could tell me.

DKS: How did you go about it?

JO: My office was about two hours from New York City. I did a search on blind and found several blindness agencies and organizations. I met with a lot of people and showed them my prototype. Everybody was very encouraging. They thought I had an important idea, but they didn't know what I ought to do next.

During my search I came across the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind. I started attending some of the state conventions of both organizations. At the NFB of New York convention in Albany, I met President Mark Riccobono. He was very interested in my work and invited me to the NFB headquarters in Baltimore. At the National Center I met with President Riccobono and with Anne Taylor from the tech department. They gave me a lot of feedback and encouragement.

DKS: Where did you go from there?

JO: In 2014, my team and I took a prototype to the NFB national convention in Orlando, Florida. It was a 3D printed representation of the painting "Washington Crossing the Delaware." It included audio sensors that could provide spoken information.

We invited ten blind people to take part in focus groups at the convention, engaging in discussion about everything that worked for them or didn't work. To explore their experience in depth, we began by asking the volunteers to tell us about their blindness and encouraging them to talk about what art and photography meant to them. Then they examined the artwork and gave us their feedback.

The response was highly positive, but we spent the next year wondering if what we heard was truly legitimate. After all, everyone was at convention, having fun, connecting with friends; everyone was in high spirits. Clearly people were very appreciative of the efforts we had made, but were they simply telling us what they thought we wanted to hear?

Back home, we took the ideas that came out of the focus groups and made some modifications to the George Washington prototype. We also developed 3D images of da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" and Vincent van Gogh's "Dr. Gachet." When we attended the NFB convention in 2015, we displayed all three works to the general membership in the exhibit hall. As visitors stopped to check out the images, we stood back, listened, and filmed their reactions. We gathered the responses of hundreds of people, and they were overwhelmingly positive. At last we could believe that the excitement was for real.

One of the most powerful moments for me occurred when a woman took me aside after she examined the images. She said that being able to capture visual information on her own, without the intervention of a friend or a docent, represented freedom. When she said that, I realized we had a chance to change the world.

My team and I established 3DPhotoWorks as a for-profit company. In 2015 we received our first US patent, and we have patents pending in seven other countries. Our patent covers the printing process, the way ink is added to the relief to provide visual as well as tactile elements. We got that idea from Anne Taylor. She pointed out that most blind people have some sight; color enhances the tactile experience for people with usable vision.

DKS: Do you plan to market your images? How will you get them into places where blind people can experience them?

JO: All during this process we avoided being discovered by the media. We didn't want to go out to the public until we were ready. But the word started to get out. The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg found out about our work. They were planning an exhibit of work by blind photographers, and they asked us to create 3D images of the works on display. So we had our debut in February 2016 with this exhibit, which was called "Sight Unseen." A lot of blind people attended and provided us with further feedback.

In May 2016 we exhibited at the conference of the American Alliance of Museums in Washington, DC. We reached thousands of museum personnel and even got coverage from CNN. Three Federationists and I staffed our booth, and people crowded around three deep trying to get a look. At this point we're talking with ten museums that are interested in buying some of our work. Queries come in every week from all over the world.

DKS: What kind of response have you gotten from museums?

JO: Museums have responded well. Interestingly, the most responsive have been a dozen organizations located outside the United States. Many are in countries with an ingrained sense of serving the disabled. Within the US, educators and accessibility people recognize the opportunity to greatly improve their offerings, especially in smaller organizations with fewer layers. What we offer is a radical new concept. The media find it very exciting because it's unlike anything they've seen before. We want to make it possible for blind and sighted people to enjoy images together, in the same museum spaces. Our goal is to create a revolution, to build a network of museums that will serve the blind as well as the sighted community. Some museums are starting to recognize that, by making a serious commitment to accessibility, they can tap into some new sources of funding.

DKS: How does the Federation fit into your plans?

JO: We would not possibly be where we are today without the support of the leadership and volunteers from the Federation. We owe an enormous debt to their enthusiasm and technical expertise.

When we worked on the display for the Federation's seventy-fifth anniversary, we examined stacks of photos and read hundreds of documents. That research gave us a deep respect for the NFB, its philosophy, and its commitment to change. Our anniversary piece is now on display in the lobby of the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore.

One of our goals is to create a grassroots network of savvy Federationists from around North America. They can help us connect with local museum communities. They can visit museums and explain the importance of images in blind people's lives. They can urge museums to look at us on the web and consider working with us.

For more information, you can visit our website at <www.3dphotoworks.com>. You can contact us at (518) 392-8161 or [email protected].

Figurative Vision

by Hayden Dahmm

From the Editor: Hayden Dahmm earned a degree in engineering from Swarthmore College and spent the past year continuing his studies in London. He was awarded an NFB National Scholarship in 2014.

When I was a teenager, my passion was the visual arts. I wrote and illustrated a series of comic books, sold my original pastel drawings, and even had paintings displayed in the US Capitol. When they saw my art, strangers often were confused to learn that I was legally blind. My abilities seemed to them incompatible with my disability. One woman even asked if I drew by smelling the colors!

In fact, I compensated for my poor vision with a determination to create. I spent hours with my face almost touching the pastel paper, leaving my nose coated with a rainbow of chalk dust. For fine detail, I placed my drawings under a magnifying television, moving my pencil by staring at the monitor as if it were a video game.
In a strange way, my blindness actually may have enhanced my art. "While you might not be able to see well," an art instructor once told me, "you know how to look." Being legally blind meant that I could never see details; rather, I was forced to see the larger composition and determine which elements deserved scrutiny.

When making a painting, the goal is not to capture an image exactly, but to reduce the image to its important features. In a peculiar way, I think, my eyesight helped me edit the visual world.

While I was in high school, my eye condition progressed, leaving me with no functional vision upon graduation. At the same time, my interest shifted from art to science. Although my reduced vision made drawing an increased challenge, this was not the reason for my change of focus. Art allowed me to create for myself, but I saw science as a way to create for others. At Swarthmore College I studied engineering to understand how technology can address global environmental and social issues.

Being a blind engineer presents unique challenges. Engineers use diagrams and graphs to communicate a range of concepts, but none of these visual aids was accessible to me. Working with my professors and classmates, I collected a set of tools and techniques that communicated graphics into my domain. While much credit goes to the support and generosity of my college, I attribute some of my success to my background in art.

First of all, art taught me to be imaginative with the tools I had available. In a mechanical engineering course, I developed an understanding of system diagrams by constructing physical representations out of LEGOs, string, plastic bottles, and random objects pulled from my backpack. Since I had a functional system to toy with, I actually gleaned greater understanding than a line diagram could communicate.

My experience with drawing also taught me to construct an image in my mind's eye. When a professor described a diagram, I could envision a representation. While not a substitute for the actual image, this mental image helped me better follow along in lectures. Engineering required the same determination that drove me to put my face a centimeter from the paper when I made a painting.

Having figurative vision does not require literal vision. Instead, it involves a different way of interpreting the facts of the world. Although my blindness can be a limitation in engineering, I truly see things differently. I hope that my alternative perspective might help me in making a contribution.

Panel by Panel: Comic Book Access for the Blind

by Matthew Shifrin

From the Editor: The National Federation of the Blind works tirelessly to ensure that blind people have full access to education, employment, and every other aspect of life. Each generation pushes the notion of accessibility into exciting new dimensions. In this article, Matthew Shifrin, a blind high school student from Massachusetts, calls for access to a recreational activity that delights countless children, teens, and adults--the reading of comic books.

One day when I was five, I found out that there was this person named Spider-Man who could climb up walls. So I asked my dad about him. A few days later when my dad tucked me into bed, he didn't read me the usual bedtime story. Instead he read me a comic book, describing the pictures (called panels) in vivid detail. Through my dad's excellent descriptions, I saw Spidey fight the Kingpin and throw him out of a window. It amazed my five-year-old self that you could tell a story so well, just by using pictures with minimal dialogue. This is how my love of comics began.

As I grew older and busier, I realized that I would not be able to read comics independently. Due to their graphical nature, they could not be scanned into a computer or converted into text. So I put them on the back burner and contented myself with the prose novelizations produced by companies such as GraphicAudio. Though these productions were of very high quality, they lacked the immediacy of an actual comic book.

Last summer I had an epiphany. I realized that the creators of comic books have to follow an outline of some sort so that the artist, who works with the author, knew what to draw. I did a Google search, and sure enough, I found the Comic Book Script Archive (<comicbookscriptarchive.com/archive/the-scripts>). This site contains a free collection of comic book scripts by top writers.

As soon as I read the first page of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, a door that I had thought was forever closed to me swung open. Characters, colors, camera angles, facial expressions, locations, and even word balloon placement were all described in vivid detail. The impossible was now possible. At last I could read and enjoy comics just like my sighted friends.

Comics are an excellent resource for blind children and teens. They give us glimpses of the sighted world that we wouldn't get otherwise. They introduce us to filming techniques such as zooming and panning, and they present types of shots such as the long shot, two-shot, and close-up. These scripts are also very specific regarding the layout of panels on a page. They give instructions about how many panels there should be, how they should be shaped, and how much space each panel should take up. Not only that, but these scripts provide a real sense of scale for objects and locations, something that can be hard for blind people to understand. For example, the author might say that the craggy monster exploding from the ground is the size of a school bus. As blind people,  we can imagine the monster's size, since we know approximately how big a school bus is.

My joy with comics, however, was short-lived. I quickly discovered that the issues (or chapters) in the comic-book archive were random. Sometimes I would find the first issue of a great story, but I had nowhere to go from there. Sometimes I'd find the end of a story, but wouldn't be able to learn what happened earlier. Publishers such as Marvel Comics, DC Comics, and Image Comics keep their scripts after they've used them to create their comic books. Rarely, these scripts will be published in a script book. However, these script books are not available digitally, and they only contain excerpts of the original scripts.

It would be very simple for comic book publishers to incorporate their scripts into online platforms such as Marvel Unlimited, thus making comics fully accessible to blind people. I encourage you, dear readers, to contact me at [email protected] if you are interested in this endeavor. If we call for access to publishers' scripts, together we can make comic books accessible to all blind people!

Hoofbeats and Life Lessons

by Mary Church

From the Editor: A native of California, Mary Church won an NFB National Scholarship in 2015. She is an avid horse enthusiast and plans to study sports psychology.

It is midafternoon. The temperature is perfect, with a slight breeze. I have Red Cloud, a friend's horse who was once almost completely wild, tied to a hitching post. My hand never leaves her; if she decides to kick, or if something spooks her, I can move quickly away. I am ready to begin a massage. It will help her calm down, relax her muscles, and increase blood flow. I am only a student now, but by the end of the summer, I hope to be a certified equine sports massage technician (ESMT).

I begin with an evaluation, palpating, feeling, and rubbing to find strained muscle tissue. Usually the horse will give me a reaction when I have hit a spot that needs work. After I evaluate, I begin the sequence.

Though my family didn't own horses, I grew up in a rural area and was exposed to them from a very young age. My parents didn't want me to be afraid of animals or to fear touching new things. I was two years old when I got my first ride. That was the beginning of my never-ending respect and love for these majestic creatures.

Our neighbor's mule lived on our property. She wasn't rideable, but she made a good companion. I have vivid memories of slipping away from my parents and sneaking into the pasture, somehow avoiding the barbed wire fence. I really liked the mule because she wasn't sad about my blindness as so many people were. As long as I brought her sugar or some other treat, she would stand and let me touch her. I was never afraid she would kick me. Eventually my parents would find me and make sure I was all right.

As I grew up, I sought out opportunities to ride. I never had formal horseback riding lessons until I entered high school. At that point I decided I was serious enough to make riding and horse care a bigger part of my life. I craved the thrill of riding, the companionship of a horse, and the challenge of learning something that not many people thought I could do because of my blindness.

My first horse was called Romeo. He lived at my trainer's ranch, and there was an instant bond between us. I took care of him, and he taught me a lot. Through my high school years I was with him during most of my free time, and in a way we took care of each other. I got first-hand exposure to the less glamorous side of horse care. I learned to clean wounds, give shots, and do barn chores. I also learned about saddles and other types of tack.

Through riding I have literally learned to fall and get back up. My instructor treated me the same as everyone else when that happened, and it was for my own good. I have been stepped on and bitten, but that never stopped me.

Many people assume that my blindness will prevent me from handling a horse safely. They are afraid that I am more likely to get hurt than a sighted handler is. After all, animals can be unpredictable, and I cannot see where the horse is in relation to other things in the environment. When people raise doubts, I respond with confidence and explain the safety precautions I use. I always know where my feet are in relation to the horse's feet; I keep one hand on the horse at all times; and I use common sense. Every good horse handler takes these precautions. If I am careless, I may get stepped on.

I also explain that getting hurt sometimes is an inevitable part of being around horses. Horses are naturally flighty, and some of them have biting problems. Getting hurt now and then is part of life. I feel it is not a good idea to avoid doing things just because one is afraid of getting hurt.

Horses have brought me great joy through the years, and I want to give back to them. Yes, I am blind, and I use some alternative techniques to do things such as reading a horse's body language. As long as I do my best and practice good horsemanship, my blindness makes no difference. What truly matters is the feeling I get when I am around horses, the sense of being accepted by these wise and noble beasts.

Learning to Raise My Hand—And Find My Voice

by Jo Elizabeth Pinto

From the Editor: Jo Elizabeth Pinto lives in Colorado. This summer she has been enjoying adventures in science, art, and cooking at the local library with her eight-year-old daughter and her guide dog. She works as a freelance Braille proofreader and writer. The Bright Side of Darkness, her first novel, is available in Kindle, audio, and paperback formats at amazon.com.

I entered a local kindergarten in the fall of 1976 in a small farming town north of Denver, Colorado. The laws had just changed, opening the way for students with disabilities to attend public schools. My parents took full advantage of the new legislation. They wanted to bring me up at home, along with my sighted brother and sister.

The teachers in public school had good intentions, but they often didn't know how best to include me in their classes full of sighted students. For example, I went nearly all the way through my school career without knowing how to raise my hand to give an answer.

I didn't volunteer to answer questions in class. I only answered when the teacher called on me--or, more precisely, put me on the spot, with no way to dodge the question. I was an A student, but I usually sat quietly and soaked up the information I needed without attracting attention to myself.

Over the years I heard harried teachers admonish excited kids to raise their hands rather than call out of turn. However, these vague directions meant little to me. If I were to raise my hand, how high should I lift it? Should I wave it in the air or hold it still? How long would I need to hold it up? How would I know when to put it down, or when it had been noticed?

I learned early on not to follow unclear instructions. When I was eight or nine we were each told to walk up to the front of our music class and beat out a rhythm on the big round bongo drum. Then the whole class would clap back the rhythm. The drum had a deep, resonant sound, and I couldn't wait to get up to the front of the room and check it out. I clapped along with the rest of the class, and when my turn came, I walked eagerly up to the drum.

I ran my hands over the drum's round, metal sides and its smooth, taut head. I wasn't exactly sure how the other kids had beaten out their rhythms, but after a moment's thought, I decided the best way to beat something, obviously, would be with a fist. Just as my dad had taught me, I tucked in my thumb, squared up my knuckles, and gave that drumhead something to think about.

Knock-knock-Knock, knock, knock!

Everyone laughed, and I wished I could crawl up inside that drum and disappear. Nobody had told me I was supposed to pat the drum with an open hand instead of hitting it with my fist. Snickering kids deluged me with knock-knock jokes for the rest of the school year.

The drum incident and many other awkward moments told me that vague directions such as "Raise your hand," were dangerous. Looking back with the hindsight of adulthood, I realize that I could have asked any number of people how to raise my hand correctly. However, hand-raising--like so many other matters of body language--wasn't an important part of my world at the time. It was something that needed to be brought into my world from the outside, made real to me, before I could understand its significance.

I vividly remember the day I learned to raise my hand in school, because it was also the day I met my best high school friend at the beginning of my freshman year. We're still in touch now, decades later. We've been in each other's weddings, walked through times of deep sorrow and great joy, been the kind of friends who can go months or occasionally even years without speaking and pick up right where we left off. Those relationships don't come along often in a lifetime.

In those days, in many classrooms, I still sat off in a corner at my own desk or table. Isolated. Different. Separate. Public school was not always run inclusively back then, at least not in a small Colorado farm town. Granted, some of the separation was dictated by my need for electric outlets to plug in typewriters, and by the extra space taken up by my Braille textbooks.

On that particular day, though, I was seated with the rest of the students, dragging through a mandatory ninth-grade health class. I don't remember what question had been asked, but nobody was coming up with the answer, which I knew. The silence grew awkward. Finally I muttered the answer, hoping someone nearby would hear it and get the teacher's attention in whatever magical way sighted students seemed to have mastered, a way I had long ago given up on figuring out.

"Well, raise your hand!" somebody next to me said in a barely disguised stage whisper.

"What?" I turned to face the unfamiliar voice.

"You know the answer. Are you going to raise your hand or what?"

"Raise my hand?"

"Yeah. You know, so the teacher can call on you."

"Huh? Oh, I don't know . . ."

"Oh okay, it must be a blind thing. I had a blind friend named Becky at my last school. She missed stuff like that, too."

And this strange girl I'd never met before reached out and hauled my hand up over my head for me. I tried to pull away from her, but she held my arm up in the air. "Over here. She knows the answer."

Of course, by then I was so flustered, being the shy one who hardly ever talked to anybody at school, that I'd forgotten both the question and the answer, and practically my own name besides. So the strange girl repeated my answer to the class.

The two of us got to chatting after the bell rang, mostly because the strange girl, whose name turned out to be Vicki, was too persistent to give up on me. And the rest, as they say, is history.

By the end of the week, Vicki had helped me to advocate for a seat with the other students in my civics class. "How come Jo has to sit by herself at that corner table over there?" she asked the teacher bluntly, right out of the blue, while attendance was being taken.

The teacher stopped short and thought for a moment, genuinely surprised by the question. "Well . . . it's for her safety. So she doesn't get trampled when the bell rings and you clowns go bolting for the door."

"She won't get trampled." Help came from an unlikely source as one of the best runners on the track team spoke up. "Let her sit with the rest of us."

The teacher turned to me. "Jo, do you want to sit at a desk with the other students?"

I felt myself smiling as I nodded and picked up my heavy backpack to move. "Yes. I'd really like that."

After that domino fell, I started to find my voice more and more. My high school experience, and in a way my whole life, began to open up for me. Advocating for small changes felt good, and small victories set positive precedents for the more important battles that were to come with adulthood.

Birding by Ear and Beyond

by Donna Posont

From the Editor: Thousands of books and apps have been designed to help birders identify avian species visually, by observing coloration, shape, and flight patterns. However, a birder need not rely upon visual methods of identification. In this article, Donna Posont describes a program she helped to start for budding naturalists who are blind. Donna was the winner of an NFB National Scholarship in 2016.

My journey toward a greater understanding of the natural world led me to the University of Michigan-Dearborn in the summer of 2008. I thought that if I found a way to learn about nature as a blind person, I could learn to share that knowledge with others who are blind.

As I began my learning in the environmental studies program, I also began to share my knowledge with others. I learned to engage my senses more than ever before while I was in the woods or following a nature trail.

I became fascinated with birds during an internship in the summer of 2009. I was teaching nature to blind children at Camp Tuhsmeheta in western Michigan. I was looking for an area of study that was "blind friendly," and birds provided an obvious choice. Each species has its unique sounds. Furthermore, birds communicate with others of their own species by using a variety of songs and calls.

The more I learned, the more I wanted to know and share. I wanted to learn about birds' nesting and feeding habits. I wanted to find out which birds would migrate and which would stay and survive our harsh Michigan winters. I wanted to discover how birds teach their young to sing and fly. My questions went on and on.

In 2010 I began to meet monthly with a group of blind people, primarily children. Together we started to identify birds by sound. I came up with several learning tools and memory aids. The first I called "Name That Tune." This teaching method uses mnemonics to put human words to each birdsong. For example, a northern cardinal can be heard to sing, "Pretty, pretty, pretty," or "Wit, wit? Cheer, cheer, cheer!"

Since the northern cardinal can be credited with at least forty distinct sounds, it is important to use my second learning tool to identify its calls. I refer to this tool as "Birding Charades" or "Sounds Like." When a cardinal is using the call note, it sounds like two marbles clacking together.

Finally, "Change Your Tune" serves as a learning tool and memory aid. For example, the American robin sounds like he is singing, "Cheer up, cheerily, cheer up, cheerily." Two other birds that can be identified by the same mnemonics are the scarlet tanager and the rose-breasted grosbeak. The scarlet tanager changes his tune to sound like a robin with a sore throat; its melody sounds more raspy or scratchy than the song of the robin. While the rose-breasted grosbeak shares the same mnemonics, he sounds as though he has taken singing lessons; his song is smoother and more melodious than the robin's.

Not only the songbirds can be identified with these tools. For example, the barred owl seems to say, "Who, who, who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?" Another raptor, the red-tailed hawk, can be heard screaming, "Watch out!"

A few birds can be remembered as name-sayers. Among these are the black-capped chickadee, the eastern phoebe, and the wood pewee. Some birds, such as the gray catbird, are named because of the sounds they make. The hummingbird family is named because of the humming sounds made by the birds' rapidly moving wings.

The examples are almost endless, but it is important for students to learn the tools for remembering. Each student can also come up with his or her own mnemonics and other memory aids.

Eventually I partnered with the University of Michigan-Dearborn Environmental Interpretive Center to provide a course called "Birding by Ear and Beyond." The "beyond" part opens the program to the sensory exploration of all of nature's beauty. We have learned to identify frogs and insects by their sounds. We also have learned tree identification without the sense of sight.

The natural world provides limitless learning opportunities, and it is all available to those of us who are blind. We simply develop alternative techniques for learning. As we engage our senses we can experience the wonders of this world.

I have sometimes been heard to say, "It's not about the birds." The confidence gained by success through identifying birds by sound is immeasurable. Not all students may grow up to become naturalists, but all of them will need confidence in order to apply for jobs and pursue their dreams. As we follow the trails in the woods and wetlands, we gain skills in the use of our canes and dog guides. Navigating these trails provides students with opportunities to strengthen their resolve to live the lives they want.

Whether or not these blind birders seek a future in the STEM fields, they will be equipped more fully to enter any field of study through their success in the program at the university. Because of the "Birding by Ear and Beyond" program, students who are blind have the opportunity to embrace the natural world by engaging their senses in exploration. The more we know about the environment, the more we understand the importance of protecting ecosystems and life on the planet Earth. This program gives those who are blind a chance to learn about the natural world so they can be capable of making responsible choices in the future.

When students love to learn about nature, they inevitably learn to love nature itself. There is no end to the joy and wonder waiting right outside the door.

Time and Love

by Paula Ann Sprecher

From the Editor: Paula Sprecher is a teacher of the visually impaired in Chicago, Illinois. She and her husband, Alan, are the parents of two blind daughters. In this article Paula recounts her long journey toward healing and parenthood.

Have you ever heard the recording by The 5th Dimension called "Time and Love?" It's a song that really speaks to me. I've often thought that if I ever write my autobiography, Time and Love will be the title. The refrain says,

Time and love, everybody,
Time and love,
Nothing cures
Like time and love.

Having a child with a visual impairment wasn't in my parents' plans. They resented what they perceived as my imperfection, and the little love and affection afforded me was conditional. It wasn't until I began to win scholarships and other academic awards that my parents started to believe in me. By that time, though, I was out of the house. I was compelled to leave home when I was eighteen because I felt so unacceptable, like a hopeless failure.

The expression "Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps" means that if you get knocked down by life, you are to pick yourself up and carry on. After I left home, I was a mess for years. I felt depressed, anxious, and insecure, and I suffered from low self-esteem. I lacked basic life skills, and my mother's negative comments played over and over in my mind. Time and love were the elements I needed to heal and become whole. I learned that being removed from a negative environment can heal one's soul and lead to self-actualization.

The Adoption Journey

I met my husband, Alan, when I was twenty-one. At that time I was living at the Badger Home for the Blind in Milwaukee. We dated for five years before our wedding. Subsequently we moved to the Chicagoland area for Alan's employment with Sears.

Alan and I always wanted children, but we chose not to have our own biological offspring. In addition to being totally blind, Alan has a form of muscular dystrophy that makes it difficult for him to walk at times. Genetic counseling revealed that each of our children would have a strong likelihood of being visually impaired and having some degree of muscular dystrophy. After a lot of thought we decided we did not want to pass these traits along. However, we felt we had a great deal to give as parents, especially if we became the parents of a child with a visual impairment.

Early in our marriage, Alan and I decided that adoption would be our route to parenthood. We knew that there must be blind and visually impaired children who were available for adoption. I was in college during our early years of marriage, so we couldn't act upon this idea right away. Eventually I earned a master's degree plus certification to teach the blind and visually impaired.

Every few years after I finished college, I called various Chicagoland foster care/adoption agencies and inquired about adopting a visually impaired child. Time after time I came up empty-handed. I remember calling the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and asking for information. They responded that if we wanted DCFS to collaborate with other governmental agencies throughout the United States to locate a child with a visual impairment, we would have to pay seven thousand dollars for the service. Even if we paid this sum, there was no guarantee that a child would be located. For a few years I gave up hope.

In spite of my despair, a miracle happened after we had been married for nearly twenty years. My husband is a cantor and a member of the choir at our church. One December Sunday, he was scheduled to cantor at seven-thirty Mass and to sing with the choir at ten-thirty. During the seven-thirty Mass, two guests from Poland spoke after the Homily. They turned out to be nuns who were visiting churches in the US to raise money to build a school for the blind in Africa.

As they spoke I grew lightheaded with exhilaration. I turned to Alan and suggested that we talk to the guests after Mass. I was thrilled when he immediately agreed.

When we found the sisters, we poured our dilemma into their sympathetic ears. One of them suggested that we write down our contact information, and she promised that they would try to find someone to help us. It seemed such a long shot that I thought we would never hear from them again.

In retrospect, I feel it is miraculous that we met the sisters at all. They were not in attendance at the later service that day. If Alan had only been scheduled to sing at ten-thirty, we would have missed this chance meeting.

A Child in India

A few months passed. Then one day a special Easter greeting arrived from Poland, and it was written in Braille! The letter stated that a blind child in India was available for adoption. It encouraged us to find an adoption agency to begin the process.

Immediately we emailed the contact in India to get the adoption process underway. We also started to work with Catholic Charities of the Archdioces of Chicago and with Americans for International Aid and Adoption (AIAA) in Michigan. Both agencies were necessary in order for us to adopt internationally.

It's funny how things happen--Moti, the social worker whom I chose at random from a list of names, turned out to be visually impaired herself! She warned us that the Indian government might not grant us an adoption due to our disabilities. We were reminded of this concern throughout our work with AIAA. However, it turned out that Moti was a perfect advocate for us. As you've probably guessed, our story has a happy ending.

Alan and I were kept busy for almost two and a half years compiling and completing mounds of paperwork for both agencies, attending parenting classes, and keeping various appointments. At times the whole process seemed too overwhelming, demanding, and uncertain. Meanwhile, we kept emailing Sister Sara in India, who wrote many inspiring letters and sent us photos of our future daughter.

Laxmi Rupa

The day finally arrived when we were granted permission to travel to India to meet our little girl, Laxmi Rupa. Laxmi means "Hindu princess" and rupa means "beautiful" or "silver."

We took a sighted friend with us to help with paperwork and travel in the unfamiliar environment. Our plane arrived at midnight, and we were surprised to discover that Rupa was waiting with Sisters Sara and Claire outside the airport. They told us that she could not sleep and begged to go to the airport to greet us.

We were all so excited! Rupa had a huge smile on her face as Alan and I greeted and hugged her. At seven she was small for her age, and she spoke British English. She wore a dress with a crocheted poncho, and her hair was styled into ponytails. The most noticeable detail about Rupa was her ever-present smile. This is true even today.

The sisters helped Rupa place leis of exotic flowers around our necks. We all clambered into a jeep driven by the school's driver. Rupa sat on my lap, and all during our journey we chatted to our new acquaintances. At one point, I reached into my suitcase and pulled out a doll, which I presented to Rupa. I couldn't believe that our dreams had come true at last!

An hour or so passed before we reached the school in Bangalore. When we climbed out of the jeep, our surroundings seemed eerie. The air was warm, and there was little lighting. Down the alley where we pulled in, a fire blazed, and people softly wailed because there had been a death.

We stayed in the school's guest room, which contained two beds and a table. Mosquito netting hung above the beds, and there was no air conditioning anywhere. The bathroom had a toilet and a sink. The shower, which had no stall, consisted of a bucket and a sprayer of the kind you might connect to your kitchen sink. A heating rod had to be placed in the bucket to heat the water. The apparatus was so daunting that we simply took cold showers. The weather was hot and humid anyway.

In the morning we awoke to the sound of Muslim prayers being recited over a loudspeaker from a mosque near the school. Prayers were recited five times a day. Rupa's school was Christian, although some children practiced other religions.

Rupa attended Jyothi Seva School for Blind Children, which was connected with a home where the pupils lived. Jyothi Seva means "service of the light." The combined school and home were founded in the 1980s by the Sisters of Charity. The school stood across the alley from the buildings that housed the eighty-five children.

The school was an attractive brick building three stories high with bay windows, balconies, and wrought-iron fencing. A play area and garden were behind the children's home. Beautiful flowering vines hung from the walls.

Jyothi Seva educates children from birth through high school, and not all of the children are orphans. No small children or children with multiple disabilities were present when we visited. They had been sent somewhere else because the area was not considered safe for Christians at that time. The school officials felt that the remaining children would be able to run to safety in an emergency, with the assistance of their caretakers.

Jyothi Seva is funded by private donations, and it adheres to governmental guidelines regarding teacher certification and educational standards. The classrooms lacked technology and many of the other teaching aids that American teachers take for granted. The school had a crafts room, an assembly hall, a computer lab, and a library. The library was the size of a large walk-in closet, and its shelves were only half full. The computer lab contained a couple of computers and Braille embossers, but some of the equipment was not in working condition. There were only a couple of Braillers. Most of the students used full sheet-sized slates and wrote their assignments on the pages of donated magazines.

The lunchroom contained tables where the students ate from metal plates. Their meals consisted mostly of rice, with little meat or other extravagances. The bedrooms each contained metal bunk beds and a dresser. There were no toys.

The children were clean, well dressed, and polite. Each student owned one uniform, which hung from his or her bed, and one pair of socks, which was washed nightly in the sink and hung up to dry.

We stayed for four days before flying to New Delhi to complete more paperwork and to apply for Rupa's passport and visa. The day we left Bangladore played out like a scene from a movie. All of the students assembled in the alley and sang several pieces as Rupa, Alan, our friend Joan, and I stood in front of the group. Rupa held her doll as she listened, wearing a big smile. She looked sweet in her green sundress, sandals, and ponytails. As we drove off, the students sang "So Long, Farewell" from The Sound of Music. We were on our way to the second part of our journey.

Explorers in New Delhi

When we arrived at the airport in New Delhi, we were to meet a taxi driver named Mr. Singh. We found a whole railing lined with men holding large papers with the names of people they were waiting for. Nearly all of them were dressed in American-style clothing, but one man wore a turban and carried no sign. The man in the turban turned out to be the one we were looking for.

Mr. Singh was very kind and gentle. For the next week and a half he drove us all over New Delhi and Delhi. He took us sightseeing and shopping, and he showed us the local eateries. He escorted us to fancy shops and malls and led us to not-so-touristy shops in secluded areas.

My favorite places were the small neighborhood shops because they were authentic. I was uncomfortable about haggling for lower prices, but this was the practice in India. One of the first places we shopped was a market where we bought a few toys to keep Rupa occupied.

While we were in New Delhi we stayed in a hostel. We were very thankful that it had air conditioning and a real shower.

Our days were packed with visits to palaces; forts; museums; parks; temples; a basilica; government buildings with ornate, manicured lawns; a five-star hotel; and of course the Taj Mahal. Wherever we went, the traffic was horrendous because there were few traffic lights. Every type of vehicle imaginable was on the road--rickshaws, both motorized and human-powered; motorcycles carrying whole families; cars; city buses with people hanging out of the back doors; trucks; and bicycles. Pedestrians wove in and out through the confusion. Cows roamed freely, so you had to watch where you stepped.

We witnessed great wealth and, sadly, much poverty as well. Whenever we stopped at an intersection, droves of children approached the car, begging for money. It was heartbreaking to see the same children day after day.

We came home with Rupa on Columbus Day, 2008. How ironic that she and Columbus discovered America on the same day!

But Rupa was lonely in Chicago. She'd spent her whole life with eighty-four other children. After a year we began the adoption process again, this time to find a sister for Rupa.

Aihua Mei

By this time Alan and I were too old to adopt from India again. Our social worker suggested that we try China. It did not take as long to adopt our second child, as our home study only needed to be revised. Again, we worked with Catholic Charities, but we also worked with a new agency based in Oregon, Associated Services for International Adoption (ASIA). It took us a year to complete the paperwork.

I was instructed to go online and read adoption bio entries for China. There were many children looking for homes--mostly older children, or children with medical conditions or disabilities. I was surprised to learn that boys were available as well as girls.

I found four blind girls whose bios interested me. Three of them were Rupa's age or a year younger, and the fourth girl was four years younger. From their bios the older girls appeared to be developmentally delayed, and we felt that they would not be good matches for Rupa. The younger child seemed delayed, too, but we thought that since she was young we could help her catch up. Her bio listed her name as May and her age as six. It said she knew her own cup from the cups of her foster family members, could count to ten, liked to ride her tricycle, could recite Tang poetry, and could identify the members of her foster family by voice. It also said she was "a cute baby."

We traveled to Beijing in January 2011 with our friend Suzie from the Chicago Lighthouse. There we met with Susan, a social worker from ASIA. We had hired Susan to stay with us and interpret, as our new daughter only spoke Mandarin. We wanted to be sure our little girl understood what was happening.

The next morning all of us boarded a plane for Wuhan. We stayed at a hotel there and went to meet our daughter the next day. It turned out that her name was Aihua Mei. Aihua means "love China" and Mei means "sister." The director of the adoption agency created this name for the little girl when she was found as an infant. Mei is part of the name of the province where she had lived, which was Hubimei.

Like Rupa, Aihua had been lucky. She was not raised in an orphanage. She had lived with a foster family on a farm three hours from the closest city. Her dialect of Mandarin was so unusual that it was difficult for people to converse with her in the standard Mandarin form. It is said that people from her area are so smart that they have nine heads. Aihua doesn't have nine heads, but she certainly is smart!

When we walked into the Chinese Center for Adoption, Aihua was sitting on a sofa next to Mama Gui, the director of the agency. She was quite small for her age. When I held her hand, it was so small and warm! Tears were running down her cheeks as Mama Gui spoke to her softly. We brought small toys with us and tried to get her to play with them. She warmed up to us, though she was quite cautious.

We were able to take her with us that day, but we needed to return the following day for the next phase of the adoption. I remember that Aihua had to place her foot on an inkpad and press it onto one of the adoption papers. She complied, but she must have wondered what was going on.

We were advised not to bathe Aihua right away because she needed the scent from her home to comfort her.

We waited a couple of days before putting her in the tub. When we met her she was wearing all the clothes she owned. Under her winter coat she wore a knitted sweater and insulated Hello Kitty jeans, a knitted shirt and knitted pants, pajamas, and socks. She also wore ankle boots. She looked like a boy because her hair was so short.

We were not permitted to meet Aihua's foster family. We wanted to thank them for the marvelous job they had done of raising her. She had many skills already, and she learned quickly. She was a tomboy who loved to climb. She'd climb anything, and we had to be constantly vigilant for safety's sake.

We remained in Wuhan for a week before traveling to Guangzhou to complete the adoption process. In both cities we decided it would be best for Aihua if we did not join the other adoptive families for sightseeing. Instead, we spent hours with Aihua at the parks. The parks in China have a lot of play equipment. We also went for walks and visited a zoo, a botanical garden, shops, and shrines. We tried to incorporate all of Aihua's senses into our experiences.

We spent a week in Guangzhou, where all adoptive families go to finalize the adoption process. Our last task was to pick up Aihua's passport and visa. We stayed in a gold five-star hotel, which was part of the adoption package. We thought we'd better enjoy it, because this would be the only time in our lives when we would stay at such a luxurious place.

Words cannot convey how beautiful this hotel was. There were doormen, gold embellishments on the walls, and flowers growing in gigantic pots. There was a waterfall, marble everywhere, and so much more. We stayed in suites, and each one had a doorbell. You could even watch TV while taking a bath. Fresh flowers and fruit were delivered daily.

Home at Last

When we returned to Chicago, we worried about Aihua's acquisition of English. We wondered whether her blindness would affect her ability to connect new words with objects and actions in her environment. As soon as she realized we did not speak Mandarin, she stopped talking altogether. When no one was interacting with her she tended to curl up into a ball. While Rupa was at school I would turn on Sesame Street or some other kids' program, and her little head would pop up whenever she heard a familiar word. Sometimes she would repeat it. She began to speak single words, then phrases. Soon sentences emerged.

Aihua began kindergarten right away, even though she did not understand English. Within six months she was speaking English like a pro. Unfortunately, though, she gained English at the loss of her Mandarin. She no longer can speak or understand her native language.

The girls bonded upon meeting. We could not have found a better match for these sisters. To date, they have never even had an argument.

Rupa and Aihua excel in everything they do. Both girls are A students, and they have taken piano lessons for years. They love Girl Scouts, swimming, tandem bike riding, running, reading, and crafts. They have attended a number of summer camps, such as the Buddy Program and Lions Camp.

Alan and I are very fortunate--our girls are well adjusted, happy, healthy, and eager to learn. Certainly we cannot take all of the credit. Both of our girls were raised by caregivers who loved and valued them and spent quality time with them. They fostered the idea of perseverance, and they allowed the girls to develop into the unique individuals they are.

Time and love have cured me of what I endured in my youth. I have the love of a good man who has stood by my side, believed in me, helped me gather my strength, and modeled how to fulfill my ambitions. And I have the unconditional love expressed by our girls, who are developing into young women who are valued for being themselves. In our home and in our hearts, blindness is not perceived to be a flaw, a deficit, or anything to be ashamed of.

Raising our girls has allowed me to enjoy life and to try things that I did not have the opportunity to experience when I was growing up. Rupa and Aihua have given me more joy than I can express.

Before I close, I want to add that our house overflows with love from our two dogs, Coco and Oreo. They are always looking for a lap to sit on or trouble to get into. I feel as though I have been given a second chance in life, and I am grateful beyond words.

Landing Among the Stars: When Teachers and Student Work Together

by Chelsea Cook

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, July 2015, Volume 58, Number 7

From the Editor: All too often, blind students struggle to obtain accessible materials for their coursework, especially when they pursue studies in the STEM fields. Fortunately, however, some teachers are dedicated to ensuring that all of their students learn effectively, and they find creative ways to convey information that is usually presented through visual graphics. In this article, Chelsea Cook describes her experiences as a physics major at Virginia Tech University. Chelsea received an NFB National Scholarship in 2010.

It was a rainy Friday evening--Halloween, in fact--and I was waiting for the bus to take me home, though I was not going to get ready for a party or put on a costume. I was not scared or disheartened by the weather, but filled with adrenaline and optimism. I was heading straight to my computer to code an orbital mechanics problem.

Getting to this point had not been easy; in fact, getting into this course had not been easy. In a basic space survey course in my freshman year, my favorite part had been the material on rockets: velocities, launch times, and the way payloads move once in orbit. I loved the mathematical treatment and knew I wanted to investigate further.

Someone said, "If you want to go deeper, study orbital mechanics." I remembered that phrase and continued with my physics degree. I kept checking the class schedule, but I always had a scheduling conflict and prerequisites I hadn't taken yet.

The semester before my senior year, I thought that if I wanted to take this mystical astromechanics course, I'd better get serious about it. I examined the prerequisites, and, although I hadn't taken the prescribed courses, I was well into my physics program and had mastered similar material. With the blessing of the aerospace department head, I was allowed to enroll.

Working with a new department on campus always fills me with some trepidation, but it turned out that the instructor and I were a perfect match. He and I had the same learning style (visual/tactile), so he was able to spot areas in the coursework where I might have trouble with a concept. Anticipating these, he would come up with solutions before I even knew there were problems. These solutions were often low-tech, demonstrating that keeping things simple is often valuable. Since English was not his first language, he wanted a way to communicate with me that would work well for both of us, and it turned out that tactile models were the key. He could use simple vocabulary and have my hand explore the model at the same time. What a winning combination!

The first model he made consisted of two pieces of cardboard taped together. Since satellite trajectories are naturally in three dimensions, having a model mimicking reality was crucial. The cardboard was oriented to simulate the two planes of a spacecraft's orbit, and creases in the material represented different vectors between important points.

Most of this model-exploring was done during office hours, which came to be a sacred time for me. When the class began, my instructor initially thought that reading the equations aloud in class would be sufficient. When he realized this would take much more time, he needed another approach, so office hours worked to fill in the gaps. I had Braille notes, so I could follow along in class easily enough, but he said it was his duty "to teach you and the class the whole syllabus." Taking that to heart, he was receptive to my many inquiries, which often took us on interesting journeys outside of class and through the world of academia. In one session we could go from discussing course problems to pure geometry to real applications of space flight to how those applications were implemented to coding. The logic was often unpredictable and beautiful. The bond between student and master was strong. When grades fell away, knowledge remained, and the depths of that knowledge seemed limitless.

That is why I eschewed social norms on Halloween and was so eager to run home and code a problem. It was me, my computer, my teacher, and my knowledge of physics--communing with the universe at large. I thought this must have been what it was like for the Greek scholars and tutors in the classical era.

This was not the first time I had experienced the pure joy of learning. In sophomore year I took an independent study in differential equations with a math instructor I'd worked with in freshman calculus. I had had bad experiences with calculus during high school, and this teacher gave me a huge confidence boost. When I started asking for assistance with differential equations, she was happy to help. When she found out the reason I was having trouble (not getting the Braille book on time), she decided to help me act to change the situation. With a bit of help from the math department, I decided it was best to drop differential equations on the stipulation that I would have an independent study covering some math material, some visualization techniques for other courses, and a final "Best Practices for Instructors" paper. This all worked beautifully, and I learned more about differential equations that semester than when I had to take the course again the next term. Future-proofing was the goal, and it paid large dividends in my later physics courses. To this day I enjoy solving differential equations (ordinary or partial), and I attribute that to the instructor who took the time to teach me not only math but the joys and potentials of independent learning.

Future-proofing was also the goal in modern cosmology in my last semester. Because of a time conflict, this was also an independent study course; my professor knew I was thrilled about this. That Greek-scholar feeling returned every week as we explored the theoretical framework for the origins of the universe. He made sure I had Braille notes and a textbook to carry me to the future--graduate school. To me those volumes are worth their weight in gold--which, if you have experience with Braille, you know is quite a lot.

As graduation approaches, I am excited for the future, but I will never forget the people who have helped me accomplish this thing in my life called a physics degree: Braille Services at Virginia Tech and all those professors and instructors who believed in me and went the extra mile to prove it. They often didn't do this just because of an accommodation request or administrative decree, but because they saw an eager student ready to soak up what they offered; it was a challenge they rose to as well. Indeed, my favorite academic memories of college will probably not be of sitting in a lecture hall but of concentrating in a quiet, often small office, taking in knowledge about nature and conversing in the language of discovery and tactile toys.

My philosophy for choosing college courses has always been, "If it's not challenging or interesting, why take it?" I believe I have lived up to that motto. I've treated every course as a new adventure, a chance to take a plane for a test flight and see what it can show me about our world. Some flights I've taken are routine but always insightful; some flights find me flying around in a fog until that beacon called finals appears; some flights find me exploring little islands and caves that I might not return to, but it is great to know they exist. My absolute favorites, however, are those flights that go beyond the airplane, those that rocket off the ground and, whether theoretically or practically, take me to the realm of outer space itself.

Amazon, Blind Federation Reach Agreement On Accessibility

by Mark Sherman

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, April 2016, Volume 59, Number 4

From the Editor: This article first appeared in Special Education Today on March 8, 2016. It is gratefully reproduced with the permission of the publisher.

For several years, the National Federation of the Blind has been on Amazon's case for ebooks and ebook distribution systems that are not fully accessible. In 2013, for example, it wrote to state education departments, saying, "The inaccessibility of Kindle ebooks will grossly inhibit blind and print-disabled students from attaining the goals set forth in the Common Core State Standards. Moreover, school districts in your state that introduce Kindle ebooks into the curriculum will, as explained below, be violating federal law." Likewise, NFB protested last year when the New York City Education Department was considering entering into a contract with Amazon.

"Amazon's lack of regard for accessibility when creating Kindle ebook content would leave blind students and teachers far behind their sighted peers if NYC DOE [Department of Education] is to proceed with the proposed contract with Amazon," it said in a letter dated Aug. 13. On March 2, however, NFB announced an agreement under which it would help the company avoid such problems going forward.

"Amazon and the National Federation of the Blind will collaborate on improvements to Amazon's education content, platforms, and applications, and will meet on an ongoing basis to review progress and exchange ideas and feedback," it said. "Initial results of this collaboration are expected this year and beyond."

Amazon welcomes the agreement, according to spokeswoman Stephany Rochon. "We are seeing more educational institutions embrace digital learning, and this shift provides a great opportunity to improve accessibility for blind students," she said in an email. "We look forward to collaborating with the National Federation of the Blind to work together on Amazon's education content, platforms, and applications for the blind." Rochon did not discuss the contract with New York City except to say, "We look forward to working closely with NYC DOE to serve the educational needs of all their students."

A Step-By-Step Approach to Getting Involved

by Lizzy Muhammad

Reprinted from <http://nabslink.org>, the blog of the National Association of Blind Students

From the Editor: Lizzy Muhammad is a student at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where she is majoring in international studies. She won an NFB National Scholarship in 2014.

In the NFB, we often encourage students to get involved on campus--mostly using the positive but vague "just do it" method. I thought it might help to give students some specific tips and tricks to use when becoming more active. Perhaps you're a shy person; maybe you've tried jumping right in, but someone or something left you discouraged; or maybe you just can't stop the feeling of anxiety that comes with putting yourself out there. (Note: In this article I'll use the phrase on campus, but it could be interchanged with in your school. This advice is for students of all ages.)

Step 1: Find a few activities on campus that sound interesting to you. Be sure to think about important factors (such as time commitment, transportation, and how an activity fits into your current schedule) when deciding whether or not you want to do it.

Step 2: Think of how and why you want to participate. Do you want to participate purely for fun? To gain knowledge in a certain area or field? Because you're passionate about the subject? General interest? The why is important when deciding how serious you are about participating in the activity. As for how you will participate, it really depends on why. Are you joining a singing group purely for fun? If you are, you might be able to get away with just learning songs by ear. However, if you're joining a serious choir because you want to become a vocal coach, you'll probably want to use Braille music for sight reading material, and you should prepare for that accordingly.

Step 3: Think about if the activity requires any sort of audition, tryout, etc. How can you show the panel that you are on the same level as your sighted counterparts? Is it even necessary to prove yourself? Do you need to do any legwork, accessibility-wise? This can vary greatly depending on the activity, so refer to number 4!

Step 4: If you're feeling nervous or have the slightest doubt about an activity, run your idea(s) by trusted colleagues or friends who may have experience in the area you're interested in. * Cough cough *, reach out to your fellow Federationists with questions! (Depending on your personal situation and depending on the activity, you may be able to skip this step, but honestly it never hurts.) We love to talk about our past experiences and help each other. Remember, we're walking alone but always marching together. Post to any of the listservs (there are a ton of them) with questions you might have going into a new experience. Be sure to check out the archives if you think a question has already been asked in the past.

Step 5: Have a positive outlook on things. Think to yourself, I can and will do this; there must be a way for me to participate in this activity.

Step 6: Don't worry about what people will think of you, the possible social blunders that could occur, or what people's reactions might be. This does not mean that you're just walking into the situation unprepared for accessibility issues that may come up. It just means that you won't be worrying yourself with things that may not even happen. I find that most of the time overthinking things is what leads to anxiety, which leads to stress and culminates in a negative attitude. If you constantly think that things will go wrong, it is more likely that they will, so be positive.

When you go into any audition, new sport, or interesting activity (after following these steps), you will be well prepared to handle any challenges that may come your way. So what do you have to lose? As a student you have the right to participate fully in activities in your school or on campus. Remember that, and don't let anyone discourage you from living the life you want!

iPhone vs. iPad
From an Educator's Perspective

by Diane Brauner

\From the Editor: Recently, the parent of a blind child posted a question on the Blindkid listserv, which is operated by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). The parent wanted to know whether a blind student needs an iPad if he or she already has and uses an iPhone. This article is based on a thoughtful and informative reply to this query from Diane Brauner. Diane Brauner is an educational accessibility consultant with over twenty-five years of experience as a teacher of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialist. Currently she spends most of her time developing and managing Paths to Technology (<http://www.perkinselearning.org/technology>), a website created under the auspices of Perkins School for the Blind. The site is designed to help educators, families, and students keep up with the ever-changing world of technology for blind and visually impaired students. Through the SAS Institute, a leader in business analytics software and services, Diane collaborates with Ed Summers on a variety of educational accessibility projects. During the past three years, Diane and Ed have presented more than fifty full-day iPad accessibility workshops around the country.

Does a blind child who has an iPhone truly need an iPad, too? Parents often ask this question. I would like to share some thoughts from an educator's perspective.

What kind of technology does your child use to complete his/her schoolwork? Our classrooms are transitioning to the use of more and more digital materials, with online textbooks, online assessments, and digital homework. Universities and professional jobs require students and employees to use technology and to have a high level of "tech savviness."

To succeed in today's classrooms, blind students should have access to and should be efficient with the mainstream apps used by their peers. They should be able to use their technology to achieve the same educational goals expected of their classmates. All educational materials, including apps, websites, textbooks, and online assessments, should be accessible. Publishers are becoming more aware of accessibility needs.

Students with visual impairments need access to mainstream devices, whether it is an iPad in preschool or a computer in high school. These devices can be paired with a refreshable Braille display and/or Bluetooth keyboard. Ideally, students have many tools in their toolboxes, including paper Braille, refreshable Braille, and screen readers.

Keep in mind that in the general education classroom, the iPad is an accepted tool. In some schools the iPad may be provided, while others follow a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program. Typically, phones are not allowed in the classroom.

A main advantage of a touch screen device is that it gives a student the ability to learn the spatial layout of the screen. Though the student can right swipe through the screen or use the right arrow with a Bluetooth keyboard, she or he is not taking advantage of the spatial layout. Some commands will navigate efficiently to various sections of the screen, such as the command to jump the VoiceOver focus to the first and last items on the screen. Typically the Back Button is the first item on the screen; often the Next Button is the last item.

To be truly efficient with technology in the classroom, students should pair the iOS device with a Braille display or with a Bluetooth keyboard. Many additional navigational commands are available with these add-on devices that are not available with gestures. These navigation commands are critical when students write and edit documents.

When successful blind college students and professionals are asked what technology they use, the initial response is, "What is the task?"

In the classroom, the current best practice is to introduce the iPad with VoiceOver gestures and Braille display to an emerging Braille reader in preschool, along with the Perkins Braillewriter and paper Braille. Then add simple Bluetooth keyboarding skills and keyboard commands. In middle school students should be introduced to and become proficient with a computer and screen reader. Your child or student should be totally independent in the classroom with his or her technology and should be able to do the same assignments as his/her peers.

There are many Paths to Technology posts about using the iPad in the classroom. Here are a few recommended posts to help you get started with the iPad running VoiceOver. All of these posts can be found at <http://www.perkinselearning.org/technology/getting-started>.

Additional iPad posts include Layla: 4-Year-Old Learning VoiceOver and Braille Video.

As an educator I strongly recommend that every child with a visual impairment have all of the appropriate educational tools available. Furthermore, each child should have access to his/her technology at school and at home. In order to become comfortable and efficient with technology, each child needs time to explore his or her device at leisure and to discover new features and ways it can be used. An iPad is an engaging, powerful, and motivating educational tool!

What Does She See?

by Aaron Rupp

From the Editor: Parents of blind children often have to deal with the questions and doubts of strangers, relatives, and friends regarding their child's abilities. In this article Aaron Rupp of Nevada reflects on the need to set fear aside so that children can reach their full potential.

Marley, my daughter, is six (and a half, almost seven, she'll tell you), and she has an eye condition called optic nerve atrophy.

"So what can she see? Is she totally blind . . . or just legally blind?"

That's how the conversation starts. The questions are usually followed by my attempt to explain what a visual acuity of 20/1,600 actually means. I watch the jaws drop when my listeners realize the implications of poor depth perception combined with loss of fine detail. I watch them shake their heads and hear them murmur, "Oh, that poor girl! It's amazing that she's doing so well!" I see them look over at their own children and count their blessings. Then they look at my daughter with pity and ask me if I'm scared. If only these people could watch when Marley is running, reading Braille, and just being a normal, amazing child!

Just to get it out there, so that it is crystal clear as you read the remainder of this article--no, I am not scared one bit for Marley's safety or her ability to live a full life. But I fear the people around her, with their ignorance and their fear of the taboo of "low vision." I fear how they will try to enforce their low expectations and limitations onto my little girl's life trajectory.

Young children are at the stage in their lives when they are defining their self-worth, setting up the parameters of their abilities, and learning how their self-concepts interface with reality. I know blind people who dominate triathlons, own businesses, hang with Obama, and have climbed Mount Everest. I also know blind people who spend their lives sitting around on the couch feeling sorry for themselves, people who wait on handouts just to get by. Funny thing, I know plenty of sighted folks on both ends of that spectrum as well, so what gives?

Self-Esteem and Fear

To steal a few lines from Wikipedia, "Self-esteem reflects a person's overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own self-worth. It is a judgment of oneself as well as an attitude toward the self. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs about oneself, (for example, "I am competent," "I am worthy,") as well as emotional states, such as triumph, despair, pride, and shame . . . It is an influential predictor of certain outcomes, such as academic achievement, happiness, satisfaction in marriage and relationships, and criminal behavior. Self-esteem can apply specifically to a particular dimension (for example, "I believe I am a good writer and feel happy about that,") or a global extent (for example, "I believe I am a bad person and feel bad about myself in general.") Psychologists usually regard self-esteem as an enduring personality characteristic."

As a parent, I feel that one of my top priorities is to encourage a lifestyle that supports optimum health. Another is to provide a nonbiased, open environment that allows my kids to develop into the persons they are, not into the persons I think they should be, based on what I may perceive as their limitations. If I try to play it safe in life, I will let fear take the controls; fear steers us away from all the marvelous things that can be and sets the bar dictated by limitation. Fear-based definitions can begin in infancy and build up, layer by layer, until they become self-identification.

The Padded Cell

I love an NPR podcast I heard about a blind boy who refused not to ride a bike. Using echo location skills by making various clicking sounds, he learned to create a mental image of the world around him. He could go to the top of the hill in his neighborhood and "cherry bomb" down the road as fast as his bike would take him. People would come out of their houses and scold his mother, demanding, "How can you let him do that?" Obviously they asked this question out of fear of the possibilities. Now an adult, the cyclist explains, "Hitting a light pole is a drag, but never riding and avoiding the possibility of hitting one, that would be a tragedy." To me that is what it is all about. What quality of life would somebody have, living in a padded room?

When we put our blind kids into figurative padded rooms, we delay life lessons that will hit much harder later on. When we let limitations dictate their personal self-worth, we completely alter the trajectory of their lives until our misconceptions and fears become their reality.

The fear of the unknown has deep roots in the human psyche, and blindness is unknown and scary to most people. Unless a person is firmly rooted in self-worth and believes that he or she can navigate through any of life's storms, fear is likely to lead decisions in any encounter with someone who is blind. By rushing in and grabbing the blind child at the curb, by whisking her off when her peers ask about differences, by navigating for her and keeping her cooped up, we rob her of essential life experiences.

I've seen school officials hold my daughter's hand and refuse to let her participate in the annual class fundraising run while her peers did laps in front of her. They were afraid she might run into the cones. I see people who love her hold her hand to guide her around a playground, speak loudly to her as though she spoke a different language, and try to do everything for her around the house, all out of misguided concern, because they see her as helpless. This behavior stems from their expectations of what blind people should be, based upon their own fears and their sense of what their self-worth would be if the roles were swapped.

Putting Fear Aside

When we are out together, sometimes all I can do is cringe as Marley runs (and I mean runs! this girl can smash 5Ks and outruns most of her class) straight down the sidewalk toward a pole or sign. Literally at the last second she catches it with her cane, twists right by it in stride, and keeps on without slowing down. We went to the Grand Canyon by her request. She sprinted up to the edge, then felt it with her cane, and silently gazed out upon the abyss. It was all I could do to keep from grabbing her and backing her up ten feet.

My blood boiled when I watched a classmate take Marley's cane from her and begin swinging it around before they got called into school. Then I saw her assert herself, take her cane back, and show the little boy what it's used for. She even gave him a quick impromptu lesson on cane travel. In moments like these she becomes my teacher, teaching me to trust in her natural human talents, innate in her just as they are in other kids. She exposes my limited perceptions, keeps me humble, and helps me shed the limitations I hold onto for myself.

As I look to the future, I wonder where those limited perceptions will pop up again. I can't imagine taking Marley up to Bridge Mountain, an eight-hour death hike followed by rock climbing with extreme exposure and no safety nets. But with a lifetime of lessons and experiences, I had the self-confidence to traverse there myself. Perhaps that adventure awaits her some day, too.

The old motto of the NFB asserts that, with the proper training, technology, and mindset, blindness can be reduced to a mere inconvenience. I especially like the new motto, "Live the life you want." It doesn't say, "Live an okay life, given your circumstances." It declares, LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT! That is what our children deserve. We are bound by right action to do everything in our power to help provide that, even if it involves redefining the possibilities and rethinking who we are.

I have learned to expect nothing less from my blind daughter than I do from my sighted son. Of course they each face different obstacles, but the thing is, everybody is amazing. Every human is gifted with more than we can begin to understand. Each is completely capable of bringing the seeds of those gifts to flower, if we just get out of the way and help put fears aside. The absence of fear is not the elimination of negative possibilities. It is a result of trust and confidence in the self to bring all possibilities within reach.

Please Don't Feel Sorry for Me or My Special Needs Child

by Amber Bobnar

Reprinted with permission from <www.wonderbaby.org>

\From the Editor: Dealing with the public can be one of the greatest challenges for the parent of a blind child. Few people realize that well intended sympathy can cause pain and distress. In this article, Amber Bobnar calls upon friends and strangers to look at children with disabilities from a refreshing new perspective.

My son, Ivan, is disabled--that's just a fact of life. He's blind and has global physical and cognitive delays. But that's not what I see when I look at him. I see a vibrant and happy child who enjoys his life and loves his family.

So I want to be clear: I don't want my friends or family to feel sorry for me or for my child. I'm not saying this in a tough "I can handle this so you don't have to worry" kind of way, or even in a dismissive "we don't need your pity" kind of way.

I'm saying this because when others feel sorry for us it hurts. It's painful to hear that our lives are so terrible we deserve pity.

I'm absolutely bursting with pride and love for my son, so imagine what it feels like when a friend or family member looks at him and says, "Ah, it's just so sad. I'm so sorry."

What happens to all my happiness and pride? Gone. Wiped out. I am forced, even if just for a moment, to look at my child in a new way, through the eyes of someone who sees my son and thinks TRAGEDY!

Why in the world would someone say this to any parent? If you were to say "I'm sorry" about a typically developing child, it would be considered rude! But if the child has a disability, if the child is (gasp!) blind, this platitude is spoken to fill that uncomfortable space created by disability when people just don't know what else to say.

Well, here's a hint--we don't have to talk about disability like it's the end of the world, because it isn't. And we certainly shouldn't place fear, shame, and pity on a parent who is focused tirelessly on raising a child to be the best person he or she can be.

Disability comes in many forms, some more obvious than others. The one thing that is constant is parents' intense love for and pride in their child, no matter what. Never underestimate that love! A simple "I'm sorry" goes a long way to try to undermine it.

I know many kids who are fighting multiple challenges and doing so with joy. Their lives are rich and full of purpose. They do not make me sad, and I don't feel sorry for them. Let me tell you about some of our friends.

You may see: A blind child listening to the birds in the park that he will never be able to see.

I see: A child using his hearing to fully appreciate the beauty around him.

You may see: A child using a stick to get around because she can't see where she is going.

I see: A child learning to become a confident and independent traveler with her long white cane.

You may see: A child who is nonverbal and unable to speak.

I see: A child using a switch or augmentative communication device to communicate with her family and friends.

You may see: A child in a wheelchair who can't walk on his own.

I see: A happy kid clapping his hands and stomping his feet because he wants to be pushed faster!

These kids don't make me sad. I'm not sorry for them or for their families. I know that they find happiness despite their struggles.

The Barrier of the Visible Difference

by Kenneth Jernigan

Reprinted from Gray Pancakes and Gold Horses, The Kernel Book Series, 1998

From the Editor: Between 1991 and 2006, the National Federation of the Blind published a series of thirty titles known as the Kernel Books. Each Kernel Book contains a collection of personal essays by blind authors. The books seek to dispel myths and misconceptions by conveying the real experience of blindness. In this Kernel Book essay, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan ponders the differences between visual and nonvisual experience and the ways these differences sometimes lead to misunderstandings. Dr. Jernigan served as president of the NFB from 1968 until 1986.

Catchy titles and clever phrases are the stuff of big business. As every advertising agency knows, fortunes are made or lost by the way the public reacts to a jingle or a slogan. Once I heard a liquor distributor say that his company had a thoroughly mediocre wine that was going nowhere, and then somebody got the bright idea of giving it a sparkly name (I think it was Wild Irish Rose). After that, he said, they couldn't make enough to meet the demand, operating three shifts a day.

Whether that story is true or false, the underlying message is right on target. It is not just what a thing is but how it sounds and feels that sets the tone and gives the value. When most of us come across the term "visible difference," we think of the trademark of the beauty expert and cosmetics manufacturer Elizabeth Arden. "Visible Difference" is the brand name of moisturizers, lotions, and other products. But for the blind the term means something else. It represents a barrier and a hurdle to be surmounted. Let me illustrate.

When I was a boy of about four, my mother and I were sitting in the front bedroom of our home. Even though more than sixty-five years have passed, I still remember every detail. It was a summer evening just after dark. My father and brother were sitting on the porch, and the night sounds (the frogs and crickets) were coming into full chorus. It was oppressively hot with a lot of dust in the air.

In those days we didn't have electricity, so my mother had just lit the oil lamp. The smell of the burning kerosene began to blend with the regular odors of food and plant life that permeated the four-room house. Of course, all of the doors and windows were open.

When my mother finished lighting the lamp and adjusting the wick, she sat down and put her arm around me. Then she kissed me on the left side of my face. Since she was sitting on my left, this was a natural (almost an automatic) gesture. Then she said, "Do you like for mother to kiss you?"

Now, this put me into a real dilemma--for I very much liked for mother to kiss me, but I felt shy and embarrassed to say it. Hunting a way out, I thought perhaps I could say yes by shaking my head. From conversations I had heard, I knew that other people shook their heads to mean yes or no, but I didn't know which way the head should move to indicate which meaning. It had never before occurred to me to wonder about the matter, since I had never needed to know. My mother or anybody else around the house would undoubtedly have been perfectly willing to tell me if I had asked, but that didn't help in the situation I was then facing.

Using the best logic I could muster, I thought that since my mother was sitting on my left, maybe if I moved my head that way, it would indicate yes. Unfortunately it didn't, and my mother (not understanding my embarrassment and lack of knowledge) thought I was saying no. She was hurt and cried, and I didn't know how to explain.

So what is the moral of that little story, that minor tragedy of childhood? It is not that blind people are less competent than others of their age and circumstance. It is not that blind persons are slow learners or inept. It is that sometimes something that can be seen at a glance must be learned a different way by a blind person. The learning can be just as quick and just as effective, but it won't happen unless somebody thinks to explain, to help the blind child cross the barrier of the visible difference. There is no great problem in knowing how to shake one's head or in doing a hundred other things that sighted children learn without ever knowing that they have done it. It is only that the blind child must either be unusually persistent and inquisitive or have somebody constantly at hand who thinks to give information. Otherwise, insignificant details will multiply to major deficits.

And this is not just a matter of childhood. After seventy years I keep learning new things about the barrier of the visible difference. Recently when I told a blind friend of mine who is a lawyer about my head-shaking episode, he asked if I knew how you are supposed to hold your hand in a court when you are told to raise your right hand. I said that I had never thought about it, but had always assumed that you simply raise your hand above your head, which is what would seem logical in the circumstances.

"No," he told me, "that isn't the way it is done. You raise your hand to shoulder level with the palm out." He went on to tell me that when he was being sworn in to be admitted to the Bar, he had raised his hand above his head, and that later, one of his classmates had told him how the customary ritual is performed.

It is important to understand the significance of this incident. There is nothing better about raising the hand to the shoulder than over the head. It doesn't make one a better lawyer or a better witness in court. My friend is an excellent attorney, and I have testified in court for him on more than one occasion. We are simply dealing with a custom of society, a visible difference. More than anything else (at least, unless one is aware of it and thinks about it) meaningless visible differences can lead to confusion and misunderstanding, and sometimes even to misplaced feelings of superiority or inadequacy.

A thing that looks beautiful to the eye, for instance, can feel ugly and dirty to the touch. Again, let me illustrate.

Once when I was four or five, my mother and father took me to the county fair. This was a big event. We lived about fourteen miles from the county seat, and we didn't have a car. Very few people did in those days, so friends and neighbors pooled their transportation and helped each other with rides.

On this particular occasion my mother and I were standing at one of the booths at the fair. In retrospect it must have been one of those places that give prizes for throwing darts, tossing rings, or something of the sort. Regardless of that, the woman in charge gave me a small statue of a horse. As I think back on it, she may have done it because I was blind, or simply because she thought I was a cute kid. For purposes of my story, it doesn't matter.

The horse must have been quite pretty, for both the woman and my mother kept exclaiming about it. It was apparently covered with some sort of sparkly gold paint. To the eye I assume that it was extremely attractive, but to me it just felt dirty and grungy.

Now, I had never before had a small gold horse or, for that matter, any other kind of horse, or very many nice toys of any kind--so I was pleased and ecstatic with my treasure. But I thought I ought to clean it up and try to make it look nice. Therefore, while my mother and the woman were talking, I busily scratched all of the rough-feeling gold paint off of it. It was quite a job. By the time I had finished, my horse felt clean and attractive. I was proud of it. Imagine, then, my disappointment and chagrin when my mother and the woman noticed what I had done and were absolutely dismayed. I couldn't understand why they were unhappy, and they couldn't understand why I felt that the horse was better for my effort.

Again, I had bumped head-on into the barrier of the visible difference. Unlike the head-shaking incident, this was not exactly a matter of learning correct information. If a thing looks better to the eye and feels worse to the touch, that doesn't make it better or worse. It simply means a different point of view, a visible difference.
I thoroughly understand that we live in a world that is structured for the sighted, so if a blind person intends to get along and compete in society, he or she must learn how the sighted feel and what they think is beautiful and attractive. But this has nothing to do with innate loveliness or quality. It is simply a visible difference. As a matter of fact, although I wouldn't scratch the paint off of it if I met it today, that horse of my childhood would feel just as dirty to me now as it did then.

A few years ago when I went to Athens, I was invited (no, urged) to handle a variety of sculptures. They may have looked beautiful, and I have no doubt that they did; but they didn't feel beautiful--at least, not to me. They felt dirty, and I wanted a good hand-washing after feeling them. Hopefully this does not mean that I am either a barbarian or a boor, only that my way of appreciating beauty may have something to do with the fact that I touch instead of look.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that it is only the blind who get stuck on the barrier of the visible difference. The sighted do it, too--repeatedly, every day. Recently when I was in the hospital, I was being taken to the x-ray department for tests. On the way I had to stop to go to the bathroom. As I came out, a hospital official (I think she was a nurse) saw me and exclaimed, in what I can only describe as panic, "Catch him! He's going to fall. His eyes are closed."

My wife explained to her that I am blind and that my eyes are usually closed. It made no difference. "It doesn't matter," she said. "Hold him. His eyes are closed. He will fall."

This woman is not abnormal or unusually jumpy, nor (at least, as far as I can tell) is she stupid. She is simply so accustomed to the fact that sighted people look about them to keep their bearings that she cannot imagine that sight and balance have nothing to do with each other. If I had thought it wouldn't have upset her, I would have asked her if she believed she would be unable to stand up in a totally dark room.

During that same hospital stay, when I stepped into another bathroom, the nurse turned the light on for me, even though I told her in a light and pleasant tone that I didn't need it. She said she would turn it on anyway. It was clear that she felt uncomfortable to have me in the bathroom in the dark. Obviously this is not a major matter. It simply shows that we feel uneasy when something violates (even benignly) our routine patterns.

And these are not isolated instances. Every day letters and articles come to my attention to prove it. A journalist from Ohio writes to say that the blind need special fishing facilities--and he will lobby the government to help make it happen. He doesn't say why we can't fish in the regular way like everybody else, which many of us do all the time. A locksmith from Wisconsin believes the blind would benefit from specially shaped doorknobs (oval and textured, he thinks), and he is willing to design them. A pilot from Pennsylvania thinks we should solve any problems we have with the airlines by setting up an airline of our own, and he will help fly the planes. A man from Minnesota believes that blind alcoholics cannot benefit from regular programs used by the sighted and suggests separate services. Some years ago the Manchester Union Leader, one of New Hampshire's most prominent newspapers, said that the governor of the state was so bad that only the deaf, dumb, and blind could believe that he was competent.

These few illustrations are not a complete list, of course, but only a sampling. Moreover, I am not talking about all of the sighted. An increasing number are coming to understand and work with us. They give us some of our strongest support. Nor am I saying that the sighted are hostile toward us. Quite the contrary. Overwhelmingly the members of the sighted public wish us well and have good will toward us. It is simply that they are used to doing things with visual techniques, and when they look at a blind person, they see something to which they are not accustomed--what I call the barrier of the visible difference.

Most sighted people take it for granted that doing something with eyesight is better than doing it some other way. Visual techniques are sometimes superior to nonvisual techniques, and sometimes not. Sometimes the nonvisual way of doing a thing is better. Usually, however, it isn't a matter of better or worse but just difference.

This brings me to my experience with the National Federation of the Blind. I first became acquainted with the Federation almost fifty years ago, and it has done more than anything else in my life to help me gain balance and perspective--to understand that the barrier of the visible difference need not be a major obstacle, either for me or my sighted associates. With more than fifty thousand active members throughout the nation, the National Federation of the Blind is leading the way in making it possible for blind people to have normal, everyday lives. We of the Federation seek out parents and help them understand that their blind children can grow up to be productive citizens. We work with blind college students, giving scholarships and providing successful role models. Blind seniors make up an important part of the organization, helping and encouraging each other and exchanging ideas and information. We develop new technology for the blind and assist blind persons in finding jobs.

All of this is what we of the National Federation of the Blind do to help ourselves and each other, but the chief value of the organization is the way it helps us look at our blindness and the way it helps sighted people understand and accept. We who are blind know that with reasonable opportunity and training we can earn our own way in the world, compete on terms of equality with others, and lead ordinary, worthwhile lives. We do not feel that we are victims, or that society owes us a living or is responsible for our problems. We believe that we ought to do for ourselves and that we also should help others.

These attitudes are the heart and soul of the National Federation of the Blind. They constitute its core beliefs and reason for being. We go to meet the future with joy and hope, but we recognize that we need help from our sighted friends. If we do our part, we are confident that the needed help will be forthcoming. We also know that both we and the sighted can surmount the barrier of the visible difference and reduce it to the level of a mere inconvenience.

New NOPBC Board Elected

by Kim Cunningham

On Sunday, July 2, 2016, at the annual board meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), elections were held for the 2016-2017 board of directors. We elected a wonderful group of board members who are dedicated to building the NFB. We look forward to planning an even better 2017 NOPBC National Conference.

Here is a list of the 2016-2017 NOPBC board members.

President, Kim Cunningham (TX)
First Vice President, Laura Bostick (LA)
Second Vice President, Holly Miller (NJ)
Secretary, Pamela Gebert (AK)
Treasurer, Sandra Oliver (TX)
Board Member, Kimberly Banks (FL)
Board Member, Jean Bening (WI)
Board Member, Carol Castellano (NJ)
Board Member, Penny Duffy (NH)
Board Member, Frances Hammond (NM)
Board Member, Tabby Mitchell (VA)
Board Member, Corbb O'Connor (KY)
Board Member, Joy Orton (AL)
Board Member, Melissa Riccobono (MD)
Board Member, Dorian Tuminello (LA)


2016 Jacob Bolotin Awards
Contact: Chris Danielsen, (410) 659-9314, Extension 2330
[email protected]

On July 5, 2016, the National Federation of the Blind presented the ninth annual Jacob Bolotin Awards at the NFB national convention. The cash awards, amounting to $50,000, were presented to individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions toward achieving the full integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality. The 2016 awards honored four innovators who are helping blind people live the lives they want.

A $5,000 award was presented to Audio and Braille Literacy Enhancement, Inc., a Wisconsin-based transcription service that converts textbooks for schoolchildren into Braille and is able to provide immediate transcription services for other classroom materials. A $10,000 prize was awarded to Oskar and Klaus Publishing, a company that produces children's books detailing the adventures of a real blind cat (Oskar) and his feline pal (Klaus), with the message of accepting those with different characteristics and not allowing blindness to prevent a cat, or person, from embarking upon extraordinary adventures. A $15,000 award was presented to Winston Chen for his creation of the mobile application Voice Dream Reader, which makes reading and navigating a variety of electronic documents possible with synthetic speech and an innovative, accessible user interface. A cash prize of $20,000 went to the Semitic Scholars, a group of three blind graduate students who created a Braille code for ancient Biblical languages. The code makes it possible for blind students to study source documents of religious texts independently in their original context--a feat that was previously impossible.

2016 Louis Braille Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation
National Braille Press
(617) 266-6160
Deadline for Applications: January 9, 2017

The Touch of Genius Award was established in 2007 by Frank Gibney of the Gibney Family Foundation to inspire people to go beyond what was once thought possible to further Braille and tactile literacy. An award of $20,000 will be granted for professional software and apps, educational software and apps, gaming software or apps that promote tactile or Braille learning, or Braille or tactile-related hardware. The 2015 Touch of Genius Award was presented to Dr. Betsy Flener and Joni Nygard for the development of the TactileTalk Toolkit and Guidebook for iPad: Strategies for Functional Communication and Literacy, a comprehensive program that teaches and reinforces tactile communication and literacy.

New President
Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired
(847) 446-8111

The Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired is pleased to announce that Julie S. Tye joined as president in May 2016. For the prior twenty-three years she served as president and CEO of the Cradle, a nationally recognized child welfare program specializing in adoption services. She spent the first part of her career in hospital and health care management. She received her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and her BA from Pace University in New York.

New Partnership
Envision Research Institute
Contact: (718) 404-9277
[email protected]

The Envision Research Institute and Wichita State University's Regional Institute on Aging have announced a partnership that will increase resources for both organizations and promote greater professional and academic interest in low vision rehabilitation. The goal is to inspire WSU's students and faculty to solve problems faced by individuals who are blind or visually impaired. Envision will benefit by gaining exposure across WSU departments to achieve a cross-disciplinary perspective that the organization deems essential to drive innovation and effect meaningful changes in the lives of those it serves.

NASA Internships
Application Deadline: March 1, 2017

NASA is looking to increase the number of students with disabilities pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers by recruiting students with disabilities to its regular internship programs. Disability is interpreted to mean both physical and mental disabilities. NASA has a 2-percent hiring goal for employment of people with disabilities, and internships are a good way to get experience. Paid internships for 2017 will be available for both high school and college students. Students can begin to apply on or about November 10, 2016. NASA will begin to extend offers to students in January and will continue until all positions are filled. As the number of positions is limited, those who apply early have the best chance of being accepted. To subscribe to an announcement-only list about NASA internships for persons with disabilities, send an email to [email protected] with "Subscribe" in the subject field, or visit <www.freelists.org/list/nasainterns>.

Destination Imagination
<www.destinationimagination.org> to register a team for the 2016-2017 season
Contact: (888) 321-1503
[email protected]

If your child or student is creative, is crazy about puzzles, can build anything out of cardboard boxes, writes amazing stories, is totally into science, or has rewired your toaster into a working time machine, then he or she will love Destination Imagination (DI)! DI challenges are all about fostering creativity, courage, and curiosity, and about teaching children how to think, not what to think. Each year DI offers seven open-ended challenges in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math, as well as fine arts, service learning, and early learning. Students form teams of two to seven members and work with a team manager (a parent or teacher). The team manager helps the team stay on track, but does not directly help the team with its solution to the DI challenge. Teams have the opportunity to showcase their challenge solutions to trained appraisers at a tournament.

PARCC and Smarter Balanced Survey
Contact: Valerie Yingling, (410) 659-9314, Extension 2440
[email protected]

The NFB is asking that parents, students, and teachers who have participated in PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments take time to complete the NFB's Common Core Assessment online. In particular, the NFB wants to know when and where accessibility and accommodation failures happened in order to ensure that any problems are fixed.

Rehabilitation and Employment Survey
Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB)
Louisiana Tech University
Contact: (318) 257-2029
[email protected]

If you are blind or visually impaired, reside in the United States, and are at least eighteen years of age, PDRIB cordially invites you to participate in this survey. The purpose of the survey is to gain a better understanding of your experiences as an adult who is blind or visually impaired, including your experiences with education, employment, training, and vocational rehabilitation. The survey should not take more than ten minutes of your time. If you complete the survey, your name will be entered into a drawing to win a gift card worth $100.

Art and Disability Institute
Art beyond Sight
Contact: Kashfia Huda, (212) 334-8720
[email protected]

Art Beyond Sight, in partnership with the Dedalus Foundation, and with the generous support of the Rubin Foundation, is pleased and proud to announce a new initiative, the Art and Disability Institute (ADI). ADI is a seminar-based critical study and professional development program serving emerging professional visual artists with disabilities and artists whose work engages with disability issues. It will begin its pilot year in October 2016. The ADI leadership team is currently seeking artists to participate in the program's pilot year and would like to request your help. Participating artists will attend fifteen seminars; plan, curate, and install a year-end exhibition of participant work; engage with peers and leaders in the contemporary art world; contribute to the development and shaping of the ADI program; and serve as mentors for future ADI participants.

Free Accessibility Training Boutiques
Contact: Clara van Gerven, [email protected]
Location: NFB Jernigan Institute
200 E. Wells St.
Baltimore, MD 21230

The NFB Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Public Information, and Commerce (CENA), with support from the Maryland Department on Disability through a nonvisual access initiative grant, continues to offer accessibility boutiques (introductions to accessibility) free of charge and open to the public. "Accessible Websites, Made Accessibly: An Introduction to Drupal" will be held on September 26, 2016. Check the website for more announcements!

Inclusive Education Conference: Achieving Education for All
Contact: (868) 662-2002
Location: University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad
Conference Dates: February 15-17, 2017

The University of the West Indies, in collaboration with the State University of New York at Potsdam, will host an international conference on inclusive education. Among the subthemes of the conference are inclusive approaches and practice in regular education, early childhood special education, using technology to achieve inclusion, social justice and advocacy, and student voices.


Using Nemeth Code within UEB Contexts
This free downloadable document can be of help to parents and teachers of students who are making the shift to Unified English Braille (UEB).

TactileTalk Toolkit and Guidebook for iPad: Strategies for Functional Communication and Literacy
Attainment Company
504 Commerce Parkway
PO Box 930160
Verona, WI 53593-0160
Contact: (608) 845-7880

This is the first tactile communication and literacy system utilizing voice output to be developed for the iPad. It was designed for students with visual impairments who have additional disabilities or for very young visually impaired children. The complete TactileTalk Toolkit contains the GoTalk Now app, TactileTalk Communication and Literacy book, twenty-five premade tactile overlays, five customizable overlays, and a comprehensive 116-page TactileTalk guidebook in large-print and electronic formats. The guidebook includes information about the development of TactileTalk, appropriate instruction in the use of tactile symbols, and ideas for additional tactile symbol overlays.

Sci-Voice Talking LabQuest 2
Independence Science

This new product from Independence Science offers internet connectivity, a larger hard drive than earlier versions, faster processor, on-demand published Vernier lab manuals in electronic format, statistical analysis data, and more. It includes the Sci-Voice Talking LabQuest; a USB keyboard; and three sensors: stainless steel temperature, differential voltage, and current. Additional sensors will be available from Independence Science on a case-by-case basis, determined by individual customer needs.


BridgingApps is a program of Easter Seals-Houston that provides access to educational and therapeutic tools--anywhere, any time. It allows parents, teachers, and therapists to use mobile devices and apps effectively to target and improve individual skill development to help children and adults with disabilities reach their highest levels of physical and cognitive development. Available research and success stories reflect the potential power of using touch-based technology and proper training to have a significant impact on the lives of people with disabilities. BridgingApps is a community of teachers, parents, therapists, and doctors who share information on how they are using the iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, and Android devices with people who have special needs. The goal is to provide professionals and caregivers with the best resources for choosing apps for people with disabilities and sharing their successes with others. The app review system focuses on skills rather than age, diagnosis, or developmental level to help improve skills.

Tactile Caliper
National Braille Press
Contact: (617) 266-6160

The Tactile Caliper is a simple to use, accurate, low-cost measuring ruler for the blind and visually impaired that provides a Braille output to 1/16 of an inch. Developed by Squirrel Devices (a past winner of the Louis Braille Touch of Genius Award), the caliper allows its user to measure with accuracy and speed. It displays readings directly in Braille. It is a simple mechanical instrument that can be used anywhere by people of all ages.

College Success Program for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Learning Ally

Learning Ally has established a new, research-based program to help blind and visually impaired students succeed in college. The College Success Core Curriculum helps students learn about the right and wrong ways to communicate with faculty, assess their technology skills, and determine where to invest their time. Learning Ally's mentoring program pairs college students with blind/visually impaired mentors who have completed their postsecondary studies and moved on to their careers. In order to get access to the College Success Program and to use Learning Ally's extensive collection of recorded textbooks and other materials, a student must sign up to become a Learning Ally member.

Great Expectations
National Braille Press

The Great Expectations program brings popular picture books to life by using a multisensory approach--songs, tactile play, picture descriptions, body movement, engaged listening--all designed to promote active reading experiences for children with visual impairments. Parents will learn how to describe a picture in a book, how to explore a book's visual concepts, and how to play and have fun telling "the whole story." Children will learn to listen carefully to words and feelings (voice, actions, scene, plot, and character development)--elements that they might otherwise miss by not seeing the pictures. The most recent addition to the Great Expectations series is Iggie Peck, Architect, by Andrea Beaty.

Oskar and Klaus Books

Oskar and Klaus: The Mission to Cataria
ISBN: 978-0-9907843-1-9
Oskar and Klaus, 40 pages, 2016

Oskar and Klaus: The Search for Bigfoot
ISBN: 978-0-9907843-0-2
Oskar and Klaus, 40 pages, 2014

Available in print, Braille, and audio formats, the Oskar and Klaus books relate the adventures of a feline odd couple for children ages four to nine. Oskar, blind since birth, seeks out new adventures at every turn, while Klaus prefers to play it safe by lounging around the house. Their first adventure begins with a camping trip in the Pacific Northwest, and their second takes them on a quest into outer space.

Tactile Picture Books Project
UCB 430
Boulder, CO 80309
Contact: Tom Yeh, [email protected]

The Tactile Picture Books Project has been developed by a team of academic researchers at the University of Colorado/Boulder to create 3D printed tactile picture books for children and to study the scientific and technical questions that arise. The first 3D-printable titles are available for free download.

Contact: Peter Limbrick, [email protected]
(0044) 01497-831550 (UK)

If you are looking for a publisher for your book on work with children with disabilities, Interconnections may be able to help. Interconnections seeks to disseminate theories, ideas, research findings, and innovative practice in print. Once your book has been accepted, Interconnections will edit, print, and design it, in full discussion with you. Interconnections will bear the cost of publication and will pay modest royalties.