Future Reflections

Volume 38 Number 4                          Convention 2019

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 © 2019 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
https://nfb.org/nopbc[email protected][email protected]




The Power of Unity
by Deborah Kent Stein


Kid Talk
by Mark Riccobono

Playing the Long Game and Beating the Odds
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

To Become a Blindness Skills Ninja
by Lisamaria Martinez

Tools for Success
by Alyssa Mendez, Anna Walker, and Vejas Vasiliauskas


Science Is Everywhere: Encouraging Curiosity, Experimentation, and
Tactile Exploration in Young Blind Children
by Melissa Riccobono

Maybe It's Not Because They're Blind: How Sensory Integration Exercises May Help Our Children
by Carol Castellano


Delora's Boy
by Anil Lewis

A House with Many Rooms
by Adrienne Shoemaker

The Greatest Danger of All
by Fred Schroeder

Support from Parent Leaders
by Sarah Erb, Emily Wagner Gindlesberger, and Carla Keirns

2019-2020 NOPBC Board Elections


Led by the Blind: Bringing Authenticity to Services for the Blind and Making
Them Relevant to the Lives We Want to Live
by Bryan Bashin

Not without Question: The Difference of the Federation Philosophy in Our Lives
by Jean Brown


2019 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
presented by James Gashel

Meet the 2019 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class
presented by Cayte Mendez


Welcome to Youth Track
by Amy Porterfield

Braille Carnival: A Swimming Success
by Julie Deden

Our Convention Adventures
by Nancy Horst


The American Action Fund Needs Your Help

General Announcements

Why Join the NOPBC?

Are you the parent of a blind/low-vision child? Don’t know where to turn? 

Have you ever wondered what your child will be capable of when he or she grows up? Are you concerned that your child’s future will be limited by blindness or low vision? Do you have questions about how to parent a blind child? We are here for you.

What is the NOPBC?

Founded in 1983, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), is a membership organization of families, friends, and educators of blind children. We have thousands of members in all fifty states plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.

Who is the NOPBC for?

We have a very inclusive definition of blindness which includes children who have some usable vision. Instead of focusing on what the child can or cannot see, we focus on the child and what she or he wants to be.
NOPBC is for families, educators, and friends of blind children, including those who have some usable vision. We welcome all families of blind children, and many of our children have both blindness and other disabilities.
We help families and blind children themselves maximize the child’s abilities and opportunities; we hold high expectations for all of our children, regardless of any additional disabilities they may have.

Why is the NOPBC a part of the National Federation of the Blind?

As a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest and most influential organization of blind people in the world, the NOPBC is well informed about the societal, legislative, and technological issues that affect blind people. We enjoy the resources, support, and expertise of fifty thousand blind people who can serve as mentors and role models for us and our children. When we as parents join the NOPBC, our children belong to the Federation family.

What is our mission?


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.

Why Join the NOPBC?

We have been where you are, and we want to support you and your blind child. We know that blindness does not define your child's future. 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.  
The NOPBC offers hope, encouragement, information, and resources for parents, families, and educators of blind children. NOPBC provides:

We offer a wide variety of 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. This conference 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.

Programs, activities, publications, and resources of the NFB and NOPBC

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

The Power of Unity

by Deborah Kent Stein

On the last day of the 2019 NFB convention, a close friend joined me at the Mandalay Bay Plaza. She is sighted, and she had never attended an NFB National Convention before. I wondered how she would feel in the midst of nearly three thousand blind people. Would I be able to put her at ease?

But my friend didn't express dismay or even surprise as we crossed the hotel lobby, surrounded by guide dogs and tapping canes. What captured her attention was something I didn't expect. "People are so comfortable with each other," she marveled. "People of all races, all ages, hanging out together—I've never seen this anywhere else."

The national convention of the National Federation of the Blind brings together people of all ethnic backgrounds and economic strata, people from every state in the country and from overseas. Our experience of blindness and our philosophy about what it means to be blind unite us across our outward differences. The NFB is a richly diverse organization. Our commitment to create a better future for all blind people draws us together and makes us strong.

The 2019 NFB National Convention took place July 7-12 at the Mandalay Bay Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Convention began with the annual conference of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). This year the theme was "Blindness Skills: The Only Sure Bet in Vegas." The day of presentations and workshops was only the beginning. The NOPBC planned exciting activities for parents and children throughout the week. When families weren't involved in structured activities, they browsed the exhibit halls or shared ideas and resources with new friends and old. And of course, there was always time somewhere for a visit to the aquarium or a splash in one of the hotel's pools.

During the last three days of convention attendees gathered by state delegation to hear inspiring presentations about opportunities and advances for blind people in education, accessible technology, and employment. Convention concluded with the annual banquet, including the presentation of the 2019 NFB National Scholarship awards and a powerful speech by NFB President Mark Riccobono. You can read President Riccobono's banquet address, "Choice, Exploration, and Resistance: The Road to Freedom for the Blind," at https://www.nfb.org/resources/speeches-and-reports/banquet-speeches/choice-exploration-and-resistance-road-freedom.

This issue of Future Reflections contains a selection of articles based on convention workshops and presentations, as well as personal experiences and descriptions of convention programs and events. If you attended the 2019 convention, the articles and photos in this issue may bring back rich memories. If you haven't yet attended an NFB convention, we hope you will be inspired to join us for Convention 2020. We look forward to seeing you in Houston!

Kid Talk

by Mark Riccobono

From the Editor: In keeping with long tradition, NFB President Mark Riccobono kicked off the NOPBC conference by meeting with the children. He sat on the floor at the front of the room, and the children gathered around him to have a conversation.

MARK RICCOBONO: I want to talk to you about a couple of things and see if you have questions. How many of you read Braille?

[CHORUS of “I's.” One "Barely."]

MR: Braille is really cool, isn't it? It opens up knowledge to you, and it gives you choices. Do some of you read print as well?

[CHORUS of “I's” and a few “nos.”]

MR: If you can't read print in certain situations, you can always Braille instead. It opens up lots of choices for you. None of you guys are twenty-one, right?

[Chorus of “no,” and laughter]

MR: Right. So you guys have got to walk fast through the casino! [more laughter] Just keep walking! You all are so lucky. You're starting to work on Braille—even barely Braille—before I did. I started when I was twenty-one. That's old, isn't it? [Laughter] You all are so fortunate that you have started earlier. You're going to have so many more choices when you turn twenty-one than I did, because you will already have known Braille and been able to use it effectively in your lives. That's going to create a whole bunch more opportunities for you. 

The earlier you get started with Braille, the longer you have to work with it. I work with Braille every day. I didn't get started till I was twenty-one. It's great that you get to start even earlier, because you have many more choices.

I'm going to tell you a secret. Don't tell anybody except your parents, all right? At this convention we're having a Braille Carnival. It's going to happen on Tuesday evening at seven o'clock. There is going to be all sorts of cool Braille there, sponsored by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. If you come, and if you are interested, you can get one of the first print/Braille tactile picture books. It's about an octopus. Imagine if an octopus could read Braille with eight arms! It could read many books at once! The Braille Challenge would not be a problem, would it? [Laughter]

You can be one of the first people to get a copy of Pedro and the Octopus. It's a print/Braille book that has tactile pictures in it. You should get this book, and then you should tell us what's wrong with it. How could we make it even better? There is much more for us to learn about how to make tactile pictures. Read the book, check out the pictures, and let us know what works and what doesn't work. If you're one of the first hundred or so families to come to the Braille Carnival, you can get a free copy of Pedro and the Octopus. Pretty cool, right? Then when you go to the aquarium here, you can tell the octopus all about it.

Let me ask you this. Are all of you members of the National Federation of the Blind? Okay, I hear a lot of yeses. Have each of you gotten your membership coin?

Kayla: It's in my mom's purse.

MR: I know there are other members of the Federation here, too. If you forgot your membership coin at home, or if for some reason you didn't get one yet, you can come by the Presidential Suite and I'll give you one. Have you all touched the membership coin? I'm going to pass it around.

This coin has Braille on it. It has three letters in Braille: t, g, and r. That's the contraction for together! I want you to come by and get one of these coins, because I want to remind you that together, as members of the National Federation of the Blind, we can do whatever we put our minds to. If there is something you're wondering about as a blind person, you can find somebody in the National Federation of the Blind who can help you. We know that we're stronger together. Together we can transform our dreams into reality. Maybe we'll even get an octopus to read Braille—who knows?

There are some other cool things happening at this convention that you should go and check out. We're going to have a Braille display that has 360 characters. It's a full-page Braille display. That's pretty cool. It's called the Canute. Why is it called the Canute? Well, you should go by the booth and ask them. Maybe you'll want to put it on your Christmas list. We also have the most low-cost Braille display that's ever been on the market. It's called the Orbit Reader. In the exhibit hall you're going to find hundreds of cool things related to Braille. All those things are there because of the National Federation of the Blind. So come by the Presidential Suite and get a coin so you can remember this convention. Then when you're twenty-one or twenty-five, or old like me—forty-three almost!—you'll be able to start passing choices to the next generation of blind kids.

Keep working on Braille, and continue to be members of the National Federation of the Blind. Have a great convention, everybody!

Playing the Long Game and Beating the Odds

by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

Introduction by Carol Castellano: Carlton Anne Cook Walker is the dedicated president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. It's hard to believe the hours and effort she puts in on our behalf. I'm so happy that we have such a dedicated person as our president! In addition to being our president, Carlton is an attorney, and she knows a lot about special education law. She's also a teacher of blind students. If you have a question, she's the person to go to. Here to present our National Organization of Parents of Blind Children Presidential Report is Carlton Walker.

I must take this opportunity to thank all the members of our board and our friends who aren't on the board but work with us. We couldn't do this without everyone's help, and we couldn't do it without the National Federation of the Blind supporting us every day!

As president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind, I welcome you and your families to our conference, "Blindness Skills: The Only Sure Bet in Vegas," and to the seventy-ninth annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. I'm excited to share with you a week filled with information, ideas, and love.

Blindness skills—what does that mean? It helps if we explore the word blind first. Some in society and in education suppose that the term blind may be used to refer only to individuals without any residual vision, but we in the NFB and NOPBC know better. As our late NFB President, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, set forth, "We believe that blindness can best be defined not physically or medically but functionally or sociologically." Thus we in the NFB believe that one is blind if that individual must devise alternative techniques to do efficiently those things that could be done visually by someone who has normal vision. Using this definition, we recognize that these alternative techniques, these blindness skills, allow our children to perform tasks in an effective, efficient, and age-appropriate manner, regardless of visual functioning. With blindness skills our children will be able to compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers. Vision or lack thereof will no longer be a factor in whether or not our children can succeed.

There is an old adage that Las Vegas wasn't built on winners. It makes perfect sense. There's no form of gambling that pays out more winnings than it takes in through wagers. Every single game of chance in Las Vegas favors the house. The only way to beat the odds is to refrain from playing the game. One might enjoy gambling and be willing to risk a loss for the excitement of the game. However, if a person invests rent money or food money in the hope of hitting it big, that person is likely to fall into debt, a debt from which that person may never recover.

For our children, counting on visual skills is truly a gamble. In the short term a child might be able to use residual visual skills well in some environments. However, residual visual skills are just that—residual. Our children have only a fraction of the visual abilities of their typically sighted peers. When they use their residual vision for academic and daily tasks, they must struggle much more than their peers who have typical vision. Also, as we get older, we need to do more things more quickly more of the time. Our children have far better things to do with their time and energy than struggling to see. They need to be able to play the long game, the game of life.

The short-term strategy of relying on visual skills is like a game of five-card stud poker in which our children are only allowed to have three cards. Sure, they still might win some games. They might win with three of a kind, a pair, or even a single high card. However, everyone else who gets dealt five cards can win with two pairs, a straight, a full house, four of a kind, or a royal flush. No matter how hard our children work, no matter how smart they are, and no matter how lucky they are, their odds of winning are substantially decreased when they can only rely upon visual skills. Sadly, many children who rely on visual skills alone find themselves on a steady lifetime losing streak.

Yet, for some reason, many educational professionals encourage us to help our children "maximize" their vision. They want our children to rely most heavily upon the very tool that doesn't work well for them. They want to limit our children to only three cards in a five-card game. These professionals often shun blindness skills such as Braille, cane travel, and nonvisually accessible technology. Some even claim that our children are not "blind enough" for Braille or cane travel, even though these are the very skills that will allow them to play the game with a full set of cards.

The worst part about this is that our children come to believe that they can only be maximized by their vision. As their vision proves less and less useful, our children begin to think that they are less and less useful themselves, and their self-esteem plummets. However, there is a better way. Instead of maximizing vision, we must help our children maximize themselves. Maximizing vision will always leave our children behind. There is no vision maximization tool or technique that allows our children to perform as efficiently, effectively, or independently as they would if they had typical vision. For our children blindness skills are the answer. With proper Braille instruction, our children can read literature, math, science, and music as efficiently as they would with typical vision, and without visual fatigue, poor posture, or the need for special lighting. With proper cane travel instruction, our children can move about their homes, schools, and communities as effectively as they would have with typical vision. With proper instruction in nonvisually accessible technology, tactile graphics, and independent living skills, our children can use technology, read graphics, and perform jobs around the home and community as independently as they would if they had typical vision.

Some of you may be thinking, okay, Carlton, what you say makes some sense. I absolutely don't want issues with my child's vision to hold my child back. I hope you're right about these blindness skills. But even if you are, what can I do about it? I don't know any blindness skills, and the school says my child doesn't need them. What can I do?

That's a great question, and here's my answer. You've already taken the first step toward getting your child blindness skills because you are here. Today and throughout this week the NOPBC will host workshops and events designed to provide you the information you need to help your child learn and master blindness skills. In a few moments you will hear from the highly accomplished Lisamaria Martinez and later from a panel of blind high school and college students who will share with you the impact of blindness skills in their lives. We will then attend concurrent sessions and have fun with our children at Family Game Night, where our Megan Bening Memorial Fund will give away ten thousand dollars in technology. Tomorrow we invite you to join us for more informational sessions and our Cane Walk. Also tomorrow we have the NOPBC Style Show, where our children have the opportunity to strut their stuff and build their self-confidence, most of them using canes.

Tuesday brings the NOPBC annual meeting, including information from NFB Executive Director for Blindness Initiatives, Anil Lewis; a speech by the 2019 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children, Adrienne Shoemaker; a panel of middle-school students; and the Braille Book Fair, where every Braille book is free, as is the shipping!

Wednesday evening brings more workshops, including a hands-on Braille party and our mini-BELL® and IEP advocacy workshops. We also have our Parent Leadership Program (PLP), with activities for parents who are interested in learning more about us and the NFB.

And that's just the NOPBC Conference! As I shared earlier, we in the NOPBC are a proud division of the NFB. Even though many of us are not blind, the NFB and its blind members teach and support us every day. Throughout this week the NFB convention will provide you with opportunities to learn more about technology, and you will have the chance to purchase high quality, blindness-friendly items from the NFB Independence Market. You will be treated to three days of our General Sessions, where you will hear where we, as the organized blind, have been and where we are headed.

But wait! I haven't shared the best part! Actually you have already experienced some of it. Just a few minutes ago, we heard NFB President Mark Riccobono speaking with our children. Think about it! The President of the nation's largest blindness consumer group began his day here, with our children! Despite being pulled in dozens of directions, he carved out time to speak with our kids. This speaks volumes! Here at the NFB convention you'll find literally thousands of people who know blindness skills and use them every day. What's more, most of these blind people are ready, willing, and able to help you and your child.

By belonging to a proud division of the NFB, NOPBC members are NFB members. That's right—you are a member of the National Federation of the Blind. If you have not already done so, get connected with the NFB affiliate in your state. We veteran members of the NFB and NOPBC would love to connect you, and your affiliate president is eager to meet you. By connecting with your affiliate you're going to connect your child with blind mentors year-round, not just for one week in Las Vegas.

I encourage you to view the NFB convention as a family reunion. If you're new to us, it's like meeting your in-laws for the first time. It can feel a little overwhelming, so start slowly. Talk to one person, and then talk to someone else. Just as you would at a family reunion, you'll see that we're all related. We are a family. We all want the next generation to succeed. We know that, for our children, the only sure bet in Vegas or anywhere else is blindness skills.

In August 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., declared, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Here in the NFB and the NOPBC we have a dream, too. We have a dream that our blind children will have access to the blindness skills and the tools that will allow them to enjoy life and find success based upon what they can do, not on what they can see.

I'll close with our one-minute message, which is kind of our mantra here in the National Federation of the Blind: We in the National Federation of the Blind know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines our children or their futures. Every day we raise expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. Our blind children can have the lives they want. Blindness is not what holds them back.

Welcome. It's going to be a fabulous week!

To Become a Blindness Skills Ninja

by Lisamaria Martinez

Introduction by Carlton Ann Cook Walker: Lisamaria Martinez has a wealth of experience in blindness skills training for adults and children. Recently she left the safety of a full-time job to strike out on her own. She started a business called Be Confident, Be You! Here is Lisamaria.

Come to the edge!
We might fall.
Come to the edge!
It's too high!
Come to the edge.
And they came,
And he pushed,
And they flew.

That's one of my favorite poems. I love to share it with audiences like this one. I learned it from Teresa Postello, who received an award from the National Federation of the Blind two short years ago and since then has passed away. She was a wonderful teacher of the visually impaired in the San Francisco Bay area, and she shared this poem with a bunch of educators of blind folks. I think it is a brilliant summation of what we do here in the Federation. We ask our students to come to the edge. Then we push them off, and they fly. But first we give them the skills they need.

I love Carlton's theme that blindness skills are the only sure bet in Vegas! If you've got the proper blindness skills, you're not going to go wrong. You are going to win. It's going to happen.

The more skills you have, the better equipped you are to handle whatever comes in life. I like to tell students that the more tools you have in your toolbox, the more you'll succeed. If you have some vision and use a gigantic Sharpie pen, what can you do if you can't read your own handwriting? Then you learn Braille. Instead of using the Sharpie that you can't read, you use your slate and stylus to take down phone numbers.

Speaking of phone numbers, take out your phones. We're going to do something kind of crazy. Open up your text app, and I'm going to give you a number to text. You're going to be texting me. I want your name and where you're from. If you have a question, ask it in the text. Now you have my number, and I can be a resource for you. So text 510-289-2577. I will shortly be getting text buzzes on my Apple Watch.

I'm going to tell you a little about my growing up and how I became a blindness skills ninja. That's the phrase I like to use, but I also like the idea of an eight-armed octopus being able to reach out and read eight Braille books at once! A lot of people don't know my story of growing up as a blind kid. I lost my vision when I was five. I had only light perception. I spent a couple of years going to eye doctors, because everyone wanted to fix me. They thought that if I had some vision my life would be better. That's the gut reaction most parents have when their child first loses vision or they find out that their child is blind. You want the best for your child! So they took me to lots of eye doctors, and when I was twelve I had two eye surgeries. Eventually I got some vision restored. It was only in one eye, and I could only see colors. The doctors were very disappointed. It wasn't a big success to them. But I was happy! I could see colors!

When I was a teenager I started to notice some things visually. I noticed that the page that was just handed to me was blank on one side, but when I flipped it over, I could see print. Then my friends started to notice that I could see the headlines on magazines and newspapers. Over the years I started to regain some of my vision. But this is not the typical story of a blind person! Most blind people lose vision as their eye conditions progress.

I share this story with you because I was lucky. I was lucky to lose all of my vision in the beginning! There was no question about how to proceed in my education. There was no doubt that I was going to learn Braille. There was no doubt that I was going to use this awesome cane that is currently decorated with rainbow-colored hair-bands. There was no doubt that I was going to learn alternative skills to do everything. There was no choice—it was what was going to happen. I feel very lucky, because it was easy.

I was homeschooled in kindergarten and then mainstreamed in first grade, and I became a very fluent Braille reader. My introduction to the National Federation of the Blind was as a second grader, when I won in my Braille Readers Are Leaders grade category. It was exciting back in 1988 to read 2,081 pages. Of course, nowadays we have seven-year-olds reading far more pages than that! That's exciting to me, because it means there is much more access to Braille nowadays. There wasn't much Braille available back in the 1980s. You got books from the National Library Service for the Blind, or else the Braillist in your school district transcribed books for you—if you were lucky enough to have a Braillist in your school district.

Despite being a fluent Braille reader, despite learning to use my cane to get around, I still wasn't confident as a blind person. I wanted to walk human guide with my parents. They would tell me to bring my cane, and I would argue with them. I'd say, "I don't need my cane. I have you!" My parents would say, "What if we get hurt?" I'd say, "Then I'll just ask for help." "What if there's no one around?" "I'll scream really loud!" I had an answer for everything. I just didn't want to use my cane. I thought I didn't need it. I could get around in school just fine.

When I was thirteen I went to the summer program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana. That's where I met some pretty cool people who are movers and shakers in the blindness world. They were much younger back then. My goals in the Buddy Program were to learn to make grilled cheese and to learn how to iron. I was into ironing back then. (That stopped in college!) Those were my two goals. I came away with a peace within me that I discovered through the freedom that my cane gave me. I learned in one month that my cane truly was the tool that gave me freedom. It gave me the freedom to go to the park. It gave me the freedom to go to an ice cream shop. It gave me the freedom to go grocery shopping. It gave me the freedom to get up and go wherever I wanted to go, whenever I wanted to go there. I didn't have to wait for someone to take me.

What I didn't know until I came back from Louisiana was that my friends were tired of taking me around. They didn't want to tell me, because they didn't want to hurt my feelings. They were my friends, and they loved me. These are people who are still my friends today. Twenty-five years ago they didn't want to say, "Hey, LM, I don't want to take you around! It's not fun for me. It's not cool in junior high to be taking you from class to class!" They were thrilled that I was using my cane!

That was the beginning of the rest of my life. I learned that being a blindness-skills ninja was really important. What was key—and this is something I only learned by hanging out with other blind people—was what it meant to be confident. I like to give people the acronym BAANG! I spell "baang" differently; it has two A's.

B is for blindness skills. Be a blindness-skills ninja!

A is for advocacy. As blind people we need to advocate for ourselves in many, many situations.

The other A in BAANG is for academics. It is really important as parents that you push your children to do the best that they possibly can in school. I absolutely understand that we are all individuals, and we have many different circumstances. But if you are blind only, there is no excuse for you not to do all your homework every day. If you're assigned twenty math problems, you should do twenty. When you grow up, your employer is not going to pay you a full salary to do half the job. It's important to learn to be efficient and effective.

The N in BAANG is for networking. Networking is going to happen a lot this week. Find blind people who you and your children can talk to. Learn from them. I'm now part of your network. Feel free to text me any time of the day.

The G in BAANG is for getting involved. Nothing is going to happen if you lie in bed with the covers over your head. Volunteer! Go out in the community and do things that make you excited and happy. As a blind child growing up in this world, the more experiences you get under your fingertips, the better equipped you are for success. There are some things we miss out on because we don't see them. So how do we know they're there? We have to explore the world!

These are all necessary tools to being a blindness-skills ninja. As Carlton Walker has said, blindness skills are the only sure bet in Vegas! I promise you, they're the only sure bet outside Vegas, too.

I was in my mid-twenties when I used a magnifier for the first time. I got it because I was terrified that I was going to flunk statistics in graduate school. I had had math under my fingertips from the time I was six. In grad school, at the age of twenty-five, for the first time in my life I could not get my book in Braille. I received it on a CD from the organization that was originally called Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic, and which is now known as Learning Ally. How do you do math using an audio CD? I did it, and I passed with an A, but I was terrified, so I supplemented by putting the print book under my CCTV. It was stressful, because it caused a lot of eyestrain.

Here's one reason I want to focus on blindness skills rather than maximizing vision. When I was in college I liked to go to the movies to de-stress. After finals my friends and I would get five-dollar tickets, we'd get popcorn, and we'd sit in the theater and chill. One day I went with a friend, and I was told that the movie was at Door Three on the left. As we walked down the hall, I was using my eyes to count the doors. I went up to what I thought was Door Three, but I really wasn't sure. There was a dark spot on the wall that could have been a door. Maybe it was Door Four. I really didn't know.

Someone was standing next to what I thought was the door, so I walked up to the person and said, "Hey, is this Door Three?" The person didn't say anything. I said, "Hello! Is this Door Three?" The person still didn't say a thing. I thought, I hate it when sighted people pretend they don't see me! I turned around and stomped off, annoyed. Then someone walked by and said, "Ma'am, that was a cardboard cutout of a person." [Laughter]

Now, if I had used my cane, I could have tapped the doors and counted. I would have known for sure that I was at Door Three on my left. And if I had tapped the cardboard person, it might have fallen over—and then I would have panicked that they had fainted! [Laughter] But I think that from the lack of a boom, I would have figured out pretty quickly that it wasn't a real human being.

That story is about me trying to maximize the crummy vision I have. I like to tell people, please think about it this way: Would you rather be a competent blind person or an incompetent sighted person?

I'm going to leave you with the poem I opened with, so it will stay in your memory.

Come to the edge.
We might fall!
Come to the edge.
It's too high!
Come to the edge.
And they came
And we pushed,
And they flew.

Tools for Success

by Alyssa Mendez, Anna Walker, and Vejas Vasiliauskas

Introduction by Carlton Ann Cook Walker: We have a fabulous student panel with us this year. We have Alyssa Mendez, who is a seventeen-year-old rising senior in high school. Alyssa has had more than her fair share of issues—not with her vision, but with people not providing her with the accommodations she needs. She has proven that she can succeed when she has those accommodations. Next is Anna Walker—yes, we are related! [Laughter] She is eighteen, and she recently graduated from high school. For her last two years of high school she moved from a brick-and-mortar building to a cyberschool, and she augmented that with classes at the local community college. Then we have Vejas Vasiliauskas from California, who is a college student. We're going to hear from each of them about the tools that have helped them succeed.

VEJAS VASILIAUSKAS: Good morning! I hope you're having an awesome first day at convention! I would sincerely like to thank NOPBC President Carlton Anne Cook Walker and the rest of the NOPBC board for their dedication and for their willingness to include me on the panel. I would also like to thank my parents, Rasa and Eric Vasiliauskas, without whom I would not be the person I am today.

My name is Vejas Vasiliauskas, and I am a rising college senior English major at Marymount University. I'm interning this summer at the law school associated with my college, where I am working on disability innovation. I'm thrilled to be able to speak to you today. Whether this is your first time attending convention, or if you have been attending for quite a while, you are going to find some great activities and make awesome connections.

My younger brother, Petras, and I both have Norrie disease, a condition that causes us to be blind and gradually to lose our hearing as we grow older. We haven't let it stop us from doing what we would like to do!

My parents always wanted me and my brother to be given equal opportunities with our sighted peers. As the parent of a blind child, most of your concerns will probably take the form of three questions: Will my child be able to read? Will my child be able to lead an independent life? Will my child get a guide dog? The answers are yes, yes, and possibly.

The NFB will provide you with some wonderful mentors, not only in the form of fellow parents and blind adults, but also in historical figures such as Jacobus tenBroek and Kenneth Jernigan. Their legacies live on in the NFB. From listening to President Walker you already know that blind individuals are faced daily with low expectations, and they must prove their capability. The thought of having your child attend a training center may seem too distant in the future, but it's something to think about now. Talking to successful graduates of training centers and their parents will consistently reiterate the fact that, as corny as it may sound, everything will be okay!

There are lots of training centers aimed at helping the blind, so choosing one can be daunting. Expectations vary greatly among training programs. The higher the expectations a training center holds, the greater the likelihood that your child's quality of life will benefit.

The National Federation of the Blind operates three training centers that are very highly regarded. The NFB training centers are the Louisiana Center for the Blind in Ruston, Louisiana; BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis, Minnesota; and the Colorado Center for the Blind in Littleton, Colorado. While each program has a slightly different focus, all of them offer classes in Braille, technology, cane travel, home management, and wood shop. Each center allows students to work at their own pace. In each program students have the opportunity to go on field trips, to experience a variety of settings, and to learn to travel in crowds.

When I was at LCB (the Louisiana Center for the Blind), students were eligible to travel to a ranch in Arkansas. At the ranch we experienced hiking, rock climbing, zip-lining, and horseback riding. Later during my time at LCB we experienced the wild culture that is Mardi Gras, with jazz, traditional Cajun food, and more beads than you'll ever know what to do with! [Laughter]

I would like to stress the importance of children learning Braille and technology. Sadly, when students have some limited vision, many schools and TVIs insist they become proficient in large print, claiming that Braille is unnecessary. I never had enough vision for this to happen to me. However, I have talked with many large-print users. Often their eyes are tired by the middle of the day, and the fonts on their computer screens continue to increase every year. If your school is resistant to your child learning Braille, please don't give up the fight!

As far as technology is concerned, a blind student must learn to use multiple platforms. A site that is not accessible on an iPhone may actually work perfectly with a computer using JAWS or NVDA.

Currently my primary device is a BrailleNote Apex connected with my iPhone. I also use a PC running JAWS and a second, slightly lower tech Braille display, the Vario Ultra 40, for backup. I wish I had spent more time in middle and high school on the computer rather than relying so much on the BrailleNote's browser. With ever increasing changes in technology, the BrailleNote is still running Internet Explorer 6! [Laughter] It's always critical to have independent backup strategies. Life doesn't stop when your notetaker dies!

Some of you may be wondering when your child should attend a training center. I suggest that students attend at the end of high school, before the first year of college. Your child can apply for college with his or her peers and then defer entering school. Training before college will allow students to freshen up their skills, and it will give them less academic stress and more social freedom when the real academic rigor begins.

Of course, all of these skills will have to be reinforced from time to time. One example is cooking. Many students who live in college dorms may not be able to utilize their cooking skills very often. Once they have mastered cane skills, blind adults have the choice to receive a guide dog and go through the necessary training.

You don't have to wait until your children are out of high school for them to step their toes into the training environment, as they say. Each of the three NFB training centers has summer camps called Buddy Programs for children ranging in age from nine to fourteen. The Buddy Programs usually run for three weeks. They allow children to learn basic blindness skills and take outings to exciting places. When I was a Buddy at BLIND, Inc., my favorite outing was a trip to Wild Mountain Water Park. You can learn more about the NFB training centers throughout this convention. 

Thank you, and have an amazing convention experience! Remember, everything will be okay. [Applause]

ANNA WALKER: Hello, I'm Anna Walker. As you heard, I have been going to classes through an online high school and also attending a community college. On the whole, the community college was more accessible than any other school I have ever attended. When I went to college and started taking Chemistry One, I talked to the professor, and within a few weeks I had LabQuest with accessible programs. I became one of the most efficient people in the chemistry lab. My chemistry professor even asked the school to get more LabQuests so the other students could use them! I recently completed that class with an A.

I have multiple disabilities. I have severe dyslexia and probably some ADHD. When I was in middle school I was told many times that my slow reading speed was due to the fact that I was using Braille. That is one time I was grateful that I can, under certain circumstances, read some print! They were able to determine that I am just as dyslexic in print as I am in Braille! However, because of my issues with Braille, the school was unwilling to let me get a BrailleSense. I had used one from third to fifth grade. They finally got me a BrailleNote, which I did not like because I already had learned the operating system with the BrailleSense. Now I finally have an emotional support BrailleSense Polaris! [Applause]

ALYSSA MENDEZ: Hi, I'm Alyssa Mendez: I'm from Florida. President Walker mentioned that I have had some problems getting services and accessible materials from my school district. I went to school in Georgia through seventh grade, and I was getting Braille materials and other services. When I was in ninth grade in Florida, they didn't want to set up an IEP for me, and they didn't want to use my old IEP from Georgia, either. Once we did get an IEP, they wanted to take a lot of things out. Braille was one of them. Not having Braille was a problem, because I can't read large print or regular print for more than ten minutes without getting a migraine, and then I can't read for the rest of the day.

It was hard for me to get material, and we fought for a long time with the school district. My mom would sometimes read my work to me. Sometimes I would take pictures and scan them in, and that way I was able to have VoiceOver read to me. I would ask my teachers to email things to me, and sometimes they would, but other times they wouldn't.

In the middle of tenth grade I got a BrailleNote Touch from the school district. They didn't teach me to use it, so I didn't get much use out of it that year. Then I went to LCB (Louisiana Center for the Blind) over the summer before my junior year. I learned a lot of skills there. I learned to use the BrailleNote Touch, and I learned to use a screen reader, JAWS. JAWS was very helpful.

During my junior year I started taking virtual classes at home because they were more accessible than my classes in school. When I started, I didn't have the best skills with JAWS. I would get really close to my computer screen to read it, and I wasn't finishing work efficiently. Sometimes I would just click random answers to be done. I had to continue working on my JAWS skills.

This year I finished all my classes online, using JAWS. [Applause] 

I don't know how fast I have JAWS set, but it's pretty fast; my mom can't understand it! I finished my classes early, and I started late, so that was really nice.

Also I wasn't getting O&M from my school district, and I wasn't competent at crossing streets. Sometimes I didn't even use my cane, I was just carrying it. I was embarrassed; I didn't want to be the only kid using a cane. Then I got really good O&M instruction at LCB over the summer, and now I continue to use my cane. I'm confident in crossing streets for the most part now. I think the summer training centers are really important. I've gotten a lot of great help there, and I really recommend them.

Science Is Everywhere: Encouraging Curiosity, Experimentation, and Tactile Exploration in Young Blind Children

by Melissa Riccobono

From the Editor: Young children are scientists. They love to tamper, test, and experiment in their eagerness to discover how the world works. Blind children are no exception, but a variety of factors sometimes hinder their impulses and close off their opportunities. This article is based on a presentation at the NOPBC conference in which Melissa Riccobono suggested practical ways to encourage exploration by blind infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary-school children.

I've worked with kids in many capacities. In this presentation I'm drawing on my experiences as a parent, a BELL® coordinator (Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning®), and a former school counselor.

Maria Montessori often said that children are little scientists. They are constantly exploring and trying to understand why things are the way they are. We must make sure that our blind kids are encouraged to explore and to be little scientists like their sighted peers. Sometimes this can be challenging. The world isn't always set up well for children in general or for blind children in particular.

Learning through Touch

When a baby reaches out to touch something, unless the object is hot or sharp or dangerous in some other way, adults probably will let the baby touch it. But by the time that child is one or two years old, what are parents saying all day long? "No! Don't touch! Don't touch this, don't touch that! No no!"

Naturally kids have to learn some limits. If they want to touch the stove while you're cooking, you have to say no. You help them understand why they can't touch it, that touching it will hurt them. But if your child is blind and doesn't know what a stove is, you need to let your child touch the stove when it isn't turned on. The child needs to learn which parts of the stove get hot, and what a burner is. Children need to learn where the knobs are and what a stove does. If you're holding their hands and keeping them safe, they can find out from a safe distance what heat feels like when the stove is on. They need to know what the whoosh! means when you turn on the gas.

Even with some limited vision, what your child is able to see may not be anything close to the whole picture. Kids with low vision need to touch things. In fact, I believe that all children need to be able to touch things. Touch is an important way for children to explore the environment. I think that for children from zero to eight years old, touching is okay, although of course we have to teach boundaries.

Every summer I teach at the BELL program in Baltimore, Maryland, and I've had many opportunities to observe how blind children explore. Sometimes when I hand an object to a child, the child is very curious. Some children move their hands very systematically from top to bottom and left to right, or they start at the middle and go to the edges. They'll feel all around the object and notice lots of details. But some children are much more passive. They just lay their hand on the object and keep it still, or maybe they touch one corner with one finger. Your children need to be encouraged to explore the whole area of an object before they can understand it.

Encouraging Exploration

You can encourage exploration in many ways. You can talk to your children about how big something is, using a reference that they will understand. If the object is small enough, you can have the child put a hand on each side. If you enter an unfamiliar room, you might stand at one end and have your child stand at the other end, back by the door. When you talk, your child can get an idea of how far away you are.

When children are reluctant to touch things and explore with their hands, professionals sometimes refer to the condition as tactile defensiveness. Casey Robertson wrote a wonderful article about this phenomenon for Future Reflections a couple of years ago. It's called "I Don't Like That," and it offers a number of suggestions for helping children overcome their reluctance to touch things so they can learn to explore tactilely. You need to develop and encourage those skills slowly over time, and the younger the child is when you get started, the better. The sense of touch is very important for your kids, so you'll want to be sure they learn to use it fully.

Ongoing Conversations

You also need to talk to your child. I was very lucky because I had a mom who talked to me all the time. She talked about what she was doing around the house. She explained the noises that we heard and the smells I noticed. We talked a lot about textures—smooth and rough, hard and soft.

My mother and I talked about directions: up and down, front and back, above and below. Kids don't know these things automatically. I've sat in meetings where a teacher says, "The child is only two! He's not ready to learn up and down yet." It makes me laugh! You mean we can't say up and down to a two-year-old? These are directional concepts that any child should learn as early as possible! Don't be afraid to use words such as above, below, in, out, right, and left. Your child might not understand the concept right away, but it doesn't make sense for you to avoid using those words until a teacher says the child is ready!

General Knowledge

It's very important to talk to your child about colors. I'm totally blind. I can't see colors at all, but I like to know what colors things are. It's important for your blind child to know that the sky is blue on a nice day, but when it's cloudy the sky is gray. Sometimes there are white, puffy clouds in the sky, and sometimes there are heavy dark clouds. Your children need to know all that as part of their general knowledge. It's information they might come across in conversations or stories.

As time passes you may discover that your child has assumed certain things that are not actually correct. I just turned forty this past year, and I always assumed that apple juice is red. I just found out two days ago that apple juice is more of a yellowish color! I had no idea! My mom told me many, many things—I knew that apples can be green, they can be yellow, and they can be red. Mostly when you talk about an apple, you talk about a red one. I just assumed that apple juice is red, and I never thought to ask. Apples are red, so naturally apple juice should be red, right? It's not that my mother neglected me or did something wrong. She just never thought about it, and I never thought about it, either.

There will always be moments like that, and that's okay. As you go through your day, ask yourself, "What might my child not know?" You might try asking, "What color do you think this is?" Even if your children don't actually know what color is, it's good for them to have an idea what colors things usually are. It's a good frame of reference as they grow up. As a parent I am really happy that I have all the incidental knowledge I gained from my parents so I can teach my own children.

Questions, Questions, Questions!

When your child asks questions, pay attention and try to answer. I know it can be hard to find the time, when you're busy running here and there and juggling a hundred chores at once! Maybe you can take one day a month, and tell your child, "This is going to be a slow day. On this slow day you can ask as many questions as you want, and we're going to explore as many things as we can."

Maybe your child asks you, "What is an ATM machine?" Go visit an ATM, and let your child explore it thoroughly. Explain how you get money out of the machine. Show your child where you insert the card and where you punch in the numbers—and make sure you explain that you can't just take out as much money as you want, any time you want it!

On the next slow day you might visit a baseball field. You can walk from first base to second base to home plate, visit the outfield, and climb on the bleachers.

Give your children as many experiences as you can. The younger they are when you begin to do this, the better! My mom was great at doing this kind of thing! We explored storm sewers, and I listened to the water running down the pipes. We walked up and down the boulevard in our town, and I touched the flowers that were planted there. Some of the flowers were wide open and gorgeous! Some were wilted and droopy, the saddest-looking flowers ever! I learned the difference between a really pretty flower and a flower that needs help.

Later on, things changed for me. When I was in high school a piece of sculpture was set up near my school. My mother said, "There's a new piece of art out here! Do you want to touch it?" What do you think I said? "No, Mom! No! What if my friends see me touching the sculpture?" I was embarrassed. I'm very grateful that my mother took the time to show me things when I was little, before I became self-conscious. Please understand, I'm not saying you should give up on showing things to your children when they're older. It's just that you might get some resistance.

Above and Beyond

When you and your child explore something, it's very important to show your child the whole object, or as much of it as you can. A tree is a good example. When you're a little kid and you touch a tree, you might not understand that it has branches, depending on how tall the tree is and how tall you are. For a long time I thought a tree was a big round trunk with bark on it. I knew there were supposed to be leaves and branches somewhere, but I had no real idea what they were like. Eventually my dad picked me up and showed me some branches. Later, as I got older, they let me climb trees, which was awesome! I loved it! I was a tomboy, and I was all about anything I could climb.

Sometimes you may not be able to let your child touch the real thing. Then you might show your child a model or a 3-D printed version. You might use a tactile picture. You might lift your child up to reach something that's high overhead. Your child might use the cane to find out how high a ceiling is or to touch the top of a doorway. You can tap on something that's high above your child's head to give an idea of height through sound.

Give your child safe places to explore. Sometimes leave your kids alone to explore on their own. If your kids are in the back yard and you're on the patio, it should be okay for your child to venture out and find things.

Time to Explore

I think independent exploration is very important for all children, not just children who are blind. I find it sad that schools now have structured recess. Not only do you have to be structured when you're in the classroom; you have to be structured on the playground, too. You have to play the games you're told to play. I think a lot of kids don't get the chance to be unstructured. They don't get the chance to roll on the grass or find a stick and play with it. Of course it's important for kids to be safe, but it's also important for them to have the chance to explore with peers or to explore alone.

Exploring can go on inside the house, too. My mom's kitchen had a cupboard I could climb into. When mom was washing dishes or cooking on the stove, I had pots and pans to play with. I could bang on a pan with a spoon and pretend to stir things. I could put pans on my head or drop them on the floor. I was out of my mother's way, and I was busy exploring. I didn't always use things in the ways that were intended, but that's what being a little scientist is about. A pan can be a hat sometimes. A pan can be a drum, or a couple of pans can be cymbals. A pan can be a trap for catching aliens! Pans should not just be pans.

I was able to play so well with pans because my mom had taught me a bit about cooking. She showed me what she did with pans, and she taught me to stir. I knew what pans were used for in the adult world, but I also was free to explore other possibilities on my own.

How Things Work

Whenever you can, allow your children to try to figure out how things work. I'm not suggesting you do this every single time they get their hands on something new. Maybe they're getting frustrated, and it's almost bedtime, and it makes sense for you to step in and help. But if your child wants to try to figure out how something works, let that happen.

For me it was batteries. I don't know why, but I loved batteries when I was a kid. I remember playing with a nine-volt battery; it was a telephone, a TV, and a radio all at once. I guess I was ahead of my time! It sounds a lot like a cell phone, doesn't it?

Anyway, I loved batteries, and I knew that batteries went into things. My favorite toy was a tape recorder. Remember those cassette tapes, the kind that got unwound sometimes? I'd get really sad whenever that happened!

My cassette recorder used batteries. I'd take it to my mom and say, "My batteries are dead," and she'd put in new ones. Then one day I said, "I want to put them in myself! How do they go?"

At first it was hard. I didn't realize that you had to push the battery against a spring, and I didn't know which end had to go in which direction. I sat for about fifteen minutes, trying to figure it out, before I gave up and asked for help. In some ways the experience was frustrating, but in other ways it taught me a lot. I think too often kids aren't given time to explore and learn on their own.

Children need to learn that they're probably not going to do a new task perfectly the first time. It's important to let kids make mistakes! Making mistakes is part of being a scientist. A lot of inventions came after a great deal of failure. Some inventions happened by pure accident. Mistakes and even failures are valuable learning opportunities for our kids.

When I was little I didn't believe that any sighted person ever got lost. I truly thought that sighted people never made mistakes. If you make a mistake when you're trying to do something, let your child know. "Uh-oh, I just took a wrong turn!" If you're a teacher, make sure your students know that you make mistakes, too, just like they do.

Pudding and Pasta

One more thing I would like to say—let your children make messes! I know messes are totally okay for some parents, and for other parents a mess is the worst thing ever! I let my children paint each other with pudding one day, and my husband said, "I don't want to be anywhere near you when you're doing this! I don't even want to know this is happening!" The kids had so much fun! It was awesome! Then I hosed down the deck, and everything was fine by the time my husband came home. He thought it was fine that I was doing it—he just didn't want to be around when it happened. If you're not a person who can deal with messes, find someone who is, so your kids can have those experiences.

Another thing you can do with your kids is practice skills through play. Wading pools, water tables, and bathtubs are terrific places to practice filling, measuring, pouring, stirring, spooning, and splashing. A little water might get on the floor, but most of the mess will stay in the bathtub.

Sand is great, too. Sand at the beach is fine, but I'll admit that I do not love sandboxes. Sand gets all over the place! But sand is another great learning tool. With sand you can practice building, filling a bucket, sifting, and pouring. What is sand like when it's wet? How is it different when it's dry? 

Something else I love is dry pasta. When my son was small we had a pasta box. It was a long, low bin, the kind you might slide under a bed. We bought all kinds of pasta: wagon wheels, bow ties, spirals, big shells, and little shells. We put everything into the pasta bin, and we could play with it in so many ways! We dug roads in it, we sorted it, and we counted it. We shoveled it. We hauled it in dump trucks. And if my son wanted to put it in his mouth, it was okay. It was just pasta. He likes raw pasta to this day!

Get simple toys, not just noisy toys. Noisy toys are fun, for sure. But some of the best toys are the simple ones: boxes, blocks, Duplos. There are some very nice magnetic toys out now that have big pieces. A very young child can't swallow them. All of these toys allow your child to explore and discover.

One of my very earliest memories involves my dad, who passed away in 2010. I remember that my dad put me up on his shoulders so he could show me the ceiling in our house. He showed me the light fixture and the lightbulb in it. My brother turned the light on, and I felt the bulb get warm.

Years later I asked my dad why he did that. He said, "Well, you didn't know there was a ceiling up there, and you didn't know what it was like."

When you take the time to show things to your child, you will help your child understand the world. You will create memories that your children will cherish forever.  

Maybe It's Not Because They're Blind: How Sensory Integration Exercises May Help Our Children

by Carol Castellano

From the Editor: Once highly controversial, sensory integration exercises are proving effective for many children, and even for some adults. Some behaviors that have been attributed to blindness may in fact result from a sensory integration disorder. In this article, based on a presentation at the 2019 NOPBC conference, author and advocate Carol Castellano draws on her personal experience with sensory integration exercises.

Sensory integration therapy, a specialized form of occupational therapy (OT), was developed by Dr. Jean Ayres in the 1970s. Dr. Ayres described the complex interplay among our senses and the systems of the brain. When the systems are working well together, the child can interpret situations correctly and make appropriate responses. Dr. Ayres called this a state of sensory integration.

All of the information we receive directly about the world comes to us through our senses—touch, taste, sight, hearing, and smell. Dr. Ayres included two additional senses in her list—the proprioceptive and vestibular senses. These senses give us information about our own bodies.

Proprioception refers to information we receive through sensation receptors in our muscles, joints, and tendons. These receptors tell us our body position, our posture, where our body parts are and how they are moving, the force of our movements, and how much pressure we are exerting. They tell us how far our muscles are stretched and enable us to hold onto things.

The vestibular sense gives us information through receptors in our inner ears. This information enables us to balance and tells us our body position in relation to our surroundings. For example, our vestibular sense helps us stay upright during active movement. It leads to our understanding of gravity and response to gravity (am I right side up or upside down?).

What Happens to All the Information We Take In?

The information we receive through our various sensation receptors is sent automatically to the brain. The brain organizes and interprets this vast amount of sensory information, and in turn it sends signals out to the muscles, telling them how to respond. All of this happens automatically, and we are not even aware that it is going on. For example, if we touch a hot stove, we instantly pull our hand away. We don't have to think about what to do.

The development of these complex systems—sensations in, analysis by the brain, response out—begins before birth. For most children, the connections within the sensory systems and the brain continue to develop through regular childhood activities. Information constantly pours into the brain from all parts of the body. When the brain organizes and interprets this information correctly, the results are smooth, appropriate movement and behavior, which Dr. Ayres calls sensory integration. If there are disruptions in the systems—senses to brain, brain's ability to interpret and analyze, brain sending signals to muscles to move or behave in certain ways—dysfunctions can result.

According to Dr. Ayres, "When sensations flow in a well organized or integrated manner, the brain can use those sensations to form perceptions, behavior, and learning. When the flow of sensations is disorganized, life can be like a rush-hour traffic jam." (Ayres, A. Jean. PhD, Sensory Integration and the Child: Understanding Hidden Sensory Challenge, 25th Anniversary Edition, Western Psychological Services, 2005, p. 5.) Children with various dysfunctions are said to have a sensory processing disorder.

What Does a Sensory Processing Problem Look Like?

Children with sensory processing difficulties might display some of the following symptoms:

All of these situations can impede playing, paying attention, learning, feeling comfortable, interacting with others, eating, sleeping, and almost any other part of daily life. Which children might be affected by problems of this kind? Premies; children with speech, language, or behavior issues; children with cerebral palsy; children with ADD or ADHD; children with learning disabilities or motor problems; and children with various "neuro" diagnoses—the list goes on and on! 

What Does Sensory Integration Therapy Look Like?

Just as sensory integration problems can disrupt many, if not all, areas of a child's life, sensory integration therapy can improve them. The idea behind the therapy is to wake up parts of the sensory system, improve connections, get the brain to organize the information coming in through senses more effectively, and get appropriate behaviors and muscle responses to occur. The emphasis is on changing the actual response that comes from the child's brain, not on teaching the child a formulated response. Therapy is done through fun and play-type activities that enable children to develop the senses, explore the environment, and understand the world around them and respond to it appropriately.

These are some of the tools used in sensory integration therapy:

These tools and techniques are not specific to blindness, but with such emphasis on touch and movement, they are easily applicable with blind children.

Personal Experience

My daughter Serena was born at twenty-three-and-a-half weeks gestation, so she was an extremely premature baby. When we finally were able to bring her home from the hospital, after almost eight months, she experienced the aftermath of her extreme prematurity. She had low muscle tone; weakness; passivity; high tolerance for irritating stimuli; high pain tolerance; motor planning problems; and oral-verbal dyspraxia, meaning that she could not voluntarily move the muscles of her face and mouth. Her arms hung limply behind her from lying flat in an incubator and being tethered with tubes and wires to the bed for so long. Not so good for a blind child! To say she had some delays in development would be an understatement!

Serena's occupational therapist (OT) not only was trained in sensory integration therapy, she was a pioneer in the field in her home country of Japan. Luckily for our family, she seemed to know just what to do in order to "wake up" our child. Using many of the tools listed above, she had Serena doing weight-bearing actions, walking on uneven surfaces, exploring textures, doing spatial orientation activities, and changing the natural pace of her movements.

Our OT included me in every lesson so that I would understand what we were doing and what we aimed to accomplish. At the beginning, she had to use a doll to show me the activities because Serena would not interact with her. The therapist sent me home with homework activities and told me what to do next when Serena achieved a goal. When we returned for the next session, I was able to report progress. This made the therapist happy, and she praised my work. That made me happy, too! We both saw the progress Serena was making, and this made all of us happy!

Serena was also getting speech therapy. Every time she made progress in her body, she made progress in her mouth; and every time she made progress in her mouth, she made progress in her body. Her brain was making the connections! My passive baby who could not use her hands, move food in her mouth, or sit up, and who missed all her developmental milestones by miles, turned into someone who could walk, jump, balance, learn Braille, talk, chew, eat, and do all the tasks she needed to do. The OT "graduated" Serena when she was five years old. Though Serena may never excel in some tasks, the therapist pronounced her "functional in all areas," and indeed she is.

My other direct experience with sensory integration therapy is with Amy Albin, a college student whom I know through the Federation. In July 2019 she received a national scholarship from the NFB. When Amy was a teen, I observed her having trouble using the zipper on a duffle bag and difficulty walking on sand at the beach. Also she was unable to change the pace of her walking. I recognized the kinds of trouble she was having and thought that sensory integration exercises might help her.

A few years later Amy attended a rehab program. She had great difficulty learning the various tasks they were trying to teach her—how to make a bed, clean a counter, fold a towel, etc. Amy was a brilliant academic student, so it wasn't that she did not know how to learn. Our NFB state president, a mutual friend, told her I might be able to help, and he encouraged her to give me a call.

Amy and I have worked together a couple of times a month for the past two years. At first she despaired that it would take her months to learn every task, but I knew that once her brain and body learned to work together, her hands would begin to respond automatically.

When we began working together I asked Amy to demonstrate how she cleaned a counter. I realized right away that it was no wonder she could not clean a countertop—she had no idea where her arms and hands were! She could not tell if her arms were out in front or out to the side; she could not recognize whether her palms were face up or face down.

When I gave her attribute blocks to look at, Amy was not immediately able to tell whether the shape she was holding was a triangle or a square. She knew very well cognitively what triangles and squares were and how they were different, but her hands couldn't immediately perceive the shapes. I realized that we would have to start at the beginning.

I began to put Amy through some of the exercises Serena had done as a child. (I will explain some of the basic exercises at the end of this article.) Amy wanted to learn to clean a counter and fold a towel and hang clothing in a closet. Sensory integration exercises do not teach a person to do these tasks. Instead, they wake up the sensation receptors, teach your brain to interpret sensations so that you know where your hands and arms and feet are, and enable the brain to send out the correct signals to let your body know how to move and react. Once the sensory systems are working in an organized manner, your arms and hands can much more easily learn to clean a counter, fold a towel, or hang garments. They teach your body to understand where it is in terms of other objects in the environment. With this awareness, understanding how to position the hands to hang clothes or clean a counter becomes automatic. The exercises teach your hips and knees, ankles and toes to sense how different movements feel and how to put them together so that walking smoothly becomes automatic.

Getting Help for Your Child

If you see your child reflected in the categories mentioned in this article, I hope you will seek out this specialized therapy and see if it works for him or her. It can be difficult to find a therapist trained in this specialty or with an interest in this field. You may even encounter resistance to the whole idea. Because sensory processing issues can be a part of so many different disorders, some professionals in the field believe there should not be a separate category called "sensory processing disorder" with its own therapy to ameliorate it.

Another controversy around sensory integration therapy is the question of whether the brain can be "rewired" as practitioners claim. In my experience, the answer is a resounding yes!

OTs trained in sensory integration therapy, or those interested in or knowledgeable in the area, will assess your child in various areas and create an individualized plan. They will use activities that enable your child to interpret and respond appropriately to sensory input. Some activities will make movement and balance easier and more efficient, especially helpful to a blind child. Other activities enable the child to interpret and respond calmly to sounds and other stimuli, especially helpful for a child on the autism spectrum. Some activities can help the child filter out certain stimuli, beneficial for a child with attention issues.

I hope that you are able to find a sensory integration therapist. If you cannot, I invite you to contact me at [email protected]. I will help if I possibly can. Whether or not you are able to find a trained therapist, please read the resources provided below and others that you will find online. These books and articles will help you learn how to do some of this work yourself. You can help your child at home and encourage the incorporation of some of the ideas and activities into the school environment.

Sensory integration work takes patience. You're always working backwards, breaking down the movement or activity, peeling back layers to get to the underlying sensations and movements the child needs to learn. Remember that you are not teaching your child how to do a task. You are bringing out and then practicing the underlying abilities that will enable your child to learn to do the task later on.

Some Basic Exercise Ideas

All of these exercises are meant to make connections in the circuits. They develop awareness of sensations. They enable the brain to make sense of the sensations coming in, then send out the correct instruction, waking up the muscles and enabling those muscles to move appropriately. They build body awareness, balance, strength, and coordination. I learned some of these exercises years ago from my daughter's OT; others I developed in response to the difficulties Amy was experiencing. You can design exercises that make sense for your child's challenges.

Sensory Integration Resources

Many books and online articles about sensory integration are available. Here are two available for download (the first is Dr. Ayres's original book for parents):

A Parent's Guide to Understanding Sensory Integration
Sensory Integration International

A Guide to Sensory Integration for Parents
By Emily Eastman, OTS & Teresa A. May-Benson, ScD, OTR/L, FAOTA 

In conclusion, I would like to express my thanks to Sadako Vargas, who was a pioneer in this field in her native Japan; and to Joe Cutter, whose creative interventions helped change the field of orientation and mobility in the United States and beyond. Not only did they enable my daughter to develop, but they began my education on this subject.

Delora's Boy

by Anil Lewis

Introduction by Carlton Anne Cook Walker: Anil Lewis has been a friend and godparent to our children for many years. We owe him so much, and we always love to hear from him! Please welcome Anil Lewis!

My name is Anil Lewis. I'm Delora's boy. Delora Lewis was my mother, who passed away several years ago. She always made sure I was dressed properly and behaved properly when I went out of the house. If I didn't behave properly, she'd say, "Don't tell anybody that you're Delora's boy!"

I'm very proud to be Delora's boy. My father passed when I was six years old, and my mother had to raise four kids all by herself, three of them blind. My brother lost his sight early on. My sister lost hers a bit later, and I became blind at the age of twenty-five.

My eldest brother lost his sight when he was in grade school. When he became blind my mom felt guilty. She was afraid his blindness was caused by something she did during her pregnancy. I don't think she lived a lifestyle that would have endangered her unborn child. Even if she had, feeling guilty wasn't going to do anyone any good. So if you're carrying guilt with you about your child's blindness, let it go. It's not healthy, it's not helpful, and it's not deserved. Life happens—that's just reality.

My mother had a lot to deal with besides my brother being blind. My brother and I both were diagnosed as being what today would be called developmentally disabled. My mom told the school, "Well, if they are developmentally disabled, you have to provide services to help them become competitive." We went to summer school and things like that, and a couple of years later, when I was in fourth grade, the school said, "Mrs. Lewis, we'd like to put your son in the gifted program!" How do you reconcile that? Well, “developmentally disabled,” “gifted”—they're all just labels.

When I was diagnosed with a developmental disability, I hung out with kids who didn't seem to have much of a future. When I became part of the gifted program, I found myself in a group of elitists who thought they were better than everyone else. It was an interesting change. Am I developmentally disabled, or am I gifted? Regardless of the label, we all share certain characteristics. Labels don't define who we are or the goals we can reach.

Through her struggle to provide for us as a single mother, my mom made it possible for me to become who I am. But she did not find the Federation when she was raising my brother as a blind child. She turned to the professionals. They told her, "Your son sees well enough to read print. He doesn't need Braille." They said, "He has enough vision to travel around. He doesn't need to use a white cane." He went through the educational environment without any training in blindness skills.

My brother had to drop out of college because he didn't have the skills to keep up. Later he went to the state rehab program, and they said, "We don't need to provide you with blindness skills training. We're going to get you a job." The rehab agency got my brother a job as a file clerk. With his very limited vision he wore big Coke-bottle glasses. He had to take a magnifying glass and go into a dark, dingy file room. He had to get down on his knees to read the names on the file folders. The optics alone were enough to set the earth on fire in one big whoosh! Not too surprisingly, he didn't keep that job for very long.

If she had had the tools back when my brother was in school, my mother would have insisted that he take the National Reading Media Assessment. The school system would have found out that he could be a dual media learner. He had enough functional vision to read large print, but he experienced significant fatigue, and standard print was completely unreadable for him. Braille would have been very helpful.

Sometimes I hear people say that we in the Federation try to make children blind. Actually, we're not trying to make children blind; certain misguided professionals are trying to make blind children sighted! In this organization we want people to have the tools they need to complete the task at hand. We want people to be able to use their functional vision when it serves them. We want to make sure that people who can benefit from Braille have the option of learning to use it. We want them to have the option of using assistive technology. We're invested in giving our children as many tools as they need to help them be successful.

A cane is not just a tool for people who are totally blind. As my friend Maurice Peret says, "The cane is a low vision tool, and it helps people travel effectively."

Let me tell you about a good friend of mine who has low vision. One day we were going to lunch, and she left her cane up in her room. She told me, "Don't worry, I'll get it when I go back." We walked along on our way to lunch, and all of a sudden she disappeared! Just vanished! We had come to an unexpected flight of steps, and down she went! At that point she said to me, "I guess I should have brought my cane after all."

She picked herself up, and we continued on our way. All of a sudden she stopped short. There was a shadow on the ground, and she thought it was a building.

My brother is smart as a whip. He learned to do math in his head because they didn't give him any choice. I believe that my brother had much more potential, more intelligence, and more charisma than I have. Today he is unemployed and living in Section 8 housing on Social Security. That didn't have to be his reality. There is always hope, I firmly believe that. But so much has been done to institutionalize him that it would be extremely difficult for him to break through the barriers and discover his true abilities.

I don't want anything like that to happen to your kids! I want us to get involved with them as early as possible. I want us to head off any attempt to make them think they don't have the capacity to succeed in this world. I want those negative messages to fall on the floor and be smashed and trampled under our feet! Regardless of the situation you're dealing with, you are in a place that will give you the love and support you and your child need.

Love is behind the many programs we have developed for your children here in the Federation. The Braille Reading Pals program helps parents set the expectation that their blind children will be literate. My son is sighted, and when he was small I read to him from print/Braille Twin Vision books. He started to read at age two. Is he gifted? No! But he had a dad who kept putting reading materials in front of him. I'll never forget one time when we got one of those books, and my son started sounding out the words. Now, it wasn't A Tale of Two Cities, I assure you! It was one of those books about Frog and Toad. But nonetheless, he was figuring out how to read it.

Can our blind kids do that, too? Of course they can! We have to give them the opportunity and have the expectation that they'll be able to do it. That's why Braille Reading Pals sends out free books and information to parents of blind children.

In addition, we offer the Early Explorers program. We'll send your child a little white cane—to me it's more like a toothpick! We want parents to understand that they are their children's first travel instructors. You don't need a master's degree to teach your child that the cane is a tool of independence. No, your two-year-old isn't ready to say, "Bye, Mom! I'm going to the store!" But we don't want your children to graduate from high school and finally get exposed to the long white cane for the first time. That would be like expecting them to walk barefoot until they graduate!

I strongly encourage you to go to our website and sign up for Braille Reading Pals and Early Explorers. But the program I most want to offer you doesn't appear anywhere on our website. The program I want to offer to you exists right here within this room. Individuals right here have a wealth of lived experience. They have dealt with some of the issues you may feel are insurmountable, and they're here to be resources for you. And believe it or not, you yourself can be a resource to them and to this organization. We need you to be active participants in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. If there are obstacles in your children's paths, you need to let us know. We can work collectively as a family to eliminate those obstacles and develop innovative programs for the next generation.

We can disseminate our ideas across the country. We can make sure that blind kids whose parents don't have the resources to attend our convention can benefit from the work we do. As executive director of blindness initiatives, it is my job to develop and support programs and projects that affect every blind person from birth to earth. We can do that because we draw upon the lived experience of all of you. We recognize the problems you are going through, and we celebrate your successes.

By being here you have expressed a commitment to your children. I pledge my support for your desire to create the best possible future for them. I stand committed to that pledge. I love you, and I'm glad you're here. Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas!

A House with Many Rooms

by Adrienne Shoemaker

From the Editor: The recipient of the 2019 Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award from the National Federation of the Blind is Adrienne Shoemaker, a teacher of blind students from New Hampshire. As she presented this year’s prize, award committee chair Carla McQuillan explained, "Adrienne Shoemaker has been teaching for ten years, and she is currently the only teacher of blind students in the Hawthorne High School system. In addition to her teaching, she has helped develop a program for teachers of blind students, and she has taught the Braille courses that are part of that curriculum. She has served as a liaison between the Massachusetts Department of Rehabilitation and the University of Massachusetts Northeast Center for Vision Education, recruiting candidates to become teachers of blind students. In 2014 she was one of ten teachers chosen by the National Federation of the Blind to be part of our STEM2U program. Her willingness to go above and beyond has made her an excellent candidate for this year's Distinguished Educator of Blind Students Award."

As this year's award recipient, Adrienne Shoemaker had the opportunity to speak at the annual board meeting of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. In this presentation she relates her history as a teacher and summarizes the philosophy that shapes her work with her students.

I am honored and humbled to be speaking to you as the National Federation of the Blind Distinguished Educator for 2019. While the students are my favorite members of the IEP team, they are followed closely by their parents. I understand the passion, commitment, and dedication that you have for your children. As parents we want the best for our children, and we work tirelessly to ensure that they are getting what they need.

Becoming a Teacher

Teaching is both my profession and my passion. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be a teacher. My mom was a teacher, and when I was a teenager I taught scuba lessons. I discovered there is no better feeling than watching a child grasp a skill and knowing that I had some part in that.

Through my summer job I learned that teachers have to instill trust. They have to develop rapport with their students. They have to be creative; if one strategy doesn't work, they have to find another one. They have to believe in their students and celebrate their successes. I wanted teaching to be my career.

I obtained my undergraduate degree in elementary and special education and started teaching right after graduation. My first job was as an elementary school teacher. I loved it! I loved being in the classroom. I loved the challenge of reaching my twenty-five students. I worked until my first child was born, and then I became a stay-at-home mom.

During my seven years at home I had two more children and ran an in-home day-care facility. I knew I would return to teaching once my children were in school, and I had the goal of obtaining my master's degree during my years at home. I had no idea what I wanted to study for my master's, but I knew that I needed and wanted the degree. 

A Brand-new Discovery

Through a mom who needed summer childcare for her children I learned about the role of the teacher of the blind and visually impaired (TVI). As we got to know each other over the phone, she told me about her job, and she spoke highly of the profession. She told me about a master's degree program to become a teacher of students who are blind or have low vision.

As soon as we hung up the phone, I jumped on the computer and started looking into the program. The coursework looked incredibly interesting, and the program was online, which was extremely helpful, since I had three children under the age of five!

Until that evening I didn't know the job of a TVI even existed! Though I was fully certified as an elementary and special education teacher, I had never been exposed to this unique field in any of my undergraduate courses. In school I had never been in a class with a blind or low-vision peer, and I didn't know personally any blind or low-vision adults. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the program and the course descriptions. I gathered my transcripts, wrote my essay, and filled out the application.

I was thrilled when I was accepted into the program, and enthusiastically I jumped into the first class. During the introductory class we were assigned to interview a blind or low-vision adult. I was connected to a woman who was a wife and mother and who worked outside the home. I drove to her house and conducted the interview at her kitchen table.

Positive Encounters

Before this interview occurred, I don't recall having any preconceived ideas about what someone who is blind could or could not do. But I remember sitting at the table and hanging onto every word as the woman described how she performed everyday tasks. She shared information about the technology she used at work and at home to access printed information. She talked about the transportation she used to get to work and run errands. She shared how she cared for her children and performed all of the household duties that moms do when running a home and raising kids. She was confident and capable, and she was living a successful life.

During another course early in my training to become a TVI, I had the honor of being in a class with a peer who was blind. During the face-to-face sessions I watched as she used her cane to navigate the building and classroom. I saw her read material from her refreshable Braille display as her presentation was projected onto a screen at the front of the room. She was incredibly knowledgeable and had a magnetic personality.

At the end of one of the classes, she asked if anyone could give her a ride to the train station. She had looked at the schedule on her own, and she just needed a ride so she could catch the train home. I drove her to the station, and she got out of the car. I asked if she needed any help, but of course she didn't. As I drove away I was struck by her level of independence and skills.

Here was another early exposure to a blind person who was successful and independent. It reinforced my image of what people are capable of doing without sight. The answer was "Everything!" These two women had all of the skills they needed to live full and successful lives. Both women were proficient Braille readers. They had solid orientation and mobility skills. They used assistive technology. They were employed, had great social skills, and lived independently. They were strong role models to me for the skills that I would want my future students to achieve.

I became a certified teacher of students with visual impairments in 2010, and I became a TVI in the public school district in the city where I live. I love my job and the relationships I have formed through my work with students, families, educators, and related-service providers. In this job, learning and professional development can never stop. There is so much to learn in order to stay on top and to be the best I can be for my students and their parents. In my quest to learn as much as I can about the field, I also obtained my orientation and mobility certification this past school year.

I'd like to share with you today some of my guiding beliefs at this point in my career.

Role Models and Mentors

Find role models and mentors. We all need people to look up to who are accomplishing the things we want to accomplish. We need to see examples of success and to understand the tools and skills needed to get to that point. These role models have the roadmap, and I trust their advice to make our journey a little bit smoother. Here are some examples of mentorship for teachers and students:

Default to Yes!

When our blind children ask if they can do something, they need to hear the message that they absolutely can. We need to nurture their constructive ideas and build their self-esteem. After saying yes, we as teachers and parents can brainstorm for ideas about how to make something happen. Our own limitations in understanding how something can work for someone who is blind should not hold our children back. We need to instill the idea that the possibilities are endless and that the expectations for independence and success are within reach.

As a mom I know the reservations and fears we sometimes have for our children. We want to shelter them; we want to keep them close and safe. But we know it is important to let them try new things without us, things that are outside our own comfort zone. Children need to have experiences with adversity so they are forced to problem solve. Only then can they truly learn to be independent.

Remember those role models and mentors from Point Number One? We know that blind people are competitive swimmers, skiers, doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists, and teachers. The list goes on and on. They may approach tasks differently from someone who has sight, but they are doing it.

Educate and Share

We are all educators. An educator is defined as a person who teaches people. We need to share that "yes, they can do it" attitude with every new person who comes in contact with our children. It needs to be known that, given accessible materials and the necessary skills, our students can work alongside their sighted peers and achieve greatness. Our children need to be included. They need to be active participants. They need to be held accountable, and they will thrive.

Your child may be the first blind person an administrator, teacher, or service provider has ever met. Together we need to educate them. We need to explain how our students will access classwork and emphasize the importance of making sure that classroom materials are available in accessible formats and at the same time as the rest of the class receives them.

You will gain wonderful information at the NOPBC conference and the NFB convention this week! I encourage you to go back and share it with your child's TVI, O&M instructor, and school team. Share resources. Share articles. Share books. If you find some new information or a book that you are passionate about, share it. The needs of our students are highly varied, and we strive to stay on top of it all. It is daunting and exhilarating to try to gain as much knowledge as possible while working with blind and low-vision students.

Years ago I was thrilled when the parent of one of my students lent me the books Making It Work: Educating the Blind and Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School and Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade, both by Carol Castellano. (I had no idea I would be sitting at the same table with Carol today!) Through this parent I also learned about the National Reading Media Assessment, which was developed by the NFB. I now use this tool as part of my functional vision evaluation process. When you learn about opportunities and resources, please share that information with your child's teachers.

In 2010 I had the pleasure of being selected as one of ten teachers to attend the STEM2U weekend at the NFB in Maryland. It was through a parent that I learned about this amazing opportunity. I encourage you to send an email, copy the link to an article or website, recommend a book. All of these acts help foster the parent-teacher relationship.

Empower the Student

At the start of every school year, beginning in elementary school, I involve my students in a presentation to their classes about the long white cane, Braille, and any technology that the students may be using in class. It is important that students learn from an early age to talk about their blindness and the tools they use. In the early years I do a lot of the talking and explaining to team members about what is needed. I share information about how they will access the curriculum. I explain about the tools and the technology they use. I talk about where they should sit in the classroom and their need for extra space for their materials. As my students get older, they handle more and more of the presentation of information. The student writes introductory emails, creates slide-show presentations, and holds meetings with new teachers. These presentations help teachers understand how to make the curriculum accessible and what teaching strategies will be most effective to meet the student's needs. It also starts to establish the relationship between the student and the classroom teacher. There is something very powerful about students directly telling a teacher about their needs and explaining how they will access and complete their classwork.

I also involve my students in the IEP process. Together we go through the components of the IEP, including present levels, accommodations, and modifications. We reveal what's currently there, what is no longer needed, and what should be added. The first year I reviewed an IEP with one of my students, we had a moment that completely validated involving a student with the IEP process. As we went through the list of accommodations, we arrived at the accommodation, "need for preferential seating." My student responded, "I don't think I need that one anymore!" We both laughed, and I agreed that we should take it out. The student needs to be part of the process.


The last thing on my list is skills. I often hear the phrase, "adding tools to the toolbox." It's a concept that I use myself to make sure that our students have plenty of tools to draw upon.

I don't know about the rest of you, but my toolbox at home is a little bit messy. Tools are thrown in with no real order. Eventually I can find what I need, but the box isn't neatly organized. Today I want to share another way to create a mental picture of the blindness skills our students need to accumulate. 

Furnishings and Decorations

Picture a house. The house is built on a foundation. The foundation is solid. It's composed of high expectations and encouragement from parents and educators. The house has nine rooms, and each of these rooms is an area of blindness skills. These skills are often referred to as the Expanded Core Curriculum. A blind child needs specific instruction in these skills. Instead of walking through the house and visiting the kitchen, bathroom, living room, and office, we're going to walk through and rename the rooms.

In our house we'll have an orientation and mobility skills room, a social interaction skills room, and an independent living skills room. There will be rooms for recreation and leisure, sensory efficiency, assistive technology, self-determination, and compensatory skills—that's where you learn Braille.

As we walk through the house, the rooms are all there, but the walls are bare, and there are few furnishings. However, you can start to envision how the house could look once you begin to decorate. For example, the compensatory skills room is a nice-sized room with tons of potential. You can envision it filled with furnishings and decorations of concept development, organizational skills, strategies for getting access to printed material, listening and speaking skills, study skills, and Braille reading and writing. Other decorations and furnishings will be added to complete the room.

Next there's the orientation and mobility skills room. You'll want to furnish it with sensory skills, navigational skills, and mobility skills so that our children are able to move safely, efficiently, and as independently as possible.

Next we'll enter the self-determination skills room. This room, much like the kitchen, is where you're going to spend a lot of time. The room is essential for developing confidence. You have ideas for furnishing with goal setting, problem solving, making choices, creating action plans, advocacy, self- management, and accessing resources.

The other rooms are just as wonderful. There is so much potential in this house! Over the years the rooms will fill up with furnishings and decorations of skills. We can all add to these rooms. Our goal is that, by graduation, each of the rooms in this house will be well furnished and decorated, and our students will be ready for the next chapter of their lives.

In closing, I again want to thank the National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children for the recognition of this award and the opportunity to speak to you today. Please remember that you are the expert on your child. You are attending this conference for your child. You are part of the NOPBC because you are passionate about your child. Please share what you are learning this week.

The Greatest Danger of All

by Fred Schroeder

Introduction by Carlton Anne Cook Walker: Dr. Fredric Schroeder is president of the World Blind Union and a longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind. He is an amazing mentor and godparent to our children. He firmly believes in helping our children become the individuals they have a right to be.

Thank you, and good afternoon to all of you! I'd like to begin by introducing you to Terri Rupp, who is the president of our host affiliate here in Nevada. Do you all know that Terri Rupp is a marathon runner? I thought you might find that interesting.

What is the greatest danger your blind child faces? You might think first of physical danger. Obviously all parents want to make sure their children are safe! Perhaps you might think next of the danger of getting a substandard education. Clearly that is a very serious concern! But what pops into my mind, having grown up as a blind person, is the danger that your child will accept a role of passivity, that your child will come to believe that he or she cannot do the things other people do. When that happens, your child will feel inferior and will quit trying.

There's a phrase in Spanish, espiritu quebrado. It means broken spirit. The greatest danger of all is that your child's spirit will be broken.

When I think back on my childhood, one of the first things that comes to my mind is being put somewhere and told to wait. I wasn't isolated as a child, but I was not included, either. I was put somewhere, and from time to time someone would come and bring me something. My role was one of complete passivity. I didn't like it, but I didn't know what to do about it.

When you pursue educational opportunities for your child, you're helping your child get the foundations of literacy and numeracy and all the other skills that we associate with good schooling. You're also teaching your child that she or he can achieve according to your child's individual ability and willingness to work hard. 

How does all of this translate into practice? I ran a special education program many years ago, and we had to write IEPs for the students. The Department of Education in our state came for a visit and criticized me for doing the IEPs wrong. We had an overarching goal for all of our blind kids, and it was very simple. It said, "Carrie will perform at or above grade level in all subject areas." The Department of Education said, "That's not individual!" I said, "Okay, but it's the goal for Carrie."

Why is that the goal? If Carrie is behind, that means we haven't done something we should be doing. The goal of being at or above grade level is one that a parent can understand. It's very concrete and simple.

One of the problems with special education is that it uses what I call a progress model, or a "doing better" model. Suppose your fourth grader is reading at a second-grade level at the beginning of the school year. Then suppose she almost reaches a third-grade level by the end of that year. Has she made progress? Absolutely! At your IEP meeting the school is likely to tell you, "She is doing wonderfully!" And yet she has fallen another half year behind. She'll be entering fifth grade, and she isn't quite at a third-grade reading level yet. The progress approach doesn't only damage your child's literacy. It puts your child at risk of a broken spirit.

I have deep personal experience with this situation. I had low vision when I was growing up. At that time there was a widespread belief among doctors that if you had poor eyesight and you used your eyes a lot, you would lose even more vision. I was literally prohibited from reading print, but since I still could see a bit, they insisted that I didn't need Braille. Figure that out! What on earth would possess educators to say that it's okay for a child to grow up illiterate? Well, they assumed that illiteracy is the natural consequence of being blind!

When I was in fifth grade a publication called My Weekly Reader was sent to classrooms around the country. The kids in my class got My Weekly Reader, and later in the week there would be a discussion of the various articles. All of the kids around me knew things about the subjects we were talking about. They knew things that I didn't know. They read the articles and I didn't, so no wonder they understood things that I didn't understand! But as a ten-year-old, you don't think of the situation that way. What you think is, I'm blind, and these sighted kids know so much more than I know! I must be inferior to them.

I don't say this to discourage you. You have tapped into the greatest resource by being here at the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. You are now part of a family that believes in you and your children. This week you will see that people take an interest in your children's lives. They will tell you that they want your children to have greater opportunities than they had growing up.

The greatest danger to your blind child is that he or she may accept and internalize the things society believes about blind people. You can head that off, because you are part of a family that will encourage your kids. It will even encourage people like Terri Rupp who are foolish enough to want to run twenty-six miles when no one is chasing them!

How do you know when expectations are age appropriate? Gather information. Become part of a network. Talk to other parents. Join NFB listservs and Facebook pages. If your child has a particular interest, no matter what it is, we can find a blind person who has done what your child hopes to do. That person can be a mentor to your child and a source of encouragement and inspiration.

Good luck to all of you. If I can ever be a resource for you and your children, I'm more than happy to help!

Support from Parent Leaders

by Sarah Erb, Emily Wagner Gindlesberger, and Carla Keirns

From the Editor: At the NFB National Convention families from all over the country share ideas and provide mutual support. In this presentation at the NOPBC board meeting, three parent leaders discussed the work they are doing to support parents in their home states during the other fifty-one weeks of the year.

Carla Keirns: Hello! I am Carla Keirns from Kansas City, Missouri. First I want to recognize the longtime leadership of Rosina Foster and Lisa Coccavizo, who have provided wonderful leadership over the years.

I have noticed that there is a natural life cycle evolution in parent advocacy. A lot of us show up when our kids are young or when they're in crisis. We're asking, "What am I going to do? How are we going to make this work?" Then when things settle down, we go back to our everyday lives again.

My little boy is five going on six. We initially got involved with the Federation when he was newly diagnosed as a newborn. Then we came back to the Federation in a more intensive way when I was anticipating kindergarten. I was saying to myself, "This is not going to go well," and I felt I needed help.

In Missouri we're looking at how we can reach out to parents, not only in moments of crisis, but throughout their children's lives. What can we do to help our preschool kids who may not be in a formal educational environment? How do we reach out to families and get them involved in BELL® Academy? This is the eighth year Missouri has had a BELL Academy in St. Louis. Last year we held a Kansas City BELL Academy on the Missouri side, and we planned to hold a Kansas City BELL on the Kansas side this summer. (Kansas City is a divided city, divided by a river and a state line.) Unfortunately, we didn't have enough students from Kansas enrolled, so we couldn't hold the program. We didn't have enough students for a Kansas City BELL in Missouri, either! My son had to go all the way to St. Louis. It was an awesome program, but it would have been nice to have a BELL closer to home. This experience tells me that we're still not reaching our potential audience. I think there are a lot of reasons why.

Missouri has several major metro areas. Kansas City and St. Louis are the biggest. Columbia and the capital, Jefferson City, are metro areas in the middle of the state. Joplin is a pretty big city in the south. Then we have a lot of tourist areas and agricultural areas. How can we reach families in all of our cities, and how can we make sure that folks in our rural communities are not isolated?

We have systematically been looking for ways to find our blind children. Our branch of the National Library Service for the Print Disabled has a list of the children they serve, and they are willing to send out material for us. Also we can send information to people who have requested a long white cane from the national office. We are trying to send information through the schools that serve blind children in St. Louis and Kansas City. But reaching families in our rural communities continues to be a challenge.

The folks who ran our BELL Academies last year and people active in our NFB affiliate have worked hard to encourage and develop parent leadership. They sent me to Washington, DC, this past spring for the Parent Leadership Program. They got together a series of conference calls to plan a focus group for parents at our state convention. The idea was to identify leaders and to determine the kinds of activities that will be most useful.

On one hand we work to find blind children, and on the other hand we try to figure out what we are going to do for the children we know already. We decided to hold some youth activities at the state level. It turned out that we had identified a number of teenage girls. We came up with some activities for the girls, but our state board wanted to know what we would do for the teenage boys. We said, "First we've got to find them, and then we'll create activities for them, too."

Right now we're in leadership transition because of the life cycle of individuals' involvement. We're having focus groups to determine the needs of families that aren't being met through other programs. One thing we need to work on is IEP advocacy for students. That's a big challenge, and so is transition to adulthood. We look forward to hearing what people are doing in other states.

Emily Wagner Gindlesberger: Pennsylvania is a very long state. We have two major population areas, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. We have parents who want to be involved, and parents who come to us in times of crisis. It's not always easy to understand what they need most.

Sometimes we parents blame ourselves for our children's blindness. There were moments when I wondered, "Did I stand in front of the microwave a little too long before my daughter was born?" My daughter Angelina is in Youth Track right now; she's fourteen. She's totally blind. The doctors told me there are only twenty-three known cases in the whole world of children born with her eye condition!

I remember one night asking myself some tough questions. Was I struggling because I didn't want my child to be blind, or because I didn't know how to be the parent of a blind child? We have to teach our children the blindness skills they need, but otherwise there's really nothing different for us as parents. Our kids are reading Braille, but they're still reading.

At one point or another, all of us are scared. By being here, we know that we're ready to move forward. If you wait for a couple of years and come back, we're still going to be here for you.

The next step I have to face is dealing with my own vision impairment. I know that whenever I'm ready to walk through that door, whether it's at this convention or the next one, I will be accepted. I will not be judged. I will be helped, because all of us here are a family. We want to help you. Please come to us. That's what we're here for! Let us know what you need.

Sarah Erb: Hi, I'm Sarah Erb,and we are revitalizing the parents of blind children group in Utah. We're fortunate to have some great resources in Marla Palmer and Pat Renfranz. I've been very fortunate as my daughter Maeve is coming into her own.

My sister-in-law has a degree in special education. One day she asked me, "When are you going to tell her she's blind?" I said, "I'm not going to. I don't have the qualifications to tell her what that means. It means something different to each person. She's going to have to tell me."

Then Maeve went to her first BELL Academy. She came home and said, "Mom, I'm blind. That means I need to use my hands to see what's happening around me." I said, "Awesome!"

My husband, Steve, and I feel very fortunate to have so many wonderful blind mentors and supportive family members we can call on. Blind mentors can tell us about their experiences at different stages in their lives. It means so much to see people who are authentically reading Braille and using a cane every day. We've had great teachers in the school system, but it's important to have people in our lives who use the blindness skills our daughter is learning.

We just held our BELL Academy with fifteen children from fourteen families. One day we held a little meet-and-greet, and twelve of the parents came. We got them together an hour before it was time for them to pick up their kids. We talked about where they are now and where they want to be. We let them know we're here to help them get there.

2019-2020 NOPBC Board Elections

"When people leave our board, they never leave the NOPBC family," explained NOPBC President Carlton Ann Cook Walker before the elections for the 2019-2020 NOPBC board. "Our retiring leaders help train the new leaders coming in. We get tons of support from former board members who are still part of our family."

The positions of president, first vice president, second vice president, secretary, and treasurer are two-year terms and are not up for re-election until 2020. Elections were held for the ten remaining board seats, all of which involve one-year terms. Board members Jean Bening of Minnesota, Haley Ali of Georgia, Rosina Foster of Missouri, and Carol Akers of Ohio did not run for re-election. President Walker extended her heartfelt thanks to these four departing board members. She expressed special appreciation for the dedication of Jean Bening, the longest-serving member of the NOPBC board.

Congratulations to the 2019-2020 board of the NOPBC!

President: Carlton Anne Cook Walker, Pennsylvania
First Vice President: Penny Duffy, New Hampshire
Second Vice President: Kimberly Banks, Florida
Secretary: Carol Castellano, New Jersey
Treasurer: Sandra Oliver, Texas
Board Position 1: Carla Keirns, Missouri
Board Position 2: Corbb O'Connor, Minnesota
Board Position 3: Jean Fultz, New York
Board Position 4: Pamela Gebert, Alaska
Board Position 5: Tabitha Mitchell, Hawaii
Board Position 6: Michelle Murrey, Texas
Board Position 7: Jackie Anderson, Georgia
Board Position 8: Casey Robertson, Mississippi
Board Position 9: Sarah Erb, Utah
Board Position 10: Melissa Riccobono, Maryland

Led by the Blind: Bringing Authenticity to Services for the Blind and Making Them Relevant to the Lives We Want to Live

by Bryan Bashin

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 62, Number 8, August-September 2019

From the Editor: Bryan Bashin launched his professional life as a science writer, and later shifted to the field of rehabilitation. Currently he serves as the chief executive officer at the San Francisco LightHouse for the Blind. He delivered this address on the last morning of the 2019 NFB National Convention.

Thank you, President Riccobono, thank you, distinguished guests, good morning, Federation family. Twenty-five years ago, a blind Federation cane travel instructor put a cane in my hand and taught me to believe in myself and the dignity of the blind. Fast forward twenty-five years, and I find myself leading a remarkable agency in charge of reinventing itself with that dignity in mind.

I want to talk with you about what happens when a large private agency starts hiring blind people at every level of management, and hiring people, blind and sighted, who know the truth about blindness.

Perhaps the way an agency is led and governed is revealed by talking about the people who work at our agency. A little more than ten years ago the number of LightHouse people attending convention was zero. Here are the names of those who are here this week: Scott Blanks, the director of our programs; Erin Lauridsen, the director of access tech; Amy Mason in our technology program; Debbie Worstman, tech trainer; Bobbi Pompey, teacher of life skills; Amber Sherrard, wellness; Jamey Gump, youth; Ann Kwong, transition, youth; Serena Olson, adult programs; Kate Williams, employment immersion; Wanda Pearson, employment; Christina Daniels, communications and the Holman Prize; Katt Jones, O&M; and from our MAD Lab, Greg Kehret, Caitlin O'Malior, and Maritza Calderon.

Oh yes, did you see one other person from the LightHouse that you may have heard of? We saw him on Sixty Minutes last January, Chris Downey, our board chair. He is my boss. His predecessor chair of the board was blind, and his successor is likely going to be blind.

These folks that I just mentioned are helping us be authentic. Yes, the LightHouse does the same core training as you could find at agencies around the country, but does it a little differently. We believe in the power of words. We don't call the people who study with us clients; we call them students. We've gotten rid of the ableist and insulting term for blindness that so-called professionals use: we never say vision loss.

We've had a camp in Napa for seventy years. For more than sixty of those years, blind people were not permitted to cook in the commercial kitchen. Last year our director of camp, Tony Fletcher, went into the kitchen for something and noticed there were seven people working in the kitchen; all seven were blind. We have twenty counselors who lead hundreds and hundreds of campers in a dozen sessions at our summer camp. Last year seventeen of those counselors were blind. Our board, under our management, designed our forty-thousand-square-foot headquarters in San Francisco; every square inch of it was designed with the blind in mind. It is a beautiful place, but much more beautiful is the fact that as a blind person you can control things there. The audiovisual system and the thermostats are fully accessible. We even have talking business caller ID.

We believe in the history we have, and we owe our predecessors a debt of gratitude. When you come and stay at the LightHouse, you'll notice that the rooms are named for people you may know: Blind Boss Chris Buckley, the San Francisco boss; Newel Perry; Isabelle Grant; Jacobus tenBroek.

We shatter some myths about blind people always being dependent. We have a blood drive that takes place several times a year where blind people roll up our sleeves and contribute back to the Red Cross. A few years ago we created the Holman Prize for Blind Ambition. We spent over a quarter of a million dollars making the dreams of blind people come to life. Last week Red Szell from the UK rode across ten miles of a bog in Scotland, swam across the boiling Atlantic, and climbed to the summit of a twenty-two-story sea stack. Last month Stacy Cervenka's Blind Travelers' Network went live, and I bet there may be one or two comments about the Mandalay Bay on that network pretty soon. In a couple of weeks Conchita Hernandez will hold the first ever all-Spanish blind family retreat in Jalisco in Mexico.

In making the hard decisions about who wins the Holman Prize, we have a distinguished international committee, and all of the members are blind. You may know a few of these judges: Anil Lewis, Gary Wunder, Katherine Webster, Brian Miller, Debbie Kent Stein, Chancey Fleet, and a new member still in training in Colorado, Holly Scott-Gardner.

While the name LightHouse may have suggested to you a giant factory with little blind leadership, our community and our authenticity now demand that we be more bold. What have we done? When nobody thought five years ago that this scrappy little startup could succeed, we invested $100,000 for an app that now has 2.5 million volunteers and 150,000 users, Be My Eyes.

When it was unheard of for a LightHouse to pursue blind civil rights, we sued Redbox and made sure that 30,000 Redboxes across the states are now accessible. When we switched to a new HR and payroll system at the LightHouse and found that it was inaccessible, we brought out the lawyers. We're talking with them now. When we finish and make that system accessible, the half million people who get their paychecks through ADP will have an accessible system.

When Goodwill in northern California wanted to work with the LightHouse, we said, "No, you have to reject the 14(c) subminimum wage of your parent organization." We challenged them, and their board of directors removed the 14(c) certification. I ask you, is your local private agency troublemaking enough?

When the experts said that seniors couldn't be taken to an immersive training program, sometimes at our camp, sometimes in San Francisco, we thought otherwise. We are now in our seventh year of "Changing Visions, Changing Life" retreats. In our eleven-story headquarters, we fired our cleaning company and decided that blind people should get the benefits of cleaning. Today five of the seven people who clean our building are blind or deaf.

Against skepticism, we put twenty-nine beds in our high-rise headquarters so that blind people could stay and connect and form community. Hundreds of students stay there every year. You may have seen some of them, the thirteen students who are here from the LightHouse's YES! (Youth Employment Series) program. Next week they're going to stay in the rooms and commute to their internships and jobs directly from the LightHouse.

In the San Francisco Pride Parade we marched 120 strong, the largest contingent we ever had in the largest Pride Parade in the United States.

We have a robust relationship with the big tech companies around San Francisco. For seven years now we've operated a scrappy tech salon, LightHouse Labs, led by Erin Lauridsen and assisted by people like Amy Mason, Jim Barbour, and Brian Buhrow.

But in a greater sense we are developing something precious and rare at the LightHouse—a 50/50 mix of blind and sighted people at all levels of management, working together, people who know the truth about blindness. We didn't do this because we are a wealthy organization. I submit to you that we became a wealthy organization precisely because of the authentic and bold steps that we in our community insist that we take.

I want to tell you a few things about our biggest benefactor, Donald Sirkin. When he was in his eighties, he was not an authentic blind person. Like so many seniors, he was ashamed and hid his own vision loss, as he would say. But he saw our messages, our blind positive messages, on our website, and he named us in his will in 2010. He followed our authentic message of living the lives we want, and when he revised his will in 2014, he named the LightHouse. We've discovered that blind authenticity pays, that fewer people give when they see maudlin messages about the plight of the blind. People respond to messages of hope and pride. Oh yes, about that bequest: it is the largest single bequest in the history of blindness in America, $130 million!

But in my heart, the biggest gift I ever received was each one of you. The only way I can repay that debt is to ensure that the United States has more agencies that are authentic and reflective of the blind community. Today the LightHouse has 140 employees in six locations. This September we're opening a new satellite location in Berkeley. We have eighty-two different and distinct programs. We're looking for cool blind people to run them, to manage them, to direct them at all levels of our organization. And may I remind you that we are especially looking for some NOMCs [orientation and mobility instructors with National Orientation and Mobility Certification]. We're going to continue to do strategic blindness investments in technology like Be My Eyes. We're going to continue to do our blind civil rights advocacy. We're going to go where underserved people who are blind need our help.

Last week the director of programs, Scott Blanks, went to California's Corcoran State Prison because there are blind people there, and not just one or two. How many blind people are in that prison? Would you believe there are eighty-five? It's practically an affiliate!

We want to expand our connections to people who have not been served, like the undocumented. We want to expand our TMAP program, which, on request, creates inexpensive tactile maps of the area surrounding any given street address. Did anybody get one of our tactile maps in the exhibit hall? We're proud of the Bolotin Award that we received last year for our tactile maps, and we are only going to grow it. These are tools blind people can use.

We're going to offer more immersive short-term courses over long weekends, such as how to use LinkedIn and how to do audio editing hands-on. We're going to continue to do media partnerships, particularly with National Public Radio. Look for more than thirty podcasts about the blind and broadcasts on NPR about that. Again, we're not talking about the plight of the blind but about the joy and the beauty of how we live our lives.

We want to raise the bar about traditional and often overlooked blindness institutions. Blind youth and young adults spend thousands of hours in blindness camps. There's never been any kind of gathering to raise the bar about that, so this October the LightHouse and CNIB ([Canadian National Institute for the Blind] in Canada are going to organize the first ever best practices in blind camps conference.

We're looking to expand partnerships so that we can offer more Holman Prizes. The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition just announced our 2019 blind awardees last night. Do you want to hear who they are? Computational chemist Mona Minkara has an ambitious goal to visit the public transit systems on six continents, and, like Anthony Bourdain, to blog and video how a blind person takes ordinary transit. Alieu Jaiteh, in The Gambia, will build a mentorship system of seventy blind people in the most rural parts of that nation. For the first time people will get the positive message of blindness in The Gambia. And Yuma Decaux in Queensland in Australia, a blind astronomer, has developed an app that can run on your iPhone or some other smartphone. It will take the data that our satellites are getting and sonify it so that blind people can play a role directly, as part of citizen science, and discover the next exoplanet.

There have always been blind people with self-confidence in California. Think of Newel Perry, Jacobus tenBroek, and all of those. We have not had an agency in California with those kinds of people at all levels of management until now. Take the aspirations of Jacobus tenBroek for our right to live in the world and expand them now to our right to influence our world.

If I can name a law, I will call it Bashin's Law, which says that the more money a blindness organization has, the fewer blind people run its board of directors or are in senior management. In California the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh largest agencies for the blind, apart from the LightHouse, are peopled with overwhelmingly sighted management from the top down. Nationally fewer than 10 percent of private agencies for the blind are led by blind people or management teams. In 2019 I ask you, is this managerial apartheid acceptable? [The audience responds with a resounding no!] Even the 660 independent living centers are mandated to have half of their management and half of their board of directors be people with disabilities. In California, though, one large private agency actually fought a bill in the California legislature, saying that it could not be mandated to find even 20 percent of its board of directors because it couldn't find qualified blind people in California.

The LightHouse now is at 50 percent blind and sighted parity on our board of directors, and in the next few months it is likely that we will codify that as a permanent part of our bylaws. It's time to take that disability refrain "nothing about us without us" and just make it simple: "nothing without us!"

Our authenticity is based on the understanding that blind people want to be actors and not passive people. We want to be subjects and not predicates in somebody else's sentence. We don't believe in an artificial schism between blind and sighted people working in our field. And we certainly don't need a divisive and outmoded organization like NAC (the National Accreditation Council on Services for the Blind) to tell us what's progressive and what's authentic. [cheers] In thirty years the LightHouse has not needed the services of NAC, and we never will. [Applause]

Our future and the future of private agencies lies in cultivating and not alienating sighted allies. They are essential to amplify our reach. Our goal, then, is to teach and engage and involve our wider community, a community that must learn from us with humility and respect.

It is now time for us in the Federation to take some larger strides, to expand our reach beyond our three training centers and the handful of commissions and state training centers we now influence. Our task is to light more flames of authenticity in places that call themselves lighthouses, societies, centers, or happy homes for the blind. Whether your local private agency is in the east or the west, north or south, or even in San Francisco, please join me in the new refrain, "Nothing without us, nothing without us, nothing without us." Thank you.

Not Without Question: The Difference of the Federation Philosophy in our Lives

by Jean Brown

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 62, Number 8, August-September 2019

From the Editor: When Jean Brown stepped to the microphone on the last afternoon of convention, she revealed that her life has been made up of many successes and challenges. Here is her powerful story.

It is so good to be here today, and I thank President Riccobono for allowing me this opportunity.

Some of you know me as Jean. Others, especially people from Indiana, know me as Jeannie. Others simply know me as Ron Brown's wife. I thank all of you, because all of you are such a big part of our lives. We absolutely love the Federation family, and I want the Federation family to know more about me.

At the age of thirteen I became a freelance model, and at the age of eighteen I had a daughter named Lisa. At the age of twenty-three, which became a pivotal point in my life, I was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa. At the age of twenty-three I found out that I was carrying my second child. At the age of twenty-three I found out that I was going to be an exclusive for Ann Geddes Modeling Agency. At the age of twenty-three I lost my sight. All of those things happened, and trying to deal with one thing after another was very hard. Those were some of the most memorable days of my life and some of the most heartbreaking days.

But all in all, I realize that where we have a plan, God has a blueprint. I decided that there were three words that were going to get me through, and they were simply "I got this." [Cheers and applause] It was amazing how a marriage that had gone on for almost ten years was about to end simply because my ex-husband couldn't deal with my blindness. I had to wake up every day to it, but he couldn't deal with it. I had to use the cane so that I didn't step off the curb or fall down a flight of stairs, but he was busy putting that cane behind the door when I got ready to leave, saying, "Take my arm; I gotcha." I found out that doesn't last forever. You better know how to get around by yourself! You better know how to take your cane and go where you need to go. If you are depending on someone else, you may or may not get there.

I realized that this man was really putting me down. You are embarrassed because I have to use a cane? Well, at that point it was time to say, "You need to pack." [Applause]

So as he did just that, I had two daughters who were four and nine that I had to take care of. Mind you, I left Mama's house to go to his house, and now my house with my children and all of the responsibilities that came along with it were on me. That's all good though, because I got this. I got this. [Applause]

My daughters are very bright. They were good at reading and writing. My nine-year-old was helping me write out checks. I was making up stories and telling them to the children because I couldn't read Braille. Then the Lions Club gave me a Braille writer. I sat with tears rolling down my face because I could not read Braille. I could not write Braille. I would sit there at my dining room table at night trying to learn to read. It made no sense to me. But I'll tell you what: what did make sense was that if I did not learn it, I had only myself to blame. I was going to be there for my daughters no matter what.

Let me go back just a little bit here. When my youngest, LaTrice, was born, I remember the nurse standing beside my bed, and she reached over and touched my hand as if to console me. She said, "You know, we can send someone to your house every day to help you take care of your baby, because being at home alone like this with her is going to be really difficult." And you know, I had the same three words for her: "I got this. I've had one child in the house; I can do this."

She looked at me as if she didn't quite understand, and she said, "But you know, it's going to be hard. You've got to warm up her bottles, and you've got to change her, and how are you going to know . . ."

I said, "The same way you do. The finger in the diaper always works." You see, I don't need somebody to come into my house and be in my space where I'm giving my children all the love that I can possibly give them. I've got this! [Applause]

When I met my now-husband, we were at a rehab center where he was working and I was getting ready to be a craft instructor. I may be blind, but I still like tall, handsome, good-looking men. So when we were introduced, I kind of took a step back and said, "Whew, yeah." My daughter looked at him, and because she had seen him before, she thought, "Whew, there's Stevie Wonder." She took off. She had never seen a blind man before, and here he was, with a head full of hair, and she thought for sure he was Stevie Wonder. Months later when I got the job and she saw him coming around the corner, tapping that cane, she said, "Momma, there's Stevie Wonder again." And I thought, "Oh yeah, this is all good!" It was interesting how my sighted husband gave up almost ten years of marriage because he didn't want to wake up every day to a blind wife. Oh honey, I ain't mad—and how I met Ron and after dating him for six years we got married, and he was like, "You are the most beautiful thing I've ever woke up to." And I was like, "Oh, I like this!" [Applause]

But you know, I went through a period of time where I thought family didn't understand. The cousins that I'd grown up with were staying away from me and not stopping in like they used to because I lost my sight. They were just not the same. I mean, I knew what was different about me—I'd lost my sight—and if that made you want to stay away, then I thought, "Good idea. I didn't ask for this either." But I learned to adjust, and I learned that I could go on with or without those that I knew because I had the power of Almighty God on my side, and I had my daughters beside me, and I had Ron in my life, and I knew that things were going to be a lot different.

Ron was involved in the National Federation of the Blind thanks to Dr. Maurer, who recruited him when Ron was a teenager. When Ron and Paul Howard decided that they were going to start a chapter in northwest Indiana, they were busy trying to convince me that I needed to be a part of it. I thought and said, "I don't need to be a card-carrying member of anything. I'm fine like I am."

Paul said, "But don't you want to give back to the community?" And I thought, "Well, I guess I could." I kind of felt like so many people belong to so many things, and some of them mean something to them, and some don't. They just want to be a part of something. I used to do political fundraising, and I thought, "Okay, yes, I do want to give back." I started fundraising back in 1982, and I've been fundraising ever since. I went from being a chapter fundraiser to becoming the state fundraiser in 1987 for the state of Indiana. I still hold that position. I not only hold it as a position, but I hold it in my heart because I know the importance of the fundraising that we do. I know the importance of the advocacy work that we do. I know the importance of the community outreach that we do. I know that we have a purpose, and there is nothing that I would not do to build this organization. The Federation has made a significant difference in my life, and I want it to touch the hearts of everyone that I meet who is blind, who feels that they can't do anything to give back to other blind people. I want them to know that there is something you can do, and whatever you do, no matter how small a project it is, it's worth it. It's worth it, and we thank you.

Being a blind wife is just like being a sighted wife. When we got ready to get married, my pastor looked at me and looked at Ron—some counselor, you know—and he said, "You know what? I really don't think you two know what you're getting yourselves into. Ron, you can't even take her to the grocery store. You can't take her shopping. I mean, you can't give her the lifestyle she's accustomed to. Why are you two getting married?"

And Ron, trying to be real nice, said, "You know, pastor, I work every day, and as long as I've got money in my pocket, I can pay for a cab to take her anywhere she wants to go." I think that getting married to Ron was one of the best things that I did, and I think that being a part of this organization and him introducing me to the Federation was indeed a highlight of my life. I love and appreciate all of you. I thank you, and please, check out my new book, Not without Question by D. J. Brown. Don't ask me what that D stands for because I won't tell you. But you can get the book from me, from my website, notwithoutquestion.com, from Amazon, from Kindle. It's at Barnes & Noble, it's on Books-A-Million, so get the book, read it, and please post your comments about it. I'm interested in what you'd like to see next and how you enjoyed the book. Thank you very much. I love you.

Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards

Presented by James Gashel

James Gashel: Thank you, Mr. President. In Hawaii, which is where I live now, we use the term ohana to refer to our extended family. So to you I say, greetings to my Federation ohana.

This is the twelfth year for the Jacob Bolotin Awards. These awards are made possible with help from the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. To date we have presented $630,000 to fifty-nine recipients. Five new recipients will be added this year.

Jacob Bolotin was a medical doctor. He specialized in diseases of the heart and lungs. As a child he attended and then he graduated from the Illinois School for the Blind. He wasn't just kind of "hard of seeing"; Bolotin was really, really blind. And he didn't do anything at all to try to hide the fact that he was blind. He was proud that he was blind.

Dr. Bolotin practiced medicine in Chicago, and he lived thirty-six years, from 1888 to 1924. His story has been told by his niece, Rosalind Perlman. You can buy his biography, The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story, in print or in audio CD on Amazon, or you can just get it from the NLS (National Library Service for the Print Disabled). You all need to read this book. No matter if you're sighted or blind, it's going to give you some new perspectives.

Jacob Bolotin's story defines what it means to live the life you want. Students of today take note: Bolotin had no rehabilitation, he had no agency for the blind to deal with, he had no ADA, he had no section 504, and he had no NFB to back him up. He had himself and his own determination. But in the spirit of Newel Perry, Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, Marc Maurer, and Mark Riccobono, Jacob Bolotin broke down barriers and blazed new trails for us to follow. In every way that counts he was a Federationist before the Federation itself existed.

The annual awards program we conduct keeps Dr. Bolotin's memory alive by recognizing exemplary people and projects that work on behalf of the blind. The awards include a cash prize for each recipient, along with an engraved commemorative plaque and a medallion. The medallion is especially inscribed for the purpose. Here's the text that appears on the plaque:

Presented to
[name of the recipient]
by the National Federation of the Blind
and the Santa Barbara Foundation
July 2019

The medallion suspended above the plaque has the NFB logo on the obverse side, and it says, "The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award/Celebrating Achievement, Creating Opportunity." On the reverse side of the medallion appears Dr. Bolotin's bust and the inscribed words: "Dr. Jacob Bolotin/1888-1924/Celebrating his Life/The Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust."

[Following James Gashel's introduction, a video presentation introduced the 2019 award recipients.]

Audio Introduction: Ladies and gentlemen, the National Federation of the Blind is proud to introduce the 2019 recipients of our Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. These five individuals and organizations have broken down barriers faced by blind people in innovative ways, changed negative perceptions of blindness and blind people, and pushed past existing boundaries to inspire blind people to achieve new heights.

Our two individual winners are: Libra Robinson, CEO and owner of N’Sight VIP Services of Washington, DC, teaching blindness skills to seniors and other people losing vision.

Libra Robinson: What we do in the Washington, DC, area is provide computer training for the blind and visually impaired, using the screen reader JAWS. I also teach intermediate Braille; that's just the basics; it's called the Braille Club. It's just the basic Braille letters and alphabet and words. I also have what is called the Smartphone Bootcamp, in which I teach alongside another gentleman. We teach the smartphone as well as iPhone instructions for blind and visually-impaired persons. So often our seniors are left out when it comes down to rehabilitation services, because they feel that they don't need computer skills or need to learn any kind of new technologies because they're beyond working age. With my program I'm able to teach students of all ages.

Audio Narration: Michael Nye, artist, creator of the My Heart Is Not Blind book and art exhibit.

Michael Nye: The project is really two separate projects: it's a book printed by Trinity University Press, and it's also a traveling photography and audio exhibition. It's about understanding. It was really the greatest privilege of my life to spend seven years interviewing and photographing men and women, blind and visually impaired. I spent two to four days with each person. It takes time to tell a story, and it takes time to listen. And when it opened at the Witte Museum—it's a large museum in San Antonio—everyone in the exhibit speaks in their own voice, so there's an audio box and headphones underneath each large black-and-white portrait. Between twenty-five and thirty thousand visitors came into the Witte, put on headphones, and listened. And these stories are not from a distance; they're close up; they're very intimate. I think that as I started this project, I really became an advocate and realized how incredibly unfairly the blind and visually impaired are treated. Justice is about fairness, and it's really obscene the misunderstanding by the public of the capacity of all of us, but especially someone who is visually impaired.

Audio Narration: The three initiatives and organizations receiving Bolotin Awards this year are: Bristol Braille Technology of the United Kingdom, creators of a new low-cost multi-line Braille display. Here is founder and managing director Ed Rogers.

Ed Rogers: This is called the Canute 360. It's called 360 because it's a Braille e-reader with 360 cells. That's nine lines of Braille on one device, forty cells per line. As you can tell, that's a radical and quite revolutionary amount of Braille. It means that you can present spatial Braille information, even basic tactile diagrams. But, more importantly, you can present mathematics, music, tables, represent headings as being properly indented with white space, and be able to see two paragraphs, one above the other—it just opens up electronic Braille to a much wider range of users who previously had been restricted to paper Braille. The other exciting part of this for us is that it's brand-new technology that we designed ourselves in Bristol in the United Kingdom. It's very hard—the Braille itself is hard; it doesn't compress; it's not piezoelectric technology. And, because we've designed our own technology for this, the price of the Canute is going to be somewhere under—it's going to cost less than any single-line forty-cell Braille display, despite having 360 cells of Braille on it.

Audio Narration: BlindConnect of Las Vegas, for establishing Angela's House, Nevada's only training center dedicated to serving adults who are blind or losing vision—founded in loving memory of BlindConnect board member Angela Hoffman. Here's BlindConnect President Raquel O'Neill:

Raquel O’Neill: BlindConnect has been in existence in Las Vegas, Nevada, since 1998, and our original mission is really to provide Nevadans resources and information about vision loss as soon as it occurs in the early stages of eyesight conditions. Then, as we grew as an organization, we recognized the need for additional education and training for blind Nevadans. So now our mission is really to increase independence and self-sufficiency for blind Nevadans across the board. In the aftermath of Angela's loss, our organization and her family have been committed to finding a place—a training center in Nevada—where blind Nevadans can begin their journey of independence without having to leave home or leave their loved ones and supportive networks.

Audio Narration: The United States Association of Blind Athletes for its National Fitness Challenges—here is USABA Programs and Finance Manager Kevin Brousard.

Kevin Brousard: The USABA National Fitness Challenge purpose is to improve the health of blind Americans, and we do that in two main ways. The first thing we do is we provide Fitbit wearable technology, the fitness trackers, for 450 blind Americans in seventeen different cities. The Fitbit is great because it is a highly accessible smartphone application, so it allows all of our participants to easily access their information. A big part of the Fitbit is tracking how many steps you have per day, and 10,000 is the recommended level of steps per day; that's kind of the overarching goal everyone wants to achieve. That equates to about five miles per day. The second portion is that we work with our local partnering agencies to provide those people in seventeen cities with programming to introduce them to sports and recreation and kickstart some lifelong healthy habits. So we give them the tool with the Fitbit to track their fitness, and then we work with our local partners to ensure that they are getting opportunities to stay active and learning some new skills along the way, hopefully leading to a healthier lifestyle.

Audio Narration: And here's Pam Allen, director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, partner in the National Fitness Challenge:

Pam Allen: It's been a great opportunity. We all know how important physical fitness is to overall well-being, so we were delighted to partner with USABA through the Fitness Challenge. We've done a variety of activities, anything from rock climbing to rowing. We've done several 5Ks. Also we've done yoga and a whole variety of different sports. We have had so many different opportunities to challenge our students and members of our affiliate to really push themselves, and the results have been incredible, both as far as better overall physical fitness and also just better well-being in general.

Audio Narration: Ladies and gentlemen, these winners will now receive their awards, which include a trophy and a monetary prize to advance their continuing work to help blind people live the lives we want. Please give each of them a warm welcome as the National Federation of the Blind proudly presents them with their 2019 Jacob Bolotin Awards.

Jim Gashel: Thank you very much. I'm going to ask our winners to form a line—they got very specific instructions—so if you all will step forward in the order described. I tell you, no matter how many years we do this, these presentations always have an effect on me. So we have five more winners this year; you've heard from all of them. The thing you don't know is how much money they're getting. Please hold your applause while I announce each winner's cash prize and President Riccobono presents each winner's plaque.

Our first recipient is Libra Robinson for her inspired leadership of N'Sight VIP Services in Washington, DC. Congratulations, Libra, for your Jacob Bolotin Award in the amount of $5,000.

Our second winner is BlindConnect in Las Vegas to support its training center program called Angela's House. Congratulations, Raquel O'Neill, president, here to receive the award on behalf of BlindConnect in the amount of $5,000.

Our third winner is the United States Association of Blind Athletes in recognition of its National Fitness Challenge Program. Congratulations to Kevin Brousard, programs and finance manager at USABA, here to receive the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for USABA National Fitness Challenge in the amount of $5,000.

Our fourth recipient is Michael Nye for exploding the myths about blindness and helping blind people to tell our own stories in our own words. Congratulations to Michael Nye for your award in the amount of $15,000.

And now, for our highest cash prize—and this prize also comes with the opportunity to say a few words—this is the award that goes to Bristol Braille Technologies and its managing director, Ed Rogers, for the development of the Canute 360, the world's first multi-line digital Braille e-reader—this has been a long time coming. The award to Bristol Braille Technologies is for $20,000. Here's Ed Rogers.

Ed Rogers: Thank you very much to all the committee. It's an incredible honor for the entire team and for the hundreds of people who've been testing, developing, trying, and showing us how the machine didn't work in the past and helping us improve it. Thank you very much. I think it's important to note here that not everyone knows the role that the NFB has played in the development of the Canute 360. Since I first took a prototype to Baltimore and showed it to President Riccobono in 2016, we have received guidance, we have received the support, and, very importantly, we have been sponsored by and had feedback from the Federation and the American Action Fund in the prototype pilot process, which has been what's sustained us to this stage. So without the effort of everyone at the NFB and the Action Fund, this would not have happened. I would like to give my most heartfelt thanks, most especially, to President Riccobono and Dr. Maurer, and of course to all the Federationists here. Thank you.

Jim Gashel: Thank you, Ed Rogers. Now you guys get a chance. Here, standing before you, is the Jacob Bolotin Award winners' class of 2019. Let's hear a loud Federation cheer. [Cheers, applause] Please visit our website, the Jacob Bolotin Award page at nfb.org, where you can listen to the full content of the audio text—we played shorter clips for this presentation, but the full presentation will be available on that page. Thank you to Ron Brown, to Mary Ellen Jernigan, to Everette Bacon, and to Marc Maurer for joining me on the Jacob Bolotin Award Committee this year, especially for their enlightened experience and wise judgment on picking these winners.

Now also a special thanks to the people in our group who nominated these award winners. And all of you can do the same thing in the months and years to come. We know the projects that truly benefit blind people in the spirit of Dr. Jacob Bolotin. Our awards competition will open again in November 2019, and we will get ready to present the 2020 Jacob Bolotin Awards. The competition will close on April 15. Do your job, bring us the winners, and we will make the presentations. Mr. President, this is my report and the presentation of the Jacob Bolotin Awards for 2019. Mahalo.


Meet the 2019 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class

Presented by Cayte Mendez

From the Editor: At the annual board meeting of the National Federation of the Blind, NFB Scholarship Committee Chair Cayte Mendez introduced the NFB National Scholarship finalists. 

Cayte Mendez: Good morning, Mr. President and members of the board. It is my privilege to present to you today the thirty finalists in the 2019 National Federation of the Blind scholarship class. These folks hail from across the fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. They have been selected because of their scholastic aptitude and leadership, and it is my honor to let them speak to you today. I will give you their full names, the state that they hail from (their home state), the state where they are attending school, and their vocational goals.

Amy Albin, New Jersey, New Jersey, Industrial Psychology: Hello, and thank you all for making this day possible. In psychology we study cognitive biases such as confirmation bias and ingroup-outgroup bias that affect our attitudes. My psychology major will give me the academic background to do what I've been doing already for years: promoting high expectations of blind people. Thank you.

Makayla Bouchea, Georgia, Georgia, Business and Human Resources: Good morning, everybody. I'm just going to start out by saying human resources is not only hiring, firing, and training. It's also the ability to make sure that everybody has the resources they need to be successful in the workplace. As someone who was not given accommodations and had to go find her own technology throughout school, I don't want people to have to stress about that in the workplace. I talk about being a naval science 1-4 cadet all the time, because I was a big part of NJROTC. That program helped me to become a leader, a follower, and taking back all the information that I have learned from this convention to Georgia will definitely help.

Tracy Boyd, Oregon, Oregon, Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Good morning, Federation family. I am so grateful to be here and to be a part of this 2019 scholarship class. I have been a member of the National Federation for the past five years, and this organization has helped me raise the bar for myself. I am in my final year of my master's program, and I'm excited to reach my goal to work with blind veterans. Thank you.

Kaden Calahan, New Mexico, New Mexico, High School Teacher: Good morning, Federation family. It is an honor and a privilege to be here today. One of the things that I think about as I go into education is the value and importance of mentorship and learning from others. I have tremendous mentors in the National Federation of the Blind, tremendous people who push the expectations higher every day. I feel confident now—this is my third major change—that education is the place I want to be. I want to push that knowledge on to those that I can help most. Thank you.

Rashid Déme, Michigan, Michigan, Human Rights or International Law: Good morning, marhaban, na nga def, bonjour. Aside from education, a portion of my time is spent advocating for equity, not only for individuals with disabilities but other identities as well. I work with local social justice initiatives learning about interfunctionalities of programs. With my compassion for humanity I truly believe in helping people help themselves. Thank you.

Eric Duffy, Ohio, Ohio, Vocational Rehabilitation Administration: Good morning, fellow Federationists. Thirty-five years ago I became a part of the Federation family. At a very young age you helped me begin to define my understanding of what blindness is and what it is not, and that is what I will take into my career as a rehabilitation professional—our understanding of blindness. Together we will build a great agency somewhere in this country.

Skye Dunfield, Nevada, Nevada, Victim Advocate: Hi, everyone, and thank you so much for having us here as a scholarship class. You know, when I was first going to come to this convention, I wrote out a whole spiel. And then I came here, and I learned something: I learned that I have a lot to learn, and I have an entire family here to support me, and it's going to be an amazing resource as I work my way up in my education, my career, and my life. I just want to say thank you so much. Normally I'm nervous, but right now, talking to all of you, I'm not, because I know I have my whole family here in front of me. Thank you

Emily Eagle, Texas, Indiana, Disability Rights Attorney: My desire to be an advocate has been reinforced by two recent experiences: first, my internship with the State Department's international disability rights team, where I was inspired by international advocates, many of whom were fighting for even the slightest access to an education for those with disabilities. Then there was my involvement in the formation of Notre Dame's first disability advocacy organization, where it's been amazing to see the united voices of a very few build such meaningful bridges. However, this convention has reminded me that we are so, so far from alone. Thanks y'all.

Amy Hatten, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Rehab Counseling: Good morning, fellow Federationists. As a future rehabilitation counselor, I want to help individuals with disabilities with advocacy, breaking down the barriers, and to find the integrated, competitive employment like this organization has helped me do for myself. I want to bring the love, hope, and determination to all my future consumers and clients like this organization has brought to my life.

Maureen Hayden, Pennsylvania, Texas, Research or Academia in Marine Biology: Good morning, fellow Federationists, or as we say at Texas A&M, howdy. As a doctoral student pursuing my career in marine biology, I hope to work with individuals who are visually impaired or blind in discovering their own passion for STEM careers. I'm already active in this goal as a Learning Ally college success program mentor as well as an industry mentor for the Project POEM program funded by the National Science Foundation. If there's one thing I've learned, it's never say never

Gene Kim, California, California, Engineering: Good morning, fellow Federationists, or as we say in California, hello. I will not lie. Up until last week engineering has been a very daunting task to me, a daunting career that I want to pursue. I doubted myself; I thought I would not be able to do it. After all, I've only been blind for two-and-a-half years. I don't know Braille skills yet; I don't know all of these different tactics that are more efficient. But coming to this convention, which is my first, has given me a complete 180 in that direction. I now have met so many people who have accomplished so many great things, who have been so supportive to me, and who helped me conquer this fear and anxiety. So with this newfound confidence in my own blindness, I am eager to take the challenge that is before me, and I am eager to design technologies that will allow us to live more accessible lives and live the lives that we want, and help me live the life that I want, which is to express and share the love and empowerment that you have given me. Thank you, my new Federation family.

Jenelle Landgraf, Washington, Washington, Therapist: Thank you. Those of us who share the characteristic of blindness are aware of the dominant ableist norms that can lead to feelings of shame. One shame-resilience factor that won't surprise the Federation family at all is connection with other people who share the same disability. This research has opened a door of understanding for my future patients rather than stigmatizing people as is often done in mental health care. I am passionate about strengthening mental health care services because it impacts all of us. Thank you.

Nina Marranca, New York, New York, Clinical Psychology: Good morning, Federation family. When I was thinking about what to speak about today—which is terrifying—I only have thirty seconds, and I talk way too much—this quote honestly came to mind: "Chase your dreams with a passion that makes it impossible for your fears to keep up." As President Riccobono has said, this is an investment. This is an investment in me, in my future, in my ability to succeed and to represent every single person in this room so that we can live the lives we want. And, honestly, it's a little terrifying, because it's like, wow, okay. But honestly it's a huge honor because not everybody gets to say that they went through this program, and I'm so happy to be here. Thank you guys so much.

Ana Martinez-Larumbe, Louisiana, Louisiana, Social Work: Good morning, guys. Helping others and bringing people closer to Christ are my biggest passions, and if I can combine both, even better. As a social worker I want to help children who have been abused, neglected, or traumatized. I want to get a second degree in divinity, so I'm hoping to open my own facility and help children who are struggling with life situations while at the same time bringing them closer to Christ and share with them the joy of living a life with Him.

Lucas Mebane, North Carolina, North Carolina, Biomedical Engineer: Good morning, Federation family. I'm delighted and honored to receive this award. With biomedical engineering I want to help make people's lives better by designing new technologies and fulfilling the slogan of the NFB by living the life I want to live. Thank you.

Gerald Meredith, Virginia, Virginia, Professor of Criminal Justice: Good morning, my Federation family. With criminal justice we study theory. I have twenty-five years of practical experience in the field of criminal justice and corrections and security. I want to marry these two, the theory and the practical, and teach criminal justice on the collegiate level and show that these two can work together. Thank you. I am grateful to be here.

Pablo Morales, North Carolina, North Carolina, Business and Management: Good morning, NFB family. I already have a degree in computers. Right now I am a senior student in business and economics, so my goal for the future is to have a master's in information and technology management. My professional goal is to improve the value of our organization products and services and also make accessibility a competitive advantage.

Kaylee Nielson, Arizona, Massachusetts, Business Journalism: Thank you. About six years ago I became a member of the blind community, and it's been a learning curve ever since. Skills like advocacy, independence, and creative problem-solving have served me beyond striving for equality. These skills have helped me become editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper, president of national honor society, and an admitted student at Wellesley College for the fall. My blindness does not define me, but it is an important part of my story and my narrative. Luckily for me the Federation shares this feeling. I am honored to be here. Thank you.

Erin Olsen, Idaho, Idaho, Instructional Design for Vulnerable Populations: Well, being on the upper end of the age range, I'm going to try to be with my younger class members and try to say "wassup, NFB." My passion has always been knowing people, finding needs, identifying niches, and then trying to find ways to fix them. And I was able to do that for the last twenty years or so. Then I hit a couple little road bumps. One was blindness, and the second, within just a few months, was a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. When I got my act together, I said, "Huh, guess I need some new skills." So I got some new skills through some excellent training, and then I found my NFB family sitting to my left, the fantastic Idaho affiliate—let's give a shout out Idaho! [Cheers] Thank you. The skills were the foundation, but my affiliate gave me the support that I needed to get through some pretty rough times and of course introduced me to all of you and the fantastic people on the stage behind me. What I look forward to is continuing with what I call "being a blur," and yes, there's multiple meanings to that. But it's my philosophy, and that is for all of us to live beyond living under restrictions. Thank you very much; have a fantastic rest of your convention.

Rachel Ooi, Tennessee, North Carolina, Law: First of all, thank you so much to all who made this possible. I am having such a great time at convention, and it's only Tuesday. As an intersectionally diverse person (Singaporean, Japanese, blind, and a woman) I aspire to bring a unique cultural landscape to all aspects of my life. I aspire to be an attorney where I bring an equitable education and equal rights to all those who are underrepresented to help them live the lives they want. I believe that the National Federation of the Blind will help me in this goal.

Amelia Palmer, Idaho, Idaho, Electrical Engineering: To the futures we've all chosen, for the independence we fight for, and the dreams of jobs, dreams of grades, the prospects of dependence fade. Together we stand to make our worth known.

Aracely Rosillo, Georgia, Georgia, Vision Rehab Therapist: Hello, everybody. I am currently studying psychology, and I'm pursuing my bachelor's degree. My career goal is to become an independent contracting vision rehabilitation therapist. First of all, because I would love to make my own schedule and not listen to anybody else, but also because it would let me reach out into the immigrant community, something that is really close to my heart as a Latina woman. A lot of people in the immigrant community are unable to receive services like this, so I want to be able to work with them and help them so that they can achieve and be the best they can be. Thank you.

Heather Schey, Rhode Island, Rhode Island, Human Services: Good morning, everybody. I first want to say thank you for this amazing opportunity. I never thought I would be here today. I also want to share that when I started my journey in life—I'm a little bit older than some of the others here, too—I didn't have a voice. It was hard for me to find my voice, my path in life. So from attending a conference all by myself, not knowing one person a few years ago, that challenged me. I found a little bit of my voice. Then recently—before I attended this conference—I flew away the week before. I was just inducted as the first blind president of my local Lions Club. My job and my human services degree will also help me to give others a voice. I work at an agency that assists people with disabilities to remain independent and living on their own. I am excited to say that with this degree I can actually become more involved one-on-one with the consumers, and that will help me give them more of a voice learning how to advocate for themselves and to continue their life's journey so that they can have a successful life. Thank you.

Vanessa Sheehan, Arizona, Arizona, Manuscript Editor: Hello. For anyone who does not know what a manuscript editor is, it is a person who works with authors before their book is published. So books are probably one of the most important things in my life. When I lost my vision a few years ago, my first priority was finding a way to read using Braille, BARD, and other accessible methods. I want to be able to help people who are just as passionate about writing as I am to put out books that can make people just as passionate about reading as I am, and I'd like to thank the NFB for helping me to get closer to that goal. Thank you.

Brandon Shin, California, California, Law or PhD in English: I am an imperfectionist; I have had my share of faults both metaphorically and physically. As such, life can be both a journey and a fight. Likewise, life at times cannot just throw you a lemon but can pull the pin and lob a grenade at you. During the aftermath of those explosions we find ourselves having a hard time getting back up. It is never a shame to fall, but it is a shame to fall and never get back up. Life never plays fair, life will never fight fair, and in the words of Brad Williams, "Life is not what should be, but life is what is." Life should be fair, life should be non-suffering, and everybody should not be blind, not be disabled, not sick. But we are blind, and we are here. I am a Federationist. Life can hit me as much as it wants; I can hit right back. Anything that threatens my development better hit hard, because all I'm going to do is get back up and hit six times harder. Thank you.

Derique Simon, South Carolina, South Carolina, Law: Good morning, fellow Federationists. One year ago I was sitting where you guys are now as an LCB STEP student, and I came to a very disturbing discovery with myself: that I want to do better. I wanted to be better than what I was the day before and the week before that. I found amazing mentors who pushed me to think better, think smarter, and I discovered that I wanted to go into law. With law it's not just for the blind community, it's for every community, whether they be blind, deaf, etc., etc. And if it wasn't for my Federation family, I don't think I'd be here today; so I sincerely thank all of you, the scholarship committee, President Riccobono, and everyone for giving me this wonderful opportunity.

Georgie Sydnor, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Transcriber and Teacher of Blind Students: Federation family! Whew, I'm nervous. I want to be a teacher of blind students because I know the power of high expectations—I don't believe in it. I know it for a fact. I see it in people around me, I feel it in my own life, and I'm ready to give back to our kids who will become our adults. I'm a very, very proud graduate of the Colorado Center for the Blind. I'm very, very proud to serve as the secretary of the Massachusetts affiliate. I'm very proud of the work we do in the Federation. I mean truly—when I was eighteen, nine years ago, the NFB changed my life, and it shapes it every day, and I'm so, so honored to be here. Thank you.

Alicia Ucciferri, Texas, Texas, Civil Rights or Human Rights Attorney: Good morning. I'm planning to study law for largely the same reason that I studied vocal performance before this. I believe that one of the reasons I exist is to communicate reality in ways that are accurate, beautiful, and convincing. Law is a means just like singing was a means. The goal is equity, that every single one of us be on the same playing field in society, that every single person in this room would get to live in a world in which we can entirely participate and genuinely flourish. Thank you, Federationists, for trusting and enabling me to fight for that alongside you.

Madelyn Walker, Texas, Mississippi, Pharmaceutical Oncology: Good morning, my fellow Federationists. I'm honored to be here in front of you today. When I first lost my vision, I thought my life was over. I only heard what I couldn't do. But through examples, leadership, and encouragement of people in this organization in our community, I learned that the only thing stopping me was me. So in spite of that statement I organized a community day of service, blood drives, and raised over $60,000 for cancer research. This statement is all to say that I hope to encourage others, as you all have encouraged me, to overcome any obstacle in their path. Thank you.

Ryan Wullschleger, California, California, Attorney: Hello, everyone, my name is Ryan. I'm a little nervous here. I've been blind just a few years, and through those couple of years I haven't met many in the community. I think it's partially because of me being nervous to maybe even admit that things are different. But since I've been at this conference, I've been welcomed. People have treated me so well, and this won't be the last conference. I thank everyone here for that. I thank the committee for accepting me, not just because of the scholarship, but because of you guys. So thank you for everything.

At the banquet Emily Eagle won the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. Here is what she had to say:

Hi, everyone. Thank you so much. I genuinely never thought I would be in this position. I would like to begin by thanking President Riccobono, the scholarship committee, sponsors, and a special thank you to my mentors who made this week seamless and put me at ease. This is my first NFB convention, and in large part it's my first genuine exposure to the National Federation of the Blind. And to say that this week is transformative is an extreme understatement. I genuinely hope that I can continue to contribute to this organization meaningfully throughout my life. I'm so grateful for the lessons I've learned, the growth that I've experienced, the beautiful friends that I've made, and especially for this extremely generous scholarship which is genuinely life changing. Thank you, thank you. Thank you so much! I genuinely really appreciate it. I really could go on and on about how amazing this experience has been, but I know that no words will be sufficient to express just how incredible it's been. So I will simply finish by humbly saying thank you to the National Federation of the Blind for enabling me to live the life that I want. Thank you. [Applause, cheers]

Following is a complete list of 2019 scholarship finalists and the awards they received. In addition to their scholarship, each student received a plaque and a $1,000 cash award from inventor and futurist Dr. Ray Kurzweil, an Acer Chromebook laptop and a $1,000 cash award from Google, a JAWS or Zoomtext license from Vispero, a $1,500 voucher toward the purchase of a Talking LabQuest from Independence Science, and nine months of service from Aira, for a total award for each winner with a minimum value exceeding $5,000.

$3,000 NFB Scholarship (16): Amy Albin, Kaden Calahan, Amy Hatten, Jenelle Landgraf, Nina Marranca, Lucas Mebane, Gerald Meredith, Pablo Morales, Rachel Ooi, Amelia Palmer, Aracely Rosillo, Heather Schey, Brandon Shin, Derique Simon, Georgie Sydnor, and Ryan Wullschleger

$3,000 Charles and Betty Allen Scholarship: Eric Duffy

$3,000 Dr. Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship: Kaylee Nielson

$3,000 Edith R. and Alvin J. Domroe Foundation Scholarship: Ana Martinez-Larumbe

$3,000 Janette C. Eyerly Scholarship: Vanessa Sheehan

$3,000 Charles and Melba T. Owen Scholarship: Maureen Hayden

$3,000 E.U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: Makayla Bouchea

$5,000 JAWS for Windows Scholarship: Alicia Ucciferri

$5,000 NFB STEM Scholarship: Madelyn Walker

$5,000 Pearson Scholarship: Erin Olsen

$5,000 Mimi and Marvin Sandler Scholarship: Rashid Déme

$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Gene Kim

$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in a STEM Field: Tracy Boyd

$10,000 Charles and Melba T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Skye Dunfield

$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship: Emily Eagle

Welcome to Youth Track

by Amy Porterfield

From the Editor: During the NFB National Convention, children ages three to ten are kept busy in NFB Childcare, and adults choose from a host of meetings and presentations. To meet the needs of young people between the ages of eleven and eighteen, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) has created Youth Track. In this article Youth Track coordinator Amy Porterfield shares a bit of the history of Youth Track and describes some of the fun and informative activities that keep teens engaged throughout convention week. Amy Porterfield is the director of SAAVI Services for the Blind, based in Tucson, Arizona.

My first experience with Youth Track occurred in 2010, when I enrolled my sighted son, who was in middle school at the time. The sighted children of blind parents and the sighted siblings of blind children have always been welcome in Youth Track. Most of them find it to be a great experience, even putting on learning shades to develop some nonvisual skills.

Over the years a number of different organizations took turns coordinating Youth Track activities at the NFB conventions. In 2017 SAAVI Services for the Blind partnered with the NOPBC to plan and run the annual session for teens, "Looking Good, Feeling Good." In this session, which is linked with the NFB fashion show, blind adults talk with the teens about how good personal grooming can boost confidence. The session involves hands-on skill building with applying makeup for girls and discussion with the boys about shaving.

Since that time staff from SAAVI have worked closely with NOPBC to plan and operate the Youth Track program. From eighty to one hundred teens and preteens sign up each year. Alyssa Bracamonte, the children's and youth coordinator at SAAVI, coordinated the 2019 Youth Track. Her mother is blind, so Alyssa knows about blindness from the inside.

Youth Track draws upon the talents and expertise of staff from the three NFB training centers as well as Federationists from throughout the country. At the 2019 convention, mathematician Al Maneki worked with the teens around tactile graphics, using the inTact Sketchpad. Other sessions involved STEM activities and tactile art projects. Braille was incorporated into all of the activities. The students had fun, but it was what Alyssa called "disguised learning."

Career planning is vital for all teens, and we take it seriously at Youth Track. Every year we seek out blind people with a variety of job experiences who can talk with the students. This year a teacher explained how she handles classroom management. The teens were fascinated to hear from a blind prosecutor who described how he investigates crime scenes nonvisually.  

The students in Youth Track take part in the annual Cane Walk. Orientation and mobility instructors lead them in confidence-building activities such as taking escalators and finding locations in the hotel, all under learning shades and using the long white cane. Some of the teens have never used a cane before. We make sure they take NFB canes with them when they leave.

One of the most memorable Youth Track activities was a scavenger hunt called the Exhibit Hall Challenge. The exhibit hall at convention consists of two vast rooms filled with booths that display the products and services of various companies and organizations. The booths are numbered, and they are arranged in large rectangles, but the rooms are very crowded and the noise level is daunting. Teams of students were assigned to visit particular booths and bring back evidence such as information packets and free samples.

Early in convention week the Youth Track students and mentors attended the meeting of the Resolutions Committee. Teens sometimes have trouble with the language and phrasing of the resolutions, so afterwards the group met for a separate seminar to review the resolutions one by one. The mentors explained each resolution in lay terms. The students were especially interested in the "Let us play us" resolution, which calls for blind actors to be cast as blind characters on screen. One student voiced concern that the resolution was too narrow. Why should blind actors be restricted to playing the roles of blind characters? Why couldn't casting opportunities be wide open?

The teens in Youth Track attended the NFB board meeting and the general sessions. Youth Track mentors sat with them to help explain what was going on. In addition, the teens were involved in discussions about NFB philosophy and what it means to be blind. In all these activities the Youth Track mentors aimed to create a space where the teens could talk frankly about their experiences in middle and high school.

Throughout convention week Youth Track mentors helped the teens understand the philosophy and purpose of the Federation. They tried to show the students that they are part of the larger organization. Students were encouraged to participate in the NFB as fully as possible. The issues that blind people face affect us all, and age is no barrier to getting involved. During the Youth Track wrap-up at the close of convention, many students said they couldn't wait to go home and become full members of the NFB.

Braille Carnival: A Swimming Success

by Julie Deden

From the Editor: Julie Deden is the director of the Colorado Center for the Blind, and she also serves as vice president of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. In this capacity she volunteered to chair the Century Celebration Carnival. Here is her report.

Schools of Braille enthusiasts swirled through the room for the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults Century Celebration Carnival on Tuesday, July 9. Hundreds of kids and adults were there to celebrate one hundred years of innovation in the areas of Braille and tactile literacy by the Action Fund.

At the center of it all was the Action Fund's latest innovative product, Pedro and the Octopus, a beautifully written and illustrated tactile print and Braille book. Author Deborah Kent (known to us as Debbie Stein) and tactile illustrator Ann Cunningham were on hand to pass out the books and sign them. Each of the first one hundred families to appear received a free copy.

Participants played Braille relay games, tried their hands at drawing, and sniffed out a variety of scents. They enjoyed popcorn and lemonade, and Dr. and Mrs. Maurer gave out the brand-new 2020 Braille calendar.

Not surprisingly, the theme of the carnival was sea creatures. Austin Riccobono (the son of our President and First Lady) was there to talk about all kinds of marine animals. He showed off three-dimensional replicas of many of them.

When the American Action Fund began its work as the American Brotherhood for the Blind in 1919, Braille itself had been around for less than one hundred years. At that time all Braille was produced by hand, so its availability was very limited. The Action Fund began with the simple goal of making more Braille materials available to blind adults and children. So our celebration was not just about the past one hundred years, but about the ocean of possible innovation that the next hundred years will mean for the blind. The American Action Fund will be sailing with a brisk tailwind.

We want to thank the National Association of Blind Students for all their work at the Braille Carnival. Thank you also to the entire board of the Action Fund. All of us are ready for another century of service.

Our Convention Adventures

by Nancy Horst

From the Editor: For first-time attendees, the NFB National Convention can be thrilling and filled with opportunities, but the experience can be overwhelming, too. In this article Nancy Horst of Louisiana writes about what convention means to her and her young daughter.

My daughter, Kayleigh, got her first pair of glasses when she was nine months old. At that time we didn't realize just how limited her vision was. She went to pre-K and then to kindergarten, and she struggled to read. Before she started first grade, she was evaluated by Janet Bernhardt, a teacher of blind students. Janet told us that Kayleigh was legally blind, and she needed to learn Braille.

When we received that news, our lives began to change. We went to the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) in Ruston, and we met many wonderful people there. I started taking Kayleigh to Braille Club after school. At first she didn't understand why she had to learn Braille. But as time went on she realized that she does need Braille and all the other things she is being taught.

Toward the end of the school year, several people told me about the national convention of the National Federation of the Blind, and they asked if we would be interested in going. The convention was being held in Orlando, Florida. I thought it would be a wonderful experience for Kayleigh and me to go, but I didn't know how I would ever afford it. That's when I was told about the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship Fund. Pam Allen, director of the LCB, wrote a letter of recommendation for us. I am very grateful that we received funding to attend the convention.

The first time at a national convention can be an overwhelming experience. There is so much to do, and there are so many people. Kayleigh loved the huge hotel! Seeing so many blind individuals traveling with their canes was truly an awesome experience for both of us.

On our first night at convention we went to the Rookie Roundup, an orientation for first-time attendees. We got to meet lots of people who were also new to the convention, including other parents and their children.

One of my favorite convention moments was when President Mark Riccobono sat down on the floor at the front of the conference room with the kids. He asked them questions and just talked to them. It was so much fun!

Another stand-out moment for me occurred in General Session, when they introduced the blind veterans. There are many veterans in my family, including my father and grandfather. It's great to see the veterans recognized!

The main agenda for the week told us when and where most of the events and activities were taking place. In addition, I got the agenda for activities sponsored by the parents' division, the NOPBC. There was so much packed into one week!

Convention was a completely awesome experience. We tried to do as many things as we possibly could. The Cane Walk was a fantastic opportunity. It gave me the chance to put on learning shades and use a cane with the guidance of an orientation and mobility instructor. As a fully sighted person I could experience what my child does during training. I will tell you, the learning shades are not my favorite thing! But the amount of knowledge I gained and the people I met are phenomenal!

Kayleigh made lots of friends at NFB Kids' Camp. I met many fantastic parents who were going through the same things we were. All of us were trying to figure out IEPs and determine what is best for our children. I have kept in touch with several people we met at convention, which is all the more reason to return the next year.

After everything I learned in Orlando, I was determined to go to the NFB convention again the following year—and every year after that, if possible! But convention can be expensive for families like ours. By the time we attended the 2019 convention in Las Vegas, I had learned some ways to keep the costs down. Here are some ideas. Plan ahead!

The people of the NFB are some of the nicest people you will ever encounter. I'm so thankful to have found my Federation family! My daughter is getting what she needs, and she will grow up with blind mentors who have the knowledge to help her achieve her goals in life. I plan to attend convention every year for as long as I possibly can. I gain information for myself and my child, and I hope to pass on what we learn to new families that are just starting out.

The American Action Fund Needs Your Help

"Sometimes I noticed that my student was not being included or challenged. Now that we get the books in Braille, she reads them out loud to me and her classmates, which has greatly improved her confidence. In addition, the Free Braille Books program provides me with a way to engage her about things I know we both understand. It has allowed me to piggyback off of her reading material to find her new assignments. The books go home with her, and she and her mother read them together. This program has been a lifesaver. It has helped my student learn new skills and made me a better teacher."

For one hundred years the American Action Fund has brought Braille to thousands of blind children and adults. The Action Fund ships free books each month to any blind or deaf-blind child who wants them. The American Action Fund provides Future Reflections and supports tactile art initiatives.

Now we humbly ask for your help. Please support the American Action Fund by making a contribution. If you enjoy receiving Future Reflections, free Braille books, or both, please help us continue to support Braille, tactile art, and so much more.

To donate online visit https://actionfund.org. If you prefer to pay by mail, send a check made out to "American Action Fund." Mail checks to American Action Fund, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230.

Your gift truly will make a difference. Please help with an end-of-year tax-deductible gift so the American Action Fund can continue to provide Braille books to children, publish Future Reflections for parents and teachers, and more.

Often the simplest and most significant way to make a charitable donation is to plan to give a legacy gift. It is easier than you might think. You can plan to give all or part of a bank account, insurance proceeds, investment assets, real estate, or a retirement account. You can even give a required minimum distribution from your IRA directly to charity and avoid taxes on that money. After taking care of your loved ones, you can bequeath a specific dollar amount or percentage of your estate to an organization whose mission is important to you. Your bequest carries with it the values and ideals that have been important to you throughout your lifetime and supports an organization whose mission you hold dear.

Planning for a legacy gift may reduce the total amount of your taxable estate, which can have a positive impact on any amounts you have designated for your heirs.

The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults Legacy Society honors and recognizes the generosity and the vision of special friends of the Action Fund who have chosen to leave a legacy through a will or other planned giving option. If you wish to give part or all of an account, simply fill out a P.O.D. (payable on death) or T.O.D. (transfer on death) form. For pensions and insurance assets, simply designate a charity as a beneficiary.

If you would like to leave a legacy to the Action Fund in your will, simply include the following language:
"I give, devise, and bequeath unto the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults, 1800 Johnson Street, Suite 100, Baltimore, Maryland 21230, a Maryland nonprofit corporation, the sum of $______________ (or) _________ percent of my net estate" or "the following stocks and bonds: ____________________, to be used for its worthy purposes on behalf of blind persons."

If you have any questions or would like more information, please reach out to Patti Chang at 410-659-9315. If you have included the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in your will, or if you have made some other provision for a future gift to us and would like to tell us about it, please contact Patti so we can recognize you as a member of our Legacy Society.

Legacy gifts provide opportunities for generations of blind children and adults. Please consider the American Action Fund in your future plans. 

General Announcements


2019 American Prize
The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults was honored with the American Prize, one of the 2019 Literacy Awards from the Library of Congress. Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and award sponsor David M. Rubenstein presented the award at the National Book Festival gala. Originated by Rubenstein in 2013, the Literacy Awards honor "organizations doing exemplary, innovative, and replicable work. They spotlight the need for communities worldwide to unite in working for universal literacy." Also receiving awards at the gala were ProLiteracy Worldwide and ConTextos.
The American Action Fund received the American Prize due to its longstanding commitment to literacy for blind children and adults and its work alongside the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to promote the Braille code and the advancement of literacy for blind people. As part of the award, Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Action Fund, presented at the Best Practices Conference at the Library of Congress in October.

Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards
Contact: James Gashel, 808-234-9259
[email protected]
Deadline for Applications: April 15, 2020
The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards are presented each year to persons or organizations that demonstrate exemplary leadership and extraordinary accomplishments in improving the lives of blind people in the United States. An application can be made by the applicant directly or by third parties who nominate an applicant. Each application requires an essay describing the work or project to be recognized. In addition, each application must have at least one letter of recommendation in support of the nominee.

Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation
National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen St.
Boston, MA 02115
Deadline for Applications: January 10, 2020
The Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation is an annual prize of $10,000 awarded to a project, or projects, that show the most innovative idea in the field of Braille and tactile literacy. Winners and applicants have submitted projects for professional software and apps, educational software and apps, gaming software or apps, and Braille- or tactile-related hardware. Innovators have come from all over the world in the fields of education, technology, engineering, tactile graphics, and literacy. This is the only prize to foster and reward innovation in the area of Braille and tactile literacy for the blind and deaf-blind communities. The Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation has been funded through support from the Gibney Family Foundation. The prize was developed to inspire an innovator to continue the promotion of Braille literacy for blind and deaf-blind people worldwide.


Nationwide Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest
Contact: [email protected]
Contest Reading Period: December 1, 2019-January 18, 2020
Deadline for Registration: January 18, 2020
Deadline to Submit Reading Logs: February 2, 2020
The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults is pleased to announce the third annual Nationwide Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest (BRAL). Students in grades K-12 compete with those in their grade category to read the most Braille pages during the contest period. The top three students in each grade category will receive cash prizes, and every student who submits a reading log at the close of the contest will be sent a packet of Braille-related gifts. This year a category for adults has been added to encourage those who are learning Braille or who wish to improve their Braille skills.

Third Annual Braille Poetry Contest
National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen St., Boston, MA 02115
Contact: [email protected]
Deadline for Submissions: February 7, 2020
The theme of this year's Braille Poetry Contest is freedom—freedom to be you, freedom in the world, fighting for freedom—let your creativity run free! Writers of all ages are encouraged to enter original Braille poetry for a chance to win a grand prize. Winners will be announced on World Poetry Day, March 21, 2020. Contestants may enter in the following age categories: Grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12; and Adult. Poems must be original works of 125 words or less, written in UEB or English Braille American Edition. Poems may be submitted electronically in BRF format or in hard copy Braille. 

Every December the National Federation of the Blind helps Santa send letters in Braille to young blind children across the country. How did it start? More than ten years ago Santa asked folks at the NFB to be his honorary elves. Ever since, they've been helping him send letters in contracted Braille to blind children age ten and younger in the United States. Along with the Braille letter, Santa includes a print letter so parents who might not read Braille can follow along. He also includes a tactile coloring sheet. 


Los Niños Training Workshops
Contact: [email protected]
Location: Various locations in New York City
Dates: Several sessions up to March 2020
Los Niños Training, LLC, provides valuable professional development and learning experiences about early childhood, focusing on challenges and ways to overcome them. These sessions aim to help early childhood professionals more effectively teach, care for, and intervene with young children and have them reach their full potential. Continuing Education credits are available.


Contact: Anne Steverson or Karla Antonelli, 866-675-7782
[email protected]
The NRTC on Blindness and Low Vision at Mississippi State University is recruiting field test participants for a new app project, 4to24, designed to help parents and youth focus on employment. The app provides information, resources, and activities that will help youth build independence and skills for employment as an adult. The researchers are seeking parents of blind or low-vision youth between the ages of four and twenty-four, and blind and low-vision young people ages sixteen to twenty-four, to participate in a study using the app for a six-month period.

K-12 and Higher Education Survey
The NFB is gathering information regarding the accessibility of educational technology used in our nation's schools, kindergarten through graduate level. If you are a student, parent, teacher, or administrator who uses screen access software or other accommodations to participate nonvisually in educational programs or services, or if you are the parent, teacher, or administrator of someone who does, please complete this survey once a semester.


Insightful Publications
Contact: Christine Chaikin, 808-747-1006
[email protected]
Insightful Publications has compiled a series of state-by-state electronic resource guides that list organizations and agencies pertaining to the blind. Listings cover employment, housing, transportation, and more.


UNO® Braille
UNO, the number one card game globally by Mattel, has announced the debut of UNO Braille, the first official UNO card deck featuring Braille. The new game will make game play widely accessible for the more than 7 million blind and low-vision Americans in the United States. Designed in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind, UNO Braille features Braille on the corner of each playing card to indicate the card's color and number or action. UNO Braille is now available at Target. Instructions are available at the URL above.

LEGO® Audio and Braille Instructions
LEGO Audio and Braille Building Instructions makes the popular instructions for LEGO kits available as audio or text for Braille readers, giving blind and low-vision children of all ages an opportunity to build with LEGO sets and to enjoy the developmental benefits of creative LEGO play. LEGO Audio and Braille Instructions are developed by the LEGO Group and the LEGO Foundation with scientific support from the Austrian Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence and partners from the blind community. The first four sets of audio and Braille building instructions are now available on this website, and more will be added regularly.