Future Reflections

Volume 42, Number 2         Special Issue: The World of Work

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 © 2023 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]

Convention Bulletin 2023

There are plenty of reasons one might travel to Houston, Texas, the fourth most populous city in the United States. One might visit for the nearly three-week-long Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. The city's vibrant arts scene boasts the largest concentration of theater seats outside of New York City. And no Houston resident would let a visitor forget that the city is home to the 2022 World Series Champion Houston Astros. There is little question that Houston has a great deal going for it. The city's real draw, however, is that it will play host to the National Federation of the Blind's 2023 National Convention.

It has now been more than fifty years since the largest gathering of the organized blind last convened in Houston, Texas, and our return in 2023 will be an event not to be missed. The Hilton Americas-Houston Hotel (1600 Lamar Street, Houston, TX 77010) will serve as our convention headquarters hotel. Situated in the heart of downtown Houston across the street from the beautiful twelve-acre Discovery Green Park, the Hilton Americas is an ideal location for our annual event. Ballrooms, breakout space, and sleeping rooms are all stacked in the same tower housed on a single city block, simplifying navigation and minimizing travel distances. In-room internet is complimentary to all attendees, as is access to the health club and swimming pool on the 22nd floor. There are several dining options on the hotel's lobby level (including a Starbucks for those of us requiring a caffeine fix) and many more choices within easy walking distance from the Hilton's front door.

The nightly rate at the Hilton Americas-Houston is $119 for singles, doubles, triples, and quads. In addition, the sales tax rate is 8.25 percent, and the hotel occupancy tax rate is 17 percent. To book your room for the 2023 convention, call 1-800-236-2905 after January 1 and ask for the "NFB Convention" block. For each room, the hotel will take a deposit of the first night's room rate and taxes and will require a credit card or a personal check. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately. If a reservation is cancelled before Monday, June 1, 2023, half of the deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.

We have also secured overflow space at the wonderful Marriott Marquis Houston. The Marriott is only a three-block walk directly across Discovery Green, or attendees can walk entirely indoors through the George R. Brown convention center, connecting both hotels on the second level. You will find many of the same amenities at the Marriott as well as a Texas-shaped lazy river pool. The room rate at the Marriott Marquis is also $119 per night for singles, doubles, triples, and quads. To book a room, call 1-877-622-3056 after January 1. Again, ask for the "NFB Convention" block. Similarly, the same deposit and cancellation policies apply.

The 2023 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement. A wide range of seminars for parents of blind children, technology enthusiasts, job seekers, and other groups will kick the week off on Saturday, July 1. Convention registration and registration packet pick-up will also open on Saturday. Breakout sessions continue on Sunday along with committee meetings. Monday, July 3, will kick off with the annual meeting, open to all, of the Board of Directors of the National Federation of the Blind. National division meetings will follow the board meeting that afternoon and evening. General convention sessions will begin on Tuesday, July 4, and continue through the afternoon of Thursday, July 6. Convention ends on a high note with the banquet Thursday evening, so be sure to pack your fancy clothes.

The fall of the gavel at the close of banquet will signal convention's adjournment.

Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a rule, we ask that prizes of all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not include alcohol. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a Texas-sized grand prize to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you to convention or send them in advance to the National Federation of the Blind of Texas at 1600 E Highway 6, Suite 215, Alvin, TX 77511.

The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made—all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2023 National Convention. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, make your reservations early. We plan to see you in Houston in July.



Stories and Statistics
by Deborah Kent Stein


The Quest of Independence
by Carla McQuillan

Why Blind Students Need to Complete All Fifty Math Problems
by Anil Lewis

Good Fortune and Perseverance
by Daniel B. Frye

Project RISE: Resilience, Independence, Self-Advocacy, Employment
by Jacki Bruce

The Best Decision of My Life
by Michal Nowicki


Marketing Our Message
by Cricket Bidleman

Language Was the Key
by Karolline Austen

Call the Next Witness
by Kayde Rieken

Science from a Fresh Perspective
An Interview with Mona Minkara


Structured Discovery in the Business World
by Mausam Mehta

The Next Big Step: How to Keep Your Job and Thrive in the Workplace
by Yusef Dale


"The Easy Way Out": The Impact of Siloing Blind Individuals in Their Career Choices
by Juhi Narula


Federal Tech Is Inaccessible, But Now Blind People Can Do Something About It
by Eve Hill


After the Miracle, by Max Wallace
Reviewed by Gary Wunder


Books, Braille, and the Excuse to Escape: The 2023 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest
by Sandy Halverson

Does Future Reflections Help You?

Join our Legacy Society


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]

Stories and Statistics

by Deborah Kent Stein

In 1918 a blind educator named Kate M. Foley gave a lecture about the education of blind children. She anticipated a time when blind people would be integrated fully into society. Many blind women and men would attend college and enter the professions. Those who did not pursue higher education would train to work in "electric wiring, pipe fitting, screw fitting, bolt nutting, assembling of chandeliers and telephone parts, [and would] be trained as a plumber's helper, and taught to read gas and electric meters by passing the fingers over the dial." Since Foley's time, blind individuals have indeed entered nearly every profession and trade. There are blind lawyers, blind therapists, blind doctors, blind teachers, and blind scientists. There have been blind chefs, electricians, carpenters, and auto mechanics.

Despite the proven capability of blind people, however, the employment statistics are grim. According to survey after survey, nearly 70 percent of blind people of working age are unemployed or underemployed. Despite antidiscrimination laws such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, these disheartening figures have barely budged.

The roots of the problem are tangled and complex. Employers' negative attitudes and liability concerns are a significant part of the picture. Today many online job applications require proof of a driver's license, even when the job has nothing to do with driving a vehicle. Inaccessible technology puts many jobs out of reach for blind applicants. The National Federation of the Blind and other advocacy groups are working hard to break down these barriers to employment.

Other factors also contribute to the unemployment and underemployment of blind people today. Unfortunately, many blind people grow up without some of the basic skills that would help them be employable. Braille literacy, the ability to use technology, and strong orientation and mobility skills can be key to finding and holding a job. Good social skills—the ability to relate to others comfortably and put them at ease—also play a part. Blind people who see themselves as active participants at home and in the community are best equipped to enter the workplace.

This issue of Future Reflections examines some of the complex issues around the employment of blind people. Carla McQuillan points out the importance of early experiences for blind children, how helping with chores at home prepares them to become active and assertive in the wider world. Anil Lewis warns against the common practice of lightening school assignments for blind students, and Michal Nowicki writes about his decision to pursue training in blindness skills before he entered college. Jacki Bruce describes Project RISE, a mentoring program designed to prepare blind teens for the world of work.

The experiences of people employed in a variety of settings show how blind people prepare for and find work today. Karolline Austen shares how her work as an interpreter helped her step into a managerial position. Kayde Rieken describes her training and work as a court reporter, and Mausam Mehta explains how she meets the challenges of her position with American Express. Chemical biologist Mona Minkara shows that blind people have unique contributions to make in the sciences. Prosecuting attorney Yusef Dale gives tips on how a blind person can gain the respect of colleagues and hold onto a job once hired.

The employment possibilities for blind people are varied and vast. Upcoming issues of Future Reflections will include more stories of blind people who are working in a wide range of occupations. We will continue to promote programs and activities that help prepare blind children to become active participants in the workforce and in society at large.

The world that Kate Foley predicted more than a century ago is still possible. With love, hope, and determination, we can make it a reality. The National Federation of the Blind is committed to overturning the dismal unemployment figures that have persisted for so long and proving that, as blind people, we truly can live the lives we want.

You can read Kate Foley's article at https://nfb.org/sites/nfb.org/files/images/nfb/publications/fr/fr28/fr2/fr280206.htm.

The Conquest of Independence

by Carla McQuillan

Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 29, Number 4, Convention Issue 2010

From the Editor: Carla McQuillan is a longtime Federationist from Oregon. She has a lifetime of experience with children, both blind and sighted. For many years she has directed NFB Camp for children at national conventions, and she is the executive director of Main Street Montessori Association. In this article, based on a presentation at the 2010 conference of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), she shares her ideas about laying the foundation for blind children to become active, contributing members of the community.

I do a lot of workshops with parents. I find that parents of blind children and parents of sighted children have very similar needs and concerns. Sometimes I ask parents of blind children to list the traits they hope to see in their kids when they grow up, and here are some of the answers they give me: confidence, independence, competence, intelligence, ability, curiosity, happiness, courage, adventurousness, compassion, determination. Those characteristics are identical to the ones I hear listed by parents of children who have no disabilities.

What can we do right now to help your child develop these characteristics? Over the thirty years that I've been in early childhood education, I've seen that these characteristics are formed at two, three, four, and five years of age. By the time a child gets older, characteristics become set in patterns.

Maria Montessori

I believe very strongly in the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori. She was a medical doctor who developed theories about what children needed at certain points in their lives to become independent, contributing members of society. She based her theories on her observations of children. The greatest obstacles that she found to a child's natural development of independence and self-direction were the adults who wanted to help more than was necessary.

Maria Montessori described an inner drive that every human being has from birth. That drive causes every child to move toward greater and greater independence and control over his/her environment. It causes a child to want to learn to move, to crawl, to walk, to reach out and explore. Because that drive is so strong in children, we adults have a tendency to check it, to slow the child down, to try to make him or her back off from that natural desire to move forward. As parents and educators working with blind children, we have to make sure that we are not obstacles in the way of their natural push toward independence.

I will tell you here and now that this may be one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do in your life! The world out there is not going to be kind to your blind children. It is a tough place for them. The best way to make sure that your children are ready for the outside world is to back off and make them do things for themselves.

Think about this scenario. You're watching your child and she's starting to walk. You see that she's going to take a tumble and you want to stop her. You know what? Every kid who learns to walk is going to fall down. That's how they learn to be more careful. That's how they learn balance. A parent told me once that she had a seventeen-month-old blind child who was walking. Her daughter was in a play group with other blind and visually-impaired children. One of the leaders of the play group said that it was very unusual for a blind child to be walking before the age of two. I had never heard anything like that in my life! My background is not in work with blind children. I am blind, and I have worked with blind children in my environment, but my training is not in special ed. So my reaction was, "What? What is the reason behind that?"

The reason is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Parents are told not to expect their child to walk till the age of two, so they stop doing the natural things that they would do with a child who is not blind. With our kids who are not blind, we hold their hands and walk with them. We give them walking toys. We put things in their environment that encourage them to practice walking. If you don't think your child can walk till she's two, when do you start to do those things? Probably not at eight and nine and ten months!
Be careful when you look at a developmental model for your child. Make sure you're not looking at someone's idea of what a blind child should be doing at each phase of development, but at what a typical child should be expected to do at that stage. Do everything you can to move your child in that direction.

A Secret within Each Child

I have a good friend who's here at convention, Bennett Prows. Bennett is a twin. He is blind and his brother is sighted. He believes that one of his greatest advantages in life was that his parents did not know anything about raising a blind child. They made Ben do everything his brother was doing. When Bill learned to ride a bike, they told Ben to go out and learn to ride a bike, too. When Bill learned to skateboard, it was, "Ben, get out there on your skateboard!" There was no difference between what he and his brother were expected to do. They took out the trash, did the laundry, and cleaned the yard. Today Bennett Prows is a successful attorney who works for the Federal Office of Civil Rights. He attributes a great deal of his success, his ability to fit into society, to the fact that his parents treated him just as they treated his brother who was sighted. Keep that in mind. Stop and ask yourself, would I be doing this if I were talking to a sighted kid?

In my training I learned that children between the ages of one and five are developing their muscles. They are learning how their bodies work in space. They are learning balance and movement, their physical abilities and limitations. Unless they use their muscles and do things that stretch their physical limits, they don't develop naturally. We, as adults, have a tendency to say, "Oh, be careful!" All of a sudden we have put some doubt into the child's head. Be careful! Is there something scary about what I'm about to do? Adults tend to make children fearful. Fearfulness is not a natural instinct in most children.

When my son was six years old and we had just opened our big school, we had a play structure with wide, six-inch beams. It was eight feet high because I wanted the swings to be really high—I like swings! My son used to climb up onto the top bar of the play structure and walk on it as if it were a balance beam. It was six inches wide. Most balance beams are only four inches wide.

I am fearful of heights. I always have been and I guess I always will be. So my heart stopped when he walked up there, but I resisted the urge to stop him. (I did tell him he couldn't do it when the kids were at school because it would scare my teachers.) He never fell. He is a very athletic, agile human being who has great balance. He is naturally able to do a lot of things that I can't do because of my fear. I managed not to impose my fears on him.

I'm not going to advise you to encourage your children to do anything like that. But if they have that desire, create an environment where they can explore the possibilities. I worked with the family of a four-year-old blind boy who loved to climb. He would climb up on the furniture and climb up on the counters. Children are drawn toward the things in their lives that they need in order to function and develop. I told the parents that if their son was climbing, they needed to find something that would give him the opportunity to climb safely. Probably climbing up the bookcase was not the greatest thing for him. Just because he wanted to do it, that didn't mean it was okay. That child's parents needed to find a safe alternative. Maybe they could set up a climbing structure and monitor it. Maybe they could put it in an environment where he'd land on something soft if he fell.

Montessori said there is a secret within each child, a secret that only the child knows. The child knows what she needs in order to develop cognitively, socially, and emotionally. The best we can do is to observe and learn from what the child shows us. Then we must do our best to bring the elements the child needs into her environment. Montessori said we should look at children as though we are scientists. We should always be exploring to find out what we should be doing next, whether we're meeting the child's needs, and how we can help her become more independent.

When a child is about two, he or she reaches the age of "me do it myself." The more you as parents encourage your children to do things on their own, the better off you're all going to be. If you do things for your children for too long, there will come a time when they will not want to do things themselves. You will not be able to get them to do things when you want them to.

When my daughter was five years old she cleaned my bathrooms. My daughter, who is not blind, was very meticulous. We had a black dog, and she would get every last little black dog hair off the toilet and off the floor. She was proud of what she was doing. What was my error? Alisson was so good at what she did that when her brother got to be five years old I didn't insist that Duncan step in and learn to clean the bathroom. Guess who doesn't know how to clean a bathroom today! By the time I said, "Okay, now it's your turn," he was past the phase of being interested.

Children go through sensitive periods where they're really interested in something. The phase goes on until they master that particular skill and then it fades away. If you don't grab those moments when they come, they may pass by. It's not that your children won't learn later, but they won't be as efficient or effective as they might have been. Kids love to clean things. You should encourage your three-year-old to learn to dust. Teach your two- and three-year-olds to take silverware out of the dishwasher and put it into the drawers. By all means I encourage parents to have kids do chores around the house. It's part of their responsibility as a member of the household. It gives them the opportunity to feel that they're making a contribution, and there's no better way to build confidence!

A child is going to struggle when he starts learning to get dressed. Putting on socks and shoes—that's a big one! All of the three-, four-, and five-year-olds at our school put on their socks and shoes by themselves. They all change their own clothes.

It's a struggle at first. I always tell people it gets worse before it gets better, particularly if the children have gotten old enough that they're really not interested in learning that skill anymore. If they've come to expect you to do a thing for them, you're going to have a battle. Keep in mind that children do not use energy unnecessarily. They may pitch a fit, but that takes a lot of energy. They will not do it unless it pays off for them.

It may be difficult to step back. Some parents have told me they have to walk out of the room and cry. But if you do this now and help your children become self-sufficient, you will be pleased with the results when they're older. You can't start that learning when they're sixteen years old!

Learning by Doing

Blind kids are supposed to start transition services when they're fourteen and a half years old. In my opinion that is way too late to start teaching some of the skills that are included in what we call transition services. Those kids should be growing up with those skills. As soon as the child is physically capable of mastering a particular task he ought to be doing it. If you have a blind child, and you don't have any sighted children, you might not be sure what is age-appropriate. Talk to people. Read about child development. Learn about the expectations for children of different ages.

Sometimes we see a child who is not allowed to become independent and have control over her environment, who has not had the power to make choices. The drive for control is so powerful that the child will get control over the parents.

I watched this happen just today. I saw a blind girl seven or eight years old, brand-new to convention. She came into the Kids' Camp room and refused to use her cane. She set it down and proceeded to tell the workers in the room, "You need to tell me where that is! ... You need to tell me what this is. ... You need to tell me where you put my ..." That tells me that there are people in her environment who do that for her. So we got our O&M specialist to come and take her on a lesson. By the time she came back to the room she was using her cane, she was looking for the materials around the room, and she wasn't asking anyone for help. It took all of thirty minutes.

We had a little blind boy enrolled at school. He had lost his vision very suddenly from a brain tumor. He had no other issues that they could detect, just the loss of his vision. He came into the classroom two weeks after he lost his sight, and his hands were on everything. He was adventurous, he was curious, he was doing exactly what a two-and-a-half-year-old ought to do.

In my state children have to be three before early childhood education kicks in. He came back to school when he was three. This child, who had been so adventurous right after he lost his vision, got off the school bus and stopped. He waited for someone to take his hand and lead him into the school building. We had a cane for him, and he was taught how to use it. There's a hallway that leads from the front door out to the back door and the playground. There's a wall on one side, there's carpeting on the other, and there's tile all the way—it's a straight shot. Every day he would get inside and he would stop.

Thank goodness for good staff. I told them, "I don't care what it is—if you know he can do it, just wait for him." We had a lovely assistant working with him, and she would sing. She would walk ahead of him and sing to let him know where he was supposed to go. She never touched his cane and she never touched him. Over time he slowly began to do things on his own, little by little. Somehow, in that six months when he was at home with his family, I'm willing to bet that everybody brought things to him.

A child who is independent and adventurous is going to reach out and find things. He's going to find a way. The child who is accustomed to having other people do for him will sit with his hands out and wait for things to be brought to him. Translate that to the young person who is eighteen or twenty years old. Do you think that pattern is suddenly going to change?

The Lessons We Teach

Children will do exactly what we train them to do. If we teach them to wait right there and let us bring things to them, that's exactly what they're going to expect in life. That is the role that they will learn to play.
It's very, very hard for a lot of parents to take this in. I know how much you want to make sure everything is wonderful for your children! That can only happen if you make sure your child struggles and has to work. That's the only way for your child to develop the determination, tenacity, and never-quit attitude that will enable her to be successful in life. It begins when they're so young that they're just becoming aware of what is going on around them. That's when you start to teach those lessons.

My parents had no clue what to do with a blind kid. I have quite a bit of peripheral vision, but I have no central vision. I cannot read print at all. I didn't look blind, and no one ever suggested that I read Braille. I wish my parents had insisted that I learn—I can't stress enough the importance of Braille literacy for blind kids!

When I first went off to college I lived in an apartment six or seven miles from my parents' house. My mother would call me and say, "Hey, I'm going grocery shopping, would you like me to take you?" The grocery store she'd take me to was three blocks down the street from me. I know my mother would never have driven across town to go there! Then one day I was walking home from class, about three blocks, and my mother called me. She said, "It's raining. Can I give you a ride?"

I found myself feeling very irritated and angry with her. I knew it wasn't her fault; I knew she was doing it out of love. But I had to sit her down and say, "You have to stop this. You have to stop worrying about me. You have to let me go. I'm going to be okay." Well, she did stop—sort of. I mean, she's still a mom, right?
Try to recognize how important it is for your children to pull away from you. If they don't, they can never hope to have what I know you want for them.

Young children are trying to figure out how the world works. Children under the age of five or six are taking everything in and processing it to derive some sort of meaning. They look for patterns and routines, and they define themselves based on the way things happen around them. Make sure the lessons you teach are the ones you really want your children to learn!

When we have a class of preschool children, we set up a lot of self-contained, single-purpose activities. You can set these up at home for your young children. For example, if I want to teach a child to pour, I start with a tray and a pitcher and grains instead of liquid. Once the child gets the motion of pouring from pitcher to pitcher, when he has not spilled any of the beans onto the tray, we go to smaller grains, and eventually to water. Then we move on, to the point where the child is actually pouring from a pitcher into a cup. Make sure at some point that the pitcher has more water than the cup will hold!

Children love activities like this. They want to learn things that will allow them to be more independent. Give them the activity in a very nonjudgmental environment. If they spill or drop something, do your best not to react. Say, "Oh, let me show you how to clean that up." We always have dustpans and brooms for cleaning up dry things, and we have buckets and sponges for cleaning up liquids. That's part of the natural process.
When the child starts learning to pour into a glass, show him how to put his finger over the lip of the glass and use very cold water. The first time he's going to keep pouring and pouring, right? Calmly point out how cold the water feels when it touches the tip of his finger, and tell him that's when it's time to stop pouring. It will probably take several tries, but the child will do it eventually.

Make Room for Practice

One time at an NFB convention, I was conducting a babysitting workshop with a roomful of kids who were eleven to sixteen years old. About half of them were blind. There were about fifteen kids, and it was very hot! There were pitchers of water at the front and the back of the room, and I called a break so everyone could get a drink of water. One of the blind girls, about thirteen years old, turned to the sighted girl next to her and said, "Would you get me a glass of water?" I said, "Wait a second. You're in a babysitting workshop to learn how to take care of someone else's children. You will pour your own water!"

She knew the technique. She put her finger over the lip of the glass and started pouring, but when the water touched the tip of her finger she didn't stop. The water spilled over the top of the glass. When she realized it had spilled onto the table, she panicked.

My heart sank. I knew that her family had been involved with the NFB for many years, but clearly she had not done this activity very often. Cognitively she understood the technique, but she couldn't do it smoothly and comfortably. Sighted people will notice if you're uncomfortable doing what you do. Gracefulness is key!
We had a lot of towels in the room because we were practicing diapering baby dolls. I tossed her a towel and said, "Go ahead and clean it up and try again." She was a bit flustered, but she did it. I told her, "Do it slowly," and she did.

I know her parents taught her how to pour. But because she wasn't doing it perfectly, watching her made them uncomfortable. I'm guessing that this was especially true in public. So they avoided putting her in any situation where she would have to be embarrassed. Let your kids practice at home in a nonthreatening, nonjudgmental environment where they can practice until they get it down.

It's a mom thing or a dad thing to do stuff for your kids. Parents feel uncomfortable when they watch a child struggle. It's very hard to stand by and let a child figure things out, when it would be so easy and efficient for you to step in and get the thing done. It's all about your comfort level. It affects not only parents, but all of the people who have any dealings with your children. When people act on the impulse to swoop in and take over, it's easy for a child (and later, for an adult) never to worry about doing those little things for himself or herself.

Self-advocacy is very important in this area. From a very young age you have to teach your child that she can do things, and that she needs to show other people that she can do things. Our kids also have to learn about doing things for other people. If they do not participate in social reciprocity, they will not be viewed as equals.

Keep your focus on the long term. When people see you letting your child struggle, they will tell you that you are being cruel. Know in your heart and soul that they will never understand what you are dealing with. They will walk away and never have to deal with the life that lies ahead for you and your child. Be confident in what you are doing and get the support you need from people in the National Federation of the Blind and other parents of blind children. You will need that support. Know that you are not alone and that you're doing what is best for your child in the long run.

Why Blind Students Need to Complete All Fifty Math Problems

by Anil Lewis

From the Editor: Many issues are involved in the troubling unemployment rate among blind and low-vision persons of working age. In this article, Anil Lewis examines some of the factors that contribute to keeping blind job-seekers out of the workforce. Anil Lewis serves as executive director of blindness initiatives with the National Federation of the Blind.

As members of the National Federation of the Blind, we are committed to developing innovative programs and projects that assist blind people to live, learn, work, and play as fully participating citizens. For years competitive, integrated employment has presented the organized blind with a tremendous challenge. The rate of unemployment/underemployment for blind people has hovered around 70 percent for decades. Although this statistic has motivated the allocation of resources in an effort to increase the competitive, integrated employment of the blind, there is yet to be any significant progress.

Many employers and educators mirror society's conviction that blind people lack the capacity to be competitive. This fundamental misconception remains the most significant barrier to the successful employment of blind people. The lived experiences of successful blind people demonstrate that projects and programs must provide training in the alternative skills of blindness that enable blind people to function successfully. They must set the expectation that blind people can accept the fundamental responsibilities expected of every citizen. Unfortunately, many educational and vocational programs designed to assist blind people do not recognize this fact.

Blindness Skills: A Critical Need

One example of the denial of training in blindness skills is the lack of commitment to teach blind people Braille in schools and rehabilitation programs. An often overlooked study reveals that, of the 30 percent of blind people who are employed, 90 percent know Braille. Although the research does not assert that there is a causal relationship between Braille and employment, it is reasonable to make the inference that knowledge of Braille plays an active part in the employability of blind people.

The NFB successfully advocated for the introduction of the "Braille Presumption" in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA). However, despite this researched opinion on the importance of Braille as it relates to employment and the regulatory requirement to provide Braille instruction, fewer than 10 percent of blind and low-vision students are taught Braille today. The denial of the fundamental tools for employment contributes to unemployment.

Exceptions, Not Accommodations

When blind people are denied basic training and excused from meeting the fundamental responsibilities of other citizens, they are ill-prepared for the real world. The problem is exacerbated when exceptions are presented as accommodations. Exceptions may be subtle, and their negative impact may go unrecognized. The following is one example of this phenomenon. 

A class has been assigned to complete fifty math problems for homework. Parents complain to the teacher that their blind child takes longer to complete assignments than his sighted peers do. The teacher offers an "accommodation," allowing the blind student to complete only twenty-five of the problems. The teacher is making an exception for the blind student, not providing an accommodation. Exceptions like this one cause blind students to experience significant problems.

First and foremost, if students are excused from completing the entire assignment, they will not receive the re-enforcement of learning provided to the other students through the repetitive processing of the math problems. 

The argument is that if the blind student can demonstrate an understanding of the concept, this understanding will be sufficient. However, simply demonstrating the understanding of a math concept reduces the opportunity for the student to practice the application of the concept. Through practice students increase their retention and become better able to utilize the concept that is being taught. After all, this is why the fifty problems were assigned in the first place.

Furthermore, with the lightened assignment the blind student will be less likely to acquire and implement the problem-solving and alternative blindness skills needed to be competitive with sighted peers. In order to compete on terms of equality at school and, eventually, in the workplace, blind students must master the alternative skills of blindness. These skills may include reading and writing Braille, using low-vision devices, using access technology, developing orientation and mobility skills, and all of the other strategies that help blind people perform tasks effectively. Building these skills calls for a serious commitment of time and effort. Unfortunately, the United States has a shortage of qualified professionals who can provide the proper training. Moreover, the custodial attitudes of some parents and professionals work to "rescue" the blind student from the sometimes frustrating process of learning these skills, which are deemed unnecessary or obsolete.

A good example is the common misconception that it is too difficult for most blind students to learn Braille, and that Braille is no longer a necessary skill. The lack of qualified teachers of blind students prohibits many blind students from being exposed to this fundamental tool for learning and communication. The simple truth is that learning to read Braille is as difficult, or as easy, as learning to read print. Braille is as essential to blind people as print remains essential to those who are not blind. Braille reading speed and comprehension improve with practice, just as print reading speed does for print readers. Interestingly, with proper instruction, many blind and low-vision students master both print and Braille while successfully navigating the same curriculum as their peers who are not blind. 

The blind student should not be rescued from the process of learning important skills, even when that process seems frustratingly difficult. In the years ahead, these problem-solving skills will help the student compete in the workplace.

Moreover, exceptions will not be made when the blind person tries to enter the competitive world of work. If they cannot do the amount and quality of work expected from other employees, blind job-seekers face a barrier to obtaining gainful employment.

In the example of the fifty math problems, the exception perpetuates low expectations and a false sense of entitlement for the blind student. It assumes that the blind student cannot complete the assignment in a reasonable amount of time. Indeed, this may be true, until the blind student becomes proficient in the necessary alternative skills. Blind students have proved themselves quite capable of equaling or even surpassing their sighted peers in completing academic tasks when they have the skills they need. When we set the bar lower for the blind student, the blind student internalizes this lowered expectation as being reasonable.

Blind students may assert that modified assignments are within their right to fair treatment. The blind student who expects to receive full credit for performing a representative sample of the work will be ill prepared to meet the expectations of competitive, integrated employment. In the real world of work, a blind person will not receive full compensation for completing a representative sample of the work-related tasks. The notion that blind people cannot do competitive work lies at the root of the segregated subminimum wage work environments that have plagued blind workers for decades.

Accommodations, Not Exceptions

Some people erroneously assert that offering a blind student additional time to take tests creates similar problems. They contend that extra time gives the blind person an unfair advantage. In general, providing blind test-takers with extra time does not give them an unfair advantage. Extra time is a genuine accommodation. Depending on the alternative skills the student uses, the additional time may be insufficient to provide a fair opportunity for the blind student to demonstrate their knowledge of the subject matter. 

With the proper training, a proficient Braille reader taking a properly designed test should be able to complete the test within the same amount of time offered to others. Unfortunately, producing accessible tests and providing appropriate accommodations for blind students continues to be problematic. Therefore, it is a reasonable accommodation to allow the blind student extra time to problem solve when taking an exam. The test may not be formatted correctly; the test may be designed and presented in a manner very different from the way the student has been taught; the test may have poorly designed tactile graphics. Any number of other deviations may complicate the testing experience for blind students.

Problems also may arise when the blind student uses a human reader or depends on access technology. The testing accommodation often presents an added cognitive load on the blind test taker that the provision of additional time does not necessarily offset. In many instances blind students find themselves being challenged to access the test questions themselves while being tested on their knowledge. The provision of additional time is an attempt to mitigate a barrier and is not an unfair advantage. 

A Wealth of Possibilities

While many in society present blindness as a deficiency, the National Federation of the Blind promotes a blind person's exceptional ability to evaluate people, data, and things under a different "nonvisual" lens as a value-added proposition to any employer. Blind people develop and use unique problem-solving skills to remain competitive with their peers, and these skills can benefit everyone. There are many examples of workplace accommodations implemented to make a job site accessible for a blind employee that created increased efficiency for all employees.

The blind student who is encouraged to complete all fifty math problems will internalize the idea that it requires time and practice to develop competitive skills. It may take the blind student a little longer to complete some tasks, but there will also be tasks that blind students can complete more quickly than their peers. Through the mastery of the alternative skills of blindness, the blind person will be armed with the tools to be competitive and equipped to accept the fundamental responsibilities expected of every citizen.

Good Fortune and Perseverance

by Daniel B. Frye

From the Editor: Daniel Frye has held a variety of positions, beginning as a Social Security Insurance specialist and later as the national advocate responsible for coordinating the legislative and political agenda of the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand. Back in the US, he edited the Braille Monitor, managed the federal Randolph-Sheppard Program, and served as executive director of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Vision Impaired. He has now returned to the Federation as Director of Employment and Professional Development Programs. 

Previous generations in the blind community blazed the way for blind job-seekers today. Thanks to their efforts, prospects for blind job-seekers may be better today than they were a few generations ago. Nevertheless, anecdotes and statistics continue to demonstrate that blind people still find identifying, training for, and securing a job to be among our greatest challenges. Despite the century-long history of the Federal Vocational Rehabilitation program, enhancements in multiple types of access technology that are increasingly available to blind people, and the availability of training in blindness skills, obstacles continue to limit our ability to find that critical first job.

Work is all-important. It provides us with shelter, sustenance, self-confidence, and security. Without work, blind people may struggle to meet their most basic needs, forced to depend upon family members and/or public assistance programs. Why, I ask myself, is it so hard for blind people to find employment? As I ponder this question, I look back over the struggles and opportunities that have shaped my own life.

Early Years

I was born into a lower-middle-class family of four. My father worked as a police officer, and my mother was a secretary for the railroad. I was the older of two children, and I was legally blind from birth. My sister, Debbie, was two years my junior, and she had no diagnosed disabilities.

Prior to my birth, my parents had no knowledge of how to educate and train a blind child so that they could grow up to be a competent, self-sufficient human being. They assumed that I should be expected to manage independently, perform my share of household chores, and get along at school and in other social situations. To help me reach those goals, they relied on their intuition and basic common sense.

Like most families dealing with the issue of blindness for the first time, my parents listened to the first experts on the subject they could find. I don't know how they reached their decision, but I started my formal education at the Texas School for the Blind (TSB) in Austin, Texas. I lived and learned on campus for the first three years of my education. After that the school principal, Ms. Ford, encouraged my parents to have me mainstreamed. She based this decision on her assessment that I had been equipped with the core blindness skills that I required. She concluded that I was likely to follow an academic track that would be better provided in a public school setting.

The shift was made, and I started fourth grade in Georgetown, Texas. For the first time my younger sister and I attended elementary school together—separated, of course, by our grade levels. We walked (or sometimes ran) down the hill together to catch the 7:15 a.m. bus to school. I felt like a normal kid, and I was excited by the prospect of this new adventure.

I was a child with significant residual vision. Consistent with "best practices" of the day, TSB encouraged me to rely on my remaining sight. At Georgetown Elementary School my teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) continued to instill in me the idea that I should use the vision I had in order to get along. These educators knew that my vision would deteriorate in the future, but they made no effort to teach me the nonvisual techniques I would someday need.

I remember learning how to read the word the in a large-print reading primer at TSB. I remember thinking that reading was going to be a real chore moving forward. Concurring with the professionals at TSB, my TVI at Georgetown prepared my weekly lessons in incredibly large print. She made no arrangement for me to receive orientation and mobility (O&M) instruction, assuming that travel would be safe for me, in daylight at least, relying on my vision. I was excused from (or denied) the opportunity to take gym with my public school classmates, out of an abundance of caution.

My parents understood my growing concern about not being permitted to learn Braille or to use a cane at school. However, they encouraged me to remain patient and accept the conclusions of the blindness professionals.

Shattering Changes

In October 1978 my mother died tragically in a car accident. Then, in July 1980, my father suffered a fatal heart attack. At the age of twelve, I was an orphan.

The aunts and uncles concerned with our welfare determined that my sister and I should live with our paternal grandparents in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Our grandparents were sharecroppers on a one-acre tobacco farm near the town of Nichols. They worked for the landlord who owned the property and their shotgun-style house.

Like my parents, my grandparents wanted the best for me. With their fourth-grade educations, however, they were even more easily manipulated than my parents were by the blindness professionals. Unanimously the professionals believed I should be sent three hundred miles north to Spartanburg to attend the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind (SCSDB).

By now, at twelve, I had enough experience under my belt to know that I did not want to go to another residential school. I argued vehemently with my grandparents that I should be allowed to attend the local public school. I had demonstrated my ability to function in public school in Texas for the past three years. I pointed out that my younger sister's mental health might suffer if we were separated after the loss of our parents. I explained that most schools for the blind could not provide a solid academic education. (This academic gap became apparent when, in eighth grade, I brought my earth science textbook home over the weekend and discovered that my sister, two grades behind me, was learning material that had not yet been introduced to me at SCSDB.)

My efforts at self-advocacy notwithstanding, I was sent to SCSDB for my junior high and high school education.

The School in Spartanburg

Sometimes when you resist going somewhere that you think will not be in your best interest, you may have a pleasant surprise. I met people at SCSDB who introduced me to the blindness consumer movement. They challenged my grandparents' low expectations for what I might achieve in life. I met mentors who shared my perspective on blindness. They were in a position to help me advocate for myself, supporting me to receive better instruction in the skills I needed. At SCSDB I found affirming people who believed in me and in the capacity of blind people. They encouraged me to interact with experienced consumers of blindness-specific public education and the vocational rehabilitation system, a federal/state partnership that could support me in my vocational goal of becoming an attorney.

When I arrived at SCSDB, I asked to be taught to read Braille. Though some of the staff had reservations about my need for this instruction, I insisted, and finally I was taught to read Braille. Because I didn't learn the code until I was twelve or thirteen, I have never become a fully fluent Braille reader. Nevertheless, I felt an incredible sense of liberation when I could enter the library at SCSDB and peruse the books on the shelves, finding something that I might enjoy reading for pleasure. I read as voraciously as I could, and my Braille competency gradually increased. As I moved into my high school years, Braille was a lifesaver in my advanced mathematics and science courses.

I also received lessons in O&M. I realized that, with a cane and some confidence, I would be able to travel safely and independently anywhere I wanted to go.

Most important of all was the benefit I realized from being introduced to members of the South Carolina affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB). These incredibly kind and generous people talked with me for hours. They helped me shed my conviction that, as a blind person, my opportunities would always be limited. It took a lot of work to undo the harmful perspective that had been ingrained in me, primarily by my grandparents. Eventually I was able to adopt a different mindset about my ability and my future.

My grandparents became increasingly hostile to what I was learning at SCSDB. They were emotionally abusive to me when I went home to visit, excluding me from the activities of family life. Finally I asked my dearest adult mentor to help me become emancipated from my grandparents' custody. My mentor assisted me to secure a five-day-a-week job as the afternoon switchboard operator at SCSDB. The job allowed me to earn some money to help me remain in Spartanburg when school was not in session.

My mentor also sponsored me for a pilot program through which I became one of the first SCSDB students to enroll at a local high school. This program allowed blind students with academic ability to attend public school while receiving the necessary blindness supports from one of several SCSDB teachers. We were allowed to stay in the SCSDB dormitories in the evening while attending public school during the day.

Growing in the Federation

Supported by the leadership of the South Carolina NFB affiliate, I became the first president of the first Junior Chapter of the NFB, located on the SCSDB campus. This election introduced me to service on the affiliate board of directors. At that time in South Carolina, the presidents of each chapter served as members of the State Board.

Engaged in the NFB at this level, I participated in my first March on Washington (now our Washington Seminar) when I was sixteen years old. In Washington I helped to articulate our legislative priorities to our congressional representatives. Since I had no family to teach me how to be an adult, blind mentors helped me figure out how to eat in fancy restaurants, interact in hotel settings, and manage far more other tasks than I can list here. 

Though I was still missing many social and practical skills, my postsecondary years were fairly standard for an ambitious young man. I attended Erskine College, a small, private, liberal arts college in Upcountry South Carolina. After college I entered the University of Washington School of Law, a small graduate school within a huge university system. I was elected to the Erskine Student Senate and later to the Judicial Council, followed by service as the first-year representative to the Student Bar Association.

Meeting the Challenges

Despite these accomplishments, however, I still struggled due to my deficiencies in nonvisual skills. I recorded lectures in class; back at the dorm I listened to the lectures again and took notes with my manual Perkins Braillewriter. It was a slow, inefficient process.

College and law school saw me starting to live on my own, first in a dormitory and later in my own apartment in graduate housing. Other deficiencies began to emerge. I had not been taught many daily living skills by my family and/or the schools I had attended. I spoke with leaders in the National Student Division and learned some of the supervisory skills I needed to manage and gain the maximum benefit from using a human reader. Finding good readers is a low-tech solution, but one that enables a blind person to manage certain written or printed tasks efficiently.

Still, I needed to hone other skills. Once again, some truly loving Federationists noticed my struggles and arranged discretely to have me over to their home. Graciously they taught me the nonvisual strategies I needed to manage most aspects of independent living and home management. These unforgettable gestures of good will were the norm, not the exception, of what a blind person could expect from quiet but genuine champions of our movement. I will be forever grateful for the compassionate mentoring I received from my Federation colleagues. It would have made sense for me to take nine months and attend one of our Federation training centers, but life simply did not present me with this opportunity. The quiet aid offered to me by generous and experienced blind people equipped me with the skills and confidence I needed in order to succeed.

Even with my law degree and my solid blindness skills, I endured three relentless years of unemployment after I completed my formal education. My experience highlights the reality that nearly all of us, even those of us who are most highly qualified, still may experience periods of isolation and discrimination. At such times support from family, friends, and the blind community are vital.

What Blind Job-seekers Need

What should blind job candidates possess in order to acquire a job? If any silver-bullet solution existed, I suspect that we all would have shared it by now, and our unemployment rate would more closely resemble that of the nation as a whole. I can only offer my own homespun answer to this age-old query.

First of all, blind candidates must be fully credentialed and must be knowledgeable about all aspects of the career position for which they are applying. Even prior to acquiring academic or trade-school competencies, potential job-seekers will need, first and foremost, to be effective self-advocates. Candidates will need to possess deep-seated levels of self-confidence about their capacity to live, work, and play well as blind persons. A job candidate will need to know how to coordinate their advocacy skills and their internalized belief about the inherent ability of blind people to be competent.

In addition, job candidates will need to have mastered nonvisual blindness skills so they can be efficient in their daily routines. They must be able to select appropriate attire; prepare a breakfast or pack a lunch for later; manage travel to work; use access technology to check the time, produce documents, and engage in personal and professional communications; and much more.

If one hasn't acquired these skills while growing up, they most easily can be gained through immersion training. Such training may be especially valuable for anyone who is experiencing recent vision loss. Likewise, it can be critically important for a person who has been totally blind throughout life but has never been encouraged to manage most aspects of living independently. I have incorporated these critical independence skills into programs I have directed at several blindness-specific vocational rehabilitation agencies. These programs have been especially important for consumers who, for any number of reasons, could not or did not wish to stay away from their homes and communities for months at a time.

Many of the Federation's existing programs related to employment and career mentoring/readiness offer some of the important skills needed to help blind candidates find work consistent with their inclinations and aptitudes. Working closely with our organizational leadership, I aspire to develop a truly robust national program that can be trusted by entities involved with preparing blind people to enter the workforce. Such entities could know with a level of certainty that the training being offered has been vetted by blind people who are authentically living their lives. They can know that this training is backed by an organization of blind people who have crystallized a time-tested philosophy of living successfully as a blind person.

My evolution as a blind person has been the product of a deeply caring Federation family. Many others will experience this same truth through the tough training that leads to independence. If the Federation is to lead in meeting the challenges around the employment of blind people, attention to the traits and areas of training referenced here may be the best way forward. By working together we can ignite the spark that will help many more blind people turn their dreams into reality.

Project RISE: Resilience, Independence, Self-Advocacy, and Employment

by Jacki Bruce

From the Editor: Preparing to enter the job market is a complicated process. Blind and low-vision students need a range of skills, and they have to approach the process with positive attitudes and determination to succeed. In this article, Project RISE Outreach Coordinator Jackie Bruce describes the program and invites mentors and students to share their thoughts and experiences.

Project RISE developed as a collaboration between the NFB of Virginia and the Virginia Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBVI). Blind and low-vision students are eligible to take part if they are between the ages of fourteen and twenty-one and have an open case with DBVI. We meet monthly, either in person or over Zoom, and talk about ways students can prepare for a job search. RISE is an acronym for resilience, independence, self-advocacy, and employment. We believe that resilience, independence, and self-advocacy are the keys our students need in order to find jobs.

Our meetings cover a wide range of topics and include a variety of activities. We focus on these areas:

Project RISE is not all work! We include fun activities throughout the program, and plenty of camaraderie develops among the students. We encourage our students to use their imaginations and come up with original ideas. In one exercise, called Shark Tank, student teams introduce products or services to the rest of the group. One team came up with a service they called Bark Talk that would enable humans to converse with dogs. A Bark Talk program would interpret human speech into barks and barks into speech. It was wonderfully imaginative, and everybody wanted to buy one!

Joe Orozco is our program coordinator, and our curriculum coordinator is Julia Ford. They arrange for students to attend career fairs and shadow employees in the workplace. They also set up internships so some students can gain hands-on work experience.

Persuading employers to accept blind interns can pose a real challenge. Joe and Julia spend a lot of time laying the groundwork, and they have set up some internships for students that led to paying jobs. One RISE student worked at an ice cream shop, and another one worked for a caterer.

We started Project RISE with only six students. We've done a lot of outreach through schools, parent organizations, rehabilitation programs, and word of mouth. This year thirty students are taking part. It's been very exciting to watch the program grow year by year.

All of our mentors are blind people who can serve as role models, drawing upon their own experience to answer questions and help the students solve problems. Each mentor is paired with two or three students, and they usually form strong and meaningful bonds. Mentor Jenny Blinsmon says, "This is my first year being a mentor with Project RISE. I remember feeling like I was in way over my head when I first started. But my student, Kim, and I bonded fairly quickly, especially over our interests in the military and animals. This is her third year with Project RISE, and she has made great strides. She has stood up for herself, both with me and with a college instructor who wasn't giving her an accommodation she needs. She has completed an informational interview on her own. I believe she will use what she's learned in Project RISE, and that she has great potential to be successful. It has been my honor and joy not only to walk through this year with her, but also to grow and learn myself as well."

"I have been a project RISE mentor since its inception, and one of the first students I had was Danielle," another mentor recalls. "Danielle came to me as a very shy and timid fifteen-year-old. At first she was very hesitant and shy. Little by little, with some prodding and prompting, she started to come into her own. Soon Danielle was feeling a little bit more comfortable in our monthly sessions, and she became more responsive with our texts and phone call communications. 

"I remember Danielle got her first job when she turned sixteen. She worked at Dunkin' Donuts, and I went to visit her there. I gave her a hard time on how to prepare my coffee, since I'm very picky, but I told her that was one of the many lessons she would learn in serving the public. Danielle has had many more jobs after her first one, and I have written up many references for her so that she can dabble in a little bit of everything. Danielle demonstrates excellent work ethic. Recently she completed extensive training at the center in Staunton, Virginia, to become an administrative assistant."

Mentor Evelyn Valdez says, "I met Rodger in a summer program in 2021. Rodger is an English language learner, and he is deaf-blind. I recommended to his family that he become a part of Project RISE, where he could continue to become friends with other blind high school students and get the opportunity to meet blind adults. Well, he dove right in! First he was challenged through a confidence-building activity using a chainsaw to cut a chunk of wood at the National Center for the Blind headquarters in Baltimore. He has participated in legislative seminars in Richmond and attended the NFB of Virginia Convention. I have seen him become much more assertive in learning to advocate for himself as he adjusts to vision loss. He likes to network with some of my friends who are doing real estate, because he wants to be his own boss, an entrepreneur. I am so excited that Rodger is going to his first ever NFB National Convention in Houston in July."

Project RISE mentors benefit from the program almost as much as the students do.  "My time as a mentor in the Project RISE program has helped me step out of my comfort zone and be more of a leader," reflects Michael Kitchens. "Of course, there is always more room for growth." Mentor Sean McMahon says, "Being a mentor for project RISE gives me the opportunity to teach our students some of life's lessons I've learned because I've been where they are now. However, the opportunity to pass along knowledge is most rewarding because of what I learn from them."

"I found out about Project RISE from my rehab counselor," says Jahmil, one of this year's students. "Through the project I started attending NFB meetings, and I've really learned a lot. I've met a lot of people who can answer my questions about working as a blind person and about traveling when you're a cane user.
I have a job coach now, and I'm looking for a summer job. I plan to go to college, and it's encouraging to talk to students who are a few years ahead of me on that journey."

Please visit nfbv.org/rise to learn more about our program. If you have any questions, you can reach us at [email protected] or call Joe Orozco, Program Coordinator, at 703-495-3273.

The Best Decision of My Life

by Michal Nowicki

Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 30, Number 3, Special Issue 2011

From the Editor: Michal Nowicki is a practicing attorney in Chicago who focuses on US and Canadian digital accessibility laws. He serves as treasurer of the NFB of Illinois. When he wrote this article, Michal was a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In this piece he shared openly how he struggled to gain the skills and confidence he needed in order to live independently and enter the workforce.

On an ordinary evening in October 2008, I sat on my bed at the Transitional Living Center at the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired (ISVI) in Jacksonville, Illinois. With the help of one of the residential care workers, I had just finished packing my belongings. I had spent nine emotionally devastating weeks at the school, and I had finally convinced my parents that I could not bear the psychological burden any longer. Tomorrow I would leave Jacksonville and return home for good.

Fortunately, as the hours passed, I asked myself the most important question of my life. If I withdrew from ISVI now, would I ever gather the strength to pursue independence training again? Mobility was one of my most serious weaknesses, and I knew that I had a remarkable O&M instructor at ISVI, the only one who ever had emphasized transferable skills over route travel. I realized that giving up on ISVI would almost certainly destroy whatever chance I had to become self-sufficient.

After an excruciating inner struggle highlighted by an anxiety attack, I decided to make one final attempt to face the challenge. The decision I made that night transformed every aspect of my life. It allowed me to become independent and to build my self-esteem in dramatic ways.

It is hard to convey the extent of my progress over the past three years. In the areas of daily living skills and orientation and mobility, I was probably at the level of a five-year-old child when I arrived in Jacksonville. As a high school student, I felt comfortable with indoor travel, but when my O&M specialist tried to point out the difference between parallel and perpendicular traffic, her explanation sounded to me as if she were speaking a language I didn't know. I knew so little about the kitchen that one could almost conclude I had never heard the word. I did not know how to make a sandwich, cut food, or use a microwave, let alone prepare complex meals. As a high school senior, I never imagined that one day I would sort and pick out my own clothes and even wash them—tasks that are routine for me today. In fact, I only mastered the skill of putting a shirt on a hanger after several months of practice.

My dependence on others for my everyday needs stems from the fact that I grew up as an only child with very overprotective parents and grandparents. Their attitude was at least partially influenced by their Polish heritage; they were raised in a culture where the opportunities for blind people were extremely limited. As my high school graduation approached, my teachers of the visually impaired urged me to seek transitional training at ISVI. I feared the separation from my family, but I understood that my situation would never change as long as I lived with my parents. I would never be able to pursue a postsecondary education and/or find a job unless I gained basic life skills.

My first two months of training at ISVI seemed like psychological torture. I felt utterly unable to meet the high expectations of my teachers. For example, while I was still learning to select clothes to wear on the following day, my life management teacher attempted to show me the entire laundry process—how to separate light-colored clothes from dark ones, operate washers and dryers, and fold and organize clothes.
I was extremely lonely. At a time when I desperately needed emotional support, the students and staff members were all strangers, and my parents were two hundred miles away. Sometimes I felt like an inmate in a Soviet labor camp. I suffered frequent emotional breakdowns, culminating in abrupt panic attacks. In fact, my O&M instructor eventually told me that he planned each of our lessons as if it were the last time he would see me. He was legitimately concerned that I might drop out at any time.

I entered the transitional living program at ISVI to learn to perform some specific tasks, such as how to cross streets safely and how to manage money. When I graduated after one academic year, not only had I learned these skills, but I also had gained strategies for approaching many unfamiliar situations. The ISVI instructors were well aware that it is not possible to prepare a student for every obstacle he or she may someday encounter. Nearly all of these teachers stressed the importance of problem-solving skills that can be applied under diverse circumstances. When teaching me a route or neighborhood, my O&M instructor would not tell me what type of intersection I was approaching. Instead, he encouraged me to apply my knowledge of traffic patterns. This was a technique that I could utilize at any intersection, provided that some vehicles were passing by.

My ISVI instructors also underlined the importance of self-advocacy, another area where I made significant improvement. As my life management teacher noted, all humans require assistance from others. In order to ensure that their needs are properly addressed, they must express them clearly. I understood my needs and limitations, but I used to feel reluctance and discomfort each time I had to seek information or ask for help from a stranger, especially by phone. Thanks to the transitional living program, however, I have lost those fears, and can now express my needs without distress.

Some of my instructors at ISVI worried that spending only one year at the school would not reverse nearly two decades of dependence on others in virtually every aspect of life. They were very right, but the program gave me the momentum I needed to keep moving forward. My education at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) provided an excellent opportunity for me to apply and expand upon the skills I began to develop in Jacksonville. Although I received adequate training in street travel, as well as in transferable skills pertaining to orientation on a college campus, central Illinois does not have a fixed-stop public transit system. When I left ISVI, I still was not proficient in using buses, trains, and subways. UIC is located in the heart of a city with one of the most extensive public transportation systems in the United States. I quickly learned to take full advantage of the city's buses and trains, as well as the university's campus shuttle bus. Today I rely on a public bus as I travel daily between the campus and my apartment. The Blue Line of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) serves as my travel pass to downtown Chicago.

My self-advocacy and problem-solving skills have proved vital to my college success. I no longer have a teacher of the visually impaired or a case manager as I did through high school. The Disability Resource Center plays a major role in providing me with necessary accommodations such as course materials in an accessible format. Nevertheless, it is my responsibility to communicate with my professors and teaching assistants and to make sure that I receive the accommodations I need. Self-advocacy is as vital to success in college as a high grade point average.

Likewise, problem-solving strategies have proved very useful to me in coping with minor and major challenges. I can look for a cue or landmark when I get lost on campus, and I can figure out how to complete an assignment when I don't have it in an accessible format. When the campus bus routes were completely restructured after my freshman year, I was forced to explore alternative ways of getting to my classes.

I know I made the right choice when I decided to postpone higher education for a year to undergo intensive training in blindness skills. Without this training, I could not have survived a single semester in college, despite the fact that I graduated from high school with a 4.0 grade point average. I would not have been able to find any of my classroom buildings independently, since I had almost no experience with outdoor travel before I went to Jacksonville. Without the confidence to express my needs, most likely I would not have been able to ensure that my accommodations were provided.

Despite my initial suffering, the transitional living program equipped me with the techniques necessary for success at the university level and empowered me with skills that I can apply in the workforce. On that agonizing night at ISVI, I made the most important decision of my life.

Marketing Our Message

by Cricket Bidleman

From the Editor: When Cricket Bidleman entered college, she planned to major in physics and build a career in the sciences. In this article she describes the journey that led her to a career she had never expected.

I was introduced to the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) in 2010, when I entered the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. I went to national convention in Dallas that year, but I spent a lot of that time jumping on the bed with my cousins and wondering why the hotel was so big. In 2015 I participated in the NFB's STEM Engineering Quotient (EQ) program, which introduced blind students to opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We built boats out of recyclable materials and raced them in a river close to Baltimore. Today one of those boats is at our national headquarters, the Jernigan Institute.
In the following year, I participated in NFB STEM2U, another science program. I'll always remember our trip to the Exploratorium, a museum in San Francisco filled with hands-on exhibits. The Exploratorium was conducting a pilot of detailed tactile map books of the museum, and they asked for our feedback. It was one of the first times that I had been empowered in this way.

In the summer of 2016, I attended our National Convention to speak about the STEM programs, and I was energized by all of our programs and initiatives. I had gone to Dallas in 2010 with my family as part of the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. By this time I had a much longer attention span, and I was able to absorb the general sessions.

The following summer, 2017, I attended the summer training program at BLIND, Inc., in Minneapolis. I thought that independent travel skills would prepare me for college. I had been accepted into Stanford University, and although I didn't know it at the time, the campus is huge and laid out confusingly. I also wanted to learn basic cooking and other daily living skills.

That summer, I was also an NFB National Scholarship finalist. I was introduced to mentors with whom I am still in contact six years later. I attended convention in 2017 both as a BLIND, Inc. student and as a scholarship finalist. The experience was both empowering and exhausting.

In high school I had a physics teacher who went out of his way to make materials accessible for me. I still remember the Vernier caliper he made out of a Braille meter stick and two pieces of wood with markings burnt into them. The caliper allowed me to measure within tenths of centimeters. It was almost as accurate as the devices that sighted students used. As a result, I felt that I could participate in STEM on an equal footing with my sighted peers, and when I entered Stanford, I wanted to major in physics. Unfortunately, I ran into access barriers early on, and I decided to shift my focus.

I was very interested in social media and the ways that it can be used to spread information, misinformation, and disinformation. (There are differences.) I ended up pursuing a degree in communications. 

Stanford shut down in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. With just five days' notice, everyone had to leave campus. By that time I had separated from my parents due to financial abuse, but there was no exception for students like me. Fortunately an acquaintance from NFB offered me a place to stay, and I continued taking my classes virtually.

By the fall of 2020, I had been working for Stanford's student union for a year. I started a podcast for them, interviewing students and professors alike, using Zoom and my computer's microphone. My passion for journalism started there, and it continued when I was accepted into Stanford's journalism master's program. Suffice it to say that I have a much better microphone now!

Unfortunately, serious medical issues kept me from completing the master's program. I had brain surgery in the summer of 2022, and I stayed with friends and family while recovering and job-hunting.

I attended some career fairs sponsored by the NFB, and I talked to Maurice Peret, who coordinates the national career mentoring program. Maurice mentioned that the NFB was looking for a marketing coordinator, and he submitted my résumé through the HR process.

I went through a series of interviews, and I was offered a job last December. I moved to Baltimore to ring in the new year, and I have found a welcoming community of friends and coworkers.

Marketing is much more than social media and advertising, although these days some think they're synonymous. NFB has countless programs, resources, and initiatives across our many departments. We are composed of fifty thousand members. My job is to help our members stay connected with what we're doing at the Jernigan Institute, what we can offer to our members. The vast majority of what our members can gain from us is free. I'm in marketing, but I don't sell anything.

We do raise a lot of awareness via social media. From event emails to legislative alerts, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube . . . we use numerous channels to raise awareness. There's a lot that has to happen internally to make our presence known in a way that looks smooth and seamless. I enjoy being a part of that.

While we keep our members connected to each other and to our national resources, we also try to encourage societal progress. We do this, in part, by persuading legislators to introduce bills to increase accessibility in a society built for sighted people. I'm not in the Advocacy and Policy department that interfaces with legislators, but marketing is still related to that work. I love helping others tell their stories. Through stories we encourage legislators and the general public to develop empathy for perspectives that might otherwise be unknown to them.

When I was young, I wanted to be a Supreme Court justice. (Or a princess.) Then I started college, and I wanted to be a physics professor, and then a journalist. Regardless of my past or future goals, I'm most happy in an environment where I'm learning. I'm doing plenty of learning here. It all started with a career fair . . .

Language Was the Key

by Karolline Austen

From the Editor: Often a particular skill or area of expertise can lead to employment. In this article Karolline Austen explains how her facility with languages helped her build her career.

I grew up in Brazil, and I began working at the age of seventeen. Brazil has "quota legislation," which means that any company with more than one hundred employees is required to hire people with disabilities. Unfortunately, though, companies aren't required to provide any reasonable accommodations. You can get hired, but unless you're very proactive, you may end up sitting at a desk and doing nothing all day.
As a young woman I started volunteering with the National Organization for the Blind, Brazil's leading blindness agency. In my volunteer work I often had to translate written material from English into Portuguese. I knew a little bit of English, but I wanted to become much more proficient.

I asked the president of the National Organization of the Blind to help me find a way to study English in the US. With the help of the World Blind Union, I got the opportunity to attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) in 2014.

I arrived in Ruston speaking almost no English. I spoke some Spanish, but I avoided using it so I could focus on building my English proficiency. Whenever I learned a new word or phrase, I wrote it down. My personal glossary grew bigger and bigger. I also worked on learning the United English Braille code (UEB). Braille instruction was part of the program at LCB, but I started a Braille club for students who wanted extra instruction. The students helped me build my skills in both Braille and English.

In 2015 I entered the master's degree program in rehab teaching at Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. I graduated in 2016 and got a job as an ESL (English as a second language) instructor at SAAVI, the rehabilitation center for the blind in Phoenix, Arizona.

After a year in Arizona I got married, and I ended up moving back to Louisiana. My husband, Conrad Austen, had just started working at LCB. Based in Ruston, I flung myself into the work of looking for a job.

The internet was a tremendous help in my job search. The Indeed job-search website turned out to be a fantastic resource. It was wonderfully accessible. Since Ruston is a relatively small community with limited opportunities, I looked for jobs that would allow me to work virtually. Some of the opportunities that came up were surprising, even ludicrous. I actually got an offer to answer the phone for a company that dealt with people who had had their cars towed away!

Since I am bilingual I decided to look for a job as a Portuguese interpreter. At one point I was called for a phone interview while I was in the car, driving from Arizona to Louisiana. I didn't want to risk missing the opportunity, so I told my fellow passengers to stay quiet, and I did the interview then and there.

The interview took me to the next step in the hiring process, an evaluation of my skills in medical interpretation. To my dismay I failed the assessment. I didn't realize that my previous experience as a simultaneous interpreter wasn't quite the same as the work I would have to perform as a consecutive interpreter. I'd been in such a hurry to take the test that I didn't give myself enough time to study. I felt very sad, but I remained highly motivated. The company, called Propio, encouraged me to study and take the test again. I threw myself into studying and finished the twelve-week course on medical interpreting in just one week! The next time I took the test, I passed.

My job involved interpreting for doctors who had Portuguese-speaking patients. After I got that first position I found other interpreting jobs.

One time I was invited to present at a job fair for people with visual impairments. I decided to test the accessibility of the career websites before my presentation. I tested out a website by applying for a position. Yay! The website was accessible—so much so that my application went through, and I was offered another job as a Portuguese interpreter, this time with a company called CyraCom.

It often happens that one job leads to another. My job as a medical interpreter branched out into other areas. I was hired to test the Indeed website to make sure its accessibility features are working properly. Today I am no longer doing direct medical interpretation. I work as a language operations manager at AMN Healthcare, a company with four thousand employees. My language skills opened the door, but I have been able to build upon each opportunity and take on new challenges.

I am so lucky to be with AMN! My coworkers; my supervisor, Justin Rice; and the vice-president of my department, Kat Jackson really see me as a leader and understand that blindness is not a characteristic that defines me or my future. Every time my department releases updates to a platform or makes changes to the way we have to do something, they ask me to test things first to make sure they are accessible for me. If we encounter any accessibility issues, they find ways to make things 100 percent accessible.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects around the world. Ironically, however, it has opened many opportunities for blind job-seekers. Lack of transportation used to be an enormous barrier for blind job-seekers unless they lived in a city with a good public transit system. COVID opened up a world of options in the virtual workplace. We still have to have strong, marketable skills, but the virtual environment gives us more opportunities to put those skills to use.

Assistive technology is another factor that plays a very important role in the life of blind employees. In my day-to-day activities as a manager, I use a combination of tools, including screen readers and Braille displays. It amazes me and it fills my heart with joy to see how much technology for the blind has improved and continues to get better. When my employees send me pictures of documents, for example, I can convert those images into text. When I am working on their performance review with them, I utilize spreadsheets and common applications that are also used by people with no disabilities. Thanks to Braille and text-to-speech products, I am able to do my job like anyone else.

Certainly some young people are less bold than I was when I launched my career. There are definitely specific tips and tricks that I would recommend to help parents guide them on their own journey. The most important one is to find a national organization. Here in the United States we have the National Federation of the Blind. Each state has its own affiliate, and each affiliate offers resources, meetings, literature, and instruction to guide blind children and adults in the right direction.

Too often I hear blind job-seekers say, "I really want to start working, but my rehab counselor still hasn't found me a job." Your rehab agency can be a good resource, but your counselor cannot and should not do all the work for you. After all, it's your career and your life—and your happiness and independence as well! 
You can find an excellent article featuring Karolline Austen at https://www.amnhealthcare.com/amn-insights/language-services/blog/enabling-interpreting-careers-for-blind-and-low-vision-communities

Call the Next Witness!

by Kayde Rieken

From the Editor: In every courtroom, attention focuses on the lawyers, the witnesses, and the judge who will hand down the final decision. At each trial, however, another professional is quietly and diligently at work. In this article Kayde Rieken (Kayde is pronounced Kadie) describes her training and her work as a court reporter, a profession in which blindness is no obstacle.

I've been totally blind since birth, and I have an older sister who is fully sighted. I was extremely fortunate, as my parents expected me to do everything my sister was doing. Both of us explored and roughhoused and did household chores. My parents assumed that I would attend public school and keep up with my sighted classmates.

We lived in Missouri when I was born, and my parents enrolled me in a preschool for blind children in Kansas City. They were dismayed when the teachers told them I was too young to start learning Braille. My sister learned print letters before she entered kindergarten, and my parents thought I ought to be given the same early exposure to Braille, which was going to be my means to become literate.

My family moved several times during my early years. When I started kindergarten we lived in Nebraska, and later we moved to Colorado. Finally, when I was in fourth grade, we settled in Kearny, Nebraska, where we lived until I finished high school.

I had studied Spanish in high school, and I thought I would like to become a Spanish interpreter. I enrolled at Nebraska Wesleyan in Lincoln, a school that offered Spanish interpreting as a major. After two years, though, I realized that the field was not a good fit for me. I was excited when I learned about the field of court reporting. I enrolled in an online program, the College of Court Reporting, based in Hobart, Indiana, which granted an associate’s degree.

The school was very cooperative in terms of accessibility. They made sure that I could use all of the necessary hardware and software. I completed my training in 2017 and started looking for a job.

Listening is a critical skill for a court reporter. In fact, all through training, as we learn to use the steno machines, I heard instructors tell my classmates, "Don't look at your hands!" I knew that my blindness would never hinder me from doing quality work.

Nevertheless, after I completed my training it took me nine months to find a job. I attended one virtual interview after another. The interviewers were always enthusiastic until I disclosed that I am blind. Then the tone of the conversation shifted abruptly, as though a deep chill had descended. My résumé included my involvement with the National Federation of the Blind, but apparently, it never occurred to the interviewers that I am a blind person myself.

Finally I had a phone interview with a company that provides court reporters for courts in Minneapolis. When I told the interviewer that I am blind there was a short pause, and then we continued as before. A few days later I was called for a follow-up interview to talk about the accommodations I would need. I received a job offer while I was at the 2018 National Federation of the Blind Convention. It was wonderful to celebrate my fantastic news with my Federation family!

I belong to a team of court reporters employed by the 4th District, which is Hennepin County, Minnesota. We're assigned to trials in various courthouses throughout the county. Our assignments are based on how many hours we have worked recently. The work is very demanding, and spreading out our assignments helps ensure that people don't get burned out.

When I record courtroom proceedings, speed is of the essence! I'm responsible for creating a flawlessly accurate record, capturing every word that is spoken throughout the trial. To perform my job I use a standard steno machine. Steno is a phonetic written language. Steno machines have twenty-two or twenty-four keys. I type using both hands simultaneously. I type the first part of a word with the fingers of my left hand, the end of the word with the fingers of my right hand, and the middle of the word with my thumbs.
The steno machine has a built-in English dictionary. Everything I type is automatically translated into written English that appears on the screen of my laptop computer. I have a Braille display connected to my laptop, so I can read back my work in Braille. If I weren't fluent in Braille, I can't imagine how I would do my job!

The program I use for editing my work has a few quirks that can be a bit of a challenge. As of today it doesn't work with Windows 11. It works well with Windows 10, so I'll still be able to use it for a while, but eventually I'll have to make changes.

When you deal with technology, glitches can always occur. Once my steno machine suddenly stopped communicating with my laptop. Fortunately I caught the problem right away, and I managed to troubleshoot it during our lunch break. Another issue I have to watch for is formatting. Now and then I have someone check my documents to make certain everything is set up properly.

If I'm not sure I understood a word or phrase during a trial, I ask the person to repeat what they said. I have taken a couple of courses on linguistics to help me recognize and understand the many accents and speech patterns I hear. Right now I'm studying the speech patterns and usage heard in many African-American communities. A simple misunderstanding could affect the way a phrase or sentence appears in the transcript.

A trial may last several days or more. Each trial generates many pages of transcript. One hour of a trial amounts to about forty transcribed pages. Outside the courtroom I meticulously proofread my work. In an hour I usually can proofread about twenty-five pages, but if the trial is dense with technical language I might only be able to proofread fifteen pages or so. I have to double and even triple check all of the complicated names and terms that are used. Every so often a lawyer demands to see the full transcript on the following day, but that just isn't possible!

Eventually artificial intelligence may take over some aspects of the work I do. However, with all of the different voice tones and accents, plus the complicated terms that are used in many trials, I think the need for human court reporters will be with us for a long time.

Early during the COVID shutdown, the courthouses closed, and trials were conducted over Zoom. Now the courts are open again, and I do all of my work in person. Everyone knows that I am blind. People see me come in with my guide dog or my cane, and they watch me read from my Braille display. Almost universally people have been very welcoming and respectful. If anyone objects to having a blind court reporter, I haven't heard about it.

One challenge I encounter now and then as a blind court reporter is keeping track of who is speaking, especially if things get heated and people interrupt or talk over one another. For the record I need to be absolutely certain of each speaker's identity. If I have any doubts, I ask the judge to make sure people identify themselves when they speak. If I'm not sure I understood a word or phrase, I ask the person to repeat what they said.

The field of court reporting is not for everyone. The work is highly demanding and stressful. A simple mistake could change the meaning of a statement, and that tiny change could affect the outcome of a trial. Creating a meticulously accurate record is an enormous responsibility.

Court reporting can be stressful in another way as well. It is painful, even excruciating, to hear the gruesome details of murders, rapes, and child abuse that are revealed in so many trials. Once I spent a whole day on proceedings around adoption cases, and everyone in the room was happy! It was such a contrast to the cases I've grown used to! Regardless of the emotion stirred up by the testimony, as a court reporter I have to remain calm and record every word that is spoken.

The stresses I'm describing affect all court reporters, blind or sighted. I definitely think that court reporting is a good field for blind people to consider. For me Braille is an essential tool, but it may be possible for a blind person to use speech output instead.

Regrettably, the Indiana School of Court Reporting, where I earned my degree, has made some changes in technology. Its courses are no longer accessible for blind students. Currently some blind students are successfully enrolled at a school called Simply Steno. When investigating a school it is essential to make sure the technology will be accessible throughout the program.

Success in court reporting depends on practice, practice, and more practice. Court reporting programs require students to achieve a speed of 225 words per minute in order to graduate.

If you're considering the field of court reporting for yourself or for a student, please feel free to contact me. You can reach me at [email protected].

Science From a Fresh Perspective

An Interview with Mona Minkara

From the Editor: On March 7, 2023, Mona Minkara delivered a speech to the United Nations, entitled "We Need More Blind Scientists." The speech encapsulates a major theme in Mona's work, the conviction that blind people bring a unique perspective to the study of science, a perspective that can benefit everyone.

In 2013, as a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida, Mona Minkara received an NFB National Scholarship. Since that time she has won many distinctions in the scientific community and in the realm of accessibility. Today she holds an affiliated appointment in chemistry and chemical biology at Northeastern University in Boston. Her laboratory implements computational methods to probe molecular interactions and biological interfaces. She has given guest lectures at universities and scientific conferences throughout the United States. In addition, she is dedicated to promoting accessibility in the sciences for people who are blind or have low vision.

In the midst of her busy schedule, Mona graciously made time for an interview with Future Reflections. Here is the story she shared.

DEBORAH KENT STEIN: Tell me a bit about your background. Where did you grow up, and what was your early education like?

MONA MINKARA: I was born in Maryland, and my family is Lebanese. When I was quite young, we moved to Massachusetts, which is where I grew up. Science fascinated me from the time I was little. I used to watch The Magic School Bus on TV, and I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up.

When I was seven years old I was diagnosed with macular degeneration and cone-rod dystrophy. No one told my parents about the resources that would have helped me at school. In fact, one doctor actually warned them not to waste one penny on my education!

DKS: What was your experience like at school as you lost vision?

MM: The teachers told my parents that I didn't need to learn Braille. They said I could use audio materials and enlarged print. By the time I was eleven I couldn't read print at all, no matter how big the letters were, so I depended entirely on listening. I developed a prodigious memory, and I got to be a whiz at doing mental math. 

DKS: Were you still interested in science?

MM: Oh yes! That never changed! Science was my passion. In high school I took all the science classes I could schedule. One teacher made it clear that she didn’t want me in her advanced class. She said I would fail, so there was no point in my taking the course. I took the class in spite of her, and in the end I got one of the highest grades. That teacher actually apologized to me for everything she put me through!

My challenges in school taught me a lesson about failure. I realized I would rather learn something new, even if failure was the price I might have to pay. When I finished that class, I thought to myself, if I can do this, what else might I be able to do?

DKS: Where did you go to college?

MM: In high school my family was very supportive. They pretty much followed my lead. They let me do whatever I wanted to do in terms of my classes.

When I decided I wanted to go away to college, to go somewhere and live on campus, that was different! They really weren't happy to have me living off on my own. I ended up doing my undergrad at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts. It was pretty close to home, but I got the chance to live on campus.

DKS: What was your college experience like?

MM: At college my learning was still strictly auditory. I used human notetakers in my classes and for taking exams. Early on I found out that not every notetaker could do a good job. I'd have to train people to capture the right information—they had to get what I needed and not bother with the information I didn't need. Training people was a slow process, but I learned a lot through doing it. I learned about teaching and about sorting priorities, communicating what was going to be most important to me.

DKS: Did you get much help from your school's office for disabled students?

MM: Wellesley had a disabled students' office, but they acted as though they'd never had a blind student before. During my first two years on campus, I had to self-advocate for everything. At one point I took a summer course, and I couldn't get them to pay for a reader at all. We had a Muslim Students Association (MSA) on campus. The MSA pitched in and provided the readers I needed.

Eventually the DSS office got the picture, and things improved a lot during my last two years. My younger sister, who also is blind, went to Wellesley, too. She didn't have anywhere near the problems I had.
DKS: What did you do after you graduated?

MM: I graduated from Wellesley with a double degree in chemistry and Middle Eastern studies. From there I went to the University of Florida to earn my Ph.D. in chemistry. My graduate work involved studying urease, which is an enzyme that catalyzes the hydrolysis of urea into CO 2 and ammonia. I couldn't learn by watching videos of chemical reactions, so I found a different way to work. I marked each residue, or small group, of amino acids and tracked the distance each would move over the length of time in the video. It was a very different way of working, but I got the information I needed.

DKS: What was your experience looking for a job after you got your degree?

MM: It was rugged! I literally applied for seventy different positions. Granted, it's very competitive for everybody, but I know my blindness was a factor in a lot of those rejections.

Finally I was invited to interview for a postdoc position at a lab at the University of Minnesota. When the professor said he wanted me to work there, I was really startled. I asked him, "Why do you want me?" He said, "Because you are blind, you are going to solve problems no one else on my team has solved." He actually saw my blindness as an asset. He understood that I would bring something unique to his lab, a whole new perspective. I thought, Okay, it looks like I'm moving to Minnesota!

DKS: What did he mean about solving problems no one else on his team had solved?

MM: Okay, here's an example. When we're studying the activity of a protein, usually everybody watches a video. Because I can't see the video I have to come up with a different way to observe that protein. I came up with a computational model, using a computer, and I discovered whole new movement patterns. We need scientists with all kinds of different perspectives to find solutions no one has found before.

DKS: What is the nature of your work at Northeastern?

MM: I use computational methods to probe molecular interactions and biological interfaces such as the pulmonary surfactant system (PS) and its components. PS is a critical mixture in the lungs that helps regulate breathing. It also helps in the sequestration of pathogens that attempt to enter the body through the airways. One of the main components of the PS system, surfactant protein (SP-D), has been the subject of a lot of experimental studies because of its immunological response against glycan-containing pathogens. Those include things like SARS-COV-2 and influenza. Before the COVID pandemic, I never thought studying lung surfactant would become so relevant to everyday life!

DKS: Do you still see yourself as a strictly auditory learner?

MM: A few years ago I finally started to learn Braille. I highly recommend that blind students learn Braille as early as possible. I haven't built up a lot of speed yet, but I use Braille now to label just about everything, from my kitchen to the lab. The more I use Braille, the easier it gets. Steady wins the race!

DKS: I know you're involved in a lot of initiatives to open the sciences to blind people and people with other disabilities. Tell me more about all that.

MM: A couple of years ago I was among a group of people with disabilities who took part in a simulated space flight. We wanted to learn how blind people, deaf people, and people with other disabilities would react to zero gravity and other aspects of space flight. There are some ways that having a disability might be an advantage, and disabled astronauts might discover things that nondisabled astronauts don't notice.
A lot still needs to be done to open science education and careers to more blind people. I belong to the Chemists with Disabilities Committee that meets at the American Chemical Society Conference. We're developing an accessible Periodic Table and a manual for teaching chemists with disabilities.

I still work very collaboratively with access assistants in my laboratory. Their descriptions allow me to think freely about what is being portrayed in images on the screen. Sometimes an assistant uses my hand to plot a line on a graph. My assistants learn from me, and I learn from them. Our work is a very collaborative process.

More and more tools are available to help blind scientists gain success. My desire to see others succeed feeds my drive and strengthens my capacity to push the boundaries. I've achieved far more than was expected of me when I was growing up. I can hardly wait to see what other blind scientists will accomplish in the years ahead.

You can find extensive information about Mona Minkara and her work by visiting her website, https://monaminkara.com.

Structured Discovery in the World of Business

by Mausam Mehta

From the Editor: For many job-seekers, securing an internship is an important step toward employment. Even when a job opens up, blind workers must be creative and flexible. In this article Mausam Mehta explains how she secured an internship that led to a full-time job and talks about meeting challenges in the workplace. All views expressed in this article are those of Mausam Mehta and not those of her employer.

I have been involved with the NFB ever since I was in high school. I attended the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB) in 2017, and I was an active member of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). From the NFB I absorbed the philosophy that I can live the life I want, no matter what obstacles might get in my way.

I attended the University of Virginia with the idea of getting a degree in business administration. Within the university there is an upper-division program, the McIntyre School of Commerce. I applied to McIntyre during my sophomore year, and that spring I was thrilled to learn that I had been accepted.
Then COVID hit, and the whole university shut down. When I started at McIntyre, all of my classes were virtual.

Through NABS I had worked to promote the AIM HIGH Bill, a piece of legislation to ensure that postsecondary classroom materials are fully accessible to blind and low-vision students. The bill hasn't yet passed, and I can testify that the need for access is tremendous! Even before I started at McIntyre, I ran into massive barriers with my accounting course. I ended up spending ten to fifteen hours a week with a teaching assistant in order to access all of the materials I needed. I hope the professors learned a thing or two that may benefit future blind students!

I'm very interested in the intersection between technology and people, and I entered the McIntyre program with a concentration on information technology. A great thing about business is that when you identify a problem you can also work on a solution. A lot of my coursework focused on data analytics, which involved problem solving and brainstorming. Things change so fast in this field that solutions are always a couple of generations behind the need.

One of my toughest classes was on project management. This class required students to collaborate by moving "sticky notes" around on a digital whiteboard. JAWS was simply no match for that challenge! If I relied on my access technology there was no way I could keep up with my classmates and participate fully in discussions.

I did a lot of soul searching to figure out ways I could be useful to my team. I realized that I could do research and generate ideas as well as anyone else could. The issue for me was sharing my ideas with my peers. Rather than struggling with my inadequate technology, I could ask a teammate to post my ideas. It wasn't as easy as it might sound. I had to learn to be assertive and to speak up, which meant I really had to believe that my ideas were worthwhile. I also had to assert myself to make sure that my teammates and professor knew which ideas were mine, even though someone else posted them. 

As blind students we have to be proactive throughout our education. Even in elementary school we have to ask for verbal descriptions and hands-on learning opportunities. By the time we get to college we know what we need, and we can explain what will serve us best. We have the same amount of time available as our sighted classmates do to get our work done, so we have to use it wisely.

After junior year students at McIntyre were expected to do a summer internship. The internship usually set the direction the student will take in the following year and beyond. All through my junior year I applied for every internship I could find. I was terrified about being rejected or getting stuck with an internship I wouldn't enjoy. Besides the obstacles created by my blindness, in terms of access barriers and employers' attitudes, I felt that my experience had been limited because of COVID restrictions. I applied for more than fifty positions in finance, marketing, technology, and even copywriting. Week by week, month by month I saw my classmates being selected for internships, while I was turned down by one program after another. The pressure was almost indescribable.

I applied for an internship with American Express in October, and after months of silence I assumed they weren't interested in me. Then, in May, their marketing team invited me for an interview. I had applied through their standard portal and also through a nonprofit called Strive for College. I had been involved with Strive for College when I was in high school, but I hadn't followed them much during college. Now Strive for College provided my interview opportunity.

I had two virtual interviews with American Express through Webex. I disclosed my blindness during the interview process, and they seemed very open to working with me. To my joy I received an offer within two days! I would be working with the digital labs team, which is an innovations think tank for American Express. The team does a lot of work on the development of new products. Without hesitation I accepted the offer.

The internship started in June, just weeks after my classes ended. I worked virtually from my home in Staunton, Virginia. I loved the culture of the company, but at first I encountered some technology barriers. For my first two weeks on the job I didn't have JAWS on my work computer. The company had to approve the software, and it was a complicated process. They didn’t have the resources in place to accommodate me. The situation was further complicated by the fact that the accessibility team that installed JAWS for American Express is based in London! American Express knew about JAWS from the user perspective, trying to make their website accessible to the public, but they weren't familiar with its use by employees.
My internship lasted for ten weeks, and I spent the first two weeks struggling to get JAWS up and running.

After that I had to make up for lost time! I followed the intern curriculum to the letter, attended all the meetings, and worked hard on my assigned project. Halfway through the summer I had a very candid conversation with my manager. He acknowledged that the infrastructure was not accessible. I needed to reference a lot of graphical materials, and I was not adding value through my work. His frankness could have been devastating, but he took my struggles in a positive direction. He felt I could make unique contributions to the company if I did a project about onboarding accessibility.

I really didn't want to confine myself to accessibility issues! I have great respect for professionals in the field of access technology, but that wasn't the work I wanted to do! Nevertheless, I realized I had to be strategic about my career. If I made a significant contribution, I might prove my value and get a job offer.

Finally I made a compromise. I decided to keep working on my original project, looking at it in terms of universal design. I explored project pillars with several different teams, figuring out how to leverage existing technology to make products useful to diverse audiences. I thought about ways to optimize features that were already in place. For example, a person might scan a check with an app in order to make a deposit. The app could include an audio feature to let the user know whether the check is fully visible to the camera.
In the end I felt very good about the project. Apparently American Express did, too. On the last day of my internship the company made me a job offer!

I didn't rush into my decision to accept the American Express offer. They gave me until November 1 to respond, and I used the time to file other job applications. I dragged out the decision for months, but finally, on October 31, I accepted the offer from American Express.

American Express offered me a hybrid position where I would work part of the time from their office in New York City. 

Moving to Manhattan was quite an adventure! I needed to find an apartment I could afford, and I had to prove to the landlord that my credit was sound. I also needed to find a roommate who could share the rent. My job started in August 2022, and I scrambled to get everything settled by my first day.

As I worked to establish credit, I discovered a wonderful option called a secure card. You give the credit card company a relatively small deposit. You don't need credit to apply; you just have to give them some money up front. You can borrow against that deposit, and if you make your payments on time you get your deposit back within a year.

Searching for a roommate was another challenge. Each time I connected with a new prospect I had to start all over again, explaining my price range, discussing where I wanted to live, exchanging information about our schedules and habits. Sometimes people seemed interested, and then they disappeared. Maybe they were scared off by my blindness. Maybe they didn't want to live with a guide dog. Maybe other factors were involved that had nothing to do with me personally. Finally I found a roommate who was very compatible. That was a relief!

I started my new job in late August, working remotely because I still hadn't found an apartment. Finally, in September, I found a place that was reasonably priced (by New York standards!) and close to the subway. My uncle offered to be a guarantor, but to my delight I discovered that I had already established a good credit rating with my secure card. I was ready to begin my new life! I moved into my apartment in New York on October 10, 2022.

My job title at American Express is Associate Product Manager for Digital Labs. Currently my team is working to develop an instrument to help clients assess their carbon footprint. The product launched early in 2023, and my teammates and I work on bugs that emerge. We're always thinking about new features that might be valuable. 

I still find some aspects of product management to be hard because of accessibility issues. Some basic institutional tools remain inaccessible. At first I felt afraid to speak up during meetings, to say, "Please read your screen aloud," or "Please send me that document as an attachment." I worried that I might be assessed poorly if I didn't add value to my team. 

Finally my manager took me aside and gave me some crucial feedback. He told me I needed to become more proactive. He said he wanted me to seek out opportunities rather than waiting for my manager to give me things to do. I should figure out where I wanted to be and how I could best use my talents to get there.
I took his message to heart. I've been pleasantly surprised by how welcoming my colleagues have been when I tell them about my interests and goals. This journey is about recognizing my own value, knowing I have something worthwhile to offer. Each day I try to remember that I was hired because I have talent. My output on the job may not look the same as everyone else's, but I know that I add the same value.

Working in the business world reminds me of the structured discovery techniques I learned in travel classes at CCB. Through structured discovery I built a mental map, using every piece of information at my disposal. I learned to gather more information when it was needed. In my work each day I’m constantly asking questions and building upon the knowledge I gain. With all those resources in place, I get myself to wherever I need to go. 

If you would like to contact Mausam Mehta, you can reach her at [email protected].

The Next Big Step: How to Keep Your Job and Thrive in the Workplace

by Yusef Dale

Reprinted from the Illinois Independent, the Newsletter of the NFB of Illinois, Summer 2019

From the Editor: Yusef Dale is a lawyer with the US Attorney's office in Chicago. This article is based on a presentation he delivered at the Midwest Student Seminar in April 2019. His thoughtful comments are not only relevant to blind lawyers and other professionals. What he says is sound advice for any blind person who has entered the workforce. Mr. Dale is direct about the challenges we face as blind people, but he explains how we can meet those challenges and build lasting success.

At this seminar you've heard quite a bit about interviewing and getting hired for your first job. This morning I'd like to talk about what happens next. Once you get that job, you have to do some key things in order to retain that employment and to advance.

Reputation: The Guiding Principle

It may surprise you, but when it comes to keeping a job and advancing in the workplace, the guiding principle is reputation.

What do I mean by reputation? Reputation is part of the human condition in almost every institution. People talk. As a blind person, you're going to be scrutinized more carefully than most. People are going to talk about you more than they talk about other people. You have to be prepared for that reality.
Reputation has its own momentum, and that momentum is exponential. When you start on the job, you need to get your reputation rolling in the right direction. To build that favorable momentum you have to be excellent at what you do, and you have to be excellent early!

Let me assure you that being excellent does not mean you have to be perfect. There's no such thing as perfection! Excellence, though, does mean striving for perfection and striving for it sincerely, with everything you have.

In the workplace reputation is key for everyone, whether you're blind or sighted. But when you are blind people will attribute any mistake you make to your blindness. And guess what—you cannot undo your blindness! You are going to have to take your reputation seriously in the beginning and be excellent.

No Shortcuts!

What steps do you need to take in order to be excellent? The first thing I want to say is no shortcuts! No shortcuts! I cannot tell you how important this is!

I work at the US Attorney's office in Chicago. It's a very prestigious office, one of the top litigation offices in the country, maybe just behind the Southern District of New York. Pat Fitzgerald was the US attorney when I started, and he is legendary. When he was working in New York he prosecuted some of the biggest bomb terrorism cases. When I came to the US Attorney's office, I knew right away that I was going to be scrutinized. I said to myself, "Yusef, no shortcuts!"

The first thing you have to do to implement the no-shortcuts strategy is read, read, read! When you start a job you're going to undergo a training program for new employees. You're going to go to lectures, you're going to take notes, and you're going to get a vast amount of written material. Inevitably you'll be tempted not to read it all. You might think, "I'll go to the lectures, and I'll take notes on everything the trainers talk about. I'll learn that way." Don't do that! Read everything, and make sure you understand it all. If you don't understand something, ask questions of someone whose trust you have gained so that they don't judge you.

Once you start with the substance of your job, you're going to get what we call "go-bys." Everything has a go-by. For instance, in my office somebody has prosecuted a multi-defendant gang case, and they all pled out. What does the plea agreement look like? What does the cooperation agreement look like? If I'm flipping one person against another, what does that look like? Give me a document I can go by.

Go-bys are part of what everyone does, but sometimes you're tempted not to read those documents all the way through. You might think, "This paragraph is in every plea agreement—I don't have to understand it. I'll just put it in." Don't do that! Read and make sure you understand every statute. Don't fall to the temptation of not reading everything and not understanding everything. Remember that your reputation is everything, and if it gets rolling in the wrong direction, you're done.

As blind people we cannot afford the leeway of taking shortcuts. Question everything. Research everything. Make sure you know that everything in your document is right! Be excellent!

Ask the Right Question

The next thing I want to tell you is to ask the right question, and ask it in the right way. Everyone has questions starting out in a new job. But everything applies to us disproportionately as blind people, so what we ask and how we ask it is very important.

What does it mean to ask the right question in the right way? No one respects a person who comes into their office and says, "Hey, what's the answer to this?" When you ask a question in the workplace, particularly if you're blind, you need to demonstrate that you have context for your question. You need to show that you have tried to answer the question before you go into your colleague's office.

Soon after I started at the US Attorney's office I dropped by the office of Lisa, one of my coworkers. I said, "I'm having an issue with understanding the safety-valve proffer. I've read Guidelines Section 5 K 1.1. I've read the statute that applies. Here's what the statute says, and the seminal case says this. Here's what I don't understand." I didn't just walk in and ask Lisa a question. I made sure she knew I had tried hard to get the answer. I showed her that I was thinking and that I'm not lazy. 

I cannot tell you how important it is to ask the right question in the right way. Guess what's going to happen! The next time Lisa talks to one of her buddies, she'll say, "Wow! That new hire who's blind, he came into my office with a question, and you could tell he had read and researched before he asked me." Because we're blind, people are not going to expect that from us. There's a lot of depth to the ignorance out there in the work world. They will assume the worst unless you ask the right question in the right way.

Be Intentional

Be intentional about demonstrating your work ethic. Make sure people know you're willing to work long hours. When I first got to the US Attorney's office I worked seven days a week a lot of the time. I worked till seven, eight, or nine every night, and people knew it. You can't be phony about it, of course. Don't send a 10 p.m. email if you don't have to send a 10 p.m. email! People will see through that! But if you have to send an email at 10 or 11 p.m., send it! You want people to know you have a strong work ethic, that you're willing to work long hours, and you're willing to work hard.

As a blind person coming into a new job, you have to deal with one huge issue that other people aren't dealing with. You have to learn to do your job without sight. That's an additional challenge that requires some extra work. Don't be ashamed to let people know you work hard. They're going to tell their friends, "Hey, I see him here on the weekends! I see him here late at night!" They respect you for that, and your reputation gets rolling in the right direction.

No Excuses!

My next point is really a big one. Don't allow others to make excuses for you! I know you folks in here are not going to make excuses for yourselves. You've achieved a certain amount of success, and you're used to not making excuses for yourselves—at least you should be! But a sneaky thing happens in the work world. People will try to make excuses for you. It can be very subtle, and you might not notice at first. Your boss might come to your office and say, "You're doing great work here. But we've got these mortgage fraud cases, and they have a gigantic document load. We'll give you some other cases instead. You'll be doing the same amount of work as everyone else. We're just not going to assign you these document-heavy cases."
When that happens, the answer is no! Never let people make excuses for you and tell you what you cannot do. They may sound like they're complimenting you, but they're setting you up for failure. They're saying to themselves, "There are certain things I can't ask that employee to do." I don't want to sound melodramatic, but that is going to doom you to failure.

Once I got a lecture about this issue from someone I really liked and respected. So when that assignment came up I said, "I can do mortgage fraud cases. I've got this." And when you do the mortgage case and do it well, your reputation gets rolling! It's cooking now! It's cooking! So never let anyone make excuses for you!
Here's another example that was important in my career. I was handling a case with a really great prosecutor. She clerked for a Supreme Court justice. I always strive for excellence, but this time I understood I'd be measured by an especially tall yardstick. Whatever the prosecutor said about me—and she would say something, because that's human nature!—whatever she said, I needed it to be good!
The case was a more or less straightforward bank robbery, but a lot of surveillance video was involved. Dealing with video is one of the biggest challenges for a blind person in this profession. You have to figure out how to explain it to a jury. The prosecutor said, nicely, "I'll handle this main FBI agent, because there's this video. But we'll still question the same number of witnesses."

I said no. Once I knew she thought I'd have trouble with the FBI agent, I insisted that I take that witness. I was really direct with her because I liked and trusted her. I said, "If I don't do this, you'll have doubts about whether I can do it. It's important that you not have those doubts."

I went out to the bank like we always do. I looked at the terrain. I had an assistant explain to me what was in the video, exactly what time things were happening. I went over and over it in my head. I went back to the bank. I walked the terrain again to make sure I understood it, and I put that FBI witness on the stand. It came out fine, and that's the point. The prosecutor was ready to make an excuse for me. But once I knew she thought I couldn't deal with the video, I insisted that I do it.

Write It Right!

The last thing I want to talk about is proofreading your written work. If something goes wrong, you will not get the benefit of the doubt. I know, because I've been there. I know other blind professionals who've gone through it. When you're writing something in an email, be very, very careful about your grammar and your spelling! Make sure you have automatic spell-check turned on before you send an email. If you know you confuse certain words in your head, make sure you don't confuse them when you send out emails or when you turn in written product.

All day I write, write, write! People think lawyers spend all their time in court, but mostly I write. I write motions and sentencing memos. I write a prosecution memo at the beginning. I draft the indictment. Frankly, writing is not one of my gifts. I've become a good writer, but I had to work on it. For instance, I know the difference between except and accept, but when I'm typing like crazy at my computer, for some unknown reason I'll write except when I mean accept, like to accept an agreement. I've got to double-check it every time. 

Listen, you might make a mistake. I've made one or two! But if your reputation gets rolling in the right way, people know you're a person who works hard. Then you'll get the benefit of the doubt.

Human Assistants

Now I want to talk quickly about working with a human assistant, such as a reader or a driver. In the law business we have secretaries. The duties of my assistant sometimes extend a little beyond the usual, but it's not a big deal.

One thing an assistant can do for you is proofread your documents for formatting, because weird things happen sometimes when you're typing. One time I had two pages that were all in italics. I had no idea how it happened! When your document goes to the court or to your supervisor, you want it to be impeccable.
Make sure your assistant knows his or her role. Your assistant's job is not to think for you. Your assistant's job is to serve as your eyes. Carefully and delicately make sure your assistant understands that. In the work world people will sometimes try to give your assistant credit for the work you do. It's shocking, but it's something we all live with as blind people. When you refer to your assistant in your workplace, make sure people understand his or her role. I might say casually, "She sees well, and that's all I really need from her."
These are the things I think are really important about retaining employment once you have it. Get your reputation going, be excellent, no shortcuts, make sure you're doing things the right way, ask the right questions. I want to end with a story that speaks to these points.

I got to the US Attorney's office in 2007. I had previously worked for the Social Security Administration. I went to the US Attorney's office on what they call a detail. The Social Security Administration sends over an attorney to prosecute criminal fraud against Social Security. So you're sitting in the US Attorney's office, but you still work for Social Security.

Anybody who goes to the US Attorney's office from Social Security wants to stay there. It's a very prestigious office. You'll never have another job like it! I knew that once I worked for Pat Fitzgerald I could say that for the rest of my career! So I went there with the attitude that I was going to be excellent.

One of my first trials was a complicated bank fraud case. The defendant was accused of embezzling money from a bank where she worked and shuffling funds among various accounts. Then she orchestrated a bank robbery to try to cover up the theft! I was on that trial, and I actually put the bank witness on the stand. It was hugely complicated! There were rows and rows of debits and credits, numbers all over the place! I had to explain it during my direct testimony, and then I had to explain it at closing. My closing argument was not as good as I would have liked it to be, but I had those numbers down pat! I was able to explain everything to the jury. I showed them where those debits went and how this woman set up the bank robbery so she could pretend the money had been stolen.

The judge in that case was a former prosecutor from our office. She saw all the work I'd done. I didn't take any shortcuts. She saw that.

At the end of my two years, when my detail was nearly over, I wrote Pat Fitzgerald a letter. I said I wanted to stay on and become an assistant United States attorney. Pat Fitzgerald said, "You've done good work here. Let me go back and do my due diligence, and I'll let you know the decision of the office."

Later he came back, and he said, "We'd like to have you stay on. You're an addition to the office." Then I went next-door to Lisa. I said, "Wow! I've got some good news! I'm actually staying on!" And she said, "I know. I'm on the hiring committee." So all that time I was working and asking questions, she was assessing me. And, because the judge on that bank embezzlement trial was a former prosecutor in the office, and because she randomly happened to be assigned to a few of my cases, it would not have been unusual for her to share her impressions with the office. I feel pretty certain that, if she did so, she had favorable things to say.

That's the point of the story. You never know who you're talking to. It's important to remember that. Be excellent, and get your reputation going in the right way. It will lead you to success in the workplace.

"The Easy Way Out": The Impacts of Siloing Blind Individuals in Their Career Choices

by Juhi Narula

From the Editor: Juhi Narula serves as the Youth Transitions Program Manager at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). In this article she reflects on an issue that troubles many blind job-seekers. She examines the choice she made and discusses the options she tries to make available to others.

"Blind people should serve blind people. We know our lives and experiences best."

"You should empower and motivate others like you."

"Blind people need more successful, independent role models to look up to."

While these statements hold true, they can be unintentionally harmful when they encourage blind individuals toward career paths that do not align with their personal occupational goals.

When I began the job search process during my last semester of college, I considered several career options, all of them related to various bits of my passion. When I interviewed for my current position, I referred to it as "my golden nugget" opportunity, as it merged all of my passions and past experiences into one career. I had one concern with accepting the position, however. Would I fulfill the stereotype by becoming another blind person working in the blind community? Whether or not this concern is rational, it is something that many independent blind people consider when contemplating their career aspirations.

People account for and prioritize several factors when searching for employment: convenience, financial stability, location, urgency, motivation and passion, company culture, and work-life balance. These are all weighed before attitudes toward blindness and others' desires become factors. After analyzing how my priorities aligned with the position, I worried that I was choosing the "easy way out" by working in a community that understood my capabilities and knew how to accommodate my needs. After all, isn't that too simple?

The notion that blindness-related workplaces do not hold their employees to high professional standards as compared to those outside the blind community is massively misconceived. The concept that blind people often work to represent or serve their community is relatively new, as they are typically not hired for positions where they would influence the lives of other blind individuals. O&M instructors, TVI's/TBS's, VR counselors: all of these professionals are in careers that have major influence in the blind community, yet these positions are filled primarily by sighted individuals. This observation does not diminish or devalue the work that sighted individuals have done to help our community; it is merely a fact. We believe that blind characters should be played by blind actors. We believe ideas for devices and tools designed for blind people should be created by blind engineers and developers. So why is it that when it came to my personal future and occupational choices, I questioned my golden nugget position?

Blind individuals often are siloed into work in the blind community. When this assertion is made by those with knowledge and belief in the capabilities of blind people, the reasoning is because we are the experts in blindness. It is our responsibility to teach and empower those around us to build a positive blindness philosophy internally and a positive representation of blindness to the outside world.

When this same assertion is made by those unexposed to the blind community, however, it is often due to low expectations and a serious doubt that we can compete with our sighted peers in the "real" world. These thoughts and claims are hazardous to blind youth, no matter how well-intentioned they might be.

When I was younger, I was taught that I could do and achieve anything. As I got older, however, I became aware of the low expectations assumed of me, and I started to believe them. These insecurities drive many blind people to enter positions that do not utilize their full potential. They believe it is all they can do. The fear to venture out due to low expectations of ourselves and others can lead to working in the blindness field for misguided reasons. Confidence and self-awareness lead to optimal vocational decisions. We need to understand whether we are considering an occupation that serves the blind community because of our comfort level and the assumption that we are not good enough to pursue other careers, or because it truly is our passion.

In the end, I chose to follow my passion and accepted the golden nugget position. We deserve a future that challenges us to grow in our professional skills and abilities, and we should expect nothing less. My job revolves around designing workshops and programs to equip blind youth with the skills and confidence they will need to transition successfully to postsecondary education or employment. I am currently planning a program that exposes students to industries and occupations they believe they cannot do due to their blindness. Through meeting blind professionals in those industries and gaining practical experience within these fields, students will be shown that they are not only capable of pursuing certain positions, but that they can succeed and thrive in them. "While we may face obstacles or difficulties within our fields of interest, everyone encounters them in their own career, and they can be worked around. I strive to ensure that students select their future goals based on their own choices and priorities, not those of others around them.

When we give career advice, I believe we must have an increased awareness of word choices, biases, and reasoning. The alternative can limit the options blind individuals consider for themselves. We must listen carefully and allow young people to explore their true occupational interests. The ability to consider their own professional priorities, as opposed to being swayed by others, affords them the opportunity to pursue an interest with confidence and optimism. A realistic perspective that recognizes their capabilities while acknowledging the barriers they may encounter will help them select occupations they truly desire and in which they will succeed.

Federal Tech Is Inaccessible, But Now Blind People Can Do Something About It

by Eve Hill

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 66, Number 4, April 2023

From the Editor: One of the most serious barriers to employment for blind people is lack of access to the technology used in the workplace. Eve Hill has been a litigator with the firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy and an official in the US Department of Justice. Now she serves as chief counsel for the National Federation of the Blind. In this article she discusses whether federal laws pertaining to accessibility can become our reality.

The United States Department of Justice just released a report (https://www.justice.gov/crt/section-508-home-page-0) on the federal government's compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 508 requires federal agencies to make sure all their technology is accessible to people with disabilities.

But the DOJ report shows that many agencies are not taking this duty seriously, even twenty-five years after Section 508 was passed. For example, although across all tested agencies one out of ten websites were inaccessible, if one agency were removed from the count that number rose to three out of ten websites being inaccessible. Across the federal government, two out of every three pdf documents on federal websites are inaccessible. Most of the inaccessible pdfs aren't even tagged—meaning there has been no effort to make them accessible.

Some agencies have dedicated virtually no resources to accessibility, some barely test any of their external websites, and several don't even test the accessibility of their internal websites. Less than half of internal (intranet) websites that were tested were compliant. More than half of the agencies reviewed haven't even made their accessibility statements compliant with Office of Management and Budget requirements. This is not a sign that compliance is difficult—it's a sign that federal agencies can't be bothered.

Part of the reason federal agencies take their accessibility responsibilities so lightly may be that it has been hard to enforce those obligations. But that is about to change. The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals just issued a decision that gives us the tools we need to insist that these statistics improve. In Orozco v. Garlanda (https://nfb.org/blog/understanding-orozco-v-garland-appeal-and-why-it-important), the Court held that a blind federal employee can sue his employer under Section 508.

The federal government tried to argue, and the lower court agreed, that federal employees could not enforce Section 508 against federal agencies because it incorporated the "remedies, procedures, and rights" of Section 504, which applied to federally-funded entities, not federal agencies themselves. The DC Circuit disagreed, finding that such a reading would make no sense, since Section 508 applies only to federal agencies, not federally-funded entities. The court found that Section 508 only incorporates Section 504's "remedies, procedures, and rights." It does not incorporate Section 504's coverage limitations.

The court also found that Section 508 enforcement was available to federal employees, not just members of the general public with disabilities.

So federal employees with disabilities can now sue to enforce their right to accessible technology. They can no longer be ignored by their federal agency employers. They can no longer be forced to rely on part-time or ad hoc work-arounds while the underlying technology they're forced to use remains inaccessible.

The National Federation of the Blind was proud to support Mr. Orozco's case and looks forward to holding the federal government accountable. Hopefully, as a result, the next Section 508 report from DOJ will show more progress.

After the Miracle: The Political Crusades of Helen Keller

Reviewed by Gary Wunder

Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 65, Number 5, May 2023

After the Miracle: The Political Crusades of Helen Keller
by Max Wallace
Grand Central Publishing, hardcover, 416 pages, https://www.grandcentralpublishing.com/titles/max-wallace/after-the-miracle/9781668620915/
ISBN: 9781538707685
Available on Kindle, audible.com, and Bookshare.org

In June of 2018, readers of the Braille Monitor were treated to an excellent article by Kane Brolin. He wrote on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Helen Keller, and his message was the first that many of us had seen suggesting that she was more than the result of a miracle worker. She was a highly articulate human being who managed to be present on the world stage, though she had no memory of hearing or vision. Recently I was asked if the Braille Monitor would be interested in reviewing a new book, After the Miracle by Max Wallace. I recommend the book for anyone who believes that blind people should live the lives we want.

Mr. Wallace emphasizes that too many people have been happy to view Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller as the miracle worker and the recipient of the miracle. This is not a book one reads to be comforted by the oft-repeated portrayals of Helen Keller's miraculous achievements. The author reveals that some of her expressed beliefs were, and still are, controversial. At various points in her life Keller embraced Communism, eugenics, woman suffrage, and Socialism.

Helen Keller was highly critical of the way black people were treated, both here and abroad. She was an outspoken critic of the beliefs, held in her native south and in the north as well, that black people were inherently inferior and unequal. Today most of us see what she had to say as a basic truth. We might assume that this truth has always been obvious, though many chose to ignore it. But the south, and particularly her home state of Alabama, soon became a place Keller seldom dared to visit. This was something of a good thing for Keller's relatives, who felt it necessary to separate themselves from her views, whether that separation was based on conscience and observation or simply on not wanting to spoil the nests in which they lived.

One of Keller's more controversial views was that war was usually motivated and fought based on economic interests rather than moral values. She admired those who fought and even appreciated the need to fight if the issue demanded it, but she did not support our entry into any war that happened in her lifetime.
Keller's livelihood depended on being gracious to rich people and soliciting their donations. However, the reality she saw made her believe there was too great a distance between rich and poor and too little opportunity for real education for the deaf and the blind. She concluded that poverty might be a more important factor in life than any specific disability.

The American Foundation for the Blind often uses Helen Keller in its advertising. It celebrates her fame and takes credit for many of her worldwide travels. This book argues that, for all the compensation Helen received from the Foundation, the Foundation was by far the greater beneficiary of funding and publicity as a result of that association. It also argues strongly that the AFB sought to downplay and even suppress the publication of Helen's views on war, the economy, civil rights, apartheid, and a number of other issues that the Foundation feared would interfere with its fundraising and its work on behalf of the blind. Wallace refers to conversations in which the Foundation discussed severing its relationship with Ms. Keller and parts of letters in which they went to great pains to assure prized donors that their donations would not go to causes to which the donors objected.

Wallace sadly observes that one of the distressing aspects of coverage frequently given to Keller is that some of her controversial views were dismissed by friends and foes as the consequence of her disabilities. People assumed that, no matter how respected she was or accomplished she seemed, she could never fully grasp the complexity of the world. People often assumed she had been duped into her controversial opinions by those who should have served her better. Many were convinced that a certain innocence and naiveté are intrinsic to the lives of disabled people and especially to a woman with multiple disabilities. I find this explaining away of Keller's views particularly deplorable, considering similar experiences I have had with my own parents and siblings. At times they have argued I cannot have a balanced view of issues around race because I cannot "see the way they behave." If I could, they assume that my views would be far closer to their own. Blindness is the issue, not the breadth of my life experience and reflection.

Whether you find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with Keller's views, this is a fascinating and enlightening book. The quotations that appear portray Keller as someone who was observant and introspective. She was not afraid to challenge the views of those around her, even when she and Annie Sullivan suffered financial consequences. Certainly there is some wisdom in the quotation, "Whose bread I eat, his song I sing." Helen Keller did her best to live beyond the miracle and to show that she was more than the walking, talking embodiment of innocence, seeking light for the blind and sound for the deaf.

Books, Braille, and the Excuse to Escape: The 2023 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest

by Sandy Halverson

From the Editor: Sandy Halverson is a longtime Federationist from Virginia who serves on the board of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. For years she has been instrumental in planning and managing the Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. Here is her account of the contest that concluded in late January 2023.

These days many of us take Braille for granted. Restaurants sometimes have Braille menus; most elevators have Braille floor selection panels and Braille floor indications at each stop. There is Braille on restroom doors and outside large meeting rooms. That being said, there are still too many situations where children are not being taught Braille in school. Many people who have some usable vision are still being told that they don't need Braille, that Braille is obsolete, that recorded material is preferable to Braille, and that technology will solve their literacy problems.

Yes, there is value in recorded material and the technology features that allow us to customize our notetakers or smartphones. However, these devices do not replace print for print readers, and we cannot let them serve as a substitute for Braille.

The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults has partnered with the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) for our second Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest using the Beanstack platform. The contest aims to encourage daily pleasure reading and to celebrate the achievements of participants. During the forty-nine days of the contest, the 458 registered participants read for 608,627 minutes!

The contest gave participants a perfect excuse to escape into reading. They were invited to comment on their favorite fiction, autobiography, cookbook, or place to read. One student enjoyed "reading in the living room with mom and when I have time at school." Another person said, "I like reading to my dog, but she's kind of hyper and jumps on me and my book." Reading to a stuffed animal menagerie reminded me of one of the things I enjoyed in my childhood. Since the contest for this year is over, I hope the cookbook activity will motivate some to prepare a sampling of those yummy Braille recipes they discovered during the contest!
In addition to the categories for youth, we decided it was only fair for the adults to identify themselves as having novice, intermediate, or advanced expert Braille skills. Prize packs were only sent to K-12 students, but anyone who registered and completed the first reading activity received a T-shirt and a Braille calendar from the American Action Fund. Participants had multiple opportunities to be entered into the drawing for the two 20-cell Chameleon notetakers, donated by the American Printing House for the Blind. The prize pack sent to students included Braille-related items such as playing cards, a Braille fidget cell, and supplies for making tactile art.

The 2023 adult winner of the APH Chameleon was B.J. Snyder from New York. He was delighted to receive the notetaker and was pleased with the contest. Our youth winner was Mila Chow from California. She had watched the Facebook video that the American Action Fund had posted on Dr. Seuss's birthday to announce winners, and she was eager to get her hands on this exciting prize.

Cash prizes were $25, $15, and $10 for first-, second-, and third-place winners in each category. Our two Breaking Reading Limits winners will receive twenty-five dollars apiece. All checks have been mailed out, and we hope that our winners enjoy their earnings.

The 2023 Braille Readers Are Leaders winners in the youth contest are:

Grades K-1

First Place—Luise Schmidt-Eisenlohr, 2170 minutes, Virginia
Second Place—Max Tevanian, 1939 minutes, Maine
Third Place—Max Drake, 505 minutes, California

Grades 2-3

First Place—Geraldine Duque, 3258 minutes, Virginia
Second Place—Mikaela Murrey, 2488 minutes, Colorado
Third Place—Mila Chow, 2479 minutes, California

Grades 4-5

First Place—Narjis Karimpour, 6480 minutes, Louisiana
Second Place—Yakov Elbaum, 3582 minutes, New York
Third Place—Urijah Gonzalez, 3300 minutes, Oregon

Grades 6-8

First Place—Divani Miguel, 5717 minutes, New Jersey
Second Place—Mitchell Russell, 3787 minutes, Utah
Third Place—Ryder Sitch, 3520 minutes, California

Grades 9-12

First Place—C. J. Frazer, 6280 minutes, Minnesota
Second Place—Sierra Carreiro, 4031 minutes, Tennessee
Third Place—Anna Wester, 2649 minutes, Minnesota

Adult Contest Winners

Adult Novice

First Place—B. J. Snyder, 18,704 minutes, New York
Second Place—Donna Casteen, 15,767 minutes, Colorado
Third Place—Alfonso Simental, 9483 minutes, Colorado

Adult Intermediate

First Place—Robert Eggleston, 9981 minutes, Virginia
Second Place—Keri Getzinger, 8605 minutes, South Dakota
Third Place—Robert Gardner, 7204 minutes, Illinois

Adult Expert

First Place—Angela Randall, 33,660 minutes, Ohio
Second Place—Nicholas Wilcox, 25,965 minutes, Iowa
Third Place—Barbara Hammel, 18,153 minutes, Iowa

Breaking Reading Limits Award Winners

First Place: Madison McCombs, 1384 minutes, New York
Second Place—Stella Alford, 606 minutes, Indiana

We cannot adequately express our gratitude to the parents and teachers of blind children who continue to promote Braille reading, and to our NFB affiliates that publicly recognize local Braille readers and their families. We know that Braille Readers Are Leaders. Every year we work to improve the contest and the Beanstack accessibility. Thank you for your patience as we endeavor to ease the frustration sometimes experienced when logging minutes or sorting out computer issues that may occur. We hope you will spend part of your summer identifying books you want to read for our 2024 Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest.

Does Future Reflections Help You?

Future Reflections helps me realize that with the proper skills, my blind daughters’ futures need not be defined by what they cannot see, but rather by all they can do.”

You are reading this magazine, and we hope it assists you, whether you are a teacher of blind students, the parent of a blind child, or someone from the community who is interested in blind children.
When you benefit from this publication, please remember that the American Action Fund impacts the lives of blind and deafblind people every day.

You can help the Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. You know that the Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults publishes this magazine, and that Future Reflections provides inspiration and information to you.

The work we do to encourage independent travel, excellence in education, and Braille literacy nationwide must be done. These programs are made possible through your support. If you are in a position to do so, you can also make a difference by making a contribution. Please help by giving a tax-deductible gift to the American Action Fund.

You can give online by visiting our homepage https://actionfund.org, over the phone by calling 410-659-9315, or by sending a check made out to "American Action Fund" to 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230.

Join Our Legacy Society

Often the simplest and most significant way to make a charitable donation is to plan 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 the distribution. You can bequeath a specific dollar amount or percentage of your estate, after taking care of your loved ones, 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. In addition, planning for a legacy gift may reduce the total amount of your taxable estate, which can have a positive impact on any funds 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, please 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 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 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 for generations of blind children and adults. Please consider the American Action Fund in your future plans.



Where the Blind Work

The Employment Committee of the National Federation of the Blind maintains this website as a unique employment resource for blind people. What kind of work are blind people doing? How do they do it? Why should employers hire a blind person? Within the pages of this website, you will find written personal accounts of blind people in many kinds of employment, how blind people do their jobs, how a blind person can enter the field, and what positive influences have helped blind people achieve their goals.


Future Reflections in Spanish

The National Federation of the Blind and the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults are pleased to announce that this issue of Future Reflections will be offered simultaneously in a Spanish-language edition. Future Reflections plans to publish two issues in Spanish in 2023, and then to publish all issues in Spanish going forward. We are thrilled to make the ideas and information in Future Reflections available to Spanish-speaking readers!


Braille on Demand

The NLS Braille-on-Demand pilot program, launched in 2022, now allows all registered patrons to receive five hardcopy Braille books per month with no return date. Patrons may request books directly at the website listed above, or they may contact their network library for assistance in filing their requests. Any Braille book available on the BARD website is eligible to be produced in hardcopy through this program. Books will be mailed directly to the requesting library patron.

Braille eReader Program

In summer 2020 the National Library Service (NLS) launched a pilot of the Braille eReader program, which provides participating NLS patrons with a twenty-cell Braille display capable of reading BRF files (Braille Ready Files), the format used for electronic books in the NLS collection. The eReader includes Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capability, a USB port, and SD   storage card access. Patrons may download books from BARD or order BRF titles on an SD cartridge from their network library. The eReader program is now available to patrons in forty-two states. To find out whether a Braille eReader is available for you, contact your network library.


Braille Doodle

The Braille Doodle is an inexpensive B-SMART device for Braille learning and tactile science, math, and art. It allows a user to write and create, feeling as they go. B-smart is an acronym for Braille, Science, Math, and Art. The Braille Doodle has an array of hundreds of holes on the doodle side. Each hole contains a smooth metal ball that can be pulled to the surface by a magnetic stylus. The user erases simply by pushing the balls back down. The Braille side of the Braille Doodle is a place for learning and practicing Braille. The top section contains examples and practice spaces for every letter. Below are lines for practicing words and sentences.


Tactile Graphics Website
Contact: Lucia Hasty, Rocky Mountain Braille Associates
[email protected]
51 Woodbridge Dr., Colorado Springs, CO 80906

This website is created to promote excellence in the design and production of Braille graphics. The site includes basic information on production and techniques, new products to assist in the production of Braille graphics, highlights on hardware and software, and upcoming opportunities for training and conferences. Contact Lucia Hasty with questions, ideas for articles, information about new projects or products, or to showcase your discoveries.


People who use iOS devices may find useful apps listed at the Apps Directory maintained by AppleVis, a free online resource. The site lists more than one hundred apps designed specifically for blind and low-vision users of Apple products.


Educational Technology 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 the Education Technology Survey once a semester and contribute to this important research.