Braille Monitor                                                                                                   June 2004

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The Latest News at NFB-NEWSLINE

by John G. Par� Jr.

John Pare
John Par

I am the new director of sponsored technology outreach for the NFB and would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little about myself and give you a status report on the NFB-NEWSLINE� service. First, a big thank-you to Dawn Neubeck, our outgoing director, for her wonderful enthusiasm and dedication to the NFB-NEWSLINE� service. We wish her well in her future endeavors.

While my wife and I were living in Florida, I discovered the NFB in general and NFB-NEWSLINE� in particular. Due to cone-rod retina degeneration, I began losing my eyesight about ten years ago. In 2001 my sight had deteriorated to 20/200, and, in spite of still being in my early forties, I resigned from my job as a successful technology salesperson to go on long-term disability. The big question was how to accept and live with my blindness. I began learning Braille, purchased screen-magnification software, and attended an independent living class at the Tampa Lighthouse for the Blind. Adding my past skills to my new ones, I settled for working on my accumulated savings as my own financial analyst. This work was enjoyable but not challenging. While I had learned many of the basic blindness skills, blindness had damaged more than my eyesight; it had reduced my desire to succeed. Simply put, I had lowered my expectations for my life to a level I believed I could more easily meet.

It was my ophthalmologist who alerted me to NFB-NEWSLINE. As a financial analyst I needed to read the Wall Street Journal along with several other prominent newspapers every day. NFB-NEWSLINE helped keep me informed and made a significant difference in my work performance.

My daily use of NFB-NEWSLINE triggered my interest in the NFB. I attended a meeting of the Tampa Bay Chapter and was immediately intrigued by the go-getter members--their activity, skills, and professionalism. They certainly did not conform to the model of blindness I carried in my mind.

The 2003 NFB of Florida convention took place in St. Petersburg, a short drive from Tampa. My wife Cindy and I decided to attend. This convention was a turning point in my life. I was immersed in energy, enthusiasm, intelligence, and mentorship. Dr. Maurer was the keynote speaker at the banquet. That night he focused on issues blind parents face when raising a family. The speech inspired me to get more involved with the NFB. This organization was clearly going where I wanted to be.

At the banquet I happened to sit next to Dr. Tom Hartig, the NFB-NEWSLINE coordinator for the state of Florida. Dr. Hartig was looking for a new volunteer, and I quickly agreed to join his committee.

I attended the 2003 NEWSLINE seminar at the National Center for the Blind and the 2004 Washington Seminar, in which 400-plus NFB members walk the halls of Congress to inform the legislators how best to help blind Americans. I worked closely with Mr. Gashel on both occasions. In February I interviewed with both Dr. Maurer and Mr. Gashel. Dr. Maurer offered me a position at the National Center, and here I am.

Now let's talk about NFB-NEWSLINE. This service gives blind or print-disabled people access to over one hundred daily or weekly newspapers. It is free of charge to the user and is accessed by calling either a local or toll-free telephone number. The service is sponsored on a state-by-state basis with, currently, thirty-four active states and more than 45,000 registered users. My primary job is to work with the nonsponsored states to help them find an NFB-NEWSLINE champion and then work with that state to get the needed funding. We will not be satisfied until every state has this service. Every blind American has the right to read the newspaper and get the weather, sports results, national or international news, or the hot news of the day like the antics of the political candidates.

Over the past twelve months we have had several major accomplishments. First, we added the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as the one-hundredth newspaper. Second, we added service in three new states: Mississippi, Hawaii, and Virginia. Mississippi and Hawaii are in service right now, and Virginia will join us on July 1.

Our next major announcement concerns the nationwide availability of magazines. Since May, 2004, NFB-NEWSLINE magazine service has been available in every state. The two initial magazines provided are The New Yorker and The Economist. The Library of Congress National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS) is sponsoring the NFB-NEWSLINE magazine service for eligible readers throughout the country. As with the NFB-NEWSLINE newspaper service, the number and types of magazines will grow over time.

Two upcoming features currently under development are auto log-on and caller redirection. Once auto log-on is complete, the system will automatically recognize your telephone number and will log you in. You will not have to enter your six-digit identification number or four-digit security code. If you are calling from an unrecognized number, you will still be able to use the system but will be prompted to enter the user information.

The caller redirection feature is designed to help alert you to a new local NFB-NEWSLINE� telephone number. Over the next several months we will be supplementing our current national toll-free telephone number, (888) 882-1629, with a series of local telephone numbers. The NFB-NEWSLINE� program receives a substantial cost savings if you use the appropriate local number as opposed to the national toll-free number. When you call NFB-NEWSLINE�, you will be alerted to the local number, if one is available. The system will state the number and ask you to use it in the future. If there is no local number in your area, you will continue to use the same toll-free number you are using today.

If you are not already signed up for NFB-NEWSLINE�, please call your sponsor or give us a call at (410) 659-9314, extension 2317. Matters dealing with day-to-day sponsorship or customer service issues should be directed to Maurice Peret, program manager for NFB-NEWSLINE�, at (410) 659-9314, extension 2356, or by email to <[email protected]>. Matters regarding sponsorship continuation or potential sponsorship where the NFB-NEWSLINE newspaper service is not available should be directed to John Par�. I can be reached at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2371 or by email at <[email protected]>. The NEWSLINE� team welcomes your calls and ideas.

As a personal note you should know that my wife Cindy and I have now started to put down roots here in Baltimore and have purchased a home near the National Center for the Blind. This means that my daily commute is just a walk across the park. Considering what we were facing three years ago, my formerly reduced approach to life compared to the chance to serve the entire NFB throughout the United States, this is the opportunity of a lifetime.

Speaking as a committed user, I have found NFB-NEWSLINE an outstanding service and, for those who want more, a wonderful way to become connected with a positive approach to blindness and to the NFB. As your new director of sponsored technology outreach, I promise that we will make this service grow, and this is only the beginning.

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