Braille Monitor August/September 2008
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by Daniel B. Frye and Barbara Pierce
Each year returning convention attendees arrive anticipating the energy, excitement, and frenetic activity of a National Federation of the Blind convention. Yet the nearly three thousand conventioneers who poured into Dallas on Sunday, June 29, 2008, and the days before were largely unprepared for the week they were about to share.
One unique element was the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The NOPBC pulled out all the stops by creating two audio-enhanced slide shows reviewing its history, hosting a gala dinner, and presenting a number of awards in addition to its standard array of seminars and workshops. A full report of the NOPBC program and celebration appears elsewhere in this issue.
The March for Independence—A Walk for Opportunity provided the same adrenalin rush as the march last year, with this difference: the rally this year included the unveiling of the Louis Braille commemorative coin by the director of the United States Mint and the reading of a Braille literacy resolution by blind youth. The lead photo spread in this issue attempts to capture the magic of the march and the rally at the AT&T Victory Plaza at the American Airlines Center.
One of the things that distinguished this convention from every preceding one was the fact that much of it was streamed over the Internet for the benefit of those who could not attend and those who just wanted to know what goes on at an NFB convention. The rally in Victory Plaza, the presidential report, and the banquet were streamed with both audio and video. The remaining convention sessions were streamed in audio only. A number of Federationists stranded at home have reported that, though nothing replaces the excitement and stimulation of attending the convention, listening to it with only a forty-five-second delay was a welcome next best. The mother of the recipient of the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship actually watched her daughter receive her award and then address the convention. We are surely living in a brave new technological world.
The Hilton Anatole Hotel has undergone substantial renovation during the two years since we were last there. Both the public and guest rooms are beautiful and comfortable, but the Anatole is still a very large property, and Federationists got lots of exercise getting to meetings during the week. A number of AT&T volunteers and 359 folks from UPS provided welcome information and assistance in the hotel and during the march. UPS volunteers were especially helpful dealing with the 265 shipping cartons of books for the Braille Book Flea Market. A vanload of AT&T volunteers gave Barbara Pierce a ride back from the rally when she lost her chance to walk with the crowd because of working with a film crew at the close of the rally. These volunteers were warm and friendly and very respectful of what the NFB is doing. Our relationship with UPS is by now one of long-standing respect and understanding. Several UPS employees have found their way to NFB chapters when blindness entered their lives, and we have heard that this year’s volunteers were abuzz with excitement after their hours of assistance at the hotel.
They were apparently not alone. One Federationist, Sue Boswell of Logan, Utah, reported that another hotel guest whom she met in the elevator asked her about the convention. He had actually slipped into several meetings to see what was happening. He told Sue that he was very impressed with the independence and confidence of the people he was watching and that he understood what he was observing better after sitting in on our meetings. A shop manager also commented to Sue that the hotel staff observe convention groups every week of the year, but that no other group had left the rest rooms as clean and neat as the NFB. Such comments were gratifying to hear.
Angela Wolf took over this year from Bruce Gardner, who had worked hard for ten years making the convention operate smoothly and deploying marshals to guide attendees to meetings and activities. Angela waved her magic wand and converted the marshals into ambassadors. They continued to engage in marshaling duties, but they also concentrated on making folks feel welcome and solving their problems. Angela and her tireless crew worked hard all week and gave the convention a very special feel.
We continue to reach out to those who for whatever reason find the convention confusing. Again this year early in the week the Affiliate Action Department conducted an orientation seminar in Spanish, which was very helpful to many. The Rookie Roundup on Sunday evening and other events later in the week for first-timers were reportedly a big help to those who had never before experienced an NFB national convention. Well over two hundred tote bags, first-timers’ guides, and ribbons were handed out. Allen Harris introduced the fifty Jernigan Fund Convention Scholarship recipients, who came from thirty-three states at the Rookie Roundup--at least those who were there. That is always the trouble at convention—at any given moment there are about four different events conventioneers would like to attend.
As usual the exhibit halls were the focus of constant activity and interest. The NFB’s Independence Market was located on the lobby level. Scores of Federationists volunteered their time to staff its display tables and advise shoppers about canes, aids, and literature.
Upstairs on the third floor forty-two NFB-affiliated groups and fifty-six outside vendors and organizations showed off their latest products, sold NFB paraphernalia, and otherwise engaged in fundraising and product sales. Diagnostic Devices, Inc., developer of the inexpensive Prodigy Voice Meter, brought along one of its distributors, Shreveport Diabetic Shoes, to sell the popular Crocs and other comfortable and protective shoes. Many Federationists took advantage of the opportunity to equip themselves with Crocs for the march on Wednesday morning. One of the busiest booths in the exhibit hall was the one selling the KNFB Reader Mobile. “Go totally mobile” was the watchword of the convention. But other technology also drew mobs of interested people.
In response to popular demand, the employment seminar returned to an all-day format. About a hundred people took part in the program. A huge crowd was also on hand for the seventh annual rehabilitation and orientation and mobility conference at our convention. It was titled “Consumer-Driven Standards for Rehabilitation.” It took place from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and over a hundred people took part.
Sunday, June 29, Monday, June 30, and Tuesday, July 1, were filled with some thirty programs, meetings, and activities sponsored by NFB interest groups and divisions. Some of the more unusual were the vintage car show sponsored by the CAR Division and the swimming, beepball, rowing, and biking activities sponsored by the Sports and Recreation Division. The Imagination Fund sold flying monkeys that bore the legend, “Empowerment is no monkey business.” These little critters emitted a penetrating squall that punctuated many of the week’s activities. They provided a great fundraiser for the Imagination Fund and entertaining commentary throughout convention activities. In addition to division and group activities and committee meetings, technology vendors offered multiple workshops on new or updated equipment and software.
The NFB of Texas was a warm and hospitable host. Tommy Craig and the rest of the Texans gave everyone that big Lone Star howdy at every turn. On Sunday evening it was their welcome party with the Brian Byrne and Borrowed Time band playing traditional Americana and bluegrass music. Wednesday it was a Texas-style barbeque with live music by the Cornell Hurd Band. The Texas Association of Blind Students even got into the act with their always popular Southern Strums gathering for everyone who likes to make music or appreciates listening to others do so. In sum—sports, music, seminars, and food—everyone could find interesting and amusing things to do after hours.
The NFB board of directors held its traditional open convention meeting on Tuesday morning, July 1. President Maurer called for a moment of silence to recognize those Federationists who had died since the 2007 convention in Atlanta. During this last year several figures of national prominence died including Betsy Zaborowski, the first executive director of the Jernigan Institute; Floyd Matson, author of Walking Alone and Marching Together, the Federation’s fifty-year history, and Blind Justice, a biography of NFB founder Jacobus tenBroek; and Larry McKeever, longtime narrator of the Braille Monitor and other Federation recordings. Of course this solemn occasion also paid tribute to all Federationists who had died during the previous year. Delegates then joined in reciting the American and Federation pledges of allegiance.
President Maurer then turned to the elections. He announced that the hold-over board positions for 2008 were held by Ron Brown (Indiana), Kathy Jackson (Kentucky), Parnell Diggs (South Carolina), Anil Lewis (Georgia), Joe Ruffalo (New Jersey), and Dan Burke (Montana). All of the constitutional officers and the six other board positions were up for election.
President Maurer next recognized Dan Wenzel of Wisconsin and Chris McKenzie of Arkansas. Both Dan and Chris announced that they would not stand for election this year, but both affirmed in their departing remarks their ongoing commitment to and love of the NFB. President Maurer thanked them both for their service on the board and to the blind of the nation.
Tommy Craig, president of the host affiliate, then welcomed audience members to Dallas. He urged everybody to take full advantage of the Texas-sized hospitality on offer during the week ahead.
President Maurer reported that the 2009 NFB convention will be held in Detroit, Michigan, at the Marriott at the Renaissance Center. Our 2010 convention will again occur at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. Room rates for the next two years are $62 for singles, twins, and doubles and $68 for triples and quads.
Kevan Worley, chairperson of the Imagination Fund, then briefed the board and audience on logistics for the second annual March for Independence—A Walk for Opportunity. He energized and excited convention delegates about the 7:00 a.m. plans to commence the 5K round-trip walk between the Hilton Anatole and Victory Plaza. Kevan recognized Florida Federationist Allen Bornstein as the 2008 Imaginator of the Year, an acknowledgement given to one who really shows the prerequisite spirit and devotion to promoting the interests of the NFB through raising Imagination Fund dollars as part of the March for Independence. Allen raised $2,600 this year through small contributions, using many of the tools made available through the March Website. Finally, Kevan honored the top ten states and individuals with the highest march fundraising totals; Maryland was the top fundraising state for the march with $127,990, and Kevan Worley was the top individual fundraiser with $25,035 as of the board meeting.
Joyce Scanlan, chairperson of the distinguished educator of blind children award committee, next took the platform to present this year’s award to Brigid Doherty, newly appointed Metro system orientation specialist with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Office of ADA Programs. The full text of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
President Maurer then said that in a previous meeting the board of directors had provisionally adopted an application from a potential division of professionals in teaching blind students and adult rehabilitation consumers, in whose constitution potential division leaders had sought an exception to the general rule that a majority of its board of directors and membership must be blind. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children is the one other division for whom such an exception has been made. President Maurer invited board members to comment further or reconsider their decision during this public board meeting. No board member made such a request, so the application for this division was adopted with the exception to policy as originally proposed by division leaders.
Herb Magin, longtime friend and member of the Federation, was next recognized to offer details on the annual Jernigan Fund drawings. Proceeds from these programs support the Jernigan Fund, a sum of money designated to assist people attending their first NFB national convention
Scott LaBarre, chairperson of the pre-authorized check plan (PAC) committee, took the floor to discuss the PAC program. He presented the Alpaca Award to New Mexico and Massachusetts, the large and small affiliates (based on PAC participation) that had increased their enrollment the most during the previous twelve months. As usual, Scott urged both affiliates and divisions to raise their PAC contributions during the convention in pursuit of the coveted PAC Rat and PAC Mule Awards. Finally Scott announced that, with the Internet streaming of convention this year, people could now subscribe to the PAC program on the NFB Website.
Dr. David Ticchi, president of the NFB of Massachusetts, then stepped forward to present the Blind Educator of the Year Award to Dr. Edward C. Bell, director of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University. The full text of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
At this point Anil Lewis, president of the NFB of Georgia, member of the NFB board of directors, and recently named national scholarship committee chairperson, asked the members of this year’s scholarship class to come to the platform, where he introduced them. Their comments appear elsewhere in this issue as part of a full report of our scholarship program.
Tami Dodd Jones was recognized to offer a brief update on the tenBroek Fund and the fund’s supporting Elegant Elephant sale to occur at this year’s convention. Sandy Halverson was likewise invited to give a status report to the board on the Shares Unlimited in NFB (SUN) Fund.
Barbara Pierce, president of the NFB of Ohio, next approached the podium and presented President Maurer with a check for $46,000 dollars for the national treasury. Barbara explained that this sum was one half of a bequest received by the Ohio affiliate. President Maurer accepted the gift with gratitude.
In closing the board meeting, President Maurer reminded everybody about the newly revised affiliate finance system now being administered with assistance from the national office, and he encouraged all affiliates to comply with the recently established systems and procedures for the fiscal good of our entire Federation. Since no further business was brought to the board, the meeting was adjourned.
The balance of Tuesday offered convention attendees a wide range of division and committee meetings, seminars, workshops, receptions, and theater productions. The Jerry Whittle production this year, titled Déjà Blue, was performed as usual by the Louisiana Center Players, made up of students and alumni from the Louisiana Center for the Blind. All proceeds from the two performances were used to support the center’s summer programs for blind children.
Wednesday morning’s opening of the convention represented the culmination of our second annual 5K March for Independence. Warmed by both the success of the march and the Texas climate, convention delegates assembled in the Chantilly Ballroom for the opening ceremonies of the 2008 convention. Tommy Craig, president of the host affiliate, welcomed everybody to Texas. Continuing the recent rivalry between Texas and Maryland, he proudly reclaimed the attendance banner for his home state, where locals had registered 336 people for the convention by opening day. Tommy introduced Charles Williams and Buck Helton, Voices on the Western Wind, to regale the gathered thousands with a taste of cowboy culture through western poetry and song.
President Maurer then recognized First Vice President Fred Schroeder for an announcement. Capitalizing on the Braille-focused spirit and momentum of the march, Fred invited convention delegates to get a firsthand glimpse of the prototype of the Louis Braille bicentennial coin during the lunch break. Longtime leader James Gashel then took a few moments to present President Maurer and the Federation with a contribution in the amount of ten thousand dollars in memory and on behalf of his recently deceased spouse and first executive director of the Jernigan Institute, Betsy Zaborowski. Kevan Worley next thanked everybody for participating in the 2008 march, announced that as of opening session the campaign had raised $540,000 for the year, and reminded everyone to continue fundraising during the last few days of July since the campaign does not officially end until July 31.
The remainder of the morning was devoted to the roll call of states. Each affiliate representative announced the name of the state’s delegate, alternate delegate, appointed member to the nominating committee, and date and location of the next state convention. In addition state presidents took the opportunity to make a variety of announcements and comments. Here is a sampling of the information that we learned during the morning:
Nine state rehabilitation agency directors and many other staff members were part of their state’s delegations. Texas had ninety staff and students from the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center in its delegation. Maryland boasted twenty-six staff and students in attendance at the convention from Blind Industries and Services of Maryland. Indiana continued its recent tradition of having a substantial contingent from the Indiana School for the Blind participate in the convention. The staff and students of our three NFB centers in Louisiana, Colorado, and Minnesota were all present for the convention. The Hawaii and North Dakota affiliates announced record delegations: Hawaii had forty-two delegates in Dallas, and North Dakota added six to our national convention registration figures. California led all affiliates with thirty first-time convention delegates, and Georgia distinguished itself by bringing sixteen first-time participants, all of whom were under the age of twenty-three. Idaho brought nine first-time conventioneers, representing almost 50 percent of its twenty-person delegation. President Fred Wurtzel of Michigan enticed delegates to attend the 2009 convention with an audio presentation from Governor Jennifer Granholm, who described the state’s many tourist attractions and thanked the NFB for selecting Michigan as its next convention site.
Utah President Ron Gardner announced that seventeen participants from their mentoring program were attending the convention and that essay winners, from both the mentor and mentee perspective, were residents of Utah. President Carl Jacobsen of New York observed that the Empire State now has the first blind governor in the nation; he also took some time to offer good-natured comments about convention speaker Representative Edolphus Towns of New York, who was his former cane travel teacher and today champions our quiet cars campaign. Finally, Alpidio Rolón, president of the NFB of Puerto Rico, announced that it is now the policy of this U.S. commonwealth to require that all blind students be taught to read Braille.
Following the lunch recess, President Maurer delivered the 2008 presidential report, which appears in full elsewhere in this issue.
Addressing the topic “Independent and On the Move: The Blind Have a Friend in Congress,” Representative Pete Sessions, Congressman from Texas and honorary chairperson of the 2008 March for Independence, advised Federationists to continue showing our spirit, telling our story, and conveying our commonsense political agenda to members of Congress and other leaders throughout the country. Representative Sessions said, “What you need to do is to keep doing what you’re doing but to expect more and better results from your efforts.” He concluded his remarks by affirming his support for NFB legislative positions on Social Security, books on time, and quiet cars.
Deborah Kent Stein, chairperson of the NFB committee on automobiles and pedestrian safety, delivered an address titled, “The Quiet Cars Revolution.” In her remarks Debbie chronicled the Federation’s multi-year efforts to address the challenges of quiet cars to the blind community. She offered technical background on why hybrids are quiet, reviewed the evolving views of car manufacturers and other industry officials, discussed the legislative solution that the NFB is championing on this topic, and cautioned all that, while progress is being realized, a permanent solution is not yet at hand. Deborah observed that those who can’t listen or look have no choice but to stop. She concluded with the sentiment that to “walk alone, we must continue to march together.”
In furtherance of the dialogue about the quiet cars issue, President Maurer then introduced Representative Edolphus Towns of New York to offer the program item titled “A Safer Environment, Safer Travel for the Blind: A Champion in Congress.” Congressman Towns said that he was delighted to introduce HR 5734, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008, to address the inherent dangers of quiet cars to the blind and other walkers. The Congressman acknowledged the laudable environmental goals of hybrid car manufacturers, but he balanced this against the importance of addressing the unintended consequences of eliminating automobile sounds. Representative Towns explained that this legislation directs the Secretary of Transportation to study the problem of quiet cars and establish a motor vehicle safety standard that will provide a means of alerting blind and other pedestrians of nearby quiet cars. This study will determine the most practical means of alerting the target pedestrian audience. Once safety standards are determined, the legislation will apply to all hybrid car manufacturers within two years of adoption. Over fifty members of Congress have already cosponsored this legislation. Congressman Towns urged car manufacturers to work with him and other policymakers to reach a mutually agreed solution to this vexing problem.
Robert S. Strassburger, vice president, vehicle safety and harmonization, with the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, spoke on the topic “Building Cars for the Future: A Partnership That Includes the Blind.” He explained that the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is a trade organization representing over 80 percent of car sales in America. He announced that his organization has accepted the NFB’s request that they work with us to identify a valid and appropriate sound standard for hybrid vehicles. A strong advocate of scientifically quantifiable data, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has specifically agreed to work with the NFB, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and the Traffic Safety Administration to define the research necessary to develop the sound standard for hybrid vehicles. Once a final testing procedure is developed, it will then be possible to characterize noise emissions and allow identification of cars that don’t make enough sound, so that we can find solutions. He concluded his quite technical remarks with the encouraging promise that the Alliance is committed to working with all relevant parties to maintain the independence of the blind.
Daniel J. Selke, chairperson of the Society of Automotive Engineers, Safety and Human Factors Committee, offered the last word on the quiet cars issue in a program titled “Devising Solutions That Work for Pedestrian Safety.” He explained that the Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) is a nonprofit technical organization as distinguished from a trade organization. According to Mr. Selke, the SAE’s main purpose is to collect, develop, and distribute information about mobility technology. The SAE has two major competencies: lifelong learning and standards development.
Mr. Selke reported that the SAE has been working with the NFB since the spring of 2007 to identify a solution to the quiet cars challenge. He dedicated the bulk of his comments to detailing the various processes and subcommittees that have been established within the SAE to address different aspects of the issue. He reported that the SAE hopes to have a testing procedure to evaluate the sounds of hybrid vehicles by the end of summer or in early fall.
In “The tenBroek Law Symposium: The Impact of Jacobus tenBroek on the Legal System of the United States and the World,” three panelists described the event and its purposes, reviewed some of the fundamental principles of Dr. tenBroek’s legal scholarship, and recounted personal anecdotes of Dr. tenBroek as a private man and father. Additionally, a newly produced seventeen-minute video, Jacobus tenBroek and the Right to Live in the World, largely focusing on his legal career was debuted at the convention.
Lou Ann Blake, chairperson of the NFB Jacobus tenBroek law symposium committee, reported that over one hundred people from throughout the United States and Canada, representing seventy-two organizations, visited the Jernigan Institute on April 11, 2008, to attend the symposium. Five panels discussed the current status and prospects for change in distinct areas of disability law, describing in each the influence of Dr. tenBroek’s foundational legal scholarship. The symposium was an exciting and intellectually stimulating event that served the purposes of fostering an increased understanding of blindness-specific issues and rallying allies to our cause; honoring and celebrating the genius of our founder, Jacobus tenBroek; and raising the awareness of Dr. tenBroek’s academic contributions among the legal community and the general public. Lou Ann reported that this fall the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties and Civil Rights will publish the formal symposium proceedings.
Robert Dinerstein, professor of law at American University, Washington College of Law, and one of the five leading panel presenters during the symposium, observed that Dr. tenBroek was an incredibly productive and visionary legal scholar, articulating the spirit and sentiment of contemporary civil rights laws for the disabled such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities well in advance of their adoption. Professor Dinerstein identified six fundamental principles readily evident in Dr. tenBroek’s writing. These ideas included the concepts of integrationism; distinguishing the physical or mental impairment and the social effects on that impairment in particular situations; the importance of according people with disabilities respect, dignity, and autonomy; equality of opportunity; an international perspective on disability rights; and an appreciation for the importance of personal experience and the need to link it to academic and doctrinal analysis. In short, Professor Dinerstein characterized Dr. tenBroek as one of the earliest scholars to define the social model of disability. He concluded by referring to Dr. tenBroek’s impressive constitutional scholarship in the area of equal protection and the fourteenth amendment, paying particular attention to the work Dr. tenBroek undertook on behalf of Japanese-American internees during World War II.
Dutch tenBroek, Dr. tenBroek’s son, was the third speaker on this panel. He shared warm and humorous personal anecdotes about his father and their family life that revealed much about Jacobus tenBroek the private man. Dutch explained that it is only in retrospect that he fully appreciates the role and influence his father had on his life. For instance, he recalled that Dr. tenBroek challenged his children to stretch their imaginations and minds during dinner table conversations. Dutch also recalled accompanying his father on long, uphill walks on Sunday mornings, where he learned that “You never get anywhere going slowly.” He concluded by saying that his father had vision far beyond what anyone had thought and that one aspect of his vision was present in the spirit of the NFB convention, alive and well, forwarding his father’s dreams and aspirations for the benefit of future generations of blind people. Dutch affirmed that his father carried a six-foot cane and that he swung it widely so that he could travel quickly. In this spirit, Dutch urged those in the audience to avoid tentative steps, to swing their canes, and to charge forward.
As Wednesday afternoon’s session drew to a close, President Maurer announced that, barring any significant objection from the Convention, he planned to shorten future conventions by moving the traditional final day’s business session to what has previously been known as “tour day”; he indicated that he would move the programming of what is known by many as “convention Friday” to convention Wednesday. This change in format and schedule will make the banquet the culminating convention event and will leave the following day for tours of the convention city. Additionally, taking notice of the sentiment expressed by the Convention in 2007 that it did not want to devote substantial organizational resources to research and development of a car that the blind can drive, President Maurer announced that he would pursue this goal by partnering with interested research universities to invest in this project. His remarks on both issues were met with no objection by convention delegates.
Weary Federationists, who had been up since before dawn, scattered to a full array of Wednesday evening events. A meeting on accessible currency, a forum on the quiet cars issue, several parent workshops, the Annual Showcase of Talent, and much more provided delegates with plenty to do. As has become customary at Texas-hosted conventions, many delegates gathered in Anatole Park, the seven-acre outdoor recreation facility at the west end of the hotel, for a traditional Lone Star-style barbeque, which lasted throughout the evening.
When the gavel dropped on Thursday morning, President Maurer quickly turned his attention to organizational elections. All of the incumbent constitutional officers who were nominated and ran for office were re-elected by acclamation. These officers were Marc Maurer, president (Maryland); Fredric Schroeder, first vice president (Virginia); Pam Allen, treasurer (Louisiana); and Gary Wunder, secretary (Missouri). Ron Brown, president of the NFB of Indiana and a member of the national board, was nominated for the position of NFB second vice president. He was elected by acclamation. Following is a slightly edited version of the remarks Ron delivered to the convention upon his election:
Dr. Maurer, fellow Federationists, today is an historic day for the National Federation of the Blind. We have come full circle today. There are a few defining moments in a person’s life, and I believe this is one of them, truly one of the greatest honors I could ever have been given. I appreciate the honor and the privilege to serve as an officer. I can only imagine how Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall felt. This is a changing moment in history. The National Federation of the Blind is truly celebrating diversity. I would say to young Federationists in this room: if you can imagine it, you can achieve it. Thank you so much.
Upon re-election to the position of NFB treasurer, Pam Allen offered the following remarks:
Good morning. First comes thought and then organization of that thought into ideas and plans. Those plans are then transformed into reality. The beginning, as you will observe, is in your imagination. As I stand before you today, I am inspired by the power in this room--the imagination, enthusiasm, creativity, and commitment. Because of the work of each of you, the National Federation of the Blind is the most powerful force in our nation, shattering misconceptions about blindness and making the future brighter for all blind people. It is my distinct honor and pleasure to serve as your treasurer. Thank you, my Federation family, for your support and your trust.
John Fritz and Patty Chang, presidents of the Wisconsin and Illinois NFB affiliates, were elected to fill the vacancies created by the decisions of Dan Wenzel and Chris McKenzie not to run for re-election to the national board. Longtime Federation leader James Gashel was elected to fill the unexpired one-year term of Ron Brown, created by his elevation to second vice president. National board incumbents Amy Buresh (Nebraska), Sam Gleese (Mississippi), Alpidio Rolón (Puerto Rico), and Carl Jacobsen (New York) were returned to office by acclamation. Upon his re-election to office, Carl Jacobsen made the following remarks, which have been slightly edited:
The rooster crows at dawn every day to celebrate the beginning of a new day. The rooster does this every day. But when the rooster thinks that he is the cause of the new day, we have a foolish rooster. The dawn and new day are caused by a power far beyond that rooster, but the rooster gets the right to crow.
And I welcome the opportunity to crow over the accomplishments of the National Federation of the Blind. I thank my affiliate for returning me to office. I thank this organization for returning me to office. The Federation is causing a new day to dawn for blind people, and I thank you for the opportunity to be a part of that new day. I welcome the opportunity to crow about it.
Eileen Rivera Ley, director of diabetes initiatives with the NFB Diabetes Action Network, announced the establishment of the NFB Access Plus Award, a recognition that will be given annually or as often as circumstances merit to companies or other entities whose products or services meet the award’s standards for high-quality customer care to blind consumers. Eileen explained that the award criteria require that recipients market accessible products or services; demonstrate exceptional customer service, including possessing specific knowledge about blindness-related issues; and have an accessible Website that exceeds Section 508 standards. According to Eileen, the companies considered for this recognition were evaluated by a panel convened to review the unique characteristics of each candidate. Federationists interested in serving on future Access Plus evaluation panels were urged to contact the NFB at <[email protected]>.
Bob Hoyt, senior manager for the Access Plus Award Program, described the newly minted award as an eighteen-by-twenty-one-inch picture frame featuring the Access Plus logo, a scarlet, purple, and white circle. The NFB Whozit logo is also on the award.
The Access Plus Awards for 2008 were presented to Dr. Stephen B. Shaya, medical director, J&B Medical; Richard Admani, chief financial officer, Diagnostic Devices Inc.; and Dave Raistrick, vice president, En-Vision America. J&B Medical is a family-based medical and vet business located in Wixom, Michigan. This company has designed an especially accessible Website, produced its literature in alternative formats, and required its customer service staff to undergo blindness training with the NFB. Jerry Munden, vice president for sales with Diagnostic Devices, accepted the Access Plus Award on behalf of Richard Admani. Diagnostic Devices Inc. was recognized for the development of its critically acclaimed Prodigy Voice blood glucose monitor, a fully accessible glucometer. Finally, longtime Federationist and associate of En-Vision America Chad Allen accepted the Access Plus Award on behalf of Dave Raistrick. En-Vision America, a title sponsor of the NFB convention, was recognized for its ScriptTalk product, a technology that allows blind consumers to hear the instructions and details printed on medicine bottles. Chad urged convention delegates to promote the need for this type of accessibility to their neighborhood pharmacies.
With qualified introductory comments about the modest progress that Amazon.com has realized in making its Website accessible to blind consumers, President Maurer next introduced Craig Woods, the senior manager for the content platform with Amazon.com, to present the program entitled “Access for the Blind to American Business: A Priority for Amazon.” Mr. Woods explained that Amazon’s mission is to be customer-focused but that the size, diversity, and decentralized nature of the company makes developing a single standard for nonvisual access a challenge. In view of this situation, he said that the company’s policy and emphasis is not to establish a centralized accessibility standard, but instead to empower individual teams to set their own standards for accessibility. According to Mr. Woods, an effort is made to cater to the broadest array of customers on their Website, making it hard to accommodate everybody’s priority interests.
All of this notwithstanding, Mr. Woods said that the NFB has helped to provide Amazon.com with a sense of focus on accessibility and has helped the company identify gaps in the process. In response to Federation advocacy, Amazon has created a raising-the-bar taskforce to address issues of Website accessibility. Mr. Woods specifically noted that progress has been made in reviewing portions of the Website featuring text, conducting an audit of form fields, and enforcing Alt tags and form-field labeling. He also said that Amazon.com would be setting up a dedicated customer service channel for accessibility issues and a page on its Website dedicated to nonvisual access. He welcomed feedback from interested blind consumers on these and other initiatives that the company may take in the future. He concluded his remarks by saying that Amazon.com appreciates the support of the NFB, values its relationship with the Federation, and regards the accessibility concerns brought to its attention as a matter of priority.
Dr. Jonathan Lazar, the director of the Universal Usability Laboratory in the Department of Information and Computer Science at Towson State University, presented on the topic “Making CAPCHA More Accessible to the Blind.” Dr. Lazar and Towson State University have had a long partnership with the NFB to identify access solutions for blind computer users. Circumventing access challenges created by CAPCHA was the number one frustration that blind computer users identified in Dr. Lazar’s Internet frustration survey.
In response to this finding, Dr. Lazar and his colleagues have developed an alternative to traditional CAPCHA which uses a combination of pictures or sounds that computer users must identify. While work is still being done on a second version of this alternative, initial indications are that blind computer users will be able to navigate this new security system successfully with minimal difficulty and competitive speed. Convention delegates met Dr. Lazar’s report with enthusiasm.
Dr. Wayne Dick, professor of computer engineering and computer science at California State University, next spoke on the topic “Equal Access to Web 2.0 and Beyond.” Professor Dick delivered a technical lecture on the distinction between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0, identifying the characteristics of the first generation of the Web and describing the added features in the second generation. He told the convention that Web 2.0 has access dangers but that it can be made to work well with access technology. He urged the Federation to remain vigilant on promoting access issues on the Internet and computer in general.
Anne Taylor, NFB director of access technology, delivered “National Federation of the Blind Nonvisual Access Certification (NFBNVA).” A full report on this program item appears elsewhere in this issue.
Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert next addressed the convention. In remarks full of folksy anecdotes entitled “Congressional Decision Making, Government Policy, and Blindness,” he generally affirmed his support for the Federation’s positions on adequate funding of the NLS digital transition program, the quiet cars legislation, and reform of Social Security Disability Insurance.
Michael Eisenreich, leader of ge.com digital media technologies with General Electric, addressed the topic “Access for the Blind to Consumer Products: A Commitment from General Electric.” President Maurer took this occasion to present Mr. Eisenreich with the NFB’s access certification certificate. Mr. Eisenreich offered convention delegates details about the history, size, and scope of General Electric, and he said that he understood the principle that partnering with those in the know is the best way to increase a company’s accessibility. He pledged that General Electric’s commitment to accessibility would not stop with the award received at convention.
Larry Skutchan, technology project leader in the Department of Educational Research at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), spoke on “Developing Technologies for School and Work.” Celebrating the sesquicentennial anniversary of the APH, Mr. Skutchan offered a fascinating historical perspective on the evolution of technology, placing particular emphasis on APH’s recording practices and procedures.
Mike Salvo, chief executive officer of Serotek Corporation, next presented “System Access to Go.” He reviewed his company’s newest products, and he spoke of Serotek’s growing partnership with the NFB.
Thursday morning’s session concluded with a presentation from Jonathan Mosen, Freedom Scientific’s vice president of blindness hardware management. In “PAC Mate Omni: The Newest PDA from Freedom Scientific,” He outlined the common philosophical values that his company and the NFB share, e.g., a belief in blind people and a commitment to accessible information. He devoted the balance of his remarks to reviewing some of the new features that will be available in the PAC Mate Omni 6.1 when it is released. These include the ability to write contracted Braille anywhere within the PAC Mate, even where one would ordinarily need to use computer Braille; the ability to read PDF documents; e-book support; a reader mode, somewhat comparable to the virtual cursor in JAWS; and access to quick keys, comparable to keystrokes in JAWS. Mr. Mosen announced that a trade-up deal with other notetakers on the market would again be made available with a 50 percent reduction in the purchase price. He expressed Freedom Scientific’s pleasure at being a title sponsor of the NFB convention again this year, and he declared that together Freedom Scientific and the NFB are “changing what it means to be blind.”
On Thursday afternoon, otherwise known to many Federationists as this year’s tour day, convention delegates spread across the Hilton Anatole to attend a wide variety of programs including a Jernigan Institute open house; a play entitled With a Dog’s Eyes: Capturing the Life of Morris Frank, sponsored by the Seeing Eye in tribute to its founder; a Social Security seminar; a mentoring workshop; a Meet the Blind Month presentation; a chapter development and recruitment seminar; a Randolph-Sheppard reception; a night with the Colorado Center for the Blind; recreational activities sponsored by the Sports and Recreation Division; and Monte Carlo Night, sponsored by the National Association of Blind Students, just to name a few of the attractions. If Federationists could not find something to do on Thursday afternoon and evening in the formal convention agenda, it was only because they chose to take time to tour Dallas or to recuperate from the first half of the convention week.
Friday morning’s Independence Day general session began with a ceremony honoring America’s veterans. All Federationists who served in any branch of the military were invited to be recognized on the convention stage. NFB scholarship winner Michele Gittens of Minnesota performed a rousing rendition of “God Bless America.”Dwight Sayer, president of the National Association of Blind Veterans, a newly formed NFB division, and Joe Ruffalo, a member of the NFB national board and president of the New Jersey affiliate, presided over this patriotic memorial.
World Blind Union President Dr. William Rowland presented “The Federation in the World from the Perspective of South Africa and Four Years of International Effort.” He endorsed the Federation’s quiet cars campaign after telling convention delegates of his own harrowing experience with a quiet car in April 2005. He affirmed his belief in NFB philosophy and urged convention delegates to work with him to promote these principles on a universal scale. During a visit he made to the NFB headquarters in 2004, President Maurer and Mrs. Jernigan expressed doubts about the efficacy of the WBU. Dr. Rowland confided that these doubts inspired him to work toward the goals of his administration during the last four years.
Reviewing his term, Dr. Rowland reported that for the first time in its history the WBU has operated with a strategic plan detailing specific goals and measurables for the organization. Among the accomplishments were establishment of a permanent international office for the WBU and appointment of an executive director for the organization, strengthening of international partnerships, the leading role that the WBU has played in the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and work undertaken to celebrate both the twenty-fifth anniversary of the WBU and the bicentennial of Louis Braille’s birth in 2009. Dr. Rowland commended the NFB for its Braille literacy campaign, and he informed convention delegates that he has invited President Maurer to deliver the keynote address during the seventh General Assembly of the WBU this summer in Geneva.
Graeme Innes, human rights and disability discrimination commissioner with the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, next delivered “The Federation in the World from the Perspective of a Human Rights Advocate and Blind Leader in Australia.” He charmed the convention with a mixture of good humor and reflection about international blindness policy. He urged blind consumers in America to exercise our influence to persuade manufacturers of audio description not to strip this technology when selling their products internationally. According to Mr. Innes the size of the American market and the influence of the American blind consumer movement could also help countries around the world to address issues of digital access to household appliances and the like. Finally, he asked blind consumers in America to urge the United States government to sign the recently adopted United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Addressing the topic “Protecting the Rights of Blind Individuals in the United States,” Daniel Goldstein, longtime disability rights attorney for the NFB, wowed the convention audience with a thoughtful address comparing the state of the blind civil rights movement in the United States to other civil rights struggles that have occurred in this country. The central theme was that the civil rights battles of every minority are in many ways all one issue. “There are critical differences between different minorities, but a bad decision hurts all minorities. Bad decisions for any group hurt others who are also subject to discrimination. What we have in common is that the majority regards us all as outside the norm.”
Frank Kurt Cylke, director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, and Ed O’Reilly, head of the Collection Development Section of NLS, offered the annual update that Federationists have come to expect from NLS. Director Cylke announced with pride that “we have entered the digital age,” and he provided details on the release of the NLS digital players and program. He also thanked the Federation for its role in assisting NLS to secure adequate funding for the digital transition program from Congress. Dr. O’Reilly, a first-time convention participant, offered a series of wry and witty remarks about the political environment in which we live and the priorities of some in our society that influence the ability of NLS to build a more robust collection for its patrons.
Barbara Cheadle, president emerita of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), next chaired a panel of parents and blind children that celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of this Federation division. A full report of the NOPBC twenty-fifth anniversary celebrations held throughout this year’s convention appears elsewhere in this issue.
Gilles Pepin, chief executive officer of HumanWare, another NFB convention title sponsor, next addressed the convention on “Technologies Developed in Partnership with the Blind.” He commenced his remarks with an update on the Victor Reader Stream. He reported that ten thousand people have purchased the digital reader thus far and that three thousand of these have used it to participate in the NLS download pilot project. He also reported that over one thousand suggestions for improvements to the product have been received during the last ten months, and he noted that several upgrades, including access to books from Audible.com, ability to play advanced podcasts, the capacity to read BRF formats, and the development of the PC Stream Companion have been incorporated in the product to name just a few of the upgrades.
Mr. Pepin announced that HumanWare is celebrating its twentieth anniversary. In recognition of this fact, several new products have been released in the last twelve months, including the NLS Digital Talking Book player; the ClassMate Reader, a product for learning-disabled children; several versions of the SmartView low-vision magnifier; and the Trekker Breeze, the newest of HumanWare’s GPS solutions for the less technical user.
Finally, Mr. Pepin revealed that in 2009 HumanWare will introduce the newest generation in portable notetaking significantly upgrading its BrailleNote suite of products. Similarly, the accessible Blackberry PDA project on which HumanWare has been working is slated for its first release in the fall of 2008.
Friday morning’s session ended with a presentation from Luke Kowalski, corporate user experience architect with Oracle, “National Center for Excellence in Enterprise Computing.” He reviewed a number of collaborative initiatives in which Oracle has been involved to increase access for blind consumers to its products. He explained that the company is motivated to work on improving accessibility to its products because it is the right thing to do, because it increases its employment and customer base, and because it really is not an especially technically challenging undertaking to manage.
On Friday afternoon Mike May, president of Sendero Group, told his personal story to the convention, “Crashing Through in Technology, in Business, and in Living.” Having acquired some notoriety within the blindness community as one of only a few to have some of their vision restored through surgery and for his generally adventuresome and entrepreneurial spirit, Mr. May talked to the convention about some of his most memorable experiences. He reflected on working with the Central Intelligence Agency, competing in Olympic-level athletics, and delving into risky business and technological ventures. He discussed the evolution of GPS systems as one means of helping blind people realize greater personal independence and mobility. As for his partially restored vision, he said, “Low vision is icing on the cake. Having some sight is fun, but it isn’t the big deal that you might imagine because of the alternative techniques of blindness.” He concluded his presentation with the thought that his life experiences might generate for others a taller ladder to climb—a means by which others can grow and achieve in their own right.
The convention next warmly welcomed remarks from Ray Kurzweil, president and chief executive officer of KNFB Reading Technology, Inc. He took the opportunity to acquaint convention delegates with some of the features under development for the KNFB Reader Mobile, including ability to read in seven languages, perform language translation, engage in object recognition, and perform inside navigation functions. Ultimately identifying items with both trained and untrained recognition technology will become a feature of this device. In addition to describing the advantages of the new KNFB Reader Mobile, Ray offered a futuristic perspective on technology for the blind that intrigued and fascinated convention delegates—a future in which he hypothesized that vision would become largely irrelevant.
Gary Wunder, chairperson of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award committee, devoted the next thirty minutes of convention programming to presenting the inaugural Bolotin Awards to the 2008 recipients. A full report of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.
“Literacy, Learning, and Enlightenment” was the address that NFB First Vice President Fredric Schroeder delivered to the convention this year. The full text of this speech appears elsewhere in this issue.
Mark Riccobono, executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, chaired the panel “Believing Enough to Question: The Jernigan Institute—A Revolution in Education and Research.” In introductory comments he explained to convention delegates that both the education efforts and research components of the Jernigan Institute program are important as a means of accelerating positive changes in society for blind people. He affirmed our fundamental belief in the underlying principles of the Federation. The point of his message was that the Jernigan Institute can be used as an effective tool to quantify Federation anecdotes and principles through rigorous education and research initiatives.
Turning his attention to the NFB Youth Slam that the Jernigan Institute sponsored in July of last year, Mark cited some of the initial data from this event. He reported that 29 percent of Youth Slam participants gained a role model as a result. A statistically significant number of Youth Slam students responded positively to measures designed to evaluate their attitudes about their blindness. Of the almost two hundred Youth Slam participants, thirty-four students plan to earn a master’s degree, fourteen plan to earn doctorates, and more than 50 percent of the students expressed an interest in working in a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) career. Finally, 71 percent of the Youth Slam students scored as motivated on a locus of control assessment that the Youth Slam research team conducted.
Ron Gardner, president of the NFB of Utah, and James Watson, a student from Round Rock, Texas, offered their perspectives as mentor and mentee in the 2007 Youth Slam. James participated as a journalist in the Slam News track. He said, “I would not have had such confidence in myself had I not seen role models and received support.” Ron Gardner discussed the universal role of mentoring, while drawing on specific experiences he had during the 2007 Youth Slam: “The best exercise for the human heart is to bend down and lift up another person."
Dr. Richard Ladner, Boeing professor in computer science and engineering at the University of Washington, spoke on “Blind Youth in Computer Science: An Educational Commitment.” Exhibiting a remarkably refreshing attitude toward disability in general and blindness in particular, he said, “I can help you in your quest for knowledge and power, but I cannot make decisions for you.” This intuitive understanding, cultivated through his deaf parents and a motivated blind PhD candidate in his department, have directed his focus on access technology in recent years. In the summer of 2006 he partnered with the NFB Jernigan Institute to host a vertical mentoring workshop for blind people interested in STEM-related subjects. In 2007 he and graduate students under his direction developed the computer science track at the Youth Slam, and he anticipated participating in the 2008 Junior Science Academy and the 2009 Youth Slam.
During recent years Dr. Ladner has been instrumental in developing two access technology solutions of particular interest to blind people: a tactile graphics project and WebAnywhere, a free, Web-based service that provides screen-reader functionality to any computer that a blind person might wish to use. For further information about WebAnywhere, people may visit <http://www.webanywhere.cs.washington.edu>. Dr. Ladner’s ultimate goal is to minimize the cost of access technology for blind people through capitalizing on existing universal and innovative technical solutions.
Drawing the day to a close, Larry Campbell, president of the International Council for Education of People with Visual Impairments (ICEVI), addressed “Education of Blind Youth: A Worldwide Imperative.” Citing grim statistics for the limited access to education by blind students around the world—particularly in the underdeveloped world—he nevertheless noted that hope is on the horizon. In addition to the recent adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he also announced that in 2006 ICEVI and the WBU launched a global Education for all Children with Visual Impairment Campaign. This campaign is dedicated to a unified effort to encourage governments to offer education to blind children by providing technical assistance in delivering high-quality services. Its goals are to increase student enrollment, to reduce dropout rates, to assure that students integrated have appropriate supports, and to guarantee that blind children are performing on par with their sighted peers. In order to make this program successful, Mr. Campbell reported that it will be necessary to train teachers adequately, use best-practice research, and develop high-quality, low-cost resources. Today the program is active in five countries with ten more working on their national strategies. Mr. Campbell appealed to the NFB to get involved with this and other international objectives on behalf of blind people everywhere.
The 2008 banquet of the National Federation of the Blind was a lively event. NFB First Vice President Fred Schroeder was master of ceremonies for the evening. Sprinkled among the anticipated national division drawings, scholarship offerings, award presentations, and the banquet address were valuable door prizes that animated an already spirited crowd.
President Maurer delivered a hopeful banquet address, “The Urgency of Optimism,” in which he presented the insight that optimism is not merely a point of view but an element of power, both in the lives of individuals and in the business of a civil rights movement. The text of his address appears elsewhere in this issue.
Gary Wunder, NFB secretary and president of the NFB of Missouri, received the Jacobus tenBroek Award, the highest honor given to a member of the Federation. In his typically modest and down-to-earth style, Gary accepted this organizational recognition with grace and heartfelt gratitude. A full report of this award appears elsewhere in this issue.
Anil Lewis, NFB scholarship chairperson, announced the thirty scholarships awarded by the NFB. Leslie Penko of Ohio received the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship for twelve thousand dollars. A full report of the scholarship awards appears elsewhere in this issue.
Saturday morning was dedicated to internal organizational business. The financial report, the Washington report, and the Honor Roll Call of States consumed most of the morning session.
Saturday afternoon was devoted to consideration of the thirteen resolutions forwarded to the Convention floor by the resolutions committee. All of these resolutions were ultimately adopted by the Convention. The full texts of all resolutions passed by the Convention appear elsewhere in this issue.
As the gavel fell on the 2008 convention, Federationists left Dallas armed with a reenergized sense of optimism for the year ahead. Having been engaged by informative programming, captivated with the latest in access technology, and delighted to renew old friendships while cultivating new ones, Federationists will reflect on this year’s convention as one characterized by hope, harmony, and regard for our history. The progress reported and the momentum generated on the quiet cars and NLS digital transition funding issues this year offer Federationists ample reason for hope. The earnest but good-natured deliberations on resolutions and other matters of organizational policy suggest our goodwill and civility. The weeklong celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the NOPBC and memories of past Federation leaders remind us of our rich and instructive heritage. Reenergized if not rested, each convention delegate carried home a bit of the 2008 spirit, and many immediately turned their attention to planning for the next Federation family reunion in Detroit, Michigan, in July 2009.