Braille Monitor                                                    March 2009

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News from the Federation Family


The East Hillsborough Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida held its annual election on Saturday, January 10, 2009. The results of the elections are as follows: president, Marion Gwizdala; vice president, Merry Schoch-Gwizdala; secretary, Anice Butler; treasurer, Susan Hefti; fundraising board member, Tom Goldman; legislative board member, Donald Hefti; and membership board member, Jeniece Wilson.

BLAST Reminder:

The National Association of Blind Merchants invites you to join us for our annual national training conference for merchant vendors, program staff, and corporate partners.
What: BLAST ’09 Business Leadership and Superior Training
Where: Indianapolis, Indiana, Indianapolis Marriott Downtown
            (877) 640-7666
 When: April 1 to 4, 2009
            Registration begins at 11:00 a.m. April 1
            Break out sessions begin at 1:30 p.m.
Why: Knowledge is freedom. The more informed you are, the more you can accomplish. Learn from peers, corporate partners, and program staff. Control your destiny.
Cost: $200 after March 2
RSVP online at <> or mail your registration to Blind Merchants, 1223 Lake Plaza Drive, Suite D, Colorado Springs, Colorado 80906.

If you miss it, you will only have yourself to blame.

Join the Party:

Celebrate the two hundredth birthday of Louis Braille with members of the Canadian Federation of the Blind (CFB). CFB President Elizabeth Lalonde invites everyone to come to our fourth annual convention.
Where: Victoria BC, Canada
When: May 1 to 3, 2009

Convention Activities:
Thursday evening, April 30, casual dinner followed by a recreational activity.
Friday, May 1, Braille workshop; adaptive technology exhibit; welcome reception and auction
Saturday, May 2, Full-day conference, 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m.
Speakers at the conference will discuss topics such as independence, rehabilitation, Braille literacy, employment, expectations, empowerment, and other blindness issues.
Banquet, 6:30–9:30 p.m.
Sunday, May 3, Canadian Federation of the Blind breakfast board meeting, 9:00 a.m.–11:00 a.m.

The convention registration fee is $55 Canadian, if you preregister, and $60 at the door. (Note: the registration fee covers all activities, including Friday evening’s reception and Saturday’s lunch and banquet.) Register by mailing your registration fee to the Canadian Federation of the Blind with a note listing the contact information of each attendee. Alternatively, email your contact information to <[email protected]> and pay your fee using PayPal to <[email protected]>.

The Canadian Federation of the Blind is a movement of the organized blind committed to the equality and empowerment of blind Canadians. We are a sister organization of the National Federation of the Blind in the United States, and our members join the nearest U.S. NFB affiliate in addition to their CFB membership. Our core activities include mentoring, advocacy, and public education. CFB programs are grounded in the philosophy that it’s respectable to be blind, blindness is not a handicap but a characteristic, and with training and opportunity blind people can compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers.

For more information about the Canadian Federation of the Blind and our activities, contact us at (800) 619-8789, (250) 598-7154, or <[email protected]>. Visit our Website at <>.


The Clark County Chapter of the NFB of Washington conducted its election in January. The results were as follows: president, Les Fitzpatrick; vice president, Vince Ricks; secretary, Beth Manning; and treasurer, Connie Utterback.


The Seattle Chapter of the NFB of Washington conducted its annual elections, and the results are as follows: president, Kris Lawrence (soon to be Colcock); first vice president, Rita Szantay; second vice president, Kay Burrows; treasurer, Doug Johnson; secretary, Marci Carpenter; and board members, Mike Mello and James Jannings.

NFB Writers Division Contests for Youth and Adults:

The dates for the 2009 Writers Division contests are January 1 through (postmarked) April 1. A great new feature this year is that, in addition to our annual short story fiction and poetry contest for adults, we have added a writing contest for youth. See all requirements below.

The Youth Writing Contest is intended to promote Braille literacy and excellence in creative writing. Entries will be judged on creativity and quality of Braille. We are looking for creative writing in fiction and poetry. This is a contest for students who use Braille. Entries must be submitted in hand-embossed Braille, using either a slate and stylus or a Braillewriter. No computer Braille entries will be considered. Submissions must be Brailled by the entrant. Elementary students (K-5) may submit contracted Braille, uncontracted Braille, or an acceptable combination of the two. Students in higher grades will be expected to submit stories or poetry in contracted Braille.

There are six categories: elementary fiction, elementary poetry, middle school fiction, middle school poetry, high school fiction, and high school poetry. Elementary is K-5. Middle school is 6-8. High school is 9-12.

Three cash prizes will be awarded in each of the six categories. First prize per contest is $25, second prize is $15, and third prize is $5. Submissions for fiction may not exceed one thousand words. Poetry may not exceed twenty lines. Authors may submit multiple entries, and all work must be original and unpublished. Each entrant must provide an identical print copy for possible publication.

Entries must be accompanied by a cover sheet containing entrant’s name, address, phone, email, entry title, and school and grade of entrant. Winners will be announced at our division meeting during the July 2009 NFB national convention in Detroit, Michigan. Send all youth entries to Fred Wurtzel, 1212 N. Foster, Lansing, Michigan 48912.

The NFB Writers Division adult short story and poetry contests will take place during the same period as the youth contest: January 1 through April 1. Top prize in each contest is $100, second prize is $50, and third prize is $25. Winners will be announced at our division meeting during the July 2009 NFB national convention in Detroit.

Short stories can be up to three thousand words and can be in any genre. All work must be original and previously unpublished. If you wish to submit, you are required to send a cover sheet listing all entry titles, name, address, phone, and email (if available). All documents must be double spaced, and, if you are sending hardcopy, documents cannot be handwritten. The cost to submit a single story is $5. You can send either a check or money order made out to the NFB Writers Division.

Submissions may be hardcopy with check enclosed. Send these to Tom Stevens, 1203 S. Fairview Road, Columbia, Missouri 65203. You may also email submissions with cover letter to <[email protected]>. Payment for electronic submissions can be by PayPal if arrangements have been made by then, so check the division Website, <>. If you must mail the check, use Tom Stevens’s address above.

Entrants are invited to submit original poetry of up to thirty-six lines. If you wish to submit, you must send a cover sheet listing all entry titles, name, address, phone, and email (if available). All documents must be double spaced and may not be handwritten. The cost is $5 for up to three poems. Send your check or money order made out to the NFB Writers Division.

Send hardcopy submissions and checks by mail to Lori Stayer, 2704 Beach Drive, Merrick, New York 11566. You can also email submissions and cover letters to <[email protected]>. The entry fee can be paid using PayPal if available or mailed to Lori at the above address.

In Brief

Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.

Onkyo Braille Literacy Essay Contest:

The National Federation of the Blind will administer the Onkyo Braille Literacy Essay Contest in the United States on behalf of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union. The contest was created to promote Braille literacy and to encourage the exchange of social and cultural information. Blind people in the United States and Canada are eligible to apply.

Essays must be written in Braille and must pertain either to the way one gains knowledge or independence through Braille or to world peace from the perspective of a disabled person. The contest has two categories: one for people twenty-five and younger and the other for people above twenty-five. Four cash prizes will be awarded. The contest began February 1, 2009, and will end April 30, 2009. All entries must be received by April 30.

For more information about the Onkyo Braille Literacy Essay Contest or to obtain the entire application package, contact Trisha Tatam at (410) 659-9314, ext. 2510, or at <[email protected]>. For more about the NFB's Braille Readers Are Leaders campaign, visit <>.

Useful Website Available:

A Monitor reader from Hawaii writes: As a visually impaired individual I have struggled with the massive amount of information available on the Internet. I have constructed a Website to stockpile relevant data in one spot for the blind and visually impaired communities. The Website is an amalgam of various information. A very useful job links page is constantly being updated. By the way, most of these positions are specifically for blind or visually impaired people. The site also has a discussion board that focuses on topics relevant to our community. I have a page on which I interview noted blind or visually impaired people. The resource and vendor links are very useful tools for those seeking this information. It is my goal to make my Website a useful tool for my blind and visually impaired peers. For more information go to <>.

Outdoor Adventure Program for Teens:

The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center (BOEC) is offering an eight-day outdoor adventure program based in Colorado, August 8 to 15, 2009, specifically designed to challenge and empower teenagers with visual impairments through adventure activities, including rock climbing, whitewater rafting, camping, and hiking.

The program will be supervised by longtime BOEC course director and therapeutic recreation internship coordinator Brook Yates. Brook, now a postgraduate student in orientation and mobility for the blind, will lead a team of BOEC staff to produce this program. It is designed for teenagers between fifteen and nineteen who have a visual impairment, who are active physically and socially, and who use the skills of independence.

The cost is $900. Scholarship funds are available for qualified students on a first-come, first-served basis. To learn more about the Out of Sight Adventure Program, contact Brook Yates at <[email protected]> or at (970) 333-4035.

Summer Braille Music Institute:

The National Resource Center for Blind Musicians is accepting applications for its seminar for blind college-bound musicians, which will be held July 19 to 25 at the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Designed for serious Braille-reading music students preparing for or already in college (ages average seventeen to twenty-one), the program tailors instruction to each person's need to develop Braille music and theory skills and to learn to use technology to submit music assignments in print notation. Applicants must have already studied some music theory, have had several years of music lessons, and be able to present a polished and pleasing performance. They must be willing to put effort into Braille music study and demonstrate a commitment to use the Braille music and computer skills they will learn at the Institute when they return to school. Applicants must also show they have begun thinking realistically about reachable goals and that they have the independence skills, social readiness, and maturity to be a contributing part of a close-knit group.

Contact the Resource Center regarding the application and audition procedure. Deadline for requesting applications is April 30; all application materials must be in the Resource Center office by May 14.

Other options: We are happy to correspond with students, parents, music and vision teachers, or college students with an interest in working with blind students. One internship during the Institute may be available for a qualified sighted student or teacher from the United States. We also invite parents and teachers of younger students to discuss coming for an evaluation and guidance. Please also contact the Resource Center about customized distance learning throughout the year. Visit <>, which is also a music information resource. Contact David Goldstein at (203) 366-3300, ext. 229, or <[email protected]>.

Bob Smithdas Retires:

Anyone who has kicked around the blindness field professionally for a while knows the name of Bob Smithdas, the deaf-blind director of community education for the Helen Keller National Center. He is smart and articulate in presenting the perspective of those who live with both deafness and blindness. With his retirement the field has lost an effective spokesperson. Here is an Associated Press story about Bob Smithdas’s career and retirement that appeared January 17, 2009:

Inspirational Deaf-Blind Teacher, Poet Retires
by Frank Eltman

His memories of Helen Keller are vivid, if not entirely favorable: She had big hands, a forceful personality, and not much of a sense of humor. But none of that kept Bob Smithdas from working with Keller, icon of the deaf and blind, to persuade Congress to create and fund the Helen Keller National Center in the 1960s. At the Sands Point facility people who are deaf and blind, as is Smithdas, are taught a range of life skills from communicating to cooking so they can live wherever they want to. Smithdas, eighty-three, retired Friday as the center's director of community education, a post that capped a sixty-five-year career as an inspiration and an instigator for improvements in the way deaf and blind people lead their lives.

“There have been two giant role models for the deaf-blind person over the last century: Helen Keller and Bob Smithdas," said Carl Augusto, president and CEO of the American Foundation for the Blind.

In honor of his retirement, Smithdas has been cited in a congressional resolution sponsored by Rep. Gary Ackerman. In addition Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has declared Friday "Robert Smithdas Day" in honor of the western Pennsylvania native. Smithdas was the first deaf-blind man to receive a college degree, graduating from St. John's University fifty years after Keller got her bachelor's from Radcliffe. He was the first deaf-blind person to earn a master's degree (NYU, 1953). He has four honorary degrees from universities around the country.

In 1965 he was named Handicapped American of the Year by the President's Committee on Employment of People Who Are Disabled. A decade later he married Michelle Craig, who is also deaf and blind; she works as an instructor at the Keller Center. “I feel that what I was doing was creating a pathway for other deaf-blind people to follow," he said during an interview at a diner near his Port Washington home. An interpreter used hand-in-hand signals to communicate with him.

Smithdas lost nearly all his hearing and sight when he was about four after contracting cerebrospinal meningitis. The language he had learned up to then deteriorated, and he was taught Tadoma, a method of communication in which the deaf-blind person places his thumb on the speaker's lips and his fingers along the jawline to understand what is being said.

It led to an unhappy encounter with Keller. “I had heard that Helen could speak, and I wanted to feel her speak, so I reached out to put my hands on her face, hoping that she would speak to me that way," Smithdas recalls. “But to my surprise, she slapped my hand away. I wasn't amused. I thought it was a crude gesture.”

Smithdas began writing poems as a youngster and has published two collections, City of the Heart (1966) and Shared Beauty (1983). The Poetry Society of America named him Poet of the Year for 1960-61. He has also written an autobiography, Life at My Fingertips. “I was a model, a representative of the deaf-blind community," he says, “even if I didn't know it.”

Smithdas said he and others had been arguing for a decade for a place like the Keller Center, but it took a rubella outbreak in 1963 and 1964, which produced thousands of deaf-blind babies, to get the center opened. Joseph McNulty, executive director of the Keller Center, remembers meeting a mother who was touring the facility. “She came out of Bob's office crying. She told me that, when her daughter was born and she learned she was deaf-blind, reading Bob's life story kept her sane. She said, 'Finally meeting him brought me to tears.’”

Journalist Barbara Walters, who spoke at Smithdas's retirement luncheon Friday, said Smithdas was remarkable. “Truly, the most memorable person I had ever met was Robert Smithdas," she said. “I remember going to Bob's house, and he cooked me a meal. I was amazed he was able to do this and didn't burn his hands.”

Introducing the Braille Awareness Ribbon:

Short & Sweet, Building Braille Coded Brands, has launched its first product, the Blind Awareness Ribbon. The ribbon raises awareness and implements communication that has never been explored.

The Blind Awareness Ribbon measures one inch by one-half inch. It has raised two-dimensional black dots on a white background representing the Braille code. It is a unique and much needed symbol in both the blind community and the mainstream market place. The dots spell “brl” (Braille) in contracted Braille. Imagine finding your favorite brands with Braille and large print on their packaging or products, navigating the supermarket and department store independently reading the price and shelves using Braille or large print. Supporting this ribbon will reinforce such ideas. All of Short & Sweet’s products are already using Braille and bold print on their packaging/products.

As we have all heard, change is in the air, and together we can be the change we want to see in the world, so call today to arrange a fundraiser or sale. Be sure to ask about wholesale pricing for organizations and chapters. For more information visit us at <>, or call us at (732) 297-2200. Price: $4.99 retail. Wholesale pricing varies with the number purchased.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

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