Braille Monitor                                                 August/September 2010

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Race for Independence Report:

Here is Parnell Diggs’s report listing the Medallion recipients in the Race for Independence.

Now that the 2010 Imagination Fund campaign is in the books, I want to say thank you again to all of those who participated in the Race for Independence and thereby helped to generate funding for Federation programs at the national, state, and local levels. The following is a list of medallion winners for the 2010 campaign. They raised $1,000 or more, demonstrating just how easy it is to make the ask.

2009-2010 Medallion Recipients

Lindsay Adair
Jennifer Applegate
Carolyn Baron
Denice Brown
Dan Burke
Anthony Cobb
Parnell Diggs
John Fritz
Michael Hingson
Mary Ellen Jernigan
Kayleigh Joiner
Ann-Marie Laney
Marc Maurer
Patricia Maurer
Patricia Miller
Ed Morman
Jack and Pat Munson
John Paré
Barbara Pierce
Mark Riccobono
Joe Ruffalo
Judy Ruffalo
Kevan Worley

You can be on this list next year if you can do what these dedicated Federationists did, but you need to start now. Come on: let's race!


At the 2010 NFB convention a number of divisions conducted elections for one or two years. Here are the results we have received:

National Organization of Parents of Blind Children

On July 5, 2010, the NOPBC conducted elections at its annual meeting. The following officers and board members were elected: president, Laura Weber (TX); first vice president, Stephanie Kieszak-Holloway (GA); second vice president, Carlton Walker (PA); secretary, Andrea Beasley (WI); treasurer, Pat Renfranz (UT); and board members, Jean Bening (MN); Jim Beyer (MT); Wingfield Bouchard (MS); Carol Castellano (NJ); Lety Castillo (TX); Denise Colton (UT); David Hammell (IA); Zina Lewis (VA); Barbara Mathews (CA); and Sally Thomas (TX).

Sports and Recreation Division

The Sports and Recreation Division officers elected at the 2010 convention were president, Lisamaria Martinez (CA); vice president, Tyler Merren (MI); and treasurer, Jason Holloway (CA).

National Association of Blind Office Professionals

The NABOP elected the following officers: president, Lisa Hall (OH); vice president, Mary Donahue (TX); secretary, Kevin Ledford (UT); and treasurer, Debbie Brown (MD).

National Association to Promote the Use of Braille

NAPUB conducted its election at the 2010 convention with the following results: president, Sandy Halverson (VA); first vice president, Peggy Chong (IA); second vice president, Linda Mentink (NE); secretary C. J. Fish (VA); and treasurer, Steve Booth (MD).

National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science

Elections were held, and the following people elected to office: president, Curtis Chong (IA); vice president, Steve Jacobson (MN); secretary, Louis Maher (TX); treasurer, Susie Stanzel (KS); and board members, Brian Buhrow (CA), Lloyd Rasmussen (MD), and Mike Sahyun (MN). D. Curtis Willoughby (CO), a charter member of the organization and its first president, and Mike Freeman (WA) both decided not to run for office this time. 

National Association of Guide Dog Users

NAGDU conducted elections for half of its officers on July 3 at the convention with the following results: president, Marion Gwizdala (FL); secretary, Sherrill O'Brien (FL); and board members, Tina Thomas (CA) and Meghan Whalen (WI).
The Performing Arts Division

Here are the results of the Performing Arts Division elections: president, Dennis Sumlin (NY); vice president, Jordi Stringer (IN); secretary, Beth Allred (CO); and board members, David Dunphy (NY), Joanne Stark (WI), and Anthony Evans (MD).

National Association of Blind Merchants

The merchants division held its annual business meeting at the Dallas convention. The division discussed its expanding mission to provide continuing education, advocacy, and exploration for blind people in Randolph-Sheppard and beyond. The NABM will continue its mission to protect and expand the Randolph-Sheppard program but will add a robust component to bring additional opportunities for the blind seeking a variety of small business options. Officers elected to carry the Federation merchant mission forward were president, Nicky Gacos (NJ); first vice president, Kim Williams (TN); second vice president, Harold Wilson (MD); secretary, Sharon Treadway (TN); treasurer, Kevan Worley (CO); and board members Art Stevenson (OR), Scott Young (TN), John Fritz (WI), and Jim Farley (AZ).

2010 Braille Book Flea Market:

Aunya Anderson holds a stack of the books she has gathered at the Braille Book Flea Market.Peggy Chong sent us this report following this year’s Braille Book Flea Market:

On Monday, July 5, at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, another successful Braille Book Flea Market sent home thousands of Braille books to many blind children across the country. Although we had only about 70 percent of the books that we had last year, we still provided Braille books to many children and young adults, who were thrilled to have a Braille book of their own. Over 400 boxes were filled and prepared for mailing by our UPS volunteers, several of whom were veterans of past flea markets held in Dallas. Many attendees left with armloads of books they did not want to wait to read until they got home. Those same UPS volunteers sent off the books through the U.S. Post Office the next day. Some of the boxes even beat conventioneers home.

We never know just what books and materials will be available until the boxes sent by hundreds of generous people and organizations across the country are opened and sorted by the volunteers who begin their work just five hours before the market opens. This year we had several text books that found new homes with families that home school. This year we had many fewer Twin Vision® books, the most popular item. They all were taken in the first thirty minutes of the flea market. But we had a good number of books for grade-school children. There were several books of poetry, craft books, cookbooks, tactile math supplies, Braille maps, and Braille music. After ninety minutes the books were well picked through, and little was left on the tables for those who came late.

Colorado author and Federationist Ann Cunningham was on hand to give one of her own books to a young flea market attendee. Volunteers assisted participants by boxing their books while they continued to shop. The volunteers also helped write address labels to speed up the process at the mailing station. Thank you to everyone who helped make this year’s flea market a big success.

Many left promising to send back any books that could be used by another reader next summer. Parents are already looking forward to 2011.

New Publication Available:

“Parenting Without Sight: What Attorneys and Social Workers Should Know about Blindness” is a new pamphlet prepared by the Blind Parents Interest Group and released for the first time at this convention. It provides introductory, commonsense advice and information to those potentially involved in assessing the competence of blind parents to care for their offspring or other children in their charge. The pamphlet promotes the view that with proper training and opportunity blind parents are equal to this responsibility. The pamphlet includes statements of blindness philosophy and practical examples of ways blind people parent successfully.

Free print copies can be ordered from the Independence Market. Because it is aimed at the general public, it is not in large print. The text and photos can be viewed online at

Technology Committee Reports from Convention:

The Webmasters met on July 4 to discuss how best to highlight the work of the NFB. Our challenges include ensuring that the information we present is up to date, that the sites we run are screen-reader friendly, and that what we display is visually attractive. Plans for the coming year include online seminars to discover together the best Web-authoring tools, how to stream conventions successfully, and how to work with systems that can let many different people update affiliate sites for their areas of responsibility. To learn more about the activities of the affiliate and division Webmasters, join our list by going to <> and subscribing.

The committee for the promotion, evaluation, and advancement of technology (PEAT) hosted its annual showcase, where technology exhibitors had an opportunity to make a short presentation about what they were selling and their location in the exhibit hall. Immediately following was a business meeting, in which we discussed how to become more involved in the evaluation of products, how to increase the number of exhibitors attending the showcase, and how to divide the work of the committee so the chairman doesn't carry most of the load. Before next year's convention we will conduct and publish several technology evaluations and will see that all technology exhibitors know about and attend our showcase. To follow the work of the committee and get updates on new blindness technology, join our list by going to <> and subscribing to our PEAT list.

Report of the NFB in Computer Science Division Annual Meeting:

President Curtis Chong reports that the division had an excellent presentation by three Apple Macintosh users called “The Macintosh as a Tool of Productivity by the Blind.” The presenters were Earle Harrison from Handy Tech North America; Steve Sawczyn, president of the NFB of Maine; and Jason Fayre, an adaptive technology specialist at the Colorado Center for the Blind. All three presenters agreed that Apple has made tremendous progress with the VoiceOver program and that the Macintosh can be used productively by a blind computer user to accomplish everyday tasks.

Deborah Lovell, former president of the Association of Information Technology Professionals, told the group that information technology professionals of today are not competitive if all they do is sit around and generate programming code. They are more desirable employees in corporate America if they demonstrate an understanding of the problems and concerns that drive the business and explain to the business how technology can be used to solve business-related problems. During our discussion with Ms. Lovell, we talked about how important it is for information technology professionals like her to understand that the blind can be a part of the competitive workforce. In the general scheme of things, the blind are so little regarded that most potential employers do not even consider that a blind person can be a competitive and contributing member of their organization--let alone an information technology professional. Ms. Lovell indicated a deep understanding of this principle and expressed her willingness to promote our interests within her organization.

Rob Sinclair, chief accessibility officer at the Microsoft Corporation, told the group that at Microsoft accessibility continues to be an ongoing challenge. While Microsoft has made strides to improve the accessibility of Windows and Office products, many of its newest offerings are not accessible--nor does the company seem to have a blueprint for how to make them accessible. Mr. Sinclair wanted to know whether the group favored Microsoft’s building a speech program into Windows the way Apple built VoiceOver into its Snow Leopard operating system. We were unanimous in saying that Microsoft must make it possible for a blind person to upgrade Windows and rebuild the system without sighted help and that blind people are not unanimous that Microsoft should develop and implement a built-in, powerful screen-reading program for Windows.

We also heard from Bernard Maldonado, president of Solona, a company in Dallas that is operating a CAPTCHA-solving service provided free of charge to the blind. Mr. Maldonado is dedicated to help us solve the visual CAPTCHA problem, and to that end he has operated (largely as a volunteer) a nonprofit corporation that, among other things, helps the blind to solve CAPTCHAs and also to interpret visual images that might be transmitted electronically to Solona. Mr. Maldonado did indicate his understanding of the need for Solona to have a long-term strategy to ensure its financial viability. He said that he is giving this considerable thought. He also mentioned some tactile screen protectors that he is making available to help blind people use the iPhone more efficiently.

Report from the Research and Development Committee:

One of the longstanding interests of the NFB research and development committee has been the development of a refreshable Braille display that is considerably less costly than the Braille displays on the market today. The piezoelectric technology used to move the dots on today's Braille displays has been around since the mid 1970s with very little cost reduction or technological improvement. Just before the research and development committee meeting held on Wednesday, July 7, Curtis Chong, the committee’s chair, talked with Peichun Yang “Paul” Chang, PhD, a blind researcher at North Carolina State University, who is working on a project to use electroactive polymer technology to drive a multi-line refreshable Braille display.

Dr. Chang's story is interesting. In 1992 he came to the United States from China to study at North Carolina State University's materials science and engineering department. After five years of study he obtained his PhD in 1997. For seven months he performed post doctoral work in the campus microelectronics laboratory. In 1998 he lost his sight as the result of an accident. After he got out of the hospital, he spent a year receiving training in the alternative techniques of blindness--learning Braille, nonvisual access to the computer, and independent travel. During this period it became apparent to him that a refreshable Braille display could be a very useful tool for someone who is blind. He communicated with many people around the world in an effort to come up with a lower-cost Braille display. He even met with Deane Blazie, a pioneer in technology for the blind. In 2003 he attended an international conference on electroactive polymer actuators and devices in San Diego. At this conference Dr. Chang demonstrated the concept of a model Braille cell using a hydraulic latching mechanism in the EAP-In-Action (electroactive polymer in action) section of the conference. After a few years of trying to secure grant funding, in 2007 he and others at North Carolina State University secured a three-year field-initiated projects grant from NIDRR. Two years into the grant they had an experimental breakthrough that was published in a paper presented at the twelfth International Conference on Electroactive Polymer Actuators and Devices in San Diego. Dr. Chang told Curtis that in five years he expects to have a working prototype.

In layman's terms this is what Curtis understood from talking with Dr. Chang: if electroactive polymer technology can be used to drive refreshable Braille displays, the cost per cell should be reduced by a factor of ten. The piezoelectric reeds driving today's refreshable Braille displays have to be cut using a diamond saw. The plastic used in electroactive polymer technology can be cut using something as simple as a razor blade. The intriguing thing is that Dr. Chang is himself a user of refreshable Braille technology. He uses it every day and clearly understands the importance of readable Braille dots and fast response times with refreshable Braille. Here’s hoping that this is the breakthrough we have been hoping for.

In Memoriam:

We regret having to report that on Thursday, July 8, 2010, just as the banquet was beginning, Patricia Maurer’s father, LaVerne Schaaf, died quietly in hospice after an illness of many weeks. The Maurers had flown to Iowa the weekend before the convention to spend time with Mr. Schaaf. He was deeply loved by his family and friends and will be sincerely missed.

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