Vol. 57, No. 8 August/September 2014
Gary Wunder, Editor
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The National Federation of the Blind
Mark Riccobono, President
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.
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Vol. 57, No. 8 August/September 2014
Illustration: Breaking Barriers Triathlon
The 2014 Convention Roundup
by Gary Wunder
Presidential Report 2014
by Marc Maurer
Awards Presented at the 2014 National Convention of the National Federation of the Blind
Meet the 2014 Scholarship Class of the National Federation of the Blind
The Challenge and the Limit
by Marc Maurer
Ten Years of Progress in the Jernigan Institute: A Letter to the Friend I Never Met
by Mark Riccobono
Enforcing the Law of Inclusion: A Personal and Professional Journey
by Daniel Goldstein
The Federation at Work with Google: Changing the Structure of Expectations
by Eve Andersson
Blind Workers Deserve Fair Wages, Too
by Platt Allen III
A Standard of Literacy for the Blind from the Library of Congress
by Robert Dizard, Jr.
Working to Advance Equal Rights and Protections for Blind People with
Disabilities in the
Workforce of Today, Tomorrow, and the Future
by Laura Fortman
Raising Expectations for the Blind through the 2014 Convention Resolutions
by Sharon Maneki
National Federation of the Blind Resolutions for 2014Convention Miniatures
Copyright 2014 by the National Federation of the Blind
The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children launched a new fundraiser called “The Breaking Barriers Triathlon.” The first challenge the young competitors face is the alligator-filled swamp. In the first photo Nick Oliver (age seven) navigates around plastic alligators on the cobblestones of the Rosen Center’s pool area. After this the competitors swim through shark-infested waters; in reality the shallow end of the pool with adult volunteers using inflatable sharks to “attack” the swimmers. Finally, the young challengers shoot barriers to independence. A young girl takes confident aim at the large felt target at the end of the event, taking her stand for independence. The course looked so challenging and fun that other children in the pool area asked to join in! So tremendous was the demand that the children could do only two trips each.
by Gary Wunder
When historians of the National Federation of the Blind look back on the conventions of the organization, they will no doubt judge the convention held in July 2014 to be one of the most significant. This convention witnessed a change in leadership as President Maurer decided not to run, ending the longest presidency in the organization's history. This was also the convention at which Mark Riccobono was elected as the organization's president. The convergence of these events meant that the convention took a reverential look at the progress of the organization over the past twenty-eight years, focused on the programs we have today and the challenges that confront us, and dreamed together about what the future would bring as our new president assumes the responsibilities of his office.
Seminar Day was crowded with events for people of all ages and all interests. Activities sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children started early and ran throughout the day. A seminar for job seekers was conducted by a panel of experts from NFB training centers, state and private agencies, and employers. More than eighty people attended. A job fair would be held later in the day at which twenty-three employers came looking for people with ambition and brains to fill their jobs. Among the employers looking for workers was LEGOLAND, Florida.
The Jernigan Institute held technology seminars on the accessibility of the Android operating system, accessible desktop cloud computing, and printing and three-dimensional creation for tactile graphics. Self-defense workshops were held throughout the day and were sponsored by the Sports and Recreation Division. A craft show was conducted where Federationists could display and sell their handmade items. The Seniors Division hosted a panel discussion regarding what you should know about making the all-important decision concerning whether to age in place and find assistive care as needed or move into senior housing. Dominion Voting Systems demonstrated its Image Cast Evolution Tabulator®, a precinct-level optical scan ballot counter. This digital voting system allows blind and sighted voters alike an opportunity to vote privately and independently. A seminar entitled "A Federation Moment Is Worth 1,000 Words" was held to acquaint Federationists with the power of video presentations and to provide an opportunity for all of those who had iPhones and similar devices to do video interviews and to have them reviewed. Of course one could find music, door prizes, and a cash bar at the annual Karaoke Night, sponsored by Blindness, Learning in New Dimensions, a training center of the National Federation of the Blind in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Wednesday, July 2, began with registration at 9:00 AM, and following the receipt of a badge, a banquet ticket, and a convention agenda, many made their way to the exhibit hall, where the sponsors of our 2014 Convention were given an exclusive opportunity to show their products and services. Our convention sponsors for 2014 were:
The meeting of the board of directors was gaveled to order on Thursday morning, July 3, and a roll call found all members present with the exception of Jeannie Massay. Jeannie could not attend due to illness, but she listened to the convention stream, and those assembled sent warm wishes and their hope for her speedy recovery.
President Maurer asked that the gathering observe a moment of silence for those who had died during the past year: Carol Irwin, Mrs. Jernigan's sister; Dr. Abraham Nemeth, creator of the revolutionary Nemeth Code; Dr. Adrienne Asch, a renowned bioethicist and scholar; Lori Stayer, longtime leader in the Writers Division and the wife of David Stayer; Jean Dyon Norris, creator of the Twin Vision book and the longtime manager of the California office of the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults; Joe Money, former president of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana; Jim Willows, former president of the National Federation of the Blind of California and husband of our current president, Mary Willows; Robert Bell, former president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina; and Connie Conley of Louisiana, who was a teacher, nurse, and an inspiration to many. The convention silently rose in memory of these and other Federationists whose lives had contributed so much to our movement.
President Maurer discussed the composition of the board of directors, reviewing for the assembled those positions that were up for election and those which would continue until 2015. At this convention all officers would stand for election. They were Marc Maurer, president; Fred Schroeder, first vice president; Ronald Brown, second vice president; James Gashel, secretary; Pam Allen, treasurer; and Amy Buresh, Patti Chang, Michael Freeman, John Fritz, Carl Jacobsen, and Alpidio Rolón. Those whose terms will expire in 2015 are Parnell Diggs, Sam Gleese, Ever Lee Hairston, Cathy Jackson, Jeannie Massay, and Joe Ruffalo. President Maurer noted that he had been elected fourteen times to head the organization and that he would not be running in this election. He said that he was supporting Mark Riccobono and hoped that he would be nominated and elected. The convention expressed its appreciation for his service and its enthusiasm for the candidacy of Mark Riccobono by its applause.
Mike Freeman asked for the floor and told the board of directors and those assembled that he would not stand for election in 2014. He said that he appreciated the time he had served on the board but that in this time of transition he felt it appropriate to relinquish his position in the hope that it would be filled by someone with the youth and energy that are necessary to the continued success of the organization. His service was also recognized by the audience and the board of directors with applause, cheers, and shouts of thank you. President Maurer also echoed his appreciation for the work Mike had given as a member of the board.
Dan Hicks, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, welcomed the board and the convention. He told us that, while residing in Florida, we had certain rights: "You have the right to an attorney, and heaven knows we have enough of those here; you have the right to remain silent, though few of us will; and you have the right to bear arms and legs and torsos and just about any other body part on our beaches. But in Florida we have a very special right—the right to partay. We know a lot of work gets done at these conventions; we do a lot of work to put these conventions on, but we still think of them as a multi-day party, and we want you to enjoy this convention and always to remember it."
Dan played a snippet from the song "Happy," as it was featured in the movie Despicable Me. He taught us words appropriate to the celebration of the Seventy-Fourth Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. The words Dan gave us were these: clap along if you want the convention to raise the roof; clap along if you feel the Federation is the truth; clap along if you know what the NFB means to you; clap along if you want to live the life you choose.
Following a prolonged cheer for this song and for the welcome offered to us by the National Federation of the Blind of Florida, President Maurer read to the convention a resolution passed by the national board of directors in January 2014. It said:
A sentence shall be added at the end of Article IV, Section C, which reads: Biennially, during even numbered years, at the first meeting of the board of directors following the convention at which officers and board members are elected, the board of directors shall select a chairperson from among its members who shall not be the same person as the president and who shall serve without compensation.
This was the first reading of the amendment, and it was later passed unanimously by the convention.
Mark Riccobono was introduced to talk about efforts by the board of directors to clarify our message, improve our marketing, and increase the name recognition of the National Federation of the Blind by engaging the efforts of an outside company to help us sharpen our message and strengthen our brand. He began his presentation with what is being referred to as our "one-minute message," something that one can easily use to communicate who we are, what we do, and why we do it, all in less time than it takes for a short elevator ride. The message is: “The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back.” Along with this one-minute message and a new and consistent tagline, we have also created a new logo—one which is a stronger reflection of our organization, our brand characteristics, and our values.
Here is a brief description of our new logo: the new logo of the National Federation of the Blind is an updated, stronger reflection of our organizational characteristics and values. The logo of the National Federation of the Blind consists of three elements: a symbol and two text elements—our name and tagline.
The basic element of our logo is a contemporary, sleek, forward-facing icon that is intended to convey creativity, movement, freedom, and warmth. We refer to this icon as Opportunity, as it represents the opportunity we seek for blind people, the opportunity to find blind people who have not yet benefited from the organization, and the opportunity to determine our own future and establish new levels of participation in our society. The forward-facing Opportunity icon demonstrates respect and is more inviting than an icon facing to the side.
Our logo incorporates a symbol that we refer to as Our Movement. The Our Movement symbol is composed of six Opportunity icons arrayed in a circle and conveys a feeling of movement, symbolizes individual actions collectively focused (as the eye is drawn to the center of the circle), and represents key values of the organization's brand—collective action, full participation, love, respect, democracy, and courage. Our logo emphasizes the plurality of Our Movement, instead of an individual icon, because we are not alone; we are a group, a team, and a family, working together. The Our Movement symbol also conveys the personality of the organization—inspirational, innovative, powerful, and inviting. The colors of the Opportunity icons in the Our Movement symbol (blue, orange, green) represent optimism, love, unity, hope, confidence, growth, and energy—all of which are important to our brand. The gradation of colors also reminds us that we are a diverse organization, and each of us has something to contribute.
The font of the text elements of our logo is more modern and innovative than the heavy serif of our previous logo. It is also much more readable for our low-vision members. The logo places more emphasis on the words "of the blind" in order to call attention to that important and powerful aspect of our organization. The tagline font is italic to imply the energy and action we want people to take in order to "Live the life you want." The text in the logo represents power and action.
Mr. Riccobono concluded his presentation by reiterating our brand promise: "Together with love, hope, and determination, we transform dreams into reality."
Parnell Diggs, a member of the board of directors, was introduced and proudly announced to the convention that he was the Democratic candidate for the office of attorney general in the state of South Carolina. Although the National Federation of the Blind does not get involved in supporting or opposing candidates for office, it is extremely interested in the advancement of blind people to positions where they can demonstrate the competence of the blind and work to forge public policies that give us greater opportunity. Mr. Diggs observed that 2014 is an off-year election and that many people do not exercise their right to vote in contests that occur in these election cycles. He considers this unfortunate given that men and women have died for the right to elect those who will serve them. He also stressed the importance of blind people being politically active, especially now that we can cast a secret ballot thanks to our efforts in securing the passage of the Help America Vote Act. Diggs first voted independently in 2006, and he looks forward in 2014 to seeing his name on the ballot. His priorities will include enforcement of the anticorruption statutes in his state, working to improve voting rights, and helping to bring affordable healthcare to his state. He noted for the crowd that these items have nothing to do with blindness but that "blindness is not the characteristic that defines me or my future."
On that rousing note President Maurer directed our attention to convention logistics. He said that this was his forty-sixth convention but that others newer to attending these gatherings might be less familiar than he with how they were organized. He introduced Mrs. Jernigan, who said that this was her forty-ninth convention. She reviewed the procedure for registering and picking up materials for those who had preregistered, the purchase of banquet tickets, and the banquet exchange. Before she left the stage President Maurer asked her about the start time for a meeting that was to be held in the evening and, without a moment's hesitation, she was able to provide it. This explains why she has for so long been the chairperson of convention organization and activities.
Anil Lewis is the chairman of the Imagination Fund Committee. He came to the podium to talk about how money from this program goes to support the innovative research and training programs done by our Jernigan Institute. As we did this year, we will again designate a three-month period in which we will concentrate on building this fund and another three-month period in which we will help affiliates develop their fundraising, realizing that we are all one movement and at all levels must work together to be successful in our fundraising and outreach efforts. Of course, fundraising for this and other activities of the organization should not be limited to, but instead emphasized during these periods. An easy way for family, friends, and coworkers to contribute is by sending a text message to 41444, and in the body of the message writing "2014" and the amount they wish to contribute.
In the coming year the Jernigan Institute will concentrate on enhancing our Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) campaign, will start a new program for blind seniors, and will focus a great deal of energy and attention on employment. These programs all deserve our concentrated effort, but it is only by funding them that we can make them vital and strong. As Anil reminds us, "If we don't do it, no one will."
The Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award is presented annually, and this year the presentation was made by Chairman Cathy Jackson, member of the board of directors and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Kentucky. This year's winner is Theresa Postello from the state of California. Remarks made during this presentation will be found elsewhere in this issue.
Much of the work of the Federation is done by its committees, and President Maurer urged that members who would like to serve contact the office of the president to make their wishes known. Committee appointments are normally for one year and are made by the president.
Sandy Halverson addressed the board of directors and those attending the meeting with an update on the Shares Unlimited in the National Federation of the Blind (SUN) Fund. This is money that the Federation uses as its savings account or rainy day fund. It has increased by more than $13,000 over the past twelve months, but some states are not active participants, and this is an issue we must address.
Dr. David Ticchi followed Sandy Halverson to the podium, and his job was to present the Blind Educator of the Year Award for 2014. A full report of his presentation will appear elsewhere in this issue.
Scott LaBarre addressed the board meeting in his capacity as the chairman of the Preauthorized Contribution Program. In honor of its fortieth birthday, Scott lead us, in his best operatic voice, in singing happy birthday to the PAC Plan. Originally called the Bank Draft Pledge Program when it began in 1974, it has evolved, and now electronic transactions allow those who wish to make a monthly contribution to the National Federation of the Blind to do so using their debit card, credit card, or a traditional draft from their checking account. Coming into the convention members were contributing $433,415.52, and Scott asked us to join him in reaching the goal of raising that number to at least $470,000. At convention’s end Scott and his hard-working volunteers would report that our members were able to raise the annualized amount given through this program from $433,415.52 to $473,741.52, with 230 people either joining the program or raising their monthly contribution.
One of our Accessibility Champion sponsors for the convention was Vanda Pharmaceuticals, and Kate Holland, senior director of marketing, was introduced to the board to make some remarks. She explained the way in which the absence of light can disrupt the circadian rhythms that control when our body sleeps and is awake, how the company has been trying to increase the awareness of this disorder, and the drug they have created to address the problem. Ms. Holland says: "When speaking with people living with Non-24, they speak of the challenges they face every day. It's not because of their blindness; they've learned to live with their blindness, but it's the challenges of not getting a good night's sleep or not being able to stay awake during the day that create a whole new set of hurdles, which for many people have been a mystery without a name. By making people aware of Non-24 and its prevalence in people who are totally blind, our goal at Vanda has been to remove barriers and provide important information and education, not only for potential patients, but also for healthcare providers. In the spring of this year we launched a national television campaign. The campaign was created with the goals in mind of highlighting and changing the perceptions and stereotypes about blindness and raising awareness of Non-24. The awareness campaign didn't tell people what we, Vanda, think blindness and Non-24 look like. The people who appeared in the commercials were not actors but were blind individuals who have real life experiences, some with symptoms of Non-24 that have impacted their life. The commercial gave them and others struggling with Non-24 a voice." She concluded by quoting an article in which Eric Duffy, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, says that Non-24 is not a condition we should hide from, but one for which we should embrace a possible treatment. She concluded by saying, "I want to take this time to thank the Federation for its collaboration and help to educate us on blindness and accessibility. We continue to appreciate your feedback on activities that Vanda is working on and value the opinions of the Federation. As the NFB approaches your seventy-fifth year anniversary, we are happy to have been a partner for the last five years and are excited and look towards a future in which we enjoy many more years of collaboration in helping people who are blind live the life they want."
For some time now the Bureau of Engraving and Printing has been looking for a way to make the identification of paper money easier for the blind. The senior advisor to the director of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Don Haley, told the board about the contract with Orbit Research to distribute the iBill Talking Banknote Identifier to blind people in the United States. With the assistance of the Library of Congress, National Library Service, money identifiers were distributed at the convention. Starting in January, these will be made available to all eligible blind people who want them. The bureau has also developed an iPhone app, which is distributed without charge, that can also be used to identify paper money. It is also looking into the possibility of making money identifiable by touch, a process that may be implemented in 2020.
Joanne Wilson came to the stage to talk about our fundraising efforts with GreenDrop and our Vehicle Donation Program. She addressed the convention in this way: "Good morning. Literally, we want someone else to walk a mile in your shoes! Yes, we are asking for you and your neighbors to give us the shirt off your back. We are working with a group called GreenDrop, who collects gently used clothing and household goods and turns them into cash for the National Federation of the Blind so that we as blind people can live the life we want but without the clutter!" She thanked the eight states that have participated in this program, have generated badly needed funds for us, and have helped to unclutter the areas in which they live.
The Vehicle Donation program is another way we can put cash into the treasury of the National Federation of the Blind by asking that people with used vehicles donate them to us. The donor benefits by making a donation to help the blind and is entitled to a tax deduction on their federal income taxes. So far forty-one states have gotten donations for the program, resulting in $77,000 in the treasury of the organization. This is both easy and profitable, and we will expand the program using Facebook and public service announcements. Even so we must remember that the most effective advertisement will come from our members spreading the word through distributing our fliers to local churches, theaters, and businesses in their area.
E.A.S.Y Tactile Graphics is a company that manufactures products that allow blind people to "draw what you feel, feel what you draw." The Federation has been instrumental in providing vital encouragement, expertise, and funding in this effort because we know how critical it is that blind people be able to review and create tactile drawings. Mike Rosen is a professor, an engineer, and a cofounder of E.A.S.Y., and he came to deliver what he called "a short report to the board and a thank you note to all of you." Readers will remember an article written by Al Maneki, now president of E.A.S.Y. LLC, that appeared in the June 2012 issue of the Braille Monitor. In that article he discussed the origins of this company, the role of the National Federation of the Blind in assisting it, and the products the company has developed. Mr. Rosen concluded his remarks in this way: "If history is any guide, NFB will always be there as a voice that we can listen to for the needs and wants of the blind and low vision community; as a guide for our research and development; as a channel for marketing; as a connection to leaders in business, education, and advocacy; as a business partner for our company; and, ultimately, I hope, as a beneficiary of its growth. Finally, I want to add a personal note. On my next birthday I'll be seventy-one. I've been an academic grad all of my life. I've got a lot of published articles and presentations at meetings. I have half a dozen patents and am very proud of the theses of my graduate students. I've always worked in the area of assistive technology of one sort or another, but this will be the first time in my life as an engineer that something I was part of designing and building will show up in the lives of real people, and I thank you for that."
Patti Chang, the chairman of our scholarship committee, came to the microphone to introduce the class of 2014. She told the assembled that, by her best calculations, we spend almost a quarter of a million dollars to find, recognize, and extend a hand to up and coming scholars and leaders throughout the country. A full report of this part of the proceedings will appear elsewhere in this issue.
Fredric Schroeder, the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, came to the microphone to introduce two international visitors. The first was Monthian Buntan, a blind man who, until the recent political unrest there, served as a senator in Thailand. In his remarks Mr. Buntan thanked the National Federation of the Blind for the encouragement he received, first in Minnesota back in the early 1990s, and later for the help in attending the convention held in 1993. He attended again in 2001 and brought three other blind people with him. This year at the convention he was accompanied by ten more people from Thailand. "We are here to congratulate the Federation on its great success, to congratulate Dr. Maurer for his twenty-eight years of service, and to encourage you to live the life you want and to give up on giving up."
Dr. Schroeder next introduced Kua Cheng Hock from Singapore. Following the convention he will go to the Louisiana Center for the Blind and participate in three weeks of training which he will then take back to Singapore and use what he has learned to build programs for the blind in that country. He talked about meeting Dr. Jernigan in their work in the World Blind Union, how he has valued the work that he and President Maurer have done together, and how he hopes to work to develop not only training based on the Federation model but to establish organizations of the blind in Asia through which people from this part of the world may speak for themselves as we do here in America.
The Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund owns the magnificent facilities that we occupy in Baltimore, and Gary Mackenstadt addressed the board in his capacity as the chairman of the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Fund Committee. He asked that all chapters and affiliates of the National Federation of the Blind help in raising the money necessary for maintaining our Jernigan Institute and said that we would be given a chance to make individual donations later in the convention.
The last order of business for the morning was to recognize significant donations that have come from affiliates as a result of bequests they have received and shared with the national body. Julie Deden, the executive director of the Colorado Center for the Blind, and Scott LaBarre, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, presented a donation in the amount of $500,000. Jennifer Dunnam, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, followed with a check in the amount of $220,000. Mary Ellen Gabias said, "Dr. Maurer and Federation family: Blindness has no borders, and neither should the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. As your best friends forever from north of the forty-ninth parallel, I come from the Canadian Federation of the Blind. We are an organization firmly committed to changing things in Canada, including Canadian culture, government, and meeting challenges particular to our country. We are firmly committed to the philosophy, the structure, and the organization of the National Federation of the Blind. We are proud to give a donation of $500 as a token of respect, gratitude, and a commitment to working in the common cause of blind people everywhere." Mike Freeman, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington, said that the Washington affiliate had received a bequest in the amount of $19,810.52 and that it would soon be sending a check for 50 percent of that amount to the national treasury.
After thanking everyone for their donations, President Maurer called for other business. There being none, the meeting of the board of directors was adjourned.
The audience quickly emptied the room to grab a bit of lunch and then participate in one of the many activities held in the afternoon. One could learn about new accessible devices to manage diabetes in the meeting held by the Diabetes Action Network, attend the meeting of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, hang out with computer programmers and others fascinated or frustrated by these machines in the meeting of the NFB in Computer Science Division, or attend a session focused on empowerment sponsored by the Seniors Division. One could learn how to use social media to promote the programs and activities of the Federation; learn about "the anatomy of a piano," sponsored by the Piano Technology Group; attend an auto show sponsored by the NFB CARS Division; or learn about "sports and recreation activities" by attending the meeting of the Sports and Recreation Division. The National Association of Guide Dog Users held a seminar in the evening, as did the Community Services Group, the Science and Engineering Division, and the Assistive Technology Trainers Division. The webmasters for affiliates and divisions gathered to discuss the updating of their websites to reflect our new logo and our branding message. They also discussed the forthcoming update of the National Federation of the Blind's main website, <www.nfb.org>.
When President Maurer brought the gavel down three times on Friday morning, the first general session of the 2014 Convention was in order. Reverend Sam Gleese, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Mississippi and the pastor of the Country Hill Baptist Church, offered the invocation. Dan Hicks was invited to introduce the first program item, that being an official welcome from the state of Florida. He said, "Fellow Federationists: Florida is known for a lot of things, some good, some not so good, and some wonderful. One of the things we produce in Florida is great music. We have Tom Petty from Gainesville, Matchbox Twenty from Orlando, Bertie Higgins from Tampa, KC and the Sunshine Band from Hialeah, the Miami Sound Machine—from Miami I do believe—and Jimmy Buffett, who hails from Key West. Now the problem we had was that there just wasn't room for six bands on this stage, and with it being the Fourth of July weekend, they probably had something else going on anyway. So we had to get one super band to cover the songs of all of these great acts, and, ladies and gentlemen, I want to introduce them to you today: Craig Singleton and the Big City Band!"
As promised, the band delivered hits from all of the great talent from Florida that President Hicks had recognized, and their sound and enthusiasm set the tempo that would carry us through the rest of the morning.
Conchita Hernandez was introduced to make an announcement about Spanish translation services and the availability of agendas in Spanish. America's veterans were then honored in a ceremony conducted by Dwight Sayer, the president of the National Association of Blind Veterans. President Sayer invited veterans to introduce themselves, and twenty-eight of them did so as they crossed the stage. He then introduced the color guard consisting of eight Federationists: Wayne Field, vice admiral, United States Naval Air; Corey Keith, private first class, United States Army; Roy Stenson, gunnery sergeant, United States Marine Corps; Kevin Treece, master sergeant, United States Air Force; Joseph Hobson, private first class, United States Army; James Mays, lieutenant, United States Navy; Robert Pierce, first lieutenant, United States Air Force; and Roy Murphy, corporal, United States Marine Corps. David Enzfelder of the Kings Pipers escorted the color guard into the auditorium, where we recited the Pledge of Allegiance and were treated to the singing of the "Star-Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful" by Devin Leigh Sauer. While the veterans exited the stage, David Enzfelder played a medley of songs, one representing each of the armed services: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
There followed the roll call of states, which was begun by Joy Harris, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama. Illness caused her to be absent last year, but she came to the microphone to thank the 2013 Convention for their shout out to her, which she had heard using the convention stream. She asked that we give a similar cheer and send our good wishes and prayers for the recovery of Miss Cindy Jones, Alabama's delegate last year. The convention did just that.
Bob Kresmer, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona, announced that Arizona had fifty-seven first-time attendees at the convention, and he gave much of the credit for that number to Arizona Rehabilitation Services, Services for the Blind and Deaf. This agency's policy is that any new customer who wants to attend a convention of the National Federation of the Blind is supported in that goal.
Shawn Callaway, president of the National Federation of the Blind of the District of Columbia, came to the microphone to announce that the affiliate would be celebrating its first BELL Program, but these weren't the only bells we would be hearing in the District. Alex Castillo and Conchita Hernandez are engaged to be married. Through its applause the convention sent its best wishes to the soon-to-be couple.
Melissa Riccobono, who serves as the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, invited everyone to attend its convention which will be held November 15 and 16 and will officially kickoff the seventy-fifth anniversary celebration of the National Federation of the Blind. Carl Jacobsen, president of the National Federation of the Blind of New York, invited all affiliates to join in an effort to create NFBLIVE, an electronic forum that can be used to hold NFB meetings, group discussions, and even chapter and affiliate seminars. He believes that the potential for this technology to bring the message of the Federation to others is almost unlimited, and he expressed his willingness to talk with anyone involved in affiliate leadership who might be interested in joining to make this a reality. The president of the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, Carla McQuillan, announced that the affiliate would be celebrating its forty-fifth annual convention and that one of the founding members in Oregon was present. Sister Joyce Green was recognized with a round of applause.
The National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina announced through its president, Parnell Diggs, that the affiliate would be celebrating its seventieth anniversary in August and that Mark Riccobono would be the national representative.
President Fred Schroeder from the National Federation of the Blind of Virginia announced that our affiliate there will be doing three BELL Programs this year and encourages all affiliates to reach out and touch the lives of blind children in the dramatic way that this program can and does.
At the conclusion of the roll call John Berggren, executive director for operations for the National Federation of the Blind, was invited to the podium to talk about the development and testing of the NFB app first mentioned at the Washington Seminar by President Maurer and available at the time of the convention in its pre-beta incarnation. The title of his presentation was "The National Federation of the Blind Mobile App: the Power of Technology Supporting Federationists." He began his remarks to the convention in this way: "Greetings fellow Federationists. More and more every day each of us is taking advantage of smartphones, little computers in the palms of our hands. We can do all kinds of cool things with smartphones: read our email, play music, call cabs, listen to NFB-NEWSLINE®—I've even seen a person make a phone call. This past February at the Washington Seminar, President Maurer announced that the National Federation of the Blind would develop a mobile app for smartphones to help us get information into the hands of people who need it." John explained that exactly what this application would do depended on what we told the developers we wanted. The list we got was a good one, and, though it had to be narrowed a bit, he thinks we have come up with the most requested and helpful features that you wanted to see. Everyone says they want more convenient access to information about the Federation, legislative announcements, upcoming events, a convenient way to get at our national publications, and a way to explore the rich history of our organization. We intend to do all of this in our app and to demonstrate that harnessing the power of technology and making it usable by the blind is not difficult or expensive. The short demonstration featured the app reading a list of announcements, upcoming events, current legislation, local and national resources (local resources being determined by where one is when activating this function), important speeches, presidential releases, and even convention streams. The app will also grant access to our national publications, and to demonstrate this, the app read the beginning of the July 2014 issue of the Braille Monitor. In addition to publications, the app will also allow easy reading of the numerous blogs we maintain.
By the end of the summer we hope to have available what we're calling the NFB Time Machine, a feature that will allow one to enter a year and have available, at the tap of his or her finger, the major events that took place back then. Once version 1 is available, then we will turn our attention to version 2.0 and some of the features that didn't quite make it into our initial release. John concluded by saying, "We want to deliver information for everyone, to continue to harness the power of technology to support our members in their efforts to educate the public, and to grow the Federation."
As he has done for many years now, President Maurer did an informal survey of the audience to determine the decade in which people attended their first national convention. We heard at least one person from the 1950s, a scattering of people from the 1960s, considerably more people from the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s, but clearly the majority of those attending came in the first decade of the twenty-first century and beyond.
The proposed constitutional amendment adopted by the board of directors and read the previous day during its meeting was again read, voted on, and passed. After drawing a door prize, which was won by Joy Harris of Alabama, the morning session was recessed.
The afternoon started with the traditional but always surprising Presidential Report, one that continues to get better with every passing year. Though it was clearly the last year of his presidency, the report that President Maurer delivered focused on the present as, issue after issue, it told the story of the fight of the blind to be included and to stay competitive in education, employment, and in our communities. The Presidential Report appears in full elsewhere in this issue.
After prolonged applause, the chanting of "NFB, NFB, NFB," and a round of the song "Glory Glory Federation," President Maurer was followed on the program by Robert Dizard, Jr., deputy librarian of Congress, who delivered remarks entitled "A Standard of Literacy for the Blind from the Library of Congress." He took this opportunity to announce that on this very day a report of the summit which was convened by the Library of Congress was being released. His remarks appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
When Mr. Dizard concluded his presentation, President Maurer reiterated the role of the National Library Service both in getting reading material for blind citizens of the United States and in establishing an example for other countries to emulate. He said that he would like to ask a question of the librarian. From time to time, when the National Federation of the Blind has attempted to help the Library of Congress with budget issues, particularly those relating to the National Library Service, we have gotten the impression that the library would prefer that we leave them alone to handle their relations with Congress. It seems abundantly clear to us that we should and must be strong advocates for our programs and make certain that the Congress knows just how important library services for the blind are in our lives. Mr. Dizard agreed and said that our advocacy would always be welcomed.
Access to information is absolutely essential for blind people who want to get an education, get a job, and enjoy much of the information available in today's society. Almost all of it is held in computer systems that can level the playing field or plow the soil and make the road leading to equality of opportunity more difficult to pass. With this in mind, here is how President Maurer introduced the next agenda item: "This program item is of dramatic importance, and it has a title which is a deliberate one: ‘The Federation at Work with Google: Changing the Structure of Expectations,’ and I think that is precise." The president went on to say of the next presenter that she is someone he has come to know who is direct in presentation, optimistic in speaking about what is possible, and realistic in speaking about the changes that must occur if the possible is to become the product. He said that his knowledge and use of technology are limited but that he has been assured by the Federation's technology team working with Google that the progress made over the last six months in addressing accessibility has been positively extraordinary. With those remarks, President Maurer introduced Eve Andersson, accessibility engineering and product manager—Core Team for Google. She began her address to the convention by saying, "Before coming here, I stopped over in Atlanta and was able to attend the opening ceremony for the National Association of the Deaf convention, and it took place at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. This is the church where Martin Luther King attended as a young child; this is the church where he preached as an adult. And, to be standing in that spot where that great man stood was really moving to me, and of course the reason it is so moving is that he preached equality for all, and this is something that I have believed in my whole life. And now to be able to work at Google, leading our accessibility and engineering efforts to further that goal of equality for all, is really important to me." These opening sentiments set the tone for her remarks, and they appear in full elsewhere in this issue.
President Maurer introduced our next speaker with these words: "We have the pleasure of having a lawyer come to talk with us. Some lawyers are more fun than others; this one is fun." Of course, the lawyer he was introducing was our longtime colleague, friend, and member, Dan Goldstein. His presentation was entitled "Enforcing the Law of Inclusion: a Personal and Professional Journey," and, as the political enthusiasts from the South would say, his speech was a real barnburner. His thesis is that there can be no equality for the blind unless we have equal access to information, and what he said appears in full later in this issue.
The Federation's work to improve employment opportunities represents a significant priority of the organization. This work begins with changing attitudes, increasing confidence, and ensuring that blind people have the skills that are required to get and hold jobs in the twenty-first century. But a part of this effort also demands that we work to ensure that the blind are treated fairly in the hiring process, and one of our partners in this work is the federal government through the Department of Labor and its Office of Federal Contract Compliance. To talk about the work of this office and the notion that a good day's work deserves a good day's pay, Patricia Shiu, director of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs for the United States Department of Labor, addressed the convention in remarks entitled "Improving Disability Employment: A Pathway to Success for Employers and Workers." Her message was about economic independence and freedom: freedom from artificial barriers that impede our ability to live and work, freedom from prejudice and discrimination that diminish us as people, and freedom to pursue happiness on our own terms. She also came to talk about the president’s executive order issued on March 24, 2014, a new rule calling on companies with government contracts to achieve a 7 percent employment goal for qualified workers with disabilities in every job category and across the workforce. Her remarks were moving, passionate, and inspiring. They will appear in an upcoming issue.
At the conclusion of Ms. Shiu's presentation, President Maurer said: "When the rule came out, Fortune Magazine had an article which said that the government is requiring us to hire persons with disabilities, and this will hurt business. And I thought—how do you know? You've never tried it! Why don't you give it a try? Maybe it will help business. Maybe you will find people who have some commitment to employment in a way that's never happened because they've never been given equal opportunity. I'm glad that you are with us, helping to promote equal opportunity, and we'll join with you in this effort to spread the word. Thank you so much for being with us."
A much loved and longtime leader of the National Federation of the Blind of New Mexico, Arthur Schreiber, came to the platform to speak on the topic "Fifty Years Later: Traveling with the Beatles on Their First Cross-Country Tour of America.” He told the convention that at 7:00 PM that evening he would be talking about his travels with the most popular musical act of the 60s, the Fab Four, what it was like to play Monopoly with John and George, and why he had long since abandoned the game of poker. Art also has a book for sale, and more about it and his presentation will appear later in the fall.
Ten years ago the National Federation of the Blind opened the Jernigan Institute. Opening the doors of this facility marked the beginning of delivering on promises: a promise to expand the work of the National Federation of the Blind, to do research on blindness that had never been done before, and to devise new educational strategies to take advantage of the technology of the twenty-first century. Mark Riccobono, the executive director of the Jernigan Institute, came to the podium to talk not only about the progress of the Institute but about the changes in his life that have come from being a part of it. What he offered as the last item on Friday afternoon was both an address to the convention and a report to the man in whose name the Institute is dedicated. What he said appears elsewhere in this issue.
At the conclusion of Executive Director Riccobono's speech, President Maurer addressed the convention and said: "I've been on the platform many times, and I've had to face challenges many times—some of them from the platform—and I admit that this is not an easy one. I told Mark Riccobono that, ‘You've got to put your heart in it,’—and this is the heart that I meant for you to know."
At the close of the general session members appointed to the nominating committee took up the task of recommending officers and board members for the coming term. The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research Advisory Committee held an informational meeting for people interested in participating to learn more about the Journal—its purpose, goals, and values. The United Blind Industrial Workers of America held a wide-ranging discussion on improving working conditions and wages for all blind workers and developing strategies to ensure that all disabled workers are paid at least the minimum wage. The Colorado Center for the Blind held an open house, the Spirit of 75 Committee talked about the work it will do from September 2 through November 16, and the exhibit hall was open for an evening session that ran from 7:00 PM to 9 PM.
Promptly at 9:00 AM on Saturday morning, the convention was gaveled to order, and the invocation was presented by the pastor of the Chapel at Littleton Pentecostal Church, Tom Anderson. The convention then turned its attention to reviewing the finances of the Federation. The organization has a substantial treasury, and it was appropriate to review the procedures and safeguards used in the handling and disbursement of funds. President Maurer then reviewed the financial report, noting that expenses are now in line with income, and we hope that expanding our efforts in the area of fundraising will let us similarly expand our program services. Currently, we have a substantial investment in KNFB Reading Technologies. Building the world's first reading machine that could fit in a shirt pocket, developing software that could be used for the mass distribution of books that are pleasing to the eye and completely accessible to the blind, and bringing the ability to read print using the Apple iPhone are all worthy uses of our time, talent, and financial resources, but investments of the kind we have made are speculative and come with risk. The company we have created has considerable intellectual assets, but it is currently too early to know whether or not we will get back the money we have put into it and whether we can manage to make a profit in its eventual sale. The risk we have willingly undertaken is the same one that every new entrepreneur takes, but President Maurer thought it was important that we acknowledge our investment and its potential to affect our financial position in the coming year. After accepting donations for the general treasury, the tenBroek Fund, the SUN Fund, the Jernigan Fund, and the Imagination Fund, President Maurer concluded the financial program item by saying: "It does seem to me that our financial position, though not assured, is in good shape and in better shape than some of us had worried it might be. I think we have demonstrated that we can raise money, and I think that we can fund the programs that need our support. I appreciate all of your help in doing that, and I think that this has been a solid year for us; it has been because we have worked together to make it that way."
Fred Schroeder came to the microphone to present the report of the nominating committee. For the position of president of the National Federation of the Blind, the nominating committee recommended Mark Riccobono. Fred Schroeder was nominated to be the first vice president, Ronald Brown to serve as second vice president, James Gashel to serve as secretary, and Pam Allen to serve as treasurer. For the six board positions needing to be filled the committee nominated Amy Buresh; Patti Chang; James Brown, president of the NFB of Tennessee; John Fritz; Carl Jacobsen; and Alpidio Rolón. The report was adopted by the convention, and the elections were held. The convention unanimously elected Mark Riccobono to be the next president of the National Federation of the Blind, and here is what he said in accepting the office:
My Federation family, it is a high honor and humbling responsibility to accept your trust in me to serve as president of our organization. The presidency of the Federation demands commitment; sacrifice; strength; energy; imagination; insight; and, above all, love; and I pledge to give each of those fully. We expect our president to be our chief representative, our active builder, our firm negotiator, our savvy investor, our visionary collaborator, our thoughtful teacher, and our caring friend; and it is daunting to contemplate what learning lies ahead in order to meet each of those responsibilities. I am comforted by the reality that the members of the Federation have always been wise teachers in my life—whether it was during the time that I was first learning Braille, the time that I was a young and relatively inexperienced affiliate president, the time I spent improving services for blind children in Wisconsin, the time that I was learning to manage life as a blind father, or during my entire time as executive director of our Jernigan Institute.
Nearly twenty years ago I was lost, filled with uncertainty, constantly questioning my next step, and fearful about my future. That was before I met the National Federation of the Blind. I came to our national convention in California, and my life was changed forever. I made a commitment to myself that I would give back to this organization all that it has contributed to my life and more. Yet, the more I contribute to our organization, the more I am humbled by the way the Federation family continues to enrich my life and the lives of those I love.
My first expression of commitment to the Federation was to write a letter to Marc Maurer shortly after my first convention. Imagine my surprise when he actually wrote back to me. He accepted my enthusiastic expression of interest in building the Federation, he offered to help me learn, he challenged me to teach others, and he invited me to contribute my own ideas to the movement. I have tried to keep faith with that original commitment and Dr. Maurer's response. In the beginning what we shared was the faith in one another that is common among all of us in the Federation. To meet that commitment, I have done my best to rise to meet every new challenge that Dr. Maurer and our Federation have presented to me. Over time my work to build the Federation has expanded that faith into trust, love, and a shared set of experiences which bind me to this movement in a way that only active members of the Federation can understand. With your trust I now have the challenge of building on our achievements under Dr. Maurer's presidency. I am grateful that he continues to have the strength, health, energy, and wisdom to help me meet that challenge. I cherish the opportunity to continue working closely with Dr. Maurer in the years to come, as I continue that commitment I first made eighteen years ago. Just as I will require his help as I learn about the presidency, so will I require yours.
In this moment the only way that I know to appropriately thank Dr. Maurer, Mrs. Maurer, and the thousands of other members of the Federation who have built this foundation we stand on and who have given of themselves to make our lives better is to build our Federation with the same love and determination that they have demonstrated. With my pledge of commitment I invite each of you to express your gratitude to Dr. Maurer by being an active contributor to the next great phase of our movement and by answering the call to help me fulfill the promise we make to each other: together with love, hope, and determination we will transform dreams into reality.
Each of those who were elected to the board in turn accepted with a brief speech. Fred Schroeder said that one of his major goals in serving was to bring the Federation to more people so that it could do for them what it has done for him. Ron Brown acknowledged the leadership of President Maurer when he was the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Indiana and helped Ron deal with the onset of blindness after a gunshot wound took his sight. James Gashel accepted the office of secretary with these remarks:
As I rise to take the floor to accept this position once again, I am filled with the sense that we are writing history here today. So, if you don't mind, may I have just a moment for reflection?
I first joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1965 and attended our convention in Washington, DC. That was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind. I have missed one convention since then, so this is my forty-ninth convention, and next year will be number fifty. I was present when Dr. tenBroek passed the torch to Dr. Jernigan. I am fortunate to be one of the few in the room who met Dr. tenBroek—I having been the president of the Student Division at that time. I was present when Dr. Jernigan passed the torch to Dr. Maurer, and what a great thing that has been. And now I am present again when Dr. Maurer passes the torch to Mark Riccobono, and what a great thing that will be. And when, thirty years from now, Mark Riccobono passes the torch to somebody who is now in the kids camp [laughter]—no, no, he is, or she is [cheers once again], what a great thing that will be. I've learned a lot of things during all of those years, but one thing I know for sure: as Mark Riccobono accepts the mantle of leadership and the challenge to lead this organization into the future, we accept a special responsibility. He will lead, but he will also stand on our shoulders. Some of us are part of the outgoing generation, but I would say to our president-elect that we're not going away! We will be here, and we will help you, and together we will all succeed.
Pam Allen was elected treasurer, and in accepting the office she quoted Steve Jobs, who said, "Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently: they are not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you cannot do is ignore them, because they change things, they push the human race forward; and, while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world are the ones who do." She concluded by saying: "To dream what is possible and to put oneself into service of that dream is the formula for a life well lived."
Those nominated by the committee to fill the remaining six board positions were elected, each of them demonstrating through their heartfelt remarks both their understanding of what it means to be blind and the challenges that face us on our march toward first-class citizenship. Three of the six members concluded their acceptance remarks in song. The election and all of the convention can be heard by going to <https://nfb.org/national-convention-highlights>.
At the conclusion of the election President Maurer congratulated the new board, noted that he had been a member of it for twenty-eight years, and pledged that, though his role would be different, he would continue to be active and would bring to this work the kind of spirit and excitement that have characterized his long service in the Federation. "I admit that I have had a restless spirit, that I have done a good bit of roaming, and that I have done it with you. With this newly elected board, as long as health and strength remain, I will be with you; and I will be part of the element that brings excitement, imagination, and joy to what we do. I couldn't imagine it being any other way, and I couldn't imagine you having it any other way. I appreciate you for what you are and what you have caused me to be. Thank you so very much." [prolonged applause]
"Guide Dogs for the Blind: Striving for Excellence" was the next topic on the agenda, and it was presented by George Kerscher, chairman of the board of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Last year when he spoke on the convention floor, he said that he wanted to ensure that Guide Dogs for the Blind would be around forever and to make sure that, if a blind person wants a guide dog, he or she will be able to come to a great organization that provides the most wonderful dogs in the world. Part of his work has been to find a new chief executive officer for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and he introduced Chris Benninger, CEO and president. She has only been on the job for three months, so she says she is still getting her feet wet and often tells people that she feels like she is drinking from a fire hose. She told the convention about a number of significant changes at the school and attributed them to the input the institution has gotten from its customers. Training courses have been reduced from four weeks to two; the instructor-to-client ratio has been reduced from four to two; and the average wait time to speak with a representative when calling the school has been reduced from forty-eight hours to three minutes. Guide Dogs for the Blind is the only school that provides financial coverage for veterinary care throughout the life of the guide dogs it places. The emphasis in the following year will be on partnerships: partnerships with the makers of technology that assists blind people in travel, partnerships with other orientation and mobility providers, and partnerships internationally to support the expansion of guide dog services. Guide Dogs for the Blind has an initiative to hire more blind people on their campuses in California and Oregon, and in the past year they have started an internship for blind college students.
She concluded her remarks by saying, "We are constantly striving to be the best guide school available, but we can only do this with your feedback and help. I hope that those who don't really know us will get to know us and learn more, and, for those who do know us, that you will continue to stay in touch and involved, because we value your feedback and your input. Thank you very much."
During the lunch break a number of committees met to conduct Federation business, one of them being the Cash and Caring Committee. At this event members shared their fundraising successes and made suggestions for other activities that are likely to enhance our treasury. This committee fervently believes that many of our Federation events can be used to generate funds if we consider this possibility when we create and execute them. The message is one from which we can benefit tremendously, though it represents a significant change in how we think about many of our activities—chapter meetings, state conventions, division meetings, seminars, and other events we hold.
The afternoon session began with a presentation entitled "Blind Workers Deserve Fair Wages, Too," and the man to speak on this topic was Platt Allen, III, president and chief executive officer, Lighthouse for the Blind, Fort Worth, Texas. He talked about the relationship between fulfillment and work, work and pay, and the way that a good job can improve the quality of life for blind people. In word and deed he demonstrates his belief in the capacity of blind people, and his remarks will appear in full in a future issue.
At the conclusion of this presentation President Maurer said: "If you pay people as though you don't really care about them, they will behave as if you don't really care about them; if you pay them so that they know you care about them, they'll give you a kind of work product that comes from people who know you really care about them. That's why this thing works. I appreciate you telling us that it works for you."
Janet LaBreck is the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the federal partner in the state/federal rehabilitation program that provides vocational and other rehabilitation services to help blind people achieve self-sufficiency. She came to speak to the convention on the topic “The Promise of Rehabilitation: Offering Hope, Building Opportunity.” In his introductory remarks President Maurer noted that in some places in this country rehabilitation is not loved, this despite its potential to make dramatic changes in the lives of people it is charged to serve. Far too often the way the Rehabilitation Act is implemented in the states is far more restrictive than envisioned by those who wrote it and more confining than those who administer it at the federal level know it should be. Rehabilitating blind people can be a very expensive undertaking, but, when the rehabilitation program is good, when it changes the mindset of the blind recipient from victim to victor, and when it imparts the skills and the attitudes that lead to bringing home a paycheck, what is paid back in taxes far exceeds the amount spent on the person who is blind. President Maurer said that Janet LaBreck comes with the talent and the spirit to lead this transformative program, and he invited her to share with the audience a bit of her spirit and enthusiasm as a blind person, former client of the rehabilitation system, and now its chief administrator.
Ms. LaBreck thanked President Maurer for his introduction and for his work and leadership in building and strengthening rehabilitation throughout his tenure as the President of the National Federation of the Blind. She said that the success of the program would require that blind people not only be the recipients of service but have a major say in how that service would be provided. Without the involvement of the blind, the rehabilitation program would be far different, far less dynamic, and far less successful in Congress than it has been. Her agency is working with the vice president’s office to evaluate how job training occurs in this country, what the chronically unemployed need, and what are the education and skill levels necessary to land a job in today’s environment. For the first time people with disabilities have been an integral part of this process. The legislation known as the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act that is now being considered by the Congress creates opportunities we have never seen before by forging relationships between education, business, and industry to figure out how better to train people for the available jobs that exist in this country. She said that, from this point forward, every grant that the Rehabilitation Services Administration administers will be geared toward increasing employment outcomes and will involve people at the local level. She concluded by thanking us for our unceasing work and pledged to continue to regard us as one of RSA’s most important resources and champions.
President Maurer said, “For the last little while the Rehabilitation Act and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act have been under review. In the course of all of that negotiation and argument, there was a proposal to move rehabilitation to the Department of Labor. We oppose that, and that opposition has been successful. The rehabilitation program will not be moved to the Department of Labor and will remain in the Department of Education. In the process of discussion, however, Senator Alexander said that the rehabilitation program has always been a poor, left out, unfavored child in the Department of Education. The promise of rehabilitation is so great that we should not permit this to continue. We should know that the rehabilitation service that is offered is of such value and is so important and it does provide so much promise that it is highly regarded and a huge benefit to blind people the country over. But, if it is going to be that, it has to have participation of the people who are affected as part of it. It has to have a mechanism for the members of the community to join in and make it the kind of program that it needs to be. I am glad you are the Commissioner; I know that you have the right spirit, but I want you to find a way to get that spirit in the state agencies throughout the country so that we care about rehabilitation.”
“Working to Advance Equal Rights and Protections for People with Disabilities in the Workforce of Today, Tomorrow, and the Future” was presented by the deputy director of the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor, Laura Fortman. She said that, when she first met John Paré and other members of our staff to discuss fair wages for persons with disabilities, she was reminded of a quote by William Faulkner in which he said, “Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion and against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth.” She said that one of the provisions of the Workforce Investment Opportunity Act will require a re-examination of the effectiveness of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The legislation also creates an advisory committee charged with figuring out how to increase competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities. Ms. Fortman’s remarks will appear in this magazine later in the fall.
John Paré and his team from the Advocacy and Policy Department came to the stage. The department is responsible for NFB-NEWSLINE®, public relations, and governmental affairs. The report given by John Paré, Rose Sloan, Lauren McLarney, and Jesse Hartle will be summarized in a future issue and is available in its entirety by going to <https://nfb.org/national-convention-highlights>.
The last agenda item of the afternoon was reading and voting on resolutions, and a full report of the committee’s activities and the resolutions passed can be found elsewhere in this issue.
With the adjournment of Saturday afternoon’s session, members visited the hospitality suite of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to pick up an iBill Banknote identifier and to learn about other activities to make money identifiable by touch; took a final trip to the exhibit hall; or exercised their brains by going to Trivia Night, sponsored by the Community Service Group. A session entitled “Social Security and SSI: What You Should Know” was presented by Jim McCarthy, and a seminar on Braille proofreading was sponsored by the National Association of Blind Office Professionals Division. The Fourteenth Annual Showcase of Talent was conducted by the Performing Arts Division, and there was a Salsa Night sponsored by the Spanish Translation Committee.
The Sunday morning session began with an invocation by David Stayer, a former president of the National Federation of the Blind of New York and a member of the Young Israel synagogue. Dan Parker then made a most unusual entrance by riding his three-wheel motorcycle to the edge of the stage. His presentation was entitled “The Blind at Speed,” and in it he related what he called “the story of my life in two parts: before blindness and after blindness.” When an accident caused his loss of sight, Dan had to decide whether blindness would forever alter his life and the pursuit of his interest in automobiles and racing or whether he could channel his enthusiasm, expertise, and creativity and find a new way to pursue his life’s work. With the help of the Federation, he figured out a way to design, build, and ride a motorcycle, and what he said to the convention will appear later in the fall.
“Game-Changing Technology from an Innovator” was next presented by David Bradburn, president of Baum USA. The VarioUltra is the newest offering from this company, both a basic Braille notetaker and a twenty- or forty-cell Braille display. What sets it apart from its competition is that the VarioUltra can be connected simultaneously to up to five devices, meaning that it can be used for connecting to one’s personal computer, smartphone, music player, or any other combination of devices that use a Bluetooth interface. The ability to connect to many devices simultaneously makes this Braille display very attractive for those of us who have several pieces of technology whose output we would like to see in Braille. The unit will be available for purchase by the end of July 2014.
President Maurer next introduced Lucy France, Esq., legal counsel for the University of Montana, who addressed the convention on the topic “A Plan to Create Total Accessibility on Campus.” The university she represents received a letter in June 2010 jointly written by the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of Education. That letter addressed the subject of electronic book readers and put universities on notice that they should avoid the use of any of these devices that were inaccessible to people who are blind or have low vision. A year later the Office for Civil Rights followed up with a frequently asked questions document, clarifying that universities should not use electronic information technology that is not usable by the blind. These general admonitions were soon followed by a complaint through the Office for Civil Rights and another brought by the National Federation of the Blind alleging that the university was violating the law by using inaccessible learning management systems, documents scanned to websites, uncaptioned videos, library database materials, and classroom clickers. This got the attention of the university’s legal counsel, but what she found was that the National Federation of the Blind practices what she calls “intelligent advocacy.” The Federation, which the university initially viewed as its opponent, came with offers of assistance in developing a remediation plan that would help the university comply with the letter and the spirit of the law.
The agreement reached by the University of Montana and the National Federation of the Blind is contained in a comprehensive resolution, and some of its key points are that the University has a commitment to purchase technology usable by all, that it will develop procurement procedures to ensure that what it buys is accessible, and that faculty and staff will receive training in the way they can make the classroom and the programs offered by the University accessible. While the process of achieving these goals is not easy, it is gratifying to know that there was little pushback from the faculty, staff, and administration of the institution. They want to do the right thing, and the job that the Federation has successfully undertaken is to make them aware of the problem, give them solutions for solving it, and be of assistance in monitoring their progress and continuing to make suggestions that improve the quality of the education blind people receive there.
President Maurer noted that all too often our attempts to talk with universities have been greeted with the question, “Why are you bothering us?” But the reaction of the University of Montana has been so warm and open that it has not only led to greater opportunity there but also extended to other campuses and universities who are coming to realize that providing accessible education is both possible and rewarding.
“Accessibility on Computers and Mobile Devices” was the next agenda item, presented by Rob Sinclair, chief accessibility officer for the Microsoft Corporation. He said that Microsoft’s goal is to create technology that is people centric, meaning that the technology should adapt to the needs of the people rather than the people adapting to the capabilities of the technology. He said that accessibility really is an incubator of new innovation for modern experiences and that it will create opportunities not only for the blind and the disabled but for all of Microsoft’s customers who will want options in communicating with and getting information back from the devices they use.
The recent partnership between Microsoft and GW Micro to provide Window-Eyes without charge to those who already own a version of Microsoft Office represents Microsoft’s attempt to recognize the value of having a third-party screen reader. At the same time significant improvements have been made to Microsoft’s own screen-reading solution, Narrator, and these are found in Windows 8.1. In its annual Internal Ability Summit, seven hundred of Microsoft’s employees recently learned how to write computer code with accessibility in mind, and Microsoft, along with the National Federation of the Blind and twenty-eight other organizations, has formed the International Association of Accessibility Professionals to encourage the writing of accessible computer programs worldwide.
Mr. Sinclair concluded his presentation by demonstrating the accessibility features found in Microsoft’s new mobile phone, which is expected to be released by the end of the summer. He reminded the audience that the company has created a disability answer desk that will address problems and concerns by those who use assistive technology and concluded by underscoring the commitment of the company to full access for everyone by noting that the first national Super Bowl commercial ever sponsored by Microsoft focused on the power of accessibility.
“Free Global Access for the Blind to the Computer” was next introduced by President Maurer, and presenting on the topic was Michael Curran, developer of the Nonvisual Desktop Access (NVDA) software and one of the founders of the company NV Access based in Queensland, Australia. NVDA has been created with the goal of providing a screen reader for anybody who needs one and meeting the need that exists in many developing nations for a screen reader in the language they use. Not only does this software meet needs in places where previously no screen reader was available, but the open source model used in its creation also makes available the techniques used to extract and present information to a wider audience of developers. Mr. Curran thanked the National Federation of the Blind for its help in financing this effort. His remarks will be reprinted later in the fall.
Any blind person who subscribes to cable or satellite television knows that the set-top boxes that are used to control what is watched have features that are impossible to use independently. Most services allow a customer to record what is being watched, record one program and watch a different one, set up a schedule for watching shows that one wishes to watch later, watch recently aired programs, and enjoy a variety of movies and documentaries on demand. All of these services depend on being able to read the on-screen menus, and to speak on this subject the convention welcomed to the podium Tom Wlodkowski, vice president of accessibility at Comcast. This company has been working with the Federation for the last several years to bring accessibility to the services they offer, and the convention reacted with enthusiasm when a demonstration of the set-top box allowed a blind person to move between program offerings, read the description of the programs, and select one.
Of course the set-top box will soon be important for more than entertainment. It can be used in operating a home security system, for setting the temperature in one’s home, and even for managing one’s inventory of food and other products. Many of these home-management activities may also be conducted using a smartphone, and Comcast will ensure that the necessary apps are accessible. This presentation can be heard in its entirety at <https://nfb.org/national-convention-highlights>.
Eve L. Hill is the deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in the United States Department of Justice. She has spoken with us many times in several capacities, and her remarks are always inspiring, thought-provoking, and courageous. She came to the podium to speak on the topic “Minimum Wage Guarantees for Disabled Workers—A Report from the Department of Justice.” The evolution of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the legislation that has followed, the changes in societal expectations, and the president’s executive order provided the substance of this presentation, and a condensed version will appear in an upcoming issue.
“Architecture: A Profession for the Blind” offered a new take on an occupation often considered one requiring vision. The presenter was Christopher Downey, principal, Architecture for the Blind of Piermont, California. Although the use of vision is quite significant for those who have it, Chris Downey has come to understand that the creativity required to be a successful architect resides in the mind and not in the eye; it is intellectual, not visual. Understanding and creating drawings and communicating with others can be done using tactile methods in lieu of visual ones; the difference is in the tools used to accomplish the task. A printer that can emboss on paper sixteen inches wide allows Downey to view drawings made by others by receiving a normal PDF file, sending it to his embosser, and then reading it through touch. He observed that an architect looking at a drawing visually will first see an object in its entirety and must then work his way down to examine various levels of detail. A person reading that same drawing by touch first perceives detail and must then construct the elements he observes and put them together to create the whole. Downey says that this is an interesting change in perspective, and, although it took him some time to learn to create the whole from its parts, the beauty of this process is that he is inside the drawing and becomes a part of it instead of being separate and apart, the outsider looking in.
Of course the work of an architect requires more than reading and drawing. He must be able to make a drawing, and it is at this point in his story that the National Federation of the Blind has been particularly helpful to him. In 2009 he was asked to attend NFB Youth Slam as a mentor. He was a tremendous source of inspiration and information to the students, but in the bargain he learned how to draw. The young participants introduced him to wiki sticks and demonstrated how they could be used to make tactile shapes. The more Downey thought about this, the more he came to believe that he could place these atop paper drawings he wanted to read and enhance and could then make alterations by bending and shaping the sticks. His drawings could then be photographed, discussed with colleagues, shared with clients, and used in major presentations. So the man who uses advanced technology to read the drawings of others discovered that the simple technology found in a child’s toy would be the key to creating them.
The man who, during 2008, lost his sight and nearly lost his business, is now busy with several major projects, one of them being in the construction of a $2 billion building. He demonstrates that with intelligence, creativity, and a network of motivated friends, colleagues, and Federationists, no problem is unsolvable.
The National Federation of the Blind has long been interested in sharing with the world what we have learned about blindness and the power of self-organization in improving the lives of the blind. For this reason we were active in the creation of the International Federation of the Blind and have long been involved in its successor organization, the World Blind Union. “The Federation Spirit in the World” was the title of the next presentation, by Arnt Holte, president of the World Blind Union. He began by thanking the president of the National Federation of the Blind for inviting him and said that it was a real pleasure to be in the company of the first vice president of the World Blind Union, Fredric Schroeder. He observed that, as he listened to the report from the Department of Justice, he found himself wishing that Eve Hill worked in the Department of Justice in Norway.
Like all presidents who are in charge of putting together and presiding over successful conventions, President Holte was concerned about the arrangements for the 2016 meeting of the General Assembly of the World Blind Union, but, in looking at the bids from countries wanting to host the event, he was gratified to see that the National Federation of the Blind was one of the organizations. He knows that we know how to put on a first-rate convention and is excited that the 2016 General Assembly will be held in the United States and be sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind.
President Holte said that the World Blind Union covers about 285 million people worldwide, and the problems they face are significant. Sometimes solving them requires moving mountains, and, though this is a most difficult task, with the right organization and the right spirit, mountains can be moved.
He thanked President Maurer for his many years of leadership in the Federation, and he has every hope that Dr. Maurer will continue to be active through the World Blind Union in helping to address the problems that challenge the blind of the world. President Holte concluded by saying “You have inspired a lot of people, and in traveling around the world I talk to people who tell me that they have been to one convention that has changed their work and their lives, and it is yours, the convention of the National Federation of the Blind.”
President Maurer closed the Sunday morning session, and in the two-hour lunch break Federationists were able to grab a quick sandwich and could attend the Amateur Radio Division business meeting, observe as the winning tickets were drawn for the numerous raffles held during the convention, attend a question-and-answer session offered by the National Library Service, or simply relax in preparation for the afternoon session, the banquet, and the parties that would most assuredly follow.
When the afternoon session was gaveled to order, the first presentation was entitled “Working with the Blind to Build a World of Opportunity: a Voice in Congress,” given by the Honorable David W. Jolly, United States House of Representatives, representing the thirteenth congressional district in Florida. Representative Jolly is a cosponsor of the Technology, Education, and Accessibility in College and Higher Education Act, HR 3505. The Congressman expressed his appreciation for being able to address the convention and said: “At some point each and every member of Congress and every elected official has run against what we see as the dysfunction in Washington or the dysfunction of Congress or at times the dysfunction of the administration. But once elected we do not have the opportunity to resign ourselves to that dysfunction; we have a responsibility to govern, and that is what we should expect of every member of Congress. [Applause] The issues we face as a nation are important, and they are important because the issues we face impact lives, and you know that. You know the advancements that have been made in public policy, budget issues, advancements in technology and research, workplace regulations, and society in general. But you know there is much more to do … We are not too far from where we were ten, twenty, or thirty years ago; even with all of the advances that have been made, we have many more advances yet to come, and that is why an organization like this and the voice of advocacy is so important. So what do we do? We demand action.… We embrace the radical notion that the Teach Act should already be enacted and that we shouldn’t have to fight for it in 2014. We embrace legislation regarding wages in the workplace; we embrace legislation like the space available legislation that you’re fighting for right now. We do that because advocacy matters.” Congressman Jolly’s remarks can be heard in their entirety at <https://nfb.org/national-convention-highlights>.
The National Federation of the Blind is now in its seventy-fourth year, and this means that very soon it will have been working on behalf of the blind for three quarters of a century. Seventy-five years is a significant amount of time in the life of an organization, and it is right and fitting that we celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of our organization with seventy-five days of action focusing on building and strengthening the Federation. To speak on this topic, President Maurer invited a co-chairman of the Seventy-five Days of Action Committee, Kevan Worley, to speak on the topic. As noted earlier, Jeannie Massay, the other co-chairman of this committee, was unable to attend the convention, so Chairman Worley was charged with the task of incorporating her remarks into his presentation.
The Seventy-five Days of Action Committee will undertake two major activities: one will be to strengthen existing chapters, and the other will be to create seventy-five new ones. It is an understatement to say that this is a challenge, but it is one that all of us who believe in the work of the National Federation of the Blind gladly embrace. One of the ways the Federation will reach out to blind and sighted people is through creating videos that can be posted on the Internet and elsewhere, and in his presentation Kevan played a video that has been created as a result of the work of the National Federation of the Blind of Texas and the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. Both moving and impressive, it can be found at <http://www.youtube.com /watch?v=MrJgWiwgB24>. To share the love and hope that are found in this organization and to strengthen it so that it is better able to do its work, all of us who want to play a vital part should send a message to <[email protected]> and invest our energy, strength, and creativity in building our Federation.
President Maurer introduced the next presentation with these words: “Now we come to the item on the program called ‘The KNFB Reader’; it is the fastest, the most portable, and the least-expensive reading machine ever, and it fits in your pocket; we have had it before, but now it is new again. To present this item we have the vice president for business development of the K-NFB Reading Technology company, who is also the secretary of the National Federation of the Blind…. Here is Jim Gashel.”
With that introduction Mr. Gashel told the assembled that the KNFB Reader has been moved to the Apple iPhone; it is accurate, fast, easy to use, and affordable. In a demonstration the iPhone read a portion of the convention agenda, a banquet speech, and a PowerPoint presentation from a picture that was taken twenty-five feet from the screen. The KNFB Reader is now being beta tested, will be in the iTunes Store no later than the end of August, and will be available for the incredibly low price of $99. Again the ability to read print is as close as the pocket or the purse, and the question about the information that appears on the smooth surface of a paper or the sign is suddenly a mystery no more.
Each year Raymond Kurzweil takes time out of his busy schedule to attend and address the convention of the National Federation of the Blind. This year he focused on his work as the director of engineering for Google, the emphasis he has placed on helping it make its technology accessible, and how the work he is doing to understand and emulate the workings of the human mind using the power of computers will revolutionize the lives of blind and sighted people alike. He believes that we will continue to rely on biology to do what it does best but that we will come to incorporate silicon to do those tasks such as memory and computation that are more slowly performed by our biological brains. Mr. Kurzweil’s intriguing remarks can be heard in their entirety at <https://nfb.org/national-convention-highlights>.
Final registration figures were presented by President Maurer, and 2,251 people registered for the 2014 Convention. The accommodations at the Rosen Centre were outstanding, and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful, greeting us as old friends, and, as the end of the convention neared, many saying that they would look forward to seeing us next year.
The person next called to the stage was James Gashel, chairman of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Committee. Four awards were presented totaling $50,000. A report of this presentation is covered in full elsewhere in this issue.
The final program item of the afternoon, entitled “Reflecting the Flame: Twenty-Eight Years Building Our Movement,” was introduced by the first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind, Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder, research professor, San Diego State University. Here is what Dr. Schroeder said:
I was first elected to the national board in 1986. For all of these years I have been privileged and honored to work with Dr. Maurer. This afternoon we gather together to thank Dr. Maurer for twenty-eight years of leadership, twenty-eight years guiding and coordinating our work.
Leadership is not easy; it comes with responsibility and consequence. Throughout our history our leaders have asked us to sacrifice, but never without reason and never without a profound awareness of the cost. And, while our leaders have asked much of us, we in turn have asked much of them. We ask them to assume the inviolable trust of leading our collective action judiciously and wisely, boldly and with resolve, and, when circumstances require it, with patience and restraint.
Dr. Maurer has been our president for the past twenty-eight years. He has served with distinction and courage. In a few moments we will be showing a video memorializing Dr. Maurer's presidency. But of course his struggles have been our struggles, and his successes have been our successes. Before turning to the video, if you will permit me, I wish to offer a brief personal reflection.
One of Dr. Maurer's most engaging qualities is his love of language. He is fascinated by words and their origins, and, most of all, he loves obscure, little known words. For example it was he who introduced me to the word "defenestration," which is execution by throwing a person out a window--not a word that comes up very often, but an interesting word, nevertheless.
On a lighter note, there is the word "infracaninophile." Now the legitimacy of the word infracaninophile is disputed, but I believe it is worthy of acceptance since it is reported to mean the supporter of the underdog—a word that well describes our Federation. And there are other words: "cenosillicaphobia": the fear of an empty glass, and, in the same vein, "labeorphilist," meaning a beer bottle collector.
But let us not forget the word "omphaloskepsis." For those of you less learned, "omphaloskepsis" is the contemplation of one's navel. It struck me as quite a deep, philosophical word, and I was a bit intimidated; then Dr. Maurer went on to explain that the word omphaloskepsis is mostly used in what he called a jocular manner to describe someone who is self-absorbed, leaving me to wonder why, when speaking with me, that particular word had come to mind.
So, Dr. Maurer, now I offer you a word, or more precisely, a Latin phrase that I believe captures much of your spirit and who you are as a leader: "credo quia impossible est," meaning, I believe it because it is impossible. Over and over again we have been told that our goals are unrealistic and our dreams unattainable. But you have never let the low expectations of others define us, and, with your steadfast faith in us, we have defied the impossible, and as a result countless blind individuals have been able to live the lives they want.
Thank you, Dr. Maurer, for giving us your imagination, your courage, strength of will and optimism, and, by so doing, giving us belief in the rightness of our cause and confidence in ourselves.
With these remarks Dr. Schroeder introduced the video tribute to President Maurer. It can be seen at <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-E1Vp7l_MQ&list=UU2VqDaqQP_m2JeznJm2yz0w>.
Following the video, President Maurer was given the microphone, and, in a shaky voice conveying surprise, gratitude, humility, and commitment, he said: “I want to thank you for that [cheers]. I have the crazy idea that whatever we need to know we can learn, and I have the crazy idea that whatever we need in our future we can build. I love the history of the Federation, and I used to love to listen to Dr. Jernigan talk about the early days. I have read Dr. tenBroek’s material. The past informs us, and it gives us the joy and the courage to face the future. My favorite history, however, is the history we’re going to make! Anil Lewis complains about me from time to time. He says that, when we make a great victory, we take a few minutes and celebrate it, and then I say to him, ‘All right, what’s next?’ I like to think about where we’ve been, but I love to think about where we’re going.
“We are changing our president this convention, and it will be different for me—I won’t know quite as well how I fit in, but I’ll tell you something: there’s one thing that is certain, and that is that I will fit in. I appreciate all the joy that we have shared, and I look forward to all the joy that we will.” With those remarks this session of the convention was recessed, and more than 2,000 people moved quickly to their rooms to dress for the evening’s ceremonies.
When the banquet commenced at 7:00 PM with Fred Schroeder as master of ceremonies, the crowd responded with a tremendous roar, and it was clear that the program had begun. The invocation was given by Father John Sheehan. The banquet meal was served, conversations among friends and new acquaintances filled the banquet hall, and all of this was interspersed with announcements from the podium as door prizes were drawn, exhibitors conducted their drawings, the Jernigan Fund drew for two major cash awards, and divisions announced the winners of their raffles. Soon it was time for the high point of the evening and, for many, of the convention—the banquet speech President Maurer would deliver. This year its title was “The Challenge and the Limit.” It is reprinted in full later in this issue.
Following prolonged applause and congratulatory remarks from Ray Kurzweil on President Maurer’s leadership and the work he will continue to do, thirty scholarship winners made their way to the stage. Chairman Patti Chang began by expressing her optimism about what the future would hold for these men and women and her hope that they would be involved in the work of the Federation and continue to draw from it in the advancement of their careers and in the advancement of all blind people. At the end of the ceremony, with all scholarship winners having been recognized with applause by the audience, Deja Powell, the winner of the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, was announced and given an opportunity to address the convention. Her remarks appear elsewhere in this issue.
The Jacobus tenBroek Award was presented for the thirty-first time as the Federation’s way of acknowledging significant contributions to the movement by one of its members, Sam Gleese. A report of this presentation is found elsewhere in this issue.
The Newel Perry Award is presented to a person who is not a member of the National Federation of the Blind but who has made a significant contribution to the progress of the blind through his or her work. This award is given only as often as the Federation finds a deserving recipient, and this year it was presented to Judy Brewer. Remarks made during this presentation are found later in this issue.
Dan Hicks, the president of our host affiliate, stepped to the microphone to present a door prize in the amount of $2,014. The prize was won by Cora Williams, an infant, and it was accepted on her behalf by her parents, who were in the room.
President Maurer was called to the microphone to conclude the 2014 Convention. He brought with him two gavels, one which he had used for twenty-eight years, with all of the knicks, scars, and indentations that those momentous years of service have imprinted upon it. He also brought a new gavel, and he asked that President-elect Riccobono join him at the podium to receive it. After the traditional Federation cheer that closes each annual convention, the president and the president-elect grasped the senior gavel and together concluded the 2014 Convention and commenced the term of our new president.
Transitions by their very nature are exciting, but, when an outgoing leader is much loved and respected, there is an element of sadness as well. Excitement for the future and a reverent and sentimental look at the past did not stand in opposition; in this convention they were joined as one, and in their coming together they created the spirit of 2014. Presiding over this convention required exceptional balance—too little reflection on the past, and the transition would fail to be recognized for the significant event it is—too much nostalgia, reflection, and looking back, and the convention could take on a very different tone, with the message being goodbye instead of good luck in the new role you will come to fill. With pride in our past, gratitude for our present, and an unshakeable commitment to the future we will create, the 2014 Convention takes its place in history. All of us who were there to witness it come away feeling blessed by our participation and reenergized in our determination to see that the blessings that have come from nearly three-quarters of a century’s work, perseverance, and belief extend far into the future as we prepare ourselves to celebrate seventy-five years and beyond.
An Address Delivered by
National Federation of the Blind
July 4, 2014
This has been a year of extraordinary accomplishment for the National Federation of the Blind along with accelerating growth and unparalleled unity. The financial problems we have had in the recent past have been met with decision. The prospects for us in the financial arena are by no means assured, but our expenditures have been brought into line with our income. The ongoing projects we are undertaking are as bold, as far-reaching, and as imaginative as any we have pursued. The foundation for our growth is well built, and we have the prospect in our immediate future of expanding programs and increasing influence inspired by the spirit of our members.
We in the National Federation of the Blind attempt always to expand the legal protection of the blind, and we take whatever vehicle is available to do this. In the State of the Union message delivered January 28, 2014, President Obama declared that the minimum wage for federal contract workers who are providing services would be raised to $10.10 an hour. A number of these contract workers are employed in sheltered workshops. Disabled workers employed in such places are frequently paid less than the federal minimum wage. Members of the National Federation of the Blind wondered whether the executive order to implement this declaration would include disabled workers or continue to leave them out of federal minimum wage protection. Before the issuance of the executive order, some officials from the Obama administration expressed doubt about the propriety or even the power of the administration to raise the minimum wage for disabled employees because Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act incorporates an explicit provision saying that disabled employees are not guaranteed the minimum wage. We wrote to the president and to Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez asking that we be given the same minimum wage protection accorded to others.
On February 12, 2014, President Obama signed an executive order. I sat in the East Room of the White House along with Anil Lewis, who currently serves as executive director for the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, and hundreds of other people. The president spoke about the executive order he was about to sign, telling us that he wanted protection for all American workers and that he was about to ensure it for federal contract employees doing certain kinds of work. When he signed the order, I was within a few feet of him. I rose to cheer the president when he laid down the pen because as of January 1, 2015, all federal contract workers who provide services, including people with disabilities, will be paid $10.10 an hour. This is the first time in history that the United States has offered minimum wage protection to disabled employees.
We have been trying to get the Congress to repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. On February 26, 2013, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act (HR 831) was introduced by Congressman Gregg Harper of Mississippi. In early June, HR 831 had eighty-six cosponsors, including a number of members of the leadership in the House. More than seventy-five organizations support the repeal of this unfair law. Section 14(c) was originally adopted in 1938 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act. It was intended to be a jobs bill for the blind and otherwise disabled. However, the promise of employment has never been fulfilled; the hardship for disabled workers has continued to expand decade after decade; and the exploitation of those with disabilities has expanded beyond the sheltered workshops to a number of private employers. If there has ever been a demonstration of a failed piece of legislation, this is it. This law must go, and we are urging members of Congress to repeal it.
Equal access to information is a fundamental plank of the program we have continued to pursue during the last year. Because blind people are a small segment of the population of our nation, it is sometimes difficult to get major corporations to join with us in creating full accessibility. However, when we reach the appropriate people, we often find partners willing to work strongly with us. The Google company is a case in point. As members of the National Federation of the Blind know, Google has been a joy and a sorrow. Some of its products have been accessible, and some of them have been not just difficult but impossible. Furthermore, when they have become accessible, they have not always stayed that way.
Three years ago a senior vice president of Google, Alan Eustace, appeared at our convention. This was a major step forward because in previous meetings with Google personnel, we had been told repeatedly that Google is made up of many engineering teams that operate independently—it is “siloed.” Even if one part of it created accessible technology, this did not change plans in any other part of it. We were faced with the prospect of having to persuade senior Google representatives in each of the silos to create an accessible system. When Alan Eustace came to the convention, he promised that accessibility would be built into Google products company-wide. He implied that it would be done quickly. However, the management system at Google really does encourage independent development of products without central control. This meant that a decision by a single person was very difficult to implement.
About a year and a half ago, a new senior executive was given the challenge of addressing accessibility at the company. Kannan Pashupathy was at our convention last year, and he has pursued accessibility of Google products along with a number of others at Google. You will be hearing from Eve Andersson, accessibility engineering and product manager for Google later this afternoon, and Ray Kurzweil, who is currently director of engineering at Google, will be making a presentation later during the convention.
Google is not finished with its work on accessibility, and my estimation is that this will remain a work in progress indefinitely because Google itself is a work in progress. However, I believe that Google has made quite substantial progress and that it will have accessibility in hand within the next few months. I believe that much of the problem that we have encountered with accessibility will be adequately addressed by the company within a year. Kannan Pashupathy has indicated that he will be at the 2015 Convention.
In the meantime, the inaccessible technology previously distributed by Google remains in place. I indicated to Google that we had promised to assist certain individuals (mostly students) in challenging the deployment of such technology, and we always keep our promises. Google is not trying to change this. The people there understand that when we pledge our word, we keep it. However, they have asked us for extensive quantities of information about inaccessible aspects of their products, and we are helping them to know where they need to make change. Google personnel take our recommendations seriously, and I believe that this is one reason the improvement is taking place.
When Google began creating digital versions of print books a decade ago, the National Federation of the Blind wondered what we should do to become part of the project. We thought digital books could be read electronically. The prospects for access to vast amounts of information were enticing. Google contracted with about ninety libraries, which gave Google the print books to scan. When the scanning was complete, Google returned the books to the libraries along with a digital copy of the scanned books. Google retained a copy of the scanned books to be used in the Google Books project.
A number of the libraries formed the HathiTrust, and they entrusted their digital book collections to it. The Authors Guild sued the HathiTrust saying that the digital copies of the books violated the copyright law because they constituted a taking or theft of the information stored in the books. The Authors Guild demanded that the digital books be destroyed.
The National Federation of the Blind intervened in the case because we want to protect this enormous treasure of digitized books, a compilation of information never previously available to blind people. The trial court in New York declared that we have a right to have access to these books, and the Authors Guild appealed. On June 10, 2014, the decision of the court of appeals was released. The intellectual property contained in the scans of these books (more than ten million of them) is available to us. It is also available to others with disabilities who cannot easily read ordinary print. We have a tentative agreement with the HathiTrust to serve as the mechanism for distribution of these books. All of the details have not yet been established, but the legal authority for making these books useful to the blind of the nation is in place.
In December of 2012 I stood on the sidewalk in the rain in front of the Amazon headquarters in Seattle, Washington, with a picket sign in my hand. Many members of the National Federation of the Blind were there with me. Amazon had been creating inaccessible technology for use on college campuses and in elementary and secondary schools. Years earlier the Amazon management group had promised accessibility, but they never delivered. We had brought actions against a number of libraries and universities deploying Amazon products, and we had entered into agreements that they would not use inaccessible technology. But Amazon would not discuss an agreement with us to build products that the blind can use. Amazon was seeking to have its book readers become the de facto reading systems for students in school with disastrous results for the blind.
Furthermore, Amazon, along with others, filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission requesting a waiver of the requirement that its products using advance communication software be accessible for the print disabled. We asked that the agency reject the request. Despite our urging, the FCC granted the petition, but only for a year.
Shortly before last year’s convention, Amazon released an application for Apple products that permits accessible use of the books Amazon distributes, and in the fall of 2013 Amazon produced a Kindle Fire with a number of accessible features. This product is not as accessible as the iOS application, but a few of the controls are usable. Amazon may think that this is enough. However, we don’t believe it. Half-baked will never do. Our efforts regarding Amazon and its intrusion into the education market have already been somewhat effective, but we will keep at it until we have the same access that others take for granted. We will never be satisfied until we have access to 100 percent of digital information 100 percent of the time.
Our objective to obtain equal access to digital information is a major factor in creating the access technology industry. We seek personnel to serve in this arena in our headquarters office in Baltimore, but we also encourage others to employ competent people to assure that accessibility is built into their products from the beginning. Companies with which we have been working in the United States tell us that they need people knowledgeable in this area of expertise to help them understand and fulfill the requirements.
In an effort to assist the nonvisual access industry, we have accepted a grant from the state of Maryland to create a National Federation of the Blind Center of Excellence in Nonvisual Access to Education, Commerce, and Public Information. We begin in Maryland, but we intend to expand this center to the nation. We expect to use this center to stimulate academic institutions to create courses in accessible technology design. We also believe that we will be able to establish a web portal to determine compliance with accessibility standards. We intend to cause accessible nonvisual design to be a feature of engineering and internet courses and to become an accepted requirement in creating digital information distribution centers.
We have taken other actions to encourage the continued development of universally available access technology. In December 2013 representatives of the major election technology developers, and researchers in election technology from Clemson University, Rice University, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology—an agency of the United States Department of Commerce traveled to the Jernigan Institute to learn about access technology, such as refreshable Braille, that enables the deaf-blind to vote privately and independently. As a result of this seminar, researchers at Rice University are working to incorporate refreshable Braille into their Prime III accessible voting system. We have also created, under our Help America Vote Act grant, a mobile voting working group to promote the use of online voting systems. In addition, we have worked very closely with the Maryland State Board of Elections to ensure that its new online absentee ballot marking system is accessible. This system, if implemented, will allow blind and deaf-blind voters in Maryland to mark their absentee ballots privately and independently for the first time. However, when the State Board of Elections failed to certify this system for use, the National Federation of the Blind filed a lawsuit. The trial is scheduled to take place before the election this fall.
The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind continues to house at least one of each hardware and software product that provides digital information to the blind. As I reported last year, we are experimenting with the use of 3D printers to provide blind students with tactile information, and we continue to consult with companies about methods for implementing accessibility in their programs and products. Quantum Simulations, a long-standing partner, has made its Braille and Mathematics tutors accessible. In September these were certified under the National Federation of the Blind’s web accessibility certification program.
As Federation members know, we initiated the Blind Driver Challenge program with an automobile that the blind can drive at the Daytona International Speedway. Now we have performed at another internationally recognized racing venue. Dan Parker is a member of the National Federation of the Blind from Georgia, who is now a student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. He was a drag racer until he hit a wall at 175 miles per hour on March 31, 2012. Injuries from the accident caused his total blindness. After eight months of recuperation, Dan made up his mind. The limitations some people attribute to blindness would not stop him. He had been riding motorcycles since he was eight. He had always had a dream of racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. Dan decided that he would pursue his quest for the Salt. He would build and independently operate his own motorcycle on the Salt Flats at a sanctioned event. Dan Parker found our Blind Driver Challenge on the internet, and we became a primary supporter of his project. At 11:01 a.m. mountain time on August 26, 2013, Dan Parker kicked off from the starting line. Beginning at a steady pace, Dan Parker found his groove at the beginning of mile two. During the second mile he stayed within four feet of the centerline of the track, and toward the end of mile two he began to “let it out.” He completed the first historic independent run by a blind person at the Bonneville Salt Flats with an officially recorded speed of 55.331 miles per hour. This is the second achievement in our Blind Driver Challenge efforts. Dan Parker will be speaking on the platform later during this convention.
If we can build an automobile equipped with nonvisual guidance technologies, and if we can equip a motorcycle with guidance systems for the blind, we can likely build an information gathering system that will permit independent bicycle riding for blind people. This is currently a project we are exploring in the Jernigan Institute. I would point out that riding a bicycle does not require a driver’s license, and even if the bicycle is equipped with an engine that has a displacement smaller than 50 cubic centimeters, it does not, in some places, require a driver’s license.
Braille continues to be a high priority for the National Federation of the Blind because this is a primary mechanism for blind people to get information, and it is equally important for deaf-blind individuals. We have continued our work to administer the courses leading to certification in Braille transcribing and proofreading under contract with the Library of Congress, National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Since taking on the project in 2007, we have forwarded the names of approximately 1,800 individuals to the Library of Congress, indicating that they have successfully completed the certification courses in literary, mathematics, or music Braille.
We give Braille books to blind children. The Braille Reading Pals Club, for children ages birth through seven, has 427 participants. We also give many Braille books to older children. Those who learn to read find that the world opens to them.
In June we conducted our second annual race for Braille literacy known as Dot Dash, which as you might expect, is a 6K race, one K for each Braille dot. More than 150 people participated, and Michael McCrary, a former member of the Ravens football team with two Super Bowl rings, was our Braille Literacy Champion.
The National Federation of the Blind has participated in the World Blind Union since the mid-1980s. Our first vice president, Dr. Fred Schroeder, served as our representative to the United Nations during the period that the convention on Rights of People with Disabilities was being considered by this international body. Dr. Schroeder assisted with drafting the language of this international instrument and was a major factor in getting it through the political process. The international convention has not yet been adopted by the Senate of the United States although it has been signed by the Obama administration. However, Dr. Schroeder has been leading international efforts to assist in having this convention adopted in many countries, and he was the person chairing an international meeting for planning about this instrument which occurred at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute last fall.
When the World Blind Union met in Bangkok, Thailand, in 2012, we urged delegates to select Dr. Schroeder to become first vice president of the world body. This effort was successful. Dr. Schroeder has now proposed to the world organization that the 2016 general assembly be held in the United States. Several hundred delegates and many others will join us in 2016 to make policy for this world organization. We will have the opportunity to show representatives of the blind from around the world what we are in the United States and what we do to support the independence of the blind. The person to lead this portion of our work is Dr. Fred Schroeder.
As Scott LaBarre and Fred Schroeder reported to this convention last year, the National Federation of the Blind played a major role in securing adoption of the World Intellectual Property Organization Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled, which will give access to published works for the blind across country borders. We are actively working with the State Department to send a ratification bill to the United States Senate. As a result of the work on the treaty, the World Intellectual Property Organization has established the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC), which will promote cooperation between publishers and authorized entities to implement the objectives of the treaty. The World Blind Union has asked the National Federation of the Blind to represent the world organization on the ABC Board, and our own Scott LaBarre will be our representative.
On January 30, 2014, we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the opening of our new building at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. The activities in the Institute have justified our faith in what we completed ten years ago. Mark Riccobono will report on the progress we have achieved later this afternoon.
In September we received a grant from the National Science Foundation to increase access to informal STEM learning for blind students. We will work with six science museums around the country. Visiting museums has frequently been a dismal experience for blind people. I remember my own excursion to a very famous science museum. After the 150th glass case, I began to ward off the boredom with mental exercise. I estimated the number of square feet of glass in the cases I had touched, and I considered the total weight of the glass I had encountered. We are changing this. Working with others, we will create a new model for improved accessibility in museum environments. We will establish programming to engage blind youth in disciplines such as engineering design.
For several years now we have been conducting science classes for blind students during the summer months, often in coordination with partners. Last year we held STEM-X, a one-week science engineering and math program for blind high school students. We offered experience with five major disciplines: aerospace engineering, civil engineering, chemistry, robotics, and computer science. We also provided eight enrichment specialties: paleobiology, video description, geology, art, nanoscience, human physiology, biology, and cyber security.
Our collaboration with entities not ordinarily concentrating their work with blind people continues. We have talked with a number of entities working on autonomous vehicle technology to encourage development of nonvisual interfaces. We are also discussing the future of indoor navigation systems. Providing digital information about large indoor spaces such as malls and airports to members of the public is being explored by universities and some major corporations. We believe this exploration will provide blind people with new methods for getting access to information about unfamiliar indoor environments. Those strolling through the mall might be able to receive the names and locations of nearby stores, the sales being conducted in them, and a description of the layout of the premises.
On April 24, 2014, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute welcomed participants to the seventh Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium. Over eighty academic, government, corporate, and advocacy organizations were present. The symposium, entitled "Disability Rights in the 21st Century: Creative Solutions for Achieving the Right to Live in the World," featured the principals in a landmark case which declared that disabled people have the right to challenge being forced into a guardianship. A reasonable and judicially viable alternative is supported decision-making, said the court. Forced guardianship, required placement in a nursing home or care facility, the demand that we turn our lives over to somebody else who believes that sighted supervision is what we need has been a part of the lives of so many blind people. Through our Jacobus tenBroek Law Symposium, and the spirit of our founder Dr. Jacobus tenBroek that caused the symposium to come into being, we are spreading the word that this type of thinking is being eradicated from the judicial landscape sometimes only one case at a time.
Through our Jacobus tenBroek Library, we are preserving the history of the organized blind movement. We have collected more than thirty oral histories, from members, officers, and allies of the National Federation of the Blind during the past year. We have also been entrusted with the papers of Dr. Abraham Nemeth, including documents which reflect the work he did in developing the Nemeth Braille Code for math and scientific notation. Prior to Dr. Nemeth’s development of the code, blind people were not expected to engage in scientific exploration. His work brought science and advanced mathematics to the hands of the blind. Our Jacobus tenBroek Library responds to hundreds of reference requests by our members and researchers in the field of blindness. We are becoming the best reference resource in the world on the subject of the efforts of blind people to move from second- to first-class status in society.
We are working to secure alternative sources of revenue. Our first Bid for Equality Auction took place on Black Friday 2013 and received more than $10,000 in bids. Thirty-one of our state affiliates contributed items to the auction. Those receiving the highest bids were: from Texas, two music badges to the South by Southwest Music Festival; from Indiana, a pearl necklace and earring set; and from New York, a weekend getaway to the Big Apple.
Since our last convention we have continued to support our programs through public relations efforts. Stories have appeared about our work in USA Today, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Idaho State Journal, the Miami Herald, the Associated Press, the Salt Lake Tribune, the Des Moines Register, the Dayton Daily News, Fortune Magazine, The Atlantic, and on Fox television, NBC television, Al Jazeera America television, and on dozens of websites including the Huffington Post and the publication for congressional insiders called The Hill.
NFB-NEWSLINE®, which provides accessible news to blind people in forty-six states and the District of Columbia, serves more than 105,000 subscribers. Of the three hundred forty-three newspapers on NFB-NEWSLINE® and the forty-three other publications, eighteen are new, including some in the new breaking news category. Some of the newly-available publications are: Bloomberg News, Investor’s Business Daily, Reuters, Japan Times, and Norfolk Daily News.
We have handled a number of legal cases during the past year. Many of these involve the use of access technology, and the legal work that we do is greatly enhanced by the work of our access technology team. Anne Taylor, our director of access technology, and the people who work with her are recognized as among the most knowledgeable individuals in designing accessible technology for the blind in the world.
One case in a long series of efforts that we have conducted involves Nijat Worley, who works at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in our NFB-NEWSLINE® program. Because he wants to attend law school, he applied to take the Law School Admissions Test, and he requested that he be allowed to use both Braille and assistive technology. Need I report that the request was denied? Scott LaBarre and Mehgan Sidhu accepted the Worley case. Within weeks the Law School Admissions Council backed down. We have been fighting with the Law School Admissions Council to protect the rights of blind test takers for years, and we have won in cases against them repeatedly. In the meantime, the United States Department of Justice and the California Department of Fair Housing and Employment conducted an in-depth investigation of the Law School Admissions Council’s practices. They have reached a comprehensive settlement that requires full accommodation to the Law School Admissions Test and payment of damages to test takers with disabilities in the amount of nearly $7 million. Nijat Worley and other Federationists are eligible to receive some of these damages. Now, I wonder if the Law School Admissions Council would like to hire some blind people to serve as consultants on the subject of accessibility.
Vicki Hodges, a blind library assistant in Phoenix, learned that her hours would be cut because library officials were unwilling to provide workplace accommodations. With the assistance of the Arizona Attorney General, we caused complaints to be filed. These actions have now been settled. Vicki Hodges is receiving a payment equivalent to two years’ wages, and we are getting reimbursed our attorney’s fees. Furthermore, the city of Phoenix is establishing new policies to provide access technology for blind employees.
Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act requires that government websites and other government-owned technology be accessible to the blind, but the government often ignores this requirement. Virgil Stinnett, a blind vendor living in Hawaii, attempted to use the website of the Small Business Administration without success. We helped with a complaint, and a settlement is in place. The Small Business Administration has decided to follow the law. The settlement also requires this agency to pay the National Federation of the Blind legal fees in the amount of $80,000.
Equal access to education 100 percent of the time is what we want and what we intend to get. Elementary education is under review in the United States. In January of 2014, the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey and some of our members filed a lawsuit against the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), a group established to develop tests regarding Common Core Standards. The tests PARCC was about to distribute were not available in Braille or in other accessible formats for the blind. Shortly after the filing of the lawsuit, we met with officials of PARCC and reached an agreement. Under the terms of the settlement, PARCC is working with us to post accessible practice tests online and to have Braille-ready files for all tests available for download. PARCC is doing much of its testing through a contractor, Pearson Education Services, and we have been actively building accessible tests with this entity as well.
Another partner that has joined with us in seeking completely accessible education is the University of Montana. The relationship started with an argument when Travis Moses, a member of the National Federation of the Blind of Montana and a student at the University of Montana was unable to gain access to courses and materials on the campus because of the inaccessible systems being used. As I reported to you last year, the University of Montana asked George Kerscher to help achieve accessibility, and the president of the university along with the general counsel agreed to make education there usable by everybody. The University of Montana general counsel, Lucy France, will be addressing the convention later during the week. The university has pledged that it will no longer purchase inaccessible technology, that it will require vendors to install accessible products, that it will have an accessible website, and that blind students will be able to participate fully in all aspects of community life. The commitment of this university is great; the University of Montana will demonstrate to other educational institutions what must be done to offer full access to the blind.
Anthony Lanzilotti, who is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, sought to matriculate at Atlantic Cape Community College in Mays Landing, New Jersey, but he ran into a number of obstacles. Not only was the course catalog an inaccessible document, not only was the system for registration and financial aid unusable by the blind, not only was the educational software inaccessible, not only were course assignments and readings posted in forms that the blind cannot read, but the college also instructed this blind student that they had a policy requiring him to be accompanied by a sighted assistant at all times to supervise him when he was on campus. He was also told that he was prohibited from participation in lab classes, and he could attempt to perform the experiments at home, where it would be safer. Several dozen outraged Federation members arrived in front of Atlantic Cape Community College with picket signs in hand to protest this barefaced effort to turn blind students away from a public institution. When the press arrived, Atlantic Cape denied that it had such a policy and declared that all of its materials were completely usable by blind people. However, it appears that officials at this college are now getting the message. We are in discussions with them about accessible technology on campus. Our members will be able to participate fully in the classes in the fall.
The Cardtronics company controls the largest fleet of ATMs in the United States, now more than sixty-six thousand. Building accessibility for the blind into these machines has come to be standard practice for manufacturers and has been required by the law for a very long time. When blind people tried to use some of the ATMs that are now a part of the fleet, they learned that accessibility had not been installed, and the National Federation of the Blind and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts brought suit. This action has been through a labyrinth of procedure. The first of the settlements took place in 2007, but it did not bring complete accessibility. For the past eight months we have been in negotiations with Cardtronics about another settlement, and we have reached a tentative agreement. This agreement is not final because it must be approved by the court, but I think that the court will give its approval. Voice guidance will be built into all of the Cardtronics machines over the next several years. The National Federation of the Blind will be part of the review process. Cardtronics will pay the attorney’s fees and will establish a banking Accessibility Center of Excellence to explore additional methods for creating a welcoming banking relationship with blind customers. Cardtronics will also make a contribution to the National Federation of the Blind of $1,250,000.
The battle over accessible airline kiosks continues. Sometimes the message from the airlines seems to be: “No blind people allowed. If there is any way to make it more difficult for you to get on our airplanes, we will find it!” In 2010 we sued United Airlines under California law, but the court rejected our lawsuit saying only federal law applies, which prohibits lawsuits by customers. Then, we sued McCarran Airport over its inaccessible common use, self-service kiosks. Although this suit was filed four years ago, the court has yet to determine whether we have a right to complain.
In the meantime, the Department of Transportation issued a rule declaring that airlines must make their technology accessible—but not all of their technology, only 25 percent of it. Furthermore, the airlines get up to ten years to do it. We don’t even get half a loaf—for the blind a quarter of a loaf will do in ten years, more or less. We will not wait for second best. We have sued the Department of Transportation. Our government boasts that the court has no jurisdiction to hear our claim. When was it that our right to be abroad in the land became so circumscribed in the law that one-quarter access ten years out is all that we can expect? What other class of human beings would suffer such indignity? If we cannot go to court, where else should we take the battle? If we cannot complain to the Department of Transportation, must we attack the machines directly? When did we lose the right to be treated equally with others? I remember the time we tried to board a plane because our rights were being denied. Must we return to those embattled moments? We might not like the choices before us, but one thing is absolutely certain. We have a right to equality of access to the systems available to all others, and we will have it.
With respect to the eBay corporation, we have entered into our second accessibility agreement with the right kinds of internal controls, the appropriate benchmarks, and the necessary testing to assure proper development of the software. Our first agreement with eBay produced less progress than we had hoped, but the new version has systems to assure accessibility. Furthermore, promotion of accessible technology is being pursued at the highest level of the company. eBay has recently worked very diligently on its security systems. The president of eBay told me that when the eBay engineers were modifying these systems to reestablish security at eBay, they recognized the necessity of ensuring that all of them are accessible nonvisually. eBay wants to be a close working partner to assure that blind customers can buy and sell on their website.
Several years ago one of our members in Maryland, Yasmin Reyazuddin, needed our help. She had been working for one of the counties of Maryland when county officials purchased inaccessible software. These officials would not consider modifying the technology with accessibility features or purchasing accessible technology. The company that had provided the software offered to work with the county to make it usable by the blind, but the county rejected the offer. When we sued the county, the court ruled against us saying that buying accessible software is an undue burden. Officials declared that providing accessibility would cost a million dollars. The judge believed the million dollar argument and paid no attention to the testimony that accessibility could have been provided by the software creator. The decision stands for the proposition that inaccessibility in the workplace is acceptable and denying blind people equality of opportunity in employment is to be expected in Maryland. As you know, we never give up. The case is one which is reprehensible. It is now on appeal, and we expect to win for Yasmin Reyazuddin.
Aaron Cannon is a blind person who was accepted for matriculation at the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa. After a time, after Aaron Cannon had paid his money, and participated in classes, and had succeeded in meeting school requirements, the Palmer College officials changed their minds. They said he did not have "sufficient sense of vision," and they threw him out. Nine years ago, after negotiations failed, we brought an administrative complaint, which proceeded through many layers of decision-making, but in 2010, we won. Palmer appealed to court, and a judge decided that no blind person can become a chiropractor. The evidence presented, that blind people all over the nation are doing this job, made no difference to the judge. We proceeded to the Iowa Supreme Court. The decision of the Supreme Court was released a week ago. It fills more than forty pages. It contains a review of state and federal law regarding discrimination involving disability along with some of the most obtuse, obnoxious, and prejudicial comments ever written by a court about the blind. Scott LaBarre served as our champion. Of the seven judges who considered the decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, five declared that discrimination against the blind in colleges in the state of Iowa will not be tolerated—Aaron Cannon can go to school. Furthermore, he gets damages for the injuries he suffered, and we get our attorney's fees.
We continue to conduct our ongoing programs. We give away free white canes for blind people from throughout the United States. From the beginning of the program we have distributed more than 32,000. This year we have begun distributing free slates and styluses to blind people—346 of them so far. We have continued to maintain our headquarters at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in Baltimore, and we have welcomed more than three thousand visitors this year from the United States and from a number of foreign countries including: Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Israel, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Nigeria, South Korea, Thailand, and Turkey.
Within the past twelve months I have had the good fortune to travel to many parts of the country to support programs of our organization and to meet with members of the Federation to come to know personally your aspirations, your sorrows, your hopes, your dreams. I have been reinforced once again in the spirit that we share—a spirit of independence, a determination to be the people that will make the difference to ourselves and to those who come after us in the opportunities available to blind people here and throughout the world. I know the deprivations that we have encountered, but I also know the determination that we have to meet these deprivations head-on without the slightest hesitation. We have continued to build our movement. During the past year we have made it better than it has ever been—more robust, more resilient, more energetic, more imaginative, and more heartwarming.
As I contemplate what we have done during the past year, during the past decades, I cannot help some reflection on the time I have served in the presidency. You have offered to me the greatest honor we have—the presidency of the National Federation of the Blind. I have tried to live up to the trust that you have given. Leadership demands both judgment and generosity as well as a proper balance between the two. I have tried to lead with my mind informed by my heart, and you have given me your unwavering support.
We have accomplished much together, but there is much more yet to be done. However, I know the minds that you our members bring to this movement. I have been inspired by your toughness and the depth of joy in your hearts. I know the determination that we share, and I am certain to the innermost portion of my being that this Federation will continue to build, to flourish, and to prevail. We will keep the faith with ourselves and each other. We will carry the battle into any realm where it is needed, and nothing will stop us. We possess the energy and the drive to make our future what we want it to be. This is what I have observed in our Federation. This is what I know. This is my report for 2014.
From the Editor: Recognizing the work that is accomplished on behalf of blind people is a critical part of the mission of the National Federation of the Blind. For this reason we present a number of awards; some are presented annually; others are presented only as often as the Federation determines that a deserving candidate merits the presentation. This year awards were presented to a distinguished educator of blind children, to the blind educator of the year, to agencies and organizations who represent the life’s work of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, to a leader in the Federation who has performed exemplary service, and to a person who is not a member but who has made a significant contribution to improving the opportunities for the blind. Here are the presentations as witnessed at the 2014 Convention:
Presented by Cathy Jackson
Good morning, and let me be the first to wish you a happy National Federation of the Blind convention week. Some of us have been here for several days already, and over the past couple of days we have been busy doing the work of this, the world's largest membership organization of the blind. We have been involved in our division meetings, our committee meetings, our board meeting, and of course other convention activities. No one ever said it was going to be easy being a member of the National Federation of the Blind. A lot of hard work goes into this organization, but pride and pleasure are rolled in with the hard work that makes us the success that we are.
The National Federation of the Blind takes satisfaction in acknowledging and awarding those who have accomplished great things in the field of blindness. Those we award know the achievements that blind people can accomplish if given the right attitude and skills to compete in the world. Pretty soon we're going to be introduced to our scholarship class of 2014. These men and women have made great strides both in and outside of the classroom. Other presentations will be made throughout the convention, but I have the pleasure of presenting the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award.
This year's recipient most assuredly belongs in this prestigious class. All of our applicants are doing great things and deserve recognition, but we can only crown one winner. Laura Bostick, Mary Willows, Mark Riccobono, and I all saw the same unique qualities in our winner that made her stand taller than the others. First of all was her personal essay. We were intrigued with her outline and her presentation. She gave us her top ten guiding teaching philosophies (which are spot-on, I might add). She doesn't merely tell her students that they can do; she tells them, "You can do and you will do."
The second thing that we saw was her ability to organize parents, teachers, and students, who together exposed the problem of California's blind students who were not receiving their Braille books and materials on time. Mary Willows wrote, in her letter of nomination: "She's not afraid to speak up when she knows the education system could and should be better for blind children."
If you haven't guessed by now, our distinguished educator for 2014 is from the state of California, and it is Ms. Theresa Postello. Theresa has been a teacher of the blind and an orientation and mobility instructor for twenty-five years, and she's currently employed by the San Matteo County Office of Education. I'm not exactly sure how she remained employed while exposing the problems of the blind children. But, when I asked her this, she said, "Oh, I just merely stayed calm and collected and presented the facts. You know, you can catch more flies with sugar than you can with vinegar." So I know now why she got such rave reviews from the parents and colleagues who nominated her for this award. If Ms. Theresa Postello would come forward, I would like to present her with a plaque. It's a beautiful plaque, and I'm also going to give her a little white envelope, which has a big $1,000 check in it. Congratulations, Theresa. Here is your plaque. If you will hold it up, I will read the inscription:
The National Federation
of the Blind honors
Distinguished Educator of Blind Children
For your skills in teaching
other alternative techniques of blindness,
For graciously devoting extra
time to meet
the needs of your students,
and for empowering
your students to perform
beyond their expectations.
You champion our movement.
You strengthen our hopes.
You share our dreams.
July 3, 2014
So for a few brief words here is Theresa Postello, our distinguished educator of 2014.
Theresa: Thank you so very much; I'm tremendously honored and over the moon with excitement. I invite you to come to my keynote address this afternoon and hear some of the things I have to say. Again, I thank you. It's great to be here.
Presented by David Ticchi
Thank you, Dr. Maurer, and I very much appreciate the privilege and responsibility of being chair of this committee. To begin with, I'd like to thank the members of the committee. The members of the Blind Educator of the Year Committee are William Henderson of Massachusetts, Sheila Koenig of Minnesota, Kate Mendez of New York, Melissa Riccobono of Maryland, Judy Sanders of Minnesota, and Ramona Walhof of Idaho.
I'd like to tell you a little bit about the award, then I will tell you the name of the winner, then I will ask the person to come up here to the stage to receive the plaque, and finally I will read the text to you.
The Blind Educator of the Year Award was established by the National Organization of Blind Educators to pay tribute to a blind teacher for his or her classroom performance, community service, and commitment to the National Federation of the Blind. In 1991 it became a national award because of the impact and importance of good teaching upon students, faculty, and the community. The award is presented in the spirit and philosophy of the educators who founded and nurtured our movement, people like Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer. I often point out when presenting this award that any of you who have taken Latin will understand that education comes from the Latin "duco/ducere," to lead. We are all leaders in the National Federation of the Blind.
The winner of this year's Blind Educator of the Year Award is Michelle Chacon from Colorado. Michelle, if you would come forward to receive your award.
I want to tell people a little bit about Michelle and her background in education. She has a bachelor's degree from the University of New Mexico, and she has two graduate degrees, both in the area of visual impairment, one from the University of New Mexico, one from the University of Northern Colorado. She has worked at the Colorado Center for the Blind as a home management instructor, she spent four years with the Albuquerque public schools as a secondary school resource teacher, and from 2008 to the present she works in the Arvada school district (and I hope with my Boston accent I am pronouncing that clearly), and she serves there as an itinerate teacher. She is involved with the NFB on many levels: she's the president of the North Metro chapter of Colorado, has worked in the confidence camp, has been the director of the BELL Program for several years, is involved in the Washington Seminar, attends and works at state and national conventions, and in fact, for her to be present here this morning, we had to release her from NFB Camp to come here so she could receive this award.
Michelle is a single parent of four girls, a wonderful parent and homemaker, and a dear friend to many. While she makes her way up here, I'd like to tell you just a few things about her background and recommendations. We on the blind educator committee like to do our homework, to check references, and to do some interviews. I'm going to share with you some quotes about Michelle: consummate professional, natural teacher, builds positive and effective relationships, believes in blind people, has expectations for blind people, will work closely with families, and she will always take the extra step. Michelle, that's a lot to be proud of, and I am proud to present this to you. So, Michelle, congratulations. I'm going to hand you the plaque. It says:
BLIND EDUCATOR OF THE YEAR
OF THE BLIND
IN RECOGNITION OF
IN THE TEACHING PROFESSION.
YOU ENHANCE THE PRESENT
YOU INSPIRE YOUR COLLEAGUES
YOU BUILD THE FUTURE
JULY 3, 2014
Michelle, congratulations. Before you speak, I want to hand the envelope to you, an envelope with a check for $1,000.
Michelle: I just want to say thank you so much to everybody. When I was teaching at the Colorado Center for the Blind, Julie Deden gave me the opportunity to find my passion: working with the elementary camp and working with those children. And I want nothing more than to see our kids succeed. I want to see them have a beautiful, bright future like I have had, and an opportunity to get to know our Federation so we can continue to grow together in love and in support of each other. Thank you so much.
Presented by James Gashel
Thank you, Mr. President, thank you fellow Federationists. Again it is my high honor to come before you to present the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards for 2014. A biography entitled The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story by Rosalind Perlman and published by Blue Point Books is available from the National Federation of the Blind Independence Market. I'll tell you, I read The Blind Doctor. I consider, along with all of our other Federation literature, this one ought to be one of the classics. You all ought to read the Jacob Bolotin story [applause].
As is true of our winners this year, the Jacob Bolotin story is a story of dogged determination in spite of incredible odds. Dr. Bolotin was born in 1888, and he died in 1924 at age thirty-six; he actually worked himself to death. If you read the book, you'll know. Although his years were few, his accomplishments were many. And you know what? He didn't have it nearly as easy as we do today. He didn't have the KNFB Reader running on the iPhone. Lacking financial resources after attending the Illinois School for the Blind, Jacob Bolotin worked to support his family members and himself. He worked in Chicago selling kitchen matches, brushes, and even typewriters door-to-door. Although the hours were long and the work was hard, he made a success out of these businesses. He even made enough money to put himself through medical school to become a licensed doctor, and he was the only blind person to do so at that time. He had no Rehabilitation Act, no ADA, no Section 504, and no NFB to back him up. But, in the spirit of Newel Perry, Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, Marc Maurer, and Mark Riccobono, Dr. Bolotin blazed a trail for all of us to follow, and we are walking in his footsteps. [applause] In every way that counts, in fact if not in name, Jacob Bolotin was a Federationist. He was a Federationist before the Federation existed. These qualities—a standard of excellence, a pioneering spirit, and a pioneering vision—they are foremost on our minds as we review the people and projects that you nominate each year. When I announce this year's winners in a few minutes, I think you will agree that all of them have met the test.
The funding support for this program comes from a bequest from the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust, which was left to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind. Rosalind Perlman was Dr. Bolotin's niece. This year we have $50,000 to award to four recipients. In a moment I'll specify the amount of the awards for each, but I'll talk about the plaque that they will also receive. Here are the words on the plaque:
name of the recipient
by the National Federation of the Blind
and the Santa Barbara Foundation
The medallion which is suspended over the plaque has print on both sides. The text on the obverse side reads: "The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award," with the logo of the National Federation of the Blind, and immediately below the logo these words: "CELEBRATING ACHIEVEMENT, CREATING OPPORTUNITY." And on the reverse side these words: "Dr. Jacob Bolotin" with a depiction of his bust, then the dates of his birth and his death below that, then finally these words: "CELEBRATING HIS LIFE/THE ALFRED AND ROSALIND PERLMAN TRUST."
Now for the 2014 Jacob Bolotin Awards. For our first recipient, representing exemplary individual achievement and outstanding service on behalf of the blind of the United States, we recognize Scott LaBarre. We recognize Scott with an award of $10,000. Scott LaBarre is a lawyer. He's not just any lawyer. Scott's achievements and efforts to represent the blind in civil rights cases throughout the country are known very well. The Iowa Supreme Court knows Scott LaBarre, and the Palmer Chiropractic Institute knows Scott LaBarre. Five years ago we asked Scott to go off and get an international treaty adopted so blind people around the world could get greater access to books. Nothing is too big for Scott to wrap his arms around. Advocates for the blind, led primarily by the World Blind Union and the National Federation of the Blind, were in favor of having a treaty, but there were others that weren't. That included book publishers, motion picture studios, and the like. Scott took this on, and he's nothing if he isn't tenacious. Throughout a series of international meetings held biannually and a lot of work in between, during 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and some of the work done in 2013, Scott never failed in representing the blind of the United States, and he never faltered in his belief that this would be done and could be done. Even though there was only a glimmer of hope of succeeding in the end, Scott kept at it and finally, in June of 2013, just days before the National Federation of the Blind Convention last year, Scott's persistent persuasion prevailed in snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. The treaty, which has been mentioned this week, was adopted. There's more to come. Scott has to get it through the US Senate. That's a tall order. When you think of the right to read, the right to learn, and the right to be literate, when you think of successful advocacy by leaders of the blind who stand tall on behalf of protecting rights and winning new rights for blind people, you should think of Scott LaBarre. Here to accept the award is Scott LaBarre.
Scott LaBarre: Dr. Maurer, President-elect Riccobono, members of the board, Jim Gashel (who was my first boss and first tremendous mentor), and my Federation family: this is indeed an honor. I could not have done it without all of you. When I think of Dr. Bolotin, I think of a pioneer, an early torchbearer whom we could later follow. His work stood for the principle of equal opportunity, and I have no doubt that the work we did with Marrakesh will create that opportunity because it opens up the information flow. But I also want to tell you that recently I've been thinking of Dr. Bolotin for another reason. I've been thinking of Dr. Bolotin because of Aaron Cannon, because, if Jacob Bolotin could be a practicing, successful medical doctor in the 1920s, there's no reason in the world why Palmer should deny Aaron Cannon from being a chiropractor in the twenty-first century.
Let me just end really quickly with what I told the Iowa Supreme Court. I quoted from Dr. Bolotin himself when he was becoming a licensed physician and he said about that fact, "Well, is there anything so remarkable about it? Because a man has no eyes is it any sign that he hasn't any brains? That is the trouble with the world and the blind man. All the blind man asks is fair play. Give him an equal chance without prejudice, and he generally manages to hold his own with his more fortunate colleagues." That's what Dr. Bolotin said, that's what we believe. I thank you Federation family; I thank my family Anaheit, Alexander, and Emily; thank you very much, Mr. Gashel.
Jim Gashel: For our second recipient, representing exemplary organizational achievement, we recognize the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri and its parent advocacy program for blind parents. This is with an award of $10,000.
When Erica Johnson and Blake Sennet arrived at Centerpoint Medical Center in Kansas City, Missouri, they were just two parents getting ready to give birth to their first child, and they were in every way normal parents. They were going to have a girl, they had already named her, she was going to be called Mikaela, and that means "somebody who resembles God." In every sense imaginable Erica and Blake were and are a normal couple, but not so as that is understood by the state of Missouri. Upon receiving a report that a baby had been born to a blind couple in Kansas City, a protective services agent (they'd probably say a social worker) swooped into the hospital, snatched up the baby, and took her to foster care. To the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, this is what you might call a teachable moment. Armed with an attorney and witnesses, the NFB of Missouri did its own swooping in to teach officials of the state a lesson that they should have learned. Two months after the baby was snatched away from Erica and Blake, a social worker from the state showed up at their home, brought Mikaela back, and two hours later our attorney got a fax saying the Department of Social Services was dropping the case: no explanation of why the baby was taken in the first place and no explanation of their high-handed conduct in this whole sordid affair. In the face of our NFB affiliate, the state of Missouri stood down, gave up. That wasn't enough. The NFB of Missouri at the next sitting of the legislature in Jefferson City got a bill passed to strengthen the rights of blind parents in that state to raise their own children. [applause] They've even made a video to teach the social workers how to behave. When you think of blind people raising their children to become competent, contributing, successful adults, when you think of facing down the power of the state and teaching the officials lessons about blindness they should have learned in school, then you should think of the NFB of Missouri and its Blind Parent Advocacy Program. Here to accept the award is Gary Wunder, president of the NFB of Missouri.
Gary Wunder: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Mr. President, board of directors, and all of the people who made this possible. It's a great thing to come before you today and receive this award. We decided that we would do this video when we went to Children's Protective Services and they said, "You know, we don't want to be treated this way anymore, and we don't want to treat people this way anymore. How do we change it?"
We said, "Well, we'd like to come and talk to you."
They said, "Okay, there are 114 counties, and you'll probably have to come talk to us every year or year and a half because of the turnover."
We said, "Oh my goodness, how do we do that?" So we decided we would make a video, and they would incorporate it into their training. The main person responsible for this was Carol Coulter, and this is another Federation victory because you'll remember that in 1986 Carol was denied the right to be licensed by the state of Missouri as a childcare worker, and now she runs her own business. You guys made that happen.
We made the video, we're going to distribute the video, and we're going to make it such that blind people in the state of Missouri and the nation can parent without fear. Thank you.
Jim Gashel: Now for our third recipient, demonstrating exemplary leadership on behalf of the blind, this year we recognize the Parent Leadership Training Program conducted by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children with an award of $10,000. The challenge of becoming a parent to an impressionable and precious little child is just part of the normal human experience as children are born, advance through school, become adults, have babies of their own, and pass the torch along to the next generation. We've been passing the torch all week here. So it's part of the normal human experience. I know there are books written on this, but I've always wondered, why doesn't each kid come with a help file or an owner’s manual, so we know exactly what to do when things just don't go right.
Now imagine if the parents of the child are sighted, and then the child is blind or becomes blind. Where is the help file for that? Well it's the Parent Leadership Training Program and the NOPBC, that's where it is. Launched eight years ago, the Parent Leadership Program is a two-year training program providing parents of blind children with the skills they need to become effective advocates for their children while they also develop the skills to become leaders within their localities and, in fact, a national network to make sure that no blind child is left behind. When you think of believing in blind children as ordinary children who just can't see, when you think of reaching out and lifting up sighted parents so they are empowered to raise their blind children as normal human beings, when you think of selfless service to help others in need to know how to solve a problem, you should think of the NOPBC Parent Leadership Training Program. And here to accept the award on behalf of the NOPBC Parent Leadership Training Program is Carlton Walker.
Carlton Walker: [Ms. Walker speaks with a voice which has obviously been over-stressed by convention and her allergies.] As a parent you know we give it all. I thank the Bolotin committee as chaired by Mr. Gashel, President Maurer, President-elect Mark Riccobono, and the entire Federation family. We all know a child needs a loving, supportive environment in order to thrive. Members of the NOPBC, a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind [cheers, applause], we know our children receive just such an environment here in our NFB family. We are committed to sharing this truth with every parent of every blind child. We are grateful to the Bolotin Committee for this award, which will enable us to continue nurturing parent leaders across our nation. Thank you all.
Jim Gashel: And now for our fourth and final recipient this year. You can count as well as I can—you've got three $10,000 awards going out so far, right? We've got $50,000 to give out, right? To represent exemplary performance on behalf of blind people we recognize the National Blindness Professional Certification Board [cheers] with our highest award this year, which is an award of $20,000.
Now you know one of the shameful truths in the blindness services profession is the propensity of professionally trained sighted workers to believe that they and not the blind know what's good for the blind. But blind people have not been silent bystanders in the face of these kinds of lofty pronouncements from these learned professionals, especially when they write them up in the journals they control. In 1981 the only organization that was then available to certify professionals in work with the blind refused to certify Fredric K. Schroeder even though he had completed all of the academic and practical experience requirements necessary to be certified as an orientation & mobility instructor. In the intervening years laws were passed which encouraged personnel standards that required certification. But the same laws also required nondiscrimination on the basis of disability, which you've heard about this week. Enter the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. Responding to a growing body of legal requirements, both related to personnel standards and nondiscrimination, the NBPCB is a voluntary organization of educators and rehabilitation specialists serving the blind. Its mission is to develop standards for certification of professional personnel, who provide services to blind persons throughout the country and to administer tests designed to assess their professional competence. Critical areas include orientation & mobility, Braille literacy, and certification of adjustment-to-blindness programs. Most important of all, the NBPCB's standards give full respect to the competencies and capabilities of blind people working in these programs. In becoming widely recognized and accepted as a reliable certification authority, the NBPCB has brought equality to the blind and put an end to second-class treatment of the blind in the profession of serving the blind. When you think of exploding myths by more enlightened understanding, when you think of courage to believe in blind people in the face of others who do not, and when you think of shaking the blindness profession to its core and changing that profession forever, think of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board. It is a high honor to recognize the president of the NBPCB to accept this award, Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder.
Fredric Schroeder: Thank you very much, my Federation family. The board has really done some amazing things, and really its formulation is pretty straightforward: we work based on the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind. We start with the assumption that blind people can live the lives they want to live. We believe in blind people, and, when the established profession wouldn't certify blind people to teach orientation & mobility, we created a certification standard which, in my opinion, is the gold standard in certifying orientation & mobility specialists. We have taken affirmative steps to address the crisis in Braille literacy and have now certified many people as competent in literary Braille, and the same with our training centers using the Federation philosophy as our foundation. We look at training programs in terms of do they really fulfill the promise of providing the encouragement and the skills that blind people need. Thank you very much for this recognition.
Thank you, Dr. Schroeder. Dr. Maurer, Mark Riccobono, and fellow Federationists: these are the distinguished and very deserving members of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award class of 2014. Thank you to Ron Brown and Mary Ellen Jernigan for their enlightened experience and intelligent review of all of the applications that various ones of you submitted this year. Their help in doing this is invaluable. Mr. President, this concludes my report and the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin awards for 2014.
Presented by Ramona Walhof
During a discussion about public relations a consultant said to us that he thought we had both prestige and widespread recognition as a leading force in work with the disabled in many if not most states. He said, "You don't need a Jerry Lewis or a movie star. You need and you have blind leaders who are effective and hardworking, have good knowledge, and have a high level of caring for other blind people."
We have long understood that love is the glue and the mortar that bind the Federation together and make us strong. No one demonstrates the truth of this thesis better than the man we have chosen tonight to honor with the Jacobus tenBroek Award. He is a national leader of course, and in his home state he is loved and respected by the blind, by the legislature, by city and state officials, and by thousands of other citizens.
The tenBroek Award was created in the 1970s and has been presented thirty-one times to NFB leaders from nineteen states. This year the members of the selection committee are Barbara Loos, Jim Gashel, and I. We have chosen to honor a man from a twentieth state, a man who has served as president of his state affiliate since 1986 and as a member of the board of directors since 1992. He is a man who is loved and respected by the blind and the sighted. Are you ready?
Sam Gleese, will you make your way to the platform? [prolonged applause]
Although Sam was blind as a child, he did not know it. He struggled to see, to read, to fill out paperwork throughout high school and college. But he received a bachelor's degree in business administration from Jackson State College in 1970. Also in 1970 Sam married his lifelong partner, Vanessa Smith. Their daughter Nicole was born in 1976. Sam worked for a grocery store chain through the 1970s and received promotions up to assistant department manager. In 1979, however, his retinas detached, and he lost his remaining vision. Then he was forced for the first time to learn the alternative skills of blindness. He soon moved into more leadership positions.
A year after beginning his training, Sam was a volunteer counselor at the training center where he had taken training. Having taught Sunday school through the 1970s at Mission Baptist Church, he became a deacon in the church in 1980. After his training Sam and Vanessa ran a tax preparation business for a few years, and he worked at a sheltered workshop in order to have year-round income. Sam became a senior associate pastor at College Hill Baptist Church in the 1990s and continues to serve there today, along with other things.
In 1983 Sam attended his first NFB convention. This was a major turning point in his life. Two years later he was elected president of his local chapter, and, as I said, in 1986 he became state president.
Blacks were not permitted to work in the Randolph-Sheppard Program in Mississippi until 1980. However, in 1985 Sam entered the Randolph-Sheppard Program, and he was assigned the worst facility in the state. He worked for two years and improved that location and was assigned a better one. He also worked to improve the entire program throughout Mississippi and did a lot. In 1994 he was awarded one of the best locations in Mississippi. He and Vanessa worked together there for the next six years.
Sam's work with the blind and disabled has spread the Federation message far and wide in Mississippi. In 1999 he was appointed to chair the first Mayor's Advisory Committee on Disabilities. Also in 1999 he was confirmed by the Jackson City Council as the first blind person to serve on the Jackson Hines Public Library Administrative Board, which supervises libraries throughout seven towns in the county. Sam worked with people with disabilities in AmeriCorps. Then he was employed as an independent living specialist for LIFE (which stands for Living Independence for Everyone). He works statewide as the director for the Project for the Healthy Futures Grant, assisting disabled youth from fourteen to twenty-one.
Sam has worked for several years and continues to work as a compliance coordinator for the city of Jackson in the Americans with Disabilities Office. He has served on numerous IEP teams, and he has mentored numerous blind Mississippians. Those who attended last year's convention will not forget Casey Robertson, the young blind teacher of blind children, who made an excellent presentation at that convention and credits Sam Gleese for guiding her in her work with the legislature. Sam works closely with the members of the Mississippi Legislature and the US Congress. The lead sponsor of our Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act is Congressman Gregg Harper of Mississippi. Congressman Harper also spoke at last year's NFB convention and said that his family and the Gleeses are close friends.
People from Mississippi tell me that the most notable thing about Sam Gleese is his big heart, and we see it in the hours Sam works and the quality of his work throughout the state and the country. Sam, this is why we have selected you tonight to honor you with the highest award we can give a member of the Federation: the Jacobus tenBroek Award. We give it to you with respect and with love. We are proud of your accomplishments, we are proud to have you as our brother, and we are proud to give you this plaque. The plaque reads:
JACOBUS TENBROEK AWARD
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
FOR YOUR DEDICATION, SACRIFICE,
ON BEHALF OF THE BLIND
OF THIS NATION.
YOUR CONTRIBUTION IS MEASURED
NOT IN STEPS BUT IN MILES,
NOT BY INDIVIDUAL EXPERIENCES
BUT BY YOUR IMPACT
ON THE LIVES OF THE BLIND
OF THE NATION.
WHENEVER WE HAVE ASKED,
YOU HAVE ANSWERED.
WE CALL YOU OUR COLLEAGUE WITH RESPECT.
WE CALL YOU OUR FRIEND WITH LOVE.
JULY 6, 2014
And it's got the new logo.
Sam Gleese: Dr. Maurer, President-elect Riccobono, my Federation family: My wife wouldn't believe I'm speechless right now; it's not too often I get to a place where I don't know what to say. For thirty-one years I've been at this convention and always guessed at who was getting the Jacobus tenBroek Award. Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought it would be me. I'm humble, and I'm proud. I'm proud because in 1983 I found the organization that shaped my future and destiny. I don't know where I'd be without the NFB in my life, because it gave me structure and direction. It's amazing that I was here when Dr. Jernigan transitioned to Dr. Maurer, and I remember when Mark Riccobono got elected to the Wisconsin state affiliate, and now he's our president-elect. This is the greatest organization for people, not only in America, but around the world. I love you, I cherish you, and you shall forever be in my thoughts. They always ask me, "Where are you on the Fourth of July?" I'm at my family reunion, because the Federation is my family. Thank you and God bless.
Presented by Marc Maurer
We have two awards that we give in the National Federation of the Blind. One is an award that comes to a person who is within the organization, and one is an award that comes to a person who has been outside the organization but has made substantial contributions worthy of recognition. We have a committee to present this award, which is chaired by Allen Harris. Allen Harris asked me if I would make the presentation today on behalf of the committee, and I ask that the recipient come forward now so that we may talk about the work that you have done.
I will start by saying that we have named one of our awards, which we have just had presented, after our founding president, that is, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, who led us for many years. He started in 1940, and he continued as our principal leader (although he wasn't always our president) until 1968. It has not been lost upon me that that might be thought of as twenty-eight years.
He had a teacher. That was Dr. Newel Perry. Dr. Newel Perry was a person who was blind himself and had a PhD in mathematics and some published papers in mathematics at a time when no blind person anywhere was teaching very much anywhere. He spent years with his published papers and his graduate degrees trying to find a job. Eventually he was offered a job to instruct students at the California School for the Blind, and it was fortunate for us. Because he met and trained Dr. tenBroek, and Dr. tenBroek's restless mind imagined that there could be a national organization, and the National Federation of the Blind came into being. Dr. Perry was the teacher of our first president and our first teacher. He caused enormous change to occur that has been beneficial to blind people and to disabled people in this country and around the world.
That spirit is the spirit that we use for our Newel Perry Award. Our recipient has done the same, has brought imagination to the work of promoting the interests of disabled and blind people and has caused enormous change in this country and around the world. Her name is Judy Brewer. She directs the Web Accessibility Initiative at the World Wide Web Consortium. She works on web accessibility, ensuring that the guidelines which come in the work she does are offering accessible technology in web content, browsers, media players, mobile devices, authoring tools, and other computer elements that are used in the development of access technology or technology which, if it implements these guidelines, would provide equal access for disabled people.
The work that she has done has been adopted by many governments around the world and occasionally by the government of the United States. I think that it has an actual recognition of the standards that she has caused to come into being, but sometimes it does not follow the standards. Consequently, she has also the distinction of having provided a good deal of employment to lawyers that we know. But we couldn't have the kind of success that we find in the legal arena without the standard. The standard has to come first. One of the arguments that works always in the legal system is that there is no way to do it, that the impossibility is there, that an accepted mechanism for getting to the place of accessibility does not exist. And, when she put together the World Wide Consortium standard, which has provided accessibility in the development of all these products, there was a mechanism to do it. I invite Judy Brewer to come up.
I want to give you this award from us in recognition of your work. It says:
NEWEL PERRY AWARD
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
In recognition of courageous leadership
and outstanding service.
The National Federation of the Blind
bestows the Newel Perry Award
our sister on the barricades;
You champion our progress;
You strengthen our hopes;
You share our dreams.
July 6, 2014
I will also give you the Braille copy which has helped me remember the words in their proper order.
Judy Brewer: Thank you so much, Dr. Maurer. I am so very deeply honored to receive this recognition from the National Federation of the Blind. In a room full of advocates I am completely humbled. I am very moved by the intense energy here tonight. The advocacy of the National Federation of the Blind under the great inspiration and strong leadership of Dr. Maurer has highlighted the important expectations of the blindness community that the technology of today and in the future must be accessible and has helped drive important changes in the field. I have to say that Anne Taylor said this would be a surprise. If you ever need someone to keep a secret, she's the right person to do that.
I was told I could make a few very brief comments. The web is access to the world. For people with disabilities it's an essential aspect of access to information and to interaction. We live in a time when so much of technology is converging onto the web, that if, as people with disabilities, we do not do our utmost to ensure that all of these critical technologies are usable by us, then we will be deprived of so much access to the benefits of the information society. At the World Wide Web Consortium, Web Accessibility Initiative, based at MIT and several organizations internationally, we have the opportunity to develop consensus-based, cross-disability guidelines, standards, and educational materials in partnership with all stakeholder groups, including people with disabilities, industry, government, and research. As a person with a disability, this is personally very important to me, and it's also very important to W3C's vision of what the web should be. What we've been able to accomplish so far in the Web Accessibility Initiative has been the result of many individuals and organizations contributing their efforts from around the world. We welcome deeper involvement from the NFB in our work at the design stage of technology standards, as in partnership we work to ensure that all of the technologies that converge onto the web can and will be accessible.
I'm grateful for the opportunity to be working there in this collaborative effort and deeply grateful for the recognition of the work of the Web Accessibility Initiative from the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you so very much.
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind’s scholarship program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done, including serving as mentors during the following year for the members of the current scholarship class. Each July everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do in the future. This year’s class had three tenBroek winners, meaning that they have been previous recipients of a National Federation of the Blind scholarship.
The first appearance of the class at a convention session occurred during the meeting of the board of directors. Members were introduced by Chairman Patti Chang, who gave their names, their home states, and their school states. Here is what they said about themselves:
Alex Anderson, New Jersey, Massachusetts: Hi, everybody. I don't get too much time to talk, so let me be quick here. I don't think I'm that fantastic, but apparently a lot of people do, or else I wouldn't be here. So I want to thank everyone and make everyone who put me here a promise: I will live up to and exceed every expectation set for me, and I'm declaring that now because that's how I'm going to live the rest of my life.
Anya Avramenko, Kansas, Kansas: Hello, everyone. My name is Anya; I'm from Ukraine. I came to America in 2008 as an exchange student in the Future Leaders Exchange Program. I lived with Jennifer and Dan Wenzel; many of you know these people. They were the first ones who introduced me to the spirit of independence of the National Federation of the Blind. In 2012 I was very fortunate to be granted a scholarship to attend the Colorado Center for the Blind, and I'm proud to say I graduated from the center. Despite extreme financial hardships I managed to start my schooling at Emporia State University, and a large part of this accomplishment is the great financial help from the NFB of Colorado and Kansas (I was a state scholarship winner). Now I'm going to Emporia State University, majoring in communication with a Spanish minor, and I want to become a legal interpreter one day. I'm thankful to the Federation for the trust and all the opportunities I've been given. I'm going to be an active member and try to give back in any way I can. Thank you.
Cindy Bennett, Washington, Washington: Good morning, and thank you. One of my challenges at work is that I have to ask my colleagues to use different information-sharing and collaboration technologies because the preferred ones are not currently accessible. This is very frustrating, and I want to do something about it. As I pursue a PhD in human-centered design at the University of Washington, I want to dedicate my research to improving the accessibility of education tools so that all students can be empowered by the content in our lessons, rather than frustrated by poorly designed products. Thank you so much, and I look forward to getting to know you this week.
Shawn Berg, Washington, Arizona: Hello, everyone. Yes, I do hail from the magical land of apples known as Washington. I'm studying mechanical engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which is in Prescott, Arizona, and I'm also minoring in aerospace engineering, mathematics, and business. Hopefully I plan on going into either aerospace design or automotive design, and hopefully designing things that help the world be more accessible for us. Thank you.
James Boehm, Tennessee, Tennessee: I'd like to thank the committee. It is an honor and a privilege to be one of the thirty recipients of the NFB scholarships. We may be thirty, but we are one front, one mission in building the Federation, reflecting the flame of what it means to be blind. As president of my local chapter and the state Guide Dog Division as well as secretary for the state of Tennessee, I cannot wait to return home to reflect and share the energy that we have had here at the convention and move them as I have been moved. Thank you.
Candice Chapman, Minnesota, Minnesota: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I would like to begin by thanking the scholarship committee and my Federation family for this opportunity. It is my goal to become a university counselor. As a counselor in the university setting, I will be working with people and connecting every day in forming relationships. When people reflect on these relationships that we form, they won't remember that I was a blind counselor; they'll remember that I was a counselor who happened to be blind. Your investment in me will help me to achieve this as I start my master's program in educational psychology in the fall. Thank you.
Alan Chase, North Carolina, North Carolina: First I'd like to thank the committee and the national board and of course all of you, my Federation family, for making this opportunity possible. Currently I'm a doctoral student at North Carolina State University. I'm studying educational administration, and I am very passionate about building community amongst the Federation and amongst people who are visually impaired. I'm also very passionate about helping people to transition to higher education. I've demonstrated that by serving as the president of the North Carolina Association of Blind Students and building our membership and building community amongst our student division. But more importantly I've also created a summer camp for students with visual impairments to learn the skills that they need in order to be successful in higher education. It is my goal and vision that, like our BELL Program and other initiatives of the Federation, at some point in the future the Envisioning Youth Empowerment (EYE) Retreat will also be something that is offered throughout the country as part of our Federation. Thank you.
Craig Cooper, Oregon, Oregon: Thank you very much. It's an honor and a privilege to be here this morning. Fifteen years ago I did mornings on a radio station in Shreveport, Louisiana, and we were discussing ideas for raising a thousand toys for kids at Christmastime. I said, "Well, I'll go up on the radio station billboard until we get a thousand toys." You could have heard a pin drop in that room as they contemplated the idea of a blind guy falling off the billboard. Well, I didn't fall off the billboard; I was up there for three days, we raised the thousand toys, and the underprivileged kids got a Christmas. Ten years ago Hurricane Ivan is headed for the Gulf Coast, and I'm afternoons on WTVY in Dothan, Alabama. We said, "We've got to cover this; this is serious; there's going to be tornados and such." So I anchored the coverage with my team on all our radio stations in Dothan on the eighth floor of an office building. We covered it all night, and the next day a woman called me on the request line and said, "Thank you so much. We were in the closet, we had no power, the wind was coming up, the tornado sirens were going off, and all we had was y'all. And y'all were telling us what to do, and y'all were calm. Thank you." And I hung up the phone, and I was crying, that was—wow, powerful. And last year as part of my training to be a teacher (I'm in the master's program at Southern Oregon University), I was able to mentor and tutor kids—learning disabilities, kids with autism and such, and that gave me a great feeling as well. I'm going into teaching because I want to bring out the best in kids, and I consider it an absolute blessing to be here this morning. I'm eager and willing and happy to give back to the Federation in any way I can, so please let me know how. Thank you.
Hayden Dahmm, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, everybody. I am a senior studying engineering at Swarthmore College, and I'm the first blind student there in several years. So as a result being in the presence of hundreds of blind individuals is moving confirmation for me that I am not alone. I intend to continue my studies of environmental engineering, and I would also like to continue designing access tools so that blind individuals can have equal opportunities in STEM disciplines. I am blind as a consequence of being born over three months prematurely. When I was in the neonatal intensive care unit, a nurse said to my mother, "Miss, your son is never going to be a rocket scientist." I realize now that it is true; I will never be a rocket scientist—not because I am unable, but because I wish to do other things. The NFB testifies to me and proves to me that, just because limitations might be assumed from birth, we the blind can pursue whatever dreams we wish to. Thank you so much for making this opportunity.
Jonathan Franks, Texas, Texas: Good morning, everyone. I am pursuing a bachelor's in social work with a minor in psychology at the University of Texas. Eventually I'll also be pursuing a master's degree in social work and become a licensed clinical social worker so I can work with children. I am also a proud member of the board of the NFB of Texas, Austin chapter. I am a NEWSLINE® trainer for high school, middle school, and college students, and I am also an avid legislative advocate for the state of Texas. I am also a certified diabetes advocate for the American Diabetes Association and am on the board of the Hook the Cure-Diabetes Awareness student organization at the University of Texas. I am truly honored to be here. Thank you.
Cathy Gaten, California, California: Good morning, Dr. Maurer, board members, and Federationists. Being selected for this award is truly an honor. When someone recognizes your hard work, it's a confidence-builder. I would like to thank the scholarship committee for their belief in me and let them know that it's not going to be in vain. I plan to give back until it hurts. Thank you from the depths of my heart.
Stanley Ingram, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Greetings to my NFB family. I'm grateful, honored, and proud to be a member of the 2014 NFB scholarship class. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for allowing this to happen today. I'm studying for my MBA, and I will be a project manager and work with and for the NFB to continue the work of our founders and leaders—Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and Dr. Maurer—to change the perceptions of the capabilities of the blind in this world and in the United States of America. Thank you.
Meesha Johnson, New York, New York: Hello. Good morning, fellow Federationists. My name is Meesha Johnson. I am from Long Island, New York. I'm a single mother, and I'm a student at Suffolk County Community College, studying in the field of human services and law. I am also a double transplant recipient in August of 2010, and I just found out that one of the other finalists here is also a recipient, so I'm thinking that that's a new division that we may need to start here. A lot of people keep asking me how I am enjoying this. This is my first convention that I've ever been to, and I'm going to say what I've been telling everybody: this is not my last time. Thank you to the Federation for this honor, for the privilege of a scholarship to go toward my schooling. I am very thankful and grateful, and I'm grateful to be here. Thank you again.
Amber Kraft, North Dakota, North Dakota: I would like to start off by saying thank you to everyone for making it possible for me to be here; it's an honor. I'm from Bismarck, North Dakota. I just graduated from high school last May. I want to major in computer science, and I actually started classes already at Bismarck State. I'm missing math class to be here this week. I just want to say thank you to everyone.
Rebecca Leon, Tennessee, Tennessee: Good morning, everyone. I'm a social work major in Tennessee. I know that all of you here have dreams and aspirations. For some of you that may be traveling abroad or it may be going skydiving or making a cupcake. I encourage each of you to chase these dreams. For me, personally, my goal is to have a safe house for girls who have been trafficked and abused. I wish this to be a place where they can come and heal emotionally and mentally, where they will be taught music and art as therapies. I thank you all for having me here today and supporting me in my dreams. I choose to see every experience in life as an opportunity, a challenge, and an adventure, and I certainly see blindness in the same way. Thank you.
Alana Leonhardy, Idaho, Idaho: Good almost-afternoon, fellow Federationists. I am not here because I crave the prestige. I am not here simply for the money (although that is nice). I am here because I want the ability to make a difference in somebody's life somewhere. I am studying psychology, perhaps a very common major. But my goal is maybe a little less common: I want to work specifically with women who have disabilities who have been abused. I don't know if I'll go to law school and do battle against the bad guys in the courtroom or if I'll stay on the front line and do crisis intervention in the hospital and the like. What I do know is that I want to be a powerhouse in the Federation and that I will be a force to be reckoned with. Thank you.
Katelyn MacIntyre, Arizona, Pennsylvania: Hello, everyone, and thank you so much, Dr. Maurer, members of the board, and scholarship committee, and congratulations to my fellow finalists; it is such an honor to be among you all. I love music; music is my passion and my dream, and I love sharing that with other people. I believe that music is the language of the soul, and it truly transcends spoken language barriers and can reach such diverse audiences. To follow that, I'm studying a master's in music in vocal performance at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, starting this fall. I look forward to being a music educator and a concert performer. I sing everything from opera to jazz, and I love all kinds of music, so much so that I also enjoy studying music in culture (also known as ethnomusicology.) I'm a volunteer at the musical instrument museum, and I'm pursuing an opera program in Austria immediately after the convention this summer. So I'm thankful for the many opportunities I've had to perform around the world and share my music with diverse audiences, and I'm truly honored to be a part of this scholarship class. Thank you, and I'm enjoying my time at the NFB convention.
Derek Manners, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hello, new family. My name is Derek Manners. I'm about to start my second year at Harvard Law School. I graduated from the University of Texas—hook'em Horns—summa cum laude with my economics in government degree. I am looking forward to putting all of that long, hard-fought, and expensive education to work for the NFB. I realized pretty quickly when I first got here that the scholarship money isn't the real prize of this convention; it is the opportunity to get to meet all of you and to participate and to learn the opportunities I can do to get to work.
Elizabeth Muhammad, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Thank you to everyone who has made it possible for me to be here today. In the fall I will be a freshman at Bryn Mawr College majoring in political science and minoring in journalism. I have always been sure of my academic goals, but I have not always been 100 percent sure of my career goals. That is until yesterday, when I had the opportunity to have a great conversation with a man who helped me figure this out. Opportunity, advancement, and certainty: that is what the NFB means to me, and that is why I will continue on in this great organization. Thank you.
Yevgeniya "Zhenya" Pankova, Massachusetts, Massachusetts: Hi, everyone. My name is Zhenya Pankova. I was born in Russia, but I moved to the US when I was three, so I'm fluent in both English and Russian. In the fall I'm going to be an incoming freshman at Bridgewater State University with a double major in special education and math. The reason I want to major in special education is because I've had such a strong support system throughout my life, and I want to give back. I want to let the kids know that they can be fully independent, no matter what they do, and that they can reach for the stars. I'd like to thank the committee for allowing me to be here today so that I could reach for the stars and reach my goals. Thank you.
Sarah Patnaude, Virginia, Virginia: Good morning. Every day we raise expectations of blind individuals because low expectations create obstacles between blind individuals and our dreams. I want to thank the Federation for investing in every blind individual. I want to continue my work in the Federation by ultimately becoming a lawyer for the NFB or working in the advocacy and policy department at our National Center. On the first day of my internship, Dr. Maurer asked, "Who desires a seat at the table?" I am here today to promise you that I will take that seat. Thank you.
Emily Pennington (tenBroek Fellow), Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everyone. It is with great pleasure that I represent not only the wonderful scholarship class of 2014 but the great state of Ohio. I am a junior accounting major at Xavier University. I am hoping to pursue my MBA, law degree, and master's in taxation to become a tax lawyer. Aside from that, I'm ready to immerse myself in the Federation. This is my second convention, but I fully intend to be there for the one-hundredth in 2040. Thank you, everyone—have a great day.
Deja Powell (tenBroek Fellow), Utah, Utah: Good morning. My name is Deja Powell, and my journey started back twelve years ago when I won my first scholarship from the National Federation of the Blind. I later went on to graduate with a master's degree in orientation and mobility, and I taught adults for a few years (yes, I'm a proud NOMC). Then I had this really mean boss named Dr. Eddie Bell, and he came to me and said, "There's some blind kids in our city, and they aren't going to get O & M instruction unless you teach them." I had no intentions of teaching kids; of course I went and taught them, and I fell in love. I found my passion. I realized that blind kids deserve every opportunity possible; they deserve to be told that whatever they're dreaming and wanting to be, they can be. That's my goal. I'm working on my PhD in K-12 education so I can improve the lives of blind kids in the future. I want to say that I'm so grateful for this scholarship, and whatever you invest in me, you'll also invest in them, and I will introduce my students to the National Federation of the Blind.
Amanie Reiley, New York, New York: Thank you for providing me with the opportunity to receive this scholarship and to speak before you today. This is my first convention, but definitely not the last. This convention is just a stepping stone to the numerous conventions that I will attend in the future. I am currently a senior at Mercy College in a combined bachelor-master's program; therefore I will graduate with my bachelor's degree in psychology and education next May and graduate with my master's in special education in 2016. After that I would like to go back to school to receive certifications to become a TVI because I'm a big advocate for Braille literacy and the use of assistive technology. Once again, thank you for this wonderful convention so far, and I'm looking forward to interacting with each and every one of you.
Lucy Sidi, Illinois, Iowa: Hi, everyone. My name is Lucy, and I will be a freshman at Grinnell College in the fall. I'm considering a major in environmental science, but I hope to go on to law school and eventually become an advocate for the disabled and the mentally ill. This is my first NFB convention. I've never been to a gathering that was so empowering, and so far I've been really amazed with everything I've seen. Thank you so much for having me here today.
Mark Turley, Utah, Utah: We just went from the youngest to the oldest. I'd like to first of all thank Dr. Maurer and the Scholarship Committee for giving me this opportunity. In 2005 I was lost. I had just lost most of my sight, I'd lost my twenty-year career in the Navy, and I had lost a lot of my self-esteem and self-worth. My family loved me, but they didn't know what to do. Then in 2007 I discovered the NFB, and I immediately took to its philosophy, and I found a home there. While I appreciate this scholarship, the NFB has already given me far more than this. When I was in church as a young kid, I was taught that, if you want to find yourself, then lose yourself in service. I currently serve as the chapter president in Salt Lake, and I'm on the board in Utah. I'm now pursuing a master's degree at the University of Utah in mathematics to pursue a new career in education teaching. I appreciate this very much; I love the NFB, and I'm a lifer.
Anna Walsh, Alabama, Alabama: Good morning. Thank you for selecting me for this honor. In the fall I will be a freshman at Auburn University, where I will pursue a degree in political science. Afterwards I will attend law school because I have a strong desire to facilitate change in our society, and I believe that a good understanding of the law will help me in this effort. Through my involvement in the NFB, I have realized that I can pursue the life I want. Therefore, as I strive to achieve my goals, I will remain involved in the Federation, because it has given me far more than I ever expected. Thank you.
Bev Weiler, Colorado, Colorado: Good afternoon. I was thinking as I was coming through the line how I've had some interesting congruences in my life. As a teenager I was working with hearing-impaired and multiply-handicapped students, and now I am a blind student. I ran lights for rock ‘n roll out on the road, one of three women at that time in the country as a rock 'n roll roady, and now I have troubles with the light. Finally, I used to do seminars for the worldwide offices of Sun Microsystems, planning seminars for four hundred people, and here I am an honoree and attending a seminar with over two thousand people. Going from being a troubled teen to my master's degree now at Regis University, where I will work with troubled teens, I greatly appreciate the honor of the scholarship from NFB. Thank you very much.
Isaiah Wilcox (tenBroek Fellow), Georgia, Georgia: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. First of all, thank you to Dr. Maurer and to the national board for reinvesting in me. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be here to enjoy this opportunity once again. I will be pursuing my MBA degree from Georgia Tech in the fall. But let me just take a step back and remind everyone that in 2008 I won the scholarship. That was the fuel that I needed to light my Federation fire, to go home, to start a student division, then to join the state board, and now to be the president of our Atlanta chapter. So this scholarship means much more than just the financial capability to graduate school. It means that you give us an opportunity to join the Federation and to get started. Again, thank you all for having me here today, and I look forward to meeting each and every one of you.
Justin Williams, South Carolina, South Carolina: Hello, everybody. It is an honor and a privilege to be here. I attend the University of South Carolina, seeking my second master's degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling. My plan is to assist in a very aggressive way in ADA accessibility with the internet, with the web, and with reasonable accommodations and advocacy. The idea is to empower individuals with disabilities (whether they be blind or otherwise) to be independent and also to have accessibility so that some of those websites we're finding inaccessible—I'd like to at least look them over and then report them and let the right people help make them accessible. Like I said, this is my second master's degree. I've already worked at the commission for the blind as a JAWS trainer, a computer trainer for assistive technology. I've also run the Vanguard Rent-a-car Program for certifying individuals who are blind for customer service jobs. Also we've certified folks who were from vocational rehabilitation but weren't blind for these customer service positions. This has been a great week, I'm enjoying it, and I hear it's going to get even better. I appreciate the opportunities that the National Federation of the Blind has presented to me, and I look forward to being of service. Thank you very much.
On Sunday evening, July 6, following the annual banquet speech, Chairman Chang came to the podium to present the year's winners and announce which scholarships they had been awarded. This year the winners shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil before they took their places on the platform. In addition to the NFB scholarship, each of the thirty winners received a $1,000 check and plaque from Ray Kurzweil, a Google Nexus 7 tablet for access to the Blio ebook reader from K-NFB Reading Technology, and a $1,000 cash award from Google. This package of gifts added over $2,500 of value to every scholarship award.
After the scholarship class was introduced and the amount of each award was announced, Ms. Deja Powell was invited to address the convention in recognition of her winning the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship presented by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. Here is what she said:
Wow. Thank you so much to the committee, to Dr. Maurer for being such a great leader for me since I joined the Federation some thirteen years ago, and thank you to all of you, the members of the National Federation of the Blind, for giving me this scholarship today. You are part of the team.
I have felt strongly that my dad has been with me this week. He died eight years ago of brain cancer. My dad and I owned a lawn mowing business when I was a senior in high school, and we called it Kicking Grass Lawn Care. I remember a day when we had just finished mowing the lawn together. We sat on the grass, and he said to me, "Deja, promise me something. (This is before he knew he had cancer.) Promise me that you'll find someone or something that will help you become the person you want to be." This week I've felt my dad here, and I know that this organization—the National Federation of the Blind—is exactly what he'd hoped for me. You have my guarantee that your investment in me will go to the education of blind kids.
One little girl came to me this week on the Cane Walk and said to me, "Miss Deja, I just want you to know (her name is MaKenzie, she's awesome,) that I'm a real good cane traveler, and there's probably not a lot you're going to be able to teach me." And I love that, and I want that for every kid. So thank you so much for putting your trust and faith in me.
Following is the complete list of 2014 scholarship winners and the awards they received:
$3,000 NFB Awards: Alex Anderson, Anya Avramenko, James Boehn, Alan Chase, Craig Cooper, Hayden Dahmm, Jonathan Franks, Cathy Gaten, Stanley Ingram, Amber Kraft, Rebecca Leon, Alana Leonhardy, Derek Manners, Zhenya Pankova, Amanie Reiley, Lucy Sidi, Anna Walsh, Bev Weiler, and Justin Williams
$3,000 The Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Cindy Bennett
$3,000 E.U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: Mark Turley
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Isaiah Wilcox
$5,000 NFB Awards: Meesha Johnson, Shawn Berg, and Emily Pennington
$5,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship: Elizabeth Muhammad
$7,000 NFB Scholarship: Sarah Patnaude
$7,000 Donald and Betty Capps Leadership and Service Scholarship: Katelyn MacIntyre
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Candice Chapman
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (funded by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): Deja Powell
An Address Delivered by
at the Banquet of the Annual Convention
of the National Federation of the Blind
July 6, 2014
One meaning of challenge is a demand that a change be made to rectify inadequacy or correct error. Recognizing challenges that confront us, categorizing them appropriately, and managing them effectively is a fundamental element of human character. A person may avoid challenges entirely, confront them only when required to do so, welcome them, or cause them to occur. Which of these approaches is dominant will determine, in part, the character of the individual.
Placing challenges in the appropriate category for action or not is the exhibition of judgment. Not all challenges deserve to be accepted. Some are trivial, and some are without merit for other reasons. However, an enormous number of challenges represent possible opportunity. Whether these should be accepted or rejected is determined by the value that might be achieved. When the demands of a challenge are accepted and met, the challenge becomes an opportunity. This is the excitement of challenge.
What is practical to expect in confronting challenges for us? Where are the limits that exist in creating the change that we might reasonably want? When does the expectation of change become unrealistic?
During the past several years I have sat with the children who have been in attendance at the meeting of the parents division of the National Federation of the Blind, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. I take my place on the floor near the front of the room, and I invite those children who want to participate to join me. I say a few words about what we do in the National Federation of the Blind, and I ask the children if they have questions. One year a girl showed me her toy dog and explained to me that he barked. One year, when the KNFB Reader Mobile had just become available, I passed the one I was using to the children for them to examine as I explained what the device could do and how it had come to be built.
The children ask all manner of questions. Recently, one boy, Drake Alberhasky, who lives in Missouri with his parents and his brothers and sisters, asked me how to build a time machine. I know a great many things, and he expected me to know how to build such a machine. When I admitted that I did not know, he was disappointed. However, I did not forget the question.
When I was reading Dr. Ray Kurzweil’s book, How to Create a Mind, I was intrigued by the description he offered of the mental experiments conducted by Albert Einstein. These experiments were necessary to the formulation of the special theory of relativity espoused by Einstein in his paper published in 1905. Until Einstein questioned the status quo, time and space were regarded as fixed and unalterable. However, Einstein concluded that, with the addition of acceleration to a body, time changes in its application to that body when compared to others that are moving at different speeds. Time is not immutable; it changes with circumstance. Because the speeds required to alter time are much greater than the ones we customarily experience, we do not generally notice how time is being altered, although the alteration at some speeds and distances on Earth is measurable.
All of this was known to me before I read Dr. Kurzweil’s book. However, the startling observation which I had not previously known is that the mathematics involved in the equations about the speed of light and the alteration of time do not preclude travel faster than light. A physical law may exist prohibiting faster than light travel, but the mathematics do not. Faster than light travel would cause time to move backward.
Although I was intrigued by Dr. Kurzweil’s observation, I wondered whether the idea deserved more than cursory consideration. However, I remembered what Dr. Kurzweil had written when I read a brief article in the December 28, 2013, Science News magazine. This article entitled “Below Absolute Zero, But Hot” tells us that the physicist Ulrich Schneider conducted an experiment in which potassium gas reached a temperature slightly below absolute zero. In my study of physics (which I admit occurred a long time ago), we were led to believe that no substance could travel faster than the speed of light and that no temperature could be achieved colder than absolute zero. These were thought to be limits to speed and temperature which had been created by the laws of physics—by the nature of the universe itself. If these limits do not restrict the properties of substances as they had been previously thought to do, what other possibilities may exist? I do not know how to build a time machine, but I do have at least an inkling about what is required to affect the passage of time. The mathematics involved might permit time to move backward.
The concept of challenge suggests to many that the demand for change must come from an external source, but it can also come from within. Frequently the most difficult challenges come from ourselves—to ourselves. Within the National Federation of the Blind we have strengthened our organization and our members through a process that incorporates mutual respect and admiration with mutual challenge. We have challenged each other to have faith in ourselves and our colleagues. We have challenged each other to imagine a future filled with greater opportunity than has been true in our past. We have challenged each other to have the courage necessary to create a spirit of acceptance for the blind within our society. We have challenged each other to be leaders within our own movement and beyond it. We have challenged each other to alter forever the patterns of thought in our society that relegate us to the position of an undesirable group with less ability than can customarily be expected of others. We have challenged each other to build a kind of technology that gives us full access to information. We have challenged each other to construct the machines that provide us with independent transportation. We have challenged each other to become a participating element in every profession. When we have accepted these challenges, and when we have fulfilled the requirements inherent within them, we have strengthened ourselves and our movement. We have altered the nature of the future available to us all. We have become the architects of our own tomorrow.
Limits have been created for us that circumscribe our opportunities for education, for employment, and for full participation in other activities of life. We have sometimes wondered just how limiting these limits are. What is there about a limit that makes the limitation real? When we have decided to challenge them, we have frequently met with criticism, but we have come to recognize that the limits must be challenged. We will take the limits that have been imposed upon us, and we will fashion them into the tools that will give us liberty. Liberty comes only to those who demand it, and the battles that surround such demands can be fierce. If need be we will take the limits and forge them into the armaments that will set us free. Liberty we must have, and demand it we will. We know what our lives can be, and we will live them to the fullest.
In 1976 Frances Koestler released her book with the title The Unseen Minority: A Social History of Blindness in the United States. This intriguing title has irony because blindness is a conspicuous condition. We who are blind come to understand that we will be observed interminably—that anonymity is denied to us. However, the notoriety that we inspire often leaves us unrecognized for the people that we are. This pseudo-recognition leaves us unwelcomed and often isolated. This is a primary challenge in our lives. Though we are sometimes conspicuous, we are categorized out of society. We are observed but unknown.
A number of years ago my wife Patricia and I (both of us are blind) bought a house (the first one we ever owned) and moved into a West Baltimore neighborhood. It was a homogeneous residential area containing many people who had lived in the same houses for a long time. After we had lived there for a few weeks, one of our neighbors remarked, “We don’t mind if you people live in our neighborhood.”
This comment took me by surprise. It was meant to be a kindly welcome for the two of us, but the condescension was evident. Rather than saying “Welcome to the neighborhood,” my neighbor said, “We give you our permission to live in the same place that we do. We are regular people, and you are not. Despite this, we don’t mind if you stay.”
My neighbor would have been insulted had I replied to his comment that I didn’t mind if he lived in the same neighborhood with me. He thought of me as different from him, unusual, and not an asset to his neighborhood. He had never considered that blind people might want to be a part of the same place that he inhabited and that such blind people might make valuable contributions. He only thought of blind people’s participation in his part of the world when it became evident to him that there was very little he could do to stop it.
How often this is the case with us. The schools, the colleges, the booksellers, the internet providers, the transportation engineers, the entertainment industry directors, the employers, the politicians, the purveyors of pharmaceutical products, the managers in the medical profession do not think of us as part of the group that will be participating in the activities they find important. The message is clear. We must ensure that they never forget who we are. We must meet the challenge presented by their assertion that we are an unimportant afterthought in their planning. We must insert our presence in all these activities of life with the spirit and determination that will change the assumptions that have been made about our incapacity or irrelevance. We must not wait for acceptance but demand it. We know what our lives can be, and we intend to live them to the fullest.
Sometimes those who offer commentary about us observe only our blindness and not our talents as whole human beings. Because of their misunderstanding they become yet another challenge. Consider, for example, some of the advice about blindness found on the internet. The internet is, of course, not only a resource but a wasteland where anything is said and everything is written. However, a website entitled eHow.com, which contains substantial advice regarding blind people, offers citations to many authoritative sources. eHow.com has a number of recommendations for us, or perhaps for the people their authors believe are in charge of us. One section of their advice is entitled “How to Take Care of Blind People.” This is part of what they say:
Keep walkways clear. Clutter is potentially dangerous, even for the sighted. Keep the floors clear of clothing, furniture and other items that a visually impaired person may trip over.
Let the person initiate touch. If she needs you to lead her somewhere, let her take your arm instead of grabbing hers. If you need to touch her, as with adjusting clothing or helping with grooming, warn her first.
Such is language from eHow.com, and the only worthwhile comment is: How insufferably arrogant! When was it that I asked somebody to be responsible for taking care of me? Who authorized somebody else to decide what kinds of circumstance would authorize them to touch me or any of my possessions? Who would have the temerity to decide to adjust my clothing? Kevan Worley, in an attempt to find a method for making a point without becoming combative, has declared to a number of airline personnel that this day has been designated as “no grabbing blind people day.” eHow believes that blind people must have somebody to take care of them.
But there is more. Another piece is entitled “How to Feed a Visually Impaired Person.” Included in this remarkable section is the following:
Restock foods that the visually impaired person eats on a regular basis. This will make life easier for the person if he or she can get to the kitchen or pantry without aid. . .
Don’t fill cups and mugs completely when serving drinks to a blind person. Leave room at the top to avoid spills, especially with hot drinks. If necessary, help the person find the rim of the cup at first. Use non-spill containers.
How does all of this strike you? When you attend an event at the Club, are you prepared to tell the person offering beverages that your glass should be only three-quarters full? Are you prepared to let the personnel know that anything else would be too dangerous for you?
And yet, there is still more. The eHow experts have a section detailing “How to Entertain a Blind Person,” listed in the part of the eHow presentation designated “Hobbies.” Here is part of the language:
When someone has poor eyesight, her other senses often are honed. Excite her taste buds with new and interesting meal options. Experiment with sweet and salty combinations, or maybe even a few spicy selections. Texture is also important, so add some crunchy toppings to soft pastas or rice for an interesting textural experience.
I have this question. What is it about entertaining blind people that makes it a hobby? What self-respecting person would tolerate being perpetually somebody else’s project? Independence, self-sufficiency, and self-assertion are essential to the human character. The assumption of eHow, however, is that these are absent when blindness comes.
Why is it that there is not a segment teaching blind people how to entertain sighted people? This could be a new hobby for the blind. I sometimes entertain sighted people, and I frequently give them food—sometimes even spicy food. But I didn’t realize that this is a hobby. Should I keep notes about how well the sighted people do and share them with other blind people who engage in this type of entertainment? Should we write a book about the best techniques for engaging the interest of the sighted? Should we create a website where we can display pictures and videos of sighted people being fed their spicy cuisine? How full should we fill their cups?
The image presented about blind people in the eHow website is not the one that we know so well. It is a shriveled, desiccated conception of what we are. And we have a message for the creators of this site. Don’t give us this malarkey. Don’t blight and belittle our lives. Don’t claim the position of experts. And don’t continue the myth that our lot in life is to be subservient to others. Get it right, or give it up.
The thinking behind the concept that blindness diminishes character and personality causes real damage. An article which appeared in The Sunday Times (U.K.) on May 11, 2014, describes a family with a daughter aged seven who is becoming blind but retains a significant amount of sight. The reaction to this circumstance is that the parents of this child are urging social service agencies and the public at large to assist in giving her the opportunity to see as many visual images of importance as possible before blindness takes forever her capacity to do so. Her parents have created a website which bears the title “Making Molly’s Memories.” The newspaper depicts the efforts of the family as “a race against time.” Having been diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in December, Molly is now being encouraged to want to have visual experience all over the world before she becomes blind. Her mom says on the website:
All we can know is Molly's sight is deteriorating to a point where eventually she will lose her sight completely.
All we can do as her parents, family, and friends is give her every life enhancing opportunity and experience whilst she still has her sight to make as many memories as possible.
Molly loves the world and animals. She wants to explore everywhere she can while she can.
The list of visual images being sought for Molly includes Buckingham Palace, a play in a theatre, and the pyramids in Egypt. Donations are requested to assist with travel. Already, £63,000 has been contributed—something over $100,000.
Viewing these things visually is undoubtedly worth doing. However, the damage comes from the implication that a life of joy and capacity will come to a close when vision is gone. What I am saying could easily be misunderstood. I do not oppose sight or the joys it can bring. I am well aware that visual experiences may be not just memorable but dramatic and moving. On the other hand those who do not possess sight also experience dramatic and moving elements of life. To suggest that these will no longer be available to this child is to limit severely her future. To say that nothing will remain for her except memories is to declare that the productive part of her life will be gone. This is the damage that is caused when blindness is equated with the diminution of personality. This is a tragedy that a little knowledge, a little thought, and a little faith could avoid.
A similar piece is contained in The Daily Mail (U.K.) for May 1, 2012, entitled “Woman, 27, Warned She Faces Blindness after Tumour Op Draws up ‘Bucket List’ of World’s Most Beautiful Places.” In this article we are told:
When Jade Salero was told she needed to undergo surgery which could leave her unable to see, she decided to see the world.
The 27-year-old from Havant in Hampshire has been told she needs to have a major operation to remove a cyst from her brain.
On being told that the procedure may leave her blind, Jade began drawing up a bucket list of idyllic locations she hoped to capture in her memory forever.
She has pledged to visit world wonders such as Canada’s Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon in Arizona, United States. . . .
Jade said: “I just don’t want to waste any time really, I want to concentrate on making myself happy. . . .
“The surgeons have said to hold on for as long as I can and I’m going to do that because everything will change—the person who I am will change.” . . .
She added: “People still live when they are blind, it’s the other things that worry me.
“Your temper can be really affected as well as your personality. I can’t imagine not being in control of myself.”
The fear of blindness described in this article contrasted with the joy of sight gives this depiction depth. The end of a joyful life is anticipated with the accompanying change of personality, an altered temper, and the loss of control—all based on blindness. Major loss (such as the loss of sight) is a recognized psychological challenge, but this description asserts alteration beyond loss. It assumes a fundamental diminution of personal value. The portrayal resonates in the press and on the internet. But the depiction is one-dimensional. The joy of living and the ability to see are not synonymous. The absence of vision does not remove this joy. The personality does not automatically change, and the temper within the human breast does not become more oppressive with the loss of sight.
This leaves to one side the question whether it is necessary to observe Niagara Falls visually in order to appreciate its wonder and its power. Those of us who have been there might report that a great deal can be appreciated in other ways. We should tell Jade about this and urge her not to give up on life.
Not all people avoid blindness; some embrace it as an advantage to them, although in many cases they use only simulated blindness. In the Hemispheres magazine for January 2011 published by United Airlines a story appears entitled “Consider the Tardigrade: The Fast-growing Field of Biomimicry Encourages Innovators to Look to Nature—In All its Wonder and Weirdness—For Solutions to Our Trickiest Problems.” The first portion of this article reads as follows:
One afternoon in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dayna Baumeister stands in a room full of Herman Miller employees, next to a trunk filled with seashells, feathers and other natural miscellany, and hands a sea cucumber to Carolyn Maalouf, a blindfolded R&D engineer. Don’t guess what the object is, Baumeister says. Guess what it does. Maalouf takes a shot. Well, it’s spiky, she says. Maybe it needs those spikes to ward off predators? Another blindfolded colleague, meanwhile, is holding a swatch of sharkskin. With some guidance, he eventually deduces, correctly, from the smooth surface that his object is designed to move fast.
That they stumble through the exercise is pretty much the point. By eliminating sight—the sense that instantly would provide the “right” answer—the exercise succeeds in what Baumeister calls “quieting our cleverness.” This is crucial. Baumeister is the cofounder of The Biomimicry Guild, a group that promotes the increasingly popular notion that many of the best solutions to problems facing humanity can already be found in nature.
This article strongly suggests that blindness is an advantage in achieving knowledge through alternative methods of approach even though the blindness being used is simulated. How much more effective might the research be if actual blind scientists were used to conduct it? These blind scientists, who have experience gathering knowledge in alternative ways, might offer understanding that the unskilled hands of the simulated blind people would miss. Incidentally, the tardigrade, which is mentioned in the title of the article, is a tiny creature perhaps half a millimeter long that is versatile enough to survive drought, flood, and extreme temperatures. Some of them are blind.
Another inquiry, which recognizes the advantages of being blind, involves special shoes for blind people. As you know, I have criticized severely the concept that blind people need special shoes, but the shoes involved in this study may very well be special enough to deserve commendation. When we decided to build an automobile with an interface that the blind can use, the primary mechanism for delivering information to the blind driver involved vibrating motors. These were located in gloves worn by the blind driver, in pads beneath the legs of the blind driver, and in other pads located behind the back of the driver. The blind driver is required to get the feel of the vehicle and to learn about proper direction from the information gathered through these vibrating elements.
One of the projects involving shoes for the blind was presented at a TED event. TED, which is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, began in 1984, and it has grown to encompass ideas in many realms, imaginative and innovative. The article which appeared from the TED event, entitled “Soul to Sole,” contains the following commentary:
Anthony Vipin Das, an eye surgeon, has been developing haptic shoes that use vibration and GPS technology to guide the blind. This innovation—which could radically change the lives of the vision-impaired—has drawn the interest of the United States Department of Defense, which has recently shortlisted the project for a $2 million research grant. . . .
“The shoe basically guides the user [says Vipin Das] on the foot on which he’s supposed to take a turn. . . . The shoe also keeps vibrating if you’re not oriented in the direction of your initial path and will stop vibrating when you’re headed in the right direction.”
This brief piece from the article is about as much description as is offered. Ordinarily, the Department of Defense does not have a major interest in the blind. However, it does have an interest in directional aids that can be used without light. These aids would be helpful in the dark or in smoke-filled environments. Beyond that, this kind of technology is being urgently sought for use by firefighters, soldiers, police officers, and other rescue workers.
That blind people may be the cause for the development of technology which will solve a problem for others who are not blind is worthy of consideration. A good many blindness-related technologies have been expanded to bring added capacity to non-blind populations. One of the most familiar examples of such development is the multi-font scanner which was essential in the development of the Kurzweil Reading Machine. This type of scanner is currently being used for non-blind applications all over the world.
We in the National Federation of the Blind have contemplated building blindness-related guidance technologies beyond the ones that we currently know. The vibrating cane has been part of blindness technology for forty years, but a more complex vibrating system could be useful in ways that the original vibrating cane was not. The belt with vibrating motors that can give direction to a person walking or riding on a bicycle is under consideration, and a number of other haptic devices have been imagined in conversations about creating guidance systems that will be effective at high speed. The shoes may be a good first step.
Blind people (we are sometimes told) are deprived because we cannot see the sunset, the faces of our children, the beauty of a painting, the landscape, or the stunningly beautiful human being who has just entered the room. With this in mind, I found myself intrigued by the question “What is beauty for the blind?” The lines from John Keats’s poem are “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Everette Bacon, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah, recently brought to my attention a brief video on the subject “How the Blind See Beauty.” Four blind people, two men and two women, offer comments about their impressions of beauty. One articulates that beauty is contained in the essence of living. One tells us that the lives of blind people are entirely made up of feelings and that these offer beauty. One believes that beauty is represented by her children. One says beauty is the experience of pleasant touches or aromas. One avers that beauty comes from finding joy. One says that appreciating goodness or caring for others is the source of beauty. One believes that beauty involves imagination. The attempt in the video is to get at a difficult concept and to assert that blind people have access to this concept.
I appreciate the effort of the people who put the video together—who made the comments about the experiences they have had. I would add my own thought on the subject. It seems to me that beauty is that which enlivens the heart and gives depth and purpose to life itself. In other words, I think it is one of the characteristics of love. It is evident to me that blind people have an enormous capacity for this. I have known it in my own life, and I have known thousands of blind people who share the experience with me. The aesthetic experience is not denied to us although it may be comprehended in a way different from that which sighted people use. Those of us who seek understanding in the aesthetic realm know that comprehension of aesthetic experience can be achieved by the blind, sometimes with intensity. Art, along with the beauty that goes with it, is an element of our lives, and some of us create it.
Destruction of the family because of blindness strikes at the heart of some of the most fundamental rights that we have. A few weeks ago a blind father called to say that he needed help. His marriage was coming to a close, and his wife was using his blindness as the means for demanding that his children no longer be in his custody. Furthermore, his visitation rights were also being limited to those times when his wife or another sighted person could supervise him.
When the children were born to these parents (one is now two and the other three), this blind father agreed to care for them while his wife worked. He has been principally responsible for their care from their beginning. Yet, when the marriage began to dissolve, this father was charged by his wife with being incapable of caring for his own children.
During the hearing about the custody of the children, this blind father was called to the witness stand to tell the judge about his talents, his training, and his experiences caring for his children. He has a college diploma and an advanced degree. He has been employed as an actor and as a professor of drama. His children are healthy and happy. One person called them delightful.
The judge noted that he was very impressed with the capacity of this blind father. Then, he ruled that this man could not have custody of the children because of his blindness. He also ruled that visits would be limited to times when this man would be supervised by a sighted observer.
After the judge made the decision that custody would be denied, the blind father asked for help. We are pursuing an appeal, and we believe that we will restore these children to the parent who has nurtured them for so long. The judge was impressed with the talent of the man, but he could comprehend only one of his characteristics—his blindness. His prejudice prevented him from noticing anything else. The decision of the judge is intolerable. Our families will not be destroyed because of somebody else’s prejudice about our blindness. We will meet this challenge, and we will vindicate the right of a father to love and cherish his own children.
In the National Federation of the Blind we have a philosophy which declares that we are in charge of our own lives with all that this implies. In our movement we also have members from every segment of society and from every part of the nation. The philosophy is essential, but it gains vibrant life only when it is put into practice by the members. Living our philosophy develops challenges that we offer to each other. I sometimes wonder why we cannot create a more effective legal structure, invent a more comprehensive access technology, or inspire a more welcoming spirit in the employment arena. When I wonder these things, I invite my colleagues to help me make a plan to assure that these thoughts become real. You sometimes wonder why I cannot muster the resources to implement an educational program that will change potential for blind children or adults throughout the nation. Each of us demands faith and performance from the other. When the demands we make of each other are met, we become more effective members and leaders than we have been in the past.
One of the most precious gifts I have is my friends in the Federation. Without you I could not have become the person I am. The friendship we have is a bond of trust. It means that when the challenges come we will not flinch. It means that when the demands are made we will pay the costs and find the energy to meet them. It means that when the charges come of inadequacy, weakness, or indecisiveness we will reject them. We will love, support, and believe in each other.
These friendships reach back into the past. Although I never met our first President, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, and although I knew only a very few of our members who were part of this movement in the first decade of its existence, the spirit they have given to what we have done has sustained me and our Federation throughout the later decades of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. I am quite certain that Dr. tenBroek and his colleagues at the beginning would recognize the force we have become and would have gladness in their hearts.
Our second great President, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, was a close personal friend to Dr. tenBroek and to me. Dr. Jernigan experienced deprivation of opportunity in his life because of blindness, and he dedicated his whole being to bringing liberty to us. I promised him that I would find members who would carry on this tradition. Dr. Jernigan had a determined mind and a stout heart. He would recognize our Federation, and he would glory in it. We have kept faith with the leaders and the members who have preceded us, and we have made our promises to those who will follow. We will love, support, and believe in each other, and we will have the guts to face the hard choices when they come.
At this convention we have elected a new President. Mark Riccobono will be a good President. He will be a President who challenges us, but he will also be open to accepting challenges himself. He has judgment and a loving heart. Furthermore, he does not scare easy.
The challenge for us is to have the courage and to gain the talent that will make it practical for us to be a valuable element of every aspect of our society and to invent parts of it that do not yet exist. We must become known for the joyful lives we have and the contributions we make. Those who think of us as an afterthought, who doubt our ability, who want to control what we do and what we think, or who want to alter our family structures must not be permitted to dominate or control our lives. We must assure that our lives are what we want them to be. We must be the architects of our own tomorrow. Such is the challenge before us, but we have the capacity to meet it. Our spirit is abundant; our hearts are filled with joy. The prospects before us are as exciting as they have ever been. We can meet this challenge, and we will. Gather your strength. Gather your courage. Gather your will. And our plans will come true!
by Mark A. Riccobono
From the Editor: To present the last item on Friday afternoon’s agenda, Mark Riccobono was invited to discuss the ten years of progress he has observed at the Jernigan Institute. This was a significant challenge, made even more difficult because his was the name mentioned most by those speculating about who would be the next president of the National Federation of the Blind. His mission, therefore, was not only to talk about the Institute and his work there, but to explain what his job and his membership in the National Federation of the Blind had done to shape his character, build his confidence, and prepare him to occupy the most influential position in the affairs of the blind in the United States and the world. Here is what he said:
Today we come to acknowledge a milestone in our movement: ten years of progress in the Jernigan Institute of the National Federation of the Blind. One of the last projects Kenneth Jernigan undertook in his life was dreaming and planning for a research and training institute—a place where we could bring together our collective hopes, test our life experiences, and build new patterns of education that would be dramatically different from anything that had previously existed.
I never met Dr. Jernigan in the flesh. I came into the Federation as a college student in 1996, and in the two years that I had before his death, there were probably half a dozen times I should have taken the opportunity to introduce myself. I foolishly thought that I was not worth his time or that he had more pressing things to do than talk to me. Today I recognize the tremendous opportunity I lost, and I have tried not to repeat that mistake with others. Although I did not have the benefit of receiving Dr. Jernigan's mentorship firsthand, I have been educated by his writing, inspired by his voice, and influenced by his life's work.
In reflecting on the past ten years, I find myself wondering what he would think of what we have done and what I might say to him personally if I had that opportunity. Then it came to me that, while I might never know what he would say about the institute that bears his name, I certainly could tell him what we have done and what we dream of doing in the decades ahead. And so I have written him a letter that I would like to share with you this afternoon because it reflects the tremendous progress we have made and points to the work ahead on our journey together.
Dear Dr. Jernigan,
I wanted to write to you on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. I have had the honor of working there since day one, and for the past seven years I have served as executive director. I have felt the love, hope, and determination that have come out of our innovative programs—I have always thought of it as carrying your spirit forward to a new generation. I want to share with you what we have been doing in our Jernigan Institute and tell you how the work continues to shape my own development as a member of the National Federation of the Blind.
My first assignment at our Jernigan Institute was to build a new, dynamic, hands-on brand of science education for blind youth and have it ready for our first summer. I know that you loved science fiction, and you would have delighted in joining these young blind people in touring the Goddard Space Flight Center, talking to NASA engineers, and building and launching a rocket from Wallops Island. The significance of that first summer was, like your Iowa experiment, the way we put the Federation model to the test. We started with our own experience, which, for many of us, meant the experience of having been shut out of science. True to your example, we chose not to be victims with sad stories of exclusion, but rather victors, determined that what we were denied would serve as our inspiration to improve conditions for the next generation. We gathered outstanding blind educators, skilled blind scientists and engineers, subject matter experts in the areas we wanted to teach, and all of us dreamed about what we would do with our combined talents. This created a beautiful model for collaboration and innovation. We often had to teach ourselves before we could teach the blind teens. A number of dogfish sharks were dissected by blind mentors developing and perfecting their nonvisual techniques. That first summer was critical in educating the blind teachers that we did not have to be bound by the traditional models of education and that we could create something new and unprecedented. We knew immediately that the next task would be to use that experience to teach others how to do the same thing.
We made a commitment to Mrs. tenBroek to have a special space in our building to house Dr. tenBroek's personal and professional papers. We have dedicated over 17,000 square feet to our Jacobus tenBroek Research Library on Blindness. Dr. tenBroek's papers are well preserved, and we have developed tools for researchers to use so that they can discover his significant contributions to society. The library also contains your own papers, as well as the hundreds of books and periodicals that the organization has collected over the decades. We have digitized our print books and magazines, and we continue to grow our unique collection of the history and achievements of the blind. We are now focusing more energy on capturing and telling the story of blind people in writing, on video, and through other emerging media. Blind people are more a part of society than ever before, yet most people do not know a blind person. The walls of our institute are filled with pictures of blind people living the lives they want. We now need to take those images beyond our walls and use today's technology to distribute them around the world in order to create greater awareness about our organization and demonstrate the power of the blind in action.
In the early days of our institute, the majority of our time and resources were spent on specialized products for the blind. While we are still collecting and testing these, today a majority of our time and resources are spent on the same products our sighted friends are buying. This shift reflects both the higher expectations we have for our participation in the mainstream and our advanced experience with technology. We have set a new standard that demands that technology be built from the beginning with nonvisual access as one of the design considerations. Through our implementation of a web accessibility certification program, participation in the establishment of standards for digital content, and collaboration with key experts around the world, our NFB Jernigan Institute has been pivotal in bringing leadership and expertise to the technology industry.
A cornerstone of our technology program over the past decade has been our continued relationship with Ray Kurzweil. We jointly developed and commercialized a reading machine that could fit in a pocket and pioneered accessible ebook reading platforms that contributed significantly to the current revolution in ebooks. Ray Kurzweil is now the director of engineering at Google, and this has created an opportunity for us to work together on a new front—deeply embedding accessibility into the culture of one of the world's cutting-edge information technology companies, and facilitating dialogue about how we might combine our expertise to develop new accessible products that would be available to blind people at the same time they become available to the general public. This is just one of many technology partnerships we are pursuing.
I have heard you had a preference for traveling by car rather than by air. Well, we have now built technology that would allow you to be in the driver's seat. And the science fiction stories of vehicles that drive themselves are quickly becoming fact—some speculating that they may be on the market within five or six years. When we opened our institute, we began sharing the dream that, with the right combination of imaginative partners, we could create a car that a blind person could drive. We hoped that the challenge of building this technology would get people to think about blindness in new ways and motivate them to work on innovative approaches to nonvisual access that would go far beyond the act of driving a car safely. While it has done that, the most enriching part of this project has been what it has done to shape our own attitudes and expectations for ourselves as blind people. Our Blind Driver Challenge® has also given us the tools and increased credibility to sit at the same table with the engineers working on driverless vehicles so that we now can have influence in the nonvisual interfaces that will be built into these new modes of transportation.
We are capitalizing on the interfaces we built for driving a car by imagining how we might use them on a bicycle. As you well know, it is not the physical riding of the bike that is the problem for blind people, but rather avoiding all the obstacles in the way. Access to reliable and affordable transportation systems is still a significant barrier for the blind, and accessible bicycle technology may play a significant role in increasing our options to travel independently. Getting technology onto a bicycle is just one of the many dreams that have been circulating throughout our convention that we are now actively working to fulfill. Some things in the Federation do not change—we gather together, dream together, and work on transforming our dreams into reality.
Our organization is about changing the lives of blind people, and it has most certainly changed mine. I never thought of myself as a driver until I was called to lead the blind driver project for the Federation. In every way that matters, the Federation has taught me to be a driver rather than a passenger in my own life. The blind driver experience has totally transformed my approach to our work. I no longer know what the limits are for us, and I carry this sense of wonder, adventure, and limitless possibility to every new assignment that comes my way.
I should share just a few more things about education, since that is one of the primary assignments in which I have focused my energy and something in which you so deeply believed. During the summer of 2007, we decided we needed to take our programs for young people to the next level by bringing two hundred blind high school students to Baltimore and giving them the opportunity to work with blind mentors and instructors. Imagine taking the feeling you get when you walk into the convention hall and packing it into an entire week on a university campus. We put on the largest and most dynamic education program in the history of the blind—the NFB Youth Slam—and we have now done it several times. During the past decade, through our National Center for Blind Youth in Science initiative, we have taught: aerospace engineering, agriculture, architecture, art, biology, chemistry, civil engineering, computer science, cyber security, earth science, electrical engineering, forensics, genetics, geology, geoscience, human physiology, journalism, kinesiology, marine biology, mechanical engineering, mineralogy, nanoscience, neurolinguistics, paleontology, physics, psychology, recreational math, robotics, shark dissection, simple/complex machines, space science, and video description. In the process we have developed hundreds of future blind leaders and dozens of outstanding new partners.
Many of our programs have grown out of the work of our affiliates. In Maryland we started an initiative to teach Braille to blind children, and we coined the phrase "if they will not teach them, we will teach them ourselves." Since 2009 we have built that affiliate project into a national movement—Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning, or NFB BELL. This summer we will have thirty-four programs in twenty-three of our affiliates. That means that more than 150 blind children will receive direct Braille instruction this summer—and this is just one of a dozen Braille-related programs we conduct. We have also made substantial investments in the future of Braille-related technologies and tools to bring about the creation, editing, and dissemination of tactile and three-dimensional learning objects. With our continued leadership, imagination, and innovation, the next ten years are going to produce some of the most powerful Braille and tactile learning experiences in the history of the blind.
Dr. Jernigan, I know that much of your work was made possible because of your ability to effectively read and write. Your eloquent and concise description of the attitudes educators in your time held about Braille still ring true: "Jenny can read print, but Johnny must read Braille." To combat the bias against Braille, we have developed the only research-based assessment tool for determining the appropriate reading medium for blind children, and I can give personal testimony to its validity and importance. My daughter Oriana—who just turned four years old—is getting ready to go into pre-K in the Baltimore Public Schools. My wife Melissa and I were a little nervous about what type of reading and writing instruction would be recommended for her. A local teacher used the National Reading Media Assessment and determined that our daughter should be learning both Braille and print in school. We were already prepared to press for this instruction, but it was a relief to have evidence from the field to support our experience. I did not learn Braille when I was young, and my vision was worse than Oriana's when I was her age. Her path will be better than the one I took because of the progress made possible by the National Federation of the Blind, and for that I will always be grateful. Oriana is just one example of the many young people of this generation who will be shaped by and benefit from the programs built and disseminated from our Jernigan Institute.
It is my dream, but more than that, it is my commitment that the education programs of the Federation become so widespread that they touch every blind child as soon as their parents know their child is blind. What adventures will those children dream of pursuing when they never live a day without knowing the determination, the power, and the love of the National Federation of the Blind in their lives? This is what we are working on in our education programs, and I believe it is achievable during our next ten years.
Dr. Jernigan, there is much more to tell you, but I recognize that you probably already know what I have said to you and more. After all, your spirit has been part of our work this whole time, and your contributions to our movement continue to ring in the hearts of Federationists across the country. I am curious what you would say about our movement today. From my perspective the details of what we do have changed, the scope of our influence and program has grown, and the complexity of our work has increased, but, at its core, the heartbeat of the organization is the same as it has been since the founding of our movement. Recently, we have been expressing this core Federation feeling in these words: I am filled with hope, energy, and love by participating in the National Federation of the Blind because my expectations are raised, my contributions make a difference to me and to others, and I can celebrate the realization of my dreams with my Federation family.
There is one more thing I want to thank you for, and that is your recommendation that Marc Maurer, your friend and mentee, my friend and mentor, be the president of the National Federation of the Blind. He has been everything you expected him to be, and he has risen to every demand the Federation has placed on its president during the past twenty-eight years. Every day he exemplifies what it is to be a dreamer, a visionary, a leader. He has kept and has strengthened the bond of faith that we in the Federation have with one another. His energy and imagination have been given in full measure, but it is his demonstrated love for the Federation and the members who give it vitality that has forever sealed his place in our hearts. That we have made such tremendous progress through our Jernigan Institute is just one shining example of his leadership and his effort to build leadership in others.
Lately we have been talking a lot about transition and about Dr. Maurer's plan to focus his energy on passing the torch to a new generation of leaders—a generation of leaders who have benefited from the great joy he takes in building the National Federation of the Blind. We are now prepared to serve as his teachers wherever knowledge needs to be shared, his innovators when a new idea needs wings, his engineers when there are programs to develop, and his friends in the movement, always and forever. Although transition and change always create uncertainty, I believe we are ready to hold tight to that bond of faith and carry it forward in a way that will be worthy of the love that Dr. Maurer has put into his service to our movement. I know that I do not intend to let him down, and I am confident I can find thousands of other Federationists who feel the same way.
That is my report. I am sorry I did not take the opportunity to meet you in person, but my gratitude for what you have done for me and those I love knows no bounds. I hope that my own actions in our Federation are ones that you are proud to have happen in a building that carries your name. I close my letter with a quote from one of your speeches, a quote that I now reflect back to you as my recommitment to the mission of the National Federation of the Blind: "Yesterday and tomorrow meet in this present time, and we are the ones who have the responsibility. Our final climb up the stairs will not be easy, but we must make it. The stakes are too high and the alternatives too terrible to allow it to be otherwise . . . We will continue to climb. Our heritage demands it; our faith confirms it; our humanity requires it. Whatever the sacrifice, we will make it. Whatever the price, we will pay it."
Yours in the movement,
Mark A. Riccobono, Executive Director, Jernigan Institute
National Federation of the Blind
Those are some of my reflections on my ten years at the Jernigan Institute, and I hope that I have contributed as much to our movement during the past decade as the movement has contributed to my own development as a blind person. I know with certainty that what we have built, we have built together, and there are many great milestones yet to be achieved on our journey. In celebration of the tenth anniversary of our institute and the coming seventy-fifth anniversary of our movement, we reflect on the past with gratitude, we come to the present with firm resolve, and we prepare to build our own future with the determination, joy, and unbreakable bond of trust and love that will always mark the spirit of the National Federation of the Blind.
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by Daniel Goldstein
From the Editor: Advocacy depends on a worthy cause, volunteers who support it, and often on paid people who have expertise that cannot be provided without the training they bring in their professions. We hire competent, capable, and passionate lawyers to make our case in court, and Dan Goldstein is one of our best. He is not only someone we hire; he is someone who believes in us, believes deeply in the worthiness of the cause we embrace, and has taken as one of his major life’s commitments seeing that we get the information necessary to engage in the larger community. Here are remarks Dan made during the first afternoon session of the 2014 Convention:
Thank you Dr. Maurer, and good afternoon, fellow Federationists. I have to say after listening to Eve Andersson that I'm more in the mood to party than I am to give a speech, but first things first.
Imagine waking up every morning and getting to ask yourself what you can do today to make the world more like the world you would like to live in, and then spend the day with the tools and resources to make that happen. This is the gift that the National Federation of the Blind has given me daily for the last twenty-eight years, unexpectedly and blessedly.
Representing the NFB is a great and humbling responsibility; true, but far more, it is a joyful task, one that, second only to my family, has given meaning to my life. To a great extent being one of the lawyers for the NFB is who I have become—this is what I do and I can imagine no higher calling.
So how did I land this gig? In 1986 twenty-one Randolph Sheppard vendors in Maryland, led by Don Morris, decided to stop paying their set-aside to protest the state's failure, after a decade, to rewrite its rules to comply with the 1974 amendments to the Randolph-Sheppard Act. Although it had long been illegal, Maryland was still collecting set-aside based on gross revenues and had not created a Committee of Blind Vendors. When twenty-one vendors decided to stop paying until Maryland started to comply with the law, Maryland retaliated by threatening to terminate their licenses.
NFB's first choice to represent the Maryland vendors had a conflict of interest and recommended me. When Dr. Maurer called and asked me to meet with him and Dr. Jernigan, I had no inkling that I had reached a major and dramatic turn in my personal and professional life.
Let me take a minute to tell you what I knew before that meeting at the center at that time about disability and disability rights, about the blind and what it means to be blind. [Pause] Well, that didn't take very long. Apparently I was not the first smart ignorant lawyer that NFB had encountered, so I was required to spend a day or two reading speeches by Drs. tenBroek and Jernigan, as well as Dr. tenBroek's seminal article. The idea was that I should learn something about the NFB if I was going to represent it.
What I read resonated with the core of who I am as a person. It was written in the language of civil rights and spoke of things that I fervently believe must be part of the world we must make for ourselves to live in—equal opportunity, human dignity, being recognized for who you are—in short, the NFB philosophy reflected what I believe we must achieve in our society—but written through the lens of blindness.
Over my life to that point I had thought a lot about our country's vices in excluding our neighbors on the basis of race and gender, but I had never thought about disability. I was hooked.
I took on the case for the Maryland vendors, gave it my best shot, and lost. Well, technically I lost. For a decade the state of Maryland had done nothing to bring its vendor operation into compliance with federal law. Two weeks after we filed suit, Maryland published the proposed regulations it had failed to propose for ten years. Less than four months after we filed suit, those regulations went into effect. The vendors were all reinstated and didn't have to repay the gross set-aside they had refused to pay. A year after we filed suit, when we had everything we had wanted, we had our court hearing. The judge said we should have sought administrative remedies before coming to court, unfazed, apparently, that without the regulations, such remedies didn't exist. So we said, "Fine, Judge, thank you very much," and went home knowing that we had used a lawsuit to change the way the state treated its blind vendors. I will take a loss like that every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
In the last twenty-eight years my law firm has opened up nearly four hundred matters for the NFB or NFB members. You will be glad to know that I don't intend to tell you about all of them, but as I walked around convention with my wife yesterday and this morning, it seemed I couldn't go ten feet without seeing someone I had been privileged to represent. And I stood up a little straighter as I told Laura, this is who this person is, and this is what that case was about.
We weren't always the ones doing the suing. Dr. Jernigan wrote an article about a vocational rehabilitation office in Pittsburgh that only bought assistive technology from one vendor—who happened to be the husband of one of the voc rehab counselors. In the article Dr. Jernigan referred to these activities as "skullduggery." What a wonderful word. Skullduggery. I never knew precisely how to define skullduggery, but I knew that Dr. Jernigan and Barbara Pierce, who was being sued for being the editor of the Monitor, had a First Amendment right to say it when they wanted. The court agreed. I haven't seen "skullduggery" in the Monitor since, but when the occasion arises, I am sure we will see it again.
It is Dr. Maurer, my friend, my leader, and my mentor, who has given me the opportunity to be one of the NFB's lawyers, part of an extraordinary knights' round table that includes my partners Sharon Krevor Weisbaum, Joe Espo, as well as Scott LaBarre and Tim Elder.
If representing the NFB were not bounty enough, I have had twenty-eight years to witness how Dr. Maurer combines passion with pragmatism, conviction with humanity and grace, leadership with empowerment, certainty with curiosity, and kindness with rock hard determination. Any hour I spend with him is an education—maybe about wine, maybe about something more profound. He may not be standing for re-election as president, but, Dr. Maurer, the bad news is that your term as my mentor is life without parole.
But the time for nostalgia has not yet come, and frankly, looking back always puts a crimp in my neck.
There is a cataclysmic battle being waged. It is one we cannot afford to lose, and it does not yet seem that we are winning. That battle is the battle for equal access to information. If the blind do not have the same access to information as everyone else, then it is sheer nonsense to talk about equal opportunity in education, the workplace, our culture, and true integration in our society.
Dr. Maurer had the foresight in 1998 to realize that digital technology and content would either provide a mechanism for mainstream access or would deepen the segregation and exclusion of the blind. He realized we could not simply be reactive and bring cases based on what complaints we had or had not received, but that instead, we must pursue a strategic plan and stay one step ahead, not two steps behind.
My role has been and is subsidiary to a multi-pronged approach that includes not only litigation, but creating our own technology, pressing for new legislation and regulation at both the federal and state level, demonstrations, negotiations, and education.
Having equal access to America circa 1990 is absolutely worthless in 2014. The right of the blind to live in the world must include the virtual world. The internet is not a luxury. It is the door through which knowledge and information lie. I ask you: Do we want to have the same access to that information that everyone else has?
Today, 80 percent of all jobs are posted on the internet. The job applications are on the internet. The job assessment tests are on the internet. Do we want the job sites to be accessible? Do we want the job applications to be accessible? Do we want the tests to be accessible?
When you have a job, there is no reason why you should not be able to use the technology that is on the job. I remember accessible work phones. First they had ten holes, and you moved the dial counter-clockwise and, this will come as a shocker to younger people, phones were used to make phone calls. Then phones had ten buttons, and you pressed the buttons. Then phones had additional buttons at the bottom for multiple lines, so you could put one person on hold while you talked to another. And you know what: for decades phones were accessible to blind persons.
But you know in America we always make progress and invent something that wasn't there the day before, so now, in its infinite wisdom, the US Government has started to install phones at the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Labor that are inaccessible to blind people. Is this progress? No, obviously not, but elsewhere we have had meaningful progress.
In 2009 in Detroit I stood before you and made a promise. I said that, because of the efforts of the NFB, we would have something we had never had in our history. You remember that—same books, same time, at the same price. And I said I did not know whether it would be a year, two years, or longer, but have it we would. And, when I made that promise, there was not a single book in copyright that we could get at the same time and at the same price and in the same way as everybody else.
In 2011 in Dallas I told you with great excitement that we had made great progress. Because of NFB's efforts, Apple introduced the iBook in April 2010, with over 200,000 accessible copyrighted books, and then Blio came out with what was then 300,000 more and that seemed like a lot. Same content, same time, same price. What it was, was a good start. But you know what that wasn't? It wasn't equal access to all the information available to those who can see—not even close.
You know, when I was in the fourth grade I did a report on Millard Fillmore based on what I found in the library, and in the seventh grade, I went back to the library and did a report on manatees. I took library research for granted, and for most of my life there have been two things you needed to do library research, whether at the elementary school level or post-graduate: affiliation with a library and the ability to see. With those two things the historical, literary, cultural, scientific, collective and collected knowledge was there for the asking. I could go into the stacks, pull books off the shelves, check the index, table of contents, skim and see if I wanted to check this book out or put it back on the shelf and, after a while, I left the library with a stack of books under my arm to read.
But the idea that all of the content of libraries could be fully available to the blind to the same extent and as quickly and easily as it was to the sighted was the stuff of science fiction. Print is a visual experience, and libraries are composed of print books. Independent access to library books requires sight, and that is all there is to that—or so it seemed.
Today I can stand before you and tell you that the library doors are swinging open, that eleven million books will soon be available to you within seconds of turning on your computer, iPad, or phone. And that is just the first step. The day is not far off when you will be able to summon all of the cultural, scientific, and literary wealth of our nation's libraries to your fingertips.
How did this happen? It's a great story, one that starts, appropriately, with a mild-mannered Federationist getting annoyed enough to do something about the source of his annoyance. In the 1980s George Kerscher was in graduate school in Computer Science at the University of Montana, but he had a small problem—no accessible textbooks. Now George is not much in the complaining department, more of a problem solver, so he responded to that problem by inventing the commercial e-book. He founded a company called Computerized Books for the Blind. George thought that when sighted people caught on, there would be plenty of e-books, usable by everyone, with or without sight.
I don't want to engage in stereotypes, but sometimes we sighted folks are not, how shall I put it, always the sharpest tool in the toolbox, so there was a bit of a wait—sixteen years in fact. But in 2004 Google approached the University of Michigan and suggested digitizing Michigan's entire library. What Michigan got out of the deal was a copy of its entire library in digital format. This was something it had long wanted, both for preservation and search purposes, but could not afford.
Jack Bernard, the in-house lawyer for the University of Michigan library, immediately saw the possibilities for the blind and pushed for this digital library to be accessible. Dr. Maurer immediately reached out to Google about making sure that these digital books would be accessible but was flatly told that wasn't in Google's plans. I don't want to shock anyone, but Dr. Maurer didn't take no for an answer. In fact, Dr. Maurer was annoyed.
So now we have two annoyed Federationists. First, George Kerscher and now, Dr. Maurer. That's dangerous.
In the meantime, Google was entering into similar partnerships with the Universities of California, Indiana, Cornell—I think the current number of libraries Google is copying is somewhere between eighty and one hundred library collections.
So in 2005, George Kerscher, Dr. Maurer, a copyright professor named Peter Jaszi, Anne Taylor, and I started traveling to all of these schools to explain why they needed to tell Google that accessibility had to be part of the deal. Well, after we had met with five schools, Google told the schools that it, too, thought accessibility was important. At Jack Bernard's insistence, Google's commitment to accessibility was formally noted.
By 2008 the University of Michigan had about eight million copyrighted books back in digital format. Sighted scholars could put in search terms and find out what books had those words, but they could not have full access to the content. They could put in the words "cane travel" and get back all of the books and all of the page numbers on which the words cane travel could be found.
But if you were a blind student or faculty member at the University of Michigan, it was a different deal. You got a password that gave you digital access to every dadblamed word of every book in the collection.
Well, the Authors Guild didn't like this mass digitization, and in 2011 the Guild sued the University of Michigan, four other universities, and the HathiTrust, which is essentially a service of the University of Michigan that administers the whole digital archive for all the universities. The Guild claimed that making these digital copies was copyright piracy on a massive scale.
This annoyed Jack Bernard, the in-house lawyer for the University of Michigan, who called me and said the NFB should intervene in the lawsuit as a defendant to protect the interests of the blind. Did I not mention that Jack is blind and an NFB member?
So we now have three annoyed Federationists—kind of tells you right there how this story will come out. You know I grew up in Texas and always heard the story about one riot, one Ranger—kind of like that.
So we joined the lawsuit on behalf of the NFB and three blind scholars. Why did we do that? Let me read you the opening paragraph of our brief to the Second Circuit.
Courtney Wheeler refrains from taking courses requiring library research. Blair Seidlitz does not read recommended supplementary texts to complete his physics classes. The prospect of limited library access convinced Georgina Kleege not to pursue a graduate degree in English after she received her bachelor’s from Yale. Because they are blind and for no other reason, they have had little or no access to the contents of libraries that are so freely available to their sighted peers. We meant to change that.
The constitution grants a limited property right called a copyright for the purpose of "advancing Science and the Useful Arts." That monopoly is not intended to extend to preventing those things that will frustrate the progress of knowledge, thus some uses are considered fair uses of copyright materials and do not require the permission of the copyright owner.
Do you all think that it would advance science and the useful arts to give blind people access to eleven million books? Well so does the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Here is the critical part of their decision: “Weighing the factors together, we conclude that the doctrine of fair use allows the Libraries to provide full digital access to copyrighted works to their print-disabled patrons.”
What does this mean for the blind of America? It means that as to any and every bit of copyrighted material that currently is in an inaccessible format, that making and distributing an accessible copy is permitted under the copyright laws without the permission of the copyright owner. It means that in the coming months, NFB is going to make sure that there is a distribution network for the eleven million books and counting in the HathiTrust to make them instantly available to every blind person in this room, every blind person in this country through a logon. It means that we will find other print-to-digital conversions until every print, book journal, and article that is available to the sighted as part of our country's collective knowledge, literature, history, and science is available to you on your computer.
But above all, it means be very careful not to annoy a member of the National Federation of the Blind, because it might just cause them to change the world.
There is still plenty of work to be done, and the lawyers play only a small role. It is you, the members of the National Federation of the Blind, who will change that with your advocacy, your persistence, your unity, your willingness to go to the legislative hearing and, when necessary, to the streets who effect most of the change. But I am proud to play a role in this work, knowing that as long as there is the National Federation of the Blind, we will win the battle for equality, and we will win the battle of equal access to information.
Thank you. I am so very proud to be one of those who can say, "I represent the National Federation of the Blind."
by Eve Andersson
From the Editor: Google is one of the most innovative companies in the world. It’s products are well-known and are found everywhere. Google makes the world’s fastest-growing operating systems, and it is used in cellular telephones, computers, and even self-driving vehicles. When this technology is usable by the blind, their opportunities are enhanced; when the technology is not, those same opportunities are diminished.
Eve Andersson in deeply involved in access at Google, and these are the moving remarks she made at the convention:
Thank you Dr. Maurer. Hello, everybody. It is a great pleasure and honor to be here. What an amazing week this has been, getting to meet some of you here at the convention, learn from your experiences, get feedback on our products, and give demos of some of them. It’s been beautiful.
Before coming here I stopped over in Atlanta, and I was able to attend the opening ceremony for the National Association of the Deaf convention. It took place in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. This is the church that Martin Luther King attended as a young child, and this is the church where he preached as an adult. To be standing in that spot where this great man stood was really moving to me, and, of course, the reason it was so moving is that he preached equality for all. This is something that I have believed in my whole life. And now, to be able to work at Google, leading our accessibility engineering efforts, to further that goal of equality for all, is really important to me.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about what we’re doing at Google to further accessibility. I’m going to do something we don’t normally do at Google which is crack open the door a little bit and give you a peek at some of the inner workings of what’s going on. My goal is to show you that we are serious about accessibility at Google, and I want to tell you about structural changes that we’ve made.
We don’t want to launch our products, get feedback about features being inaccessible, and then apply Band-Aids after the fact. That’s not sustainable, and it’s also not fair to the people who use our products. So we’ve made these changes with the goal of incorporating accessibility into the design, the engineering, and the testing of our products. I’d like to give you a little background. Dr. Maurer alluded to this: Google is made up of many independent teams. In fact, Google encourages creativity and experimentation and individual efforts, and that means that putting into place a cultural change like this is not quick and it’s not easy, but it is something that we’re doing. I’m going to tell you a little bit about some of our efforts.
As I mentioned, I lead our accessibility engineering team. This is a group that grew organically within Google over time through the passion of individuals who cared about accessibility in the organization. Over time it has become more structured and more systematic. This team has people with expertise in user experience design, engineering, testing, assistive technology, and user research. We have program managers who work throughout Google to help put programs into place. We have a writer who’s dedicated full-time to accessibility writing, and we have people who specialize in education.
Speaking of education, all new engineers who enter Google in our major engineering centers --that’s Mountain View, California, New York, New York, and Zürich, Switzerland -- they are all now required to go through a one hour accessibility workshop in their first couple of weeks at Google. This is a hands-on workshop in which they learn about mobile accessibility as well as web accessibility, and they actually have to write some code right there in the workshop to make a web application accessible. We’ve also launched over ten other internal courses to teach about web accessibility, Android accessibility, iOS accessibility, assistive technology, testing techniques, user experience design, running user studies for accessibility, and others. We also have a course that we have developed and released to the public, an online course called “Introduction to Web Accessibility” free of charge.
In terms of education, there is a huge shortage of women, minorities, and people with disabilities in the software industry, and we’re trying to address that as well. We are now offering to pay the tuition for anybody with a disability to take courses in Code School to learn software engineering techniques. By the way, my team is hiring, so feel free to come up to me afterwards if you or someone you know is a great engineer.
Another effort we have put into place is releasing guidelines related to accessibility internally. We have engineering guidelines in place for engineers to follow as they develop their products. We’ve also internally released user experience guidelines to be used in the design of our products so that they are designed correctly from the beginning.
Every year we hold a conference called I/O -- it’s a pretty big conference in San Francisco -- and this year we launched our design standards for what’s called the Material Design. It describes how each of our applications should behave, and it’s also to be used by external developers in designing their applications for Android. For the first time, at the time of release, we included accessibility guidelines in our design principles. Our goal of course is not just for Google to make more accessible products, but we want the whole world to make more accessible products.
One amazing thing that I’ve witnessed in this role over the past year is that in the early days we used to have to push accessibility on product teams and try to force them to commit to making accessible products, and now the relationship has changed. People are coming to us for advice. It’s becoming a pull relationship, and we have trouble keeping up!
We’ve been holding user experience studies with people with disabilities so that we can learn how people really use our products. In the past few months we’ve had studies going in Zürich, New York, and Mountain View, and I got to attend some myself. These user studies are so important for us so that we can learn, and we caught so many things just going through those studies. I’d like to invite any of you who would like to participate in user studies to sign up. We have an email address that we’ve created especially for this convention, and if you would like to participate just send a message -- it doesn’t have to say anything -- to <[email protected]>. That is all you have to do. You will then receive an email reply, and at a later date you will be asked to sign up for a user study in your area of the world.
We are also sponsoring research by universities as well as doing research ourselves. We have faculty research awards that we give out, and we have now started giving out awards specifically for research into accessibility.
Another very important thing we’re doing is engaging in the community by being here and by meeting as many people as we can. I want to say that the NFB has been such an important partner to us. The amazing Anne Taylor and team have given us so much feedback; they are an absolute pleasure to work with, and I am extremely grateful.
Let’s move on to some of the tangible improvements. It’s great that we are making the structural improvements, but I also want to show that they are leading to changes that are visible in our products. I’ll just focus on one right now, which is a really important suite of products for education and the workplace. That is Google Drive, which is our file sharing system as well as documents, spreadsheets, slides, and forms. We have been working to increase accessibility support when these products are used within JAWS, NVDA, VoiceOver, and ChromeVox. We’ve done comprehensive testing to make sure that everything is keyboard accessible, and we’ve also put in refreshable Braille display support in Docs and Slides.
One of the big advantages to using these tools over traditional desktop productivity applications, at least for me, is the ability to collaborate easily with other people, and we have recently put in support so that, if you are editing a document and somebody else is editing the same paragraph, then the screen reader will announce that to you so that you can collaborate in real time. We have also made revision history completely accessible so that, if one of the collaborators messes up your document, you can go back and fix it.
The latest version of Drive was built with accessibility from the ground up. This was one of our case studies for this new model of working, and our team, the core Accessibility Engineering Team, worked very closely with Drive engineers, some of whom specialize in accessibility themselves, to correctly design, build, test the product, run user studies, etc. It is being rolled out gradually, as many of our products are. Over the next few weeks people will start getting access to the new Drive in their accounts. So I hope you like it!
The University of Michigan is a university we’ve been working with very closely, and the chief information officer, Laura M. Patterson, said, “The latest improvements in Google Drive and Docs for users of assistive technology are a major step forward and exemplify Google’s commitment to making their products available to all members of our community.”
So we’ve been working across the board on many different products, and I just wanted to give you that one example. I think a very important message though for me to leave you with is that we acknowledge that there is still a long way to go. This is a lot of work, but it is hugely important, and we’ll keep striving for it. Google believes -- and I believe -- that everybody in the world has a right to education and to jobs that are relevant in the information age. We also think they have a right to education and entertainment, and we’re not going to stop until we get there with Google’s products. We want to be part of the solution.
Thank you to all of you for your feedback, your support, and thank you to the NFB and Dr. Maurer for inviting me to come and speak.
by Platt Allen III
From the Editor: On Saturday, July 5, 2014, President Maurer introduced our presenter to start off the afternoon session of the convention in this way:
“We have a person to make this presentation who is the chief executive officer and president of the Lighthouse for the Blind of Fort Worth, who administers a substantial program with one hundred employees, about 80 percent of whom are blind or visually impaired people. He has an extraordinary budget to manage. He has not only worked in blindness programs but has also operated his own business and has been active in his community while he has done it.
We have asked a number of people to join with us in our effort to get the idea across that a provision of law authorizing subminimum wage payments for disabled workers is a flawed piece of legislation, an error in the law, and fundamentally unsound. We have found a number of organizations in the disability field that have been willing to say that they oppose such a policy but very few who are employers. A number have said to us privately that they believe in what we're doing, but few have been willing to say so in a way in which they could be recognized and counted as joining with disabled Americans in a campaign to change this fundamental policy. But, in this case, we have a person who believes in the capacity of the people he employs and those who are part of the group represented, and it's an honor to welcome to our platform the president of the Lighthouse for the Blind of Fort Worth. Here is Platt Allen.”
Good afternoon. Thank you for the kind introduction. I think it's only appropriate that this topic comes on the agenda today following our grand celebration of our wonderful country's independence, and I know that our forefathers struggled with perceptions that others had of their capabilities and their desires, much like my employees back in Fort Worth have suffered with other's perceptions of their abilities and their desires. I'm sure many of you have also felt that struggle as you have pursued your dreams.
Let me address a few things up front. At the Lighthouse for the Blind in Fort Worth, fair wages are deserved by all individuals, and all my employees are compensated for their skills at or above the minimum wage. In my business the only people I'm going to take advantage of are my volunteer board of directors. I don't pay them; they choose to work for free, so I'm going to take advantage of every moment they are going to give me. If you're not doing that where you are, you should; it works out very well.
But at the Lighthouse fair wages are deserved by every person in our workforce: blind, sighted, tall, short, blonde, or brunette. It doesn't matter what you are; if you're working in my shop, you're going to be paid competitively.
Now before I go any further, let me first tell you about my lighthouse, and I call it my lighthouse because I have taken great ownership for what it is we are trying to accomplish in our community. I think this conversation will provide a good context for explaining why we do the things we do.
The mission of the Lighthouse is twofold: first, we provide opportunities for meaningful employment for folks who are blind. Second, we provide rehabilitation services to folks who are blind so that they may reach the level of independence that they desire. We were founded back in 1935, and in those beginning years we provided support for the military in winding bandages, cotton balls, and preparing for support of the military efforts. Yes, we made brooms and mops with twenty-five to thirty employees who were blind.
In the early 1970s we began the expansion of our product line and the number of people employed. Currently we have about 300 products in our catalog, and, as Dr. Maurer said, about one hundred employees, about 80 percent of whom are legally blind or worse. We recently purchased a machine shop and have converted two of the fourteen machine positions for operators who are blind. My plan is to have all fourteen machining stations operated with support from two to three sighted set up folks and a couple of shop helpers. This is a nontraditional business for agencies like ours, but we're up to the challenge and excited about the opportunities it will bring us in the commercial markets.
We offer a full range of benefits, including health insurance, dental and vision insurance, life and ADD, a 403B plan where we contribute 3 percent of every employee's wages to their retirement fund, and we will match up to 3 percent of any contributions they will make. Our average wage is $9.75 an hour, and most of our production workers work a thirty-eight hour work week.
In addition to our industrial operations, we also provide rehabilitation services to the elderly, adults, youth, and children in North Texas. Some of these services include Braille instruction, O&M training, and independent living counseling and instruction. We provide assistive technology services including technology need assessments, technology demonstrations, keyboarding classes, and other technology-based education and training. We have a CCTV loaner program and currently have ninety CCTVs out in our community aiding folks with low vision. We provide social activities for high-school-age teens, including a Valentine's day dinner and dance; we host a Christmas party for young people (and those young at heart) every winter. We provide tactile art classes, yoga classes, and general exercise classes. We have support groups for parents of children who are blind, children who are going through the process of losing their eyesight, adults who are blind or significantly visually impaired, and the elderly who are dealing with macular degeneration. All of our services and programs are provided free of charge to anyone who would desire to attend. The intention of these programs is to encourage independent living and the continued pursuit of each individual's dreams.
The Lighthouse is also a member of National Industries for the Blind and Texas Industries for the Blind and Handicapped (TIBH), which is the equivalent organization for the state of Texas. Both organizations assist agencies like ours in providing employment opportunities through access to federal and state procurement systems.
We also engage in commercial business, as you heard in my description of our machine shop, by providing manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution services to small and medium-sized businesses in our area. However, none of this would be possible if not for a dedicated, loyal, and enthusiastic workforce.
Now in my experience the fastest way to demotivate a person is to waste their time or pay them less than a competitive wage. A decade or so ago I have to admit that the Lighthouse decided to stop paying certificate wages, so if you look into that sentence, a little more than a decade ago, we were still engaged in the activity of 14(c) certificates. But about a decade ago we decided to stop paying employees based on the percentage of work that they can complete compared to a fully sighted individual. You all know the 14(c) law, so I don't need to restate it here, but just recognize that just because you can pay on a certificate doesn't mean that you should, and we have chosen not to.
I want to share with you a story about a young man who works on our paper packaging line. His name is Kurt. Kurt is legally blind, which resulted from a closed head injury. He spent his first thirty years in and out of underpaying jobs, living with his mom, and not really thinking much about his future. Through a work readiness program with the state of Texas, Kurt came to the Lighthouse for an evaluation. After about six weeks of working on various production lines within our operation, we provided our evaluation report and a job offer back to his counselor. Kurt now is a full-time employee with the Lighthouse. He has moved into his own house, has even gotten a dog. He travels independently to work, to the grocery store (where he used to work as a sacker), and even over to his mom's house for an occasional meal. Kurt is proud of his contributions to our community, and his mother is proud of him. Providing these types of life-changing opportunities is at the heart of our mission.
We are also motivated somewhat by NIB and their programs and opportunities they provide us as an employer of people who are blind. Last August the NIB board of directors issued a statement to all affiliated agencies stating that "The National Industries for the Blind endorses, promotes, and encourages the payment of at least the federal minimum wage for all employees who are blind." They went even a little further and restricted their grant money for us to develop new products, services, and programs within our agencies only to those agencies that are paying all of their employees at or above minimum wage. Currently, there are no employees working on AbilityOne products in any of the NIB-affiliated agencies being paid below minimum wage. That is something NIB is proud of.
So what do we do at the Lighthouse? We pay competitive wages, based upon a range that is determined by a third-party human resource firm that evaluates wages paid for similar positions within our local area. Blindness, hair color, girth, or height does not factor into the determination of the range. Blindness is no more a characteristic in these ranges and certainly is not a definition for our employees. The job description defines the qualifications and duties of the job; the individual determines how they can best accomplish the objectives of that job and calls upon our rehabilitation team and their production supervisor to make the reasonable accommodations to achieve those objectives. We as employers compensate our employees for their efforts against those objectives. If an employee is exceeding expectations in the position, they might very well be paid at the top of that range. If the employee is failing to meet the expectations, then they might be at the bottom of the range, with a corrective action plan. The level of compensation is set by the range and determined by the individual's performance.
At the Lighthouse we evaluate an employee's potential contribution. We identify a position that will allow that individual to reach that potential; we evaluate their progress toward that objective and competitively compensate the performance. Through this process we create a stable, loyal, and productive workforce. To me that sounds a lot like what every other employer in America strives to do. Our employees work hard every day to make progress toward their individual goals. In return the Lighthouse serves our customers in our community.
I'll share with you one more story about our newest employee, an individual that I think some of you in the room know. Bee, short for Bettina, came to Fort Worth with her husband, who is studying at the Southwest Baptist seminary. Both Bee and her husband are blind. Before her arrival in Fort Worth, Bee did what any other good job-seeking individual would do. She prepared a résumé, she sent it out to everybody she knows, she sent it out to everybody that those people knew. She contacted people through her church, her friends, and her friends' friends. By the time Bee arrived in Fort Worth, Texas, I had five phone calls, six emails, and two personal visits from people who'd gotten the word that Bee was coming to town, and she was somebody I should talk to. Bee had done her homework well. What I loved telling each one of these folks when they contacted me was that "Yes, I know that Bee is coming to town. We can't wait for her to get here. We want to talk to her.” Bee had contacted us as well. We were excited about talking with her and in understanding how the community we serve could benefit from having Bee on our team.
Now Bee did join our team just a little while ago (earlier this year), and she coordinates our fitness classes, our yoga classes, and is working on specifications for a rock climbing wall to be installed in our warehouse. She travels out into the community to work with individuals in retirement centers, community centers, and individuals in their homes, to teach them skills to improve their health. She also visits local elementary, middle, and high schools to teach partnered running and walking. She's even learned to roller skate. I'll now give a shameless plug: if you go out on our Facebook page—Lighthouse for the Blind of Fort Worth—you will find a video of Bee doing a slalom course on roller skates with her cane. It's one of the most amazing things you will ever see; it's a fantastic demonstration of independence.
This month Bee will compete in not one but two CrossFit competitions. Bee is an excellent example of any individual, blind or sighted, that you can accomplish anything that you set your mind to accomplish. Bee lists earning her CrossFit level I instructor status as one of her greatest accomplishments. By the way, she is the only CrossFit level I instructor in America who is blind, and she works for me! I'm proud of that. But this is a terrific personal accomplishment and a testament to her can-do attitude. Some of her most fulfilling moments have come since she joined the Lighthouse team, because she can now show someone that they can accomplish anything that they want to. One of my favorite things to hear her say as I walk past her meetings with clients is "Hey, you can do this. Just look at me," and it doesn't matter what the topic is because she truly believes that anything that you put your mind to you can accomplish. And we agree!
Now I will leave you with this final thought: we are all learners and teachers and users and contributors. For the contribution that our team makes as members of the workforce of Fort Worth, we believe they should be paid competitively and would hope that our success would serve as evidence that, for us, fair and competitive wages improved our workforce and our business. Thank you for the time to share a little bit of our story with you, and I invite each and every one of you to come to Fort Worth--maybe not all at the same time--to take a tour of our operation, to meet some of our team, and maybe even to take a class from Bee.
by Robert Dizard, Jr.
From the Editor: The Library of Congress has long been an important provider of books and magazines readable by the blind by transcribing them into Braille, making audio recordings, and generating computer-readable files that can be used with audio or Braille. But the Library of Congress does more than distribute books; it can help to establish new directions in the development of technology and bring resources to encourage the use of Braille and making more of it available.
Robert Dizard is the deputy librarian of Congress. Here are the remarks he made to the convention following President Maurer’s Presidential Report:
It's a pleasure to be here, and I thank Dr. Marc Maurer and the National Federation of the Blind board of directors for this opportunity to report to you. I have been invited to speak to you today primarily about Braille as the standard of literacy for blind people and the actions the Library of Congress might take to encourage the learning and use of Braille.
The National Federation of the Blind has long been a close working partner of the Library of Congress, and we are grateful for its consistent support of NLS—our National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Many National Federation of the Blind members are users of the Library's collections and are often involved with our network institutions. I want to thank those of you who help us distribute and expand awareness of our materials and who provide us with counsel and insights into the needs and priorities of the blind community. We value your voice and your continued commitment to our services.
Free and accessible library services to the blind and physically handicapped have been an important part of the Library's mission for more than a century. Our national network began with nineteen libraries across the country. It is now expanded to ten cooperating federal, state, and local institutions. NLS today provides services to more than 640,000 individuals through this national network.
Before I talk more specifically about Braille, I would like to briefly provide you an update on four principal areas of our work since your last convention.
First, we expanded our Braille and Audio Reading Download—or BARD—service to include Braille holdings such as music materials, foreign-language materials, and materials produced by network libraries. We now have more than 50,000 titles available for download. Almost 12 million audio books and magazines have been downloaded on BARD. We had more than 157,000 Braille books and magazine downloads last year, for a total of almost 300,000 downloads since Braille was added to BARD two years ago.
BARD is a key instrument in the overall movement toward enhancing Braille literacy and use. Schools, for example, can use this system because it allows everyone in a class to access the same book at the same time.
Our biggest and most anticipated advance with BARD was the release of the BARD Mobile app for iOS devices. This was developed in response to demand from our borrowers. Nearly five thousand patrons downloaded and registered for the new app the first weekend of its release. Through this app audio users are now able to use their device's built-in accessibility features and speakers to read audiobooks and magazines, and Braille readers are able to use displays that connect through Bluetooth. We are halfway through the process of developing an app for Android devices, and we expect to release it later this year.
Second, last year we completed our transition of audio magazines from cassettes to digital cartridges. Over the next three to four years, all cassette-based talking books will be phased out and increasingly provided on digital cartridge or by download. Our goal is to accomplish 4,800 analog to digital conversions each year. By the end of 2013 we had available over 6.1 million books on flash cartridge. However, we expect the demand for cartridges to decrease as more patrons use BARD. Of course, technology will continue to impact the types of materials we produce and serve.
Third, last year we conducted a survey of program users and eligible non-users to better understand the population and their needs. Recommendations focused on public education and outreach initiatives to publicize NLS services, especially BARD and the new mobile apps. The survey recommends a social media presence for NLS, and, in fact, in May we launched our first blog—NLS Music Notes. We hope to follow this with more of a social media presence within the next year. We have also started the redesign of our website as part of this effort.
The survey results also detail increasing levels of technology use among individuals, but acknowledge as well the continued need for basic talking book and Braille service to a significant portion of current and future NLS readers. We are using these survey results to direct our programming and public education efforts.
Fourth, we signed agreements with four major commercial audio producers, including Hachette, Audible, Scholastic, and Penguin Random House to provide copies of their audiobooks for use in the NLS program at no cost. We consider these agreements a milestone—not only will we be able to get their best-sellers and other popular books to our patrons faster, but we will be able to devote some of the resources we've saved to expanding the scope of the collection, adding some of the books we had to pass over in the past. We hope these agreements will set the stage for future agreements with publishers.
Now: on Braille. Last year we held a Braille Summit to help us chart the future of the NLS Braille program.
Together with the Perkins School for the Blind, we organized this summit—themed "The Future of Braille"—to determine the best ways for libraries to promote and support Braille literacy. The two-and-a-half-day event can perhaps be the most impactful recent development for the future of Braille. The summit brought together approximately one hundred readers, instructors, librarians, stakeholders, and supporters of Braille for a national discussion about Braille books, literacy, and production. The summit covered topics including federal policy issues; the role of Braille literacy in employment, education, and community life; collection development and production; and Braille technology. Speakers explored the present state of Braille literacy, technology, and access. Participants divided into breakout groups for discussions with their peers, where they identified strategic issues and recommended solutions for Braille policies, products, and services. These are helping us shape NLS's future Braille program.
Today we are releasing the report of the summit's presentations and outcomes. This report highlights general issues facing the broader Braille community, including the high cost of Braille production, the availability of skilled Braille instructors, the need for improved technology, and the necessity of improving the public perception of Braille.
Recommendations to NLS from the summit fall into two broad areas:
One, increasing our emphasis on the importance of Braille and Braille literacy; and two, expanding our Braille collections and access to Braille materials.
Over the past decade the NLS Braille program might have taken a bit of a back seat while we developed and transitioned to the digital talking book. Today the digital talking book program is stable and meeting the needs of our patrons, with continuing plans for expansion and improvements. The time is right to bring our Braille program fully into the twenty-first century, increasing our emphasis on a program that has always been part of NLS. We recognize Braille as the fundamental medium of literacy for the blind—the key to education and secure employment for those who cannot use print effectively. We want to identify how the Library of Congress can take a leading role in advancing opportunities for Braille literacy for all blind Americans.
Studies have suggested that but a small percentage of people who are legally blind in the United States can read Braille, and there are many, young and old, who are blind and have either no opportunity or even desire to learn it. As leading providers of Braille reading materials, the Library and its network partners are in a strategic position to reverse this trend.
Our NLS director, Karen Keninger, has made Braille literacy a priority right from the start of her tenure. She has been—and she will continue to be—a very effective advocate in this area. I have seen this up close.
Since the summit we have taken steps to address the first area—increasing our emphasis on the importance of Braille and Braille literacy—by hiring a Braille development officer at NLS who will advocate for Braille production, literacy, and Braille's use in print and digital forms.
We are also expanding collaborations with our network libraries in marketing and campaigning for Braille. Again, network libraries are valuable avenues to reach many communities.
The second area of priority—expanding our Braille collections and access to Braille materials—calls for us to respond to and embrace changes in technology. Current and emerging digital Braille technology is opening a vast array of information and literature never before available to a Braille reader. With this improved access to information and current literature, blind individuals can enjoy the same fruits of literacy through Braille access that sighted people enjoy through the print medium, whether that print is on paper or on a screen.
Exploring and implementing new technologies and methods will enable us to expand our Braille materials and means of access. To accomplish this, there are four sub-areas that we are examining:
First, we recognize that hard-copy Braille will always be needed, but that the future form of access, delivery, and storage may increasingly lie in electronic Braille. That technology, however, remains expensive. The Library's Federal Research Program is currently conducting a study to evaluate the feasibility, costs, and development of refreshable Braille readers. We will have the results of the study by the end of August and will begin examining those results to determine our future options. If we do move forward with this technology, NLS may explore issuing a technology challenge to develop refreshable Braille e-reader technology that is inexpensive to produce, is robust, reliable and functional, and inexpensive to maintain.
Second, we are exploring the production and implementation of international Braille standards, including DAISY Braille formats for digital Braille, and the Unified English Braille Standard.
Third, with the amount of qualified vendors in Braille production waning, we are considering changes in our contracting practices to divide our production work between transcribers and embossers. There are many organizations that are able to transcribe print into electronic Braille files but do not have the equipment to produce hard copies according to NLS specifications. Dividing these tasks will maximize production and introduce an expanded pool of transcribers. In addition, we are considering developing a training program aimed at Braille-translation transcribers, which will broaden the field of certified Braille transcribers and increase the quantity of Braille products for the NLS program.
Lastly, we need to research options for producing tactile elements for Braille materials and identify contractors who can produce them in a cost-effective and acceptable manner for inclusion in publications. We are just beginning our exploration here.
In addition to these efforts in Braille, before concluding let me mention a few of our other priorities going forward. We are focusing on expanding all collections on BARD. Fifteen percent of NLS patrons use the BARD service now, and we expect usership to increase dramatically in coming years. We will work on an expansion of the infrastructure needed to support and enhance the BARD download system for users. Our next project will be to improve the system's search capabilities. We're also taking steps to ensure maximum download speeds no matter where you live.
Presently, we are producing more than two thousand new talking book titles on flash cartridges. We have 545,000 playback devices available—a quantity we believe is sufficient to meet future demands. We are currently exploring updates to the talking book machines and planning for the future development of a redesigned machine with added features. Components may include updated text-to-speech capabilities, as well as the addition of other features such as Wi-Fi connectivity for the delivery of books and magazines, and Bluetooth connectivity for use with auxiliary devices, including future Braille e-readers.
We are continuing to be recognized and looked to for our leadership and voice in national and international conferences and meetings focused on better serving the blind and visually impaired. Recently NLS sponsored the 2014 National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals in Oklahoma City. There, Director Keninger spoke on Braille in the twenty-first century, a continuation of the conversation begun at our Braille Summit last year. The conference also focused on a number of other programs, including BARD, BARD Mobile, audiobook production, and broader initiatives from the World Intellectual Property Organization and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions—forums in which we also participate.
A new partnership for NLS, launched at this convention, is an initiative that will assist the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in distributing assistive currency readers, utilizing our network libraries. An interagency agreement was signed last September, and we have hired a full-time program manager to oversee our part of the program. If you are interested in obtaining a currency reader, you can talk to staff at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Suite 255.
In closing, I want to express again the Library's commitment to users of NLS. Serving blind and physically handicapped Americans will remain an important part of the Library's mission and one we are very proud to fulfill.
I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you today. On Sunday at 12:15, Director Keninger will hold an open forum to hear about and discuss issues concerning NLS. Please join Karen if you have suggestions or recommendations for us.
I thank you again for the opportunity to be here, and happy Fourth of July.
by Laura Fortman
From the Editor: Laura Fortman is the deputy administrator of the Wage and Hour Division at the United States Department of Labor. She is responsible for enforcing Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, but what she has to say about its enforcement was a pleasant surprise to members of the audience and brought several enthusiastic rounds of applause. Here are her remarks:
Thank you for the very kind introduction, especially following such distinguished presentations. I felt like when Dr. Maurer announced that I was responsible for enforcing 14(c), there was kind of a boo-hiss going around the crowd here, which is understandable. I did want to say thank you for inviting me to this event. I really am honored to be here with so many of you who have been champions for the rights of blind people for decades. I am particularly proud and pleased to be here with Dr. Maurer and his leadership team. This team has worked steadfastly with determination and complete conviction to put forward the belief, the position, that the organized blind are the best people equipped to solve the problems facing the blind. I want to personally thank you for all of the ways that you are working to make us a better society, because the work that you are doing is based on the belief that equal rights are important for all of us. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge your colleagues in Washington who have enlightened me and other members of my team at the Wage and Hour Division. I know the passion and the steadfast determination I experienced when I met with John Paré and Anil Lewis for the first time isn't unique to them and guides all of you, and, in fact, I reflected on that first meeting that I had, and it reminded me of a quote by William Faulkner. Faulkner said, "Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion and against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world would do this, it would change the earth." John and Anil have educated me and my colleagues on the unintended consequences of the law that when enacted back in 1938 was a step forward but in today's time can pose challenges for people with disabilities fighting for their equality.
I am happy to be here and to have this opportunity to engage with you about how DOL and the Wage and Hour Division is aligning with your mission of advancing equal rights and economic opportunity for all workers. You've already heard today from Commissioner LaBreck, who talked about the remarkable progress we’ve seen these past few weeks to advance bipartisan reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act or the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act as it is now known. We are excited about the opportunities that WIOA, if passed by Congress, would grant to Secretary Perez. In addition to making critical reforms to the workforce system overall, WIOA also addresses the need to find new, more effective strategies to increase employment for people with disabilities. This includes an examination of the effectiveness of Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act. WIOA requires that, no later than sixty days after the date of enactment, the secretary of labor shall establish an advisory committee on increasing competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities. In addition to Wage and Hour, the committee will include members across federal agencies, but, more importantly, you in the disability advocacy community will have a seat at the table. The mandate of the committee is to explore, prepare findings, conclusions, and recommendations for the secretary of labor, and this includes ways to increase competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities as well as to review Section 14(c) certificates. Work is already underway on these critical issues, but insight from other federal agencies and from you is welcome and necessary. Finally, the committee is mandated to issue an interim report no later than one year after the date it was established and a final report no later than two years after its establishment. The reports are to be filed with the secretary of labor and the Senate Health Committee. I can assure you that Secretary Perez will take seriously the recommendations made in that report to increase competitive integrated employment for people with disabilities generally and on Section 14(c) in particular.
As you may have heard, Secretary Perez has some concerns about 14(c) certificate programs under the Fair Labor Standards Act. He is committed to using all of the tools available to the department to ensure that, under the program as it now exists, we're doing the most we can in enforcement to protect the rights of people with disabilities. The Wage and Hour Division has been pursuing strategies to strengthen compliance with Section 14(c) to maximize the impact of its benefits for workers. These strategies include using all available enforcement tools to remedy and deter violations, providing new compliance assistance materials, and hosting compliance conferences for employers, rehabilitation programs, advocates, workers, and other interested parties. This is a priority for the Wage and Hour Division, and I'd like to share some of our new strategic approaches.
You may have heard about a recent Wage and Hour investigation in Providence, Rhode Island. The city of Providence, the Providence school board, and the Harold A. Birch Vocational Center and School signed a settlement agreement to pay more than $250,000 in back wages to sixty student workers with disabilities following an investigation by the Wage and Hour division. As part of the settlement agreement we have retroactively revoked the certificate that allowed the school to pay workers less than the current federal minimum wage. This resolution came just months after the department announced the revocation of authorization for Training through Placement [TTP], based in North Providence. That investigation revealed that the program at Birch served as a point of origin for many people entering the program at TTP. Wage and Hour investigators notified the Department of Justice about our suspicions that Birch Vocational Center was funneling workers with disabilities into TTP and that there were possible violations under the ADA title II.
This past April the Department of Justice entered into a statewide settlement agreement that will resolve violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act for approximately 3,250 Rhode Islanders with intellectual and developmental disabilities. As a result of that settlement two hundred Rhode Islanders with intellectual or developmental disabilities who were currently being served by segregated programs will have opportunities to work in real jobs at competitive wages.
The agreement between the US Department of Justice and the state of Rhode Island represents an important step forward in the movement away from sheltered workshops and toward integrated employment. It also represents a pathway for government, business, and advocates for people with disabilities to collaborate and to systemically expand employment opportunities for all people. This type of collaboration with our federal partner is the result of a Wage and Hour Division strategic enforcement initiative to protect workers with disabilities from exploitation. We believe workers with and without disabilities deserve an opportunity to do meaningful work and to receive meaningful income. As we've also heard an employer here today say, although employers may legally pay such workers below the current federal minimum wage, they are not required to do so, and the law clearly states that they may only do so when they assure compliance with certain key conditions. It is important that we at Wage and Hour move forward where we can to maximize the impact.
In another example of acting now in lieu of waiting for congressional activity, you heard Commissioner LaBreck and President Maurer talk about President Obama, in his state of the union address, laying out a vision based on a very basic and fundamentally American principle: opportunity for all. How far you get should depend on how hard you work. No matter the circumstances of your birth, the zip code you live in, or the physical challenges you may face, you can have a chance, through hard work and personal responsibility, to live out your best and highest dreams. Later, in the same speech, the president also said, "The best measure of opportunity is access to a good job." That's why the president signed an executive order raising the minimum wage to $10.10 for all workers employed on new federal service concession and construction contracts beginning January 1, 2015. [Applause]
At the signing of the executive order, the president said, "And let's not forget: not only is it good for the economy; it's the right thing to do. There's a simple moral principle at stake. If you take responsibility and you work as hard as these folks work, if you work full-time, you shouldn't be living in poverty—not in America!" He went on to say, "And this executive order will cover Americans with disabilities because this principle doesn't just apply to some of us; it applies to all of us."
The executive order directs the Department of Labor to issue regulations to implement these requirements by October 1, 2014. I'm proud to tell you that the department published proposed regulations a few short weeks ago. Our Notice of Proposed Rulemaking or NPRM establishes standards and procedures for implementing and enforcing minimum wage protections in the executive order. The proposed rule includes an economic analysis showing that nearly 200,000 workers will benefit from the increase, and this includes workers with disabilities. As explained in the proposed rule, the term “worker” includes any individual in a covered contract. This includes workers whose wages are calculated under Section 14(c). For the first time there will be a floor for wages under Section 14(c). This floor is $10.10 for everyone: no exceptions, no exclusions. [Applause]
This order was an enormous step forward toward opportunity for all. Private sector employers are discovering the value in equality as well. Secretary Perez recently visited a Walgreens distribution center in Windsor, Connecticut. At that facility 48 percent of the workforce had a disability, and their lowest paid employees make $14.47 an hour. Their approach is anchored in the philosophy of "same job, same performance," which set the standards for equality, fairness, and opportunity for all workers and not any one particular group. This place was built for success and access, using touchscreens, adjustable workstations, and the use of iconography. Walgreens knows that employing people with disabilities in competitive, quality jobs is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.
The president also believes the federal government should lead by example as a model employer when it comes to implementing these values. That's why we're so proud of the administration's work to implement the president's executive order to increase the federal employment of individuals with disabilities. At the end of fiscal year 2012, people with disabilities represented almost 12 percent of the federal workforce and 16 percent of new hires. That means we have more people with disabilities working there in actual terms and by percent than at any time in the last thirty-two years.
While preparing for this trip I read the following words on the NFB website: "The National Federation of the Blind knows that blindness is not the characteristic that defines you or your future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. You can live the life you want; blindness is not what holds you back." The Wage and Hour Division doesn't want anything to hold back the potential of anyone who is blind or has a disability. However, as you heard me say, current law places certain parameters on our ability to eliminate all barriers. Yet, as I read these words, I kept thinking that, as you work to raise the expectations of blind people, we at DOL, and specifically the Wage and Hour division, can and will do our part to raise expectations of your future employers. We also believe that blindness doesn't define your future and that you can live the life you want.
Again, collaboration is critically important to move any agenda forward, and as deputy administrator of Wage and Hour, I assure you that we are going to approach our challenges and opportunities as we always do, head-on, with the unwavering belief that a hard day's work deserves a fair day's pay for everyone. We're going to do it with strong enforcement of the laws as they are written and with thoughtful rulemaking to implement the president's recent executive order. We applaud those in the business community who've already seen the light and are being smart and aggressive about recruiting and retaining employees with disabilities and paying them fairly. We are going to continue strong enforcement to level the playing field for those employers and to create incentives to comply, not incentives to break the law.
Thank you so much for the invitation to join you here at your national convention. It's been truly an honor to speak with you today.
by Sharon Maneki
From the Editor: Sharon Maneki has a long history as the chairman of the Resolutions Committee, and her knowledge of our positions as stated in resolutions and her mastery of the process of chairing the committee and summarizing what the convention has adopted as policy is unsurpassed. Here is her report of the resolutions considered and passed at the 2014 Convention:
The eighteenth-century English poet Alexander Pope, who was best known for his satirical verse, had an interesting view about expectations. Although the Bible lists eight beatitudes, Pope said that there should be nine. In a letter dated September 23, 1725, to a prominent English judge, William Fortescue, Pope stated that the ninth beatitude should read as follows: "Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed." Today many people still agree with Pope's cynical view. Is this the view of members of the National Federation of the Blind?
As readers of the Braille Monitor will recall, Dr. Newel Perry was the mentor and godfather of the National Federation of the Blind. When asked what his most important work was, Dr. Perry answered, "Oh, my most important work was my dragging the blind out of their sleep, stirring them up, putting some ambition into them, and then helping them." Dr. Newel Perry had expectations of and for the blind.
In his speech entitled "Reflecting the Flame," the immediate past president of the NFB, Marc Maurer, described the Federation story this way: "When the National Federation of the Blind was founded, the prospects for the blind of this country were utterly desolate. There was little education, almost no hope of a job, and virtually no chance for meaningful participation in other activities of life. From such unpromising beginnings almost no one (no one, that is, except the founders of the Federation) believed that a dynamic national movement could arise." Dr. Maurer further explained that the "Federation has changed forever the expectations and aspirations of the blind."
Despite tremendous progress since 1940, we still have unmet dreams. We continue to change and raise our expectations. President Mark Riccobono offered the following speculation about our expectations during the 2011 National Convention. The title of his speech was "The Spirit of the Journey: the Blind Driver Challenge and the Direction of our Movement." He said in part: "We in the NFB have undertaken a journey to expand the boundaries of independence." We used to say that "The average blind person could perform the average job in the average career or calling, assuming that he was not required to drive a vehicle around." Riccobono posed an interesting question and speculated on its answer. "What would happen if we drove beyond the comfortable zone where we believe our independence stopped? If we can begin to demonstrate that the practically impossible might practically be possible, it would shatter our understanding of the destination of independence and expand the limits to a new, undefined place." Because of our rising expectations, what new boundaries of independence are we creating through the 2014 Convention resolutions?
We followed our tried and true process of considering resolutions. As usual the resolutions committee met on the first day of convention registration, which fell on July 2. I was privileged to chair the committee and was ably assisted by Marsha Dyer, who served as secretary. As usual the committee was composed of a large cross-section of Federation leaders.
This year the process was enhanced to permit greater study of the resolutions by both committee members and convention attendees. Before the convention began, the chairman emailed copies of the resolutions to each committee member. Committee members reported that they felt better prepared to debate the merits of each resolution. The committee passed twenty-two resolutions and sent them to the convention for consideration. All of the proposed resolutions were placed on our website so that anyone who wished could read and study each resolution before it came to the convention floor.
The convention passed twenty-one resolutions. Resolution 2014-18, which dealt with network neutrality, was sponsored by Tony Olivero, who wears many hats in the Federation. He is chairman of the National Research and Development Committee and president of the Amateur Radio Division. In Nebraska he is a member of the affiliate board of directors and first vice president of the Lincoln Chapter. The resolution failed because the convention felt that network neutrality is not really a blindness issue. Network neutrality is a concept whereby communication networks do not prioritize delivery of particular messages passed over their infrastructure.
The twenty-one resolutions passed by the 2014 Convention illustrate the rising expectations of the blind. We expect our government to live up to its promise of equality for all. We will not allow companies to diminish our employment opportunities. We will not settle for excuses by businesses which exclude us from full participation in commerce and other life activities.
The convention passed eight resolutions involving actions by government entities. Chancey Fleet, vice president of the New York City chapter of the NFB of New York, sponsored Resolution 2014-01. On July 26, 2010, the US Department of Justice issued an advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in which the department stated that it would issue regulations making the internet a public accommodation that would be subject to requirements under the ADA. Unfortunately, the Department of Justice has taken no action since 2010 and recently announced that no rule will be issued until March of 2015. In this resolution we demand that the Obama Administration put forward a proposal for a robust regulation ensuring blind Americans full and equal access to the products and services that are available on the internet.
When the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938, people with disabilities were grateful to have any type of job and did not object to being paid less than the minimum wage. Today our expectations are much higher, and we recognize that paying workers with disabilities less than the minimum wage is discrimination. The convention passed two resolutions concerning federal government policy on subminimum wages. Sarah Patnaude, a 2014 national scholarship winner and president of the Virginia Association of Blind Students, introduced Resolution 2014-05. In this resolution we highly commend President Obama "for including people with disabilities in his executive order, ensuring that federal contract workers with disabilities will be paid $10.10 an hour just like their nondisabled peers."
Justin Salisbury has been a leader of the NFB in every state where he has resided, including Connecticut, North Carolina, and Wisconsin and won a national scholarship in 2011. Justin proposed Resolution 2014-02, which deals with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act. This act was greatly strengthened by our advocacy efforts. "The language regarding sheltered subminimum wage employment was substantially changed so that it will reduce the number of youth with disabilities being tracked into subminimum wage employment, and other objectionable provisions of the WIOA were removed, including the transfer of the Rehabilitation Services Administration to the Department of Labor and programs for the older blind to the Department of Health and Human Services." We are pleased to announce that the US Congress heeded our resolution and passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in July 2014. President Obama signed the legislation on July 22, 2014.
For nearly thirty years blind and low-vision people with diabetes have been urging manufacturers of diabetic equipment to include nonvisual access features in their products. In Resolution 2014-07 we call for "the end of discrimination against blind and low-vision diabetics by insisting that Congress give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to mandate full accessibility in diabetes-related devices." Sandra Ryan, president of the Iowa Diabetic Action Network and a board member of the Iowa affiliate, sponsored this resolution.
Most electronic healthcare record technology is inaccessible to blind people. This lack of access is extremely detrimental to both patients and people who work or wish to work in the healthcare industry. Access requirements were left out of the certification criteria proposed in March of 2014 by the office of the National Coordinator for Health and Information Technology. In Resolution 2014-10 we strongly urge the office of the National Coordinator for Health and Information Technology "to amend the Voluntary 2015 Certification Criteria for Electronic Health Record Technology to include accessibility for all users of the technology." Amy Murillo, a member of the board of directors of the NFB of Arizona, proposed this resolution.
The convention passed two resolutions that involve the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The twenty-first century Communications and Video Accessibility Act "directs the allocation of up to $10 million per year from the Interstate Telecommunications Relay Service Fund for the distribution of specialized equipment to low-income people who are deaf-blind to enable them to access telecommunications service, internet access service, and advanced communications." To implement this legislation, the FCC created the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program as a three-year pilot, which is scheduled to end on June 30, 2015. To address problems such as delays in the purchasing and distributing of equipment and the lack of qualified trainers to instruct deaf-blind people on using the equipment, Janice Toothman and Kathy Miller proposed Resolution 2014-09. Janice is secretary of the Deaf-Blind Division, and Kathy is one of its board members. Kathy is also president of the Lake Area chapter in the NFB of Louisiana. In this resolution we also strongly "urge the FCC to make the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program permanent before the June 30, 2015, deadline so that there is no interruption of service."
Paul Martinez, president of the Florida Association of Blind Students and a member of the board of directors of the Florida affiliate, sponsored Resolution 2014-16. On May 16, 2013, the Coalition of E-Reader Manufacturers filed a petition with the FCC requesting a waiver from the requirement to make consumer products with advanced communications services accessible to users with disabilities. The FCC granted a one-year waiver rather than the permanent waiver requested by the coalition. In this resolution "We commend the FCC for listening to the National Federation of the Blind and other stakeholders who have been denied access to e-readers, digital books, and consumer electronics and for rejecting the coalition's request for an indefinite waiver."
The National Federation of the Blind expects state governments to follow federal law. Since the passage of the Help America Vote Act in 2002, we have been working with state governments to ensure that their voting systems are accessible as required by this act. As Nathanael Wales, the proponent of Resolution 2014-17, explained, "It is difficult to bring election practices into the twenty-first century." Nathanael won his first national scholarship in 1997 and his second national scholarship as a tenBroek fellow in 2000. He currently serves as treasurer of the NFB of Connecticut. Seventeen states and some counties in California and Florida have online ballot-marking systems. Only four of the seventeen states extend the use of these systems to voters with disabilities. Permission to use accessible online ballot-marking systems is especially important to deaf-blind voters because they can use their own personal access technology to cast a secret ballot. Frequently the accessible voting machines used in the polling places are difficult if not impossible for deaf-blind people to use. In this resolution we strongly urge all states to implement accessible online ballot-marking systems available to voters with disabilities.
The convention passed five resolutions to improve employment opportunities for blind people. We expect all employers, whether they are in the public or private sector, to eliminate the many barriers to full employment created by the lack of access.
The purpose of vocational rehabilitation is to assist people with disabilities to gain or return to employment. Resolution 2014-03 puts vocational rehabilitation agencies on notice that they should not force clients to use the Window-Eyes screen-access program just because the program is free. The resolution also lists a set of principles that should be incorporated into policies used by vocational rehabilitation agencies for determining which screen-reading software counselors and supervisors should purchase for specific clients. For instance, "Each client's knowledge and experience with specific software must govern the decision, avoiding the need for the client to learn a completely new program." Curtis Chong, long-time president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science Division and treasurer of the NFB of New Mexico, sponsored this resolution.
SharePoint software is widely used in both business and government. Because most of its features are not accessible to blind users, Michelle Clark, a federal government employee, introduced Resolution 2014-04 to urge the Microsoft Corporation to rectify this problem immediately. Michelle is president of the National Harbor chapter and serves as a member of the board of directors of the Maryland affiliate.
Jeremiah Beasley, a technical expert who serves on the board of directors of the NFB of Wisconsin and as a board member of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, sponsored Resolution 2014-08. Companies such as Oracle Corporation have demonstrated that it is possible to "have and follow an accessibility policy for a very diverse portfolio of enterprise products." In this resolution we not only urge companies to make their enterprise software accessible but also demand that public entities that procure enterprise solutions comply with applicable laws by "procuring and deploying only enterprise solutions that are accessible to their blind employees."
Using the cloud for collaboration and backup storage purposes is becoming the norm for many employers. Cloud services have a checkered history with accessibility. Cindy Bennett, a 2014 national scholarship winner, who is studying human-centered technology, sponsored Resolution 2014-13. Cindy serves as the treasurer of the NFB of Washington. In this resolution we "insist on a commitment from such cloud storage providers to robust and reliable, rather than incidental, partial, and intermittent accessibility."
In Resolution 2014-20 we "demand that makers of remote access tools provide equal access for blind users to all of the tools that they offer." Jack Mendez, director of technology at the Louisiana Center for the Blind, sponsored this resolution. Jack explained that employers expect personnel to work from any place at any time. Blind people can perform if we have access.
Full participation of the blind in society has been our goal since the inception of our movement. Because the Federation raises the expectations of blind people every day, our demands for full participation keep increasing. The convention passed eight resolutions relating to demands for full participation in all aspects of community life. The variety of these resolutions illustrates our expectations for greater participation.
Robert Jaquiss and Cary Supalo sponsored Resolution 2014-11. Dr. Supalo has been an NFB leader in every state where he has lived and won two national scholarships, one in 1994 and the other in 2001. Robert Jaquiss is a longtime Federationist who has served many years on the national Committee for Research and Development and the Committee for the Promotion, Evaluation, and Advancement of Technology. He is secretary in the Oregon affiliate. In this resolution we "commend Vernier Software and Technology LLC for its willingness to listen to the advice of blind people and for its innovation in providing access to the full laboratory experience for blind students and scientists." Vernier is the world's leading manufacturer of school laboratory equipment.
In today's unpredictable society more and more people feel the need to acquire home security systems. Denice Brown, president of the Greater Philadelphia chapter and member of the board of directors of the NFB of Pennsylvania, proposed Resolution 2014-14 because blind people expect to use security systems if they wish. As the resolution states: "BE IT RESOLVED…that this organization strongly urge security system companies to make their wall panels, apps, and websites fully and equally accessible to all consumers so that having a secure home or business is not reserved only for the sighted."
The use of an electronic notetaker enables blind people to participate in numerous activities from work and school obligations to social events such as singing in a choir. In Resolution 2014-15 we urge Freedom Scientific Inc. immediately to correct the errors in the Unified English Braille code translation tables for JAWS. Jennifer Dunnam, president of the NFB of Minnesota and the Federation's representative on the Braille Authority of North America (BANA) board, proposed this resolution.
One of the greatest barriers to full participation in all aspects of community life is the lack of transportation. The convention passed two resolutions concerning access to transportation apps. Technology is changing the way that the public requests and pays for transportation from taxicabs and new transportation services such as Uber. Transportation services want their customers to request, track, and pay for rides by using smartphone applications. The goal expressed in Resolution 2014-19 is to make sure these systems are as usable for the blind as they are for the sighted. Ronza Othman, vice president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers and a leader in the Maryland affiliate, sponsored this resolution.
Technology trends in the airline industry are moving in a similarly troublesome direction. Eric Duffy, president of the NFB of Ohio, introduced Resolution 2014-21. In this resolution we "call upon all airline carriers to ensure that all features of their mobile applications are accessible to blind travelers."
The last three resolutions that I will discuss in this article concern general access to computing, the internet, and mobile applications. Resolution 2014-06 was the most proactive resolution passed by the convention this year. The Internet of Things is a proposed development of the internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data. In this resolution we "call upon the developers of connected and connecting devices for the Internet of Things to extend their groundbreaking work to all users by providing speech and tactile feedback to put all users, including the blind, on an equal footing." Yadiel Sotomayor, treasurer of the NFB of Puerto Rico and a national scholarship winner in 2010, introduced this resolution.
Curtis Chong, who is no stranger to Monitor readers, sponsored a second resolution at the convention, which makes specific requests of Apple Inc. In Resolution 2014-12 we "call upon Apple Inc. to work with the National Federation of the Blind to create and enforce policies, standards, and procedures to ensure the accessibility of all apps, including core apps distributed by Apple in the base iOS distribution, and to ensure that accessibility is not lost when an app is updated."
When Edward Shaham introduced Resolution 2014-22, he explained that the blind are entitled to have secure computers just as the sighted are. "This organization strongly urges the makers of antivirus software to make their products accessible to blind users" in this resolution. Edward is an up-and-coming leader in the NFB of Connecticut. He hopes to obtain a degree in computer security.
This article is merely an introductory discussion of the resolutions considered by the convention. By longstanding tradition the complete text of each resolution that was passed is reprinted below. The highly technical nature of this year's resolutions may require further study. Readers should analyze the text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. I look forward to seeing next year's resolutions because I am confident that our expectations will be even higher than they were this year.
WHEREAS, today access to the Internet is critical for successful participation in employment, economic activity, education, social interaction, and other pursuits, and this is no less true for the blind than for our sighted peers; and
WHEREAS, in recognition of this reality the United States Department of Justice issued an advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on July 26, 2010, the twentieth anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), proposing to issue regulations applying the ADA to public accommodations, as defined by that law, that have a presence on the internet and specifically on the World Wide Web; and
WHEREAS, the Department of Justice has taken no further action on this rulemaking since it was issued and has now announced that no proposed rule will be issued until March of 2015: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand that the Obama administration put forward a proposed regulation without further delay; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind demand a robust regulation ensuring blind Americans’ full and equal access to the products and services of all public accommodations, as defined by the ADA, that are made available using the Internet.
WHEREAS, on July 31, 2013, the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), S. 1356, was reported favorably by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, with language in Title V, Section 511 that would have allowed any individual with a disability, regardless of age, to be placed in a subminimum wage work environment by a vocational rehabilitation counselor; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind adamantly opposes the payment of subminimum wages to people with disabilities because we know that, with the proper training and support, people with disabilities can be productive employees, worthy of at least the minimum wage; and
WHEREAS, members of the Federation aggressively advocated for the removal of Section 511, by calling, tweeting, emailing, and meeting with members of Congress; and
WHEREAS, as a result of our advocacy the language regarding sheltered subminimum wage employment was substantially changed so that it will reduce the number of youth with disabilities being tracked into subminimum wage employment, and other objectionable provisions of the WIA were removed, including the transfer of the Rehabilitation Services Administration to the Department of Labor and programs for the older blind to the Department of Health and Human Services; and
WHEREAS, these changes resulted in new bipartisan, bicameral legislation known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA); and
WHEREAS, while we are disappointed in some provisions of the WIOA, such as the lowering of standards for rehabilitation counselors and the reduction in membership of the National Council on Disability, the National Federation of the Blind supports this legislation because we believe that it represents a significant improvement in policies designed to create and enhance employment opportunities for American workers with disabilities: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that we urge the United States Congress to pass the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we applaud Congressman George Miller, ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, for consulting with the National Federation of the Blind and for being a strong advocate for people with disabilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, upon the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, we urge the Department of Education to work with the National Federation of the Blind to ensure that the regulations enforcing this legislation increase the quality of rehabilitation services and employment opportunities provided to blind Americans and provide safeguards that prohibit youth with disabilities from being tracked into subminimum wage employment.
WHEREAS, on January 14, 2014, GW Micro Inc., the maker of the well-known Window-Eyes screen-access program, issued a press release announcing that GW Micro Inc. and Microsoft Corporation had "partnered to make Window-Eyes available to users of Microsoft Office at no cost”; and according to the press release, this "global initiative," available in over fifteen languages, will "enable anyone using Microsoft Office 2010 or later also to use Window-Eyes free"; and
WHEREAS, the sophisticated screen-access technology used by the blind to compete in school and at work has typically cost around a thousand dollars per copy; and
WHEREAS, for blind vocational rehabilitation clients this high cost has usually been covered by the state vocational rehabilitation agency serving the blind in the state where the client resides; and
WHEREAS, although it is true that Window-Eyes is a powerful screen-access program that has enabled thousands of blind people to use Windows and Windows programs independently, and although GW Micro Inc. is a well-established company with a positive reputation among the blind, it is equally true that other screen-access programs (including JAWS for Windows, System Access, and Guide), which are not offered free of charge and which cost several hundred dollars, offer the best solution in specific cases and for specific individuals; and
WHEREAS, for governmental organizations struggling to obtain adequate funding, the ability to acquire Window-Eyes at no cost is a powerful incentive for them to compel individual clients to accept the free Window-Eyes even though, in specific situations, a costlier screen access program would result in greater productivity, success, and independence; and
WHEREAS, another factor to consider is that users of the free version of Window-Eyes must pay for technical support from GW Micro Inc. while users of more expensive screen-access programs (including users of the full-priced version of Window-Eyes) receive technical support at no extra charge: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge all vocational rehabilitation agencies serving the blind in the United States to incorporate the following principles in their policies for determining which screen access software counselors and supervisors purchase on behalf of specific clients: (1) decisions must be based on which software most effectively meets the access requirements of each individual client; (2) decisions must not be based solely on cost; (3) each client’s knowledge and experience with specific software must govern the decision, avoiding the need for the client to learn a completely new program; and (4) the decision must incorporate the principle of informed choice, a key principle in the federal Rehabilitation Act.
WHEREAS, SharePoint unites content management, document management, and intranet management, as well as offering business intelligence and business solutions functionality; and
WHEREAS, SharePoint is both unique in its scope and widely used in business and government; and
WHEREAS, most SharePoint features are not accessible, hampering its blind users: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge Microsoft Corporation to make SharePoint fully accessible to its blind users.
WHEREAS, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) established a federal minimum wage to be paid to all American workers; and
WHEREAS, although there are exceptions to the mandatory minimum wage based on type of work performed, only workers with disabilities as a class are excluded from this federal wage protection; and
WHEREAS, over the years workers without disabilities have received periodic increases to the federal minimum wage, which currently stands at $7.25 per hour, but workers with disabilities have seen the statutory floor for their subminimum wages fall and then disappear completely, with the result that some are now paid pennies per hour; and
WHEREAS, the practice of paying workers with disabilities subminimum wages stems from the public misconception that people with disabilities cannot be productive employees; and
WHEREAS, at the beginning of 2014 President Obama proposed an executive order to raise the minimum wage for federal service contract workers to $10.10 per hour, but did not initially include increasing the wages of service contract workers with disabilities employed under Special Wage Certificates in the order; and
WHEREAS, members of the National Federation of the Blind, along with partner organizations of people with disabilities, actively advocated through phone calls, social media, and written correspondence that workers with disabilities be included in the executive order wage increase; and
WHEREAS, as a result of our advocacy, on February 12, 2014, President Obama exhibited fairness and courage by signing a historic executive order that provided the same wage protections to service contract workers both with and without disabilities, stating: federal agencies must "ensure that new contracts include a clause, specifying that the minimum wage to be paid to workers, including workers whose wages are calculated pursuant to special certificates issued under [Section 14(c)], in the performance of the contract or any subcontract thereunder, shall be at least $10.10 per hour beginning January 1, 2015"; and
WHEREAS, Section 14(c) of the FLSA remains a discriminatory, immoral, and antiquated law that should be phased out and eventually repealed as outlined by the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization highly commend President Barack Obama for including people with disabilities in his executive order, ensuring that federal contract workers with disabilities will be paid $10.10 an hour just like their nondisabled peers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge all 14(c) certificate-holding entities to follow the lead of the federal government and stop using 14(c) certificates; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we urge Congress to finish the remaining work of repealing the discriminatory policy found in Section 14(c) of the FLSA by passing HR 831, the Fair Wages for Workers with Disabilities Act.
WHEREAS, the Internet of Things is a scenario in which objects, animals, or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data automatically over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction; and
WHEREAS, this technology is rapidly gaining traction and may dramatically affect how society collects information and how people interface with devices; and
WHEREAS, companies such as General Electric Corporation, Cisco Systems Inc., Amazon Web Services Inc., Google Inc., the International Business Machines Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, Oracle Corporation, Logitech Inc., Honeywell International Inc., and Smart Things (Physical Graph Corporation) are laying the foundation of the Internet of Things; and
WHEREAS, devices, animals, and people can be connected to the Internet using accessories that provide an Internet connection; and
WHEREAS, data collected by devices can be reviewed by websites and apps; and
WHEREAS, these devices can be controlled via those same apps and websites; and
WHEREAS, most of these apps and websites are not currently accessible with screen-access software; and
WHEREAS, most of the accessories provide no audible or tactile verification of connection status, battery status, or any other critical functions: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon the developers of connected and connecting devices for the Internet of Things to extend their groundbreaking work to all users by providing speech and tactile feedback to put all users, including the blind, on an equal footing.
WHEREAS, Many advances in diabetes and diabetes-related technologies, such as insulin pumps, continuous glucose monitoring devices, and home dialysis systems offer great benefits, including more effective diabetes self-management, independence, and an enhanced quality of life; and
WHEREAS, blind and low-vision people also have the right to benefit from these advancements in diabetes technologies but are deprived of the health benefits that they offer because manufacturers consistently fail to integrate nonvisual and low-vision access features into them, even though blind consumers have been requesting this access for nearly thirty years; and
WHEREAS, federal regulators and policymakers perpetuate this blatant discrimination and fail to protect the rights and needs of blind and low-vision consumers who have diabetes by failing to develop accessibility standards and by failing to require developers receiving federal funds to add nonvisual and low-vision access to their diabetes-related products; and
WHEREAS, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves all medical devices before they can be marketed in the United States, but lacks the authority to ensure the accessibility of diabetes technologies; and
WHEREAS, organizations such as the American Diabetes Association, the JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation), the American Association of Diabetes Educators, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, and the American Medical Association fail to advocate for nonvisual and low-vision access to these lifesaving technologies: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call for the end of discrimination against blind and low-vision diabetics by insisting that Congress give the Food and Drug Administration the authority to mandate full accessibility in diabetes-related devices, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge the Food and Drug Administration to work with the National Federation of the Blind to create nonvisual and low-vision accessibility standards for all diabetes-related devices, and then require manufacturers to include nonvisual and low-vision accessibility in all new diabetes technology before receiving FDA approval; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization calls upon national associations that advocate for people with diabetes to join with the National Federation of the Blind to advocate for nonvisual and low-vision accessibility in all future diabetes technologies so that all people with diabetes, including those who are blind or have low vision, may benefit from these technologies.
WHEREAS, much of the business world is driven by large enterprise systems that manage human resources, accounting, collaboration, and business-to-business transactions; and
WHEREAS, many such enterprise products from companies such as SAP AG, Salesforce.com Inc., Paychex Inc., and ADP Inc. are not accessible to or usable by the blind; and
WHEREAS, it has been demonstrated by companies such as Oracle Corporation that, even on a very large scale, it is possible to have and follow an accessibility policy for a very diverse portfolio of enterprise products; and
WHEREAS, many of these inaccessible enterprise solutions are deployed in government and educational settings where access is mandated by law under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Sections 504 and/or 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, and other applicable federal and state laws: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge the companies that develop and support enterprise software to make their software accessible to the blind and thereby level the playing field for blind professionals; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization demands that public entities that procure enterprise solutions comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other applicable laws by procuring and deploying only enterprise solutions that are accessible to their blind employees.
WHEREAS, interpersonal communication is one of the greatest barriers to full participation in community life faced by deaf-blind people; and
WHEREAS, with the expansion of electronic communications such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media, barriers to interpersonal communications are increasing for deaf-blind people; and
WHEREAS, to promote access to telecommunications for people with disabilities, the twenty-first century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) was enacted into law in 2010; and
WHEREAS, the CVAA “directs the allocation of up to $10 million per year from the Interstate Telecommunication Relay Service Fund for the distribution of specialized equipment to low-income people who are deaf-blind to enable them to access telecommunications service, internet access service, and advanced communications”; and
WHEREAS, in response to the CVAA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) created the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program (NDBEDP) as a three-year pilot program, scheduled to end on June 30, 2015, to “ensure that every person with combined hearing and vision loss has access to modern telecommunication tools and the training necessary to use them”; and
WHEREAS, while the pilot program has been successful in providing much-needed equipment, there have been lengthy delays in the delivery of these devices; and
WHEREAS, there have been even lengthier delays in receiving the training on using these devices, because qualified NDBEDP trainers are in extremely short supply due to the specialized knowledge they must have of assistive telecommunications technology, as well as knowledge of Tactile American Sign Language and other communications methods used by deaf-blind individuals: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge the FCC to make the National Deaf-Blind Equipment Distribution Program permanent and to do so before the June 30, 2015, deadline so that there is no interruption of service; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insists that the FCC eliminate the delays in purchasing and distributing equipment to deaf-blind persons and adopt measures to ensure the availability of an adequate pool of qualified trainers who can evaluate the needs of deaf-blind individuals and train them in the use of appropriate equipment.
WHEREAS, the transition from print-based medical records to electronic health records (EHR) offers the opportunity to expand the circle of participation in the healthcare industry by giving blind providers mainstream access to systems and material that they need in order to do their jobs without the need for alternative formats, specialized services, and customized supports, and by giving blind patients private and equal access to their health records; and
WHEREAS, most current EHR technology is inaccessible to blind people working in or pursuing work in the healthcare industry, creating new barriers that may ultimately drive blind people out of the industry altogether; and
WHEREAS, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health and Information Technology (ONC), which is housed in the Department of Health and Human Services, drives the market for EHR technology by developing Certification Criteria, allowing developers to know what specifications their EHR technology must meet in order for providers to use it; and
WHEREAS, in order to update the Certification Criteria, improve its regulatory timeline, and more effectively respond to stakeholder feedback, ONC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking unveiling the voluntary 2015 Edition of EHR in March of 2014; and
WHEREAS, ONC’s EHR Certification Criteria are a vehicle by which ONC can break the systemic discrimination within the healthcare industry caused by inaccessible EHR; and
WHEREAS, ONC missed this remarkable opportunity and failed to integrate accessibility into the Certification Criteria properly, calling only for increased accessibility for blind patients and not requiring any accessibility for blind workers who use the technology; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind submitted comments in response to the NPRM urging ONC to amend the Voluntary 2015 Certification Criteria to include compliance with WCAG 2.0 Level AA; and
WHEREAS, in our filing the Federation noted that compliance must not only include access for patients but must also meet the needs of blind people who currently work or who wish to work in the healthcare industry; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind supported our comments by submitting letters on behalf of sixteen blind doctors, nurses, assistants, therapists, and students who currently work in the healthcare industry or are pursuing careers in the healthcare industry and who are facing extreme discrimination as a result of inaccessible EHR technology: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that we strongly urge ONC to amend the Voluntary 2015 Certification Criteria for EHR technology to include accessibility for all users of the technology; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we commend the sixteen blind healthcare professionals for telling their stories, because the talents and careers of many individuals are in jeopardy if those currently facing needless discrimination because of inaccessible EHR technology do not make their voices heard; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we strongly urge the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Department of Health and Human Services, and any healthcare provider that deploys EHR technology proactively to demand accessibility from developers, since all of these entities are stakeholders in this matter and will never fully realize the benefits of EHR technology unless that technology is accessible to users with disabilities.
WHEREAS, science is considered an essential component of every student’s education; and
WHEREAS, for many years blind science students have been unable to participate fully in laboratory research because of a lack of nonvisual accessible equipment that performs such basic functions as weighing, measuring, and obtaining test results; and
WHEREAS, these limitations have made it almost impossible for blind people to pursue careers in the laboratory sciences; and
WHEREAS, Vernier Software & Technology LLC, the world's leading manufacturer of school laboratory equipment, has recently introduced speech capability to its LabQuest hardware, giving blind students access to information from various types of sensors; and
WHEREAS, Vernier further opened the doors of opportunity to blind scientists and students by modifying its LoggerPro software to provide data analysis in accessible formats: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization commend Vernier Software & Technology LLC for its willingness to listen to the advice of blind people and for its innovation in providing access to the full laboratory experience for blind students and scientists; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge Vernier to incorporate accessibility in all of its products by working in cooperation with interested companies and the National Federation of the Blind; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the appropriate federal agencies, such as the Rehabilitation Services Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Education, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the National Science Foundation, to cooperate in funding further research and development so that the study of laboratory sciences is possible for all students and scientists, including the blind.
WHEREAS, Apple Inc. has made VoiceOver, a free and powerful screen-access program, an integral part of many of its products, including the Apple Inc. Macintosh, iPhone, iPod Touch, Apple Inc. TV, and iPad; and
WHEREAS, although VoiceOver has the ability to enable nonvisual access to hundreds of thousands of applications that are available today through these platforms, such access cannot be achieved unless the applications are written to provide VoiceOver with the information it needs to tell the blind user what he or she needs to know; and
WHEREAS, through presentations at developer conferences, specific guidance issued in programming guides, and application programming interfaces that are simple to implement, Apple Inc. has made it easy for application developers to incorporate accessibility features for VoiceOver users into their programs; and
WHEREAS, despite Apple Inc.'s efforts to encourage accessibility, too many applications are still not accessible to VoiceOver users because buttons are not properly labeled, images of text cannot be interpreted, and other display elements cannot even be detected by VoiceOver; and
WHEREAS, although Apple Inc. has given VoiceOver users the tools to assign labels to unlabeled elements on their own, a growing number of applications that have been released cannot be made accessible using these tools; and
WHEREAS, even if the current version of an application is accessible to a blind VoiceOver user, Apple Inc. has no policy, procedure, or mechanism in place to ensure that this accessibility will be maintained when a subsequent version is released; and
WHEREAS, not only are inaccessible applications inconvenient for the blind VoiceOver user, but they can also prevent a blind person from independently performing the duties of his/her job; and
WHEREAS, Apple Inc. is not reluctant to place requirements and prohibitions on application developers, but has not seen fit to require that applications be accessible to VoiceOver users; and
WHEREAS, making products accessible to users of VoiceOver should be as important as any other requirement imposed on application developers: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon Apple Inc. to work with the National Federation of the Blind to create and enforce policies, standards, and procedures to ensure the accessibility of all apps, including core apps distributed by Apple in the base iOS distribution, and to ensure that accessibility is not lost when an app is updated.
WHEREAS, storing files in the cloud is increasingly the norm for file storage, collaboration, and backup purposes; and
WHEREAS, cloud storage services such as Dropbox, Box, SugarSync and Google Drive provide users with an easy-to-use, free, or inexpensive way to keep files; and
WHEREAS, services like these are actively being promoted in educational and professional settings; and
WHEREAS, these large services have a checkered history with accessibility and currently have many inaccessible features; and
WHEREAS, sharing files, file management, file viewing, and folder management are critical functions in cloud services: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge cloud storage services to commit to making at a minimum folder management, file sharing, file viewing, and file management accessible to blind consumers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insists on a commitment from such cloud storage providers to robust and reliable, rather than incidental, partial, and intermittent accessibility.
WHEREAS, home security systems afford protection to homes and places of business; and
WHEREAS, the increased reliance on digital, web, and mobile tools for monitoring home and business security means that home security companies have simpler, cheaper, and more powerful options for making their products accessible; and
WHEREAS, accessible wall panels, websites, and apps have been produced, tested, and used in the market in other areas of home automation, the Kelvin and Talking thermostats being examples; and
WHEREAS, the available home security systems have deployed largely inaccessible wall units, apps, and websites; and
WHEREAS, security companies such as Honeywell International Inc., Comcast (Xfinity) Corporation, the ADT Corporation, Vivint Inc., and the LifeShield Inc., as well as DIY (do it yourself) services such as SimpliSafe Inc. and Protect America Inc. could make their offerings usable by blind consumers without undue burden: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urges security system companies to make their wall panels, apps, and websites fully and equally accessible to all consumers so that having a secure home or business is not reserved only for the sighted.
WHEREAS, for many years Freedom Scientific Inc.'s JAWS screen-reading software, which provides access to computers using speech or refreshable Braille output, has dominated the global market and has upheld a standard of excellence in assistive technology; and
WHEREAS, Freedom Scientific Inc. has further demonstrated its commitment to Braille access by developing and producing several feature-rich refreshable Braille displays, creating more opportunities for Braille to be an integral part of computer use in the classroom, the workplace, and elsewhere; and
WHEREAS, JAWS boasts the capability of Braille output and input in Unified English Braille (UEB), the Braille standard which was recently adopted for use in the United States and which is used in many other countries where JAWS is used; and
WHEREAS, unfortunately, the UEB that is displayed by JAWS currently contains numerous errors, including incorrect use or nonuse of some contractions, incorrect dot representation of some symbols, and inclusion of some extraneous characters, as well as errors in backward translation from Braille to print; and
WHEREAS, not only do these translation errors create ambiguity and difficulty with reading the displayed Braille, but they are especially detrimental because they propagate confusion and misinformation about UEB while people are beginning to learn it; and
WHEREAS, well before the decision was made to adopt UEB in the United States, details of these errors were brought to the attention of Freedom Scientific Inc. personnel; and
WHEREAS, all updates to JAWS that have been released in the intervening time show no improvements in Braille translation; and
WHEREAS, to date, Freedom Scientific Inc. has not taken advantage of offers by the National Federation of the Blind to provide technical assistance in correcting these errors; and
WHEREAS, the UEB translators in other screen-reading programs, such as Window-Eyes and VoiceOver, are much more accurate: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization urge Freedom Scientific Inc. to uphold its commitment to quality assistive technology for Braille users by immediately correcting the errors in the UEB translation tables for JAWS; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization calls upon Freedom Scientific Inc. to work with us to ensure that users have access to Braille that follows all of the rules in the UEB code.
WHEREAS, the Twenty-First Century Video and Communications Accessibility Act (CVAA), which became law in 2010, requires all developers of consumer products with advanced communications services (ACS) to make those services accessible to users with disabilities when achievable; and
WHEREAS, the CVAA authorizes the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant waivers of the ACS accessibility requirements to classes of multipurpose equipment or services that are indeed capable of accessing ACS, but are nonetheless designed primarily for purposes other than using ACS, meaning that products with incidental ACS that is not the primary or co-primary purpose of the device can be exempt from CVAA accessibility requirements, if the FCC believes the product meets this general standard for a waiver; and
WHEREAS, on May 16, 2013, the Coalition of E-Reader Manufacturers, which is comprised of Amazon.com Inc., Sony Corporation, and Kobo Inc. filed a petition with the FCC requesting a waiver for a narrow class of basic e-readers, claiming that basic e-readers meet the general standard for a waiver because the advanced communications services in e-readers are rudimentary and stripped down, that most e-reader users do not employ the available advanced communications services, that Coalition members do not advertise the ACS features of e-readers, and that making the ACS accessible on e-readers would not provide benefit to people with disabilities or the public interest because it would ultimately call for a transformation of e-readers into tablets; and
WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind and twenty-two other organizations of and for people with disabilities filed joint comments in opposition to the waiver, explaining that, not only is the ACS in e-readers far from rudimentary or stripped down, but the ability to communicate is the very function that sets e-readers apart from print books and enhances the experience of the user, making ACS a co-primary purpose of the devices; and
WHEREAS, 125 members of the National Federation of the Blind sent letters to the FCC urging it to reject the waiver petition and protect blind people's right to access digital books; and
WHEREAS, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, has expressed an intent to weave support for people with disabilities into his agenda as leader of a federal agency and has shown a commitment to improving access for users with disabilities by regularly engaging disability advocates; and
WHEREAS, upon Chairman Wheeler's urging and, as a result of the advocacy efforts of the National Federation of the Blind in partnership with other disability organizations, the FCC decided to deny the Coalition of E-Reader Manufacturers’ request for a permanent waiver for a narrow class of basic e-readers and granted only a one-year waiver; and
WHEREAS, since their request for an indefinite waiver was denied, the members of the Coalition of E-Reader Manufacturers have a strong incentive to incorporate readily available accessibility solutions in their e-readers rather than seeking another waiver: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that we commend the FCC for listening to the National Federation of the Blind and other stakeholders who have been denied access to e-readers, digital books, and consumer electronics and rejecting the Coalition's request for an indefinite waiver; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we strongly urge Amazon.com Inc., Sony Corporation, and Kobo Inc. to take advantage of this temporary reprieve from accessibility requirements to incorporate readily available accessibility solutions in their products so that the advanced communications services and all other functions can be accessed by blind people who want to buy their products to access digital books.
WHEREAS, the right to cast a secret and anonymous ballot is a cornerstone of our democracy that enables citizens to vote their conscience without fear; and
WHEREAS, the passage of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) has enabled the majority of blind voters and many others with disabilities to exercise their right to vote privately and independently at polling places; and
WHEREAS, the accessible voting machines typically found in polling places do not have the capability to allow some voters with disabilities, such as the deaf-blind, to exercise their right to vote privately and independently as guaranteed by HAVA; and
WHEREAS, accessible online ballot-marking systems will enable many voters who cannot currently cast a secret ballot, such as the deaf-blind, to vote privately and independently using their own personal access technology; and
WHEREAS, seventeen states (Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) and counties in California and Florida have implemented online ballot-marking systems that enable voters to access and mark their ballot online and then email or print and mail the ballot to their local board of elections, demonstrating that these systems can be made secure; and
WHEREAS, only Alaska, Delaware, Utah, and Washington extend the use of their online ballot-marking systems to voters with disabilities; Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urge the thirteen states that have online ballot-marking systems, but do not make them available to voters with disabilities, to make their systems accessible and to extend their use to voters with disabilities; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind strongly urges all remaining states and territories to implement accessible online ballot-marking systems and to make these systems available to voters with disabilities so that all citizens can exercise their right to cast a secret ballot.
WHEREAS, public transportation is extremely important to blind people because we cannot yet independently operate our own motor vehicles; and
WHEREAS, technology is changing the way that the public requests and pays for transportation from taxicabs and newly emerging transportation providers; and
WHEREAS, fewer traditional taxicabs are taking cash, opting instead to require passengers to pay electronically using systems that often do not include nonvisual feedback; and
WHEREAS, newer service providers employ smartphone applications that can be used to request rides, with the rider being notified when pickup is expected and what car will be providing the transportation; and
WHEREAS, too many of these smartphone applications do not work with the software that speaks the contents of the smartphone screen for blind people, though standards for coding apps to provide this accessibility are readily available and have been implemented by several companies throughout the country; and
WHEREAS, there is both circumstantial and direct evidence that blind people who use guide dogs have been denied service by drivers for emerging transportation services: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization insist upon equal access to the systems used to request, track, and pay for transportation, relying on existing law when we can and working for additional laws and regulations when required to ensure that all systems be as usable for the blind as they are for the sighted; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization insists upon the enforcement of laws ensuring that blind people who use guide dogs are not denied the benefits of these transportation services.
WHEREAS, remote access to computers is often a professional necessity; and
WHEREAS, software such as Freedom Scientific's Tandem demonstrates that remote access can be made accessible on the desktop; and
WHEREAS, screen-reading software access to apps and mobile websites is routinely achieved by a variety of web and app development companies such as Microsoft Corporation, which uses Outlook Web App (OWA); and
WHEREAS, despite the fact that accessibility is achievable, other commonly used remote access tools from companies such as Citrix Systems; LogMeIn Inc.; TeamViewer, Inc.; and Microsoft Corporation are inaccessible to screen-access software in desktop, mobile site, and app versions: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization demand that makers of remote-access tools provide equal access for blind users to all of the tools that they offer.
WHEREAS, airlines are working to improve services provided to their consumers through the development of mobile applications; and
WHEREAS, such mobile applications are designed to enhance the ease with which consumers can access airline services; and
WHEREAS, mobile applications allow airline consumers to access a range of features and services, including the ability to book flights, check the status of flights, acquire gate locations, obtain boarding passes, research lower fare rates, manage frequent flyer account information, access trip related features such as seat selection and itineraries, and procure other travel-related services provided by airline partners such as car rentals and hotel accommodations; and
WHEREAS, blind and low-vision people are among the millions of Americans who use air travel for business and personal travel; and
WHEREAS, while some features on mobile applications are accessible, many remain unreadable or unresponsive to screen-reading technologies, thereby excluding blind and low-vision people from using a variety of services; and
WHEREAS, in 1986 Congress enacted the Air Carrier Access Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability; and
WHEREAS, companies such as Apple, Inc. have provided mobile application developers with guidelines for creating accessible applications; and
WHEREAS, travel-related applications can be made fully accessible by following accessibility guidelines: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the City of Orlando, Florida, that this organization call upon all airline carriers to ensure that all features of their mobile applications are accessible to blind air travelers.
WHEREAS, the threat of malicious software attacks on computers is constant and the tactics of malefactors are increasingly sophisticated; and
WHEREAS, antivirus software has become a standard precaution against threats to the computing environment; and
WHEREAS, specific design guidelines for creating accessible software exist for the various operating systems; and
WHEREAS, a plethora of software products, including Microsoft Security Essentials, demonstrate clearly that software accessibility is achievable without significant additional investment; and
WHEREAS, some of the most popular companies in virus protection, such as Symantec Corporation, Kaspersky Lab, McAfee Inc., Malware Bytes Corporation, and Trend Micro Inc. all manufacture inaccessible antivirus software: Now, therefore,
BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2014, in the city of Orlando, Florida, that this organization strongly urges the makers of antivirus software to make their products accessible to blind users.
After a lively election with several contested positions, the following were elected to the board: president, Michael Freeman (WA); first vice president, Bernadette Jacobs (MD); second vice president, Sandi Ryan (IA); secretary, Marcey Gonzales, (TX); treasurer, Joy Stigile (CA); board members, Jean Brown (IN), Debbie Wunder (MO), Jonathan Franks (TX), and Ruby Polk (MO).
The following were elected to serve two-year terms expiring at the 2016 Convention: president, Cheryl Echevarria (NY); vice president, Amy Baron (MN); secretary, Margo Downey (NY); treasurer, Glenda Farnum (OK); and board members, Jemal Powell (IL), John TeBockhorst (MN), and Steve Hastalis (IL).
The division met during convention on July 3. The meeting began with a moment to remember those who were no longer with us and those who were ill and forced to remain at home, including our vice president, Maurice Shackelford. He was ill and had been in the hospital prior to convention, but he called during the meeting to let us know he was on the mend and back at home. Officers were introduced, and elections were held, the results of which are found above.
The secretary’s and treasurer’s reports were read, and there was discussion about the division’s first benefit fundraiser—a trip to Utah. The event raised $1,600, leading the division to take action.
The division’s contributions to the SUN, Jernigan, tenBroek, White Cane, and Imagination funds were all increased, and the division also chose to start a PAC plan.
A number of guest speakers addressed our division. First was Mark Riccobono, who spoke about independence, fighting for accessible travel, and the obstacles to living the life we want with the technologies available. One of those obstacles is inaccessible websites run by the airlines. Despite the fact that Southwest was a sponsor of the 2012 Convention, the website for the airline is not accessible for the blind, though the NFB continues to work with it to improve this situation.
The next speaker was Patrick Keyes, admissions coordinator, National Statler Center for Careers in Hospitality Service, located in Buffalo, NY. He spoke about the Statler’s educational program and career placement services. The Statler’s program has an 85 percent placement rate after graduation and has matched graduates with jobs in such companies as Sheraton, Marriott, Disney, and even many of the cruise lines. Other graduates have gone on to become travel agents, either independently or with a host agency.
The next two speakers made a joint presentation because of the connected nature of the work their companies do. Andrew Garnett, president and CEO of the Special Needs Group and Cathy Vazquez, access officer manager, Norwegian Cruise Lines, spoke about the nature of their companies and how they relate to the NFB. The Special Needs Group not only provides guide or service dog relief boxes for all major cruise lines except European River Cruises, the company also Brailles menus for Norwegian Cruise Lines and will be doing Braille signs for ships as they come in for service or into dry dock. The Special Needs Group also works with travel professionals to provide many other accommodations while you travel, including wheelchairs (beach-capable chairs), scooters, walkers of all kinds, oxygen, specialty baby foods, and over one thousand other items. The Special Needs Group arranges to have these accommodations waiting for you at the cruise ship or resort and picks them up after you leave.
Cathy Vazquez wanted to let us know just how much had changed in the years since the NFB had a lawsuit against Norwegian Cruise Lines. Not only has the company implemented Braille throughout its ships, with the assistance of the Special Needs Group’s services, but Norwegian is also the only cruise line to have an access officer on every ship. After boarding, one meets with the access officer for an introduction which includes a brief orientation to the ship, a meeting with some of the crew, and lifeboat drills or other hands-on services to make the cruise experience safer and more enjoyable.
The division also discussed the need for members to be involved year-round, not just at convention. We try to meet monthly by teleconference, with details posted on our talk list. To post a message to all the list members, email <[email protected]>, or to view prior postings go to <http://nfbnet.org/pipermail/travelandtourism_nfbnet.org/>. You can also follow us on Twitter at <https://twitter.com/TravelandTouri1>, or on Facebook at <https://www.facebook .com/NFB-Travel-and-Tourism-Division>. Video of our meeting and most of convention can be found on our website on the convention page at <http://nfbtravel.org/National_Convention.php>.
Elected at the association’s annual meeting during convention were Ivan Weich, president; John Halverson, vice president; Donald Christie, secretary; and Marcus Soulsby, treasurer.
The 2014 meeting of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science was held on Thursday, July 3. Although all of the program items were interesting, there are three noteworthy items that I would like to mention here.
The group heard about a joint effort conducted by AT&T and a company called LivePerson to develop and implement a web-based text chat application that would be fully accessible to everyone—including the blind—through a variety of platforms (e.g., Windows computer, mobile phone, etc.). Anyone who has ever had to engage in an online chat session through the web knows that this can be particularly vexing for someone using screen access technology; often the blind user decides to abandon the effort altogether in favor of the more simple phone call. Through its Corporate Accessibility Technology Office (CATO), AT&T has been working with LivePerson on an accessible chat interface. We were extremely pleased to hear a live demonstration of how this new accessible interface works, and we were told that within the next nine months or so this interface would be deployed throughout the many web-based chat interfaces that are currently active within the AT&T organization.
The presentation by Tracy Soforenko, a blind project manager who works for the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, captured a lot of interest. I had several people come to me after the meeting asking how they could contact Tracy to discuss the techniques he uses to perform his job. One person told me that he admired Tracy's "can-do" attitude and his recognition that it was his responsibility to ensure that he was performing the quality work that his employer expected of him.
We heard from a company called Discover Technologies. This company has developed an enterprise package which is designed to make Microsoft SharePoint more usable to nonvisual users. What was not clear from this presentation was whether large companies who are already using SharePoint would offer resistance to a proposal requiring an accessibility solution to be installed onto a corporate server.
In closing, let me say that a recording of our meeting was made and is available to anyone who sends $5 to our treasurer, Susie Stanzel. Anyone who wants to be provided with the recording should contact me directly, by email at <[email protected]> or via cell phone at (515) 306-1654.
This year the Job Fair had twenty-three employers in attendance, twice as many as last year. Through the efforts of Mrs. Jernigan, the Rosen Hotels and Resorts participated, and Mark Riccobono made a contact that was developed and brought LEGOLAND Florida to the event. Oracle brought its diversity team, and one of its members presented at the seminar as well. The Florida Division of Blind Services was present, and they are following up with some of the other employers, especially LEGOLAND, which has a completely accessible customer service program. A number of other agencies were present, including the three NFB Centers, the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, and our own National Center, which is not an agency but recruited using the Job Fair for the first time. The Statler Center was scheduled but unable to come, apparently because of the east coast plane connection problems which made at least one other employer arrive late. We also had Brown, Goldstein & Levy present to do a survey of inaccessible job sites.
We had 150 to 200 blind jobseekers present at the Job Fair, and responses from a number of the employer attendees have been favorable. National Center staff collected a number of résumés and will be following up with those people. Our hope is that we can expand the Job Fair even more next year, since it seems to be a great way for the Federation to make friends with employers and with rehab agencies who not only want to hire our members but are impressed with the employment opportunities for their clients. For example: a man from the rehabilitation services in Florida offered to see if he could get more local employers to come in 2015. It would be great if we could establish the Federation as the national leader in finding employment for blind people.
The Employment Committee meeting went well, too. Much of it was taken up with suggestions for more things we can do to help blind people get jobs, but there was also a lot of networking between employers and prospective employees, as well as discussion of job-seeking methods. The Employment Committee is currently building up its new website, <http://employment.nfb.org/>. Information from the seminar and Job Fair, helpful articles, and other information will continue to be added to the site.
For next year we are working with Disney to see if we can get them to attend the Job Fair at the 2015 Convention. Based on suggestions from the 2014 Convention, we are looking into ways to work with blind jobseekers to help prepare them for interviews, either as part of the seminar or concurrent with the Job Fair.
It is our intent to work toward the establishment of a division within the National Federation of the Blind for blind cancer survivors. We want to help cancer survivors get well, stay well, provide preventive measures, create a platform for cohesive dialogue, and, through accessibility, enhance the lives of blind cancer survivors.
Our primary goal is to make sure that blind cancer survivors have literature in an accessible format, i.e. Braille, large print, or electronic format. For more information contact Isaiah Nelson at <[email protected]>, or call (803) 735-0821. You may also call Dorothy Barksdale at (803) 765-1602.
My name is Alexander Scott Kaiser. I'm a young blind adult with cerebral palsy. I am forming a group for blind and visually impaired individuals who have cerebral palsy. This group’s purpose is to provide support, education, information, advice, mentoring, and legal advocacy. From problem-solving rehabilitation training issues to civil rights challenges unique to those with both CP and visual impairment, this group will provide support from others who understand.
Meetings will be held by conference call on the first Sunday of the month, starting December 7, 2014, at 8:00 PM EST. To access the conference, dial (567) 704-0447 and use access code 999999#. If you are interested in joining the group, contact me by postal mail at Alexander Scott Kaiser, 2720 Middle Way, Lot 129, Forks Township, PA 18040. You may send me email at <[email protected]> or call me at (848) 205-0208.
Thank you to those who were able to make it to the Community Service seminar and division organizing meeting of the National Federation of the Blind. We hope you enjoyed the speakers and content as much as we enjoyed putting it together and having you there.
If you couldn't make it, we are truly sorry, and we hope that you will make it a point to join us next year in Orlando for our Diamond Seventy-fifth Anniversary Convention, where we plan to make a bigger and better experience to commemorate the occasion.
If for some reason you couldn't make or stay for the organizing meeting, we are glad to tell you that we approved a constitution and elected the following officers: Darian Smith, president; Chris Parsons, vice president; Charlotte Czarnecki, secretary, Corina Salinas, treasurer; and board members Michelle Mitchell, Sarah Leon, and James Gump. All of the members of the board of directors are very excited to get to work and to do so alongside our brothers and sisters in the movement. We are eager to hear from you on how we may work to serve our communities and build the Federation through that service. Please contact Darian Smith at (415) 215-9809 or <[email protected]>. In the meantime, please be in touch should you have any thoughts, questions, ideas, or want to become more active in our work. We look forward to working with you to expand community service opportunities for the blind at all levels of the organization and to create a platform that promotes the recognition of the true capacity of the blind. Let's live the lives we want through service; let's get involved!