Braille Monitor August/September 2006
by Marc Maurer
During the past year the National Federation of the Blind has continued to conduct the activities that have made us the organized blind movement, but we have also initiated new ones. Though our purpose has not changed, our method of implementing that purpose has shifted, grown, acquired additional definition.
Our fundamental being as an organization is the representative voice of the blind of the nation. We are the blind from all areas of the country, from all walks of life, from every political perspective, from every aspect of the social fabric--blind students, blind employees of governmental and private agencies, newly blinded individuals, parents of blind children, blind people who have acquired the skills associated with blindness, blind people seeking rehabilitation, blind people who have not yet heard that rehabilitation exists, blind people in the professions and common callings, and blind people who are without employment. We are the blind, and we have come together to create opportunity, to make possibilities come true. We are the National Federation of the Blind.
One of our members came to the organization in the state of Utah and served as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah. She then moved to Maryland, where she worked at the National Center for the Blind. She subsequently worked for the federal government and then became the first person to serve as secretary of the Maryland Department of Disability. Last Wednesday the governor of Maryland announced that she would be standing for election as lieutenant governor on his ticket. She is a blind person and a member of the National Federation of the Blind. The experience of Kristin Cox shows just how far we have come. It indicates that we are recognized as an important element by major political parties.
Last spring the NBC program Three Wishes called the National Center for the Blind to inquire about what could be done to help a blind person who was being featured. The Three Wishes program has as its premise the proposition that laudable but seemingly unattainable desires should be granted. The husband of a blind woman wanted to grant his wife's wish that she become sufficiently independent to take her child to the park. NBC decided to help, and they asked us how to achieve this seemingly unattainable feat. The program appeared on November 4, 2006, depicting the work of the National Federation of the Blind in teaching blindness skills and independence. Our members, Ron Gardner, Nick Schmittroth, Karl Smith, and Rebekah Jakeman, were shown on national television. The work of Joanne Wilson, executive director for affiliate action, was evident in the program although Joanne was not featured. Blindness need not mean dependence and tragedy. This message was broadcast to the nation. There will be a full report of the work to create this program later during this convention.
Another well-known national television program, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, sought our advice. In this case, Joe Ruffalo, the president of the National Federation of the Blind of New Jersey, coordinated the effort. The concept for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition is that a home of a deserving family is bulldozed and rebuilt in less than a week so that the family in question has a new opportunity for a full life. The program will be shown later this month. Precisely what depiction will occur is yet to be known, but Joe Ruffalo, working with our members in New Jersey and at the National Center for the Blind, urged that the technology involved in this home be usable by its blind inhabitants. Among the technologies filmed for the program were products such as HumanWare's BrailleNote and the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader.
Beginning last year, we have established a program to promote a blind-friendly automated home technology display. Can the blind manipulate security systems, heating and lighting apparatus, the vast array of home electronics technologies, and the increasingly complex interfaces of home appliances such as refrigerators, stoves, washers and dryers, or other products? A few years ago this question would have been ridiculous. Almost anybody could operate a stove, a refrigerator, or the thermostat on a furnace. However, the technology being produced today very often incorporates a visual display for the simplest products, and virtually no access technology is being built into such displays. We are promoting joint programs with major manufacturers such as Whirlpool and others to create accessibility in home-based products, and what we have learned in our research concerning the automated home was part of the message presented to the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition program.
We are undertaking this year a substantially increased effort in public relations. In the past television and radio stations were required to carry public service announcements about the work of nonprofit organizations in the community. However, this requirement was removed by the Federal Communications Commission a good many years ago. Some stations have continued to carry public service messages, but the number with this commitment is diminishing, and the amount of donated radio and television time that we receive has decreased. However, the message of the National Federation of the Blind and the information about the work we do is of such dramatic importance that we must bring it to the attention of the public.
If blindness were properly understood, many of the problems associated with it would disappear. Consequently, bringing our message to the public is an essential part of our program. We have designated a member of our staff, John Paré, to concentrate his effort this year on public relations, and we have secured the services of one of the best known public relations firms in the nation, Fleishman-Hillard. We will be conducting public relations events at the National Center for the Blind, but we will also be promoting our work in our state affiliates, in our training centers, and in events conducted by our chapters and divisions throughout the nation.
Among the partnerships we have formed is one sponsored by the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped to design the digital Talking Book machine of the future. The lead contractor in this effort is Battelle. VisuAide, a Canadian company that produced the Victor Reader and other products, which merged with Pulse Data of New Zealand to form HumanWare, is another partner. The National Federation of the Blind is responsible for user testing.
I traveled with my wife Patricia Maurer, Mary Ellen Jernigan, and Jessica Thompson to New Zealand to meet with HumanWare officials. The former president of HumanWare, Russell Smith, who spoke to our convention last summer, had died in a tragic accident. I wanted to meet with senior personnel at the HumanWare company to gain an understanding of future prospects and to determine the possibilities that seemed practical for our partnership in the months and years to come. I am pleased to say that the digital Talking Book project appears to be on track, that exciting prospects will be discussed for the future of this project at this convention, and that technologies which have not previously been contemplated appear to be practical outcomes of the work that we have jointly done.
Two years ago we initiated
the Imagination Fund, a program designed to raise money by calling upon members
of the Federation to seek donations. The money is used to support initiatives
at the national level as well as through our state affiliates and divisions.
States or divisions with programs that could not readily be conducted without
additional funding may apply for Imagination Fund grants.
Shortly before last summer's convention we received a request to support a program designed to encourage the blind to explore nature--forests, streams, rock formations, and the like--at Camp Eureka in Montana. In support of this first camping experience for many blind people, Mark Riccobono, our director of education, attended a portion of the camp. Our state president in Montana, Dan Burke, and other members of our affiliate served as members of the faculty, and Camp Eureka was a tremendous success. More than thirty-five other programs supported with Imagination Fund grants have occurred throughout the nation.
The National Federation of the Blind continues to be a member of the World Blind Union, and I serve as vice president of the North America/Caribbean Region. During March we hosted at the National Center for the Blind a meeting of the executive committee of the world organization along with meetings of a number of other committees and working groups. Representatives from outside the United States attended from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Cameroon, Canada, Denmark, El Salvador, Fiji, France, India, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Rwanda, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Tanzania, Thailand, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
"What Is a National Federation of the Blind Center?" was the topic of a discussion held this spring at the National Center for the Blind. As our influence in the field of blindness increases and as rehabilitation programs adopt some of the methods employed by centers directed by the National Federation of the Blind, some may argue that there will be a blurring of the distinction which has been clear about what it means to be a National Federation of the Blind center. The answer to this question has not been definitively settled. Presentations regarding this topic will be made at this convention, and a continuing dialogue will undoubtedly occur.
Throughout the past year our affiliate action department, led by Joanne Wilson, has been working diligently to initiate activities to change what it means to be blind. Over two hundred and fifty Federationists from every affiliate attended seminars including the presidents' seminar--a gathering of state presidents from our affiliates, the TOPS seminar (Training and Organizing our People to Serve), three grant-writing seminars, the Northeast leadership seminar, and the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader ambassadors' seminar.
Since the founding of the Federation in 1940, blind people have been mentoring each other. Sometimes the mentoring activities have been formal--sometimes not. In an effort to expand this activity, our Affiliate Action Department has developed mentoring programs including NFB-LINK, an Internet-based system that pairs experienced Federationists with other individuals seeking information about blindness; a parent leadership mentoring group, which has brought parents from eighteen families to this convention who will serve as leaders for parents throughout the nation; a scholarship alumni program, an ongoing activity to encourage former scholarship recipients to serve as a network for information and support at state and national conventions; and a veterans' mentoring initiative, which pairs blinded veterans who are active in the community with newly blinded veterans and their families.
Through our affiliate action department, we have initiated a rehabilitation training program to promote the commonsense ideals and principles of the National Federation of the Blind relating to rehabilitation of blind people. We have developed distinct training opportunities for both residential rehabilitation training centers and vocational rehabilitation counselors and administrators. The training program began in Florida and is presently being expanded to a number of other states. The positive influence of the Federation in rehabilitation services will continue to grow through this new initiative.
Voice of the Diabetic is the publication of the National Federation of the Blind produced through our Diabetes Action Network. Diabetes causes more new blindness in the United States each year than any other condition. GlaxoSmithKline, the world's second largest pharmaceutical company, after a search of the literature on diabetes, found Voice of the Diabetic the world's only publication devoted to managing blindness, diabetes, and its complications.
Glaxo has invited the Federation to collaborate in offering support and advice to those at risk from diabetes. With this in mind we will be expanding and reorganizing the Voice of the Diabetic. This publication, which is now circulated to more than 350,000 individuals each quarter, has been in the process of acquiring a more dynamic appearance during the past year. Further development will take place during the next few months, with the objective that the Voice of the Diabetic becomes the most well-recognized publication dealing with diabetes in the United States.
In the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, led by Betsy Zaborowski, we are now developing the National Center for Blind Youth in Science to make science, technology, engineering, and math (the STEM curriculum) real options for blind youth. This is a center for innovation in education and a clearinghouse for information for parents, teachers, and researchers. With the help of NASA, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, IBM, and the National Science Foundation, we are launching at this convention the new National Center for Blind Youth in Science Web Portal, a Web site dedicated to the teaching of science to the blind.
NASA, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, IBM, and the National Science Foundation are also assisting us with our Science Academy for blind youth, our program of Excellence through Challenging Exploration and Leadership (EXCEL), and collaborations with educators and technology developers regarding accessible artificial intelligence tutoring software.
The Science Academy, which was initiated in 2004, continues to offer classes in biology, earth science, meteorology, and other disciplines for middle school students and classes in physics, electronics, navigation, and related matters to high school students with the culmination of the program being the launch of a sounding rocket from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. The EXCEL program provides internships for blind youth at NASA facilities which expose these students to working scientists and Federation philosophy. Last year interns were placed at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. This summer interns will also be included among the personnel at the Houston Space Flight Center in Texas.
In late 2004 the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped approached the Federation about managing the administration of the National Literary Braille Competency Test. In 2005 we began the revitalization of the test development effort by calling together representatives from many organizations in the blindness field. Earlier this year we met the ambitious timeline set by the committee to implement the pilot test in three examination sites: Pennsylvania, Minnesota, and California. Fifty people completed the pilot test. This fall we expect the full implementation of the National Literary Braille Competency Test.
We have formed a partnership with the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center at the Wilmer Eye Institute of Johns Hopkins University and Multiple District 22 of the International Association of Lions Clubs to develop a new Lions Education Program on Blindness and Low Vision. With a proper understanding of blindness many of the problems associated with it would be eliminated. Consequently, this public education program is among the most important that we conduct. A full presentation of this program will occur later during this convention.
The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC) is a comprehensive evaluation, demonstration, and training center for accessible blindness technology. This year we have acquired in the IBTC the following products: ZoomText Magnification software with speech; Book Port; a Sherlock Talking Label Identifier; a Dot and Print Braille embosser and print printer, a Visionary Pocket PC; an Owasys 22C accessible cell phone; a Sales-Talk accessible point of sale terminal; several BrailleNotes with associated software and hardware; Pocket Hal PDA screen access software; a Canon Talking Business Calculator; a single line telephone simulator for the deaf-blind; several PAC Mate upgrades with associated software and hardware; a FacetToFace™ deaf-blind communication solution for the PAC Mate; an FSReader for a desktop computer and the PAC Mate; an FSTTY for the deaf-blind; Braille Sense for notetakers; Window-Eyes upgrades; Small Talk Ultra computers; Virtual Pencil Arithmetic and Algebra software programs; Victor Reader Wave; a Trekker Bluetooth GPS Maestro; an omnidirectional handheld scanner for the PAC Mate; a Dragon voice recognition software program; a J-Say Pro plug-in software interface; a VX1 Parrott TalkPro USB microphone; a MedivoxRx Talking Prescription Bottle pharmacy kit; a Jot a Dot portable Braille writer; Mobile Speak accessible cell phone software; a reference XM Satellite Radio home tuner; an Aesop: The Talking Keyboard; a TVI Colibri splitscreen low vision CCTV; a BookCourier portable MP3 player; a Talking Tactile Tablet; a National Geographic Talking Tactile Atlas of the World; a Triumphonic Mobile PDA; a Tiger Software Suite upgrade; a Pico Portable Video Magnifier; math and algebra Windows basic programs; and a King James Solar Powered Talking Bible.
We have responded to more than 2,500 telephone calls and more than 4,000 emails about technology this year. In our Nonvisual Accessibility Web Certification Program we offer companies and governmental agencies certification if their Web sites are usable by the blind. Web sites certified in this program include the General Electric Company, Merck & Co., Inc., Hewlett Packard, Legal Sea Foods, and the eminent Baltimore law firm Brown, Goldstein, and Levy.
With generous help from our technology partners: Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, Freedom Scientific, and HumanWare Group, the first fully accessible technology training laboratory has been established as part of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. In this facility we will train blind individuals, educators, rehabilitation providers, and technologists on a full range of access technology. The Adobe company has approved a grant to fund the first access technology training seminar for college engineering and computer science students.
For the third year we have
received funding to support our National Center for Voting Accessibility. As
a result of the work of the National Federation of the Blind, the Help America
Vote Act (HAVA), adopted in 2002, declares that every precinct shall have the
capacity to provide a secret ballot to the blind by 2006. Our HAVA project educates
voting officials and others about accessible electronic voting technology. We
want the capacity to cast our ballots in privacy. It is practical, it is fair,
and it is required by law.
Now, at the 2006 convention of the National Federation of the Blind, comes the time for the gestalt shift, the paradigm alteration. The change did not occur in an instant. One major precursor was the establishment of the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind. A second indicator of redefinement was the creation of NFB-NEWSLINE®. However, the confirmation of the transformation becomes evident at this gathering of the blind.
The first handheld, portable reading machine for the blind has been developed through a partnership between Kurzweil Technologies, Inc., and the National Federation of the Blind, making print accessible with the press of a button and the flash of a camera. The handheld reader uses a digital camera and specially designed optical character recognition technology running on a PDA to produce synthetic speech from printed text. Since this reader is battery-operated, easy to use, and very portable, this revolutionary technology will make an extraordinary amount of information available to all who cannot read ordinary print. Furthermore, it will provide such information with complete privacy, a characteristic rarely known to the blind.
Although the handheld reading machine today is a device that reads print, it is the beginning of a kind of technology that will build visual access to information into portable devices usable by the blind. This is one of the elements of the revolution. The second part of the alteration of the pattern of our lives is that we have been an essential part of the process of bringing this device into being. It is the fulfillment of a promise we made to ourselves--If we need it, we will build it. We will change programs, we will modify understanding, and, if necessary, we will alter technology as well. This is the Kurzweil–National Federation of the Blind Reader. This is the determination of the National Federation of the Blind.
Our National Center for Mentoring Excellence continues in its second year with support from the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Beginning with trainees in Nebraska and Louisiana, this transition program for youth aged sixteen through twenty-six will be expanded to four additional states in 2007.
Other activities in our National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute included a career day for over fifty blind youth, parents of blind children, and teachers of the blind and our fourth annual Possibilities Fair for seniors. This event sponsored by Kaiser Permanente brought over four hundred older Americans to the National Center for the Blind to learn about nonvisual techniques and access equipment. We have also been the hosts for the meeting of the Braille Authority of North America, the body designated with the responsibility of determining the nature of the Braille code. We sponsored a Wayfinding Conference to bring together all of the experts in the field of blindness who have studied methods of travel for blind people. We held our annual Celebration, that event which brings together public officials, community leaders, and members of the blind community to celebrate the progress of the blind and to imagine the work we are contemplating for the years ahead.
The Jacobus tenBroek Library,
named for the founder and first president of the National Federation of the
Blind, has been established to provide the most extensive information resource
on blindness that exists anywhere. We have furnished the library and have begun
to fill the shelves. Soon after convention we will be moving displays of aids,
appliances, and literature to the tenBroek Library. These items and many other
resources will be offered to the public through the Independence Market located
at the tenBroek Library.
A vital part of our collection is Dr. tenBroek's writings along with the background materials and notes he used to create them. For the first time this extensive collection is being sorted and organized so that researchers can examine in greater depth the extraordinary mind and magnificent work of our founder.
We have been working to pass the Louis Braille Bicentennial Commemorative Coin Act in Congress. This bill will provide more resources and public recognition to promote Braille literacy than anything else that has ever been done anywhere in the world. Recognizing the two-hundredth anniversary of Louis Braille's birth with a unique commemorative coin is a fitting tribute to Louis Braille, but it also signifies the growing power of our movement. Consider what we have done. The House bill, H.R. 2872, was introduced on June 13, 2005; it passed the House on February 28, 2006, with 309 cosponsors. The Senate bill, S. 2321, was introduced on February 17, 2006; it reached the stage for final passage in the Senate in late June with more than seventy cosponsors, and it passed the Senate on the twenty-ninth with that number plus. This is an accomplishment of outstanding proportions for any organization working on behalf of any cause. In the National Federation of the Blind we care about the ability to read and write both for the blind of the present generation and for those who come after us. Let the record proclaim who it is that supports Braille literacy. We do it--we who are the collective voice of the blind of the nation, the National Federation of the Blind.
This year we have worked with the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind and others to develop a bill calling for expansion of business and employment opportunities for the blind based on the Randolph-Sheppard Act. On October 20, 2005, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions held a hearing on the Randolph-Sheppard Program and the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Program. The report from this Senate hearing said that both programs are inadequate because they provide too few employment opportunities and there are substantial inequities in the way they are conducted. Inasmuch as the Randolph-Sheppard Program has created business opportunities for a very substantial number of blind people that would not exist without it, the Senate committee's report is inaccurate and unnecessarily critical of the Randolph-Sheppard Program. Furthermore, NISH (formerly National Industries for the Severely Handicapped) has wanted Randolph-Sheppard vending sites for itself because lucrative opportunities to support nondisabled managers exist, and NISH wants the money.
Our response is a bill designed to strengthen the existing Randolph-Sheppard Program and build upon its success to make additional jobs possible for blind people. This legislation has been presented to the chairman and the ranking minority member of the Senate committee.
The NFB-NEWSLINE® program continues to grow with forty states on the network including Idaho, Georgia, and Indiana. Ninety-two percent of the population of the United States has access to the 225 newspapers provided through the program including recent acquisitions: the Oregonian, the Indianapolis Star, the South Florida Sun Sentinel, and the Dallas Morning News. Four Spanish-language newspapers and four magazines are available. Recently acquired is the entire content of the Associated Press News Service including news for each state and national and international news updated hourly. The Associated Press is the largest news service in the world. NFB-NEWSLINE® has over 51,000 registered users and provides to them 2.1 million minutes of news per month. Later this summer, television listings will be put onto NFB-NEWSLINE®.
We have also pursued a number of legal cases this year. Although we did not manage the legal work directly, we were involved in the Chris Boone case. When Chris Boone was fired as the director of programs for the blind in Pennsylvania because of blindness, we came to her assistance. Fred Schroeder (a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, a research professor at San Diego State University, and former commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration) and Allen Harris, former treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind and current director of the Iowa Department for the Blind, testified on her behalf in court. Jim Antonacci, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania, spoke with public officials, members of the legislature, and representatives of the press. The assistance paid off. Chris Boone won her discrimination suit. It is not surprising that the decision of the court is now being appealed. I believe strongly that Chris Boone will be vindicated and that the judgment she has received will be enforced. The Boone case is notable because, although discrimination against the blind is reprehensible and although it is a violation of the law, few substantial judgments have ever been granted based strictly on blindness discrimination. In this case the jury awarded Chris Boone $3,355,000.
In South Carolina the Commission
for the Blind, then under the directorship of Nell Carney, was seeking to impose
upon blind vendors a set-aside which violated the policies of the Department
of Education and probably other legal principles as well. When this effort failed,
the South Carolina Commission for the Blind agreed with members of the legislature
that an act should be adopted in South Carolina imposing the set-aside by statute.
During the period when this legislation was being considered by the South Carolina
Senate, the National Federation of the Blind was asked to provide an opinion
about the set-aside bill. I indicated that the statutory provisions were not
in accordance with federal law, but certain members of the Senate in South Carolina
seemed to think that this was irrelevant.
When this piece of legislation was adopted, the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina moved into battle array. Blind vendors with our advice and support sued the legislature. In the turmoil that followed many arguments were propounded, but when the dust settled, the blind vendors and the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina had won. The set-aside was eliminated--one might say it was set aside. The legislature may not adopt a policy (even one supported by a misguided director of a commission for the blind) that is in violation of federal law and policy.
Last year I reported to you that on June 30 the County Council of Volusia County, Florida, voted not to install accessible voting machines and that the Federation filed suit to secure our right to an independent secret ballot. We lost in the trial court, but at the argument in the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, we got the right to cast an independent ballot. Volusia County has agreed to install accessible voting machines, and we are being reimbursed for part of the attorney's fees.
W e continue the court battle with Cardtronics, the largest non-bank deployer of ATMs in the United States. This February the court ruled that ATMs are facilities covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act and that they must be usable independently by the blind. However, Cardtronics continues to ignore the court rulings, behaving as if we will lose heart if they just pretend that the law does not exist. The lawyer for Cardtronics, who has sometimes behaved in a way that can only be described as reprehensible, is a very slow learner. If he believes we will lose heart or diminish in our determination or fail in our faith or change our intention of becoming an equal part of society, he has lost his mind. We intend to see that the law is obeyed. We intend to assure that blind people have access to the same commerce available to everybody else. We intend to see that Cardtronics pays for the litigation. It may be that the lawyer for Cardtronics has no capacity to learn, but the other leaders of the Cardtronics corporation will discover that they cannot avoid the lessons we intend to teach. This too is the meaning of the National Federation of the Blind.
While Mary Jo Thorpe was completing her master's of education degree at Louisiana Tech University with a concentration in teaching blind students, she contacted the Utah School for the Deaf and the Blind to say that she would be interested in any vacancies that might come open. Impressed by her credentials, but unaware that she is blind, the school contacted her about an opening for an early intervention specialist with blind or deaf-blind infants and toddlers. At her interview school personnel discovered that Mary Jo Thorpe is blind. They peppered her with questions about what alternative techniques she would use. To each question she answered with a number of alternatives. After waiting for some time to learn what decision school officials had made, Mary Jo Thorpe called the school. She learned that she was denied a teaching job because she is blind. The Utah School for the Deaf and the Blind needs some education about what it means to be blind. We have filed suit on Mary Jo Thorpe's behalf to teach them what they need to know. The course will be known as Education by Lawsuit.
In Pennsylvania a grocery store, Acme Markets, employed a blind person to work near the checkout counter. When a customer tripped over the blind person's white cane, the customer filed suit on the theory that it is negligence for a retailer to allow blind employees to travel in the public areas of the store unaccompanied or that it is negligence for the store to have a blind employee unaccompanied on the premises unless it posts signs warning the customers of the potential danger. I find it difficult to imagine what the signs would say. Should they contain the message "Warning, dangerous blind employee loose in store!"?
A Pennsylvania jury found in favor of the customer. The National Federation of the Blind, working with our Pennsylvania affiliate, helped convince the judge to reverse the verdict. However, the customer has appealed the decision. We have filed an amicus curiae brief opposing the illogical arguments of the customer. If these arguments were to prevail, judicial decisions in Pennsylvania would stand for the proposition that unaccompanied blind people are a danger to the community. This decision would reverse the public policy established by the White Cane Law and other nondiscrimination legislation. Consequently the customer's argument must not be permitted to prevail.
The Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation took the position many years ago that merit scholarships offered to blind students would decrease the amount of rehabilitation funding to pay for the education of the recipients. The National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania asked that this decision be reversed, pointing out that it was contrary to definitively stated federal policy, but rehabilitation personnel declined. Serving as the president of the National Federation of the Blind, I asked the Rehabilitation Services Administration for an opinion about the legality of the policy of the Pennsylvania Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. That opinion declared that the Pennsylvania policy was contrary to federal law. However, Pennsylvania officials ignored the ruling. When Lynn Heitz received a scholarship from the National Federation of the Blind, the funding to support her education was reduced, and she filed a complaint. After years of argument the arbitration decision has now been issued. Lynn Heitz won. Rehabilitation officials have been ordered to change their policy.
In conjunction with the Federation's Merchants Division, ably led by Kevan Worley, we have developed a prototype agreement whereby Randolph-Sheppard vendors may team with Dunkin' Donuts in Randolph-Sheppard facilities. Several blind vendors across the country are planning to offer Dunkin' Donuts to their customers using this agreement. One of the first is a vendor in the District of Columbia, who was told by the District's legal counsel that the teaming arrangement was illegal. We successfully challenged this opinion, and the first Dunkin' Donuts Randolph-Sheppard partnership in the District is now scheduled to open for business on November 1.
In 2004 I reported to you that we had brought suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana against DaimlerChrysler on behalf of Lee Martin. Before becoming blind in 1999, he worked as a foundry technician at the DaimlerChrysler plant, where he helped to manufacture engine blocks. He had a great work record, and he served as a safety coordinator for his department. When Lee Martin became blind, he obtained training in blindness skills, and he attempted to return to work, but DaimlerChrysler said it was too dangerous. Not only did Daimler say that Lee Martin's working in the plant would be too dangerous, company officials would not even let him tour the plant to show what he could do. After long argument Lee Martin entered the foundry and performed one of the jobs there effectively and safely--a performance we were able to capture on videotape.
The case went to trial in February. The jury saw the videotape of Lee Martin working at DaimlerChrysler. When three jurors became ill, a mistrial was declared, and the action was rescheduled for later in the spring. Apparently DaimlerChrysler did not want to appear before another jury. Lee Martin received a settlement which DaimlerChrysler insists be secret. However, let it be known that it pays to be a member of the National Federation of the Blind.
Last year I reported that Lynda Waring, who had worked at the Deaconess Medical Center Daycare facility for ten years and who received steady promotions during that time, was dismissed from employment because she is blind. The Deaconess Medical Center said they liked her work, but they were prohibited from counting her in their ratio of children to adults because of blindness, and they fired her. The Washington Department for Social and Health Services said that blind people were unsafe in daycare centers and issued the ruling prohibiting counting blind employees in the ratio.
I am happy to say that the complaint we filed has been settled. Although some of the provisions of the settlement are confidential, Lynda Waring has received more money than she would have earned. Furthermore, the Washington Department for Social and Health Services has agreed to change its policy so that blind daycare workers will not be dismissed because of blindness.
One measure of our growth is the size and complexity of the structures at the National Center for the Blind. Our buildings contain well over 350,000 feet of floor space. At the National Center for the Blind we conduct hundreds of meetings, conferences, gatherings, and classes each year.
We have planted beautiful
new landscaping on the south and west sides of our property. Incorporated within
this area is a dog relief station designed in consultation with the National
Association of Guide Dog Users, a division of the National Federation of the
In our original building we painted our kitchen floor using a new epoxy coating. On the third floor of the Johnson Wing we completed a 1,600-square-foot living space. As we have an increasingly active calendar of events with an increasing number of people staying at the National Center for the Blind, we are preparing space in our building that can be occupied permanently so that we will have people on hand to deal with emergencies.
We replaced much of the
second floor Plexiglas glazing, air conditioning components, and hot water heaters.
We have installed an additional layer of glass along with insulation in my office
to provide a quiet work environment. We have placed a new reception desk in
the atrium custom-built to match the dimensions of this space. On the deck outside
the conference center we have installed a stainless steel grill hood with a
chimney to permit the use of charcoal grills. In our tenBroek Library we have
reconfigured the lighting, built a bulkhead to divide the reception area from
the bookshelves, and added a library desk for meeting researchers and visitors.
Although we took possession of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute in 2004, we have discovered that some of the tile in our atrium area is loose. We are working with the contractors to replace it and to ensure that the walls that support it have the strength to carry the weight. This process is estimated to be completed by the fall. I am sorry to have to report that this will delay the installation of our Wall of Honor, which I had hoped would be in place by the time of this convention.
We bought our property in Baltimore in 1978. It needed a new roof. This was installed within the first few years that we were in our building. The roof is now more than twenty-five years old, and once again it will need to be replaced. This should be completed before our next convention.
With all that we do in the National Federation of the Blind, the National Center for the Blind is an enormous asset. We would be unable to accomplish the kinds of programs and to promote the kinds of advocacy we do without this asset. The National Center for the Blind is the best facility of its kind in the nation, and it belongs to us.
In 1985 we established the Louisiana Center for the Blind, our first independently run rehabilitation program for the blind. We were planning to celebrate its twentieth anniversary in 2005, but a hurricane interrupted the preparations for the festivities. At the convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana in April of 2006, we celebrated the first two decades of progress in independently directed Federation rehabilitation. At the banquet, with our president, Pam Allen, and the founding director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Joanne Wilson, we rang the freedom bell, letting the word go out to this generation and to all who come after it that the blind will be free.
Last year I reported to you that Professor Matt Maurer would be working with the National Federation of the Blind during a sabbatical year to promote education excellence for blind students. When we began this project with Professor Maurer, a teacher at Butler University and my brother, we did not know what to anticipate from his research. He came to the subject of teaching blind students from an education-based background. He had not lived through the struggles many of us have known in obtaining an education for ourselves or for our children. The research he has conducted will be published in the next few months, and it leads to some fascinating conclusions. I believe that education for blind children will receive significant advantages from the work we have done. There will be a report of Professor Maurer's activities later during the convention.
We continue to conduct the ongoing work of the Federation. Through our Materials Center we have circulated in the neighborhood of two million items--aids, appliances, and materials to blind people, to families of the blind, and to agencies for the blind. Our thirtieth Kernel Book, Freedom, is being released at this convention. Total circulation for the Kernel Books is well over six and a half million. These little volumes contain first-hand accounts of blindness which present the lives of blind people as they are, with the full range of abilities that blind people have. Volume thirty-one in the series, Revolution, will be released later this fall.
We continue to publish the Braille Monitor, with a circulation of 35,000 per month; Future Reflections, a magazine for parents and educators of blind children, with a circulation of more than 10,000 per quarter; the Voice of the Nation's Blind, our online publication; and the newsletters of divisions, affiliates, and chapters. We have welcomed to the National Center for the Blind more than 4,900 visitors this year from our own country and thirty-one other nations.
Since we last came together in our convention, Mrs. Hazel tenBroek has died. The first of our first ladies, Dr. tenBroek's loving companion, and a fiercely dedicated Federationist, Mrs. tenBroek helped to shape the future of blindness in the United States and around the world. At this convention we will be remembering her contributions and celebrating the spirit she helped to form.
The National Federation of the Blind has never been in better health--has never looked to the future with greater anticipation. Our organization, formed in 1940 and built over the years with loving hands, offers the greatest opportunity for change in the lives of the blind that has ever existed because we who are the Federation demand that this be so. We have come together to support each other, to dream of a future that is bright for us. At one time others made decisions on our behalf, but we have found our voice. If we need a program, we have the power and the will to create it. If we need a product, we have the intellect and the means to cause it to be invented. If we want a future filled with independence, we have the capacity to build it.
For some time now I have served as president of the National Federation of the Blind; you have accorded me the greatest honor that can be offered. To provide leadership to our movement is my responsibility and my joy. I pledge to you that you have all of my energy, my imagination, my enthusiasm, and my commitment. You have a responsibility as well. It is to believe in what we are and what we do, to act on that belief, and to support me as I pursue the policies we have established. To achieve our goals, we must dedicate our resources, our minds, and our spirit. However, I have no doubt that we will do whatever we must to attain those ends which are the meaning of the National Federation of the Blind. Once again this year I have traveled throughout our country; I have met with Federation members; I have planned, and worked, and contemplated the future. Because I know the people of the movement, because I know the hearts of those who make our organization what it is, I am absolutely certain that the future belongs to us. This is my faith in the National Federation of the Blind, and this is my report.