Vol. 56, No. 10 November 2013
Gary Wunder, Editor
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) 2013 by the National Federation of the Blind
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Vol. 56, No. 10 November 2013
Illustration: The Blind in Science: From Spectators to Innovators
Dr. Abraham Nemeth: Inventor, Professor, Hebrew Scholar, and Federationist
dies at 94
by Deborah Kendrick
The Dawn of the Age of Tactile Fluency: Let the Revolution Begin!
by Al Maneki
BELL Rings in Ohio
by Barbara Pierce
We Rang the BELL Again
by Diane McGeorge
The BELL Rings in Pennsylvania
by Michelle McManus and Harriet Go
A BELL Rings in Oklahoma
by Tamala Young
The Poetry of Motion, the Grace of Movement, the Delight of Physical
Expression with Blindness No Barrier
by Natalie Shaheen, Jerry Whittle, Maurice Peret, Lou Ann Blake, Matt
Simpson, Lisamaria Martinez, and Greg DeWall
Experiencing the Magic
by Cheryl Echevarria and Margo Downey
Of Parallels and Justice
by Jim Marks
A Collaboration That Enhances Opportunity: The Association of American
Publishers and the National Federation of the Blind Change Possibilities
by Tom Allen
The New Victor Reader Stream: In Many Ways Better Than the Original
by Curtis Chong
Old-School Braille Needs Image Update
by Deborah Kendrick
Dr. Jacob Bolotin-the California Connection
by C. Edwin Vaughan
When Santa Lost His Eyesight
by Alex Castillo
The Blind in Science: From Spectators to Innovators
The STEM-X Program was held on the campus of Towson University in
Baltimore from July 29 to August 3, providing unique learning opportunities
to fifty high school students from around the country. The "X" in the
program's name is inspired by the aerospace community, where missions have
used the letter as an abbreviation for "exploration," and as a statement of
their intent to seek new solutions and new information that would push the
current boundaries of known science. Participants in the STEM-X program
certainly had the enthusiasm as they explored their chosen focus
discipline. Each student chose a focus: chemistry, computer science,
engineering, robotics, or space science.
While each student has a chosen focus, the students are encouraged to
work collaboratively across specializations, taking the different
approaches of the diverse disciplines to create synergy and original
thinking in the problem-solving challenges. Students work with blind and
sighted STEM professionals as guides in their summer learning.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Hoby Wedler demonstrates one of the labs to two of his
[PHOTO CAPTION: Keby Young reads the Braille label on her skeleton in the
human physiology class.]
Students are encouraged to get hands-on in their STEM explorations.
Whether it's reading Braille labels on skeletons, building models, testing
the stability of those models, or other activities, participants aren't
sitting quietly waiting for someone to tell them what they can do.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Alexander Richmond walks across the bridge he built with
his peers in the civil engineering class to prove its strength.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Mark Riccobono takes a spin in the spacecraft designed by
the aerospace engineering class.]
Mark Riccobono stopped by, and ended up taking a tour of a different
sort of blind driver-designed vehicle than he's used to: a mock spacecraft
designed by the students in the aerospace engineering class.
[PHOTO SHOWCASE: Dr. Abraham Nemeth]
Dr. Abraham Nemeth:
Inventor, Professor, Hebrew Scholar,
and Federationist Dies at 94
by Deborah Kendrick
When I was in college, I once had to take an incomplete in an algebra
course. The problem wasn't my ability to comprehend math. Rather it was
my inability to read and write the mathematical equations the course
required. I'd had no textbooks in Braille in college, but this time I
scrambled to find a Braille transcriber to put the book into Braille for
me. At first I felt like a kindergartner as I sat with the friend who was
going to tutor me. I could read literature at an easy four hundred words
per minute, but this stuff was like Greek to me. It was, it turned out,
not Greek, but the Nemeth code. I had heard of that code, heard of the
famous blind man who had written it, but, little did I know at the time,
that decades later I would be asked by the National Federation of the
Blind's president, Dr. Marc Maurer, to write the biography of the brilliant
inventor who, by creating the Nemeth code, would enable countless blind
people around the world to pursue passions in science, technology,
engineering, and mathematics.
I have spent many hours in the Southfield, Michigan, apartment of Dr.
Abraham Nemeth in the last few years, listening to his stories, his
memories, and his piano playing. October 2, 2013, exactly two weeks shy of
his 95th birthday, the world lost a brilliant inventor, mathematician,
musician, and devout follower of the Jewish faith. Those of us who are
blind have lost one of the greatest treasures in our expansive family, and
it is vital, not only that we remember him and his Braille system for
science and mathematics, but that we know him for the warm, generous, and
extraordinary man that he was.
When Abraham Nemeth was growing up, blind children were taught to
weave baskets and cane chairs. The social expectation was that, if a blind
man were to have any gainful activity beyond begging, it would be in menial
tasks and manual labor. But Abraham Nemeth's Jewish immigrant parents
either didn't know or care about those social expectations. His father
walked with him in their New York tenement neighborhood, encouraging him to
touch raised lettering on mailboxes to learn the shapes of printed letters
and to note whether they were walking east or west as they chatted. His
mother sent her blind six-year-old son to the grocer around the corner (who
happened to be his grandfather), entrusting him to remember the bread, the
butter, and the measure of sour cream. His grandfather spent hours with him
in the temple, teaching him the lessons every boy would need one day for
bar mitzvah. Each of them taught him that there was nothing he could not
Abraham went to school, learned to read and write Braille, and in his
teens developed a passion for mathematics. As a student at Brooklyn College
he was advised by an expert in blindness to pursue a degree in psychology.
Mathematics, he was told, held no future for a blind man. When he couldn't
find a job as a psychologist after his 1940 graduation, he was advised to
make himself more professionally appealing by earning a master's degree in
psychology. So in 1942 he graduated with that degree from Columbia
A self-taught musician, he picked up jobs playing piano in clubs
around Brooklyn, and in 1944 he married Florence Weismann. Still
unemployed, he took a job at the American Foundation for the Blind, where
he stitched pillow cases, loaded boxes of talking book records onto trucks,
and counted phonograph needles into envelopes. His passion for mathematics,
however, never wavered. In his free time he took every math course offered
by first Brooklyn College and then Columbia University, seeking relaxation
in mathematics in the same way, as he would often put it, "that other guys
enjoyed pinochle or a night of bowling."
He volunteered to tutor returning soldiers in calculus after World War
II, and it was this generosity that led to the first real break in pursuing
his dream. As he wrote equations carefully on the chalkboard circling the
room, patiently explaining each step of the process, he was unaware that
another professor was observing him. One Friday night he received a
telegram that would remain a milestone in memory throughout his life. A
teacher in the mathematics department had become ill, and Abraham Nemeth
was being asked to fill his place.
Meanwhile he continued seeking employment as a psychologist, but there
were no more jobs for blind psychologists than there were for blind
mathematicians. Finally his wife put the question to him: "Wouldn't you
rather be an unemployed mathematician than an unemployed psychologist?"
With that he quit his day job and began work on a doctorate in mathematics
at Columbia University. Florence went to work to support them, and Abraham
Nemeth was on his way to fulfilling his dream.
Early in his pursuit of sophisticated mathematics, he had begun
developing a private code to keep track of complicated calculations. There
was no Braille code to support any math beyond basic arithmetic, because
social expectations of blind people did not require a means of writing
complex equations. Although Nemeth was blessed with a prodigious memory,
even he needed a means of recording complicated mathematical computations
and, as he would so often do when no existing means was available, he
invented one for himself.
At the American Foundation for the Blind, Abraham Nemeth had become
acquainted with another blind man, also an exception of the era, who came
to his friend Abe in desperate need of a table of integrals. "I have one,"
Nemeth told Clifford Witcher, "But it's in my own private code. You
wouldn't be able to read it." Witcher persuaded Nemeth to teach him the
code and was an immediate convert. Cliff Witcher happened to serve on the
Joint Uniform Braille Committee (the 1950 equivalent of the Braille
Authority of North America) and invited Nemeth to prepare a report for that
committee to review. He made his report one morning in 1951, and by
afternoon the Nemeth code, as it was immediately and forever thereafter
called, was unanimously adopted.
The work ethic and spirit of self-reliance Abe Nemeth learned from his
parents was always evident. When he was offered part-time teaching jobs or
one-time piano gigs, it never occurred to him to decline. He traveled
throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan, using subways and buses, memorizing
routes, using the orientation skills his father had instilled in him as a
child, and somehow did it all without a white cane. Long white canes
simply were not routine tools for blind people in the 1930s and 1940s.
Remarkable though it seems today, Abraham Nemeth simply used the tools he
had-his good mind and remaining senses--to travel where he needed to go. He
would not have a white cane until 1955, when at last he landed a full-time
teaching position, and he and Florence moved to Detroit.
In 1955 Nemeth was hired by the University of Detroit, where he spent
thirty years teaching graduate and undergraduate mathematics courses.
While there he completed his doctoral work at Wayne State University and
received his Ph.D. in mathematics. In the 1960s he inaugurated the
computer science department at the University of Detroit and would continue
to teach in both disciplines till his retirement in 1985.
Retirement for Dr. Nemeth was not a time to relax but rather a time to
pursue other scholarly and advocacy interests. He had always been aware of
the National Federation of the Blind and became an active member in 1985,
when his schedule finally enabled him to attend the national convention.
He attended every national convention from 1985 through 2011. He continued
to work on a uniform Braille system, combining existing forms of Braille
notation for mathematics, literature, and computer notation, which he
called the Nemeth Uniform Braille System (NUBS). He worked for five years
in conjunction with JBI International (formerly the Jewish Braille
Institute) to reorganize Jewish prayer books, in English and Hebrew, so
that a blind person going to synagogue would need only one volume rather
than nineteen in order to participate in any service. He was an active
advocate for blind people in Michigan, helping to pass the Braille bill in
that state to ensure that all blind children would have the opportunity to
learn Braille and was fond of saying that, even though he was a Democrat, a
Republican governor appointed him to chair the Michigan Commission for the
As sharp and brilliant at age ninety-four as any ordinary mortal one-
third his age, his reservoir of memories and jokes seemed bottomless. "Will
that one get in the book," he asked me more than once after regaling me
with a joke or pun, limerick or riddle. He loved playing with words almost
as much as numbers.
Called a true Renaissance man by David Sachs, who wrote the obituary
for the Detroit Jewish News, Dr. Nemeth was a math professor, Hebrew
scholar, gifted musician, and charismatic storyteller. Among numerous
honors over the years, he was named a Thousand Points of Light Award winner
by President Bush, and that light seemed apparent even at his funeral
service. With waning strength to speak in his final hours, Dr. Nemeth
murmured a comment to his friend and study partner, Abe Pasternak, which
Pasternak gave to the rabbi for inclusion in Dr. Nemeth's eulogy. That
final comment contained the opening Hebrew words of the silent Amidah
prayer, the translation of which is, "O Lord, open my lips, so that my
mouth may declare Your praise." Before Rabbi Yoskowitz spoke, a wind blew
the scrap of paper into the grave, before the casket was lowered. In forty
years and one thousand funerals, the Rabbi said he had never seen anything
like it. It was a mystical moment indeed and reflective of the kind and
brilliant man who always had one more thing to say.
In his apartment, surrounded by his Braille books - Jewish prayers,
mathematics, philosophy, and economics - and his numerous awards and honors
(a bust of Louis Braille among his favorites), he frequently quoted his
beloved grandfather to me. "It is better to light a candle than to curse
the dark," was his most often quoted wisdom from his grandfather. The one
that rings most true for me today, however, now that Dr. Nemeth is no
longer with us, is his grandfather's comment about time. "What do you mean
you don't have time?" his grandfather chided. "You have all the time God
I don't know much about "all the time God has created." I do know
that, no matter how much larger than life a person may be, time here
eventually runs out. Blind physicists and engineers and math teachers and
software designers everywhere thank Dr. Nemeth and bless his name daily as
they run fingers across lines of complexity written in Nemeth code. As I
finish the book, I'll be thinking about them, but mostly I'll be thinking
about what humility and genius look like when they merge in one human
[PHOTO CAPTION: Dr. Al Maneki]
The Dawn of the Age of Tactile Fluency
Let the Revolution Begin!
by Al Maneki
>From the Editor: Dr. Al Maneki is a longtime member of the National
Federation of the Blind who has a strong commitment to improving the
education of blind children through new and innovative techniques for
teaching what has too often been considered difficult or impossible. He has
a PhD in mathematics which he earned in 1970 from the Illinois Institute of
Technology. He taught on the faculty of North Dakota State University until
1974 and was then hired by the Department of Defense, where he worked as a
research mathematician until his retirement in 2007.
The following article is an expanded and revised version of a talk he
gave at the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children Annual
Conference at the NFB national convention in Orlando on July 1, 2013. His
remarks have been edited by Carol Castellano, a person whose commitment to
the education of the blind is similarly strong and worthy of our praise and
admiration. Here is what Al had to say:
Up to now parents of every blind child have inevitably run up against
this vexing problem: "My blind child will be taking geometry next year. How
will we handle all of those drawings?" Back in my student days that
question didn't arise until the second or third year of high school. Today
this question is more likely to come up in middle school. In my day, from
the administrator's point of view, the answer was simple: "We will exempt
your child from this required course." As simple as this answer is, it is
never the right answer. Yet most parents, including mine, accepted that
answer because they knew of no alternative. We all knew that it wasn't
right, but we accepted it anyway.
When I studied at the University of Hawaii, I figured out a way to
handle the diagrams in a standard geometry class. I discovered the Sewell
Raised Line Drawing Kit. Because I lacked the motor skills to draw diagrams
on this drawing board, my professors or fellow students drew the diagrams
for me. When the time came for me to demonstrate mastery of the subject
matter, I verbally described the pictures that other students were drawing.
If my descriptions were satisfactory, my professors accepted my answers to
their test questions.
Fortunately, today there are better solutions, and fewer parents are
saying "yes" to exemptions from required courses. The blind children of
today cannot afford to wait until the start of their geometry classes or
the start of their college studies to learn graphic skills. It is beginning
to be understood that, just as Braille is best mastered if it is taught at
an early age, we must also begin teaching graphic skills to blind children
at an early age. Braille and tactile graphics are inseparable. They belong
to the same tactile medium. To describe competence in the tactile medium,
whether it is in the form of Braille dots or raised lines, my colleagues
and I have coined the term tactile fluency.
In a real sense Braille and raised-line graphics are part of the same
medium for learning and self-expression. In the sighted world written
language and pictorial representations exist because some ideas are better
communicated in words and others in pictures. The two complement each
other. Sighted people can be equally at ease expressing their thoughts in
words or in pictures, depending on which is most suitable to the situation.
Blind people should be equally at home reaching for a slate and stylus or
reaching for a raised-line sketchpad.
We blind people are too accustomed to the idea of expressing in words
what is best described in pictures. Often it is time-consuming and
inefficient to express in words what is best conveyed with diagrams or
drawings. This inefficiency must cease! If blind people are to be tactilely
fluent, we must be proficient in drawing and interpreting diagrams as well
as in Braille reading and writing. We encourage our sighted children to
start reading and drawing before kindergarten; we must encourage our blind
children to do likewise. Their first efforts at drawing the simplest
objects may appear crude. Yet, with encouragement and more practice, their
skills will improve.
Tactile graphics technology has advanced to the point where we can
produce satisfactory diagrams with embossing devices and incorporate these
diagrams into Braille textbooks. However, the ability of blind people to
draw their own diagrams lags far behind. The Sewell Raised Line Drawing
Kit, the APH Draftsman, and other devices still exist. However, the
potential to teach blind people to sketch on these boards or to use them as
a medium of self-expression has been given minimal emphasis. Furthermore,
there has never been an effective way to perform erasures and make changes
to tactile sketches.
When future historians examine the records, I think they will conclude
that the revolution in tactile fluency began in 2008. In other articles
I've described my first meeting with Mike Rosen and Mike Coleman, two
professors in the School of Engineering at the University of Vermont. In
the freewheeling way that scholars, scientists, artists, and engineers can
let their imaginations roam, we conjured up the inspiration for developing
an eraser for the raised line drawing board. After all, who can imagine
using pencils without erasers? In this light the idea of creating an eraser
for the drawing board was compelling. To Rosen and Coleman, the design of
an eraser was a perfect fit for the School of Engineering's required
course, the Senior Experience in Engineering Design, or SEED.
The National Federation of the Blind is an organization that never
hesitates to take bold action when it can support a good idea. When I
explained the SEED project and the minimal funding it would require to
President Marc Maurer, he immediately said "yes!" The payoff from our SEED
investment was immediate. At the 2009 convention in Detroit we showed the
first prototype of our thermal eraser. This was only the beginning. Today,
not only do we have a sleek battery-powered thermal eraser, but we now have
the beginnings of an entire line of products that allow for the creation,
editing, reproduction, and digital transmission of raised-line drawings.
By the spring of 2011 our work in tactile graphics had outgrown the
scope of the SEED course. At this point Mike Rosen, Mike Coleman, SEED
graduate Joshua Coffee, and I decided that tactile graphics had matured to
the point where its work should be organized as a separate corporate
venture. With support from NFB and the University of Vermont, early in 2012
we founded E.A.S.Y. LLC, Engineering to Assist and Support You.
I want to say a few words about our company and its four principals:
Rosen, Coleman, Coffee, and me. We are deeply committed to the revolution
in tactile fluency. Since I have written much about myself elsewhere, I
will say here only that I serve without compensation as the chairman of
E.A.S.Y. LLC's board of advisors. Rosen and Coleman have given up most of
their teaching duties and a good part of their secure university salaries
to devote more of their time to our company. Joshua Coffee could have
accepted a much better paying position with a well-established company but
chose instead to cast his lot with us. E.A.S.Y. has been organized as a for-
profit company. Its mission statement (available at
functionality at affordable prices.
We couldn't have chosen a finer group of people to join us in the
tactile fluency revolution. Both Mikes cut their eye teeth on our movement,
not only by exhibiting the first prototype in 2009, but also by
enthusiastically taking part in our March for Independence in Detroit that
year. Mike, Mike, and Josh understand the benefits of an NFB partnership in
product development. They are working with us in the best traditions
established by our historical relationships with Ray Kurzweil and Deane
At the NFB national convention in Orlando this past summer, the
E.A.S.Y. staff presented sessions for parents, teachers, and children to
show the line of products, collectively known as inTACT, which are either
available for sale or under development. We demonstrated how easy it is to
use our drawing board and how effortlessly blind persons of all ages can
construct many images, some simple, others more complex. With inTACT there
will be no excuse for exempting blind students from geometry and other
classes requiring the construction of graphic images. There will be no
excuse for not requiring blind students to submit the same drawings that
are required of their sighted peers. Classroom teachers and teachers of
blind students will be able to grade and return corrected drawings to blind
At the NOPBC session for parents and teachers entitled "Making and
Understanding Raised-Line Drawings," I used the inTACT digitized sketchpad
to construct the Feuerbach Circle for an acute triangle. The purpose of
this construction was not to delve into the intricacies of the Feuerbach
Circle, but to show how our sketchpad could be used efficiently in a
classroom or in a staff briefing. With our digitized sketchpad and
software, the triangle and circle not only appeared on my sketchpad as I
drew them, but also simultaneously appeared on the projection screen so the
audience could view what I was drawing. At that very moment I could not
help experiencing sadness and satisfaction about now having the capacity to
perform a task I could never do during my student days and working career.
I also thought about my early teachers who said that a blind person could
never do mathematics because of the drawing and the writing of equations
that the discipline entailed. The memory of the many who might have scoffed
inwardly at the thought of a blind person doing mathematics is bittersweet.
At the convention E.A.S.Y. was also invited to hold a session at NFB
Camp to teach tactile graphics to blind and sighted children. Ten
youngsters took part in our session. Since we did not know what to expect,
we were most surprised when all of the students started to draw their own
pictures as soon as we explained how the sketchpad works. Although we
adults were not always able to know what the drawings represented, all of
the youngsters could tell us what they were drawing when we asked them.
What we intended as a one-hour session lasted well over two hours. It
became very clear to us from our NFB Camp experience that tactile graphics
skills can be taken up very easily by blind or sighted children if we
afford them the opportunity. Not only will tactile graphics tools be
valuable to blind children, they will also be valuable to sighted children
with blind parents.
I am convinced that the inTACT line of graphics products is just the
beginning of tactile graphics tools. The early successes of the revolution
in tactile fluency may spawn competing products. We at E.A.S.Y. welcome the
competition, and we will do our best to stay ahead of it. One idea that
E.A.S.Y. looks forward to developing, for example, is a way to integrate
Braille labeling and raised-line drawings on a single board. But we will
not wait for the arrival of the ultimate tools to start the tactile fluency
revolution. We will take the tools we have now and use them to the benefit
of our blind students.
All of us-E.A.S.Y. staff, families, teachers, and students-are vital
participants in the revolution in tactile fluency. We must inform teachers
of blind students and school administrators about the new products in
tactile graphics and how important it is for our schools to teach tactile
fluency. Along with ensuring that our blind children learn Braille, parents
must place drawing boards in their hands at the earliest possible age. Just
as we encourage sighted children to draw what they see, the mantra for our
blind children will be, "Draw what you feel." With these early beginnings
it will become natural for parents to insist that their blind children
receive appropriate graphics instruction throughout their school years. We
must insist that this instruction be specifically included in every IEP. We
are currently in discussions with the NFB Jernigan Institute to include
graphics units in all of our BELL summer programs beginning in 2014. Our
NFB training centers should incorporate graphics training into their
programs as well.
I deeply regret that the revolution in tactile fluency did not arrive
over sixty years ago when I was in my formative years and could have
benefited from it. I'm sorry that I couldn't integrate text and graphics to
deepen my comprehension of many technical subjects. Above all, I know that
my career as a mathematician would have been much more rewarding if I had
had both Braille and graphics tools at my command. However, I am optimistic
about the prospects for blind students today. Because of the dual facility
in Braille and graphics that they will be able to develop, career prospects
for them, especially in STEM areas, will far exceed what we think is
possible today. Without further delay, let the tactile fluency revolution
BELL Rings in Ohio
by Barbara Pierce
>From the Editor: Barbara Pierce needs little in the way of an introduction.
She was the editor of this magazine for more than fifteen years, served as
the president of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio for many
terms, and was incredibly active and innovative as our chairman of public
relations before that job became demanding enough to require someone full-
time. Here is what Barbara and her crew have to say about the BELL Program
Beginning July 15, Columbus was the site of a two-week program unlike
anything ever tried in Ohio before. Braille Enrichment for Literacy and
Learning (BELL), the NFB's ten-day intensive introduction to Braille and
much more, debuted in Ohio. For the most part blind Federationists
organized and staffed the program.
Eric Duffy coordinated the entire effort and, thanks to the
generosity of the Wright State University Research Institute, he was able
to be on hand for almost every minute of the program. Debbie Baker was the
lead teacher, and she planned the instruction and directed the staff of
willing volunteers. Ohio was especially lucky because Maryanne Denning and
Shelley McCoy, who are both gifted teachers of blind children in their own
right, were also part of the staff. We had a couple of children who needed
one-on-one supervision and instruction, so we were able to offer truly
first-class staffing. In addition to six other blind volunteers, Carol
Akers, co-president of the Parents of Blind Children Division in Ohio, was
there every day, and her son Dustin made friends with all the children.
Shelbi Hindel's twelve-year-old daughter Aliyah was a steady volunteer with
boundless energy and good temper. She was amazingly mature and helpful to
Seven families signed up for the BELL program, though because of
personal complications two of the children came for the first week only.
The program was originally created and designed to help low-vision kids who
were not getting the Braille they need during the school year, but we just
couldn't turn away young Braille readers who we know would benefit from the
entire range of skills being taught and modeled in this program.
We were lucky to receive permission to conduct the program at the
Glenmont School, which is now the headquarters for the Autism Association
of Ohio. This was a wonderful place for us to work, and the staff could not
have been more welcoming or helpful. We had the use of two good-size
classrooms and the hallway and kitchens. The kitchens were useful for
storing food and preparing lunch every day. Annette Lutz and Shelbi Hindel
chiefly organized and prepared the food. This saved us a great deal of
money and meant that the students and staff had very tasty meals every day.
The Ohio State School for the Blind (OSSB) jumped onto the BELL
bandwagon as well by allowing five of the volunteers who needed housing to
stay in one of the new cottages for the duration of the program. OSSB was
only a few-minutes cab ride from the school, so the location was ideal.
The heart of the BELL Program, however, is the curriculum. Much of
the time staff and students were encouraged to wear sleepshades so that the
kids got used to paying attention to what their fingers, toes, and ears
were telling them. Not surprisingly the children with some useable vision
grumbled at being unable to see when the sleepshades were on, and the ones
with no vision could not understand why we often insisted that they wear
sleepshades. We spent a good bit of time finding the sleepshades and
storing glasses before we could begin an activity. The most interesting
part of the exercise, however, was their reaction every time they
discovered that we were also wearing sleepshades. They were not at all used
to having teachers who were blind. In fact one staff member overheard a
child saying wonderingly to himself, "So teachers can be blind." Again and
again during the program the kids kept rediscovering that we were blind
We started each day by listing our bell ringers, that is, ringing our
bells every time a child or staff member reported on something that he or
she had done the day before that was worthy of pride. Some of the children
did not like the sound of loud bells at the start of the program, but by
the close they were all ringing their bells enthusiastically. We then sang
two songs: "Ring my Bell," which allowed us to ring bells throughout the
song, and "The Braille Rap Song." This is a clever rap song written and
recorded by the American Printing House for the Blind that goes through the
alphabet reviewing the Braille dot numbers of each letter. The kids loved
dancing and shouting along with the song, and some mornings we paused the
song at each letter and had the children take turns giving us the dot
numbers and the whole-word Braille abbreviations for each letter.
We had learning centers at which kids could practice pouring,
spreading cream cheese and peanut butter on bagels and bread, making party
mix, and forming Fruit Loops, miniature marshmallows, and mini M&Ms into
Braille letters. One day we made ice cream and each child and some staff
members made cakes in a cup. These eatable projects were very popular. We
learned to fold currency and sort coins. And we played various games which
required reading and writing Braille letters.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Passing around the Braille beach ball was a popular
The group activities included scavenger hunts of various kinds that
pitted teams of children against each other. We tossed a Brailled beach
ball back and forth, reading the letters and words stuck on the ball's
surface that we first touched; and we played Braille musical chairs, in
which each child who found a chair had to read the Braille word taped to
the back. We had a fine game, called odd ball, which required players to
match pairs of balls of different sizes and textures. Through the two weeks
we taught the kids strategies for identifying pairs of balls, and they
improved amazingly at doing the job. Perhaps the most popular game was
Braille Twister. We had giant Braille cells laid out on poster board, with
each large Braille dot made of a different textured fabric. The caller gave
instructions like left foot on dot 3, right foot on dot 4, left hand on dot
6, and right hand on dot 1. The result was lots of laughter and learning of
The game Stay out of My Bubble was also popular. The children wore
Hula Hoops suspended from straps over their shoulders. Then they moved
around, practicing courteously requesting that others "Please stay out of
my bubble." At the same time they were also learning how close they could
get to other people without making them uncomfortable.
Jim Debus came one day and taught the students the rudiments of
goalball and later introduced them to the cardinal directions.
Another day a fire crew brought a truck to the school and showed the
children all the special fire protection clothing that firefighters wear.
Then the kids got to crawl around the truck. One of the firefighters was a
woman, which impressed students and staff alike. Another day a police
officer came to talk about safety and introduce the children to the police
Eric Duffy has a wonderful way with children. On the first day of
BELL he announced that he was King Eric and that everyone would have to
follow his rules during BELL. This decree provided an ongoing source of
jokes and teasing back and forth for the entire program. The children
announced almost every day that he was fired and that they were taking
over. Eric would respond by threatening to put them in jail. When volunteer
Kaiti Shelton devised a set of words to the old camp song, "There's a hole
in your bucket," the kids were delighted. Our version began, "There's a
crack in your crown, King Eric, King Eric," and went downhill from there.
By the end of every day and certainly by the close of the program
everyone was exhausted. But we were also thrilled to observe the changes in
the youngsters. They still dropped their canes whenever possible and forgot
where they were lying, but they were remembering that they should have them
and even got better at using them. They developed strategies for assessing
things tactilely. They began asking to use the slate and stylus and to take
turns reading the Braille books that surrounded them. Our very quiet child
had learned to speak up because his blind teachers didn't notice his
problems when he was silent. Our extravert began to learn that we were not
impressed with her just because she was blind. The staff learned lots as
well. We learned to work together as a team. Some of us discovered how much
fun it is to read Braille books to children. We learned how to teach under
sleepshades, and we rediscovered how much fun it is to play on the floor. A
photo gallery of the BELL Program in Ohio appears on our website,
<www.nfbohio.org>. Here are the comments of some of the staff:
[PHOTO CAPTION: Mackenzie reading a Seedlings book]
Debbie Baker: We in the NFB of Ohio offer our gratitude to the
generous anonymous donor who contributed $200 to each of the nineteen 2013
BELL programs to be used to purchase books from Seedlings Braille Books for
Children. It was a delight to choose a variety of Braille and Braille-print
books for our program from Seedlings. We sent goodie bags home with each
student at the end of the program. These included two Seedlings books
selected by each child; his or her long white cane, sleepshades, and
Freedom Bell used daily to celebrate students' successes; a slate and
stylus; a Pop-A-Cell from the American Printing House for the Blind, with
which students can practice forming Braille symbols; and various edible or
craft projects completed during the program.
Students practiced learning the cardinal directions as well. Each
worked with a blind adult partner to locate or to move toward the north,
south, east, and west walls of the classroom in which we worked. Of course
we used these same directional referents as we moved around inside the
school. One morning we took students outside to locate the morning sun in
order to find east. Then students applied cardinal directions as they
traveled with their canes outside the school.
The students journaled at the close of each day. An adult partner
helped with spelling and advice on sentence structure and correcting
errors, and generally tried to protect the Perkins Braillers. This activity
included writing thank-you notes to the firefighters who visited during the
first week, to Jim Debus for his help with goalball and orientation and
mobility, and to the school custodian, who cleaned up after us and answered
our requests for general assistance.
Deborah Kendrick: What's not to love when you combine children and
Braille in one program created by the National Federation of the Blind? In
other words, I knew when I first heard about BELL (Braille Enrichment for
Literacy and Learning) that I was eager to see it come to Ohio and eager to
be a part of it. Of course what no one could know in advance was the shape
and feel of our particular BELL program, since each program in each state
takes on the personalities of the children and adults who come together in
The children were precious. From vibrant fashionista Mackenzie, age
six, who announced emphatically when I shook her hand on the first day,
"I'm the smartest kid here," to dog-lover Aidan, age ten, who really worked
hard to learn Braille and always had an adorably quirky smile in his voice.
Jayden and I bonded the first day, first around our hearing aids and
next through a kind of secret understanding about what each of us could
see. He saw a fair amount with his eyes, and I see nothing physically. Yet
he caught on quickly through a game we played that I could see many things
by using my other senses-and my brain. We practiced using clues like
detectives to see without eyesight, and I do hope he is still practicing.
I learned about my fellow Federationists too. We've all known for
years that Debbie Baker was a teacher, but seeing her in action was truly a
treat. Our college students, Kaiti and Aleeha, suddenly seemed like full-
blown professionals in their interactions with the kids. Somehow, almost
magically, every adult fell into a designer niche-from preparing our lunch
to directing games to reading stories-and it was simply a fabulous
Naturally there were things we figured out that maybe we don't need to do
next year and others that we should expand. But our first Ohio BELL program
was a huge success, and I personally wouldn't miss the next one.
P.S. I am still waiting for my bell.
Carol Akers's parent perspective: It was interesting to watch the
families as they entered hesitantly on the first morning, probably
wondering if they were doing the right thing by entrusting their blind
children to strangers. After all, not only were these people strangers and
in a building unfamiliar to the children, but, most of the people in the
room were blind themselves. Parents were nervously trying to explain some
of their children's needs, their supplies, and the amount of assistance
Fast forward two weeks. The children arrive on the final day, excited
to be here. Parents are smiling, knowing their kids are happy to be a part
of this experience, in which they are with their peers, playing games
competitively, and sharing tasks with people who understand their desire to
be included in everyday activities like making snacks, mixing up a cake in
a cup, and knowing how to pour their own drinks. Parents are no longer
hesitant to leave their children because they are now convinced that blind
people are responsible and capable and that parents can have an honest,
open dialog about their children with people who really understand the
What a difference two weeks can make. We watched each child emerge and
change as the kids expanded their knowledge of Braille through many games
and types of exposure. Children of all abilities shared those
opportunities, and each one was affected in a different way. Some children
had had more exposure than others, but only through reading books. Little
did they know how many other ways they could incorporate Braille into their
Parents also began to see differences: they heard their children talk
about each day's activities, using their canes to discover sounds for a
sound scavenger hunt, identifying the sounds they hear and learning more
about them, an object scavenger hunt identifying items and objects that
might obstruct their paths on any day and how to maneuver around them
safely using their canes-all information useful in helping them become more
independent. After all, isn't that what most parents desire for their
children but just aren't sure how to accomplish?
[PHOTO CAPTION: Parents of BELL participants donned sleepshades to receive
a mini orientation and mobility class.]
Comments from families were positive. At the end a mini orientation
and mobility lesson gave parents more insight into how their children
perceive their environment when learning to navigate in and around it. I
think they came away realizing that their blind children are capable of
much more than they give them credit for. They can have high expectations
for their children because with proper instruction their children are
capable. They can have dreams of a bright future for their kids. And, most
important, they don't have to accept the limitations set by society for
their blind children.
What a wonderful experience BELL was--successful in accomplishing what
we set out to do by making a lasting impression on young lives through
Braille and daily living skills and most of all sharing the NFB with them.
Shelbi Hindel: As we planned for the BELL Program, we knew that lunch
preparation for such a large group (usually about twenty) would be
challenging. The word "challenging" was replaced by "daunting" as soon as
we learned that we would not have the use of a stove. But, as we always do
in the National Federation of the Blind, we pulled together and made it
work. Almost anyone responsible for the daily preparation of meals can
relate to the feeling of "Oh no, what am I going to fix today? Nothing
sounds good, or it is so close to what we've just been eating!"
Our effort to feed the masses was aided by a generous donation of
food and drinks by the Ohio Rehabilitation Services Commission. One of the
cafeterias operated by the Business Enterprise Program closed, and we were
able to use the remaining inventory. We want to thank Kevin Miller and
Mindy Duncan for making this very generous gift possible.
Annette Lutz had much of the responsibility for the lunch
arrangements, but it was a true team effort. Barbara Pierce and my daughter
Aliyah were also a tremendous help. I enjoyed working with them and getting
to know them better. We all did things in slightly different ways, but we
found that each of our techniques worked. In this case I would not say that
there were too many cooks in the kitchen.
We all ate very well over the two weeks. I appreciate that no one
complained and that the people I have not mentioned here helped out when
they were asked or saw a need. Perhaps the most cheering part of this
element of BELL was that every morning the children enquired with real
enthusiasm, "What are we having for lunch?" And whether it was sloppy Joe,
chicken and noodles, marzetti, hotdogs, or toasted cheese sandwiches and
tomato soup, they asked for seconds.
Marianne Denning: I volunteered to help at the BELL Program this
summer and met wonderful children and volunteers. I made new friendships
and learned more about the philosophy of the NFB. The children took on new
challenges and loved to come to camp every morning. I received an email
from one of the parents who said that his TVI noticed improvement in his
cooperation in Braille. He will begin kindergarten this fall, so he is just
beginning to use touch-and-learn Braille. His parents are thrilled with
BELL. I love Braille, and I am always excited when children learn and love
How the BELL Resonates for a Teacher
by Kaiti Shelton
Like many other children with partial vision, I began my academic
career by pressing my face into a print book to read words in twenty-point
font. I knew how to read basic words, but my nystagmus and limited field of
vision made it difficult for my eyes to focus on the page long enough to
read a word in one glance. I managed to go through kindergarten reading
books in this way, with my teacher and parents thinking that large print
was truly the least restrictive mode of reading. That changed when my
perceptive first grade teacher intervened. She knew I was smart for my age
and feared that reading print would only hold me back. She pushed for me to
be re-tested, and this time Braille was shown to be the least-restrictive
reading medium for me.
Although from that point on I was always given access to Braille
materials, the first few years of Braille instruction were rough for both
me and my teachers. At first I resisted learning Braille, doing everything
I could to regain the print books that made me feel similar to my sighted
classmates. I kicked and screamed on the way to Braille lessons, had
meltdowns during spelling tests because I felt self-conscious about using
the noisy Perkins Brailler, and once tried to break the Brailler so that I
would have to use pencil and paper to write my work. I put up the best
fight a six year old could, but somehow my teachers had more patience than
I gave them credit for. Gradually I got over my insecurities and began to
realize that I liked reading and I liked Braille. By third grade I was
reading books at a sixth-grade level, and my mother and her Seedlings
catalog could barely keep up with me. But I had to learn the importance of
Braille and how enjoyable it could be the hard way.
I am truly glad that the students at the NFB BELL Program have the
opportunity to learn Braille in fun and exciting ways which make them want
to read and succeed from an early age. Braille Twister, Tasty Dots, and the
other games and drills were exciting and interesting for students and
adults alike. As a teacher it was also gratifying to see the students so
enthusiastic about learning and their achievements. Overall the students
made great strides throughout the program, and everyone had fun.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Stay Out of My Bubble was a fun game that helped the kids
learn polite personal space.]
I also appreciated the lessons in nonvisual techniques and blindness
etiquette. Games like Stay Out of My Bubble were great for teaching the
students to address an issue of social interaction from a blindness
perspective. The nonvisual technique lessons in pouring and cane travel
under sleepshades were educational for the students, and each one made
improvements. Perhaps the biggest lesson in blindness for them was to learn
that successful, Braille-reading adults travel independently, teach, and
have families and careers. One student said she didn't know teachers could
be blind, and it was good for her and the parents of the students to see
successful role models in action.
Overall it was a very enjoyable two weeks, and I hope to participate
again in the future. I had a lot of fun working with the students, and it
was great to see them develop academically and socially.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Mikayla rings her bell at the Colorado BELL Program]
We Rang the BELL Again
by Diane McGeorge
>From the Editor: This is how the BELL program happened in Colorado.
Relating the story is Diane McGeorge, the former president of the National
Federation of the Blind of Colorado, the former director of the Colorado
Center for the Blind, and a very active member in her chapter, her
affiliate, and the national organization. Here is what she says:
In July of 2013 we held our third BELL program in Colorado. For those
of you who may not have heard of BELL, it is a wonderful program developed
by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute that emphasizes
the importance for young children of learning Braille. BELL stands for
Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning. We recruit children from the
ages of four to eleven for an exciting two-week program in which the
importance of Braille is stressed throughout the day. We do lots of
activities, including independent travel using the long white cane. For
some of these little guys the long white cane isn't very long, but they
rapidly come to understand what it can tell them when they are walking
around the classroom, playing outside, or going on bus trips around the
One of the highlights this year was a scavenger hunt on the Boulder
Mall. Kids, teachers, and volunteers took the RTD bus to Boulder, where
teams were formed. Each team was given Braille clues to find items on the
Boulder Mall. They had pizza for lunch and took the bus back to the Rocky
Mountain MS Center, where classes were held each day. Kids learned that
vision isn't all one can use to find interesting things on a scavenger
hunt. One of the activities was to bring back a card from a coffee shop,
which they had no problem sniffing out.
Each day the youngsters kept a journal of their activities in Braille.
They decorated their journals with art projects. They made tactile
identifiers for their canes so there wouldn't be any doubt about who got
whose cane. One of the best parts of the day was getting into a circle on
the floor and telling everyone about what we called their BELL moments.
Every youngster told about something he or she did that day for the first
time. BELL moments could range from making a sandwich for lunch to helping
another child find his or her Braille name on a locker.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Volunteer Ann assists camper as he measures flour]
The program ran from July 15 through July 26, and every day the
program was filled to capacity. The Rocky Mountain MS Center has been a
wonderful partner for the last three years, and we can't thank them enough
for the warmth and hospitality shown to our students and volunteers.
Speaking of volunteers, we asked each parent to volunteer for at least one
day or one activity, and as usual we had a wonderful response. We also had
blind teenagers from the Colorado Center for the Blind, the Colorado
Parents of Blind Children Division-if I start naming names, I'll leave
somebody out-so let me just say how grateful we are to all who volunteered.
I also want to express our thanks to the Colorado Center for the Blind
for its contribution, as well as the NFB of Colorado and the many
individual chapters who helped make BELL possible again this year. This
program is funded through contributions and grants, and all of our members
worked hard to make it a success.
If the support keeps coming in, we hope to expand to another part of
the state next year, God willing. I can't imagine it won't; in Colorado we
know what our priorities are. One of our top priorities is serving blind
children. This is evidenced by the outstanding work of the Colorado Center
for the Blind, our partnership with the Colorado School for the Deaf and
Blind, our support from our teachers of the visually impaired, and of
course our BELL program. Eleven children this year are many steps closer to
realizing that it is respectable to be blind. The world is waiting for
them, and we in the National Federation of the Blind will make it a better
The BELL Rings in Pennsylvania
>From the Editor: Here are two articles written about the BELL Program in
Pennsylvania. One is told from the perspective of the BELL coordinator and
the other from the perspective of a public school teacher. Michelle McManus
is a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the
Blind of Pennsylvania and the president of the Happy Valley Chapter. She
has a master's degree in the education of blind children and currently
works for Penn State University to improve accessibility. Monitor readers
will remember Harriet Go, who appeared in the August-September issue when
she received the Blind Educator of the Year Award at the national
convention. Here's what they had to say about this summer's BELL Program in
The Other Bell in Philadelphia
by Michelle McManus
I began my journey to BELL on Valentine's Day, when I was asked to
coordinate Pennsylvania's BELL program. I've been a certified teacher of
the blind for many years but hadn't actually had the opportunity to teach
blind children. My experience working with children has been through Girl
Scouts and in daycare settings.
I had a great team of volunteers throughout the process, including
our lead teacher, Harriet Go, the National Federation of the Blind 2013
Blind Educator of the Year, and James Antonacci, the NFB of Pennsylvania
state president. I wasn't entirely sure how all aspects of the program were
going to fit together, but having good volunteers to work with gave me more
We held our program for two weeks in July in Center City,
Philadelphia, at the Library for the Blind. When the children arrived on
the first day, they seemed excited for the chance to come-probably most had
never been to a summer camp before. They ranged in ages from five to
fifteen, and many already knew one another because they attend school
together in the Philadelphia area.
Planning was fairly simple-it was just a matter of making selections
of activities to try out using the curriculum. Once we spent some time with
the children, we got a better sense of which activities would work best for
our group. Most were group-oriented, though some lessons were independent.
Categories included nonvisual techniques, Braille reading, and travel
skills. One of their favorite games was Braille baseball. The kids were
divided into two teams. They'd take turns reading questions aloud for their
own team to answer-they were "at bat." A wrong answer was an "out." A
correct answer was a "hit," and three in a row would make a "run." They
wanted to play longer than time allowed.
A valuable part of the camp was that it gave kids the chance to learn
things they don't in school-the practicalities of everyday life, like
passing items to others at the lunch table and navigating on their own. For
example, one child, about six years old, asked what a grate was when we
walked over it on the sidewalk during a field trip to the Free Library of
Philadelphia. They all asked a lot of questions, and it was fun showing
them new skills.
Overall, the program was terrific and we already have ideas for ways
to improve it for next year. We were blessed to have many pairs of helping
hands, and it was a little challenging to keep everyone organized and
useful. Still, we were really glad to have them. Those two weeks were fun
and educational for all involved. It was exciting to watch kids learn new
ideas and techniques. The best feeling for me was when all of the children
said that they definitely want to return next year. Keep ringing those
The First BELL Program in Pennsylvania
by Harriet Go
This past July the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania
held its first-ever Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL)
Program. This program, which was designed by the National Federation of
Maryland in 2008, has rapidly spread to NFB affiliates throughout the
country with the aim of providing intensive Braille instruction to blind
and visually impaired children who are not receiving adequate Braille
education during the regular school year. As a means to tackle the Braille
literacy crisis in America, in which 90 percent of all blind children do
not read Braille, the BELL Program helps to promote Braille literacy
experiences through fun and engaging activities.
This year we had seven students participate in the two-week-long
program. Lessons focused on developing skills in reading Braille, writing
Braille, using nonvisual techniques, and travel with a long white cane. In
between, students learned to prepare sandwiches and snacks, took field
trips to the local library and a local Braille production facility, were
exposed to competent blind role models, and engaged in discussions geared
toward building a positive philosophy about blindness.
Students came to the program with different levels of Braille
experience, from those who were able to read contracted Braille to those
who were just beginning to learn the alphabet, but each student learned
something new. One of the highlights every day was something called BELL
ringers. In this activity, students took turns to share with the rest of
the group something they felt they did successfully. Then each student rang
his or her own bell to celebrate their achievement. On the last day parents
of the BELL students attended a parent seminar at our affiliate
headquarters to learn about how they can help their children to continue
strengthening Braille literacy skills once BELL was complete. After that
each student had the opportunity to say what the BELL program had meant to
them during the closing activities. After awards were handed out, pictures
were taken, and students received Braille books to take home, everyone rang
their bells in unison for the final time. The ringing of the bells
symbolizes all that the students had accomplished during the program, and
it was quite clear that the inaugural year for the BELL program in
Pennsylvania was a huge success.
A BELL Rings in Oklahoma
by Tamala Young
>From the Editor: Tamala Young is a bright, energetic, and motivated lady,
whose years of experience as a teacher in the Head Start program made her a
perfect fit for the job coordinating the first BELL Program in Oklahoma.
Here is her account of the life-changing two-week program:
Well, as you have probably heard by now, our first BELL has been rung
in Oklahoma, and what a joyful resounding noise it made! Our BELL program
was held June 10 through 21 at the Oklahoma Library for the Blind and
Physically Handicapped. The library staff continually commented on what a
Joy it was to have the kiddos around, bringing laughter and excitement to
those who had the privilege to come in contact with us. They said it was a
We had four children from ages seven to ten participate this year. There
were fifteen people who contributed time to participate in the program,
some daily and some as they could break away from other commitments, as
well as staff at the library whom we asked for help. These volunteers
included: Linda Raleigh TVI, Sandy Chappell, Callie Chappell, Jan McEver,
Ronya Caraway, Audrey Farnum and her friends at the boathouse, Glenda
Farnum, Jeannie Massay, Cristin Lockwood, Coach Carolyn and Coach Bob (OSF
blind fencing instructors), Vicky Golightly, Tanya Skelly, coach Christy
(goal ball instructor), and Anne Parret.
There was a diverse group of people and organizations who donated
items that contributed to the success of the program: the Oklahoma
Department of Rehabilitation Services, Don LaPorte, the Chesapeake
Boathouse, Oklahoma Science Museum, Seedlings Braille Books for Children,
McDonald's, Burger King, MiMi's Cafi, Millie's Table, Sandy Chappell, Taco
Bell, Grandy's, and Pizza Hut.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Elbin and Gianna in a Braille race]
Now for the fun part, the two weeks of BELL were action packed: we
started each day with Braille races in which the children raced against
their own time each morning to try to improve their speed, and improve they
did! The children also raced their own time on Braille tracking skills, and
each of them improved greatly on that as well. But the fun didn't stop
there, we also played body Braille, hula hoop Braille, Go Fish (with
Braille cards), a Braille fishing game, Fruit Loop Braille, and so many
other fun Braille activities. During some of these games the children used
a slate and stylus, some for the very first time.
[PHOTO CAPTION: TVI Linda helps Gianna use a slate and stylus]
Besides Braille activities we also had blindness skill activities in
which the children were allowed to prepare their own snacks and lunches.
Ronya Caraway provided mobility lessons in and around the library, and we
had so many fun field trips. Some of the field trips came to us and some we
went to. Goalball and blind fencing both came to us and were greatly
enjoyed by all. We took field trips to the Oklahoma Science Museum,
McDonald's, the Chesapeake Boathouse, and the Harn House Museum-
unbelievable excitement with each field trip.
The children were allowed to go into the recording studio at the
library where the books on tape are recorded and make a recording of a poem
that I wrote for them to recite at the program on the last day:
Your view may be different from what I see,
But nothing in the world is going to stop me!
For knowledge and power I have a yearning,
Thanks NFB Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning!
I know that I am a little biased, but I measure the success of this
inaugural program by some of the comments that I heard from the kiddos and
When we went out on the Dragon Boat, Elbin said, "My dream has
finally come true."
When Annie had to pack up to leave for England at the end of the
first week she said, "I don't want to go to England, I want to stay here. I
wish we could start over so we would still have two weeks."
After Teague got the opportunity to make his first peanut butter
sandwich he said he made his dad a peanut butter sandwich at home.
This last one sounds sad but read through the sadness. After knowing
Gianna for only two weeks she wept on the last day of camp. I mean she
sobbed uncontrollably and that is when I knew that the State of Oklahoma
BELL committee 2013 had not only enriched the Braille and blindness skills
for this group, but we had truly touched lives and made a lasting
difference to some young people who now know that they can do anything and
that knowledge is power!
The Poetry of Motion, the Grace of Movement, the Delight of Physical
Expression with Blindness No Barrier
by Natalie Shaheen, Jerry Whittle, Maurice Peret, Lou Ann Blake, Matt
Simpson, Lisamaria Martinez, and Greg DeWall
>From the Editor: As blind people we are encouraged to use our minds and to
exercise them. This is all to the good, except one reason for the emphasis
on mental activity is the widely held belief that we cannot enjoy and
participate in physical activity. When we who are blind buy into this
misconception, the result is that we spend far too much time engaged in
mental activity and far too little time engaged in physical pursuits.
To discuss how blind people can lead more physically active lives, a
panel appeared near the end of the afternoon on the first day of the 2013
convention. It was comprised of Natalie Shaheen, director of education at
the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute; Jerry Whittle,
first vice president, National Federation of the Blind of Louisiana and the
former Braille instructor at the Louisiana Center for the Blind; Maurice
Paret, lead cane travel instructor, Blind Industries and Services of
Maryland; Lou Ann Blake, project manager of the Help America Vote Act
project and coordinator of the annual tenBroek Law Symposium at the
National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute; Matt Simpson,
membership and outreach coordinator, United States Association of Blind
Athletes; Lisamaria Martinez, president, Sports and Recreation Division,
National Federation of the Blind; and Greg DeWall, rehabilitation,
orientation, and mobility instructor, Society for the Blind, Sacramento,
California. Here is what the panel, moderated by Natalie Shaheen, had to
[PHOTO CAPTION: Natalie Shaheen at 2013 national convention]
Natalie Shaheen: "Sitting is killing us." That is what Nilofer
Merchant tells the audience in her TED Talk, "Got a Meeting? Take a Walk."
A body of research supports her statement. For example, did you know that
we sit an average of 9.3 hours a day? This is almost two more hours a day
than we sleep. The harmful effects of sitting include obesity, diabetes,
heart disease, and breast and colon cancer. We sit so much, and so does
everyone around us, that we do not even realize that it is a problem. In
that way, Nilofer says, sitting is the smoking of our generation. Our
society in general is happy to have blind people sit. "Just sit here and
wait," we are too often told. But we do not need to sit, and we do not need
to wait. We can move as well as anyone else, and I think we should start
I would like to invite you all to participate actively in this panel.
To encourage you all to get moving, we're going to play a game you might
recall from your college days. I do not know that this game has a name, but
here's how it works: every time you hear a specified word, you perform an
action. Instead of taking a sip of your Kool Aid, in this iteration of the
game we're going to move. Does this game ring a bell? For the next forty-
five minutes, every time you hear the word "blind" (or a variation of that
word), feel free to stand up, reach your hands as far over your head as
possible, stretching up onto your toes, and then sit back down. I do note
that Dr. Maurer just stood up. And any time you hear the word "move" (or
another form of the verb) stand up, turn around three hundred and sixty
degrees, and then sit back down. Feel free to modify these movements as
necessary so that they work for you. If you are concerned that you are
going to look a bit silly playing this game, remember that sitting is
killing you, embrace your inner five year old, and embrace the silliness.
Now don't forget to move when you hear the words "blind" and "move."
I was always an active child, though you wouldn't have guessed that
from my physique; I guess not much has changed. I learned to swim when I
was only two; a few years later I joined the swim team and continued to
swim competitively for most of my childhood. In addition to swimming, I
tried my hand at ballet, tap dancing, soccer, tennis, water polo, volley
ball, goalball, and lacrosse. Though I enjoyed all of these activities, I
did not excel at any of them. This was frustrating because it was clear
that I had some athletic talent; I just could not find the right sport. The
struggle in finding my athletic niche was twofold: first, my particular
athletic talent is one that our society does not usually find as desirable
in a female. Popular sports for girls focus on endurance, grace, speed, and
flexibility. Few popular women's sports focus on sheer strength, my
particular talent. The second piece of my struggle, which I did not uncover
until I came to know the Federation, was that I did not know how to play
any of the aforementioned sports as a blind person. I now know that blind
people can and do excel at all of the sports I tried out as a child, but I
did not know that as a budding athlete. Consequently, I did not think to
develop nonvisual techniques for playing those sports, and as a result I
never reached my potential.
It was not until high school that I found my sport. I was in the
weight room with the other girls on the lacrosse team when one of the track
coaches, who was also in the weight room, noticed I was significantly
stronger than the other girls on the lacrosse team. He convinced me that I
was playing the wrong sport and recruited me to join the track team as a
thrower for the following season. I had finally found my home as an
athlete: throwing heavy things. I finished out my high school career on the
track team. In college I continued to compete as a shot put and hammer
thrower on the track team at Ohio University. Since college I have
continued my athletic pursuits as a competitive Olympic-style weight
lifter, when I'm not on the injured reserve, anyway. As it turns out, the
sports I am best suited to as an athlete, those that focus on strength and
explosive movement, require no accommodations in order for a blind person
to compete. The toe board, a raised metal platform at the front of the
throwing circle, clearly indicates the direction the shot put is to be
thrown. In weight lifting, the signal that indicates that your lift is
complete and you may set the weight down is both visual and auditory. The
alternative techniques needed for these sports show up more in training
than in competition.
A sighted lifter analyzes his lift by watching film or looking in the
mirror. I know that my pull is good because the bar rattles in a certain
way. Similarly, the slap of my wood-soled lifting shoes on the wood
platform helps me to critique other aspects of my lift.
I am excited to be joined today by six other active blind people who
are going to share their passion for recreation and movement, highlighting
the alternative techniques they have developed or borrowed so that they may
participate fully in their preferred activity. Here to share with us how to
play the all-American sport of football is Mr. Jerry Whittle, first vice
president of the NFB of Louisiana.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Jerry Whittle at 2013 national convention]
Jerry Whittle: Are you ready for some football? Friday night party! I
want to thank Dr. Maurer first of all, because he really believed in what
we were trying to do and made a donation from the NFB to allow us to buy
some football uniforms we didn't have. We initially started trying to play
football without pads, just flag football, using a cowbell and a beeping
football. Lisamaria Martinez, who's on this panel, got a black eye, and we
had a student named Louise Walch who got a knot on her head, and a student
named Heath Topping (a rather intriguing name)-he had lips like Mick Jagger
when we got through. So we decided we'd better wait on the uniforms. We
started raising some funds, some people in the local area donated money to
us, and the local chapter donated money. We went out and bought thirteen
uniforms: helmets, shoulder pads, and jerseys. I'm wearing an actual game-
used jersey that says "NFB Football" on it. The only problem with it,
somebody knocked the "f" off of this "football"---it's got "ootball" on
there; the "f" is gone. It's got a number four on the back, it's royal blue
with white lettering, and our helmets are royal blue.
The game has evolved quite a bit from what we first started out
doing. We have a fifty-yard field. The field is fifty yards long, it is
fifteen yards wide with a ten-yard-deep end zone. We run toward the sound
of a radio--we put the radio at the back of the end zone. Each team (the
white team and the blue team, we'll call them) gets ten tries to get a
touchdown. If they get stopped, then the other team takes over, and they
get ten tries to get a touchdown. If they score, they have a choice between
going from five yards out for one point or ten yards out for two points. So
five yards out you get one point, ten yards out you get two points: and
that's usually what the game comes down to, who makes those extra points
and who doesn't. We allow only the quarterback to run with the ball. He or
she has a cowbell around the neck [holds up bell]. It's the actual one they
use. It's got "NFB Cane Challenge," which used to be on the old NFB canes.
We put them all together, kind of made a necklace. I'm wearing an NFB
necklace here. This is what the quarterback wears, and he or she also wears
jingle bells and uses a beeping football. Now Mr. McGirr, who used to work
for the Jernigan Institute, made us a real nice football, and it's still
working, still going strong. So we use that every time. Sometimes we don't
use the beeper because the teams prefer to hear just the cowbell and the
jingle bells. So the quarterback is going down the field jingling and
jangling as he or she goes along, drawing a lot of attention, believe you
Are any NFB football players here today? [cheers] Oh, wow, they're
still here to tell the story. It's a lot of fun. I didn't want to play
something as simple as beeping badminton or talking tiddlywinks. People
want to have something that is really physical and everything. One of the
greatest joys I had as a child was playing sandlot football, playing flag
football, and then playing some organized football with pads and
everything. The game is much safer with a helmet and pads--nobody gets hurt
too bad, you get some bruises and dings. I think the worst anybody ever got
hurt was when he was running out of bounds and ran into a hurricane fence;
he didn't stop, but kept running. One time I was standing on the sidelines,
and a guy ran over me and cut me a flip backwards. And the lady next to me
lost her eyeglasses, couldn't find them for a while. So it's kind of
dangerous on the sidelines sometimes, but most of the guys get behind the
hurricane fence when we play. But we have a lot of fun, and I guess the
greatest pleasure that I get is from being there and watching them play. I
don't play anymore. One of the young guys asked, "Why don't you play, Mr.
I said, "I'm sixty-six years old." I thought that was a pretty good
excuse, but they didn't buy it. The greatest pleasure I get from it all is
just seeing everybody after the game talking about it. The old war stories,
the sound of the pads clanging together, the helmets cracking together, and
a real solid hit. Old Sean Whalen out there, he laid the wood on somebody,
and it was one of the nicest sounds I've heard in a long time. He got a
charge out of it too. It's a lot of fun; nobody's really been hurt so far.
Now I want to say, we had a guy playing last time-we played right before
the convention-he was 6'4", and he ran over Jessica Scannell, who is from
New Jersey. She's about 4' 12" or something. She was lying on the field,
and I just knew this was our first casualty. I said, "Are you okay?"
Everybody was saying "Can you wiggle your toes, can you wiggle your
She jumped up and said, "I'm going to kill him." Let me just say
this: whenever the teams line up, the offense has to say who they are or
where they're set. In other words they come out blocker, blocker, blocker,
and then the quarterback says "quarterback," and they have to stay in their
position. The referee says, "Is the offense set?" And the captain says,
"offense set." Then the defense can move around anywhere they want to; they
don't have to say anything. They can set up anywhere they want, and then
the defensive captain says "defense set." Then the referee hands the
quarterback the football, and all they have to say is "go." And, when they
go, you better move it, move it, move it. Everybody's coming after your
blind behind. So there's a lot of movement involved in the game, and a lot
of blind guys have a wonderful time playing the game. Thank you.
Natalie Shaheen: The lead cane travel instructor at Blind Industries
and Services of Maryland, Maurice Peret, teaches by example, traveling
anywhere and everywhere, cane in hand. From the foothills of Mount Everest
to the Appalachian Trail, Maurice has hiked it all, and he's here to tell
[PHOTO CAPTION: Maurice Peret at 2013 national convention]
Maurice Peret: Thank you, Natalie. You know I was never good at
competitive sports, and I'm sure not going to compete with Jerry Whittle
over here, so I'm taking a hike. Warm embrace to my Federation family and
everyone who's with us this week. Where are my colleagues from Blind
Industries and Services of Maryland? [cheers] Oh, good, they are here!
We're a dynamic, exciting, innovative company, and we provide structured-
discovery, blindness cutting-edge training, that's what we do, and I'm so
proud to be part of that. The Federation touches hearts, souls, and lives
across this country. But we also find ourselves in some interesting places
on this planet. Twelve years ago the symbol and spirit of the National
Federation of the Blind found its way to the top of the world on Mount
Everest. There it was, the flag of the NFB, and I was there to observe and
document what was happening during that expedition, which required me to
hike some thirty-five miles and ten thousand feet in altitude without
crying or dying in the process. When I came back, lots of people asked me,
"Would you do it again?" I didn't have to think about it-no way!
But, as the passage of time, fading memory, and the physical effects
of high altitude waned, I came to know the beautiful and talented Ms. Lou
Ann Blake, and suddenly I rediscovered how much I loved hiking, isn't that
something? So we spent a part of our honeymoon on the Appalachian Trail in
Maryland. It was awesome. So we thought-Lou Ann and I-much of our lives is
shared with our Federation family: our love, our passion, the things that
we do. We want to spread it out, so we tried to think up ways-how can we
get people out here? We're not going to suffer alone, after all. We tried
to think up ways to get our Federation family out there. So we devised a
plan. We came to know a very special person and a champion, Tom Johnson
from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, whom Sharon Maneki knew and worked
with. He believed in our purpose, and our cause, in what we wanted to do.
He said, "How many blind people you think we can get out there for this
first attempt at this hike? Three or four, half a dozen?" I said I thought
we could get twenty or thirty. Well, on May 11 in 2011, we got fifty
Federationists out there on the Appalachian Trail hiking and about eight
rather overwhelmed members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club-what are
we going to do with these blind guys?
We've done hikes since then. We got young scientists from Project
Innovation out there on the trail hiking during that program, and we've
been doing it ever since. We did a hike a couple months ago involving some
twenty blind people, and we're going to do some more before it's all over.
Here's my challenge for our Federation: you know the Appalachian
Trail on the East Coast goes from Georgia to Maine, it's only about eleven
hundred miles or so. I think there's a similar trail out on the West Coast,
the Pacific Crest Trail. The Federation has been to Everest. We have been
to some exciting and remote places on this planet. Why can't the National
Federation of the Blind hike the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails? Why
can't we do it? Now Lou Ann has the idea that maybe we'll do the one-
hundred-mile trail in Virginia. I'm not sure we're up to doing the whole
entire Appalachian Trail, but we're not going to try to do it alone. What
if all our Federation affiliates got together as a fundraiser? What if we
went to National Geographic and said that the Federation is going to hike
from Georgia to Maine and the Pacific Crest Trail? Let's do it. Let's raise
money. Thank you, Natalie. That's my challenge.
Natalie Shaheen: Exotic locations and expensive equipment are not
required for all forms of recreation. Lou Ann Blake, HAVA project manager
and law symposium coordinator at the NFB Jernigan Institute, is going to
tell us about yoga, a sport you can do from the comfort of your home.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Lou Ann Blake at 2013 national convention]
Lou Ann Blake: Good afternoon, Federation family. Are you ready for
some yoga? I've been doing yoga for about seven years, and I've also done
aerobics, weight machines, treadmills, Nordic Track, and I did competitive
horse showing for a couple of years. But I have found that yoga is the best
way to strengthen your body, increase your flexibility, and quiet your
mind. Best of all, it's something that everybody in my Federation family
can do. You don't need a lot of equipment to do yoga, as Natalie mentioned.
All you need is a mat and some loose-fitting clothing. I would suggest that
all of you try some beginner-level classes at first. Beginner level classes
are very accessible for blind students; the teacher will audibly describe
each pose as the class moves through its practice. And, if you can't do all
the poses to the fullest extension, that's fine, because there are always
alternatives and variations for each pose that will enable any blind
student, no matter what your fitness level or physical ability, to be able
to do all the poses in the practice. Once you get used to the poses and you
know what you're doing, just get some DVDs and do it at home, save yourself
a little money rather than spending it on a class.
Another great thing about yoga is that you can do it anywhere.
Maurice and I have done yoga on the beach in Key West, Florida (great place
to do yoga). You can also do yoga while you're standing in line. So, when
you're standing in line at one of the restaurants here waiting for dinner
or waiting in registration, do your yoga. There's also office chair yoga,
so, while you're sitting at work, you can do yoga. There is, believe it or
not, in-flight yoga, so, when you're going home from convention, you can do
it. And, believe it or not, there is also bed-top yoga. Now can anyone
think of a place to do yoga that I haven't mentioned yet? [enthusiastic
cheering suggesting she had covered most of the bases] Yeah, how about NFB
convention yoga? Let's make the NFB convention the largest indoor yoga
class in Florida!
Those of you who can stand, who have room, do feel free to stand.
Those of you who prefer sitting can still join us. Try not to bump your
neighbor, but we're going to start off with the basic standing pose, which
is mountain pose. Stand with your feet together, or if you need them to be
a little bit apart for stability, that's fine-that's just a variation. With
your hands down at your sides, fingers relaxed, looking straight ahead with
your chin parallel to the floor, that's where we start every standing pose
from. Now we all probably carry a lot of stress in our shoulders and our
necks. We're going to work on our shoulders first, so let's squeeze your
shoulders up towards your ears and then drop them down. Squeeze your
shoulders up to your ears, and then drop them down. And one more time we'll
squeeze our shoulders up to our ears, and then drop them down. When you're
standing in mountain pose, you want to make sure that you've got your
shoulders down and back. You don't want your shoulders up towards your ears
or slumping forward. You've got to be standing straight.
Next thing: our neck. Our neck is another place where we carry a lot
of stress. We want to tilt our head forward, putting your chin on your
chest. And then just slowly rotate your chin towards your right shoulder
and then back down to your chest. Then up toward your left shoulder, and
then just down to your chest, and very gentle. Then up to your right
shoulder, down back to your chest. Up to your left shoulder, down to your
chest. Back up to your right shoulder, down to your chest, and back up to
your left shoulder, then down to your chest. All right, does that feel
Okay, another thing we can do: we actually were already doing it. We
raise our hands up above our heads, stretching as far as we can. Then we're
going to alternate our right hand stretching up further, then lower, and
our left hand stretch up further. And then our right hand up far, as far as
we can reach, reaching those fingers up. Then our left hand, reaching as
far as we can, stretching, stretching. Our right hand back up, stretching.
Then our left hand back up and stretching as far as we can. All right,
thank you, and back to mountain pose.
Now traditionally a yoga class will end with everybody's hands in
prayer position at our chest, and thank you, my Federation family, for
participating in this brief yoga practice and for letting me be your
teacher. I hope that you will continue to explore yoga and enjoy its many
Natalie Shaheen: Next up is a sport I've been privileged to coach but
never lucky enough to play competitively. Matt Simpson, membership and
outreach coordinator for the United States Association of Blind Athletes
[USABA], is going to share his experiences playing one of my favorite
[PHOTO CAPTION: Matt Simpson at 2013 national convention]
Matt Simpson: Good afternoon. I enjoyed that little bit of yoga
practice. Unfortunately I don't think we'll be able to do a goalball
practice in here today. We're not going to be able to make that happen, but
I did happen to notice that, when Natalie was introducing the sports,
goalball got the loudest cheer-thank you guys for that-so I know I'm
already preaching to the goalball choir over here, I know everybody loves
the game. For those of you who don't know what goalball is, I want to give
a really brief explanation. It's a sport involving six players. Everyone is
blindfolded all the time; there's no visual advantage. You have a ball with
bells inside of it that weighs approximately three pounds. You play on a
court that is tactilely marked with lines, and you have goals for
orientation. The point of the game is to throw the ball as hard as you can
down the court and past the opponent into their goal. The goal is thirty
feet wide, and the court is sixty feet long, and you're volleying the ball
back and forth. Goalball is not specifically a contact sport like football-
or NFB football-but, if you've ever blocked a goalball going forty-five
miles per hour, you know that it is in fact a contact sport.
Besides being the membership and outreach coordinator for the United
States Association of Blind Athletes, which is the governing body for
goalball in the United States, I'm also a member of the men's national
goalball team. I've had the opportunity to play goalball all over the world
and all over the United States, which has been an incredible experience.
I'd like to tell you a little bit about why goalball is awesome. If you are
a member of the NFB, you know the skills that are invaluable: spatial
awareness, orientation and mobility, auditory skills of location and
tracking, echolocation. Goalball was created in the 1940s as a means of
rehabilitating blinded war veterans, to teach all of those skills. And, if
you've ever been on a goalball court, you know just how valuable those
skills can be to you: orientation on the court, communication with your
teammates. Unfortunately those are skills that we all too often miss out on
with team sports. But goalball is a sport that was created for us and that
we can play at any time on any level. If you were at the goalball
demonstration on Tuesday, thirty guys and girls showed up to play goalball,
and we played on a carpeted floor in a room over there in the convention
center. So, no matter what you're doing or where you are, you can enjoy
goalball. I know those guys are probably still recovering from their rug
burns. I know I certainly am. I was foolishly convinced to play with those
guys. We have our Pan American competition next week, so I'm worried I'll
have to show up and tell my coach I can't play Brazil because the skin on
my wrist hasn't grown back yet.
Goalball is played all over the United States on teams of three to
six people. If you have never had the opportunity to play, I strongly
encourage you to bug three of your sighted or blind friends and get out.
Find somewhere to play, pick up a ball, and do your best to make it happen.
Playing with your peers is hugely beneficial. Like I said, the skills that
you can learn on a goalball court can be learned there better than almost
anywhere else that there is. If you have questions about where you can find
a team in your area, we have dozens of teams all over the United States
that compete in USABA competitions. I'd love to talk to you about the game,
how you can start a team, where you can play, how you can play, so please
shoot me an email. Our website is
you can find me around here for the next two days. So thank you all so much
for allowing me to talk to you guys, and go play goalball.
Natalie Shaheen: The martial arts have been a popular form of
recreation for decades. Lisamaria Martinez, president of the Sports and
Recreation Division, is an accomplished athlete in several sports. Today
she is going to share her various athletic pursuits, including her
successful career in judo.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Lisamaria Martinez at 2013 national convention]
Lisamaria Martinez: From 1977 to 1981 my father served this country as
a scout sniper in the US military. He was a Marine. He was a tough dude.
Being a tough dude, would you be surprised to learn that this dude wanted
to raise tough, independent, and fearless children? I was born to two
incredible people; some of you have met them, Cookie and Greg, my parents--
you can attest that they are pretty cool people. Three years after my birth
my sister was born, and two years later my twenty-seven-year-old parents
had to face a pretty tough challenge: how to raise their eldest daughter,
how to ensure that she would grow up tough, independent, and fearless, even
though she had just become blind. So, what did they do? They made me make
my bed. That is to say, my parents decided that the best thing they could
do for me was to treat me the way they would treat my sighted sister and
later down the road my sighted brother. I grew older and was a pretty happy
child, despite having to go through the tortures of making my bed and doing
the dishes and all other chores my parents could dream up. To make a long
story short, as my brother and sister and I got older, my dad wanted us to
learn, not only how to be tough, independent, and fearless, but how to be
safe and to be able to handle ourselves in any type of situation. So we
were all enrolled in judo.
You might be sitting in your seats wondering how a blind person can
do judo, and I'm here today to tell you how. If judo sounds interesting to
you, listen up, here I go, listen carefully. All you need to do is find a
dojo, walk in, put on a gi, and go. It's that easy. Judo is one of those
sports that blind people can do with very little adaptation. When it was
time to learn a new pin, a new choke, a new armbar, I simply volunteered to
be the sensei's partner so that I could know what was being taught. And, if
that wasn't feasible, I would ask a higher-ranking classmate what to do.
The only other accommodation I needed to implement was during a sparring
match, and more specifically how I would start a match with another
competitor. Instead of bowing and starting from afar and grappling for a
grip, I would bow and start with my hands on the lapels of my opponent-that
equaled the playing field.
There's not much else I can tell you about adapting judo. You don't
need sight to flip, pin, choke, armbar, and generally kick-well, be tough,
independent, and fearless. So if you are ready to step it up, to challenge
yourself, and judo sounds like the right fit for you, I invite you to don a
gi and get started. I'm Lisamaria Martinez, and I'm the president of the
Sports and Recreation Division. I'm from California, and I'm tough,
independent, and fearless, and I am blind, with no barriers. Thank you.
Natalie Shaheen: To round out our impressive panel of active blind
people is another accomplished and well-rounded athlete. Greg DeWall, our
rehabilitation, orientation, and mobility instructor at the Society for the
Blind in Sacramento enjoys ballroom dancing and is passionate about
recreation for everyone.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Greg DeWall at national convention]
Greg DeWall: How are you, folks? I was hoping in five minutes to have
you all prepared for Dancing with the Stars. Are you ready? As Natalie
said, I'm heavily involved in recreation. I'm a bit of an adrenaline
junkie, so I spent my youth and many of my college days scaling rocks and
bridges, cliff jumping into water. I wrestled my way through college, I
even got heavily involved in wakeboarding and waterskiing. And then I found
judo, and my adrenaline kept going. Judo took me around the world and all
across the country, even with Lisamaria, and I walked out of Beijing with
the bronze medal. Then I met my wife, Stacy Cervenka, and became civilized.
Now I'm doing ballroom dancing.
Since this is a crowded environment, instead of getting up and having
everybody do the tango and having everybody waltz and cha cha, we're going
to have a little sing-along, just to find the rhythm. The hardest thing
about ballroom dancing-for me anyway, I'm white, come on, give me a break-
is finding the rhythm. So if you can find the rhythm, regardless if you
have two left feet and two right shoes, you're going to be able to dance.
You've heard "Bingo" right? Let's turn that into "Tango." T-A-N-G-O, T-A-N-
G-O, T-A-N-G-O. There you go--you've got it--that's the five-count for the
tango. It's not that difficult. Now let's go to the waltz. Okay, it's a
little three-count rhythm [counts off rhythm]. All right, and you add a
little box step to that, you start bebopping a little bit, you've got the
waltz down. My wife and I did a very lovely waltz for the first dance at
our wedding. I really enjoyed it.
Then we can go into the swing. Everybody likes the East Coast swing.
Big band: you've got the horns, you've got all the brass playing, you've
got the Dick Tracy type. Give me a one, two, rockstep; one, two, rockstep;
one, two, rockstep; one, two, rockstep; one, two, rockstep; one, two,
rockstep; one, two, rockstep-very good. That's all you've got to do--be
able to find that rhythm. And I strongly encourage all of you to either
find a friend who may be involved in ballroom dancing or just look up your
local ballroom club. It's not that hard, you go in, like many other people
up here have said, like Lisamaria said. You talk to your instructor, let
your instructor know that "Hey, it's okay if you need to put my hand here,
or put my foot there." Let them know that you just might need a little
extra description. It's nothing we haven't done before; it's just a
different setting. And I promise you, if you've got the skills to get
yourself to the ballroom, you've got the skills to dance. So keep moving,
keep playing, find a ballroom, find a dojo, find a goalball club, find a
hiking trail, find a yoga club. It doesn't matter, just keep moving and
Natalie Shaheen: Are there activities, resources, or programs the
Federation could facilitate to empower blind people to be active in all
stages of life? How can we ensure that young blind children get connected
to active blind adults so that they know that they too can be active? I
hope you'll be in touch with your ideas. I hope you will take the
techniques that these active blind folks have shared with you today and
find a way to get moving. If you're looking for a way to stay active here
at convention while maintaining your commitments to the work at hand,
instead of having your next meeting at the coffee shop, consider taking
Nilofer's suggestion and have a walking meeting. Thank you.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Members of NFB Travel and Tourism Division and Disney cast
members posed in front of Cinderella's castle. Back row left to right:
Maureen, Margo Downey, Jo Taylor, Milt Taylor, Cheryl Echevarria, Nelson
Echevarria, Anahit Labarre, Greg. Front row: Nicole, Mark Jones, Catherine]
Experiencing the Magic
by Cheryl Echevarria and Margo Downey
>From the Editor: the NFB Travel and Tourism Division is not just about
leisure travel. The division works to achieve equality, opportunity, and
security for the blind in all things travel. They also work with people
wanting to go into the travel industry as either travel agents or those
wanting to work with places like Disney Corporation. The division has
monthly teleconference meetings at 8:00 PM eastern time. Check out
<http://www.nfbtravel.org> for more information. Here is what Cheryl and
Margo have to say:
A little over a year ago the president of the Travel and Tourism
Division got in touch with Mark Jones, manager of Domestic Services for
Guests with Disabilities for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. His job is all
about accessibility at all Disney parks: Walt Disney World in Orlando,
Florida; Disneyland in Anaheim, California; the Disney Cruise Lines and
their many international ports; the new Aulani Resort in Hawaii; and the
international Disney parks in Japan, France, and soon China. Cheryl had
Mark on the phone at one of our board meetings and interviewed him on her
radio show on the WTOE Network, <http://www.thruoureyes.org>, which airs
the first Wednesday of every month. Mark is a hearing child of deaf parents
whose brother is also deaf. On July 1, 2013, he gave officers of the NFB
Travel and Tourism Division an experience at Walt Disney World (WDW) that
brought to life the magic of the Magic Kingdom and demonstrated the kind of
respect for blind people that has too often been lacking in the amusement
park experiences we have had to chronicle in the pages of the Braille
The first thing we should explain is a few terms unique to Disney
that shape the entire experience. The employees at Disney are called "cast
members," no matter whether they're playing a princess or a janitor. When
you go to a Disney park, you are not a customer, you are a guest. The
difference is significant because a customer is someone you have to deal
with to make money, while a guest is someone you value and take care of.
Backstage is an area of the park not usually seen by guests, where
necessary tasks can be done without being visible, preserving the magic of
the park experience.
On July 1, Cheryl and Nelson Echevarria, Milt and Jo Taylor, Margo
Downey, and Anahit LaBarre headed out to experience a day of Disney magic.
We were joined by Mark Jones and three members of his team for people with
Disabilities: Greg, Nicole, and Maureen. These people are the ones who make
the changes and listen to our advice on what we need, and we were happy to
have them with us. After this day we are also happy to call them friends of
the National Federation of the Blind.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Cheryl, Margo, Milt, Jo, Anahit, and Mark stand at a bus
shelter at the Transportation and Ticket Center]
At 7:00 that morning those of us leaving from the hotel took a town
car from the Rosen Center to the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC), a
transportation hub just across the Seven Seas Lagoon from the Magic
Kingdom. As the town car took us onto Disney property, we passed many of
the Disney resorts and other properties, such as the kennels, firehouse,
medical emergency center, and ESPN Wide World of Sports resort. Walt Disney
World is not just the four parks, it is a large community encompassing
thirty-two resorts, two water parks, four theme parks, and more-which means
that it has the support industries that you would find in any normal town.
The TTC is the crossroads connecting many WDW journeys. You can take a boat
across the lagoon to the Magic Kingdom or one of the four Disney resorts
that also sit along its shores. The TTC is also where the two loops of the
iconic monorail system connect. One loop of the monorail serves three
resorts and the Magic Kingdom, while the other takes guests to EPCOT. There
are large parking lots for those who drive in from off-property, and this
is also the location of the lost and found office. We took a van from the
TTC to the Magic Kingdom, disembarking in a backstage area. They set up and
distributed the assistive technology devices (ATDs) we would use that day.
The ATD is slightly larger than an iPhone, with buttons at one end.
The buttons are different shapes, similar to those one would find on an NLS
player. There are two volume buttons, an audio menu with four arrows and a
center select button, a repeat last update button, and a help button. While
the ATD provides audio for the blind, the device also has a screen that can
be set up to provide closed captioning for the deaf. The ATD has an outdoor
feature and an attractions feature. The outdoor feature describes where one
is located as she walks through the park and will be updated soon to give
more specific information. The attractions feature describes the
attractions one is addressing. The audio menu gives more detailed
information. It can describe what foods the various restaurants serve,
where bathrooms are located, and other important details. At the moment
WGBH in Boston [a pioneer in descriptive video] has done the human-narrated
descriptions on these devices, but Disney is working to make items on the
audio menu use synthetic speech so that new text can be made available
immediately. WGBH will still handle things that change less frequently or
are less suited to synthetic speech. The ATD hangs around the neck on a
lanyard, and one can request either a single-piece or double-piece earphone
to use with it. Alternatively, you can bring your own earphone since the
ATD has a universal headphone jack.
To get an ATD at any of the WDW parks, customers with tickets go to
Guest Services, where a $25 deposit is collected and given back when the
unit is returned. Make sure that you test it before you leave Guest
Services to ensure it is programmed to provide the service required. Each
of the Disney Parks has Braille guide books, and they are working on
portable maps for visitors to take with them. For now each park has a large
tactile map on display near the entrance. The guide books and ATD devices
are park-specific, so, if you decide, for example, to leave Magic Kingdom
and go to EPCOT, you must turn in the ATD at Magic Kingdom and get a new
device at EPCOT. The Disney team is working on an option for guests staying
on-property so that you can have one device for the duration of your stay,
but there is currently no date when that option will become available.
Guide dogs are allowed at all the parks and resorts, as long as they
are on leash or harness at all times. Guests with service animals should
follow the same attraction entrance procedures as those with wheelchairs,
and, due to the nature of certain attractions, dogs may not be permitted to
ride. A member of the guest's party must remain with the dog or must ask a
cast member to put it in the portable kennel. This may take a few minutes
to arrange, and other riders may go ahead until the needed accommodations
are set up, but the intent is that guests with dog guides not be separated
from family and friends who have come to Disney to enjoy the experience
together. This is a new offering by the Disney parks for people with
service animals. While service animals are allowed in all areas, there are
issues a dog owner might wish to be aware of, such as cautions about roller
coasters or those where there are no straps or restraints that can be used
to secure a dog guide.
Dog relief areas are inside the parks, and Disney personnel will
gladly assist in finding them. They are boxes, much like the ones we have
at our national convention. Use common courtesy and follow normal
procedures for pickup; trash receptacles are located near the relief areas.
Disney policy also allows for dog relief in grassy areas of the parks.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Receiving instruction on ATDs backstage]
So, after all this lovely information about the park and the new
technology, you may wonder what we actually did at Magic Kingdom. We walked
from the backstage area into Tomorrowland. This was impressive. We were in
a quiet area, then there was a wall, and all of a sudden we heard the music
and sounds of Tomorrowland. It was amazing. The ATD first said
"Tomorrowland," then it gave us the option of listening to what is in that
area-Space Mountain, the Astro Orbiter, Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin,
Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor, Stitch's Great Escape, Tomorrowland Speedway,
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, or the Carousel of Progress
ride. The ATD also listed bathrooms, restaurants, and souvenir shops-quite
wonderful to hear it all.
[PHOTO CAPTION: The group walks from Tomorrowland towards Fantasyland]
From Tomorrowland we moved into Fantasyland, and again the ATD was
right on point. It said, "You have now entered Fantasyland." Fantasyland is
undergoing a major renovation that will double its size. Part of
Fantasyland reopened in early 2013, while other rides are still being
worked on and will open in 2014. We rode the new Ariel Under the Sea ride,
which tells the Little Mermaid story from the movie. Maxx (Cheryl's dog)
and Arrow (Margo's dog) rode all the rides with us. The description was
great, and we could hear it as well as the music and the sounds around us.
The dogs didn't mind the ride, even the slide backward under the sea and
the slide back upward to the surface again. There is no water, just the
description and feeling of being underwater, then back on top again.
We also rode the Hundred Acre Wood Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
ride, which is part of the original Fantasyland. The description was even
more detailed on this ride, and it was Maxx and Arrow's favorite. The ride
has a locking T-bar mechanism, and Disney wanted to test whether the dogs
would still fit comfortably on the floor after the bar was down to lock us
onto the ride. The dogs fit fine, and they didn't mind when we went
bouncing through the woods after Tigger. Arrow and Maxx were reluctant to
get out of the car; I think they wanted another round of that one.
We had our pictures taken with two of Cinderella's court and had
several photos taken of us by Cinderella's castle. We also met a very nice
princess, Tiana from The Princess and the Frog. Nelson Echevarria was our
photographer for the day, and these pictures will be available on our
website <http://nfbtravel.org> and our Facebook page, NFB Travel and
We then walked to Liberty Square to ride the Haunted Mansion. It's
worth mentioning that at Disney there are music and other auditory clues
that you can use as great landmarks for orientation. Liberty Square was
interesting because on one side you could hear the screams and ominous
music from the Haunted Mansion, and on the other side you heard the lively,
happy-go-lucky music of the riverboat ride in Frontierland. It was quite a
The description on the ATDs varied quite a bit for the Haunted
Mansion. Some people got the whole description, some got most of it, and
some were a long way into the ride before they got any information from it.
Greg and the staff promise to get this figured out and fixed. It was still
a lot of fun, and the dogs didn't get scared at all, even when the
hitchhiking ghosts sat with us hoping for a ride out. Of course this is the
Disney version of scary: it is for families, and it tells a story with some
laughs as well. We don't want to scare off any of those little ones that
want to go to Disney World in the future.
At the end of our adventure we watched part of a Main Street USA
parade and talked about our tour with the cast members. We were asked
whether an app would be better than the device so that people could bring
their own devices to use. We told the Disney folks that we think both are
good. Some people don't use iDevices, and some don't want to take the time
to learn to use an app but would rather use the ATD.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Disney World's Magic Kingdom and
felt welcomed and valued by Mark Jones and the other cast members. We thank
them for their efforts and for their eagerness to listen to our opinions.
Those thinking about traveling to any Disney park should check out
<http://allears.net>, an independent, unauthorized site that has lots of
information about the parks, including details about Disney resorts, park
hours, restaurant menus with prices, and much more.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Jim Marks]
Of Parallels and Justice
by Jim Marks
>From the Editor: Jim Marks is a longtime NFB leader from Montana. He works
as the administrator of the Disability Employment and Transitions Division
for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. On August
28, 2013, he circulated the following message to personnel in his
department. It provides perspective on our on-going struggle to outlaw
subminimum wages for disabled workers. He can be reached at
<firstname.lastname@example.org>. This is what he wrote:
"The legitimate purpose of society and its governments is not to
govern people and to promote the good life for them, but to empower them to
govern themselves and to provide the good life for themselves and their
fellow humans." -- Justin Dart
This is an update from me, Jim Marks, to the staff members of
Disability Employment and Transitions. Please let me know what you think.
The parallels between the civil rights movements of African Americans
and Americans with disabilities are astonishing. Today's anniversary and a
work of fiction reminded me of the similarities. The Help, which was
written by Kathryn Stockett in 2009 and later became a movie, tells the
fictional stories of African American housemaids working for middle-class
whites in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi. The maids work under segregation and
for subminimum wages, and their tales evoke powerful ideas and emotions.
One maid, referring to her white employer, said that her boss didn't
pick her life; it picked her. The maid coached her boss's daughter, who was
suffering from low self-esteem, to make a different decision by asking, "Am
I gonna believe all them bad things them fools say about me today?" This
means, in part, that the relationship between the oppressor and the
oppressed is stuck. To get unstuck, individuals have to re-define life in
non-oppressive, non-victimizing ways. Change occurs only when the victims
choose fairness and start living life under their own terms.
Segregation and subminimum wages are present-day realities for many
people with disabilities. It's more than something from the history books,
because it happens each day and in most of our communities on a consistent,
routine basis. Although segregation and subminimum wages are legal for
people with disabilities in the US, our country has been moving towards
integration and fair wages for decades. Recently the issue heated up, and
we appear to be approaching a tipping point.
To end the injustice, people with disabilities must take steps to
change what it means to have a disability. Fortunately, many are picking
their own lives. Momentum is building, and it's only a matter of time
before segregation and subminimum wages become part of the history books
for people with disabilities. Resistance to the change sought by African
Americans and people with disabilities is remarkably similar. Justification
for the segregation and subminimum wages cloaks itself in good intentions.
People say that such working conditions are in the best interests of the
workers. They talk about how people "choose" to work in separate
environments for less money because, although not perfect, the conditions
beat the alternative of unemployment. They claim that many workers prefer
the "protections" of the segregation and subminimum wages. They label the
situation as necessary and dismiss ideas of integration and equality as
dreams that might be realized in a distant future. They even go so far as
to claim that the situation is natural and cannot be helped.
Sheila Leigland from Great Falls is one Montanan with a disability who
is standing up and demanding change. She quit her job with Goodwill
Industries when the company dropped her hourly wage to $2.75. Sheila tells
her story to all who will listen, and many throughout Montana and the US
are paying attention. Many of us saw the NBC Rock Center broadcast and read
the Forbes magazine article on Sheila and others who, like the housemaids
from The Help, are re-framing their lives.
Today is the fifty-year anniversary of the March on Washington and the
delivery of Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech, "I Have a Dream." King said a
lot that day, but perhaps the most notable message was his outline of a
positive future of justice. We all need to keep our eyes on the prize so
that individuals and society improve. Recognizing where we were, where we
are, and where we are going are all essential elements of change.
Disability Employment and Transitions must pay attention to the
progress happening all around us. We cannot be at the lead of the advocacy
because we carry out social policy and do not create it. Our role is to
serve as a foundation and to build competitive integrated options as well
as informed choices for people with disabilities. With this understanding
we can, should, and will contribute by building opportunities for the
people we serve. That's our job.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Tom Allen addresses the 2013 national convention]
A Collaboration That Enhances Opportunity: The Association of American
Publishers and the National Federation of the Blind Change Possibilities
by Tom Allen
>From the Editor: Tom Allen is the president and the chief executive officer
of the American Association of Publishers (AAP). He is a former Congressman
and has worked cooperatively with us on a number of important initiatives.
Here is what he said to the convention of the National Federation of the
Blind on Saturday, July 6, 2013:
Thank you, Dr. Maurer. It is absolutely terrific to be here. I'm a
little overwhelmed by what I just heard from Ray Kurzweil. I don't know how
to follow that kind of speculation because my assignment is to talk about
the work that we're doing with the US Congress and with public policy
advocacy generally, which is a much slower road than Google's technology.
But I am delighted to be here at the NFB's 2013 national convention.
NFB's record of advocacy and accomplishment for its members is
absolutely remarkable, and your attendance here today reflects an admirable
commitment to public advocacy for the blind and print-disabled across this
country. I'm just awed by the range and diversity of speakers and programs
at this convention. This is simply a great learning opportunity, and I am
proud to be here.
Before I discuss the history of our AAP/NFB collaborations, I want to
explain the reasons why they take hard work and goodwill. NFB, I'm told,
has fifty-thousand members with some similar issues and some different
issues, and they have a variety of opinions. Well, the Association of
American Publishers has nearly three hundred publisher members, some very
large, some very small. They serve somewhat different markets or sometimes
both, and they compete with each other. They have different resources and
different business models. Most significantly, the antitrust laws bar them
from agreeing on common business practices. The AAP exists to serve the
book publishing industry's public policy interests. And I will say that
sometimes it's hard to separate them. Accessibility is one of those-
although we certainly do it and I think do it effectively. But, trust me,
it's not always easy to build consensus on those issues within our own
members at the AAP.
But what we've learned over the years is that it's better for NFB and
AAP to be in the same room, working together on our common challenges, and
that's why I'm proud to be here with you today. As I said, we have a long
history of working together, and, although not always able to resolve all
of our issues, we often collaborate with remarkable success. For example,
the Chaffee Amendment of 1996 was partly the product of our joint efforts.
Eight years later we worked together on the IDEA Amendments of 2004, which
accelerated the ability of K-12 students to get accessible instructional
materials. That legislation created the National Instructional Materials
Accessibility Standards-that's a mouthful, I know-the National
Instructional Materials Standards (NIMAS) to assure uniform standards of
accessibility for students with print disabilities. It also established
NIMAC, the repository or one-stop shop for maintaining accessible publisher
files, so that, when any school district in the country was searching for
an accessible file, it would have one place to turn to. AAP and NFB next
worked on the higher education amendments of 2008, which authorized the
creation of the AIM Commission-that's the Commission on Accessible
Instructional Materials-let's just say that that was a long and complicated
collaborative process between our organizations.
We have been working with your leadership-Dr. Maurer, John Pari, Mark
Riccobono, Lauren McLarney, Jim Gashel, and others-to develop proposed
legislation to implement the principal recommendations of the AIM
Commission. During the long and occasionally laborious commission process,
the major stakeholders (including NFB and AAP) agreed on the goal: that
publisher product should be available in the marketplace and accessible to
the blind and print-disabled when they come to the public at large. You
know the technological changes in reaching that goal have been significant,
but recent developments such as EPUB3 and HTML5 can bring accessible
products to market much faster than in the past. After lengthy negotiations
the AIM Commission produced a consensus report, which included the
recommendation that the US Access Board (a federal agency) should develop
guidelines to help all stakeholders understand when publisher products were
accessible. Out of that agreement has come the TEACH Act, which has been
drafted by AAP and NFB staff. We are working with members of Congress to
get that bill introduced, and that's a complicated process. We know that
this draft bill will undergo some inevitable changes to accommodate the
concerns of others. But I can tell you that, when I was walking-again-
through the halls of Congress (I spent twelve years there).... When I was
walking down to meet with Tom Petri of Wisconsin, it was good to be there
with Lauren McLarney and John Pari. It was good to be going in to members
of Congress together to make sure that we can ultimately get the result
that you need and we want.
There's always been some concern among publishers that accessible
products made available under Chaffee would somehow get out and be widely
available to the public who didn't have a burning need for those products.
But you know it's great news coming, and Ray just scratched the surface.
Jim Gashel's demonstration of the new Google product is an example that,
the sooner that accessible materials are readily available in the
marketplace, the sooner publishers will cease to worry about the diversion
of their materials to others without a special need. We have the same goal:
as soon as possible, make materials available and accessible to the print-
disabled when they are sold to the public at large. I was going to say,
before Jim's demonstration, that we have to work on all of those
manufacturers of eReaders because publisher materials can't be fully
accessible for you unless the devices on which you're looking at our
content are navigable by people with print disabilities. But there's good
progress being made there at Google, as Jim and Ray pointed out.
I want to talk briefly about our latest initiative, and this is
something we're really excited about. I mentioned the critical role of
digital formats in expanding accessibility. Many of you are probably
familiar with the EPUB format, now the standard for packaging, delivery,
conversion, and direct rendering (where enabled) for eBooks. The current
version of EPUB is now widely used in the trade or consumer eBook market
and is rapidly expanding across all markets. The potential of EPUB3, the
next generation, is much greater. It's designed for tablets and other
multimedia devices. Perhaps more important, it now robustly supports an
increased number of accessibility features. We're already seeing many
trade, scientific, technical, medical, and higher-education publishers
implementing EPUB3. But EPUB3 has a problem: it can't thrive in a vacuum.
It needs commitment to establishing it as the standard global distribution
format, especially one that provides greater access for persons with
disabilities. It needs momentum, it needs leadership, and the member
publishers of AAP have been striving to meet these needs.
For the past two years publishers have been working together in a
variety of ways to advance EPUB3. Great gains have already been made toward
a standard-based approach with publishers working in partnership with the
International Digital Publishing Forum, the DAISY Consortium, reading
systems developers, and retailers. Over the past few months we've begun
designing a new initiative to complete the transition to EPUB3. This effort
will identify the core set of EPUB3 baseline features for accessibility by
blind and print-disabled users and in turn encourage publisher and retail
support. To accomplish these goals we are forming a working group of
experts representing the disabilities community (including Anne Taylor of
NFB. [cheers] Thank you, Anne), publishers, eBook retailers, and reading
systems providers, with a target completion date of February 2014. This
team has set an ambitious three-part agenda. 1) It will develop baseline
accessibility requirements, define which accessibility features of EPUB3
are most critical to users (all of you) which can be provided by third
parties, and how to incorporate them into the eBook file for consistent
expression and functionality across multiple systems. 2) It will convene a
day-long workshop this fall for all stakeholders to develop a strategic
roadmap of actionable products to support these baseline requirements. 3)
We hope that AAP member publishers will have the ability to begin
introducing large numbers of accessible EPUB3 files starting in early 2014,
and we have a lot of publisher support toward that end.
If I can take the liberty of quoting the man sitting to my left, Dr.
Marc Maurer, here's what he said about this initiative: "The adoption of
EPUB3 will produce significant benefits for blind readers, including the
production of books that can be easily embossed or displayed in Braille and
which can include both text and audio. We are pleased that America's
publishers, as represented by the Association of American Publishers, are
making a firm commitment to this robust standard with a defined goal for
implementation. We look forward to working with the AAP and other
stakeholders to make a joyous future full of digital books that can be read
by everyone, including the blind, come true." Thank you, Dr. Maurer
[applause]. Dr. Maurer says he believes every word; I know he does.
So one more quotation from an important supporter, George Kerscher,
secretary general of the DAISY Consortium and president of IDPF, said: "The
DAISY Consortium and the International Digital Publishing Forum really
welcome this initiative. We are eager to assist in ensuring that we
optimize the reading experience for people (whether they read with their
eyes, ears, or fingers) and that publishers can easily deliver the really
exciting content that challenges the current generation of eBooks. From the
beginning the EPUB3 Standard has been engineered by the leading reading
accessibility experts in the world. The adoption of EPUB3 for all kinds of
publications will help drive this inclusive publishing initiative so that
publishers can maximize their potential audience, and everyone, especially
the blind and print-disabled, can enjoy them."
So why is this initiative important? Very simply, it will help create
a more efficient supply chain, one that will enable publishers to deliver
the same file to all accounts for the broadest possible distribution to
readers with all mainstream and assistive systems worldwide. It will bring
consistency in user experiences across retailers and devices, increase the
number of available titles in EPUB3, and enable greater interactivity.
That's a tall order, but the publisher support of EPUB3 and our commitment
to this initiative align with our dual roles both as content creators and
as technological innovators.
Let me finish by saying this: we do share common interests, and,
during this convention and beyond, the AAP and the NFB will continue
working together to shape public policies that move the country as rapidly
as possible to enjoy widespread availability of market products with
content, software, and hardware which are all accessible to people with
print disabilities. The work that we do together, beyond helping the
members of our two organizations, can expand opportunities for millions to
learn, to work, and grow to their full potential. That's a goal worth
fighting for. And we have learned from our past that we, AAP and NFB, are
better together. I do believe that's our future, too.
Thank you all very much; have a great convention.
The New Victor Reader Stream: In Many Ways Better Than the Original
by Curtis Chong
>From the Editor: Curtis Chong has been a member of the National Federation
of the Blind since 1969. He has worked in private industry, in an agency
for the blind, as the director of the NFB's International Braille and
Technology Center for the Blind, and now as the coordinator of independent
living technology for the New Mexico Commission for the Blind.
Although Curtis is probably best known for his work in computer
technology, he has a particular fascination with digital recorders and
players, including those specifically modified to meet the needs of the
blind and the specialized formats provided to us. Here is what he has to
say about the newly released Victor Stream:
On January 29, 2013, HumanWare announced the new Victor Reader
Stream, declaring it to be "smaller, smarter, and wireless." You can read
this announcement at
As a longtime user of the Victor Reader Stream (I have been using
this media player since its original release in 2007), I had been looking
forward to this announcement. After all, five years without a significant
hardware change is an eternity in a world where three months is considered
to be an Internet year. I was also concerned that HumanWare might choose to
forgo the development of a newer, more modern Victor Reader Stream because
of a misplaced belief that the majority of blind people would prefer to
read books and listen to music on the Apple iPhone (admittedly a very
accessible and sophisticated piece of technology that has gained wide
acceptance within the blind community). I, for one, am glad that HumanWare
has chosen to invest time, money, and effort in the development of a newer
Victor Reader Stream, and, as I hope to demonstrate in this article, the
new Stream is, overall, a definite improvement over its predecessor.
The physical hardware of the new Stream is definitely smaller and
more compact than the original. The keys and buttons on the new Stream are
in the same place as they were in the original, and there is an additional
button (to support Wi-Fi) just above the Number 2 key. The headphone jack
has been moved to the top edge of the unit, and the battery is now part of
the Stream's case. The speaker in the new Stream is quite a bit louder than
it was in the original unit. Finally, the USB port and the AC power jack
have been combined, and you can use the same cable to recharge the battery
or connect the Stream to a computer or external storage device.
Things That Haven't Changed
If you have a Victor Reader Stream and have mastered its many
features, you will be pleased to know that you won't have to learn much
more to use the new Stream. All of the Stream's functions are executed
exactly the same as they were in the original. You press the same buttons
to record and play back audio notes, change the speed, and traverse the
bookshelf. You use precisely the same folders on your SD card to hold
books, podcasts, music, and text files. You can update the Stream's
firmware using the same procedure as with the original Stream. The new
Stream continues to support downloading of described videos for authorized
subscribers to Serotek's System Access Mobile Network. Finally, the Stream
reads exactly the same type of books as its predecessor-including books
from Audible.com, the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically
Handicapped, and Bookshare.. "Well," you might ask, "if this is all true,
then why should I even bother buying a new Victor Reader Stream?"
Perhaps the most noticeable change in the new Victor Reader Stream is
the new text-to-speech engine, which uses the Acapela voices instead of
Nuance Vocalizer. People who are not happy with the Nuance Vocalizer text-
to-speech engine will probably find the Acapela voices more to their
liking. As with the original Stream, you can choose between a male or
female text-to-speech voice.
The new Victor Reader Stream now sports a clock. This is something
which a lot of Stream users have been asking for. You can interrupt the
playing of a song or the reading of a book and ask the Stream to tell you
the current time and date. However, this is not an alarm clock.
When recording a lecture or notes, you can now plug in a headset and
monitor the recording. The original Stream did not have this capability.
Also recordings can now be produced in the MP3 format without the need to
purchase additional features. You can now connect an external microphone to
the Victor Reader Stream and create a stereo recording; and you can
configure the stream to accept an in-line connection and record content
from another audio device.
Wi-Fi is arguably the most significant if not the most noticeable
enhancement provided in the new Victor Reader Stream. Wi-Fi requires the
user to have an Internet connection and a router or modem with active Wi-Fi
support. Through the Wi-Fi interface, Stream users can
. Update the Stream's firmware;
. Install the user authorization key to read digital Talking Books from
the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped;
. Download content from NFB-NEWSLINE.; and
. Search for and download DAISY books from Bookshare.
To download NFB-NEWSLINE and Bookshare content through the Wi-Fi
interface, the Stream user must be authorized to use these services, and
the Stream must be connected to a wireless network that it knows about. Wi-
Fi is easily enabled or disabled by pressing and holding a single button.
If Wi-Fi is on (disabling Airplane Mode), content from NFB-NEWSLINE is
automatically synchronized when the Stream is powered up. Books from
Bookshare are downloaded manually whenever the user requests Bookshare
content. Once downloaded, NFB-NEWSLINE and Bookshare content can be read
regardless of whether Wi-Fi is on or off.
Areas of Concern
In the interest of fairness I must point out two deficiencies that I
have encountered with the new Victor Reader Stream. While these
deficiencies do not detract from the Stream's ability to read books and
play music, they do affect the Stream's Notes recorder.
1. Longtime Stream users who have been accustomed to using the Notes
recorder to capture lectures or meetings will be disappointed to learn that
the new Stream's Notes recorder, as it now functions, is more suited to
recording personal notes than to large meetings. The sensitivity of the
built-in microphone is definitely less than the built-in microphone on the
original Stream. When I listen to the recorder using a pair of headphones,
I hear a constant tone in the background, which becomes a part of the
recording. You don't hear this tone in recordings made on the original
Stream. I don't know whether or not a simple firmware update of the Stream
will be enough to resolve this issue, but I do know that HumanWare is fully
aware of the problem.
2. The new Victor Reader Stream is supposed to be capable of recording
from an external stereo microphone. In my testing of this feature, I
discovered that the sensitivity of the external microphone was lower than
that necessary to produce a recording of acceptable quality. I used a
professional-quality stereo microphone on the new Stream and compared this
with a recording made using an Olympus digital recorder. While the Olympus
recorder produced a very good recording with this microphone, the recording
I got from the new Stream was too low in volume to be useful except as a
means of dictating a personal note into the Stream-something that is more
easily accomplished with the built-in microphone.
The new Victor Reader Stream continues the tradition established by
its predecessor. It excels as a player of audio and text media. Its
controls are easy to operate by touch-even for people with dexterity
issues. It has a very long battery life-more than ten hours of continuous
reading or playback. The potential of the Stream's Wi-Fi interface has just
begun to be explored. If you already own a Victor Reader Stream, you should
definitely give the new Stream a thorough examination and decide for
yourself whether or not to make the investment. I think you will find it
well worth your time and money.
Old-School Braille Needs Image Update
by Deborah Kendrick
>From the Editor: Deborah Kendrick is a member of the National Federation of
the Blind who lives in Ohio. She is a prolific writer whose articles appear
both in blindness-related publications and in the mainstream media. Much of
her work focuses on explaining blindness and the tools blind people use in
ways that are novel and dramatically different from what we too often see
in the public media. Here is one example of the artistry Deborah brings to
her work. It is reprinted with the permission of the author from the
Columbus Dispatch, June 30, 2013.
Who was Helen Keller? We know the answer, and yet the answer has
changed with time. Thursday marked the 133rd anniversary of her birth.
While most of us are familiar with the story of the miracle that occurred
when a little girl who was both deaf and blind suddenly grasped the power
of language, Helen Keller's image has transformed dramatically over the
Her only access to classroom lectures and textbooks was the relentless
interpreting of her teacher, spelling into Helen's hand. She graduated with
honors and became internationally known as an author, speaker, and
humanitarian, but her image was once a bit removed from regular people. She
was a phenomenon, yes, but society also viewed her as a kind of freak of
nature, a paragon untouched by the more common human needs.
Her image has changed-and for the better. Today we know that she was a
complex, multi-dimensional woman-not asexual or unaware of earthly matters,
but rather a feminist, a socialist, an advocate for disability rights-and a
flesh-and-blood woman whose one true romance was thwarted by her "handlers"
just short of her elopement.
You might say that, with time and more knowledge of her humanness,
Helen Keller has gone beyond legendary and remarkable; she has become cool.
This same transformation has occurred with our perceptions of other
disability trappings. American Sign Language (ASL), once perceived as that
odd business of a couple of people frantically, silently waving their hands
around in public, is now recognized by all immediately as just another way
of talking. Mothers teach it to their babies. Colleges and universities
offer it for credit. Most people think that to know at least a few words
and phrases in ASL is decidedly, yes, cool.
At the first-ever Braille Summit last week, a conference organized by
the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (a
division of the Library of Congress) and that same Perkins School, where
Helen Keller was a student, one hundred of the most passionate advocates
for Braille literacy from throughout the US, Canada, the United Kingdom,
and France gathered to talk about the future of literacy for people who
can't read conventional print.
The problem is of crisis proportions. Although we recently celebrated
the two hundredth birthday of the blind Frenchman who invented the tactile
system of reading and writing for blind people, only 10 percent of blind
people currently use it. Schools often assign a low, if any, priority in
lieu of teaching blind kids to use their ears to listen to recorded texts
and computerized voices. Adults losing sight consider it a badge of
failure, so they learn it only if they have the good fortune to find a
teacher who knows its value.
Without Braille a person who cannot effectively read or write print is
illiterate. Although employment rates for blind adults are deplorably low
(about 30 percent), 85 percent of those who are employed use Braille on the
"So how do we fix it?" was the question posed to those gathered at the
Watertown, Massachusetts, event. A solid list of solutions was developed, a
list for the Library of Congress staff and others to contemplate and try to
implement. But one of the leading suggestions was this: Braille needs a
better marketing campaign. It needs to be perceived as cool. For those of
us fortunate enough to use it, of course it's cool. Reading and writing and
language are recognized universally as keys to information, knowledge, and
success. Braille is just another literacy medium, a system of dots rather
than lines and squiggles. You see it on elevator panels and restroom doors.
Why not look it up in the encyclopedia and puzzle out those numbers and
letters? Teach it to your children and grandchildren. It can be a fun tool
for writing secret messages. That's how it began, after all. Nineteenth-
century French military developed "night writing" as a way for soldiers to
relay messages after dark. One of them shared it with a school for the
blind; young Louis Braille got his hands on it and turned it into a system
that could convey to the fingertips any text ever written.
Every word I've ever written was read by me in Braille. It's not
quirky or complicated or obsolete. It's just literacy-and that is 100
percent cool. Like Helen Keller and American Sign Language before it,
Braille needs to be seen in a more positive light; it needs an image
Deborah Kendrick is a Cincinnati writer and advocate for people with
disabilities. You may contact her by writing to <email@example.com>.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Dr. C. Edwin Vaughan]
Dr. Jacob Bolotin-the California Connection
by C. Edwin Vaughan
>From the Editor: Dr. C. Edwin Vaughan is a retired professor of sociology
from the University of Missouri--Columbia. He has authored several books
and articles on blindness but now spends his time trying to build and
strengthen his chapter and affiliate. Here is what he says about the Dr.
Jacob Bolotin Awards presented annually at the convention of the National
Federation of the Blind:
The first Dr. Jacob Bolotin awards were presented at the 2008
convention of the National Federation of the Blind. Six awards totaling
$100,000 were presented to organizations and individuals for their
outstanding contributions to the well-being of blind people. Most of us at
that convention did not know about Jacob Bolotin before the appearance of
his biography, The Blind Doctor. His is a remarkable story, the more so
because it was an earlier time in the struggle of blind people to find jobs
and to participate in the wider community.
Jacob was born into a low-income Jewish family in Chicago in 1890. He
was the last of six children. He, his brother, and one sister were all born
blind. By age four he had demonstrated remarkable intelligence and
determination. After one year of public school he and his brother Fred were
sent to the Illinois School for the Blind at Jackson, Illinois, where he
lived from age five until his high school graduation. He was class
After high school he encountered the usual problem-no employment
opportunity. He began by selling pencils door to door, and moved up to
selling brushes and later typewriters. During his successful time as the
leading seller of typewriters in the Midwest, he developed a deep passion
for becoming a physician. He saved money sufficient for one year's tuition
at medical school. He was admitted, and his biography describes the many
ways he overcame challenges while on route to earning the highest marks in
his graduating class. His accomplishments occurred before tape recorders
and the many electronic devices we now take for granted. He achieved this
before any federal rehabilitation programs, long white canes, guide dog
schools, or the National Federation of the Blind.
Bolotin had to volunteer his medical work in tuberculosis clinics
because he could obtain no medical position. For an entire year no patients
came to his office, and he continued to sell brushes at night to support
himself. He would not give up on his dream of becoming a successful
physician. Gradually his abilities were recognized, and he became a
specialist in diagnosing tuberculosis and other heart and lung disorders.
He was widely sought as a consulting physician and a public speaker. In
addition to teaching at three medical schools in Chicago, he was invited to
speak at hundreds of college graduations, Kiwanis and other civic
organization meetings, and medical society conventions. At the expense of
his health he accepted these public opportunities to help the public
understand the obstacles that blind people and poor people in general face
as they seek employment and other opportunities.
He was invited to speak at the International Kiwanis Convention in
Toronto in 1922. He particularly enjoyed the steamship trip from Chicago to
Toronto, relishing the new experiences of ocean-like waves and the smells
and sounds of a ship passing through large bodies of water. While en route
he tried writing poetry. It wasn't great, but many of us can identify with
the problems he described:
Kiwanis says, "We build!"
Kiwanians will never shirk.
The blind man wants to help,
But the public won't let him work.
It's up to you, Kiwanians,
Don't sympathize or sob.
Just put your shoulder to the wheel,
And find the blind a job.
More than money, more than fame,
Will be to me the day,
When every sightless, jobless man
Will draw his first week's pay.
Jacob Bolotin's greatest talents were not in poetry. However, it
appears that he enjoyed expressing some of his philosophy and sentiments in
I Do The Best I Can
I don't always find things easy,
And many times I foil,
When the wind's too strong one way,
I simply change my soil.
When sorrow strikes or bad luck hits,
I do the best I can,
And when I win the battle,
I'm a stronger, better man.
One of his favorite projects was his effort to develop and lead a Boy
Scout troop for blind youth. He led Troop 300, and, as his health began to
fail, he asked his brother Fred to take over troop leadership. Fred was
also blind, and he led the troop for over twenty years after Jacob's death.
Jacob could not turn down the large number of speaking requests
because they gave him a chance to talk about the difficulties confronting
blind people and the difficulties faced by children living in poverty. He
gave enormous amounts of energy, sometimes around the clock service, to
helping patients during the influenza epidemic of 1919. His demanding work
schedule as physician; his work as lecturer in three different medical
schools; his work in many public organizations, including his Boy Scout
troop; and his extensive public speaking schedule gradually took its toll
on his health. After an illness lasting several months, he died peacefully
on April 1, 1924. His funeral was attended by more than five thousand
people in Chicago, and his life was celebrated in newspapers nationwide.
The Bolotins had no children of their own. Helen's widowed sister and
her son Alfred Perlman moved in with the Bolotins during the last four
years of Jacob's life. Alfred, himself a teenager, became a frequent
companion and reader for Dr. Bolotin. Later Alfred Perlman married
Rosalind, who in her late years became the author of the book The Blind
Doctor, published by Blue Point Books in 2007.
After Alfred Perlman returned from serving overseas in World War II,
the couple moved from Chicago to Santa Maria, California, where Alfred
taught high school. Rosalind taught speech and drama at Hancock College for
the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts. She became a journalist,
writing columns for the Santa Maria Times.
Rosalind and Alfred always dreamed of writing a book about Dr. Bolotin
to share the story of this amazing man who had devoted the last third of
his short life to changing society's perception of what a blind person
could do. Based on Alfred's vivid memories, those of his Aunt Helen, other
friends and family members, as well as media clippings, photos, and other
documents, Rosalind wrote many drafts of the book before her husband died
in 2001. After Alfred's death, she devoted the rest of her life to making
sure the book was completed. Rosalind died in 2004.
The Perlman estate was given in a trust to the Santa Barbara
Foundation. The trust, through this foundation, makes annual awards to
individuals and organizations that significantly contribute to enriching
the lives of blind people.
The Santa Barbara Foundation is one of the oldest and largest of the
more than 700 community foundations in the United States. It is Santa
Barbara County's largest private source of funding for nonprofit agencies,
having awarded $23 million to area nonprofits and $2.3 million to area
students in 2006.
From the Santa Barbara Foundation's website, you can learn much more
about Rosalind Perlman's life and her contribution to the Santa Barbara
The final paragraph below, taken from the Santa Barbara Foundation
website, summarizes Rosalind Perlman's trust:
Rosalind accomplished much, but toward the end of her life one thing
remained unfinished: honoring the accomplishments of her husband's uncle,
Dr. Jacob Bolotin. Born in Chicago in 1888, totally penniless and
completely blind, Dr. Bolotin fought his way into medical school and
graduated with honors in 1912, becoming the world's first and only blind
physician fully licensed to practice medicine. Rosalind had searched for
some time for a "well-established, highly respected organization" to
present an annual award, the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for the Blind, which
would be given to a visually impaired man or woman who has made a
significant impact within the blind community, who has done extraordinary
things for others. The Santa Barbara Foundation came to her aid. Rosalind
left a $1 million bequest in the name of the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman
Trust. The Foundation worked with the National Federation of the Blind to
formulate the award <https://nfb.org/bolotin-award-main> and to produce her
book on Dr. Bolotin's life.
Giving a Dream
One of the great satisfactions in life is having the opportunity to
assist others. Consider making a gift to the National Federation of the
Blind to continue turning our dreams into reality. A gift to the NFB is not
merely a donation to an organization; it provides resources that will
directly ensure a brighter future for all blind people.
Seize the Future
The National Federation of the Blind has special giving opportunities
that will benefit the giver as well as the NFB. Of course the largest
benefit to the donor is the satisfaction of knowing that the gift is
leaving a legacy of opportunity. However, gifts may be structured to
. Helping the NFB fulfill its mission
. Realizing income tax savings through a charitable deduction
. Making capital gain tax savings on contributions of appreciated assets
. Providing retained payments for the life of a donor or beneficiary
. Eliminating or lowering the federal estate tax in certain situations
. Reducing estate settlement costs
NFB programs are dynamic:
. Making the study of science and math a real possibility for blind
. Providing hope for seniors losing vision
. Promoting state and local programs to help blind people become first-
. Educating the public about blind people's true potential
. Advancing technology helpful to the blind
. Creating a state-of-the-art library on blindness
. Training and inspiring professionals working with the blind
. Providing critical information to parents of blind children
. Mentoring blind job seekers
Your gift makes you a partner in the NFB dream. For further
information or assistance, contact the NFB planned giving officer.
When Santa Lost His Eyesight
by Alex Castillo
>From the Editor: Alex Castillo is a disability advocate from New York City.
He has been a past president of the NFB's New York student division and has
participated in and led multiple events for students with disabilities in
New York. After graduating from Hunter College with a BA in political
science and psychology, he left city life to attend the Louisiana Center
for the Blind in Ruston, where he discovered a love for crawfish and
po'boys. He later moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, and worked for the Nebraska
Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired as a resource and
orientation counselor. It was while he was in Nebraska that he wrote this
article for the blog of the Nebraska Commission for the Blind. Alex now
lives in Washington DC, where he plans to attend graduate school and
continue to contribute to the NFB through our affiliate in the District of
Columbia. Here is his story, based on a play written by Jerry Whittle:
Most people know about Santa Claus. He's the jolly old fellow who,
along with a team of flying reindeer and tireless elves, works year round
so that on one night out of every year they can bring presents to children
and adults all over the world. What many people are not aware of is that
one year Santa began noticing that his vision was not what it used to be.
Of course he did not want to admit it to himself, but driving that sleigh
at night and being up there in the sky with all of those airplanes zooming
by made him feel quite unsafe. It was no surprise when gossip at the North
Pole had it that Santa had gone blind and that he was quitting the
holidays. He became depressed, and without his work he lost his sense of
purpose in life. The man was a sad mess.
One holiday night everything started going downhill and just got
worse and worse. The naughty and nice lists were becoming a blur, and he
handed out the wrong toys to more than one billion children. I know what
you may be thinking at this moment: if Santa had gone blind, you would
surely have heard about it. I'm not saying this is all true, but was there
one year in which you received absolutely the most unlikely gift ever?
Well, if the answer is yes, then this story might make a little sense.
After getting home that night, Santa could do little more than lock himself
up in his office at the toy factory. No matter how hard everyone tried to
cheer him up, he could do absolutely nothing for a very long time.
This is the story I heard last year when I was visiting friends in
Ruston, Louisiana. They say that, a year after he had lost his vision,
Santa came down there to receive training at their blindness center. "He
could barely even see Rudolph's nose," they said, "He had lost about
seventy-five pounds when he first arrived and wouldn't even touch a
cookie." "He'd get real close to ya when he was talking," they would all
whisper, "Couldn't tell north from south even if he was holding a compass,
bless his heart."
Apparently the entire town knew about this phenomenon. So well known
was the story down there that a writer by the name of Jerry Whittle wrote a
play about the whole ordeal, and everyone in town came to see the
production. When I asked how come Santa didn't choose Nebraska to come and
train-after all, we have an awesome center right here, and it would seem
the rational choice with all the snow, howling winds, and freezing weather
we get-the answer I received was: "Well, Nebraska? With all that snow up
there, he'd be recognized in a heartbeat if he stepped outside dressed all
in red in his Husker gear. Down here he's just another blind guy with a
The more I thought about the story, about this blind and depressed
Santa Claus, the more sense it made. Often, when people start to lose their
eyesight, they feel ashamed and even worthless. People find themselves
helplessly transformed from productive and contributing members of their
families and communities to people who just sit passively, watching life
and everyone else pass them by. We often confuse the inability to do with
the inability to see, when all that it takes for us to get back into our
routine, or even find a more exciting and challenging one, is simply to
understand that with some blindness training many doors open up with the
promise of opportunity. No training center can create Santa Claus, but a
good one can help Santa figure out how he can do his job as a respectable
blind person-nonvisually. As I recall, the play ended with Santa making the
decision to keep the toy factories open and to stay in his job-something
for which the world continues to be grateful. He arrived at the North Pole
to continue his yearly duties, with some new blindness skills and
alternatives. It was truly a happy ending.
But the people in Ruston tell a different story. They say that he
didn't go back to the North Pole right away. "Oh, he had some trouble with
the training," they said. "At first he was always lifting those
sleepshades. They said he would use the excuse of being overheated to lift
them and peek during every class. He didn't like travel very much," they
said. "Oh, Santa, Santa! You would see him just hiding when it was time for
travel class." But what surprised me the most was when they told me, "The
first time Santa stepped into the wood shop and heard those live blades
running, he almost fainted." One would think that someone who has been
working with factory machinery his whole life would be able to handle an
As time went by, Santa settled into the Center and became an
excellent student. But after training he didn't go back to the North Pole
right away. First he wanted to try out a new career, so he went to work at
this Cajun restaurant in the next town as a cook. During training Santa had
discovered that he had let Mrs. Claus do all the cooking their entire
marriage, but he was surprised to learn that he actually enjoyed working in
the kitchen. "Could you imagine that," they said, "Santa a cook in a Cajun
restaurant?" I suppose he just felt like he wanted some independence. Like
many people after they finish blindness training, he must have felt a bit
rebellious and must have wanted to prove to anyone that he could go far
beyond the common expectations for a blind person. It wasn't until the
missus threatened to come and get him that he decided to go back up north.
Sometimes the path to independence isn't obvious and clear.
Sometimes, like Santa, we need to figure ourselves out, and this takes a
little while. Sometimes blindness gives us an opportunity to learn and make
decisions that vary greatly from our past and that we would never have
thought possible if we hadn't lost our eyesight. Sometimes we just get a
stronger sense of who we are. But the first step toward independence and
starting your life or getting it back is recognizing when it's time to
receive training and then going through that training in a program that
will allow you to fully realize that you are a person worthy and deserving
of respect. After all, this is your life, and you live through your
As for Santa, you can decide to believe this story or not, but the
children and grownups are still receiving presents on time and without any
strange mix-ups. Polls show that he's been doing a better job year after
year. And just the other day I read a review about some new restaurant
opening up at the North Pole which specializes in Southern cuisine.
This month's recipes come from members of the National Federation of the
Blind of Montana.
Chicken, Broccoli, and Cheddar Cheese Casserole
by Joy Breslauer
Joy Breslauer married into the Federation in 1997; her husband Bruce has
been a member since 1974. He is an O&M specialist and regional manager of
the Great Falls office of Blind and Low Vision Services, and she is a
customer service representative for National Electronic Warranty. They have
two grown children, five grandchildren, and two guide dogs.
4 chicken breasts or at least 4 cups diced cooked chicken
1 large bunch fresh broccoli or 2 packages frozen broccoli florets or
1/2 brick (2 cups) cheddar cheese, shredded
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup white wine, optional
Method: Steam broccoli until tender crisp; drain and set aside. Boil
uncooked chicken for twenty minutes; drain and set aside. Cut steamed
broccoli and cooked chicken into bite-size pieces. In saucepan heat soup,
mayonnaise, and wine, stirring to combine. In 13-by-9-inch baking dish
layer a third of the sauce, half the chicken, half the broccoli, half the
cheese, half the remaining sauce, chicken, broccoli, remaining sauce, and
remaining cheese on top. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for twenty to thirty
minutes or until heated through and sauce is bubbly. Serves six to eight.
[PHOTO CAPTION: George Kerscher]
George's Goulash Soup
by George Kerscher
George Kerscher is in his fourth year on the Guide Dogs for the Blind board
of directors. He works on establishing standards in the digital publishing
industry. He is secretary general of the DAISY Consortium, is president of
the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), and serves on the
National Museum and Library Services (IMLS) board. He is employed by
Learning Ally, a national nonprofit providing services to students in the
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed
3 to 4 pounds stew meat, cut into sugar-cube-size chunks, or smaller
1 large onion or equivalent amount of leek
2 16-ounce cans of beef stock (can substitute bouillon cubes and water)
1 16-ounce can of tomato sauce
1 16-ounce can of crushed, stewed, or whole tomatoes (if whole, chop)
2 tablespoons paprika
Lots of pepper (1/2 tablespoon)
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
6 medium carrots, cut into sugar-cube-size chunks or smaller
4 medium potatoes, cut into sugar-cube-size chunks or smaller
2 cups frozen peas
Up to 1/2 cup barley, optional (if used, reduce the amount of potatoes)
Up to 1/2 cup potato flakes, optional (use to thicken if desired, other
thickening--flour or cornstarch--is OK)
Method: In large pot heat vegetable oil and crushed garlic over high
heat. When the garlic is fragrant, add onion or leek, followed by meat.
Brown and simmer for ten to twenty minutes, stirring often. Add beef stock,
tomatoes, tomato sauce, paprika, pepper, and barley, if desired, and simmer
for at least an hour over low heat. The mixture should be on a low simmer.
Add carrots, and simmer for an hour on low. Add potatoes and simmer for
another hour (potatoes need a higher temperature to cook). Add peas and
simmer for thirty minutes or until potatoes, carrots, and peas are soft and
perfect. Thicken with potato flakes or other thickening agent. Serve with
freshly baked bread or rolls. Sour cream may be added at the table.
Split Pea Soup
by Jim Aldrich
Jim Aldrich is the new president of the NFB of Montana.
1 1-pound package split peas
1 pound carrots
2 packages of cubed ham or one package of ham hocks
1 large can chicken broth
1 onion, cut into bite-sized pieces
Method: Combine all ingredients in a Crock Pot and cook on high for
four to five hours. Remove ham hock and dice meat, discarding fat. Return
meat to pot. Soup will get thick; keep cooking it till it is of desired
thickness. It is delicious.
by Joy Breslauer
1 16-ounce can refried beans (I like the ones with diced green chilies.)
1 tablespoon taco seasoning mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup thick and chunky salsa
1 cup shredded lettuce
1 cup finely shredded Mexican 4-cheese blend
4 green onions, sliced
2 tablespoons sliced black olives
Tortilla chips for dipping
Method: Stir together refried beans and taco seasoning mix; spread
mixture in bottom of a shallow pie pan or quiche dish. Spread sour cream
evenly over beans. Spoon on a layer of thick and chunky salsa. Sprinkle on
a layer of shredded lettuce, then a layer of shredded cheese. Sprinkle on
sliced green onions and sliced black olives.
Refrigerate several hours or overnight--the longer the better. Serve with
tortilla chips for dipping.
Easy Clam Dip
by Joy Breslauer
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cans minced clams
Method: Open cans of minced clams and drain juice; reserve. Stir clam
juice slowly into cream cheese till smooth and of dipping consistency. This
should take a little less than half the juice. Stir in minced clams. Cover
and refrigerate several hours--the longer the better. The colder the dip
is, the thicker it will be. Serve with chips or vegetables for dipping.
This is a family favorite for holidays.
News from the Federation Family
Bid for Equality:
Our Bid for Equality online auction is fast approaching. If you have
not already done so, please visit <http://www.biddingforgood.com/> to pre-
register. Pre-registering on
to bid as soon as the auction goes live. To preview our exciting donations
prior to the auction, please visit our auction homepage at
<http://www.biddingforgood.com/bid-for-equality>. You can even add items to
your cart to access them easily at a later time. Don't miss this
opportunity to show the special people in your life that you care, while
supporting the work of the NFB at the same time.
If you're looking for a special getaway, we have vacation packages to
Puerto Rico, South Carolina, and Illinois, just to name a few. If you're
looking for a unique experience, we have a Nevada helicopter tour and a
Wisconsin boat tour. Moreover, we also have several exciting state-specific
gift baskets and restaurant gift cards from which to choose. We truly have
something for everyone.
In order for the auction to reach its full potential, we need your
help. Inform your network of friends, family, and acquaintances of our Bid
for Equality online auction, beginning on Black Friday, November 29, 2013,
and concluding on Giving Tuesday, December 3, 2013, and encourage them to
register and participate. The Future is in Your Bid. We appreciate your
ThruOurEyes Programming Guide:
The Northeast Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of New
Jersey established Thruoureyes on March 25, 2005. With hundreds of
interviews conducted and thousands of podcasts and archives of the
interviews available, we are making a difference. The baseball season has
ended; however, you can still get the best sluggers on our WTOE radio.
WTOERadio/TV, at <www.thruoureyes.org>, is proud to announce its NFB
Wednesday night line-up. WTOERadio/TV has scheduled a series of broadcasts
not to be missed, so mark your calendar and tune in for its NFB live
streamcast each Wednesday night at 8:00 PM eastern time.
Here is the line-up of our NFB sluggers:
Leading off the first Wednesday night of each month is the Echevarria
Cheryl Echevarria and her guests share ideas and techniques to help blind
and visually impaired people travel more effectively. This show will help
you to travel more safely and often. Please remember to return each month
to learn more from Cheryl.
On the Bright Side hits the ball out of the park on the second Wednesday
night of each month with the effervescent banter of co-hosts Jane
Degenshein and Jerry Moreno. If you are looking for a pick-me-up or just
some good old fashioned encouragement, motivation, and inspiration, simply
tune in for this spirited and uplifting broadcast. This is good stuff with
personal stories, anecdotes, trips down memory lane, tech tips, and a book
corner to boot. Lots of laughs. Very funny. And special guests pinch hit in
key situations--not to be missed.
Next in the NFB power line-up on the third Wednesday night of each month is
Thruoureyes with member of the NFB board of directors and New Jersey
affiliate President Joe Ruffalo serving as program anchor. Joe provides
insight into pressing issues and concerns of the NFB, engaging national
guests with expertise in subjects most important to the blind and visually
impaired. Given the direct impact and benefit to you and your well-being,
these broadcasts need to be marked as a high priority on your monthly
Batting clean-up on the fourth Wednesday night of each month is the
offering Looking Good without Looking, hosted by Linda Zani Thomas and
Johanna Baccan MD (Makeup Diva). Do blind folks really care about how they
look? You bet we do. And this show provides expert advice on beauty, style,
and current fashion trends modeled on the system created by fashion diva
Linda Zani Thomas, producer of the fashion show conducted at the NFBNJ
state convention, which featured sixteen blind or visually impaired models.
If you want to feel good, look good. Be there every month with Linda and
About WTOERadio Network programming
The WTOERadio/TV Network supports broadcasts devoted to entertainment,
education, and health issues tailored to the needs of the blind and
visually impaired. A loyal and vibrant community of sighted people find
value in this programming as well.
Following are various options for accessing and listening live to
. No Internet is required; just use your phone and dial (347) 215-7037.
Toll charges may apply.
. With Internet access for live or previous shows: <www.thruoureyes.org>.
. For JAWS and other screen-reader users: <http://m.thruoureyes.org>.
. To watch LIVE shows, go to
. To listen to archived audio podcasts, click or enter on the listen
. To get the audio only or to watch video of past shows, go a bit further
down the page for the view, and click or enter there for audio and video.
. To phone in with a suggestion, a comment, or just a shout-out, call toll-
free (888) 572-0141.
We look forward to having you join us live, but, if you can't listen
or view as programming airs, you can subscribe to the podcasts by the
following links: subscribe to audio podcasts:
<http://www.thruoureyes.org/podcasts/WTOERadio.xml>. Subscribe to video
podcasts at <http://vzaar.com/users/wtoe/podcast.rss>. Happy listening and
Syracuse Chapter Election:
The Syracuse chapter of the NFB of New York held elections at its
September meeting, and here are the results: president, Lucy Marr; vice
president, Melissa Thomas; secretary, Don Marr; and treasurer, Linda Webb.
Bloomington/Normal Chapter Election:
On September 13, 2013, the newly organized Bloomington/Normal chapter
of the NFB of Illinois was organized. Elected to serve as its chapter
officers are the following: president, Cary Supalo; vice president, Charles
Smith; secretary, Courtney Hummel; treasurer, Janet Shobe-Smith; and board
member, James Dunnington.
The National Federation of the Blind of Iowa held its annual state
convention over the weekend of October 4 to 6 at the Adventure Land Inn in
Altoona. It was a real treat to spend the weekend with Dr. and Mrs. Maurer.
The Federation spirit is definitely alive and well in Iowa. Our very first
Diabetes Action Network and At Large Chapter annual meetings were held and
were a real hit.
The following people were elected to two-year board positions: Karen
Clayton, Eugene Kleinow, Cindy Ray, and Sandi Ryan. David Hammel was
elected to serve the remaining year as treasurer to fill the vacancy
created by the resignation of our previous treasurer, who found a different
job in New Mexico.
On September 24 we received the following notice from Kathy Beachem of
the Office of the Commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Human
I am pleased to announce the appointment of Daniel Frye as the new
executive director of DHS's Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired
(CBVI). He will start on October 21, 2013. Daniel will fill the vacancy
created by Vito DeSantis' retirement last June.
Daniel comes to us from Maryland, where he served as a management and
program specialist with the Rehabilitation Services Administration with the
US Department of Education. There he was responsible for the national
administration of the federal Randolph-Sheppard program and the Helen
Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youth and Adults.
Prior to his employment with the US Department of Education, Daniel served
in successive management positions on the national staff of the National
Federation of the Blind and as national advocate for the Association of
Blind Citizens of New Zealand.
Daniel earned his juris doctorate at the University of Washington
School of Law and his bachelor of arts degree at Erskine College in South
Carolina. He is a certified mediator and has authored several publications
New Email Group for Beading Enthusiasts:
BeadingInTheDark is a new email group formed to discuss beading
techniques, projects, supplies, and all things beading from a blindness
perspective. Our primary focus is making beaded jewelry, but other beading
projects are welcome for discussion. To subscribe, visit
For more information contact Lucy at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Earning Money Online:
My name is Marcia Baran. I'm looking for a way to earn some extra
money online. I don't want to start a business. I have explored survey
sites, and they are not blind accessible. Any suggestions are welcomed at
<email@example.com>. My cell phone number is (860) 997-2234.
James Brown, president of the NFB of Tennessee, reports that he
traveled to Johnson City in August to establish the Northeast Chapter of
that affiliate. They had a good mix of parents, blind children, teachers,
and blind and sighted people at the first meeting, and they have already
planned their first fundraiser to take place during Meet the Blind Month.
Randy "Rooster" Atkins is the new president. Congratulations to the new
chapter and to the Tennessee affiliate.
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor
readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we
have edited only for space and clarity.
New TSA Procedures at Airports:
Travel and Tourism Division President Cheryl Echevarria passes along
the following information:
People who travel with dog guides or who have external medical devices
they must take through security are often asked to step to the side after
going through security, and their hands are checked for residue used in
making weapons and bombs. We do not know why this is triggered by the use
of dog guides, but we do know it applies to anyone traveling with pets and
anyone who brings an external medical device through security. Cheryl notes
that there is nothing here that singles out the blind.
Seedlings Braille Books for Children's 2014 Catalog Now Available:
Seedlings is excited to announce that its 2014 catalog is now
available, and fifty new book titles have been added, along with a new
The new book list includes everything from Animal Noises (a print-
Braille picture book for toddlers) to Hunger Games Book 2: Catching Fire (a
500+ page Braille fiction book for young adults). The new books are listed
on its website at <www.seedlings.org> and are ready to be ordered today.
Seedlings is also featuring the Chunky Shapes Puzzle with Braille by
Melissa & Doug for just $9. Children can learn their shapes by playing with
these fun, chunky puzzle pieces and by reading the names of the shapes that
are printed on the board in print and Braille. The uncontracted Braille is
laser-cut into the wood. Visit its website at <www.seedlings.org> and click
on the "What's New" section!
If you would like to receive a print copy of the 2014 Seedlings
catalog in the mail, please send your name and address to:
<firstname.lastname@example.org> or call: 800-777-8552, or you can download the text
file version from the website at: <www.seedlings.org>.
2013 Book Angel Program-Register Now:
Seedlings' Book Angel Program is open to visually impaired children
who live in the US and Canada, and through this program each child can
receive two free Seedlings books each year (you list four books from our
catalog, and we will send two of them).
If you haven't registered yet in 2013, please visit Seedlings'
website at: <www.seedlings.org/special.php> and click on "Book Angel
Seedlings Braille Books for Children is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit
organization dedicated to increasing the opportunity for literacy by
providing high-quality, low-cost children's literature in Braille.
Volunteers, grants, and donations make it possible for us to offer our
books at a fraction of the production costs, and prices have not been
raised for over twenty-five years.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass
along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the
accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
New Voice-Command Internet Service:
Imagine accessing the Internet without a computer, when you are on
the go, stuck in traffic, or just away from your computer. Sounds like
science fiction? Not anymore, using InternetSpeech's netECHO., the only
voice Internet service to give you access to the entire web, no computer
needed. You can surf any website, listen and respond to your email, search
any word, listen to music, and much more. Pretty much anything that you can
do on a computer with a visual browser can now be done with any phone and
your own voice. If you have a phone, you have access to the Internet, no
computer needed. InternetSpeech brings Internet to you using the most
natural user interface, your voice, and the most ubiquitous device, a
simple phone, effectively bridging the digital and language divides.
Each plan starts with a one-time set-up fee of twenty dollars. Plan A
gives you unlimited use for fourteen dollars per month. You simply call a
toll number in the 408 area code. Plan B gives you five hours of use for
$23 per month, five cents per minute for additional minutes (in the US and
Canada), and you call a toll-free number to use the service. Plan C gives
you unlimited use, and you call a toll-free number (in the US and Canada)
for seventy-five dollars per month. Streaming audio is $6 extra.
For more information check out our website at
<http://www.internetspeach.com>. To learn more or sign up, call (877) 231-
9286 or (408) 532-8460.
I am selling my Aladdin Personal Reader for $500 plus shipping costs,
though I would be willing to negotiate a little on the price. It is an
older model I bought for $1,795 new, but I have had it totally refurbished
at considerable cost. The color settings on it are full color high
contrast, full color photo mode, yellow on blue, green on black, amber on
black, and white on black high contrast negative. It has a 14-inch screen.
Contact me by phone at (631) 473-7194, or by email at
I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National
Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for
the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to
abide by its constitution.
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