Vol. 57, No. 10 November 2014
Gary Wunder, Editor
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Vol. 57, No. 10 November 2014
Illustration: Pre-K at Play
Heritage for the Blind Ads for Car Donations Raise BBB Concerns
The Blind Gun Designer: The Genius of Mikhail Margolin
by Greg Trapp
Fred Gissoni Dies
by Gary Wunder
Fred Gissoni: A Man of Change
by Larry Skutchan
What is the Cost of a Free Product?
by Tim Connell
Improving Disability Employment: A Pathway to Success for Employers and Workers
by Patricia Shiu
Reflections of a White Cane Guy
by David Cohen
Bringing Our Animals to the Zoo
by Marion Gwizdala
NFB’s iOS Resolution: Some Perspective and Context
by Jonathan Mosen
Advice to the Rookies from a Rookie
by Jamie Allison
by Daniel B. Frye
Coming to See the Unfairness of Paying Less than the Minimum Wage
by Cindy Bennett
Blindness Cured? And Thank You for It
by Eric Woods
Copyright 2014 by the National Federation of the Blind
Each year schools in Baltimore take one day from their busy school year and send their youngest children out on the town to observe organizations doing good work in the community. Oriana Riccobono's teacher asked if the National Federation of the Blind would be willing to host her class. Of course the answer was yes and the children spent more than two hours learning about how blind people do things that the children are accustomed to doing with vision.
From the Editor: For several years now members of the National Federation of the Blind have been hearing advertisements about Heritage for the Blind. Being familiar with most service providers and charities in work with the blind, many of us have called this organization, only to find those answering our calls to be quite vague about program offerings. Generally we are asked to leave a number and promised a callback. If we get one, we find that we are offered no specific services but instead are referred to other organizations, foremost among them the National Federation of the Blind. Our research suggests that Heritage for the Blind provides little if anything in the way of direct services, and it appears others share our concern about a charity that has so much money that it can afford to purchase commercial rates on the major radio networks, offer free vacations to its donors, and still purport to have money left over to provide services to blind people. Here is what the Better Business Bureau had to say about them on September 11, 2014, in a press release that ran on their website and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch <STLtoday.com>:
Better Business Bureau (BBB) is advising motorists who are planning to donate vehicles to charity to consider alternatives to Heritage for the Blind, a national charity that has been soliciting car donations in the St. Louis area.
The charity recently sent mailers to area residents asking for vehicle donations. The mailers urge recipients to “provide help for the visually impaired” by calling a toll-free number and arranging to donate their vehicles to the organization. The ads show a Heritage for the Blind truck towing a car and suggest that potential donors ask about a free three-day vacation voucher. BBB believes the ads have the capacity to mislead consumers. In addition, BBB also warns that the charity omits important information on its website and fails to adequately explain how it is spending its money.
Charity officials have declined to respond to BBB requests for information. “BBB has tried to get Heritage for the Blind to open up about where its money is going without success,” said Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO. “This organization has said, basically, that it is too much trouble to respond. When a tax-exempt charity that solicits the public takes that position, it is a cause for concern.”
The nineteen-year-old, Brooklyn, New York-based charity raised $14 million in the five years prior to January 2013, according to Form 990 reports to the Internal Revenue Service. From January 1 to December 31, 2012, the most recent information available, the charity reported nearly $4.2 million in contributions. Almost all of the money came from its vehicle donation program. The IRS records show brothers Shrage and Steven Toiv, the charity’s top-paid employees, received salaries of $135,000 each that year.
Heritage for the Blind has not responded to requests for information from BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance. As a result BBB has been unable to determine whether the charity meets BBB’s Standards for Charity Accountability. Charity participation in a review is voluntary, but BBB encourages participation to demonstrate transparency and strengthen public trust. The charity also declined to discuss its operations in an email to St. Louis BBB, saying, in part: “Heritage for the Blind is in full compliance with all statutes and regulations of every state in the nation, as well as those of the Internal Revenue Service, and is current with all required filings. However, as much as we may like to, Heritage for the Blind simply does not have the resources to respond to every detailed request we may receive from non-governmental groups and organizations.”
In its 990 IRS report and information on its website, Heritage for the Blind says it produces and distributes large-print and Braille religious and non-religious publications, operates a phone referral and support program, offers educational information to consumers, and provides a medical alert service called “Freedom Carephone.” However, it has declined to release any details on how much money is going to each program and who it is serving. Specific BBB concerns include:
Heritage for the Blind’s IRS 990 report for 2012 says that the charity spent nearly $3.9 million that year, with $1.8 million allocated to fundraising, and $1.7 million allocated to program services. But BBB says Heritage for the Blind has repeatedly declined to detail its program service expenditures. Carole Bellman, St. Louis BBB’s director of charity review, said the charity’s refusal to break down where its money is going means that donors are left to wonder how the money is being spent. “For people to be able to trust a charity, they have to know how their money is being used,” she said. “Any charity that keeps that information secret is doing a disservice to itself and donors.”
A BBB employee phoned the charity requesting assistance for a sight-impaired relative. A charity representative told her that it could help her access a variety of services, including books for the sight-impaired, help with technology, monetary grants, and a folding white cane. The charity then sent a packet of information that included two “talking alarm” key chains (wholesale cost $2 to $6), a plastic “vision simulator card” (distributed by the Ohio Optometric Association), a Braille alphabet card (produced by American Foundation for the Blind), and a listing of St. Louis area organizations that assist the blind and visually impaired.
In June 2010 New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo announced that Heritage for the Blind was among sixteen charities, fundraisers, and individuals subpoenaed as part of what he called a wide-ranging investigation of the charitable car donation industry. An official with the attorney general’s office said last week that he is “not aware of anything current in regards to Heritage for the Blind.”
National Federation of the Blind is a seventy-three-year-old national nonprofit that works as an advocate for the blind. Its past president, Marc Maurer, said he had worked with several staff members of his organization trying to research Heritage for the Blind. “We have been trying to track down what they do, with no success,” he said. He said researchers who called the organization for help often were referred to the National Federation of the Blind.
In October 2012 the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota asked that Heritage for the Blind stop fundraising in that state until it registers with the Minnesota attorney general’s office and “demonstrates . . . that it actually provides useful services to blind Minnesotans.” It also called on media outlets to cease carrying the charity’s advertisements until it met those conditions.
BBB has these tips to consumers considering donating a vehicle to charity:
by Greg Trapp
From the Editor: Greg Trapp is the executive director of the New Mexico Commission for the Blind, a position he has held since 1999. Prior to becoming commission director, he was a senior staff attorney with Disability Rights New Mexico. He has taught disability law as an adjunct professor, and he is a past president of the National Council of State Agencies for the Blind. He is also a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind. Here is what he has to say about a blind person who succeeded in a field many would consider unlikely—he found success as a gun designer.
The question of blind people and guns continues to be hotly debated. On August 4, 2014, a video commentary was posted on NRA News in which the commentator said, "Every law-abiding, blind individual should be able to have whatever guns they want." The commentator was Dom Raso, a defense instructor and former Navy Seal. The video was ridiculed by Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense. Apparently unfamiliar with the NFB's Blind Driver Challenge, not to mention bioptic driving, she sarcastically asked, "Should we let blind people drive, too?"
The attitude of the general public toward the blind was further demonstrated when the Huffington Post responded to the commentary by conducting a survey asking if it "should be legal for the blind to own guns." Only 23 percent of respondents said it should be legal for the blind to own a gun, while 51 percent said it should be illegal, while the rest were not sure. The results of the survey may have been different if the people surveyed had been told about and shown the alternative techniques used by blind shooters or about blind people who successfully engage in activities related to firearms. They could have been told about Carey McWilliams, a blind hunter and author of Guide Dogs and Guns. They could also have been told about Jim Miekka, a blind stock trader and inventor, who can accurately fire a rifle with a photodiode scope he invented. Had they Googled "world's best target shooter," the first result they would have found was for Miekka, and they would have learned that he can hit a 4mm target at 100 yards. They could also have been told about Mikhail Margolin, the remarkable blind Russian gun designer who successfully worked during a career that started in the reign of Joseph Stalin and continued into the rule of Leonid Brezhnev. This article examines the life and contributions of this brilliant Soviet gun designer.
Mikhail Vladimirovich Margolin designed several successful firearms, but he is today best remembered for the revolutionary MCM .22 caliber target pistol. The pistol was first made in 1948, and variations of it are still being made today. It was called the Margolina tselevoy, or the target pistol by Margolin. The pistol was designed for use in the highly competitive field of twenty-five meter target shooting. A modified version of the pistol was also used as a prop in one of the most memorable scenes in the original Star Wars movie. In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, the rebel star ship carrying Princess Leia had just been captured and boarded by Darth Vader. The beautiful Princess Leia is shown hiding the plans of the Death Star in R2-D2. Afterwards she is in action, and in her hand is a blaster that she uses to down one of the storm troopers. The blaster was actually a modified version of the unusually-shaped Margolin MCM target pistol. The Margolin thus joined the famous C96 Mauser Broomhandle, which was the basis of Han Solo's blaster, as a prop in one of the most famous movies of all time.
Margolin was born in the early 1900s, a time of rapid progress in science and technology. Many revolutionary new firearms were being designed, primarily in the United States and Germany. These revolutionary designs were made possible by advances in metallurgy and the perfection of smokeless powder. Smokeless powder burned cleaner and was more powerful than black powder, making it possible to design reliable semi-automatic and fully automatic firearms. The preeminent gun designer of the age was the American John M. Browning, who designed firearms that were so advanced that some of his designs are still used by the United States military. Unlike the United States, Imperial Russia had long struggled to expand the capacity of its domestic small arms industry, and its arms designs had lagged behind those of its foes. After the start of the First World War, Russia found itself short of its 1891 Mosin-Nagant rifles, forcing Tsar Nicholas II to order 2.3 million rifles from the United States. The shortage was so critical that many Russian soldiers were sent to the front with orders to get their rifles from fallen soldiers. Desperate for arms, Russia pulled its obsolete single-shot 1870 Berdan rifles from storage and issued them to soldiers headed to the front. In addition to the ancient Berdan rifle, Russian soldiers were issued a bewildering variety of modern and obsolete firearms. These firearms continued to be used in the Russian Civil War, which took place from 1917 to 1922. The C96 Mauser Broomhandle was one of the firearms used during the Russian Civil War. Called the Broomhandle because of its unusual grip, it was the favorite gun of the Bolshevik Commissars. Margolin was a soldier during the Civil War, and it was as a result of this military service that he gained a familiarity with this vast variety of weapons. It was also during the Russian Civil War that Margolin sustained a head wound and lost his vision.
Margolin's response to becoming blind was described by Victor Maryanovsky in a 1958 issue of GUNS Magazine: "First came the study of Braille. Friends helped him to study mathematics, mechanics, and strength of materials, all essential subjects for the arms designer. His wife read aloud to him from textbooks and books on the history of firearms. He collected guns and enlarged his knowledge of various weapons systems. Most important was his splendid memory: within a few years he was a match for any engineer. As for firearms, there was no disputing his superior knowledge. He got acquainted with the latest models of weapons and took them apart dozens of times in order to let his sense of touch give rise in his mind to a mental picture."
Despite his great knowledge and enthusiasm, Margolin did not meet with initial success as a gun designer. He had difficulty communicating his designs, which he tried to do by hand motions. Ironically, it was this failure that led to his success. According to Maryanovsky, "Unable to draw the gun parts on paper, he had to explain his ideas by gestures. A solution to Margolin's deep personal problem of communicating by his hands was found unexpectedly, at a sanatorium where the striving inventor had gone, depressed, to rest. He was bored by idleness. ‘Suppose you try clay modeling, that may be interesting,’ suggested his roommate.” That simple suggestion transformed Margolin from a depressed patient into a successful gun designer.
Margolin went on to use more durable and harder forms of clay as well as aluminum and wood to create models of the guns that he had envisioned in his head. This led to his first successful designs in the 1930s, a semi-automatic sporting rifle and a fully automatic .22 machine gun for use in military training. Maryanovsky describes it as follows: "As a result a day came to Margolin of great honor, one which the most highly skilled gunsmith could be proud of. The blind man was invited to work at designing offices in the big government small arms factory at Tula."
At Tula Margolin studied with some of Russia's greatest gun designers. One of those was Fedor Tokarev, the designer of the Tokarev TT-33 pistol. The TT-33 was intended to replace the aging 1895 Nagant revolver. Margolin designed a modified version of Tokarev's TT-33 pistol that enabled it to fire lower power cartridges and be used as a training pistol. Margolin also worked on a .22 sport pistol that was based on the TT-33 frame. The pistol was approved for production on June 21, 1941. However, the pistol was never produced. On June 22, 1941, Germany invaded Russia, bringing the Soviet Union into the Second World War.
During the war Margolin worked as an ordinance engineer and served as an air raid warden. Describing a German bombing raid on Moscow, Maryanovsky wrote that, while on duty on the roof of one of Moscow's big buildings, Margolin picked up a fallen German incendiary bomb and threw it from the roof to the street, where it burned harmlessly. Writing of another incident during the war, Maryanovsky wrote Margolin went "in the ruins of a lodging house demolished by bombs" and "lead 120 old people, women, and children to safety."
When the war was over, Margolin abandoned the pistol design he had worked on before the war and instead designed what would become the Margolin MCM. The gun was designed between 1946 and 1948, and the first pistols were built in 1948.
The new Margolin MCM gained international attention in 1954, when it was used at the 36th World Championship shooting competition in Caracas, Venezuela. Describing the Russian team as they were about to compete, Maryanovsky wrote, "They could not boast of great achievements in pistol competition; they had nothing to match the German Walther or the American Colt for rapid-fire shooting. Then Nikolai Kalinichenko took his place at the firing line. The first shot scored, and the next . . . In two days of shooting, sixty shots, Kalinichenko scored 584 points, beating the world record set by Benner, the American. The team record was carried off by Soviet marksmen, who scored 2,317 using the new pistol of Mikhail Margolin."
The world record success of Margolin's pistol was due to the use of several revolutionary design features. The gun was designed so that balance weights could be attached to steady the pistol during firing. The pistol could also be equipped with a muzzle brake to reduce the tendency of the gun barrel to rise during shooting, a movement called muzzle climb. The muzzle brake is at the end of the barrel, and it directs some of the expanding gas upward and to the rear, which helps counteract the muzzle climb. Margolin also designed a version of his MCM with an aluminum slide. The slide is the part of a semi-automatic pistol that moves backward and forward with each shot, ejecting the empty bullet case as it goes backward, and chambering the new bullet as it travels forward. The lighter slide helped the shooter hold the gun steady during firing.
Margolin also designed the sights to improve accuracy. He placed the rear sight on the frame, creating a bridge through which the slide passed. Margolin's design was very different from traditional pistols in which the sights were mounted on the slide. Mounting the sights on the slide reduces accuracy, since the slide is a moving part that could be slightly out of alignment with the barrel. By placing the rear sight on a stationary bridge above the slide, Margolin greatly improved the accuracy of his pistol.
The innovative design features of the Margolin created a very unusually-shaped pistol, including the abnormally high sights. This unusual shape is likely responsible for some of the comments that attribute the appearance to the designer being blind. However, Margolin's design should be judged in the light of its Russian contemporaries, and most Russian guns of the time tended to be unattractive and even strange looking by American standards. For instance, the Margolin would look right at home if it was placed next to the 1895 Nagant revolver or the PPS-43 submachine gun or the 1891 Mosin-Nagant rifle. One of the comments that attributes a design feature to Margolin's blindness can be found on the Wikipedia page that describes the Margolin MCM, which states:
"The designer himself was blind. The most critisized [sic] characteristic—the elevation of the plane of sight—so also [sic] be explained: the designer could not aim his pistol."
Besides being a poor speller and not including a citation, the person who made this entry is not recognizing that the criticized "plane of sight" is actually a deliberate design feature that contributed to the success of the pistol. In addition to the bridge that made the rear sight stationary, the unusually high sights enabled the shooter to hold the pistol a little lower and bring the barrel more in line with the shoulder. This gave the shooter a slightly improved ability to control the pistol in rapid fire competition. The high line of sight is a design feature that the Margolin had in common with the AK-47, the famous assault rifle designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov. The AK-47 was designed between 1946 and 1948, the same time as the Margolin MCM. Just like the Margolin, the high sights of the AK-47 lowered the barrel and put it more in line with the shoulder, helping to reduce muzzle climb.
Margolin's willingness to alter the barrel height to compensate for the problems of muzzle climb was further demonstrated in the design of his next pistol, the even more revolutionary "upside-down" pistol. According to Maryanovsky, "The pistol which emerged was radically different from any firearm ever before designed in the world. Called the MTsZ-1, the five-shot competition 3.1 is built with the slide and barrel below the hand, the magazine feeding inverted from above. This caused the 'kick' of the gun to strike downward, aiding rapid fire control." The pistol was used by Soviet shooters at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. After the Olympics, rules were issued that banned the MTsZ-1 pistol. There were only about 125 upside-down pistols made, and it remains one of the most fascinating and unusual guns ever designed.
Mikhail Margolin was a brilliant gun designer who just happened to be blind. It is ironic that Margolin was able to achieve such great success as a blind gun designer in the Soviet Union, and yet today many voices are being raised in the United States that question the ability and right of blind persons to handle and even own guns. The remarkable career of Mikhail Margolin illustrates the point that blind people can successfully work in a wide range of professions that many might not think possible, including as scientists, medical doctors, nurses, chiropractors, mechanics, and yes, even as gun designers.
Cherry, P. (2011, February 3). MC-3: The first upside down gun, American Rifleman, <http://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/mc-3-first-upside-down-gun>
Maryanovsky, V. (1958, September). The man to beat in Moscow, Guns Magazine, <http://toyfj40.freeshell.org/GunPix/Margolin.html>
MCM pistol. (2014, January 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 03:57, September 2, 2014, from <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=MCM_pistol&oldid=591688449>
by Gary Wunder
Before the time of Braille and speech notetakers, blind people who used Braille wrote their first draft on a Perkins Brailler, their second draft on the same machine, and then, when they had the document as perfect as they could envision it, they set themselves to typing that Brailled document in print so their sighted instructor could read it. If the phone rang while you were typing and you stopped to answer it, you had to remember where you stopped typing: was it before or after the comma, did you space after it, and how could you know for sure without asking Mom, Dad, Sister, or Brother for help—help you would sometimes have to pay for from siblings intent on supplementing their spending money.
When people of that day thought of science fiction and how there could be a useful invention for the blind, we envisioned a machine that would let us type a document in Braille and have it magically turned into print. Never in our wildest imaginings did we think this might somehow involve a computer, and the concept of a word processor had no meaning for us.
Sometime during the early 1980s we began hearing about devices that had Perkins-style keyboards and could produce refreshable Braille (a new concept at the time), and the buzz was that these machines could be plugged into computer printers to generate printed documents from works created in grade two Braille. Prototypes were being built by the Kentucky Department for the Blind, and the word on the street was that two blind men were at the center of these inventions—Tim Cranmer and Fred Gissoni.
Deane Blazie, the inventor of the spectacularly popular Braille ‘n Speak, recalls visiting with Fred and Tim to examine a machine they had constructed using a VHS cartridge for its case. He recalls that the machine was called a PortaBraille and that it could keep a document in memory only as long as it remained turned on. Their meeting was to discuss how to use this Perkins-style Braille keyboard to do document navigation, and the design that evolved out of their two-hour meeting is so much a part of every Braille notetaker that we take it for granted in the same way we expect the arrow keys on the keyboard to react in moving a cursor on a computer screen.
In writing this tribute, it occurred to me that what was missing was personal knowledge of Fred. A recurrent theme in interviews I did spoke to Fred’s sense of humor and his friendship with Tim Cranmer. I was told that one evening Fred and Tim were at a banquet together and that Fred unexpectedly rose, struck his cup with a spoon until the room was silent, and then said that he would like to introduce an unscheduled presentation. The story is that he announced the topic, specified its length in the evening's agenda, and then, without warning, introduced Tim Cranmer as the presenter. I was led to believe that Tim took the podium and delivered his speech. The audience was never aware of the joke Fred had played on them and on his friend Tim.
My interview with Deane Blazie was immensely helpful, but he suggested I talk with others who also had a warm friendship with Fred. Knowing and admiring Larry Skutchan, I called to interview him, but he gave me much more than an interview. He said that, if I could give him a couple of weeks, he'd be delighted to write a tribute. I argued that I needed something in four days. He gave me a draft in two, sent a revised draft in two more with a request that I give him another day or so, and sent his final revision one week to the day after we talked. I hope you will agree it was worth the wait, and I want to thank Larry publicly for an outstanding piece. It is a wonderful tribute to Fred, an interesting insight into the work that goes on at the American Printing House for the Blind, a tremendous review of some of the history surrounding problem-solving strategies for the blind, and a moving glimpse into the heart and mind of a really good man who took the time to put down the words that appear in the following article.
by Larry Skutchan
From the Editor: Larry Skutchan graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and holds the position of product manager for the Technology Product Research Department at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). There he manages a team of engineers devoted to accessible technology. He is well-known in technology circles for creating the Automatic Screen Access Program (ASAP) screen reader and for initiating one of the first podcasts devoted to issues of interest to the blind--the Blind Cool Tech podcast. Here is what he has to say about his mentor, his friend, and one of the most inspiring people to have touched his life:
There are very few times in a person's life when another person can change it profoundly in a positive way. Fred Gissoni affected the lives of countless people, but his pioneering work is appreciated most by people who are blind. As a young, inquisitive man who had been blind for only a few years, I benefited immensely from his innovations, just as the thousands of other individuals with vision impairment did; but Fred affected my life in a much more personal way.
After graduating from college in the early 80s, I began exploring the capabilities of the personal computer (PC)—called a microcomputer back in those days. I had a degree in English and planned to attend law school, so you can imagine the pure excitement I experienced at using a tool that allowed me to read and edit papers on my own. Believe it or not, a blind student either paid someone to type or got very good at it. There was no room for mistakes. On the typewriter there was a backspace, but it did not erase what you had wrongly typed, and the concept of inserting a paragraph in the middle of a document was a dream, not a function. The efficiency of a PC seems so simple and expected today, but in the early 80s it was a liberating, exciting, and enlightening sensation to be able to organize and manipulate thoughts and ideas so simply.
As I explored the landscape of accessible computers, I realized I had accidentally made some pretty cool tools that others could use and began looking for ways to spread the word. Back in Kentucky, Fred, Wayne Thompson, and Tim Cranmer (and Tim's assistant, Deane Blazie) were already applying simple, practical solutions to obstacles for people who were blind. These guys comprised the technical unit at the Kentucky Office for the Blind (OFB). Tim had adapted the ancient and effective abacus for efficient use by those without sight, and Fred spread the word. It was a simple solution to a real problem, and one wonders why someone did not think of it before. That could be said about nearly everything Fred and his team invented, innovated, or adapted. Fred's wife Betty was teaching living skills and wanted a way to pour a liquid into a cup with precision. So the technical unit invented the Say When. The device beeped when the liquid level reached the sensor. Even the name evokes a smile and fond memory of his humor and wit.
Later, Fred, Wayne, and Tim put together commercial parts to make something called the Kentucky Light Sensor, a device that blind people have used for everything from determining a burning light in their house to identifying an incoming call on a switchboard. I have and use one to this day, and it is still sold in the NFB Independence Market. None of these innovations seem very dramatic, but they all exemplify the ability to match ideas with components to create logical, sometimes technological solutions to real problems.
I really don't remember in which magazine I first advertised the Words program, but, regardless of which it was, Fred ordered the very first one. The technical unit at OFB also used technology to find jobs for Kentucky citizens who were blind or visually impaired. Their purchase of Words was a solution to a problem, and, along with an Apple computer and a speech synthesizer, it made an excellent tool for medical transcribers throughout the state. Fred and Wayne conveyed the transcriber needs to me, and I would bang them into the software with ease. Most memorable were the phone conversations about interfaces and ideas on effectively applying this new microcomputer technology. It was very exciting stuff. We were crazy with ideas. Before we knew it, the word processing software navigated and spoke by sentences rather than the arbitrary and useless restriction of screen lines. I still look forward to the day when all screen readers support that feature.
These are the kinds of conversations Fred and I had. We calculated and laughed at the number of minutes in a day, or hours in a month, or years in a life that got wasted by redundant and inefficient user interfaces, especially on things like email, where you might have to listen to the word "subject" before every subject line. Our conversations led to features in the ASAP that analyzed the context of the active screen area and spoke only the differences. It was an amazing experience that made interaction with the PC dynamic and productive. Discussions in later years focused on how to cut through the web clutter and get the right information delivered in the right order and at the right time. We have no illusion that we have accomplished that one yet.
Meanwhile, the APH also saw the possibilities of this revolution in technology and began looking for someone to guide it in software design. Naturally, as the best source for information, they consulted Fred, and he recommended me. I was still interested in law, but programming seemed much more fun and practical. I fell in love with the idea of what APH was about, and they seemed interested in what I could do. Thanks to Fred, I accepted a job offer as a systems programmer in 1985 at APH and began working on educational software for the Apple.
Perhaps one of the more complex of Fred and Wayne's projects was the design of a talking tablet (called a personal data assistant back in the day). The Kentucky PocketBraille had a Perkins-style Braille keyboard and a speech synthesizer. It also had the audio, electronics, and software to allow one to type in Braille and use synthesized speech for navigation through the document and user interface. They paired the concept with a refreshable Braille display—the Tiflatel from Italy—to make what was possibly the very first Braille notetaker. Since these designs were all conceived as part of their work at OFB, they made the designs public property, making this one of the earlier examples of open-source software. Every note-taking device available today borrows elements from the Kentucky PocketBraille.
I accepted the position at APH and moved my family to the Silicon Valley of universal design, right in the middle of a beautiful city on its rise to a metropolis. As an acquaintance from Houston described it, Louisville is the smallest big city. At the same time it is the biggest small town. I believe its diversity may have played a hand in how APH came to be established, serving the regional needs of blind students even before the federal government recognized it as a national institution in 1879. That is probably how Tim Cranmer and Fred Gissoni began directing technical developments at the Department for the Blind.
Fred and Betty welcomed us as family. We spent more than a few nights in front of the computer, playing Eamon on the Apple II. It was quite interesting. Fred and Betty were the kind of people who helped everyone. Betty's guide dog Ozzie had a built-in tiled water bowl in the kitchen: just another example of their kindness and tendency to adopt unique solutions to solve problems.
Pamela Rader, an APH customer support representative, told me she first met Fred on the sidewalk outside APH when she began attending the Kentucky School for the Blind. He coaxed out her interest in broadcasting and audio engineering.
I never appreciated the depth of Fred’s personality and talent until he came to work at APH as a customer service representative after retiring from OFB. He loved talking people through the technical problems they encountered in trying to unleash the magic of their technology. He was not afraid to talk you down when you got too emotional, and he told us programmers what he thought, too; it was usually right on target. If he didn't know something, he knew how to find the answer. Fred's genius extended beyond the innovation phase of an idea; he knew how to explain new concepts that made it easy to understand, and his generosity extended to spending his time to help.
If you perform a search of his name online, you will see countless examples of innovations and solutions he provided. Thousands of teachers and students still appreciate his every word, through clearly written or recorded instructions on dozens of processes and products. I do not think anyone can know the extent of Fred's influence in the advancement of both simple and technical solutions to meet the needs of blind people. I loved to solve problems with him. The solutions were always so simple. For example, we both delighted in the technique of knowing when to empty the dishwasher; always put a new tablet in the dishwasher after you've put the clean dishes away. If the tablet is gone, the dishes are clean; it's that simple. It was the simple, elemental ideas—the "that is so obvious" ideas—that pay tribute to innovators like Fred; and he had thousands of them.
Perhaps the most endearing characteristic of his personality was the enthusiasm and enjoyment Fred brought to every aspect of his life. I am sure it is online somewhere, but Fred and Wayne wrote a whimsical article that described an innovation that let the user shake Braille dots onto a page from a salt shaker. Of course it was fanciful, but it displays the kind of spirit, fun, and extraordinary thinking that led to many innovations. More important, it exemplifies the character and attitude of a man who recognized that blindness was nothing more than an inconvenience: a man with a knack for finding ways to eliminate those inconveniences one step at a time.
As I reviewed background for this piece, I ran across an article written by Deborah Kendrick. In it Fred said that he considered introducing me to APH to be one of his most important accomplishments. What an honor that is coming from a man with so many! Fred, I commit to carry on your fortitude, devotion to service, and practical innovation, as long as it meets the criteria you outline in Deborah's article.
Today at APH a dedicated group of engineers share his vision and continue to apply technology to evermore interesting problems. "Pass it along" was Fred's motto. We can all honor his memory with similar gestures of generosity and compassion. Thank you, Fred. Your life has influenced and changed our lives forever.
by Tim Connell
From the Editor: A longstanding debate has flourished among blind people about the technology we use. One objection is its cost and, closely related to that, its difference from what people who are not blind are purchasing and using. All of us are looking for bargains, and it is never easy to ignore a sentence in which the word "free" figures prominently. Also attractive is using the same technology that sighted people use, because it is usually less expensive, readily available, and easier to replace if it fails.
About a year ago we ran an article reflecting the opinion that screen readers cost too much and that there were alternatives. In that piece we mistakenly said that the price of one of the more popular screen readers was several hundred dollars more than it actually was. In making apologies to the screen reader developers, we asked if their company might like to make a case for the for-profit companies that have traditionally brought screen-reading solutions to the blind. They said they would think about it, but no article ever came.
Just last month we published an article featuring the presentation made by NV Access at the 2014 NFB Convention. Again a good case was made for blind people having a low-cost or free screen-reading solution, and the National Federation of the Blind was recognized and thanked for our support of the project. But a lack of thought-provoking material supporting the concept of a for-profit company engaging to meet the special needs of the blind has meant that the Braille Monitor has been uncomfortably silent about the tradeoffs there might be if we embrace these free or low-cost solutions at the expense of those we have traditionally relied on. The one exception is Resolution 2014-03, “Regarding Principles That Should Govern the Purchase of Screen-Access Technology for Vocational Rehabilitation Clients,” reprinted in the August-September 2014 issue. What appears below is a piece that attempts to look at all of the funding models for developing and purchasing screen readers around the world. It forces the reader to examine more closely the proposition that the lowest price is always better and that free unquestionably wins the day. It also suggests that we closely examine the concept that, because specialized technology is more expensive and necessarily different from what the sighted use, it should be avoided, especially if the cost of that decision is reflected in lower productivity.
Tim Connell is the founder and managing director of Quantum Technology and has been an active contributor to the field of assistive technology for thirty years. Quantum developed the first talking typewriter, called SpeakWriter, the Braille-n-Print, the Mountbatten Brailler, Jot-a-Dot, and Pictures in a Flash (PIAF). He is also a director of the Centre for Disability Studies at the University of Sydney and lives with his wife and two adult children. Here is what he has to say about special devices used by the blind, the various ways their development and distribution can be funded, and the benefits and perhaps unforeseen pitfalls that might be inherent in those now gaining in popularity:
Recently I moved back into the suburb in which I grew up. It has been astounding to witness the changes that have occurred in the last fifty years. I remember a shopping center that consisted of a large number of small family-run businesses, but, as has happened in most Western countries, there is now just a single large supermarket, and the small shops have disappeared. Supermarkets have brought many improvements to the retail arena: lower costs, longer opening hours, and online shopping, to name a few. The downside is a loss of customer service and the personal relationships you had with your vendors. I mention this because what really interests me is the process of change—how change can involve many small incremental steps, none of which by themselves seem all that important.
I think there is a direct analogy with the world of assistive technology (AT). Until recently all AT has been developed and provided by small specialty companies. With greater frequency we are starting to see large corporations becoming involved and an increasing number of so-called free AT options. Perhaps it is timely that we examine what that means for our field. What are the implications for individuals with a print disability (low vision, blindness, dyslexia) of being able to access free AT?
I was drawn to this topic by the recent announcement from GW Micro that its screen reader, Window-Eyes, would now be available to download at no cost if you owned a copy of MS Office. While this is technically not a free product, it has created a great deal of discussion and debate, with many calling it a game-changer and a new era for assistive technology. I don't happen to think that is the case, and I will discuss why later. There are also other ways that free options are also starting to appear.
Over the thirty years I have been involved in AT, we have travelled an enormous distance from a time when access to information was limited or non-existent, to a world where limitless amounts of information are available. Thirty years ago a person who used Braille needed a large garage or warehouse to store a modest library. Today all of us can access huge libraries just using the phone in our pockets and a refreshable Braille display. It is easy to forget just how far we have come in such a short period and to overlook the incredible changes in opportunities and expectations that people with a print disability now have, all thanks to the small specialty providers that make up the AT industry.
I am confident that history will record this period of technological development and the rise of AT as one of the key factors in the emancipation of people with disabilities worldwide. So, if we are going to move to the supermarket model for AT, we need to be really sure what it is we are leaving behind. Let's start by looking at access to the personal computer (PC), a foundational part of almost every blind person’s technical life. The PC market has been dominated by Microsoft, both in the operating systems used and by the suite of programs that turn our PCs into productivity tools. Approximately 90 percent of desktop computers around the world use a Windows operating system (compared to Apple's iOS operating system with around 7.5 percent. Microsoft has a range of productivity tools known as MS Office, which has a market dominance of approximately 85 percent. MS Office accounts for 29 percent of Microsoft's overall revenue and approximately 60 percent of its profit. These are staggering numbers and explain why so many corporations are keen to knock Microsoft off its perch.
There have been many attempts to do just that by developing alternative products to MS Office. For a little over twenty years we have had access to a free alternative, now known as OpenOffice Apache. OpenOffice has direct product alternatives, such as Writer for Word, Calc for Excel, and Impress for PowerPoint. However, in twenty years a completely free alternative to MS Office has been able to attract only a 3 percent market share. Other free alternatives such as LibreOffice, NeoOffice, and KOffice have been even less successful than OpenOffice, garnering a combined market share of 5 percent.
More recently GoogleDocs has started to pose more of a challenge, and the whole move to cloud-based computing is throwing up lots of competition for Microsoft. However, it is also throwing up many challenges for screen readers and is a far more complex environment than desktop computing. We are not assured at this stage that we will be able to maintain the same level of accessibility in the cloud as we have at the desktop.
The bottom line is that until now Microsoft has been able to achieve such market dominance while there has been a fully featured free alternative. We (the 85 percent of us) have chosen an expensive tool like MS Office over a free tool that is nearly as good. If you Google OpenOffice and read the multitude of reviews and comparisons, you will find this phrase repeated often: "nearly as good." However, you won't find a review that claims OpenOffice is the “best.”
To me this highlights a key problem in our understanding of the role of AT. Up to this point I believe we have always been guided by what is best. We have seen the development of solutions that may not be affordable to individuals, like the early refreshable Braille displays. However, they opened the door to innovation pathways that have resulted in lower prices and vastly improved products. The very first video magnifiers were commercialized by Bernd Reinecker in Germany in the late 1960s. His first system cost twenty thousand marks (approximately ten thousand euro), which was the equivalent of an above average annual salary. That is not a tenable proposition for a large multi-national company today.
Our current specialist solutions have all been created by small teams of highly innovative technologists who have applied themselves to solving access issues for a very small population. Low volumes have meant high costs, and those costs have become the focus of our attention.
Very few people argue that the free products are better than the commercial products; the argument is nearly always about the cost. So, if we accept that we always want to maintain the best options as one of the choices people have, shouldn't our focus now be on the core issue of funding? When we make that our focus, it is pretty clear that we have failed to make funding the paramount issue of accessibility. Far too many organizations and agencies have embraced the attitude of scarcity, and, rather than take a rights-based approach and demand more funding, they now promote a free and low-cost approach as the best way to represent the rights of their members. However, those rights are enshrined in law, and we need to base our claims for increased funding on the clear economic benefits of having a more able and productive community. Lack of funding of the best technology solutions is the true barrier to equality of access.
At the beginning of this article I described various models of delivering free products. I'd like to take a look at each of them in more detail. While the benefits may be obvious, the potential pitfalls may not.
Technology and apps have and will continue to have an enormous impact on the way we access information. They are rightfully being called transformational technology. Many apps are free or cost just under a dollar and are therefore available to all. However, apps, by their very nature, have limited functionality, and a suite of apps is needed to replicate the functionality of many existing AT products (it is estimated you would need fourteen apps to get close to the functionality of WYNN, for example). [WYNN is software developed by Freedom Scientific to assist people who have learning disabilities that affect reading.] Individual apps may be brilliant, but collectively they don't offer anywhere near the same level of functionality, due to factors such as a lack of uniform design standards (in menus, gestures, orientation, etc.) and a lack of support and training.
One area that apps have made an enormous impact on is in augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), particularly communication tools. An iPad with various apps is providing an alternative for a fraction of the price of traditional communication tablets. As a result we have seen the decimation of the traditional AAC business model, with estimates that there are now fewer than a third of the AAC companies that existed ten years ago.
For the wider print disability field small touchscreen computers and apps may one day provide an equivalent level of access, but they are currently not a solution that will provide true equality of access in education or employment. Anyone claiming otherwise is doing a great disservice to the people he or she is professing to serve. These may serve well as a great personal device, but they are not computers.
A recent report on the effectiveness of federal government funding, as featured in the Department of Education's evaluation of the MSSAID Program, November 2013, described the increased use of iPads in classrooms as follows:
Mainstream technologies with applications that match specific needs are replacing the former specialized, clunky equipment that was provided for the individual student according to their disability. The subtle but critical shift to the technologies enabling learning as opposed to addressing the "deficit" of a disability is no longer highlighting the student as being different.
Are we to interpret this report and others like it to say that it is more important for students with disabilities to look normal than to have the best tools to address their specific disability? Is this progress? There are many other examples that could be provided in which devices like iPads are being promoted as a generic fix for inclusivity and accessibility.
The work that the developers of NVDA have done is exceptional. On a small budget they have developed a really good product and have provided a free screen reader to many thousands of people around the world who couldn't previously afford one, especially in developing countries. Their technical skills and dedication are to be applauded; however, I have a problem with the funding model they have chosen. Philanthropic funding is at best a fragile beast, and it often doesn't extend to covering services like training and support, which can be the most important components of accessibility (especially in education). The bigger issue of equity and why we accept such a fundamental right as access to a computer to be at the whim of philanthropic generosity should be of tremendous concern. Do we welcome it simply because the recipients are people with a disability? Why is this particular group of people not worthy of a business model that guarantees standards of support, service, and viability? The developers of NVDA need investors, not handouts.
For people in markets that are largely unfunded (such as Australia, USA, UK, and Canada), the idea that you can get the equipment you need through your health insurer seems very attractive. In these countries the health insurance companies call for tenders for commonly used items such as video magnifiers and Braille displays and are able to negotiate incredibly low prices through bulk national purchasing. On the face of it this seems like a win-win situation—universal access to AT at the lowest possible prices. However, what has happened under the insurance model is that the choice of options for individuals is greatly restricted; in fact, it is only the products that the insurers support that are viable. There are very limited opportunities for innovative products to enter the market, since they are often more expensive and not supported by the insurers. And one of the most damaging features is that the role of assessment has been pretty well bypassed. The role of specialists is marginal when they can recommend only those options that are supported by the insurers.
In most unfunded markets the European insurance model seems attractive. Yet it is achieving much poorer outcomes for individuals and is putting a brake on innovation, affecting long-term prospects. The European insurance model is very much a case of "be careful what you wish for, lest it come true."
In Australia we are starting to see health insurance companies provide rebates on classes of products rather than individual items, though at this stage they are only small. This is a far better design, since it leaves the choice of device up to the user, supports normal commercial competitiveness, and ensures that assessments are based on individual needs and a wide choice of products.
Universal design began as a concept in architecture—that buildings should be inherently accessible by all—but has evolved now to mean access to all products, to learning, and to information. In 1963 Selwyn Goldsmith wrote a book called Designing for the Disabled, one of the earliest treatises on universal design. Goldsmith is remembered for the creation of the curb ramp—now a standard feature of the built environment. Curb ramps, ramps to buildings, ramps on buses that kneel for wheelchairs—all are good examples of universal design that are part of our standard expectations for how the world should work.
Typically any discussion of universal design considers both the specialist tool and the wider environment in which it has to work. So with the wheelchair we looked at how to change the environment so that a wheelchair can more easily access it. For the hearing aid we looked at how we could change the environment by putting hearing loops in schools, buildings, and cinemas. Universal design has been all about designing the world so that it includes the specialist device.
However, the argument that is emerging within the print-disability field is that we should get rid of the specialist tool altogether so that the environment is accessible to all. At the heart of this argument is the proposition that the differences of being blind, for example, are small enough that they can be catered to in a one-size-fits-all product. This idea seems reckless. The discussion of universal design has moved away from the myriad of other access issues that still exist—things like accessible white goods [home appliances], accessible transportation, accessible signage and public information, or even accessible education and the design of curricula. Instead we have various prophets going around deliberately promoting the end of specialist AT products and providers and talking about liberating people from the high cost of specialist tools.
The cost of screen readers has become a bigger issue than all the other accessibility challenges facing every person with a print disability. What happens if universal design ends up giving us less functionality or features than the specialist products? To what extent can we sacrifice efficiency in order to minimize our appearance of difference by using technology different from that used by sighted peers?
It all comes down to whether we can trust the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Google, and the new players that will arrive in the next decade. Over the long term how important is the 1 percent of the population who are visually impaired, or a subset of that being people who depend on Braille, or a subset of that again, people who are deaf-blind or have multiple disabilities? Should we start trying to assess what level of specialist support to those groups will be lost? There is a clear-cut economic argument called majority rules that will eventually win the day, and a large multinational corporation is never going to provide the same level of nuanced accommodations that a specialist provider will.
Proponents of the universal design model argue that they are not promoting the end of specialist tools; they want a world where people can have both. Whether that is possible remains to be seen, but I suspect we will continue to see the incremental loss of small specialist providers, just as we have seen in the AAC sphere. The recent fate of GW Micro offers clear evidence of this. People too often conclude that the high price of specialist AT products springs from extortionist pricing policies, instead of the real costs of providing the best specialist solutions to a very small population. Shrinking what is already a very small commercial market will simply make it unviable for many more companies.
In the absence of funding, however, a free product like Apple's VoiceOver is attractive, and there are many people extolling its virtues without asking how free it is given how much you pay for the Mac versus an equivalent PC. It is a very good accessibility solution straight out of the box, but it is not without problems. VoiceOver is not a separate program but an integral part of the operating system, which means that bugs and fixes occur only when the operating system is upgraded. There was a significant bug in the way VoiceOver handled Braille translation that took nearly three years to fix. It took over a year for a bug that moved you backwards on a webpage when you chose to go forward. Plenty of other examples provide a sharp point of differentiation between VoiceOver and the products produced by the developers of JAWS and NVDA, for example, who provide regular updates and fixes. Even the most ardent supporters of VoiceOver admit that sometimes the little things seem to get overlooked, or features that seem obvious never arrive. (For example, see the article written on the AppleVis website by the editorial team in April 2014.) While Apple is riding the crest of an economic wave, these little things may be just annoyances. It is yet to be seen how many of these little things would exist if they were struggling financially and if they would again abandon accessibility as they did in the 1990s.
VoiceOver may be a good product for the person who wants to use email and browse the web. But it is not a solution for anyone who works with complex Excel files, writes in various programming languages, manages networks, or plays any number of other real-life employment roles. It would be devastating if it was the only screen reader around.
Microsoft has chosen to go down a different path altogether, with the arrangement mentioned previously to provide Window-Eyes to anyone who has purchased MS Office. Many commentators are calling this a universal design solution, but that is the case only if Microsoft is going to incorporate Window-Eyes code into its own operating system, and at this stage there is no evidence of that happening. A more cynical suggestion has been that the deal came about as a means of complying with legislative and consumer pressure on Microsoft to do more about accessibility. A possible outcome of this deal is that philanthropic funding will be harder to secure because an equivalent free product exists, putting a great deal of pressure on NVDA. So the first consequence of Microsoft's move could be the demise of a product that many argue is better than Window-Eyes. Once again we have a short-term gain, with some people able to access a free screen reader, but at a longer-term cost of having less diversity and product choices and less competition driving innovation.
Many models for government funding exist, some good and some bad. The best ones are based on outcomes and not on upfront costs. The best ones value the long-term social and economic benefits of enabling all people to participate in employment and education.
In March of 2014 a program of support for people who are blind was announced by the government of Colombia. The local blindness consumer group made a convincing argument that many blind people in Colombia could not afford accessibility tools needed for education and employment. They argued that, by empowering them with the right tools, together with training and support, the government could save money by helping people move off social welfare. The Colombian government agreed and provided US$3 million for a package of support that includes a copy of either JAWS or MAGic, training centers in fifteen cities around Colombia, and hotline phone support for all users. In the first few weeks of being implemented, over thirty thousand people in Colombia had downloaded a copy of JAWS or MAGic. The bulk of the cost for this effort was in training and support and not in the purchase of the software. The government could have chosen a free solution but realized that the success of the program depended on having a business model that focused on outcomes and which guaranteed training and support. This initiative by the Colombian government shows us another way for consumers to have a free product.
A growing number of people in the print-disability field are not happy with the status quo and with the fact that specialist products are expensive and not available to all. The prospect of cheap or free products has become the goal that many individuals as well as some agencies are now supporting. When I started to think about this subject, my first question was, "Who is going to support an argument against free products?" "Not many people" is the answer. So perhaps the days of specialist developers and vendors really are numbered. In a world where many problems still exist, particularly in employment, some people need to assign blame and prefer to view the specialist providers as the problem. The cost of a commercial screen reader is viewed as the problem, and getting something free would help solve that problem. However, I keep returning to the supermarket analogy and have come to the conclusion that those small steps of change that occur incrementally mean we may not know what has been lost till it is too late. We may not really be aware of the change that is currently underway in the AT market. The point that is being missed is that it is not the cost of the product that should be our focus, but the ability of the product to fully meet the needs of each individual. Does a keen fisherman get all of his fishing gear at Kmart, or does he go to a fishing gear specialist? Do elite athletes buy all their sporting gear from Target, or do they go to specialist suppliers? Is price going to be the driver to make people successful, or is it getting the best possible solutions that will determine whether people can achieve their potential?
I would like to see a robust and informed debate on this issue, focusing on achieving the best possible outcomes for people with a print disability. At the heart of that debate are funding and finding business models that support choice, training, and ongoing support, as well as nurturing innovation. Agencies in particular should be at the vanguard of this debate, ensuring the best long-term outcomes for their members.
Championing something that is "almost as good" is actually a major step backwards; if it wasn't, we would all be using OpenOffice. Product cost is not the issue that should define this debate; it is real life outcomes.
Generally our attitudes about technology are that we feel comfortable with what we know. However, what we don't know is just around the corner, and in ten years we may find we have completely new ways to interface with technology, like holographic displays or other systems that rely more on vision or cognitive ability. If it comes to a choice between large multi-national corporations or small teams of dedicated and innovative technologists to ensure true accessibility, I know whom I would rather have in my corner.
by Patricia Shiu
From the Editor: One of the most moving presentations at the 2014 National Convention to come from a governmental official was presented by the head of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance, part of the United States Department of Labor. The crowd was quite moved by what she said, but she wanted more than emotion—she clearly came to urge that we stimulate America’s economy by going out and getting jobs, that we take advantage of the new hiring goals promoted by the administration, and that we use her office to see that blind people are given a fair chance at good jobs. Here are her remarks as they were heard on July 4, 2014:
Thank you very much, Marc, and happy Independence Day, everyone. Today we don't just remember a revolution. Today we issue our own call to action. My name is Pat Shiu, and I am here to recruit you!
Yesterday the Department of Labor announced that 288,000 jobs were added to the US economy in June. That's the fifth straight month in which we have added more than 200,000 net jobs. Ladies and gentlemen, that's the best stretch of job creation since the Clinton administration.
So I am here to recruit you because our economy is growing. Jobs are coming back, and I want all qualified workers to compete for those jobs—including people who are blind, people who are deaf, people who run on prosthetics or roll in wheelchairs, and especially people who have been discouraged from applying for far too long. To them and to you I say, "The water is warm. Come on in."
For the past four years my colleagues and I have been making the case to lawmakers and employers that we have a serious problem in America: that the laws designed to ensure equal opportunity for workers with disabilities aren't working; that a nation in which four out of five workers with disabilities are so discouraged by their employment prospects that they've given up on even looking is a nation in crisis. We made our case effectively and, thanks to the leadership of President Obama—who campaigned on a promise to address this crisis—we did something about it. On March 24 a new rule went into effect that calls on companies with federal contracts to achieve a 7 percent employment goal for qualified workers with disabilities in every job category and across their workforces. Now we can start counting and measuring and really checking to see which employers are taking their affirmative action obligations seriously and which ones are not.
So I've come here to Orlando to recruit you—and the communities you represent—to the American labor force. We need you. We need the skills, the talents, the ingenuity, and the hard work of millions of qualified individuals with disabilities who want a chance to succeed, an opportunity to contribute, and a means to sustain themselves and their families.
Today we celebrate our Economic Independence Day. I am honored to have this opportunity to speak with all of you. On behalf of President Obama and Secretary Perez, I congratulate you on this convention, and I thank you for your advocacy on behalf of the blind. I especially want to thank National Federation of the Blind President Marc Maurer and your executive director and advocate-in-chief John Paré for inviting me and for their leadership of this organization. Marc and John and the entire NFB team are champions for the more than fifty thousand members of this organization. I am grateful for their support—and your support—of our work at the Labor Department.
We are the department of good jobs for everyone. We are the department of opportunity for all. For more than a century we have held firm to our mission of preparing the workforce of tomorrow while ensuring that today's workplaces are safe, healthy, fair, and accessible. And key to that mission is economic independence. Economic independence doesn't mean that we don't rely on each other. It doesn't mean we don't help each other or that we don't build structures, both public and private, to support our mutual aspirations. Government is not irrelevant to the process. But nor are we the only player. The very best solutions to our common challenges require partnership among government agencies, private employers, community advocates, academic institutions, and working families.
I believe economic independence is ultimately about freedom: freedom from artificial barriers that impede our ability to live and work; freedom from prejudice and discrimination that diminish us as people; and freedom to pursue happiness, and to do so on our own terms.
These are freedoms I have worked to advance for my entire career. Before I joined the Obama administration, I spent twenty-six years as a civil rights lawyer, advocating on behalf of students and workers who simply wanted a way in the door and a chance to succeed. My clients with disabilities wanted the ability to go to school, to get a job, to know the dignity and self-worth that come from doing meaningful work. Understanding those aspirations was a perfect precursor to my current job.
In 1965, a year after the Civil Rights Act became law, President Lyndon Johnson signed an executive order requiring companies with government contracts to build workforces that reflect the diversity of the taxpayers funding those contracts. Almost a decade later Congress and President Nixon expanded that mandate to include people with disabilities and specific groups of veterans. Enforcing those laws is our job at the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs. Yes, it is a long and cumbersome name, but it's also a pretty apt descriptor of what we do.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) is a civil rights agency in the Labor Department tasked with protecting workers, promoting diversity, and enforcing the laws which require companies that profit from taxpayer dollars to prohibit discrimination and to take affirmative action so that all workers get a fair shot and a fair shake in the workplace. We enforce those laws for the benefit of the nearly one quarter of American workers who are employed by or seek jobs with companies that receive about $500 billion in federal contracts and subcontracts.
My position is pretty simple: being a federal contractor is a privilege, not a right. The price of that contract is compliance with our civil rights laws. In other words, diversity and inclusion programs are not optional. They are required. And OFCCP exists to enforce those requirements.
Strong, effective enforcement begins with good policy. And when I arrived at OFCCP, I found that many of our regulations were sorely outdated and in need of updates. That was especially true when it came to the regulations implementing Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act, known as VEVRAA.
As I mentioned earlier, our updates to the Section 503 and VEVRAA regulations became effective on March 24, after an extensive and highly inclusive rulemaking process that took almost four years. We developed two rules with a specific set of interests in mind: first and foremost, to improve employment opportunities for qualified workers with disabilities and protected groups of veterans, including veterans with service-related disabilities; second, to update antiquated provisions in the existing regulations, including aligning them with the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 and its revised, much broader definition of disability; third, to provide businesses with real metrics by which to measure their affirmative action efforts; fourth, to give my investigators a tangible way to evaluate compliance with the law when they review contractor establishments; and fifth, to facilitate the success of both workers and businesses by increasing the access employers have to a large, diverse pool of qualified workers whose talents may have been overlooked or left untapped for too long.
I want to spend a few minutes talking about two key aspects of the rules.
First, you should know that these rules are historic because they set—for the first time ever—targeted goals for the employment of veterans and individuals with disabilities in the contracting workforce. These goals are similar to the metrics that have long been used to measure progress in hiring women and minorities.
I believe that what gets measured gets done. To that end, the Section 503 rule establishes an aspirational, 7 percent utilization goal for the employment of qualified individuals with disabilities in each job category of a contractor's workforce.
The VEVRAA rule establishes a national hiring benchmark—currently 7.2 percent—or a more flexible option employers can develop using parameters we have laid out. If every contractor subject to these rules were to achieve the metrics we established, nearly 600,000 people with disabilities and 200,000 veterans—including 84,000 veterans with disabilities—would be added to or identified in the American workforce. And that's just in the first year. Consider what a remarkable achievement that would be. And just so we are clear—and because words matter—both the disability goal and the veteran benchmark are aspirational. Contrary to what some observers have said, they are absolutely not mandatory quotas. Rather they are management tools for employers and a way for the rest of us to hold business leaders accountable to doing what they commit to do when they agree to do business with our government.
A goal is a means to an end. It is not an end in and of itself. If the metrics are not achieved, contractors will be expected to examine their employment policies and practices to figure out why. Then they have to come up with specific plans to address any barriers to equal opportunity. Failure of a company to achieve a goal is not a violation in and of itself. But failure to try is.
Another major provision of the new Section 503 rule is the requirement that contractors invite job applicants voluntarily to self-identify as individuals with a disability when they apply for a job. This is in addition to the long-standing requirement that contractors invite new hires voluntarily to self-identify after they receive a job offer. Under the new rule contractors must on a regular basis invite their employees to self-identify voluntarily. After all, disabilities are not static, and a person's status may change over time. I believe that providing workers with multiple opportunities to self-identify voluntarily is a good thing.
When we first proposed these self-identification provisions, I overheard a business consultant speaking to a group of contractors about this issue: "Is OFCCP obsessed?" he asked. "They want us to ask our employees if they have a disability when they apply for the job, after they get the job, and again and again while they are on the job. Workers are going to think we care!"
I felt like yelling out, "Bingo!"
This is how things change. This is how workplaces become more welcoming. You and I know that workers are safer in the workplace when they understand their rights under the law and feel confident that those rights will be protected. In time these invitations to disclose demographic information or to self-identify voluntarily will be seen as inclusive, not intrusive—as a means to promote, not to pry.
And, since it's come up again and again, let me make two points here: The invitation to self-identify is 100 percent voluntary. We have made that explicit on the self-ID form and encouraged employers to make it clear in the context they provide when disseminating the form; and the self-ID form does not ask any worker to disclose what disability he or she may have. There are three options for the worker to check: Yes, I have a disability; No, I don't have a disability; and I don't wish to answer.
This is going to be tough for some employers and for some workers. I get that. And I have always said that operationalizing the Section 503 rule will be a process, not a switch. Some employers will be uncomfortable asking the question. Some workers may be uncomfortable answering it. With time that will change, just as it is changing for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals. But it won't change on its own. It requires a cultural change that has to be led by the community, embraced by employers, and mandated by the government.
That is why we need to start a revolution. In order for our new rules to have the desired impact, employers have to make a serious effort to achieve the goal. But workers also need to meet them halfway. That's why I need your help to spread the word among your colleagues and across your communities that the voluntary self-ID form is a lever of power. It's a way to gather critically important data and to ensure that every worker is counted. It is a way to show employers that, if they build it, you will come.
Two days ago we marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. The activists and visionaries who fought for that law were willing to sacrifice their very lives in the pursuit of justice. Their sacrifices made us a stronger, more just nation and paved the way for the Rehab Act, the ADA, and many advances in the rights of women, immigrants, the elderly, LGBT Americans, and so many others.
The anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said that we should "never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Of course she was right, except that it doesn't have to be a small group. It could be a big group. It could be this group. It could be the three thousand people at this convention. It could be the fifty thousand members of the NFB. It could be the fifty-seven million Americans with disabilities.
Progress doesn't happen in a moment. It happens in a movement. Our country needs you to build that movement, to lead that revolution. We need you to be the heroes and she-roes who will get us to the other side. All it takes is for you to bring your whole selves to work, to demand access, and to be counted. I am asking you to show by your example that people with disabilities—obvious or hidden—can ignite this revolution and help us change the culture of our workplaces.
I will promise you this: at OFCCP we will have your backs and stand with you every step of the way. When you check that box and allow yourselves to be counted, you will serve notice that you are a part of our economic growth, that you will share in our collective prosperity, and that you are committed to our common destiny.
Thank you for your time. Thank you for your leadership. Have a safe and happy Economic Independence Day!
by David Cohen
From the Editor: This article is reprinted from the Fall 2014 issue of the Buckeye Bulletin, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio. I enjoy and can relate to the humorous dialogue that plays in David’s head, while admiring and always trying to follow his prescription for reacting kindly to those whose only motive is to act kindly to me. The only growl in my own internal dialogue while reading what follows is the allusion to Braille on ATMs—something that seems every bit as logical to me as print on those same keys, and the only question in my mind is why we have had to fight so hard to make them speak what is so clearly placed on the screen. Here is how this humorous piece was introduced by the Buckeye’s editor, Barbara Pierce:
Editor's note: David Cohen is a longtime Federationist. When he was young, we helped him get to BLIND Incorporated in Minneapolis for blindness training, and he has been putting that training to good use ever since. He now lives in the greater Dayton area again. He recently sent a very funny post to the Ohio listserv. We asked him to expand a bit on that reflection for the newsletter. His thoughts are amusing, but they also provide an insight into the reflections and reactions of a competent blind person with an irreverent sense of humor. This is what he wrote:
Yesterday afternoon I walked to a shopping center/mall near my home in Kettering to buy some bed sheets. After making my purchase, I decided to check for a DVD title at another store inside the mall called Second & Charles, a used book, music, and movie place. I turned into the store and heard a woman’s voice saying hello to me.
“Hi, Second & Charles?” I asked, raising my eyebrows to her for confirmation.
“Yes,” she said; “You’ve got it.”
“Do you work here?” I asked.
She said, "No," so I continued in the direction of the main customer service counter, not breaking stride. From behind me the woman who’d greeted me was giving me the standard audible play-by-play, less the crowd noise, “Right, now left,” etc.
I turned to face her and smiled, mouthing the words “I’m okay, thanks.” You got to handle the public sometimes with kid gloves, as y’all probably know.
I continued on my way. From behind me this woman called to me, “I gotcha. My ex-husband is a white cane guy.”
I laughed aloud, and without turning held my left arm up with a thumb’s up sign for her to see. I can do without all the euphemisms spoken to avoid saying "blind." Still, if the word "blind" was good enough for the Bible, the Quran, the Hindu Vedas, etcetera, shouldn’t it be good enough for speakers today? But this white cane guy label—I can really get used to this. I like it. I can see it working for me.
“What’s your sign? You act like a Virgo.”
“Nope, nope. I’m a WCG [white cane guy].”
“Single WCG seeking SWF (single white female). Must like dogs, fish fries, college football, and Braille literacy."
“Oh there’s a white cane guy at our office. I know exactly what you’re talking about."
Text message: LOL! [laughing out loud] BTW [by the way] the WCG [white cane guy] called, LVM [leave a voicemail]. RE: Friday BYOB [bring your own bottle].
So White Cane Guy leaves the mall with a sack containing bed sheets and a DVD purchase of Sean Penn’s All the King's Men in hand. This mini-mall has a sidewalk extending the entire width of the front of the building, but the sidewalk is not even close to being a straight shot. The pathway is also cluttered with anything the designers salvaged after the project’s completion. This sidewalk also has more curves than a full Braille cell, so I walk in the frontage road along the curb, shorelining the outer edge of the sidewalk.
I am several shop door entrances along my shorelining route and have just passed another because I hear the squeaking hinges of one of these glass doors opening behind me, and a man’s voice calls to me, “You’re in the street, you know that, right?" he says, stating the obvious. I know that as a blind person I am a living message board for postings of the obvious and have learned to handle this maturely 90 percent of the time. “The sun is out; that’s my foot you’re standing on; the bus is here; I’m standing in front of you now; it’s raining; you’re breathing and standing upright. . . . that’s Braille; you have a pulse.”
Again I raise my left arm, plastic sack in hand. I turn my head slightly and, again smiling, tell the fella, who is watching me as if I’m the end of a parade route, “There are fewer obstacles out here.”
"No kidding," the fella cries out with surprise, and the sound of his voice is delighted with this insight on my behalf. “Oh yeah? You’re right ha ha ha ha,” and again White Cane Guy has brought a bit of pleasure into the life of Joe Citizen, and maybe, just maybe I’ll meet him again someday.
Personally I think it is very difficult to communicate with the many unknowns who enter my sphere of being. I alluded to this earlier when I said sometimes I’ve got to handle people with kid gloves. It is such a fine line to walk when so many situations like this one imply and assume minute examination, so routinely you know you’re being watched with intrigue. I don’t think folk realize that I know by their sound and movement that they are watching me and that such focused attention on me walking through a tile-floored mall or looking for a urinal in the men’s room is like the pressure of shooting free throws in March during the NCAA college basketball tournament with twenty thousand voices screaming at you when your team is down two points and only seconds remain on the game clock. Seriously, I think blind people and disabled people in general should be highlighted on ESPN for all that we do so silently as such pertains to what the professional sporting experts call “being in the zone,” not to mention handling your emotions in hostile environments as the sporting vernacular often states is necessary.
The depth of the mall parking lot extends northwards to my right side and beyond its sparse occupancy I can hear the street I will eventually need to cross. This is my landmark, and, no matter how out of the zone I get, I can always reorient myself by listening for the ever-present sound of this heavily-traveled road in Kettering.
But again allow me to digress for a personal reason and say that I do not—do not—like it when someone tells me or asks me if I am disoriented or lost. I’m not, although I may acquiesce and say "Yes ma’am," or "Yes, sir, I am," in order to keep the world moving, but what I am telling myself is that I am only temporarily misplaced like car keys or a smartphone. Blindness is, like our organization has said for many decades, a nuisance, and well you know this. Here’s the deal: I’m shorelining the curb of the sidewalk at the front of the shopping mall. The incoming traffic from the main road and the exiting shoppers with their groceries from Trader Joe’s and tennis shoes from New Balance are driving in both directions slowly to my immediate right side, and I need to get across this access frontage road and through the parking lot to the sidewalk along the main road. Unfortunately there is no pedestrian sidewalk extending through the parking lot, and my hot air balloon is at home in the garage—the cloth ripped by the clawed feet of a crow who perched atop me when I floated over the local amphitheater to listen to Jackson Browne perform several years ago. But this is no problem because at the end of this sidewalk curb there is a stop sign for the access frontage road. In fact there is a four-way stop here, so I can put it on cruise control and listen ahead for engines rolling to a stop and then moderately accelerating after the pause to know where I need to be. Voila! White Cane Guy is planning his work and working his plan.
“Oh I am so fortunate to have received good training and to have experienced the know-how of others before me who were doing then what I wanted to do and am doing now,” I think to myself. I’m not kidding. On my worst days I can, if I am able to muster the attitudinal strength, accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and latch onto the affirmative as Johnny Mercer sang. I cannot always find and do this, but at least I know it’s possible, and I have my memories to serve in this capacity if I feed them properly.
So I’m marveling in my aptitude for cane travel, and my cane tip is metronomically playing the soundtrack to my travels. I’ve found the four-way stop thanks to one automobile’s exit route, and I’ve followed this vehicle’s trajectory of departing sound all the way to the sidewalk along the busy road. I’m asking myself if I should wash these new sheets first or do the man thing and simply spread ‘em and do laundry when absolutely necessary. The answer comes to me in 1.5 seconds.
I arrive at my corner mentally ready to listen for and align myself to the passing traffic at this intersection of four lanes north and south and four lanes east and west each direction also engineered with a filter lane, so the width is actually five lanes. I stand and listen… listen… I am listening, yes listening, and a crow flies overhead and announces itself as Jimmy Cagney.
“Huh,” I thinks to myself, “This light sure is taking a long time today.” I listen to one, two, three, six cars roll up, stop California style, and accelerate around the corner in front of me. “The traffic light must be out of order,” I tell myself because White Cane Guy is not only omnipotent, he’s a traffic engineer on his day off. A seventh car rolls up next to me and stops, then accelerates, and the cross traffic in front of me continues passing at forty miles per hour.
“The sun! Where is my sun?” My internal problem-solving voice asks, and I turn around only to realize it's clouded over since I last knew where the heck I was and began daydreaming about my White-Cane-Guy aptitude.
Another car rolls up next to me, and now White Cane Guy is going to interact with citizenry. I turn to my left to face the paused vehicle and make the universal hand-and-arm motion for someone to roll his or her window down, but I remember that I have been here forty-four winters and that this one-time universally recognized signal may be lost on someone of the everything-electronic world, or worse, the hand gesture may suggest something offensive to someone visiting the Kettering Towne & Country Mall from one of the other six continents. For all I know, I might be signaling like a prostitute does in Paraguay and end up with two halves of a broken cane and a blackened eye and still waiting to cross this street.
Instead I lean into the space between myself and the idling car and mouth words silently in just the same way I did inside Second & Charles when the unknown woman declared me White Cane Guy. “Is the traffic light out of order?” I mouth, pointing my outstretched arm up into the air where my mind has told me most certainly the traffic light should be hanging. The car’s tires squeal twice front to back and spit gravel, and I’m wondering how ridiculous I look to the passersby still moving at forty miles per hour on the other side of the street.
“Something’s wrong here,” I finally admit. “Anything’s possible. White Cane Guy has walked into the women’s restroom before, and he’s also walked past his own driveway,” I remind myself.
I gather my secret strength—my brain—and I really tune in to my surroundings. Wait a bloody second here. I’ve awakened. There’s no persistent ringing of the superfluous street-crossing signal that White Cane Guy knows to be an invention of the same conspiracy that put Braille on drive-thru ATM machines, limited Braille on McDonald’s drink lids, and probably funded the training of the rehab counselor who asked me, “What is that thing?,” when I pulled my slate and stylus from my pocket to write down his office information twenty-five years ago.
“I’m south of where I need to be,” my brain and true Orient Express tells me. Oh joy, joy, joy, joy, and joy. I win again!—temporarily misplaced just like any sighted person who exits the mall and cannot remember where the car is parked. I must have been curving westward. “That crow was telling me this, and I did not listen. That crow has been watching me silently from above for years, observing me and learning how a blind person does what a blind person does and therefore has never needed to ask me questions for which answering the obvious makes no sense other than to communicate the simple truth that what White Cane Guy does is the only answer to all mysteries herein.”
I’m two blocks south of where I need to be, and I get on with it. I reach the corner where I believed I was, and on my approach I’m hearing the familiar traffic signal noise and send out apologies and gratitude to the conspirators who inadvertently gave a practical use for my ears after all.
Making a charitable gift can be one of the most satisfying experiences in life. Each year millions of people contribute their time, talent, and treasure to charitable organizations. When you plan for a gift to the National Federation of the Blind, you are not just making a donation; you are leaving a legacy that ensures a future for blind people throughout the country. Special giving programs are available through the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
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by Marion Gwizdala
From the Editor: Marion Gwizdala is the president of the National Association of Guide Dog Users and has played a significant role in increasing the membership of the division and strengthening the ties between it and other work that occurs in the Federation. Here is what he has to say about recent negotiations on behalf of guide dog users who wish to visit zoos accompanied by their guide dogs:
On Wednesday, August 6, 2014, Merry Schoch, vice president of the Florida Association of Guide Dog Users, and I met with the executive management team of the Lowry Park Zoological Garden, also known as Lowry Park Zoo. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss how Lowry Park Zoo and the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) can work with the National Association of Guide Dog Users to provide people with disabilities who use service animals an optimal experience when visiting US zoos. We have been interested in this project for quite some time, so I am pleased that all the necessary elements are in place to make this a reality.
Due to the unique challenges of displaying live wild animals, the issue of access for those accompanied by service animals has been an area of concern for quite some time. Before the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, there were no nationally recognized policies or practices concerning service animals in zoos, leaving each exhibit to develop its own policies for such access. Some states that have places that keep and display live animals for public enjoyment or education had provisions to deny service animals admission. The state of Florida had such a provision that we worked to have repealed following the enactment of the ADA, since the Florida act violated the ADA’s implementing regulations. Since then there has been some litigation to clarify the rights of access to zoos by service animal users. Despite these cases many zoos continue to have policies, practices, and procedures that are not congruent with the ADA, ranging from restricted access to specific areas to a requirement for a chaperone while on the property.
The impetus for this specific project and our collaboration with AZA came when Dr. Don Woodman, a veterinarian and zookeeper from St. Petersburg, Florida, visited the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, New York, and was denied access. He was raising a guide dog puppy at the time, and New York statutes allowed service dog trainers the same access as disabled individuals accompanied by their trained service dogs. Dr. Woodman was told that even a fully trained service dog had limited access to the exhibits. He suggested we contact AZA, and the rest of the story unfolds from there.
I want to acknowledge the support and encouragement of Steve Olson, vice president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and Mark Trieglaff, president of ACTServices, an ADA consulting firm specializing in work with zoos. It is through Mr. Olson's suggestion after attending the 2013 annual meeting of the National Association of Guide Dog Users in Orlando that we are embarking upon this project. Mr. Trieglaff also attended this meeting, solidifying his commitment to ensuring the least restrictive access to zoo exhibits. I appreciate Mark's introduction to Craig Pugh, with whom he had worked while at the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, Illinois. I commend Mr. Pugh's energetic and enthusiastic support of our efforts, as demonstrated by his willingness to dedicate more than two hours of his time to meet with us. In addition, he encouraged the attendance of three of his executive management staff and affirmed his commitment to the long-term goals of this project in their presence. I was also very encouraged by Mr. Pugh's willingness to lead by example, allowing us the opportunity to take a critical look at Lowry Park Zoo's policies, practices, and procedures and then to follow through by making immediate changes based upon our input.
It was very refreshing that the management team valued and respected our experience and suggestions. We were encouraged by the willingness of Dr. Larry Killmar, Lowry Park Zoo's vice president of Animal Science and Conservation, to think outside the box and even more to recognize the value of our expertise. We were especially impressed with Dr. Killmar's understanding that no simulation experience, such as blindfolding sighted people or putting ambulatory individuals in wheelchairs, can replicate the experience of the disabled person, underscoring the importance of our involvement in the creation and implementation of the project.
We also want to give credit to Tony Moore who presented some issues from an operational perspective. As Lowry Park's chief operating officer he is acutely aware of the practical issues faced by the staff with direct visitor contact. We realize that, in order to shift the paradigm of what constitutes reasonable access to people accompanied by service animals, we need to address the real concerns that are unique to live wild animal exhibits by creating sound solutions to these issues and concerns. As we progress on this project, anticipating the objections will help us advance solutions.
When we first conceived of this project, our vision was to create and market a video program for dissemination among AZA members. When we shared this vision with the team, Ruth Myers, the grants manager for Lowry Park Zoo, helped us expand our perspective by raising our sights from a stand-alone video program about the rights and responsibilities of service dog users to a more comprehensive curriculum of instruction for live animal exhibits on the importance of effective policies, practices, and procedures, of which the video would be one element. She suggested we increase the scope of the project as well as the budget. Since the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences is one of the most obvious funding sources for this project, and Ms. Myers is a former grant reviewer for IMLS, her expertise will help us create the best possible proposal for this project.
As the team began to consider the expertise of each member at the table, the need for a comprehensive training program involving all stakeholders began to unfold. Many specimens in a wild animal exhibit may never have seen a dog or may view the dog as predator or prey. This could result in dire consequences. Therefore, one element of a comprehensive curriculum will involve systematically desensitizing exhibit animals until they no longer have negative reactions to the dog’s presence. Such a desensitization program could also be a valuable training tool for those preparing puppies for guide dog work.
Another element of the curriculum will obviously involve training of the staff responsible for direct guest relations. These employees will need to understand the rights and responsibilities of those who use service dogs, what is considered appropriate service dog behavior, and how to deal with those circumstances in which the right to be accompanied by the service dog is denied, either because of the service dog’s behavior or the special circumstances of the exhibit.
Those of us who use service dogs also need to understand the unique challenges of exhibiting live wild animals. Our goal is to afford service dog users an optimal experience while visiting a zoo; however, there is a need to responsibly balance our rights of access with the rights of others. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires places of public accommodation to modify their policies, practices, and procedures, unless doing so would create a direct threat to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated. Our goal is to help zoos learn how to eliminate the threats by desensitizing their animals to the presence of a dog. At the same time we need to remember that we are dealing with wild animals, and this may not always be possible. In such cases we are offering alternatives in an effort to help all service dog users have the optimal experience they are seeking.
Dr. Killmar said that the San Diego Zoo has a web-based instructional platform where this curriculum could be made easily accessible to all personnel whose agencies subscribe to this service. As a member of the board of directors for the Florida Association of Museums, Mr. Pugh also said that this project could be a springboard for training other museums in the way to make their collections more accessible to the blind and otherwise disabled.
By the time you read this article, we will have already begun our pilot training program with Lowry Park Zoo. We are beginning the process of preparing the grant proposal and identifying the necessary resources to carry out this project. These resources include videography and editing technicians, other types of service animal users, volunteers to assist in desensitization programs, other marketing channels, curriculum development, grant research and writing, and additional funding streams. As we move forward on this initiative, we intend to keep everyone abreast of the developments. The success of this project will depend upon a team effort. This team will likely expand as more zoos embrace the concepts for which we are advocating. The team will include more people becoming involved in staff training, those willing to invest time in the process of systematic desensitization, input on how our efforts are making a difference and where they need improvement, and other needs we will identify as they arise.
If you have suggestions for this initiative or have a talent or expertise you would like to offer to the project, please feel free to contact us. Our email address is <firstname.lastname@example.org>. You can also call us through the NAGDU Information and Advocacy Hotline at (888) NAGDU411 or (888) 624-3841.
by Jonathan Mosen
From the Editor: The name Jonathan Mosen is probably familiar to any of you who have owned a HumanWare product or a product from Freedom Scientific or have read advertisements from National Braille Press that feature books Jonathan has written about using the iPhone without vision. He lives in New Zealand and is a keen follower of everything happening in matters regarding the blind around the world. In this article, taken from a blog entry he made some time ago, he discusses the art of advocacy, negotiation, and determining what blind people need and how we should go about asking for it. What prompted his reflections was NFB resolution 2014-12, which said, “that this organization call upon Apple Inc. to work with the National Federation of the Blind to create and enforce policies, standards, and procedures to ensure the accessibility of all apps, including core apps distributed by Apple in the base iOS distribution, and to ensure that accessibility is not lost when an app is updated.” Its passage seemed right and proper to some, and downright ungrateful to those who tend to see Apple as the leader in accessibility and consider anything we say about them as singling them out for criticism. The resolution also sparked discussion about the role of the National Federation of the Blind in bringing lawsuits to promote accessibility, with some coming down on the side of the Federation’s being too eager to sue and others concluding just as strongly that the organization is not aggressive enough. Jonathan does not attempt to deal with this latter controversy, but he does a splendid job in talking about advocacy, responsibility, and respecting oneself enough to know that at times there is no substitute for confrontation, albeit polite and respectful. Here is what he says:
Being a member of a minority is exhausting at times. Ignorance, discrimination (both inadvertent and deliberate), and barriers preventing us from realizing our full potential are problems we encounter regularly. These issues aren't unique to blind people or even to disabled people. I'm mindful as I write this of the recent fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act in the United States. It's a significant piece of legislation. It required bravery on the part of the legislators who passed it. Its principles met with considerable resistance, some of it violent. This post is a long one, because I believe the issues of self-advocacy, collective advocacy, what is worth fighting for, and what is not are all important to our sense of self-perception and our expectations of what constitutes our rightful place in society.
I'd like to illustrate both the challenges and potential of advocacy by recalling a few issues on which I've worked over the years, remind you of the advocacy of other minorities, then take a look at the National Federation of the Blind's resolution on the accessibility of iOS apps in that context.
Maybe before you took time out to read this post, you spent some time today reading a book. Perhaps it came from Bookshare or a special format library. We now have access to eBooks, and it's worth noting that access to the Kindle app was achieved after considerable collective advocacy efforts. Nevertheless, special-format libraries and repositories continue to play an important part in blind people's exercising our right to read. It wasn't always this easy for special-format organizations to get their material to you.
In 1994 as the manager of government relations for the organization then known as the Royal New Zealand Foundation for the Blind, I oversaw a campaign of advocacy that took advantage of New Zealand's Copyright Act being rewritten. We believed that if an author published a book, it was being published for all the people to access. The status quo at that time was that, if the special-format library in New Zealand, and for that matter most other countries, wanted to make a book available in Braille or on talking book, they had to write a letter to the copyright holder asking for his or her permission. Sometimes those letters would sit on someone's desk for months and months. Eventually the library would get a reply. Most of the time the reply said "yes;" sometimes the request was declined, meaning blind people were deprived of access to that book.
It seemed wrong to me that the process of making the book available in a special format, which is time-consuming in itself, was delayed by the need to seek permission. It was absolutely abhorrent to me that publishers felt they had the right to say "no."
We began an advocacy campaign asking for a clause to be added to the Copyright Act giving blanket permission for recognized organizations for people with print disabilities to make books available in special formats, without having to seek the permission of the copyright holder first. The response of the publishers was ferocious. They blasted me and the campaign for a culture of entitlement. Worse, they called me a thief. One day I got a call from the representative of publishers who said, "So tell me, do you steal from everyone, or just from publishers?”
There's no doubt we had gotten the publishers angry. But we calmly made our case to the people who mattered—legislators. We pointed out that the publishers weren't being required to pay for their material to be made available in special formats, that access to the printed word was just as important as access to the built environment. The legislators agreed, and the law was passed. It was groundbreaking, and in subsequent years I was approached by a number of organizations in multiple countries, including the United States, about how we concluded that advocacy effort successfully and how they might go about doing something similar.
Ultimately that concept has now been enshrined in an international treaty. Something considered by some to be radical, over-reaching, and exhibiting entitlement just twenty years ago is now considered sound public policy, even by the publishers.
Not long after that campaign was concluded successfully, I was being asked to front up on a range of current affairs shows over my campaign to repeal the law that arguably prohibited any blind person from serving on any jury. I debated the issue on radio with our minister of justice, who was staunchly opposed to any change in the law. In the most exciting of these appearances, I was debating one of New Zealand's top criminal lawyers, who was both patronizing and adamant on the subject. Sight, he said, was essential to serve on any jury. I put my case politely but forcefully.
Afterwards the talk shows were full of it. There were a good number of people who talked about political correctness gone mad, asking why the Foundation was paying big money for this clown to alienate people, saying they'd never donate to the Foundation again. No matter how psychologically prepared you are for the onslaught, it's not easy being in the center of that kind of firestorm.
However, legislators were watching. Enough had been persuaded by the logic of my argument that the law was changed. Now it's totally a non-issue. I could fill screens and screens with examples like this--examples of taking advocacy stances that were right but unpopular.
All the vitriol I went through is totally insignificant compared with what racial minorities, such as blacks in the US, went through to secure their right to equality. There was no shortage of people who said, "If we don't want to serve blacks, that's our right. If we don't want blacks at our school, that's our right." If brave, great civil rights leaders had listened to those who were worried about how many white people civil rights campaigns were offending, what a much less equal world we'd have. Sometimes you have to take a stand, knowing it will offend. That's not to say you deliberately seek to offend. One is better respected, and furthers one's cause, when one is resolute but courteous.
In the context of the resolution passed by NFB over the weekend asking that Apple require all iOS apps to be accessible, it really saddens me to see the number of young people on social networks, enjoying entitlements very hard fought for, slamming what they perceive to be the culture of entitlement pervasive in the resolution. Ironic, and sad. People seem to forget that in 2008 we had access to iTunes, at least in Windows, only thanks to the diligence of one man, Brian Hartgen. I seem to recall a lot of people complaining extremely vociferously about the cost he was charging to get some recompense for the hours and hours it took to make that dog's breakfast of an app usable.
When Apple embarked on iTunes U and educational institutions began adopting it, iTunes became subject to federal law. The NFB of Massachusetts sued Apple, and also put pressure on universities not to use iTunes U until iTunes was fully accessible. NFB won that suit. Now blind people with a range of screen readers benefit daily from that advocacy, which some people criticized at the time.
Can we express gratitude and request change at the same time? Yes, of course we can. NFB gave Apple an award in 2010 for the remarkable, life-changing introduction of VoiceOver to iOS. But we are customers. The money we pay for an iPhone or iPad is no less of value than the money a sighted person pays. We're perfectly entitled to strive for access to as many apps as we can get. Since the resolution was published ahead of the debate, a move for which I thank NFB since the debate was interesting, people have asked why Apple is being singled out. I think the reasons for that are twofold.
First, more blind smartphone users are using iOS than any other platform, by virtue of how well Apple has done. Apple can and should be proud of that. Second and most significantly, no other app repository imposes as many criteria on app developers. Apps are rejected from the App Store for a bunch of reasons. Apple can decide the app adds no particular value. It can reject it for security reasons. It can decide the app is in bad taste or not family-friendly enough. Those of us who've been around a while may remember all the hassles Google had getting the Google Voice app into the App Store.
So then the question is, why shouldn't accessibility be of greater concern? Some have said that the resolution's scope is totally unrealistic. They say that calling for all apps to be accessible is just nonsense. It can't be done, and it would be hard to police even if it could.
Let me take the first part first. It can't be done? Yes, I agree with that. It can't. There are some apps so visual in nature and purpose that you're never going to make them accessible. If that's the case, why do I support the resolution? I support it because it's important to understand how advocacy works. You go into a negotiation with your very best case scenario on display. In an ideal world we'd like all apps to be accessible. I have no inside information, but I have concluded many successful advocacy campaigns, and I have no doubt that NFB will already be clear about where they'd be prepared to give ground. If Apple comes to the table, its starting position is likely to be that whether a third-party app is accessible or not is a matter for the developer in question, not Apple. Apple may well also have a compromise position of some kind in mind. It's an absolutely standard negotiating position.
Second, how practical is the resolution, given that there are approximately 1.5 million apps in the store? There are plenty of automated testing tools in use in IT companies. They can certainly test for textual labels on buttons, although I agree it would have to be a clever testing tool to try and ascertain whether the text was helpful. Tricky, but Apple has some of the best software engineers in the world.
I can remember some years ago when web accessibility campaigns were in their infancy. Many people were complaining then about how unnecessary and politically correct web accessibility was because they just knew blind people would never go to their website anyway. Then Dreamweaver, a popular web authoring tool, added warnings when developers tried to save a page that contained links or graphics without ALT text. A warning would pop-up telling developers that it looked like they were about to create an inaccessible page, and did they really want to do that. Adding a similar warning to Apple's developer tools could make a huge difference.
It's true that automated testing tools and warnings when developers create an app are not a panacea. Perhaps some additional blind people might be employed to further Apple's efforts here. And, if a few more of the capable, tech-savvy blind people I know who are struggling to find work could get those jobs, I'm all for that.
Some people have said how sad it is that NFB is showing such ingratitude, that they're alienating developers, the very people we need to have on our side. As you may know, I set up a company earlier this year, Appcessible, where a bunch of blind people help app developers with accessibility. It's rewarding work, and I find it satisfying because, if I see a problem, I always try to find a constructive way of being part of the solution. But no matter how hard we at Appcessible try, how hard you try as an individual who contacts a developer, it's a humongous task. You'll have successes, and you'll have setbacks, but there's a wider principle to be defended here.
The status quo is that app developers can say, "If we don't wish to accommodate blind people, that's our right." Sound familiar? It should. It's a similar argument to that which was used against blacks in 1964. Deaf people have been criticized for their efforts to have every single movie captioned on Netflix. Wheelchair users were criticized for getting legislation passed requiring all public buildings to be physically accessible. Building owners objected, saying no disabled people come here anyway, so why should I bother? The irony is, disabled people didn't go there because they couldn't.
Many app developers either don't know blind people are using VoiceOver, think we only use special apps, or think that we don't want to use their particular app. We're a low-incidence population, so misconceptions are common. And that's yet another reason why this resolution has been a great move. I've read a number of tech publications this morning where a story about the resolution is running. I figured it would get out there eventually, which is why those who thought the resolution made no difference were naive and didn't understand the media clout of an organization like NFB.
Of course there are those reacting badly. As I've sought to illustrate, nothing worth winning in this world was ever won without objection, so I'm relaxed about that. But you know what's good? People are talking about app accessibility in the mainstream. Some of the commenters are educating the ignorant about how powerful VoiceOver is, what blind people are doing with iPhones, and how relatively easy it is to make an app accessible. Sure, there'll be people who will never be persuaded, but today more people are a little more informed about accessibility than yesterday.
Some have objected strongly to a quotation in the Reuters piece on NFB's resolution in which an affiliate board member mentioned the potential of a lawsuit on this issue. I listened to the debate carefully on Saturday, and the question of a lawsuit didn't come up. I also know from experience that, once a story gets into the wild, news agencies will contact people they have on file, who may not necessarily be an authorized spokesperson for the organization. That's just the nature of the media. Once the story gets out there, you can't control who they talk to.
I realize I've written a bit of a novel here, but I really want to try the best I can to illustrate to younger people in particular why many of the accommodations they enjoy today, such as the course they're studying, the job they're doing, the vocational choices they have, were achieved over the opposition of some often powerful forces. We need to be far less worried about what others think and more concerned with a considered position on what we believe the place of blind people in society to be. Do we have sufficient self-worth that we're willing to do what it takes to achieve equality, even when it necessitates ruffling a few feathers, or are we content to languish in our mediocrity and accept being rebuffed?
In this case I think NFB made the right call. Maybe Apple will come to the table, maybe it won't. But already more people are aware of accessibility than they were before this resolution. If Apple does engage, the outcome won't be that every single app will be accessible, but with good will on both sides, progress will be made. Then, in twenty years, people will be trying to remember why it was ever contentious.
by Jamie Allison
From the Editor: Jamie Allison is a member of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, the president of the Cherokee County chapter, the coordinator of their recently concluded BELL program, and, from what I can tell, a delightfully well-organized human being who believes that good organization can maximize one’s enjoyment of our convention and has taken the time to share some of her tips. Here is what she says:
I was proud to represent my local chapter and my state at the 2014 National Convention, celebrating the 74th anniversary of the Federation’s founding, this year in Orlando, Florida. I was encouraged to submit a request for the Jernigan Scholarship and was honored to receive it. I also had the mentorship of several experienced Federationists who have attended national conventions in the past. I learned an immense amount of information during convention on a variety of subjects, but more importantly, I learned more about my own potential as a blind person. I often thought about and even dreamed of attending a national convention in the years prior to my attendance in 2014. Now that this dream has been realized, I want to share some of what I learned with the next class of rookies.
First, accept from the beginning that you can't possibly do it all. I found that, even with meticulous preplanning and prioritizing, there is no way to do everything that is available. Begin studying the agenda once it has been released. It will take several readings in order to get a feel for the choices you will be making. I would also advise making an individualized itinerary. I did this with a simple Microsoft Word document containing the times and locations for the events that I felt were most important. Later I Brailled an abbreviated hard copy of this information to carry with me. This made things a bit simpler for me because I didn't have to consult the entire agenda to refresh my memory on when and where my priority events would be.
Think of your itinerary as a fluid plan. Give yourself the flexibility to adjust it as needed. Items that don't seem interesting at first may become more inviting after hearing about someone else's experience with them once you're at the convention. You may also find that some of the ones you thought were good choices may not be as good after all. Look for the ones with repeat sessions and schedule them around the ones that don't repeat.
Have a place to keep all of your materials for the convention within easy reach. I created a Dropbox folder for electronic files of agendas, itineraries, and other information. I also kept my Braille agenda and a folder with hard copies of such documents in one place in my hotel room. I did not have to take every document to every event, but having one place to store them made it much easier to put my hands on them when needed.
You will definitely want some sort of bag to carry things from one event to another. Thankfully, tote bags were a frequent free item. Some of the state affiliates sold small drawstring backpacks in the exhibit hall. I bought one to use during the week and noticed a lot of other people doing the same thing.
Plan ahead for what you need to pack. Casual clothing will get you through the better part of the week, but you do need to dress appropriately for the banquet. Don't forget to bring a swimsuit if you plan to go to the pool. Towels and linens are usually provided, so concentrate on the other things you will need. Remember to leave some room in your suitcase in case you do any shopping, either at the exhibit hall or away from the convention. UPS boxes were also sold in the exhibit hall. I found that to be very helpful because I sent some of the bulkier items home that way, rather than putting them into my luggage. However, I did have to remember to drop it off at a designated time and place before I left.
You also need to consider the fatigue factor. The convention is more like a marathon than a sprint, especially if you plan to be there from seminar day through the banquet. Try to get extra rest in the week or two prior to the convention, and allow yourself a couple of recovery days afterward if you can. If you are not directly responsible for overseeing the travel, try to get some sleep while en route and as you go home. Don't forget to plan some blocks of time when you can relax during convention week. If you are the type of person who needs a break from the crowded meeting rooms, elevators, and restaurants, plan some times when you can be by yourself for a few minutes. Bring lunch up to your hotel room or better yet, make a trip to a nearby store and grab items you can use for impromptu meals once you're there. This is a much less expensive option than buying all your meals at the hotel, as well as providing an opportunity for a break for yourself. Make use of the pool area and exercise facilities in between or after meetings. This is very important to help balance the amount of time you spend sitting in one place. As contrary as this idea may seem, this will actually help keep you from feeling the fatigue as badly.
I would also advise you to be mindful of your sleep schedule. It is hard to turn down the request for a late-night visit with a friend you just met or to cut the conversation short if you're doing some networking. If you are one of those fortunate souls with a high energy level and can function on a handful of hours sleep for a few consecutive nights, you'll most likely be fine—maybe a little frazzled by the last day or two. For those of us who have medical conditions that affect rate of fatigue, it is vitally important that we pay attention to what our body is telling us. You may have to pare down some of the items on your itinerary or leave the evening's activities before you're really ready, but it would be no fun to spend the last couple of days stuck in your room from being sick as a result of overdoing it. If you take medicine, be sure to bring enough with you for the entire trip and perhaps some extra in case there are unforeseen delays.
Don't forget to stay hydrated. There is a lot of sitting, but you must sometimes walk a considerable distance between events. It might be helpful to bring bottled water with you for seminar day or evening activities. There were plenty of water stations just outside the convention hall during general sessions, so it isn’t necessary to buy bottled water during those unless you really don't like moving from your seat during meetings. It's also perfectly fine to get up during meetings to stretch or use the restroom. Just be as discreet as you are able. I found it easier to do this if I chose a seat near the back of the room, at the end of a row, and preferably near a corner. This may not work if you wish to sit with your state's delegation. If you have a guide dog, I would also caution you not to position your dog directly next to a doorway, since there will be people needing to get in and out of the room. And, of course, be mindful of noise-emitting devices during sessions and meetings. It is wise to bring a set of headphones for your phone or notetaker. If you must take a call, please leave the room.
A good piece of advice I give to families with more than one adult attending is that you have the advantage of doing some turn taking. If two items are happening simultaneously that are both important, families have the ability to "divide and conquer." It's also possible for one parent to stay in the room with a child that may be over-tired or fussy while the other attends meetings. Those roles can be swapped so that both spouses get a break and the chance to do things.
I would also encourage first-time attendees to go to the Rookie Roundup. You will receive a warm welcome, lots of useful information, and a ribbon for your name tag that lets others know you are a first-timer. I also would encourage you not to overlook the other seminars held just before and during the general sessions. I attended many of the NOPBC (National Organization of Parents of Blind Children) and PIBE (Professionals in Blindness Education) sessions and found them very useful. The cane walk and the Braille book fair should definitely be on almost everyone's itinerary.
Also know ahead of time that many state affiliates and divisions use the convention to fundraise. You will be asked many times if you would like to purchase an item, make a donation, or buy a raffle ticket. I was told to budget ahead for this, and that was extremely helpful. It's very hard to refuse, especially when it's a cute child making the request, and it often is. I kept a ziplock bag with my budgeted amount of money for this in one- and five-dollar bills. It went with me almost everywhere. Then, when I purchased tickets for a raffle, the tickets also went into this bag so that they didn't get lost in the shuffle. This was helpful in several ways, not only as an organizational tool, but as a way to gauge how much money I had spent for this type of thing. When I started to run low, I was more conservative in my purchasing. When I ran out, I didn't feel bad about declining a purchase, knowing that I had already used what had been budgeted for this. Once or twice I reached into my "miscellaneous" budgeted monies when motivated to help a certain division that I felt strongly about.
This leads me to my next piece of advice. As soon as you know you are going, make a budget. Put it in writing in whatever format you're used to using and include everything—transportation, lodging, food, registration and banquet fees, donations and sales, miscellaneous spending, and admission costs for activities or meetings that require it. Ask veteran attendees how much one should budget for certain items. Increase that amount by a few dollars as a cushion. Have an emergency fund (or if you have the ability and don't mind doing so, assign a credit card to use) to cover anything that you may not have planned for. Once you decide how much you think you need to budget for each item, try not to exceed this amount significantly. Think about sharing the cost of the hotel room. This decreases the amount you pay for lodging significantly. Our state also rents a charter bus for its members who help fundraise to offset the cost during the year. Members can ride it to and from the convention at a reduced price.
Be mindful of freebies. There will be many of these opportunities around, but you have to be observant to find them. I was able to RSVP for a free breakfast and information session put on by the American Foundation for the Blind. The food was delicious, and the information was interesting. There were also tote bags and other items at events or in the exhibit hall. Bookshare.org had freebies for its clients, which turned out to be extremely useful.
I also encourage you to go to the banquet. If you plan to apply for the Jernigan Scholarship, this is a requirement. It is also one of the key portions of the convention, and you'll feel a stronger connection with the organization if you are able to attend. However, this is probably the most expensive item for the week other than lodging, transportation to and from the hotel, and food. It is worth the cost to attend, whether this is your first or your fiftieth convention.
I hope the information that I have shared will make your first convention easier. I definitely encourage everyone to attend, especially if you have read about past conventions and thought it would be interesting or fun to go. Even if you already consider yourself an old pro at being blind, you will learn things that will challenge you to be more independent. There is something there for everyone, and I guarantee that by the end of the week you'll learn something new about yourself and your own abilities that will surprise you.
by Daniel B. Frye
From the Editor: Dan Frye is the executive director of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired (CBVI), the state agency responsible for providing vocational rehabilitation, independent living, education, and eye-health services to blind and vision-impaired residents of New Jersey. Prior to his role with CBVI, Dan served for three years as the national manager of the Randolph-Sheppard Program and grants officer for the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youth and Adults at the Rehabilitation Services Administration. An active Federationist at the local, state, and national levels since his childhood in South Carolina in 1982, Dan worked on the NFB's national staff from 2005 to 2010 in our Affiliate Action Department and as associate editor and editor of the Braille Monitor. Finally, from 2002 to 2005 Dan served as national advocate for the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand (ABC NZ), where he used his skill as a Federation-trained advocate and graduate of law school to promote the legislative and political agenda of the ABC NZ membership. Throughout his adulthood Dan has been involved with Democratic politics, the Unitarian-Universalist community, and Lionism. He and his wife Renee reside in Newark, New Jersey. Here is what he says about his college experience and learning to fit in:
Soccer was the dominant sport played and appreciated at Erskine College, the small, four-year liberal arts institution where I earned my undergraduate degree. During freshman orientation it was made clear to everybody, sports enthusiast or not, that support of, if not involvement in, Erskine's extracurricular point of pride was important. Much of community life and campus spirit were influenced by the success or failure of our Single A, championship-caliber women's soccer team. As a matter of course then, we were all made familiar with the location of the soccer field in the sleepy little town of Due West, South Carolina, and it was there that we, as newly admitted students to Erskine College, pledged our allegiance to the Flying Fleet.
Founded in 1840, Erskine enjoys the distinction of being the oldest private college in South Carolina. It was and remains a small school, enrolling approximately eight hundred students while I was there. Generations of families sent their offspring to Erskine to study but also, it seemed to me, to honor their heritage and institutional tradition. In such an intimate environment, situated in a small southern town characterized by charm and a unique regional culture, the arrival on the scene of a blind freshman with no identifiable ties to the community must have been jarring for campus residents so steeped in an ethos of custom and conformity.
Motivated in part by an adolescent desire to fit in, but also by an interest in demonstrating that there was nothing inherently abnormal about being blind, I immediately immersed myself in the college life. I sought and secured election to the Student Senate as a freshman and then served during my last three years of college on the Student Judicial Council, the entity charged with hearing and resolving student infractions. Loving to sing, I auditioned and was accepted as a member of the Erskine College Choraleers, a show choir that annually toured and served as a musical ambassador for the school. Wanting to develop my skill as a writer further, I volunteered as a reporter for the Erskine College Mirror and was ultimately given the opportunity to write my own weekly column, "Spotlight," featuring accomplished members of the student body.
In order to help pay my way through college, I worked as a tutor in the Office of Academic Counseling Services. Among all these obligations I worked in time to study so that I could actually earn the degree for which I came to college.
Gradually I managed to integrate into the social microcosm of Erskine life with a measure of success. Along the way, though, I had to engage in a great deal of public education about blindness. I explained and demonstrated, for instance, that I could independently carry my own tray in the college cafeteria without problem or incident. Additionally, professors prompted by a misdirected sense of benevolence, would occasionally offer to exempt me from performing assignments which they believed to be beyond the ability of a blind student. I would explain that it was important for me to complete comparable tasks in order to receive credit for my coursework. These and other lessons helped to increase the respect for and expectations of blind people in the Erskine community.
On a crisp fall Friday evening in my senior year of college, I was walking up Main Street in pursuit of a sub sandwich for supper at the Station, a refurbished gas station turned take-out deli. As I walked this familiar route, I could hear music wafting from the seminary as I passed and loud cheering from the soccer field about a half mile away. Otherwise the evening was quiet, and I was intent on grabbing a bite to eat and relaxing after an intense week of school. The streets and sidewalks were vacant except for an occasional passing car. My mind was far away in thought as I soaked up the familiar sounds and smells of my fourth autumn in Due West.
Suddenly my attention was captured by a persistent honking horn and shouted inquiries from several rather intoxicated students visiting from a neighboring college. Out of the opened window of their noisy automobile, they asked, "Hey, where's the soccer field?" I stopped, gave them the driving directions, and they were off as abruptly as they had appeared.
As I finished my walk and returned to my dorm room, I reflected on the simple but significant interaction that had occurred earlier. Sighted people, driving along, observed me comfortably engaging in my community and asked if I could be of assistance to them. I responded appropriately with the desired information, and we went our separate ways.
Frequently as a blind person I have been subtly discouraged from contributing to the social intercourse of my world by those who harbor low expectations of blind people or who simply are unaware of our community's diverse aptitude. Often the reservation stems from a desire to make things as easy as possible for the blind person or from a general sense of discomfort caused by limited exposure to blind people. In short, misinformation, low expectations, and a genuine kindness are regularly the culprits for our restricted opportunity to contribute in an unobtrusive way to the normal course of affairs. The final factor in this diminishment, as I pondered this topic on that memorable Friday evening, has to be our own complacency resulting from teaching that encourages blind people to accept assistance more often than we are urged to give it. So I resolved that evening to carry my luggage, answer questions in a crowd, help others as it was needed, and generally not take for granted the importance to a blind person of acting normally. I recognized then and there the value of engaging in such simple but significant social interactions as a way to advance our integration as blind people into the larger world. The direction I offered to the soccer-seeking students, while not profound, may have helped them understand the innate normalcy of blind people. I was glad to have been there to answer their question.
by Cindy Bennett
From the Editor: Cindy Bennett is the recently elected treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Washington, a winner of a 2014 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship, and a woman whose intention is to work in the field of adaptive technology for the blind. Every challenge she has in getting equal access to her coursework serves as one more affirmation that she has chosen the correct field and that the efforts of her labor and the intelligence she brings to the world are being properly focused. Because she is socially conscious enough to be concerned with more than her own narrow self-interest, Cindy shares her budding awareness about the unfairness of paying less than the minimum wage in an email post to the National Association of Blind Students (NABS) listserv. Here is what she says:
The first I heard about the fair wages initiative was at the 2011 National Convention. It was my first convention, and I was astonished that we cared about solving a problem experienced by those with disabilities who did not have hope of gaining anything better based on their lack of potential. I heard about the initiative again from our national representative at the NFB of Minnesota state convention and at the North Carolina state convention; I was attending BLIND Inc. and had the good fortune to attend both. Anil Lewis happened to be in Minneapolis for some reason and ran a seminar for the students at BLIND Inc. Surprise! It too was on the subminimum wage issue. I was annoyed at this point. I felt like people were yelling at me to just believe that it was wrong, and I didn't listen because my only experiences with people tagged as having multiple disabilities were at events where they were tokens for fundraising purposes or visiting a class or something.
I was a National Association of Blind Students representative at the NFB of Michigan convention later that fall, and Anil Lewis was the national representative. I had finally had enough, so I cornered him and asked him why the NFB expected its members to take action based only on moral arguments, when no one had ever presented me with any facts on which to act.
Since then I have seen numerous emails and stories filled with facts and figures that expose the fallacy that special wage certificates are in place for the good of those with disabilities. Not only did my confrontation help to change my mind about the rightness of pressing for the minimum wage for everyone, but it also convinced me that this is an organization in which what I say means something. I expressed a concern to a national leader, he listened and understood the value of what I and others were suggesting, and then he acted to address our concerns.
If it isn’t abundantly clear from what I’ve already said, I too, at first was very skeptical about the relevance of this issue in the National Federation of the—let's hear it—Blind—not Blind with other disabilities—and about whether it was actually unfair, discriminatory, and immoral.
Many entities justify their special wage certificate because they claim they are a training center for people with disabilities. If that is so, then you would expect trained people to depart such a center or at least move up in the ranks. At our NFB training centers, our students don't stay forever. Although we don't train students for one specific job, we have success rates of over 90 percent of our graduates finding jobs or going to school within a year of graduating from a center. I will echo others in noting that several students at our training centers have disabilities in addition to blindness. In contrast, only 5 percent of workers at these so-called sheltered workshops/training centers with their special wage certificates ever seek other employment.
Another argument is that passing legislation will mean that all people with disabilities working under the Section 14(c) provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act will lose their jobs. I agree with Arielle Silverman, the former president of the National Association of Blind Students, when she observes that, if employers do this, it is because they are prejudiced against workers with disabilities. It is obvious that these companies operate just fine, given they are able to pay exorbitant executive salaries.
A great example of this phenomenon occurred at the state convention of the NFB of Washington in 2012. BISM in Maryland, the Chicago Lighthouse for the Blind, and the Seattle Lighthouse for the Blind voluntarily forfeited their special wage certificates and committed to pay all workers at least the minimum wage. We thanked the CEO of the Seattle Lighthouse at our convention. He gave a report, as he does each year, and mentioned that the company was operating on a $54 million budget. He later mentioned that the transition would be difficult because it was costing the Lighthouse $60 thousand a year to raise everyone's wage to at least the minimum. A little math easily shows that this is just over one-tenth of 1 percent of their $54 million operating budget.
If a company is having difficulty making less than a one-tenth of 1 percent increase in its cost, then they have bigger problems. I would contend that the real transition is in attitudes rather than finances. Paying people ethically does not cost these companies; these are not mom-and-pop shops employing people with disabilities at subminimum wage; these are often conglomerate workshops that take advantage of the provision to get nice perks like preferential contracts, which means they have to do less work to receive more business, and people with disabilities are an easy ticket to such a provision.
For those that think this plight affects only those with multiple disabilities, you should be informed that our own NABS president, Sean Whalen, worked for subminimum wages at a sheltered workshop. He is now pursuing a master's in public policy from Harvard, but at the time his community believed that such a job was his only hope. He talked about this in his 2012 presidential report at the annual business meeting of NABS at the national convention. Similarly, there was a news special done months ago about a couple in Montana working for subminimum wages. If they have additional disabilities, they did not choose to disclose anything other than blindness in the news story.
However, I think this is irrelevant. We just had a discussion on the listserv of the National Association of Blind Students about working harder to include people who have disabilities in addition to blindness in the NFB. This fight is a direct way we are doing this. We believe that people with all types of disabilities can achieve adequate productivity in society with the proper training and opportunity. We highlight this in many of our major speeches. In an article about Walgreens hiring people with disabilities, mention is made of using simple organization strategies like colors, food items, or animals to help people whose understanding is not adequately communicated through lettered signage. The Walgreens article also mentioned several times that hiring people with disabilities was an experiment, and, if the workers did not meet their standards, they would let them go. My favorite part of the article, the one that really resonates with me as an accessibility researcher, is that the methods used to assist those with disabilities actually helped everyone.
Another thing I have wondered is whether some of these people with disabilities even understood what minimum wage is at the time they agreed to work for it. There is an inherent problem with this. We have legislation protecting those who cannot manage their own lives against abuse, and, if caregivers can be convicted for squandering their clients' money, how can a business be given the opportunity to take direct advantage of someone who doesn't know the system? What is more is that this idea is unrealistic. Many earners of subminimum wage know it and are brainwashed to believe they are not worth more. I heard these exact words said by a woman who attended the NFB of Oregon state convention. She interrupted Parnell Diggs's update about the fair wages initiative to say that she had other disabilities and mental health instability that prevent her from being productive enough to be worth paying the minimum wage. It sure seems like her employer does not fit the propaganda about the happy places that just love giving people with disabilities opportunity and increasing self-esteem. They have clearly exaggerated what society already tells her: as someone with a disability, she really isn't worth much, and she should be thankful for the charitable saviors who give her some way to spend her sad life. I don't see anyone going through tests to gauge whether they are worth anything.
All workers except people with disabilities are entitled to the minimum wage if they get a job. So this is about equality. And, if there is someone who—after being put through appropriate training and after being given appropriate opportunity—does not perform to company standards or who chooses not to work, then, disability or not, I do not believe he or she should be working at that job. I think that this will constitute a small minority of people with disabilities.
The essential question is whether it is okay to give someone something to do just to keep him or her occupied, when others doing that same something are given a proper wage. I have to wonder how unproductive these employees actually are. I wonder if the issue lies more with the inside-the-box training that is too often provided, in lieu of training that really meets the needs of the disabled people seeking work.
It is true that some employers pay their workers without disabilities based on productivity; it's called commission. Right-to-work states also require service industry workers like restaurant servers to count tips as part of their wage. But this has nothing to do with Section 14(c), which discriminates against a select group of individuals simply because they have a disability—not because they are less productive, but because they are disabled; productivity tests are implemented as a mechanism to determine wages; the certificates are not made for "less productive people."
It wasn't long ago that we treated other groups like this. I have watched several World War II videos about how to train a woman to work. They became popular when many women went to work to replace the men who had gone to fight. The videos were littered with misconceptions such as the need to be softer on a woman, the importance of not expecting as much out of her, and remembering not to expect her to understand higher level thinking. This sounds inane now, but we are still behind as a society when it comes to the perceptions of what people with disabilities can contribute to the workplace and society.
Some think it is utopian to think that legislation will solve the problem, and in some ways it is. And that is why the NFB also does other things, such as creating quality training for blind people and working with other companies and organizations who exemplify similar ideals to prove that the legislation should create rather than stifle opportunities. Some companies will choose to continue their prejudiced behavior against people with disabilities, but I would like to learn more about how realistic this is. It sounds to me like preferential contracts are pretty desirable, and any reputable companies that laid off a ton of workers with disabilities would get deplorable publicity.
If you think the NFB is crazy for believing in the capabilities of the disabled, then consider that President Obama included workers with disabilities in his recent executive order raising the minimum wage for all workers under federal contracts. Similarly, over fifty organizations made up of and for people with disabilities have joined the NFB in the effort to phase out Section 14(c).
So I challenge anyone who justifies the subminimum wage to take a good hard look at the sheltered workshops which employ it—their tax-exempt status, their preference in getting government contracts, their charitable solicitations, and their inflated salaries, and then tell me with a straight face that you believe it would be a hardship to pay at least the minimum wage to the blind and the otherwise-disabled who live in our world, share our expenses, and have the same hopes, dreams, and aspirations as do the rest of us. We can do better; we will do better!
by Eric Woods
From the Editor: This article is taken from the 2013 Holiday Issue of the Blind Coloradan. Included is the editor’s note written by Kevan Worley. Here is Kevan’s introduction:
Eric Woods is a longtime Federationist and a member of the NFB of Colorado board of directors. As a blind adult he has been an industrial arts instructor. He has worked as a counselor and role model for hundreds of blind youth. Many of our readers know Eric as a guitar player, singer, and songwriter. Eric regularly performs in the Americana group Stray Dog. We are thankful for Eric’s reflections during this time of celebration and Thanksgiving. Here is what he says:
It being the holiday season, and especially Thanksgiving, I find myself, as many of us do around this time of year, putting the giving of thanks that is in my heart into words. I've had what most people around the world would consider to be a blessed existence, at least comparatively so—decent up-bringing, opportunities, plenty of good food and friends, and sometimes more than enough beer. For all these things I am quite thankful. But as I get older, not only in my overall years of life but also in the increasing number of years which I have been blind, I find that my hopes for the future and my thankfulness for all I've been lucky enough to receive have simplified some. I imagine that this is not altogether uncommon.
When I was a little boy, I had such dreams: dreams that very few could ever obtain, but the stuff that makes youngsters bounce around and would likely lead to discouragement if I dreamt them at a later age. I wanted to win Wimbledon. I wanted to play second base for a World Series winning ball club. I wanted to be a rock star and have countless busty chicks trying to tackle me on the street. Nobody will be surprised to realize that not even a whiff of these or similar dreams came true, though I once was knocked over by two women coming out of a Walmart.
Gradually we all realize the differences between dreams and reality. I had given up the pie-in-the-sky sort of dreams for a regular existence, and I was fine with that. I was about where I wanted to be at that stage in my life when I went blind. After going blind, I wanted to be cured, and, God knows I would have been thankful. Of course I was cured shortly thereafter—at least I began the curing process, though I didn't quite understand how all that was happening at the time.
Initially I wanted my eyes back in good working order, but really that was just the physical cause of my problems, not the underlying manifestation of my situation. I wanted to feel normal again. It wasn't that I couldn't see a book or a newspaper; it's that I suddenly had no means of reading any longer. It wasn't that I couldn't see the grocery store; rather, it was that I had no way of getting there. I wanted to feel good about myself, and I didn't. I wanted to feel optimistic about the rest of my life, and I couldn't. I wanted to be a normal guy again, and I didn't know how.
God never chose to give me my sight back. Doctors couldn't medicate or operate my eyes back into usefulness. Scientists and engineers had no solutions. After some time of feeling despair and desperation, I did find a cure of sorts. My eyes are not healed, but the hole I felt in my soul over the loss of sight I experienced as a young man has been filled with countless caring men and women. I have known them for many years now. I am thankful for them. I feel good about myself. I read books and newspapers again and feel optimistic about my remaining time. I am a normal guy. Thank you, National Federation of the Blind, with all your individual, local, state, and national components. You have done this for me. I will never be able to thank you enough.
This month’s recipes are offered by members of the NFB of Pennsylvania.
by Antoinette (Toni) Whaley
Antoinette (Toni) Whaley is the current treasurer of the NFB of Pennsylvania. She is also the treasurer of NAGDU and the president of the Pennsylvania Association of Guide Dog Users. This recipe comes from her Aunt Babs.
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 cup oil
4 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1/2 cup almonds or walnuts, finely ground
Method: Cream the butter, sugars, and oil. Beat until well blended. Add one egg at a time, blending well after each addition. In another bowl combine flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Add to butter mixture, and mix until blended. Add extract and nuts, and mix well. Cover and place into refrigerator for two hours or overnight. Form dough into one-inch balls. Roll in granulated sugar and place on lightly greased baking sheet. Using a glass with a decorative bottom dipped in water and sugar, press into cookies. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake for twelve to fifteen minutes or until brown around the edges. Makes about 100 cookies.
Sour Cream Pound Cake
by Antoinette (Toni) Whaley
1 cup butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sour cream
2 cups sifted flour
1/2 cup nuts, finely chopped
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons sugar
Method: Cream butter, sugar, and eggs together. Add sour cream and beat on medium speed. Sift all dry ingredients together and add to egg mixture along with vanilla. Mix well. Pour half the batter into a greased and floured tube pan. Combine nuts, cinnamon, and sugar. Sprinkle the nut mixture on the batter. Pour remaining batter on top. Place in a cold oven and then set the oven to 350 degrees. Bake fifty-five minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Remove from pan immediately onto cooling rack.
by Michelle McManus
Michelle McManus is the president of the Happy Valley Chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania and is an affiliate board member. She has also been one of the co-chairs of our BELL program in Pennsylvania for the past two years.
2 pounds ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 to 3 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 15-ounce can ranch-style beans
6 corn tortillas
1 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 10-ounce can RoTel tomatoes
1 can condensed mushroom soup
Method: Brown ground beef and onion in a large skillet. Add chili powder, cumin, and salt; stir well. Spoon the meat mixture into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Layer beans, tortillas, and cheeses over the meat. Pour RoTel liquid over cheese. Chop RoTel tomatoes and spread over cheese. Spread soup over all. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for one hour.
Note: I use refried beans. I’m not sure if these are “ranch-style beans” or not, but they taste great. This recipe takes awhile, but it's worth it.
by Eileen Hunger
Eileen Hunger is the treasurer of the Greater Lehigh Valley Chapter of the NFB of Pennsylvania. Her husband Kirk is the president of this chapter and serves as a board member for the affiliate.
3 to 4 pounds of fresh broccoli broken into small florets—use only florets or use some stems too after peeling and dicing them
1 large onion, diced (a red onion adds color) or 8-10 scallions/green onions, diced
1 cup raisins (or more to taste)
1 pound bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
Method: Rinse broccoli and drain thoroughly so that the dressing will adhere. In a large bowl, mix all of the above ingredients together.
1 to 2 cups of mayonnaise (to taste, how creamy do you want it?)
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (how sweet do you want it?)
2 tablespoons vinegar
Method: Mix ingredients together in small bowl. Pour over and stir into the large bowl of prepared salad ingredients. Can be made one day ahead of time, but must be kept refrigerated.
Mama Eileen Rosa’s Marinara Spaghetti Sauce
by Eileen Hunger
Eileen says about this recipe: “Growing up in Brooklyn and living next to an Italian restaurant was a very fragrant experience. This is one of the jewels I gleaned from the real thing.”
4 sliced or pressed garlic cloves
2/3 cup olive oil
2 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons dry parsley
1 teaspoon basil
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 small can tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Method: In a large skillet (or Dutch oven if doubling recipe), lightly brown garlic in olive oil. Remove from heat to avoid splatter and add diced tomatoes. Return to low heat, add and stir in the remaining seasonings, except the tomato paste and oregano. Allow to simmer uncovered for twenty minutes. Then add the tomato paste and blend it into the sauce. Now add the oregano and simmer for the final ten minutes. If the oregano is added too early, it makes the sauce bitter. Recipe can easily be halved when feeding only two or three, or doubled for a gang.
Candied Sweet Potatoes
by Eileen Hunger
6 sweet potatoes or yams
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Method: Cook yams in their skins in boiling salted water until nearly tender. Prepare a shallow, well-greased baking dish while yams boil. When yams are nearly tender, drain, peel, and cut into one-inch slices and place in baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and set aside. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a separate small saucepan, cook together brown sugar, water, and butter for several minutes until it slightly thickens and starts to coat a spoon. Stir in lemon juice. Pour over cut yams. Bake at 375 degrees for forty-five minutes to an hour, basting occasionally.
Note: If you are making this recipe a day or two in advance, bake for only thirty minutes. Remove from oven and turn each slice over in the sauce, cover, and store in refrigerator. On serving day bake sweets at 375 degrees for thirty minutes, basting occasionally.
Easy Chili Cheese Nacho Dip
by Emily Angelcyk
Emily Angelcyk is the president of the Pennsylvania Parents of Blind Children and also serves as a board member of the affiliate.
1 8-ounce package Philadelphia cream cheese
1 can of Hormel Chili No Beans (original or spicy)
1 bag of shredded Mexican or taco cheese
Method: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread cream cheese in the bottom of a 2-quart casserole dish. Spread chili on top of the cream cheese, cover chili with shredded cheese—however much you desire. Heat thoroughly in oven approximately twenty to thirty minutes.
Cheesy Chocolate Chip Dip
by Connie Schwartzfeld
Connie Schwartzfeld is the second vice president of the NFB of Pennsylvania and the president of the Erie County Chapter.
8 ounces cream cheese
1 stick butter, softened and blended
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips
Method: Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate for two hours. Then shape into a ball and roll in nuts if you wish. Chill at least one hour.
Oven-Roasted Chicken Thighs
by Joe Drenth
Joe Drenth is the past treasurer of the NFB of Pennsylvania and, aside from being a former national scholarship winner, he serves as the webmaster for the NFB of Pennsylvania. Here’s what he said about this recipe: “This recipe produces delicious roasted chicken thighs through a simple process of searing and baking. It works very well with the inexpensive thighs, often available for around a dollar per pound. The skin gets crusty while the meat is moist and flavorful.”
4 to 7 chicken thighs (with bone and skin)
Seasoned salt (like Lawry's)
Large skillet, preferably oven-safe
Broiler pan and aluminum foil if skillet is not oven-safe
Heavy-duty oven mitts
Method: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Arrange the shelves to provide ample height for the middle shelf. If the skillet is not oven-safe, line the drip-collecting tray of a broiler pan with aluminum foil, crimping it securely around the edges before setting the slotted rack on top of the tray. A brownie pan with edges also works, but do not use baking sheets because the juices from the chicken will run off the sheets into the oven. If the pan is heavy, preheat it in the oven so it will be hot when needed.
Heat a lightly oiled skillet on medium-high until a drop of water sizzles and snaps on contact with the skillet (about ten minutes). Wash chicken thighs (with bone and skin) based on how many can easily fit in the skillet, then dry thoroughly with paper towels. Any water that contacts the hot skillet will pop and splatter hot liquids. Carefully place the thighs in the skillet with the prettier side down (for presentation purposes, since it will attain the best color). Wear long oven mitts and possibly eye protection, since there will be oil and water splatter. Let the thighs sear for five minutes without moving them, then carefully flip them over with tongs or a spatula and sear the other side for five minutes. Sprinkle seasoned salt over the thighs to taste.
If the skillet is oven-safe, place it directly on the middle shelf of the oven; otherwise carefully transfer the thighs from the skillet onto the broiler pan and place on the middle shelf of the oven. Bake for thirty to thirty-five minutes. Wearing thick oven mitts, carefully remove from the oven and let the meat rest for five minutes.
Note: To use this recipe with boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sear for only three minutes per side and bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes.
News from the Federation Family
National Association of Guide Dog Users Launches Innovative Mobile App:
The National Association of Guide Dog Users Inc., a strong and proud division of the National Federation of the Blind and the nation's leading service animal advocacy organization, is excited to announce the release of the NAGDU Guide and Service Dog Advocacy and Information mobile app. This new iOS app provides comprehensive information about the rights and responsibilities of service animal users under state and federal law. This app contains the entire text of the implementing regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) concerning service animals, along with the complete texts of every state law about the rights of access for the disabled. Also included in this app is specific guidance concerning service animals in settings in which those of us who use guide and service dogs experience the most challenges, such as airlines, restaurants, hotels, taxicabs, and health-care facilities. In addition, those who face discrimination because of their service dog can use the app to call a special advocate trained to resolve such issues. The app is provided for iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch users free of charge as a public service by the National Association of Guide Dog Users. You can find the app by going to <https://appsto.re/us/F8jO2.i> or by simply searching for "NAGDU" in the Apple app store.
This mobile app grew out of the NAGDU Information and Advocacy Hotline, which currently fields nearly 1,100 calls per year. We believe that having the information in text format in our pockets will help resolve access issues before they escalate to the level of needing intervention. If you do need help, the National Association of Guide Dog Users and the National Federation of the Blind are here to help.
Future plans for the app include creating an Android version, adding more industry-specific guidance, including more information about the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and adding a feature that will sort state laws based upon one’s current location. We are also seeking input from users about other features that will enhance the app's function and effectiveness. You can offer your input by sending a message to <Info@NAGDU.org>.
Newel Perry Inducted into APH Hall of Fame:
In May of 2014, Dr. Newel Perry (1873-1961) was inducted into the American Printing House for the Blind’s (APH) Hall of Fame. This high distinction is awarded to leaders and legends in the blindness field, and Dr. Perry’s admittance to this elite group has been long overdue. Fans of the history of the National Federation of the Blind may know him as the mentor of our founder, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, but his impact on the American disability rights movement extends far beyond that.
Among his many accomplishments, Perry was the first blind graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (1896), earned a doctorate in mathematics at the University of Munich (1902), and successfully lobbied the New York state legislature to sign into law the first bill appropriating reader funds for blind college students (1906). In his capacity as a teacher at the California School for the Blind (1912-1947), he tutored the best and brightest students and is credited with preparing seventy-eight graduates to find work in a variety of fields during a time period when most blind people were considered unemployable.
Perhaps most importantly, however, Dr. Perry founded the California Council of the Blind in 1934 and encouraged the young tenBroek to found the first national organization of the blind in 1940, giving blind people everywhere the power of collective action to advocate for their rights. Established to honor his memory in 1955, the NFB bestows the Newel Perry Award on individuals, sighted or blind, who have demonstrated courageous leadership and outstanding service in the blindness field by working in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind.
For more information on the life and work of Newel Perry, the APH has published an extensive biography at <http://www.aph.org/hall/bios/perry.html>. Also in 1961, tenBroek eulogized his mentor and life-long friend in a speech called “Newel Perry: Teacher of Youth and Leader of Men,” which is available at <https://nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/speeches/ NewellPerryTeacherOfYouthLeaderOfMen.html>.
The National Association of Blind Office Professionals (NABOP) is pleased to announce the following officers for 2014-2016 term: president, Lisa Hall (OH); vice president, Nancy Coffman (NE); secretary: Joanne Jordan (VA); and treasurer, Debbie Brown (MD).
Anyone wishing to learn more about our division can contact Lisa Hall at 7001 Hamilton Avenue, Unit 2, Cincinnati, Ohio 45231-5262; or call (513) 931-7070 or cell (513) 550-5155; or email at <email@example.com>. To become a member send $5 to Debbie Brown, 11923 Parklawn Drive, Apartment 104, Rockville, MD 20852; or contact her by phone at (301) 881-1892; or by email at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
The last meeting we had at our 2014 convention was great. All participants at our meeting learned what was new in technology and training opportunities. We hope to see everyone next year in Orlando, Florida, in July 2015.
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.
National Braille Press Invites You to Apply for the Opportunity to Win up to $20,000:
Louis Braille was an innovator—and this award seeks to identify and inspire future innovation. Potentially the award process will inspire new strategic directions for National Braille Press. The project must demonstrate some aspect of tactile literacy for blind people and promote Braille literacy or access to information. The Louis Braille Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation was developed to inspire innovators to continue the promotion of Braille literacy for blind and deaf-blind people worldwide.
The award is open to individuals, groups of individuals, or companies who have developed an innovative and accessible product in one of the following categories: professional software and apps, educational software and apps, gaming software or apps that promote tactile and Braille learning, and Braille or tactile-related hardware.
Applications must be received by January 7, 2015. For more information and to download the application, please visit <www.touchofgeniusprize.org> or contact Ximena Ojopi at (617) 266-6160, extension 412.
The Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation is provided through support from National Braille Press and The Gibney Family Foundation.
Computers for the Blind Announces Twenty-Fifth Anniversary:
Computers for the Blind (CFTB), which was formerly The Texas Center for the Visually Challenged, is a volunteer organization devoted to providing computers to persons who are blind or visually impaired. It is our hope that each person who is visually impaired may experience the information age in a positive and productive manner. We believe technology opens new worlds and creates opportunity for greater personal freedom.
Computers for the Blind has partnered with Goodshop.com to help do more for our cause. Along with helping save you money with online deals to stores like Dell, HP, and Tech Armor, Goodshop will also make a donation for every purchase you make. It doesn't get much easier than that!
A licensed copy of MAGic, which retails for $395, is now included in Computers for the Blind desktops and laptops. The desktops are available for $110 and the laptops are $160. The computers also include the following:
The minimum configuration for our Pentium 4 Dual Core 2GHz refurbished computers is:
If consumers want to upgrade, they can obtain the following from Freedom Scientific after obtaining a computer: MAGic with Speech, MAGic keyboard and two SMA upgrades for $199 (which is about a 50 percent discount); or a licensed version of JAWS Home version for $716 (a 20 percent discount). Please note that these discounts are only available to consumers and not to state agencies. We do, however, accept purchase orders for our computers.
Finally, thank you for sharing the news about the computers for $20 for SSI recipients. We received hundreds of calls, and these are no longer available. However, we intend to write a much larger grant next year and will let you know if it is approved.
New Fiction by Blind Author:
The Soul and the Seed is the first book in an intense new urban fantasy/contemporary dystopian series. The story centers around Aranka, a girl who describes herself as "relatively normal" until those who hold true power in today's society decide she is a threat. The United States and the rest of the modern world is dominated by a clandestine power that usurps the wills and emotions of individuals, but very few people know the truth. From the outside Aranka's world appears to be today's world. And yet she is imprisoned and forced to watch as her friends are killed one by one, all because they are different in a small physical way and because they can't be easily controlled. It is only a matter of time before it is her turn to die.
The Soul and the Seed, called "terrifyingly taut tension" by reviewers, can be found at: <http://www.amazon.com/Soul-Seed-Kyrennei-Book-One-ebook/dp/B00MQ99F0Y/ ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1408634384&sr=1-2&keywords=The+Soul+and+the+Seed>.
The Soul and the Seed is a gripping tale for adventure, science fiction, and fantasy readers. It is also a story with high emotional impact and deep themes about physical differences and social exclusion. The author, Arie Farnam is a legally blind writer who grew up in eastern Oregon and moved to Europe "primarily for the public transportation." In 2000, she became the first successful international conflict correspondent with a significant physical disability. While reporting from Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, and the Ukraine among other international crisis areas for The Christian Science Monitor and Business Week, Farnam also directed two documentary films The Eye of the Storm (in Kazakhstan) and Walls (in the Czech Republic). Along with writing and publishing The Soul and the Seed independently, she also photographed and designed the cover. She is a former NFB scholarship winner and her documentary films were assisted by an equipment grant from the Oregon Commission for the Blind.
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.