_______________________________________________________________________________

Braille Monitor

Vol. 60, No. 10                                      November 2017

Gary Wunder, Editor

Distributed by email, in inkprint, in Braille, and on USB flash drive, by the

The National Federation of the Blind

Mark Riccobono, President

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National Federation of the Blind
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998

THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND KNOWS THAT BLINDNESS IS NOT THE CHARACTERISTIC THAT DEFINES YOU OR YOUR FUTURE. EVERY DAY WE RAISE THE EXPECTATIONS OF BLIND PEOPLE, BECAUSE LOW EXPECTATIONS CREATE OBSTACLES BETWEEN BLIND PEOPLE AND OUR DREAMS. YOU CAN LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT; BLINDNESS IS NOT WHAT HOLDS YOU BACK. THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR OURSELVES.

        ISSN 0006-8829


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Contents

Vol. 60, No. 10                                     November 2017

Illustration: Jernigan Institute Hosts South Baltimore Public Safety Forum

Autonomous Vehicles and Freedom for the Blind
by Mark Riccobono

Let’s Unlock the Untapped Potential among Millions of Disabled People
by Representative Gregg Harper

There is a List for That!
by David Andrews

Worldwide Excellence in Travel: Accessibility in Partnership with the Blind
by Bhala Dalvi

Teachers’ Talk: What It’s Really Like to Teach a Blind Student
by Melissa Riccobono

Celebrate the Holiday Season with a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind

Braille: One of Chris Parson’s Twenty-First Century Skills
by Dan Burke

Sharp Elbows, Sharper Thoughts
by Ryan Strunk

The 2018 Washington Seminar is Coming Sooner Than You Think
by Diane McGeorge

The Truth about Diversity in Hollywood
by Precious Perez

A Serious Danger for Blind Vendors
by Nicky Gacos

Touching Imagination: Unlocking the Creativity of Blind Artists
by Ann Cunningham

Always Believing
by Justin Salisbury

Rotary Gives Ed McDonald “Service Above Self” Award
by Jean Braithwaite

From Knowledge to Power: A Report on Advocacy and Policy Programs
of the National Federation of the Blind
by John Paré

Flash Cards Anytime, Anyplace with Math Flash™
by Laura Zierer

Accessibly Cutting the Cord: Watching TV Without a Cable Subscription
by Karl Belanger

The Future of Equal Access to Technology: A Commitment to the Journey at Microsoft
by Jenny Lay-Flurrie

Independence Market Corner
by Ellen Ringlein

Recipes

Monitor Miniatures

Copyright 2017 by the National Federation of the Blind

Jernigan Institute Hosts South Baltimore Public Safety Forum

On Monday, September 18, the South Baltimore Public Safety Forum was held in Members Hall at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. We were honored to act as the host for this event because we know that to do so increases our visibility in the community, acknowledges that we are a part of this community and are therefore concerned about the welfare of its members, and gives us a chance to meet and develop meaningful relationships with community leaders. The panel included Mayor Catherine Pugh, City Council President Jack Young, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore Police Department (BPD) Commissioner Kevin Davis, BPD Southern District Major Steve Ward, and State’s Attorney’s Office Chief of Juvenile Division Gavin Pataschnick. The forum was organized by City Councilman Eric Costello, the representative for the city’s eleventh district, which is home to NFB headquarters. Approximately 350 community residents were in attendance.

Autonomous Vehicles and Freedom for the Blind

An Address delivered by
President Mark Riccobono
September 12, 2017

From the Editor: On September 12, 2017, President Riccobono attended a Vision for Safety event held by the US Department of Transportation where Secretary Elaine Chao announced new guidelines for autonomous vehicles. It is amazing to see how quickly these vehicles are moving from science fiction to science laboratories to roads and highways. Below are the remarks President Riccobono made to those who will work with us in shaping the vehicles of the future so that we may use them:

Madam Secretary and other distinguished guests, it is my honor to be here today to emphasize the important opportunities that automated vehicles present to all citizens of this great nation and, most specifically, about the increased independence and freedom that the seven million blind Americans will experience from this innovation. Equal access to reliable, affordable, flexible, and barrier-free transportation is one of the most significant obstacles preventing people with disabilities, representing one out of every five Americans, from fully contributing their talents and achieving full integration in our communities. The race to bring fully autonomous vehicles to America’s road brings an unprecedented opportunity to ensure equal access for people with disabilities.

Driving has always required vision, but only because we have not imagined and built transportation systems differently. In a society where everyone uses the power of automation to travel, we should build vehicles without the artificial barriers of the past. With this opportunity comes great responsibility to include everyone in the design of our future transportation systems. Imagine what will result from better utilizing the capacity and talent of those who are not today in the class of drivers. As President of the National Federation of the Blind, I have been invited to sit at the table with automobile manufacturers, technology developers, systems researchers, and policymakers. The increasing recognition of the important role that people with disabilities play in the automation of vehicles and the design of future transportation systems gives me confidence that our nation will lead the way in maximizing the benefits to society that these vehicles have the promise of delivering. With the development and implementation of automated vehicles, we have the opportunity and responsibility to begin with the prospect that everything is possible and then work together to make that future a reality. We appreciate that Secretary Chao and other champions for automated vehicles have made equal access for people with disabilities a top priority, and we welcome the increased freedom and independence that will come with the innovations that result.

Let’s Unlock the Untapped Potential among Millions of Disabled People

by Representative Gregg Harper

From the Editor: This article first appeared in The Hill on September 11, 2017, and can be found in the newspaper’s online version at http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/labor/350125-lets-unlock-the-untapped-potential-among-millions-of-disabled. Its author is our friend Representative Gregg Harper, and we couldn’t ask for a better ally to see that blind people are paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work. Here is the wonderful article he penned:

It seems that the more time passes, the faster time flies. It feels like just yesterday that my wife Sidney and I were bringing home our daughter Maggie from the hospital, and then a few years later, our son Livingston.

Through our time as parents, Sidney and I have made it a priority to teach our children the value of hard work, and we feel strongly that time spent on hard work should be valued and appreciated. It has been our privilege to watch Livingston, now twenty-eight, learn that appreciation for hard work and persevere despite being diagnosed with an intellectual disability known as Fragile X Syndrome. Through his hard work, Livingston became one of the first graduates of Mississippi State University’s Access Program for students with intellectual disabilities and now is a dedicated part-time employee at Primo’s Café near our home in Mississippi. Livingston is loved at work for his positive attitude and appreciated for his commitment and enthusiasm.

There are many Americans across the country who are dedicated contributors to the workforce despite having disabilities. Unfortunately, under current law, these hard-working men and women can be paid less than the lowest legal wage because of their disabilities. This policy is based on a Depression-era mentality embodying low expectations for people with disabilities; however, I know from personal experience that, if given the chance to contribute, many Americans with disabilities want to and will help to provide for themselves.

That is why I am proud to have introduced the Transitioning to Integrated and Meaningful Employment (TIME) Act earlier this year. This bill would eliminate an antiquated provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act that allows the Department of Labor to issue special certificates to employers so they can pay subminimum wages to workers with disabilities. When this program was created in 1938, it was an exercise in charity. Today it is paternalistic and costly, while failing in its goal of improving economic freedom and employment for Americans with disabilities.

The TIME Act will responsibly phase out and repeal Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act without raising the minimum wage. The original intent of this provision was to incentivize businesses to hire veterans with disabilities after World War I, but it has failed to achieve this outcome. Rather than increasing the number of workers with disabilities in integrated, community-based jobs at competitive wages, the exemption has stimulated an explosion of nonprofit entities that receive government money, preferential government contracts, and even charitable contributions. While they may have good intentions, in reality their business models hold Americans with disabilities back.

Nonprofit entities with special wage certificates usually isolate people with disabilities in what are known as “sheltered workshops,” where they are hidden from the rest of society and usually perform menial jobs that are not available in the competitive economy. Proponents of the sheltered workshop model often argue that these programs offer workers with disabilities the opportunity to learn valuable skills and move on to more competitive and better-paying work. However, research reveals that 95 percent of all workers who start out in sheltered workshops never leave. Additionally, people with disabilities still experience extremely low levels of employment and excessive dependency on government assistance, meaning the program is failing in its purported goals.

Research shows that the sheltered workshop model costs more, despite paying disabled workers less than the minimum wage, but produces less than investments in customized or supported employment in integrated settings. Worse, people with disabilities have to break bad habits they learned in sheltered workshops. This means subminimum wage employment is more than just a step in the wrong direction—it’s two steps back for people with disabilities. It’s time to abandon this broken system.

As a committed conservative, I believe firmly in the rule of law and in the notion that we are all equal in the eyes of the law. Section 14(c) enshrines the idea that those with disabilities are unequal under the law and dooms them to a fate of menial and unfulfilling work for the rest of their lives. The current policy also guarantees that Americans with disabilities will remain dependent on government assistance from programs such as Supplemental Security Income and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. These programs are designed to provide for those in extreme poverty; work is supposed to relieve such poverty. Furthermore, taxpayers also have to pay the costs incurred by the Department of Labor to make sure that subminimum-wage employers are complying with the complex rules that govern the special certificate program.

It has been my pleasure to represent the people of the Third District of Mississippi since 2009 and to advance conservative policies and values while doing so. There is no more conservative value than to insist that all people have the opportunity to work hard, compete, and succeed in the marketplace on the same terms as everyone else. The TIME Act would not only achieve this objective; it would unlock currently untapped human potential among the millions of disabled people who want to work and compete for good jobs, reduce their reliance on government assistance, and shrink the size of the federal government.

This issue goes to the heart of what it means to pursue personal and economic freedom and to achieve the American dream. Section 14(c) stands in the way of allowing many, just like Livingston, to do that and therefore should be responsibly phased out by passing the TIME Act. With a national employment rate of just 35.2 percent for the disabled, it’s clear that the current model is broken. Our disabled Americans should have the opportunity to earn the same wages as their colleagues. Now is the time to act.

There is a List for That!

by David Andrews

This month we will continue our monthly column exploring internet mailing lists with student-related offerings. All of these are meant to be helpful and to add another resource to your vast list when someone asks you, “Where can I find out more about this or that?”

The main list for students is the NABS-L list. It is one of our oldest and busiest lists. It provides students of all ages with valuable information, support, and ideas. You can subscribe to the list by going to http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/nabs-l_nfbnet.org or you can also subscribe by sending an email to nabs-l-request@nfbnet.org and put the word “subscribe” on the subject line by itself. The list contains both announcements and discussions of interest to students.

Quite a number of state affiliates have their own local student divisions with their own lists. Below are the state name and the list name for each. To subscribe, substitute the list name in the command above for the nabs-l phrase. For example, to subscribe to the Alabama students list you would use the URL http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/aabs-forum_nfbnet.org or send an email to aabs-forum-request@nfbnet.org and put the word subscribe by itself on the subject line.

Alabama: aabs-forum
Arizona: Arizona-students
Arkansas: arkabs
California: cabs-talk
Colorado: cabs
Connecticut: ctabs
Florida: fabs
Georgia: gabs
Illinois: iabs-talk
International: blind-international-students
Iowa: nfb-iowa-students
Kansas: kansas-blind-students
Kentucky: nfbkabs
Louisiana: labs
Massachusetts: massabs
Maryland: mdabs
Michigan: mi-abs
Minnesota: mn-abs
Missouri: mabs
North Carolina: ncabs
Nebraska: nebraska-students
New Hampshire: new-hampshire-students
New Jersey: njabs-talk
New Mexico: nmabs
New York: nyabs
Ohio: oabs
Pennsylvania: pabs
Tennessee: tabs
Texas: txabs
Utah: uabs
Virginia: vabs
Washington: nfbwa-students
West Virginia: nfbwvabs
Wisconsin: wabs

Next month we will tell you about lists for seniors. As always, you can find all NFBNET.ORG-related lists at http://www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/.

Worldwide Excellence in Travel: Accessibility in Partnership with the Blind

by Bhala Dalvi

From the Editor: Bhala Dalvi is the vice president of technology and the executive sponsor of accessibility at Expedia Inc. located in Bellevue, Washington. His was one of the more moving presentations at the 2017 National Convention because it was so clearly motivated by sincerity, enthusiasm, and the pride that comes with success. Part of what made it wonderful was the humility surrounding what Expedia has done, its willingness to share it with other industry-leading companies, and its absolute commitment to emphasize the importance of working with the National Federation of the Blind to achieve accessibility—not after it is needed, but before. Here are remarks that, while they are somewhat technical, clearly indicate what can be done with commitment, a willingness to learn, and a willingness to be a great corporate citizen:

Thank you for that gracious introduction, Mr. Riccobono. I’m honored to be at the NFB convention and excited to talk about Expedia’s journey to accessibility.

First of all, we have good news! I’m happy to share that as of June twenty-ninth, our brand-new Expedia webpages for booking a hotel, flight, cars, or other travel itineraries have been handed off to the NFB for its final feedback. We want to thank the NFB for helping Expedia be the best example of an accessible travel website. I am also proud of all the hard work and effort that our teams put in for the last four-plus years to make this happen.

I will tell you how we got here. But before I do that, I want to spend a few minutes to talk about why we invested in this space. Why make our site accessible? When Travelocity became part of the Expedia family, we came to know that Travelocity had an existing contract with NFB. We were interested in understanding how Expedia stacked up, so we invited President Riccobono and Anne Taylor, director of access technology at NFB to visit our Bellevue headquarters. And, let me tell you, that first conversation was uncomfortable for us. We had completed a regular assessment of our site and found we were 50 percent compliant, and we felt good heading into the meeting. But Anne did a live demo of using our website to our leadership team. During the demo, Anne could not even get past the home page! It was clear that even if we had 90 percent compliance, if a legally blind person gets stuck somewhere in the path and cannot complete their booking, that score is of no use. We need to make the full path compliant to be truly accessible.

Our leadership team felt strongly that we did not just want to follow the letter of the law. We wanted to go deeper and make our website inclusive to users with the diverse set of abilities. We want to invest in “doing the right thing.”

As my favorite author Simon Sinek says, “When there is clarity on ‘why,’ it inspires everyone to take action!” We chose to push ourselves to think outside the box and deliver an innovative, accessible experience.

Now comes the part where the rubber hits the road. We operate more than 200 websites and 150-plus mobile apps in forty-plus languages worldwide. We have over 5,500 technologists working in twenty-plus major offices around the world. We needed to weave accessibility through not only our products but the people and the technologies used to build these global products.

Fortunately, we have done similar broad changes across our site, and we have a playbook to make these kinds of changes. We started by hiring an experienced accessibility resource on the team. The focus was on two things: 1) Build the knowledge base. Create a library of documentation and training material that we can share with the rest of the organization. 2) Conduct an assessment of our hotel shopping and booking path for accessibility. This would give us an idea of the size of the challenge ahead of us.

Throughout different phases of our accessibility journey, we built a strong partnership with NFB. We sought input, guidance, and expertise from the NFB team. Their support was invaluable and shaped our thinking throughout our journey.

The first area we decided to focus on making accessible was our hotel path. Initially we thought accessibility was all about testing. We believed everything would be caught by the testers at the end of the product lifecycle, and we focused most of our energy and training on testing. We quickly learned that finding issues during testing was way too late. We were forced to slip dates due to refactoring of code or necessary design changes because too many issues surfaced.

Lesson one—retrofitting code and making it accessible is hard! Accessibility must start from initial product inception and has to be top of mind throughout the entire development lifecycle with each of the product disciplines responsible for their key pieces.

Along the way, as we got a better sense of the scope, we realized we needed more than a one-person team if we were to be successful. We added a talented group of subject matter experts who we formed into the Accessibility Team. These folks continue to look for ways to serve the product, user experience, and engineering teams and help them be successful.

Having a small accessibility team of experts is a great start. But they won’t be able to make our massive website accessible by themselves. We needed a larger organization to align with the goal and drive this massive effort. We needed to make accessibility part of our engineering culture.

We formed a small grassroots effort within Expedia called Accessibility Champions Network. The champion network is a group of advocates within the engineering, product, and UX [user experience] teams. They help incorporate accessibility throughout the product cycle. They aim to implement accessibility early and eliminate costly retrofitting. The Champions owned accessibility within their team but are supported by the central accessibility team through training, tools, networking, and other resources. This group rallied for accessibility day-in and day-out.

Making our entire website accessible one page at a time would be costly and time-consuming. Fortunately for us, we had been building our website using the UI component library. A dedicated team is responsible for building and maintaining this component library. This team took on the challenge of updating the library components and making them accessible. This meant that the rest of the teams were able to move quickly and to easily make their pages accessible because they were able to benefit from a library of accessible components. I can’t emphasize the importance of the UI component library in our success. I want to share a quick story here. We had Amy Mason, our NFB contact, join us for GAAD [Global Accessibility Awareness Day] last year. We had her sit down and give us feedback. Our engineers were able to incorporate feedback real-time into library component(s). She loved it! She was truly impressed how quickly we were able to make changes, and we loved being able to get additional real-world feedback.

Our passionate accessibility team identified and leveraged every opportunity possible to create awareness on the subject of accessibility across the organization. This was super important in developing our accessibility culture. I want to share a couple of examples here.

We have an internal forum called product review. This is open to anyone in the company to attend. Everyone from our CEO Dara to the engineers working on our products attends the product review. We were lucky to have a blind employee demo the changes we made to the site. This was very powerful in creating awareness at every level in the organization—we needed both to continue improving as well as demonstrating the progress we had achieved.

Here is another example of communication about this initiative. We host internal and external hackathons as part of our efforts to foster innovation. Last year we invited engineers from the Seattle-area tech community to join and had a special prize to give to a hacking team that built an accessible travel experience during the event. The special prize we supported during this hackathon was a big hit and really shed some light on users with disabilities outside of our company.

Most folks didn’t know Expedia had an accessibility program, but all of them were really excited about our inclusivity; many didn’t understand screen readers or that people with visual impairments could even use the internet. It was really empowering for our team to represent those with disabilities as well as be on the other side of the fence after they had been fixing bugs for so long. It was a great opportunity for generating innovative accessibility ideas.

There is an important lesson for others embarking on this journey. Accessibility needs to be top-down and bottom-up. We needed leadership support to ensure it was a priority, but we also needed the folks doing the day-to-day work to “get it” and be able to speak to the need among their peers. As I said earlier, when the organization “gets it,” it helps shape the culture.

In addition to getting a broader alignment and getting teams excited, we also invested in building an in-house accessibility testing lab. This lab included hardware, software, and documentation necessary to provide easy testing opportunities for designers, developers, and testers, including a dedicated screen reader testing machine.

In my experience, cross-cutting changes of such a huge magnitude always have some side effects! Sometimes they are good and at other times, not so much. I am happy to share that the side effects of accessibility were all good. We found that making the components and pages accessible always had a positive impact on the usability for all users. We ran into serious challenges making mobile date picker accessible. This forced us to dig deeper in our design and implementation. But the end result was a date picker component that is much easier to use for all users.

Another side effect of implementing accessibility was the improvement in overall quality of our code. Accessibility forced us to simplify the designs, ensure important attributes are always present, etc. and all of these lead to a better-quality product. Ask any seasoned engineer and they will tell you that simple is always easy to maintain!

In summary, in my mind, three things made our journey successful. 1) A Clear “why;” 2) Making accessibility an integral part of our product development lifecycle; and 3) Creating an environment and culture to support the accessibility we were determined to bring to our product.

Now that we have made our website accessible in this way, what is next? As we look to the future, we would love to share our learning and make it a little bit easier for others embarking on the journey of accessibility and inclusion. One way we are doing this is by sending our team to attend and present at relevant conferences. We are also doing presentations at some of the local code academies, just another example of how we are extending our hand in helping to proliferate accessibility throughout the industry and potentially influencing technology curriculums.

In addition to making our website accessible, we are trying to integrate what we have learned to make our workplace more accessible. We want to make it easy for individuals with disabilities to join our workforce. I attended an all-day meeting earlier this week. Our president prepared a document to kick off this meeting, and he used images in this document. Our head of HR challenged him and asked him to include alt text in the slide to make sure the document was accessible. While we did not have any attendees with a disability, the point was, doing the right thing does not need to wait for it. It starts with everyone taking small steps. We know this is a long journey, but we know if we maintain our resolve and take one step at a time, we will make it happen.

In closing I want to thank all of you for your valuable time. Last but not least, I want to thank the NFB for your continued partnership and support.

Teachers’ Talk: What It’s Really Like to Teach a Blind Student

by Melissa Riccobono

From the Editor: Melissa Riccobono has one of the most demanding jobs there is in the National Federation of the Blind. She is the wife of our President, the mother of three children, a primary mover in our effort to sponsor programs for blind parents, and the cohost of our Nation’s Blind Podcast. Recently she went to a teachers’ meeting, one which she called, and her request was that two teachers who have worked with Oriana and Elizabeth be interviewed to determine how they found teaching a blind student. The interviews she conducted were featured in several podcasts, and Melissa has transcribed and rearranged materials so that they may be enjoyed in written form. Here is the first in what we hope will be several articles from her on the subjects of parenting and teaching:

Imagine yourself as a teacher in a public school. Perhaps you are a relatively new teacher, or perhaps you are a more experienced teacher. As you prepare for the start of a new school year, you learn you will have a student who is blind in your classroom. What if you have no or limited knowledge of blindness? What are your fears? What are your questions? And what will you learn from your blind student if you take on the challenge of teaching her with an open mind, high expectations, and a positive attitude?

Serena Harris and Laura Koler are teachers. They work at Patterson Park Public Charter School in Baltimore, Maryland. Serena teaches first grade, and Laura teaches pre-K. Laura is a relatively new teacher, while Serena has been teaching for well over a decade. Besides the obvious—both being teachers and both teaching at the same school—Serena and Laura have something else in common. They both taught students who happen to be blind during the 2016-17 school year. Serena taught my daughter Oriana, and Laura taught my daughter Elizabeth.

This past April, I had the opportunity to sit down with both Serena and Laura to interview them for bonus episodes of the Nation’s Blind Podcast. I knew teachers often have questions when they find out they are going to teach students who are blind, and I thought both ladies would have some great information and insights to share. I was certainly correct. And, what I love best about both interviews is the fact that Serena and Laura, without being coached by me in any way, and without consulting with one another about what they were going to say, came to the same conclusions. Yes, they had questions and concerns in the beginning. Yes, having a blind student in their classroom changed some of the ways they taught all of their students. But, both Serena and Laura came to see advantages for all of their students when they changed their teaching to accommodate Oriana’s and Elizabeth’s needs.

Below are major portions of the interviews I conducted with Serena and Laura for the Nation’s Blind Podcast. I have quoted them directly whenever possible. I have put some words in brackets to add clarity to their comments, and I have paraphrased some of what they said in order to save space. If you’d like to hear both interviews in their entirety, search for bonus episode one and two of the Nation’s Blind Podcast.
           
Melissa Riccobono: Think back to the beginning of the school year when you found out you were going to have a student with a visual impairment in your class. What concerns, if any, did you have? What things did you do initially to address these concerns?

Laura Koler: I remember my first thought was that I didn’t know anything about Braille, and I thought, oh my goodness, how am I going to teach Elizabeth if I don’t know anything about Braille. I also worried about the layout and size of my classroom. We have a tiny space for twenty-three kids, there’s a lot of furniture, it’s very divided, and it’s a bit like a maze. So I worried that it might be difficult to navigate. I also worried that a lot of my instruction is very visual. In pre-k classrooms they say “Have a print-rich environment. Have pictures everywhere.” There’s a lot of emphasis on visual instruction at a young age. When I read books to the class, I have them make predictions based on the pictures they see. When we go to the park for science, I ask lots of “what do you see” questions. So I had a lot of thoughts about how I could adjust my teaching to have it not be so visually based.

Serena Harris: I was very concerned because I had never had a blind student in my class before. I didn’t know what accommodations or supports to give her. I was concerned with how she would fit in with the rest of the students in class. Another concern I had was what types of accommodations I would need to make for her so that she could learn and not feel singled out or different.

Melissa Riccobono: What things did you do initially to address these concerns?

Laura Koler: I was really lucky that I have a teammate who taught Elizabeth’s older sister Oriana in the past. So I was able to go to her for some guidance about what she had done. Also, I was very lucky to meet both you and Mark at the family picnic before the school year started. It was great to be able to talk with both of you before the year began to see if there was anything I needed to change in my classroom.

Serena Harris: I talked to Oriana’s kindergarten teacher and asked her advice on strategies that she used in kindergarten that I could carry on to first grade. I also spoke with the two teachers [one teacher of blind students and one paraprofessional] who support Oriana in class about how we could work together to support Oriana.
           
Melissa Riccobono: Now that you have taught a blind student for almost an entire school year, what things have been easier than you expected?

Laura Koler: I realized I did not have to adjust my teaching as much as I thought I would. I was already doing things along with the visual presentations, and I just had to become more conscious of doing them all the time. For example, giving a verbal description of any visual I present. If I’m showing the front cover of a book, I discuss in detail what I see on the cover, and this kind of think aloud is great for my whole class, not just Elizabeth. The class gets to see me describe the details I see. That helps them build their vocabulary and helps them dive deeper into a book as well. At the beginning of the year, I modeled how to do this describing, but now toward the end of the year [Elizabeth’s classmates] have taken over this role. It’s great because sometimes they see things that I didn’t even notice. They are definitely more purposeful about how they look at illustrations in a book because of how much I’ve modeled [described] what I see.

In addition to describing visuals, I’ve also purposely tried to do hands-on tactile experiences. We learn a lot about what [print] letters and numbers look like, and how they are written. So this year we have done a lot of Play-Doh tracing and worked with Wikki Stix on top [of the print] so there’s a tactile component along with the visual. I know this benefits Elizabeth, but it also benefits the whole class. All the different ways you can introduce information helps kids build stronger connections, and they learn more.

Serena Harris: One of the things that has been easier than I expected, and I guess it’s a strength of our school, is that many of the students were already familiar with Oriana. They knew she had special circumstances, and they were willing to help her. So I didn’t have to worry about children teasing her or her being isolated. Oriana’s teacher of blind students also helped guide me on what I could do to support Oriana in class. It was a lot easier to help Oriana integrate Braille writing and reading into her class work than I thought it would be. It was also helpful learning from her O&M teacher; this helped me understand more about Oriana’s particular blindness and things that I could do such as dimming the lights [to help her eyes be more comfortable]. Speaking with her O&M teacher also helped me understand the importance of making sure Oriana always has her cane with her.
           
Melissa Riccobono: Are there any things which are still difficult for you while teaching Oriana/Elizabeth due to their blindness only?

Laura Koler: The only time when things are a little difficult is during our message time. I try to write my print as largely as I can, but sometimes it’s still too small for Elizabeth, even though she sits at the front of the room. So this is an opportunity for her to come up closer [to the board] to look for letters and words that she knows.

Serena Harris: It takes a lot of planning to make sure I have all of Oriana’s materials she needs in Braille so she can access them. This actually makes me a better teacher because I am overly planned. But I really needed to be organized. This is not so much a difficulty, but it definitely was a challenge for me to become more organized.
           
Melissa Riccobono: Has anything surprised you about having a student who is blind?

Laura Koler: Elizabeth learns just like any other student. I just had to be more purposeful in what I was doing in the classroom. I didn’t have to make any drastic changes to my instruction. I had to think, “When I’m doing this lesson, is it really going to reach all of my kids?” Also, this isn’t so much a surprise, but my class really cares about one another and looks out for one another. They care about and look out for Elizabeth too. So if she leaves her cane somewhere, someone will bring it to her. Having Elizabeth has also helped me stay more organized. Needing to have Elizabeth’s homework Brailled helps me prepare homework in a more timely fashion.

Serena Harris: What’s surprised me is that the other kids are really excited about having Oriana in class. They want to learn Braille too. I can see them identifying things in our community that are Braille as well. It’s definitely been a great learning experience for the entire class, as they are more aware of how blind people navigate through our world.
             
Melissa Riccobono: What techniques, if any, have you developed this year while teaching Oriana/Elizabeth that have enhanced your teaching in general? Or, what techniques were you using already which have worked especially well for teaching Oriana/Elizabeth?

Laura Koler: I am lucky because in early childhood instruction it is very whole body. So my suggestion for other teachers who teach older grades would be to look to some of those early childhood ways of teaching, where you do things by looking, moving your body, touching things, and interacting with them. I think all of those strategies have really been useful.

Serena Harris: I have realized not to just make my lessons visual. I have incorporated arts and crafts and more music and sound. I realized a lot of the things I was doing were very visually based. Making sure I can appeal to all learning modalities has been good for all of the kids. We sit in class with the lights off a lot to help with Oriana’s eyes, but I realized that it’s good for all of the kids because the overhead light is really bright. I’ve noticed that with more breaks, more types of movement in the class, that I have fewer kids who complain about having headaches or being tired. Originally I was doing these things specifically for Oriana, but they are benefiting other students as well. These are things I am definitely going to continue in my class.
           
Melissa Riccobono: What resources, if any, have you found helpful?

Laura Koler: Talking to you and Mark at the beginning of the year was a great resource. I was also fortunate to have Elizabeth’s IEP meeting at the beginning of the year. Meeting with that team early gave me a lot of strategies and helped explain the accommodations in Elizabeth’s IEP. Also our class got to go to the National Federation of the Blind at the beginning of the school year, and that was an amazing experience. And, before the trip, you came and amazed my class by reading Pete the Cat in Braille, and you shared your dog, which was a great learning experience for the kids. This helped Elizabeth gain confidence in the classroom because she saw that her peers liked and were interested in what she was going to be doing to learn. These experiences have helped all of the kids gain knowledge about people who are different from them, which is what we try to teach them. I would definitely recommend that other teachers visit the National Federation of the Blind either by themselves or with their students because it is a great resource.
           
Melissa Riccobono: What information do you wish you had earlier in the year, or what information are you still seeking?

Laura Koler: At the beginning of the year, I knew that Elizabeth had a visual impairment, but I didn’t have the details about what her eye condition was. I wish I had asked more questions, but I don’t think I knew then the questions to ask. Learning about how she adjusts to light has been really helpful and is something I wish I had known at the beginning of the year. I also wish I had known more about proper cane technique. Since the professional development [on proper cane use] I’ve been able to reinforce her cane use more, and I can see her becoming more confident as she uses it.

Serena Harris: I wish I had known more at the beginning of the year about how to incorporate Braille reading and writing [more seamlessly into the classroom.] At the same time, I wonder if that’s something I just had to learn on the job as I got to know Oriana better. I wish I had access to resources before [the first day of school.] It would have been helpful to know what resources were available to work with so I could have planned lessons with those resources in mind, instead of getting them later in the year. I wish there would have been a simple list of accommodations and supports for Oriana so I could have looked at the list and checked off all of the things I was doing to help her. This would have helped me feel that I wasn’t putting together this little box of tricks on the go. For next year, I am compiling a list of things that have worked well [for Oriana] so I can give it to the second grade teachers.
           
Melissa Riccobono: What advice do you have for a regular education teacher who will have a blind student in his or her classroom?

Laura Koler: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make sure you take the time to talk with the family and the IEP team to get as many details as you can that can help you. Using resources that are given to you can really help in the classroom.

Serena Harris: It’s not scary; I thought it would be scary. Speak with the parents, speak with the child, and speak with the other teachers who will also be working with the student so you are forming a team that is working together. Be aware that children need to touch things, hear things, to add to their learning experience.
           
Melissa Riccobono: What advice do you have for parents of blind children? Are there things parents can do to help support a teacher and his or her child in school?

Laura Koler: I think on the initial IEP parents should make sure to request enough consultation time between a teacher of blind students and the classroom teacher. Elizabeth’s teacher of blind students and I try to meet in order to consult, but she and I have different schedules, so our free time does not always match. If consultation time is down on paper, then it has to happen.

Serena Harris: Parents should establish a relationship with the teacher. Open lines of communication make everything easier.
           
Melissa Riccobono: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Serena Harris: The thing that’s been most helpful for me has been forming a team with everyone who works with Oriana so that we are all speaking the same language. If I see something [Oriana is struggling with] in small reading group, and her teacher of blind students is seeing it too, we can talk about what we can do to help Oriana get past this. These conversations have only happened because we work well together.

Celebrate the Holiday Season with a Gift to the National Federation of the Blind

Have you received gifts from the National Federation of the Blind? Lots of us have. A mom recently thanked us for sponsoring a Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) Academy by sharing:

Rudy and I would like to thank all that made Braille BELL Camp this summer possible. Since Rudy does not qualify for Braille and mobility services through his school, this camp is an answer to our prayer for helping Rudy learn. There was an unfortunate conflict in planning his summer that jeopardized the chance of him attending, which caused a great deal of worry. Rudy stated, "I have to go! It helps me so much." My heart ached as I saw how much he wanted and needed the professional touch these smart teachers provided. Thankfully we were able to sort out our conflict and he was able to attend. The relief in his eyes was enough to realize how powerfully important this week was toward supporting and educating Rudy while he learns how to read and navigate.

Thank you ALL from the bottom of our hearts.

Libby Houston

We make dreams come true. You can help.

We give people free white canes, literacy, and confidence. If you have gained from contact with the NFB or NFB members, enjoyed our publications, or participated in an academy or program, we are asking you to give back. Celebrate the holiday season by donating much needed funds. It is easy. You can mail a donation or give online.

To mail your donation simply make out your check to the National Federation of the Blind. Please mail it to 200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Attention: Outreach, Baltimore, MD 21230.

To give online visit https://nfb.org/donate2017.

Together with love, hope, and determination we will continue making dreams become reality. Help us all live the lives we want.

Braille: One of Chris Parsons’ Twenty-First Century Skills

by Dan Burke

From the Editor: This article is reprinted from the June 2017 issue of The Blind Coloradan, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado. Chris Parsons is a tremendous writer, speaker, and role model for her students and for all who are blessed to know her. Here is what her state affiliate says about her:

Chris Parsons teaches technology at the Colorado Center for the Blind, so she obviously knows these essential tools and how they apply in the 21st century workplace. Braille is also without a doubt one of Chris Parsons’ 21st century skills. The bedrock of her education is Braille. So much so that she was a three-time national winner of the Braille Challenge as a youth, and this weekend she will be in Los Angeles as a guest alum for the 2017 competition.

With solid literacy skills based in Braille, Chris went on to earn an English degree from Webster University in her home state of Missouri, during which time she worked for two-and-a-half years as a student writing tutor. She took up playwriting while in college and says Braille was essential to the process of writing and revising.

"When you're writing dialogue, you have to hear the characters' voices in your head, and you can't do that using an external (synthesized) voice," she says.

After college she worked for over three years as an online writing coach, often relying on a Braille display to view the intricacies of spelling, grammar, and sentence structure.

"Early on, I would just emboss the student's paper sometimes because I needed to have that Braille hard copy," she says. Later though, reviewing and making comments and suggestions on as many as twenty papers a day, she relied more heavily on her tech skills, always drawing on the fundamental literacy she gained through Braille. "No way could I have ever done that if I hadn't learned to read and write in Braille," she says now.

Like many writers, Chris loves not only the sound of language, but the shape—and in her case, the feel—of words, sentences, and paragraphs. Also like many writers, she is given to conjure the written images of language in her mind. "Oh yeah," she says, "I see the dots in my head."

Sharp Elbows, Sharper Thoughts

by Ryan Strunk

From the Editor: I confess that as the editor I get to pick and choose which stories we run, so it is probably no surprise when I say that I like a given piece. What I hope gets more notice is when I say I love something we are about to run, and this is just such an article. Ryan Strunk is a man who has significant accomplishments to his name, he is the lead accessibility consultant at Target, is a former national scholarship winner, serves as the Metro Chapter president of the National Federation of the Blind of Minnesota, is the secretary for the board of directors of BLIND Incorporated, is married to a wonderfully smart and witty woman, and together they share a cat. What I particularly like about this article is that Ryan takes head-on the issue of how seriously we take ourselves as blind people and the difficult balance between being a representative of the blind community and still being ourselves. This article is particularly timely in view of the fact that I have been talking with several up-and-coming Federation leaders who fear that their doubt and insecurity will keep them from maturing into the kind of blind people they want to be and the kind of men and women we want to lead our organization. This piece should go further than I have been able to go in allaying their doubts. Here is what Ryan has to say:

Anyone who knows me knows I love a good joke, and anyone who has seen me in the right circumstance knows I love a good dirty joke. I don’t know as many of them as I used to, but when I was a kid, I had a stockpile, and I let them fly pretty regularly.

Have you heard the one about the lady who … nah. I can’t write it here. But I was perfectly happy to tell it to my ninth-grade buddies one afternoon after school, standing around in the nearly empty junior high parking lot. I was so focused on the joke, on impressing my friends, that I was completely oblivious to the world around me.

Halfway into the joke, as I was establishing the pattern, somebody kicked me in the foot. I didn’t think twice about it; I just kept on chattering.

A moment later, Chad started coughing. No big deal, I thought. He just had something in his throat.

A sentence or two before the punchline, Jeremy straight-up elbowed me in the ribs, and still I didn’t give it a second thought. Just wait till they hear how it ends.

It was at that climactic moment—the one with the shock-and-awe curse word in the punchline—that the adult standing nearby decided to speak up. “Young man,” he said in that purposeful voice authority figures use on unruly students; a voice which, I’m sure, is much larger in my memory than it was at the time, “We don’t use that language at school.”

I stammered my way through the last few words of the punchline, then trailed off into silence, stunned at being caught and suddenly terrified, even as I didn’t recognize the speaker. “I won’t hear any more of that talk, right?” he asked. My face burning, my stomach roiling, I sheepishly mumbled that he wouldn’t, and with a perfunctory “good” the man walked away.

After a moment of stunned silence, I swallowed my rising horror and plucked up the courage to ask, “Who was that guy?”

“Dude,” said Jeremy, starting to snort laugh. “That was a cop. You just dropped an F bomb in front of a cop!”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I demanded.

“I tried to,” he said. “Why do you think I kept hitting you?”

I felt like an idiot, not only because I hadn’t landed the joke, but because I felt my blindness had betrayed and embarrassed me in front of my friends. Had I not been blind, I told myself, I would have known there was a cop standing there, and I would have either landed the joke harder as a rebellious backhand to authority, or—more likely—I would have saved it for when he wasn’t around and not gotten in trouble for telling it.

These kinds of things can still happen to me today. I walk through the office, and my toe hits the protruding foot of a whiteboard. It clangs, and I feel like an idiot for not using my cane better. I turn down a different aisle than my shopping assistant. I realize they’re suddenly not there, and I kick myself for not paying better attention. My cane slides under a sign, and I find said sign with my shoulder. I curse my luck and myself.

For years I have struggled with negative self-talk, berating myself over every little slip-up that happens in my daily life. Every kicked whiteboard, wrong turn, and missed sign ends up being an incredible ordeal because of the stories I tell myself after—because of the things I tell myself about myself: “Everyone is watching you;” “everyone is judging you;” “you are setting a bad example for other blind people.” I have spent a significant portion of my life carrying around a great deal of insecurity about who I am and what I’m capable of, and I have spent far too much time and energy focusing on things in my life that, in the grand scheme of things, don’t really matter that much.

I’m finally beginning to realize just how destructive these negative thoughts are, and I’m learning just how much they’ve been holding me back. Instead of shaking off my occasional mishaps, I have been fixating on them. I have worried about what other people will think and how I’ll be judged until I become tense and edgy. With all this negative energy, is it any wonder that I get embarrassed, angry, and self-effacing?

One of the great truths about blindness is that, no matter how good someone’s cane technique is, no matter how many skills a person has, they will eventually encounter a situation that might have been different had they been able to see. But one of the great truths about life is that, for a variety of reasons, these sorts of things happen to everyone—blind and sighted alike. The difference, I’m beginning to understand, is that most people don’t have blindness to blame these accidents on. When mistakes happen, most people laugh them off, shrug them off, and maybe do something better next time. Many blind people I know are good at this too, and I haven’t been one of them. I’m working on it, though.

I told a dirty joke in front of a policeman. He called me out for using bad language, and nothing else happened. My parents weren’t called, the principal wasn’t summoned, and I didn’t get in trouble. And even if there had been bigger consequences, so what? These things happen. They will continue to happen, and all I can do, if I want to be a happier person, is keep going and, if possible, do better next time.

“Ok Jeremy, I got a good joke. Any cops around?”

The 2018 Washington Seminar is Coming Sooner Than You Think

by Diane McGeorge

This message is to advise you that the Washington Seminar will be held January 28 through February 1, 2018, with the Great Gathering-In taking place on Monday, January 29. You can now reserve a room at the Holiday Inn Capitol (550 C Street, SW, Washington, DC 20024) for Washington Seminar for check-in beginning Friday, January 26, and check-out Friday, February 2. The rate is $192.00 per night; this rate does not include DC sales tax, which is currently 14.8 percent. You may begin booking reservations directly online by clicking on the weblink below: http://ichotelsgroup.com/redirect?path=rates&brandCode=HI&regionCode=1&localeCode=en&
GPC=FB8&hotelCode=WASSM&_PMID=99801505
.

You may also make reservations by calling (877) 572-6951 and referencing booking code FB8. Credit card information is needed at time of reservation. Individual cancellation policy requires notification seventy-two hours prior to date of arrival to avoid one night's room plus tax cancellation charge on the credit card provided. If your departure date changes, you must inform the hotel seventy-two hours in advance of departure to avoid a $100 fee; call (877) 572-6951 and reference your confirmation number. Please obtain a cancellation number when cancelling a reservation. The firm deadline date to make a reservation is Tuesday, January 2, 2018. Reservation requests received after the deadline date will be subject to availability and prevailing rate.

If you would like to hold a special meeting during the Washington Seminar, please email Lisa Bonderson at lbonderson@cocenter.org just as you have done in past years. She and I will work with the hotel on the assignment of those meeting rooms. To ensure that you get the space you need, please let us know of your meeting space needs by December 7, 2017.

Lisa and I will always be available to help you with any problems you might experience with the booking of your hotel reservations. We have worked closely with the hotel staff, and they are looking forward to working with each affiliate or group wanting to make reservations.

See you in Washington!

The Truth about Diversity in Hollywood

by Precious Perez

From the Editor: Precious Perez is a board member of the National Federation of the Blind Performing Arts Division. In her article she discusses the barriers that blind performers encounter when they seek jobs as actors, actresses, and directors. All of us know that in these competitive fields, many try and few succeed, but she convincingly argues that breaking into the performing arts is a harder job for blind people. I particularly like her argument that as an organization we will derive tremendous benefits from breaking down the artificial barriers that keep blind people out, because for every blind actor, actress, or director, we directly affect how the public feels about us and consequently have a greater impact on reversing discrimination than we might in getting someone a job as a computer engineer or an editor. I find this concept intriguing. Here is what she has to say:

I am an aspiring music educator and performer studying at Berklee College of Music, and I am currently studying abroad at Berklee's campus in Valencia, Spain. Every member serving on the performing arts division board is doing amazing things, such as performing professionally, dancing, improv, and so much more. Kelsey Nicolay, an NFB member who wrote an article about her dance experiences, struggled with misconceptions in choir and dance throughout high school with people not believing she was capable. Thankfully a precious few did, and they made a significant contribution in helping her achieve one of her dreams. She pushed through and performed with confidence, practiced self-advocacy, and showed appreciation to those who helped her, which is what blind performers do. The going is not always easy, but we do not give up, even though the industry constantly forces us to have to prove ourselves above and beyond our sighted colleagues.

Lack of diversity as defined in the January 2017 Braille Monitor is a common dilemma across the board in many fields, including but not limited to employment, education, and so many other areas, especially Hollywood and the fields of film, television, and performance. Alyssa Rosenberg brought up a very good point, which is that diversity is not just about race but also includes disability. Actor Danny Woodburn once said, “If you’re going to discuss diversity, it has to be completely inclusive of the groups that really define diversity, not just a select group that is popular. It’s not so popular to say people with disabilities define diversity. But the reality is that disability puts the ‘D’ in diversity.” It is evident that disability is commonly forgotten within this definition, and this continues to be a crucial issue.

In his introduction to articles in the January 2017 Braille Monitor regarding diversity in Hollywood, Gary Wunder explained that when blind people are featured in television or modern pop culture, the characters do not represent life as we know it. One example comes to mind when I think about misrepresentation of blind people in the media. Daredevil is a Marvel character meant to have heightened hearing and abilities due to the genre and nature of the show and his role as a superhero. However, his superhuman powers, such as being able to hear someone's heartbeat and the path of a single raindrop, further reinforce society's misconception that blind people have supersonic powers or are in some way more able than our sighted peers. Another controversial example is the horror movie Don't Breathe, featuring a blind war veteran killer with heightened senses. This character in particular further supports the idea that blind people are not and cannot just be ordinary people. Misguided, uneducated portrayals of blind people in television stem from misconceptions and stereotypes, and the fact that blind actors seldom exist in this industry due to preconceived notions of incapability is a clear sign of discrimination. Who better to know what it is like to be blind and convey that on screen than blind people themselves? This is the question I pose as a performer and board member of the National Federation of the Blind Performing Arts Division.

Hollywood has evidenced little interest in the varied stories of persons with disabilities, which in turn deems disabilities to be less common and creates limited roles we can play and the number of opportunities we have to perform. The sad truth is that the majority of disabled actors have played insignificant or supporting roles, which means that people with disabilities have not been given an outlet for their voice to be heard, whether it be in writing the scripts or authenticating the lead roles of blind and disabled characters. There are many aspects of disabilities, varying conditions, stories, and degrees of the spectrum. However, Hollywood keeps us boxed in by assigning us to superficial roles. Society's vision of life as it relates to people with disabilities is heavily based upon how they are portrayed on screen, which is almost always inaccurate or misleading.

As successful performers, musicians, and artists, we in the performing arts division of the NFB subscribe to the philosophy that blindness is a characteristic that does not define us and a characteristic that cannot hold us back. We meet problems with action, which is why we are working to raise awareness and draw attention to the lack of diversity in Hollywood, not only evident in statistics, but told anecdotally through those who strive for their dreams and get shot down due to the misconceptions of Hollywood’s casters.

It is comfortable for people today to believe that discrimination, as deplorable as it was, is a thing of the past and that those who argue otherwise are really responsible for not having the opportunities they say they have been denied. Believing this means that society cannot only celebrate a victory but ignore any obligation it has to remove systemic denial and prejudice. But the truth for those of us who represent minorities is that discrimination is not dead. Sometimes it is cloaked in kindness by those not wishing to hurt our feelings; sometimes it is hidden by ambiguous words that can never be used to substantiate the charge. Sometimes it is cloaked in the absolute certainty that what we wish to do is impossible, and if we aren’t smart enough to see it, somebody must. With all due respect to what we want America to be, we must acknowledge that she is not yet there, that discrimination still exists, and unless we are willing collectively to fight it, it will persist and expand, the result being lessened opportunities for us all.

Sometimes I observe that even our own people take refuge in the belief that blind performers cry discrimination when what they are really encountering is the rough and tumble of making it in the highly competitive entertainment industry. They remind us that the odds of anyone making it big are slim and that this is likely the reason why we find ourselves in the balcony looking down rather than on the stage looking out. I am betting that they have not seen the struggles of blind actors who have been trying to achieve their dreams and have never been given a chance. To those of you who believe this has nothing to do with being blind or disabled, may I suggest that your viewpoint is based upon your exaggerated perception of our limitations, that you too fall victim to the idea that all performers must be able-bodied, and perhaps that you think we who want to reach for the brass ring should content ourselves with more traditional, more realistic jobs. When you say you have seen no qualified actors and that there is no discrimination because we just aren’t good enough, is that fact or opinion? Have you met aspiring blind actors? Have you spoken to employers in Hollywood and other branches of the entertainment industry and inquired about the number of blind actors applying for roles? Until you have done so, such strong arguments against our hopes and aspirations have no solid foundation. To discredit the efforts of those who fight for these opportunities is offensive not only to would-be blind performers but to all blind people who try to expand the number of fields in which we may compete and thrive.

I readily concede that yes, talent is a crucial factor, and yes, some people rise and some do not; but overall, blind and disabled people have less of a shot at the opportunity to win or lose in the industry, period.

The NFB Performing Arts Division does not believe that success is being handed an acting position based solely on representing a certain percentage of the population. The assumption that society’s views of us can be changed by the majority of the blind population successfully living their lives outside of the public eye is simply false. In fact, employers are unaware and blind to this small reality themselves, pun intended. They only know what they see in the media, what their parents have taught them about disabilities, and their own personal views. These views are skewed, not by the disabled people living normal lives, but by stereotypes that continue to be reinforced by the characters they see—or don’t see—in books, movies, and television.

It is a given that all performers who harbor the talent and passion to pursue their dreams in a world where a career in the performing arts is not always taken seriously must work hard to gain the few opportunities available. However, blind actors and performers have to work harder than most with even less gain to show for it. If the entertainment industry doesn’t believe that disabled people can perform at the same level as those who are not disabled, we cannot get hired. If we cannot get hired, we will not have the chance to educate the industry and authenticate the representation of blind and disabled people on screen. This further deprives us of the benefit that will come when the entertainment industry portrays us as we actually are and opens to the sighted public the vast array of talents and aspirations we possess.

Yes, Hollywood is a business. Yes, it must make an end product the user will buy. These things are obvious. However, most people are drawn to reality—stories that educate and capture truth. Audiences are drawn to authenticity, and most are willing to understand the truth and recognize it for what it is. Businesses are there to make money, but they are not allowed to discriminate. Reality is a product that is priceless and timeless. I think I speak for all blind performers and aspiring actors when I say Hollywood needs to rethink its assumptions. Hollywood needs to realize that each and every person with a disability has their own unique personality and that portraying this individuality with authenticity is the best way to increase ratings and rake in money at the box office. It is time for employers in entertainment to know and understand that blind actors/actresses are capable, talented, and bring unique traits to the table. Blind and disabled actors deserve a fair chance. This is not the end, and people with disabilities will never cease fighting for an equal role on a level playing field of diversity in Hollywood and in all other aspects of the entertainment industry.

A Serious Danger for Blind Vendors

by Nicky Gacos

From the Editor: Members who were in the Federation in the 80s will remember a big push we made to see that blind vendors could operate facilities on rest areas along our nation’s highways. In some states these rest areas are managed directly by our blind merchants. In others the rest areas are contracted to private purveyors who send a percentage of what they make to the blind vendor programs in their state, and the money is used to help all blind vendors who work there. The proposal by the administration to eliminate the priority for the blind in these rest areas will be devastating if it becomes law. Here is what President Nicky Gacos of the National Association of Blind Merchants has to say:

Several weeks ago we circulated a link that would allow you to send letters directly to your members of Congress expressing concern over proposed legislation to allow commercialization of the interstate rest areas. Such legislation would be devastating to blind vendors who operate vending at interstate rest areas and to state licensing agencies (SLA’s) that rely on funds from third party vendors at these sites to operate their program and to offer benefits to their vendors. Rest area commercialization would result in almost 400 lost jobs, the loss of fringe benefits for hundreds, and lost revenue with which to operate the programs.

We’ve had a good response so far; however, with summer over, the kids back in school, and BLAST out of the way, it is time to ramp things up again. Please go to https://nfb.constituentvoice.net
/nfbaction/us-nabm_online_letter_to_congress_commercialization
and register your concerns. It will take you less than two minutes.

Once you have sent your letters, please:

  1. Ask friends and family to do the same;
  2. Post it on your Facebook page and/or Twitter account and ask all of your social media friends to log on and send letters;
  3. Forward this email to every vendor in your state and stress the importance of letting their voices be heard.

Together, we can make a difference. Act now!

Touching Imagination: Unlocking the Creativity of Blind Artists

by Ann Cunningham

From the Editor: Ann Cunningham is an artist who works as the art instructor at the Colorado Center for the Blind. Sometimes our biggest problem is not what we do not know. It is that we do not know what we do not know and therefore never have a clue about how to inquire into or learn about it. Such has been my experience far too often when things are not verbal or don't impress themselves on me tactilely. Art falls into this category. I know that art is something I cannot see, so I immediately write it off as one of those opportunities I cannot enjoy, and I content myself by rejoicing in those I can. There's nothing wrong about being grateful for enjoying what one can or admitting that blindness means some things we cannot enjoy. The problem happens when I too quickly write off art as something that cannot be meaningful to me when the truth is that it can if only I am willing to open my mind to explore it. The speech which follows has encouraged me to rethink what art can mean for me, and the artist who is so committed to opening this possibility for blind people is as articulate as she is artistic. Here is her well-crafted and beautifully delivered presentation made on July 15, 2017, at the convention:

Thank you so much, President Riccobono, for inviting me here today to talk to my Federation family about tactile art. I've been a member of the Federation since 1999, and what brought me to the Federation was my artwork. I'm a stone sculptor and tactile artist, and I'm proud to be able to say I teach art at the Colorado Center for the Blind [cheers]. Back when I was first starting, I was a typical artist making visual art, but as I sculpted the stone I realized that the feel of it under my hands as I created the form kept suggesting this touch thing seems powerful. There really is something here. Eventually I was introduced to the people who would help me start figuring out all this stuff at the Colorado center. I began teaching art classes and have been exploring what art can be with students and staff ever since. Our motto is, "If it feels right, it is right."

I began attending National Federation of the Blind national conventions in 2001—anyone here remember Philadelphia? [cheers] I had an art exhibit in the exhibit hall that year. I have presented art-related activity every year since. For the last seven years Debbie Kent Stein from Illinois and I have been collaborating on programming for our drop-in art room. I know a number of you do know about it because each year we have the tables filled with artists and artists-in-the-making as they play with aromatic homemade playdough or create raised-line drawings on the Sensational BlackBoard or check out the original works of art displayed around the perimeter of the room. Many outstanding volunteers have made this experience fulfilling and fun.

But I know a whole lot more of you might be wondering, "Tactile art? What's that?" because there are far more of us in this general assembly than end up in the art room. So let me give you my definition.

I define tactile art as artwork that can be understood through touch. Even though it might look pretty good too, the looks are secondary instead of the focus. The focus is now placed squarely on how effectively the sculpture can communicate with others when someone places their hands on the artwork. We can also add more sense into the mix. This year we had a number of people experience our first instillation artwork called "Off the Path." This piece created an environment that included lots of full-surround tactile input as well as layered sounds and smells.

Okay, so art is nice. It can be fun, maybe inspiring; it even offers a way for people to express themselves. And yet you still might not be convinced that this is where your energy needs to go. Let’s take a moment and look at the flipside of this coin: tactile graphics. Images can give us a way to study and share complex ideas that would take hours to explain and multiple times to comprehend. For instance, how much different do you think a student's learning outcomes would be if as a matter of course they had an image to go along with the description of a human skeleton? If a student could feel the bones as they are described and examine the joints as they are explained and go back and study them after class on their own; do you think they might understand more concepts and retain more information? [applause]

Charts of all kinds—graphs, maps, and diagrams fall under the heading of tactile graphics. No one comes into the world knowing how to interpret pictures. Sighted parents spend hours poring over baby books teaching sighted children to read pictures. I'm not sure that parents know that's actually what they're doing. Parents are drawn to these activities because they are fun, entertaining, and educational for both the child and the care provider. I have seen people of all ages quite easily begin learning how to interpret tactile images once they have the opportunity. But how much more fluent would a person be if they were using tactile pictures as tools from the time they were small? Picture books should be a part of every child's education—whether blind or sighted. [applause]

Looking at pictures should just be one part of the visual literacy. Just as verbal literacy is broken into two parts, reading and writing, I see picture interpretation as one part and picture creation as the other. Think about it for a moment: there should be no reason that blind people should not be the creators of tactile images as well as the consumers. [applause] It does take skill and education to create tactile images, but it does not take sight. Tactile images need to be formatted differently from visual images, but who knows that better than a tactile picture consumer? We need to discover the best way to tactile literacy, and the American Action Fund's initiative is taking an amazing step with their tactile art kits. If you know of a blind child, I hope that you will help connect them with this program so that Mrs. Maurer and our team can learn how to best develop this important early learning activity.

Thank you to the NFB. Thanks to the NFB, I know that all of this is possible. For the last two summers I have been invited to teach at the summer EQ STEAM Program in Baltimore with Natalie Shaheen. I am the drafting instructor. We gathered the tools together so that students would have what they need to accomplish the task I would instruct them in. All I needed to do was teach. I have the faith because I have had so many successes at the Colorado Center for the Blind over the years. This is because of Julie Deden's prime directive: When we ask her if we can do something, she always says, "Sure. Go figure it out." So I have come to believe that it is all possible.

So we planned into the curriculum that I would teach the students first how to sketch out their ideas to build their boats out of PVC pipes, tarps, and tape. But the real kicker was that after that, one person from each of the teams needed to do an orthographic projection and isometric perspective of their final boat design to include in their deliverables. Now, if you need to look that up to understand it, don't feel alone; I did too. But what I want to share with you is that these are the vital engineering skills that a person's future could turn on. I'd never taught it before, but when the day came, we had to try. So I approached it as logically as I could. We started a cube drawing in perspective, first. I held up the cube in front of the student and said, "Look at this model. The lines will represent each corner." Step by step, this young lady, who is totally blind and at the beginning of the week was learning how to hold a pen, worked through the drawing. First a vertical line, then two thirty-degree horizontal lines—not just because I was telling her what to do, but because she could feel the cube; she knew where the corners needed to be represented, and she could understand how the principles needed to be applied. She figured out what needed to be drawn next. I have to say it was breathtaking—and we both let out our breath—but we also noticed that a number of other teachers had gathered around when they let out their collective breath as well. It is still exciting for me to see the understanding light up in someone's face when they learn these techniques.

But the real test is can the students use these concepts by applying what they have learned to other projects? Well I am very happy to say that I have seen numerous students successfully use these skills to then illustrate the boats that their team had constructed.

I recently received a grant from Arts in Society, an art organization in Denver. I am collaborating with a graduate of the Colorado Center for the Blind, Jenny Callahan, to see if we can develop her own tactile mapping company. I have never done anything like this before, but I am very confident that we will figure it out. [applause]

This year the NFB has sponsored three tactile art and tactile graphics symposia. I have worked with Anil Lewis and Lou Ann Blake in an effort to develop a corps of people who are interested in talking through all the issues that we need to address. The first event was in Baltimore, the second was held in Colorado in collaboration with the Colorado Center, and the third is a collaborative event with the Lighthouse for the Blind in San Francisco. At each of these small gatherings we expand our circles of friends and our understanding of the issues a bit further.

Now, I am a sighted artist, but I know that my inkling of a belief that there is something powerful here is now a full-blown understanding that there is so much more to our experience of the world than visual input. I know far more is attributed to vision than it actually deserves credit for. NFB member Peter Slayton—who is also an artist—said, "We need to change the perspective on how we frame what we are doing to illuminate the assets of tactile art. What can we do beyond visual art?"

Well, one thing we know is that we can feel 360 degrees at once; no one can see that. What else is possible? I am sighted, but by spending time exploring my world through my other senses, I realize that when I close my eyes, I suddenly expand my world in whole new ways that are unexpected, enlightening, and exciting. I am inspired by the moment that I had at the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind. I was commissioned to create an accessible work of art for their newly-renovated dorm. I met with the student council to talk about what they might like to have included in an art experience. What I experienced was a room filled with more people who were deaf than were hearing. At one point—as a hearing person—I became disabled to fluently participate in the conversation because the signers were talking much faster than the interpreters could voice for me. I want to invite you to work with us on flipping our situation in new ways, too. Wouldn't it be great to walk into a multisensory art exhibit where people who only know how to look at the world miss the crux of the entire exhibit? [applause]

Thanks to creative initiatives like the tactile art box by the American Action Fund, I look forward to the day—and I hope it's soon—when I hear a young blind child saying, "What do you mean that in the old days we didn't have pictures?"

We have some thoughtful vendors who are promoting innovative products, like the Graphiti at American Printing [House for the Blind]—I hope you guys got to see that, the art exhibits by Touch Graphics, digital images by Irie-AT, and school workbooks by E.A.S.Y. LLC, and many more. Like HumanWare, all vendors need to know what you need. This helps them go straight for what is needed most. Share your ideas; there is so much to do. There is plenty of space for all of us because what we are trying to do is not to duplicate but to echo the artistic and communication progress that has been made in the visual world since the Renaissance. My personal theory is that we behaved as multisensory beings before the invention of glasses, lenses, mirrors, and cameras. They introduced those innovations that emphasized the visual sense. Let's work together to reclaim and elevate our other senses. [applause]

But we need you. Debbie Kent Stein and I are honored to be asked to start the NFB Tactile Art Group. We have an NFB listserv called "Artists Making Art," and we have a Facebook page called "Tactile Art and Tactile Graphics Symposium." This sounds good, but we need someone who knows how to make these useful, and it is not me. If you're sitting here and thinking you would like to get involved, please do. We need you, we need your ideas and your artwork to inspire us, and we need your help spreading the word—can you write? We need your ideas about how to move forward. Jim Jackson from Oregon had an idea to have a tactile map contest for people to make and display maps of our hotel next year. What a great idea. [cheers]

We'll be able to show just how creative folks can get and how useful images can be, but we can't do this alone, nor do we want to do it alone. If you are a person who has ideas or abilities to share, or just the interest, please connect with me at ann@acunningham.com. We need your help and your ideas and your energy and enthusiasm. Next year let's make the art room a place of wonder! [applause]

Always Believing

by Justin Salisbury

From the Editor: Justin Salisbury is a leader in the National Federation of the Blind, a former scholarship winner, and a trained professional currently employed in the field of rehabilitation. He thinks a lot about the transformative role rehabilitation should play in the lives of those it serves and the role it should play in helping blind people embrace the positive philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

In what follows, Justin has written what some might call a fable in order to explore the conflicting messages sent to students and teachers in the rehabilitation field because of the relative proximity of various programs. It is told not to call out any particular agency or administrator, but to make us examine the messages and resulting conflicts that we may not be aware we are sending to students learning how to navigate in their new world of blindness. The conflict he sees is not just in rehabilitation. Sometimes we wrestle with this in deciding where to hold Federation meetings, in deciding when it is appropriate to help other groups, and in deciding whether to react to publicity that may accurately reflect the life of one blind person but suggests that a problem or an attitude about it reflects the way the blind community feels. Here’s what he has to say:

Imagine a place called Ziklag, where the state agency serving the blind claims it believes in the capacity and equality of blind people. The agency in Ziklag operates an orientation center with a residential program where clients of the agency can become students for adjustment to blindness training.

For one dollar per year, this agency rents out two-thirds of its building to a subminimum-wage sheltered workshop. The sheltered workshop operates a “meals on wheels” program for seniors and people with disabilities, including blind people who lack the proper training and wherewithal to feed themselves. Each day the food for the meals on wheels program is produced in such large amounts that there is excess. In order to use the excess food and to increase the profit from it, the sheltered workshop operates a cafeteria where it sells very inexpensive lunches to the general public. Since the sheltered workshop does business with the general public, and since its part of the building resides on a much busier street than the rest of the state agency serving the blind, the people of Ziklag generally believe that the blind rehabilitation programs are a part of the sheltered workshop.

As the employees of the state agency and the students at its orientation center approach the building every day, they walk past the subminimum-wage sheltered workshop. To some students, it may serve as motivation to work harder in training so that they will be treated with more dignity than the people in the subminimum-wage sheltered workshop. For other students, especially the ones who are still unfamiliar with the positive philosophy about blindness espoused by the National Federation of the Blind, it might detract from their sense of self-worth. For some staff, it may be a motivator; if they do their jobs well, their students will have an opportunity to live a life free from limitations based on blindness and will have a sufficient understanding of their own equality so as not to accept subminimum-wage work. For other staff, especially those still unfamiliar with a positive understanding of blindness, commuting past the sheltered workshop may mean nothing out of the ordinary and may be accepted as a natural reality of disability.

In Ziklag the rehabilitation counselors are encouraged by their superiors to place clients in the subminimum-wage sheltered workshop. After all, the subminimum-wage sheltered workshop offers employment services to people with disabilities. They offer classes, and when their students graduate from these classes, they advance to being a normal client of the sheltered workshop. Is that really a graduation at all? They may even be told to think of themselves as interns or employees.

The state agency appears on paper to be separate from the subminimum-wage sheltered workshop. The workshop is a tenant of the agency’s building, albeit for one dollar per year. The state agency contracts with vendors for maintenance and grounds keeping services. It just so happens that the subminimum-wage sheltered workshop provides these services, and it just so happens that they are the vendor used by the state agency. When the agency needs its floors waxed, the workshop does it. Somebody needs to remove fallen leaves from the courtyard of the agency. The employees of the sheltered workshop love running around the courtyard of the agency with leaf blowers, sometimes for five or six hours at a time. The agency employees know that it would be more efficient to pick up the leaves by hand, and there are, of course, many alternatives on a spectrum of efficiency between the leaf blower tournaments and the hand-picking of leaves. When the agency employees lose a day of productivity because of the day-long leaf blower tournaments taking place outside their offices, they often look out the window and observe the teams of disabled employees followed by able-bodied caretakers. What they are doing is obnoxiously inefficient and imposes a negative externality on the state agency with the overpowering noise. The disabled employees are functionally a burden on the state agency and are modeling a lack of productivity that perpetuates low expectations.

The sheltered workshop claims that it has highly specialized employees who work with the disabled. Many of them come to work at the sheltered workshop because their able-bodiedness qualifies them for a supervisory-level position. Their primary credential, of course, is the simple fact that they are able-bodied. At the sheltered workshop, they call themselves “caretakers,” but their résumés and business cards call them supervisors.

Because the agency serving the blind of Ziklag wants to demonstrate its belief in the Randolph-Sheppard program, it has a space in the building set aside for a blind vendor to operate a snack shop. He does good work, but he operates in a relatively low-traffic area. Thankfully, many of the clients of the subminimum-wage sheltered workshop visit him frequently to buy snacks. The caretakers at the sheltered workshop often bring the clients over to the snack shop and give them money to buy snacks. That snack money is often more than most of the disabled employees’ paychecks. Sometimes the supervisors even let the clients walk to the snack shop by themselves.

When it comes time for lunch, some of the rehabilitation counselors go next door to the cafeteria in the subminimum-wage sheltered workshop. They praise the food and the low prices. They walk around the agency office telling everyone about the great lunch they scored for such a good price. After all, people should know about a good deal. They often invite students at the orientation center to join them in the cafeteria for lunch, and the students often oblige. Other employees at the agency occasionally visit the cafeteria for lunch as well.

During work hours there is an expectation that employees of Ziklag uphold a positive philosophy about blindness. This means endorsing the concept that blind people are normal, capable people worthy of equality in society. These words are spoken during work hours. It is difficult to conceive how this understanding could be mutable. Can a single cognitive schema enable someone to, during work hours, operate according to a productive belief system about blindness and then leave that understanding at the door of their office when they set out to eat a lunch prepared by blind employees earning pennies per hour?

The students at the orientation center are told during class by their instructors that blind people are normal, that they should expect to achieve normal jobs, and that they deserve to be treated normally by the general public because blindness is a normal characteristic. Since the students have a normal level of intellect, they are able to take notice of these contradictory behaviors, not all of which come from the same staff members. There are those instructors who communicate a positive philosophy about blindness and who have never even ventured inside the subminimum-wage sheltered workshop. There are those who never discuss an empowerment model of blindness rehabilitation and who visit the cafeteria enthusiastically. There are also those who do some of each; they attempt to send empowering messages during work hours and then contradict those messages outside of work hours. The students indiscriminately consider the agency employees to be blindness professionals; after all, they work for the agency providing services to the blind. Since there is no unified and consistent message about blindness demonstrated by the staff of our fictitious agency, the students struggle to navigate the muddy waters toward the promise of emotional adjustment to blindness. If the agency truly intends to empower blind people to see themselves as normal people capable of competing on terms of equality with their sighted counterparts, the employees have to believe it themselves. If they do not believe it, how can they ever create that belief in their students?

We hope these students can identify with the employees who promulgate a positive philosophy about blindness with minimal contradiction. Nobody can escape the negative messages of misconceptions and low expectations in society, but increasingly more of us are joining the National Federation of the Blind in realizing the truth about blindness. Who we choose as role models has great implications for our future, and this is just as true for blind students at orientation centers as it is for anybody else.

The National Federation of the Blind is helping us all imagine a world in which this story is clearly a fable, a testament to times long past. For decades, the National Federation of the Blind has been training blindness professionals and raising expectations. If we can remain diligent and vigilant, we can continue to shape the face of blindness rehabilitation, enabling us as individuals and as a movement to chart our own future. We, the organized blind movement, take the initiative and responsibility to cultivate our own belief in our own normality, and, by always believing, we can also raise the expectations of others.

Rotary Gives Ed McDonald “Service Above Self” Award

by Jean Braithwaite

From the Editor: Ed McDonald is a former member of the National Federation of the Blind National Board of Directors and was a long-time president of the National Federation of the Blind of West Virginia. Ed and his wife Karen bless many of us with an annual Christmas letter, and this wonderful family represents Federationism at its best. Ed has had a long-time love of radio, and as the article below will reveal, he is making his dreams come true and helping his community in the bargain. This article first appeared in the Mineral Daily News-Tribune on August 15, 2017, and it is reprinted here with their permission.

Three individuals and four businesses were honored during the 2017 Business and Community Awards dinner held Friday evening at the Davis Center, Potomac State College. The names of two of the recipients to be recognized remained unannounced throughout the evening until the time their recognition was given.

The first of these was the 2017 Rotary Service Above Self Award, and Ed McDonald was given this tribute. On behalf of the Rotary Club of Keyser, Dinah Courrier presented the award for the "tireless effort" that McDonald spent in bringing a radio station to the community, in addition to his work with the Mineral County Historical Society, the Federation of the Blind, and many additional endeavors.

A graduate of Bethany College and Ohio University with a degree in broadcast journalism, McDonald taught communications at Bethany and worked at radio stations in Kanawha and Putnam counties, as well as in Kentucky. He has been a member of the Mineral County Historical Society for almost 25 years and was instrumental in launching WKYW, Mountain Streams Radio. Earlier in the program, he gave information on the Mountain Streams radio station, saying, "At age seven was the first time I was in a radio station," and now he proclaims to be a lifelong radio addict.

He said that the process began in 2013 for the local radio station, when a construction permit was applied for, followed by a testing process, and finally in late February, "regular broadcasting began." Mentioning the station is at 102.9 on the dial, McDonald said it is licensed through the Mineral County Historical Society, with the transmitting antenna being located at Catamount Place, a residence hall at PSC.

"There is a unique music format," he said, involving the sounds of West Virginia and the Appalachian area that features "old time string, bluegrass, and gospel," all presented with acoustic instruments. McDonald said in the future improvements will be made at the Keyser radio station, as adding more music and having a real studio, where now everything is produced in the basement of his home. He is also planning to expand the air time to include "all of Mineral County," develop an advisory group, and make welcome volunteers and ideas for the radio station.

That was the article, and here are remarks Ed sent to his friends after it appeared:

Thanks to all of you for your congratulations and kind words over the past week in response to the recognition and the subsequent newspaper story, and thanks to my dear wife for being such a good unpaid publicity agent. (Many of us who are close to such stories know that reporters do not always get every little detail correct, but for the most part it was accurate.)

The whole experience has triggered a variety of observations and reflections, and so I hope you will forgive (or delete) this bit of self-indulgence: As blind people, I am sure all of us have struggled at times with being accepted and trying to find a role for ourselves in our communities. A plaque from a small-town Rotary club may seem insignificant to some, but being recognized in this small town by the people with whom I live and work every day was indeed significant to me. Perhaps it was notable that the newspaper story did not take the all-too-common approach of focusing upon how "amazing" it is that this blind guy does the things he does. The only mention of blindness per se was the passing reference to my involvement in the "Federation of the Blind."

I might also note that in order to insure my presence at the awards dinner, the director of the Chamber of Commerce asked me in advance to make a ten-minute presentation concerning the radio station, without telling me about any award. When it came time for me to speak, she virtually dragged me by the arm up to the front of the room, while recounting the story of once having run me into a tree during an outdoor event some years ago. I tried to break her grip and make the ten-foot walk from my table to the podium with a bit more grace and independence, but she was determined to hold on tight.

All of that suggests that even in our finest moments, we blind folks can sometimes encounter a slightly embarrassing situation. I hope, however, that I was able to rise above it. I did not consciously plan my remarks to be a teaching opportunity about blindness, but I had my cane in my hand and read my notes from a BrailleNote. There was thus a room full of people—including legislators and other community leaders—who observed those "tools of blindness" being used.

Apart from the blindness aspects of the experience, however, it's no exaggeration to say that getting this radio station started is indeed the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. When I was a kid, my answer to the question, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" was always, "I want to build a radio station." I am sure there are those who would suggest that I have not yet managed to grow up. Otherwise, I would not still be pursuing such a misguided dream. Nevertheless, I am gratified that it is indeed on the air, that people in the community are listening and saying nice things about it, and that it is playing in the background as I write this. It is true—for whatever it's worth—that the dinner occurred just three days after the sixtieth anniversary of my first visit to a radio station. It was also just two days after our twenty-first wedding anniversary, and Karen has certainly played an important part in all of this.

Ironically, it is also true that just this week the public radio station at Northern Kentucky University where I worked for four years left the air because the university chose to sell the station and get out of the radio business. I was part of the original staff when WNKU went on the air back in 1985, calling itself "Kentucky Folk Radio." Thus, as one station fades into history, I find myself building a similar station in the town—in fact, in the very building—where I was born. (The station is housed in a Potomac State College residence hall, which was once Potomac Valley Hospital.)

So, whether it's a story about "living the lives we want" as blind people or coming "full circle" in small-town West Virginia, it's also a story about being truly blessed.

From Knowledge to Power: A Report on Advocacy and Policy Programs of the National Federation of the Blind

by John Paré

From the Editor: In place of introducing John Paré, let us use the comments made by President Riccobono in inviting him to the stage:

“I mentioned in the Presidential Report that in the 115th Congress we are monitoring and actively pursuing more legislative initiatives than at any time in our history, and the reason that is possible is because of the 50,000 advocates we have across the country. The gentleman who is supposed to be in DC—learning where all the connections are—getting the knowledge, making the relationship connections to ensure that we can present our authentic point of view is our executive director of policy and advocacy, and he does a great job at that. Here is John Paré:”

Thank you, President Riccobono, and thank you to the secretary of labor. We really appreciate his remarks and look forward to working with him back in Washington.

The National Federation of the Blind is off to a terrific start in the First Session of the 115th Congress. We have four bills introduced, three in the United States House of Representatives and one in the United States Senate. The Accessible Instructional Materials in Higher Education Act has thirty-one cosponsors. It is sponsored by Congressman Phil Roe of Tennessee. This bill will authorize the creation of a purpose-based commission to develop accessibility guidelines for higher education and will encourage schools to adhere to these guidelines in return for a safe harbor for certain types of litigation.

The Access Technology Affordability Act has nine cosponsors and is sponsored by Congressman David Young of Iowa. Congressman Young will address our convention tomorrow afternoon, and we will want to give him a warm Federation welcome. A special thanks to the Iowa affiliate for cultivating this new relationship, especially the Omvigs. This bill will increase the availability of access technology by creating a $2,500 per person refundable tax credit for use over a three-year period. There is also a companion bill in the Senate sponsored by Senator Boozman of Arkansas.

The Transitioning to Meaningful Employment Act [TIME] has eleven cosponsors and is sponsored by Representative Gregg Harper from Mississippi. Congressman Harper spoke at our 2013 convention, and he is a terrific champion for people with disabilities. The TIME Act has been changed from what was introduced in the previous Congress to include a six-year phaseout that requires a transition plan for each person being paid less than the minimum wage over the phaseout. Taken as a whole, these bills will help us live the lives we want by increasing the availability of access technology, by encouraging the use of accessible instructional material in higher education, and by eliminating the low expectations and discrimination inherent in section 14 (c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The National Federation of the Blind has also been advocating for funding for the National Library Service so that it can purchase and lend refreshable Braille displays. NLS plans to institute a pilot program in fiscal 2018 and launch a much larger program in fiscal 2019. The National Federation of the Blind is committed to Braille literacy and the increased availability of refreshable Braille displays. We will not rest until the National Library Service has the funding needed to lend refreshable Braille displays to every blind American who wants one. [Applause]

As you have heard from Scott LaBarre, we are also making progress on the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty and the passage of the Marrakesh implementation package. Let there be no mistake: the National Federation of the Blind will not rest until all of these bills have been passed and the treaty is ratified.

We have also had to defend our civil rights and protect employment opportunities for blind Americans. H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act, would fundamentally change the Americans with Disabilities Act by requiring people with disabilities to notify companies of violations before taking legal action. Companies would then have sixty days to consider a response and another 120 days to actually fix the problem for a total delay of 180 days. Can you believe this? [The audience responds with an enthusiastic no.] On July 26 we will be celebrating twenty-seven years since the ADA was passed, and companies say they need more time to comply. We say no!

Most technology encountered in places of public accommodation falls under the jurisdiction of Title III of the ADA, and this technology needs to be compliant now. Not in 180 days! Not in sixty days! Not even in one day! We have waited long enough; we will not tolerate companies that flaunt the law. We demand that technology be accessible. We demand that it be accessible now because we intend to live the lives we want now. Not in 180 days, not in ninety days, but right now. I ask you, when? [Audience responds “Now”]

Another problematic bill is H.R. 1990. This bill would result in over 400 Randolph-Sheppard vendors losing their vending operations at interstate rest stops. This is absolutely unacceptable, but we do not think that the sponsor and cosponsors were aware of the affect that it would have on blind business owners. We are working to educate them on this catastrophic impact, and we have demanded that they withdraw their support for this legislation. We will keep you apprised of developments.

Next, I want to update you on the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act. The National Federation of the Blind identified this problem, created a partnership with car companies, got the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to study the issue, wrote the legislation, got the United States Congress to pass the legislation, and then got the president of the United States to sign it into law. The final regulation was issued nearly three years late, on December 14, 2016, with an effective date of February 13, 2017. But the story is not over. The effective date was then postponed to March 21, then to May 22, then to June 5, and now to September 5, 2017. These delays are outrageous! The issue has been thoroughly studied. The final regulation has been thoroughly vetted. The danger has been thoroughly documented, and the number of hybrid vehicles on the road keeps growing and growing. One item to note is that many but not all car companies have realized that this is a problem, and they have begun adding sound on their vehicles. [Applause] However, in many cases the sound is not compliant with the new regulations. We must be vigilant and demand that the United States Department of Transportation put this regulation into effect now. [Readers will remember that in October we announced that the regulation went into effect.]

As many of you know, Parnell Diggs is now an Administrative Law Judge with the Social Security Administration. I want to thank him for his tremendous, terrific work with the department of advocacy and policy. Your Honor, we wish you well. [Applause]

Let's talk about NFB-NEWSLINE®. As many of you know, NFB-NEWSLINE is what first introduced me to the National Federation of the Blind. NFB-NEWSLINE is the largest and most effective accessible newspaper service for the blind anywhere in the world. It was conceived, designed, and implemented by the blind for the blind. NFB-NEWSLINE is available in forty-six states plus the District of Columbia. It has 115,000 subscribers, 366 domestic newspapers, seventeen international newspapers, twenty-four breaking news sources, and sixty magazines. Over the last year NFB-NEWSLINE subscribers have enjoyed over 37 million minutes of news, made over 2 million calls, received over 3 million emailed articles, logged onto our web portal over 3 million times, and accessed our mobile app 381,242 times. All publications on NFB-NEWSLINE are available in Braille-formatted downloadable files. This feature is currently in beta testing, and we welcome your comments on how we might be able to improve the formatting of these files. NFB-NEWSLINE provided holiday ads during the holiday season from Ace Hardware, Babies "R" Us, Toys "R" Us, JOANN Fabrics, Lowe's, Home Depot, Petco, Publix, Staples, Office Depot, Walgreens, and Kohl's. Soon NFB-NEWSLINE will not only be available over the phone, on your Victor Reader Stream, or through the NLS Digital Talking Book player. Soon it will be available on the Amazon Echo. [Applause] As you heard from the President yesterday, once set up, all you will have to do is say "Alexa open NFB-NEWSLINE." If you would like to be a beta tester, please send an email to echofeedback@nfb.org. Please be sure to include the email address that is associated with your Amazon Echo account, and you will of course need to be an NFB-NEWSLINE subscriber.

As I've said to many of you in the past, the National Federation of the Blind has made my life immeasurably more exciting, more interesting, more rewarding than I ever dreamed it could be. I am living proof that our movement changes lives [Applause], and that we can live the lives we want. Part of the spirit that you've created, which lifts my heart, came into being because of the policies that we have promoted together through the legislation that we support. If we are to welcome others—as we must, as we will—the effort must not slacken, but I know that it will not. I am committed, and I know that you are. The work that I've been charged to do by our President has often been challenging, but you have given me the confidence to believe that failure is not an option, the confidence to know that by working together, we can accomplish anything, and the confidence to believe that we can conquer any challenges that stand in our path. In fact, it is these challenges that enliven my soul, that demand all the best that is in me.

When I have asked you to work with me, you have responded. Working with you has brought me enormous joy. [He pauses, and there is genuine applause and cheering.] This is why I like to work so much with all of you. Thank you.

Flash Cards Anytime, Anyplace with Math Flash™

by Laura Zierer

From the Editor: Laura Zierer is a product development project leader at the American Printing House for the Blind (APH). As part of her role, she leads a team consisting of members from various departments who are working together to investigate the use of voice assistant devices in the classroom. Laura is currently working toward her master’s degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. Here is an interesting product she and her team are marketing:

While the whole concept of voice assistants is only a few years old, these devices are making their way quickly into education and life. Dominated by Google Home® smart speakers and Amazon Alexa®-enabled devices, voice assistants marry the most natural interface—voice—with deep learning to provide answers, perform services, and even control home appliances. The opportunities for providing educational content to blind and visually impaired students are abundant!

In late September, APH launched a new action for Google Home devices. This action is based on the popular Math Flash software that combines math flash cards with fun audio feedback and a snarky personality. Math Flash for Google Home is available now and ready to use on any compatible device. If you have a Google Home smart speaker, say the wake-up phrase (“Ok Google”), then say, “Talk to Math Flash.”
Don’t have a Google Home speaker? Access the Google Assistant on your smartphone or tablet by following these steps:

Note that if you are using VoiceOver, open the Assistant app, then temporarily disable the VO speech with a three-finger double tap. To activate the microphone, use the magic tap gesture (two-finger double tap) and say, “Talk to Math Flash.” You don’t need to interact with the screen again until Math Flash closes. At that time, use the three-finger double tap to re-enable speech feedback for VoiceOver.

Have fun, and send feedback to technology@aph.org so we can continue to refine this and other skills and actions. This is our first step into these waters, and APH plans to create educational content for both platforms—Google and Amazon.

Amazon Alexa is a trademark of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. Android and Google Home are trademarks of Google Inc. App Store is a service mark of Apple Inc. iOS is a trademark of Cisco in the U.S. and other countries and is used under license.

Accessibly Cutting the Cord: Watching TV Without a Cable Subscription

by Karl Belanger

From the Editor: Karl Belanger is an access technology specialist at the Jernigan Institute. He has worked for the National Federation of the Blind for just over three years, coming to this position after working as a consultant for web accessibility and access technology training. He is a helpful and giving human being with a very congenial personality. When I am at the Jernigan Institute and have a technical problem, he is always helpful, friendly, and responsive. But what is perhaps more important to our readers is that he makes the technical understandable and interesting. Here is what he has to say about alternatives to cable TV as we have known it:

With the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, online live TV services like Sling TV, and many other sources for audio and video content on the internet, ditching the cable box has never been more viable. Several devices have also been developed to get all this content from the internet to your TV. Some of the most common, which were tested for this article, are the Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku box, the NVidia Shield, and the Fire TV. All these options present both opportunities and challenges for blind users. Each device has slightly different levels of accessibility, a given app may be more or less accessible on a given device, and there may or may not be much in the way of documentation of the accessibility features. The National Federation of the Blind Access Technology Team recently tested several streaming boxes and evaluated the accessibility of each device as well as the accessibility of several common services. Most of the testing was conducted in June and July, and a live presentation of our findings was done at the 2017 NFB National Convention. Please keep in mind that, as with any technology these days, things change rapidly, and software updates will likely mean things are not exactly as I discuss in this article. While the overall experience regardless of device is positive, there are clear benefits and drawbacks to each. Some had more features but lacked app support. Others worked with more apps and channels, but had fewer accessibility options or lacked features. Some services and apps were more consistently accessible, while others varied widely between platforms. Keep reading for the full breakdown.

Each device went through a battery of tests which included the accessibility during setup, the overall interface, downloading apps, and the accessibility of several common apps and services.

The Devices

Device

Manufacturer

Price

Comments

Roku Player

Roku

$39+

Widest variety of TV content, inconsistent app accessibility and poor quality voice.

Fire TV

Amazon

$39+

Best for those using Amazon Prime video, solid native accessibility, third-party apps lacking

NVidia Shield

NVidia

$199

Android TV based, primarily focused on gaming, but reasonably strong accessibility across the board

Apple TV

Apple

$149-$199

Most consistent accessibility, may be missing a few services

Chromecast

Google

$35

Simplest, no device interface, setup accessible through app. Accessibility of desired service depends on accessibility of phone or computer interface.

Xbox One

Microsoft

$250+

Most advanced device, focused on gaming, strong native accessibility but very poor on third-party apps.

There is a vast amount of content available through the various devices and apps. From movies and TV shows with Netflix and Hulu, sports with ESPN, and live TV with Sling or DIRECTV now, to services like YouTube providing user-created content or apps for individual channels and creators, there’s something for everyone. Unfortunately, due to the vast number of options, it’s impossible to test everything. We have tested several of the more popular services, but, just like with a smartphone, it is necessary to download and try the apps you’re interested in. The good news is that, while many services may charge for a subscription, it is usually possible to browse and even play samples before purchasing, which should give a good indication of whether the app and service will be accessible.

Chromecast

The Chromecast is the simplest device, while at the same time the most nuanced and varied in terms of app accessibility. There is no device interface. Setup is handled through the mobile app, and then streaming and management of content is done through whatever service’s app you are wanting to stream from.

Setup

Setup of the Chromecast is extremely simple. Plug the device into a TV, attach the Micro USB charger, and launch the Google Home app. You will be prompted to set up the Chromecast. A four-character code will be displayed on the TV to verify that you are setting up the correct Chromecast, but unless you are setting up multiple devices at once, it is usually safe to just assume the device found is the correct one. There will then be a prompt to configure Wi-Fi followed by the prompt to sign into your Google Account. That’s it. You can then open up your favorite app such as Netflix or YouTube, press the Cast button, and start watching.

Watching content

Whether or not you can watch the content you want is going to depend on three things. Most importantly, does the app or service support the Chromecast? Not every service does, and there are lists of supported services online. If the service you want isn’t directly available, there may still be options which I will discuss later. The next factor will be which platform you’re using, PC/Mac, iOS, or Android. Lastly the accessibility of the specific service on your chosen platform will need to be taken into account. For example, Netflix on either iOS or Android is quite usable, but the web player used on computers is largely inaccessible, and you are unlikely to be able to find the cast button if using a screen reader. Fortunately, most services come with free trials, so it should be relatively easy to determine if your desired combination of service and platform will work for you. Once content is playing, simply find and press the cast button, select your Chromecast, and the video will transfer from the device to the TV. You can still control the playback, pause, rewind, fast forward, etc. from the phone, but the content is now being streamed directly to the Chromecast without going through the phone or device first.

If the content you want to watch isn’t from a directly supported service, you may still have options. When using Google Chrome on a PC or Mac, you can cast a specific tab from the computer to the TV. This will display any content, a web page, a video, etc. from the computer onto the TV by way of the Chromecast. Similarly, if the content is on an Android phone, many phones allow you to mirror the screen to the Chromecast, which sends all system video and audio to the TV.

Chromecast Accessibility

As mentioned earlier, the Google Home app is used to set up the Chromecast. This app and the Chromecast setup process are completely accessible. Once the Chromecast is up and running, it is possible to manage the device’s settings, screen saver, and other aspects of the Chromecast. As long as the underlying app is accessible, the process of sending video to the Chromecast is also accessible. Lastly, casting a tab in Chrome works well regardless of screen reader.

Roku Devices

Roku makes a number of streaming devices, from the Roku Express, a stick-like device designed for older TVs, to the Roku Ultra, a 4K-capable streaming box. Roku’s software is also included on a number of televisions. While some services, called channels on the Roku, work quite well, others are completely inaccessible. The other problem is that the voice is rather low quality, such that the letters B, C, D, E, G, P, T, and V all sound very similar.

Device setup

The Roku is unique in that it is the only device that requires going to the Roku site to finish setup. Pressing the options button four times (the button is to the right of the directional pad) will enable the audio guide. Once the Roku is connected to Wi-Fi, it will prompt you to go to a page on the Roku site and enter a code to finish setup. The online process is accessible, though we had to do some digging to find the hidden link which allows an account to be created without a credit card for testing purposes. Once an account is created, the Roku will load the main interface.

Using the Roku

The Roku interface consists of a list of categories down the left and content to the right. This general theme holds true throughout many of the channels and apps. The device interface is navigated using the four-way directional buttons on the remote. It is possible to download a wide variety of channels from the channel store and apps from their own section. The Roku differentiates between channels, which are generally from content providers and have a consistent interface, and apps such as YouTube, with which I had much less success.

Accessibility options

The Roku has basic options for accessibility. For the audio guide, they consist of on/off, volume, and speech rate. There are also options for closed captioning. Audio Guide is only available in US English and will be disabled if another language is selected. A function to route the Roku audio through the mobile app unfortunately disables Audio Guide. There are no settings for low vision, but the font is generally large and readable, and contrast is good. The only issues for those with low vision is that in some channels such as Netflix, thumbnail images are used for content, and the name is not displayed until that item gets focus.

When browsing, the name of the item, the index, and any other displayed info such as producer, runtime, etc. are announced automatically. However, there is no partial accessibility with this system; everything reads well, or the device goes completely silent. The Netflix account creation screen and the entire YouTube app are examples of this. There is no error message, no announcing of unlabeled buttons—it’s as if accessibility has been switched off. When typing, the keyboard is similar to a qwerty layout, and the voice announces the letter, followed a couple seconds later by the phonetic pronunciation. This is fortunate due to the unclear nature of many letters as I discussed earlier.

Browsing and playing content

As I mentioned previously, the Roku has arguably the largest spread of content available, and when the service is accessible, it performs quite well provided you can understand the Roku’s voice. Most channels have the categories, such as genres, featured, new releases, etc. down the left, with the relevant content accessed by pressing select and arrowing to the right. Once content is playing, pausing playback with the button in the second row below the directional buttons will allow access to the playback options including subtitles, language, and, if in Netflix or Amazon, audio description when available. Netflix, Amazon, Sling TV, and Twitch all performed solidly in testing, with YouTube and the Netflix account creation screens being the two major areas where access failed.

Using the companion app

Roku has a companion app for iOS and Android. After logging into your Roku account, you can see what’s currently playing on the device, browse your channels and watch something, and send audio from the Roku to your phone or tablet, which is called “Private Listening” mode. While the interface wasn’t the most intuitive, there were no major access issues. I was able to browse and get content playing. Once done, activating the private listening mode shuts off the Audio Guide, though the Roku remote can still control the device. Fortunately, when private listening is disabled, Audio Guide does come back automatically.

Fire TV

The Fire TV line of the devices, manufactured by Amazon, have solid accessibility and a much better voice than the Roku. However, many third-party apps struggle or fail completely when it comes to being accessible. A Fire TV comes integrated with Amazon’s services including Amazon video and music, and it may be the best choice for someone heavily invested in the Amazon ecosystem. The Fire TV comes in both a stick and box form, with the latter packing slightly more powerful internals. The remote has a search/Alexa button at the top, followed by a navigation ring with a select button at the center, and two rows of buttons below that with Back, Home, and Menu in the first row, and Rewind, Play, and Fast Forward in the second. Navigating and watching content is intuitive, with tabs across the top and the content below it. As with the Roku, a couple apps simply failed to talk, while others had some unlabeled buttons.

Device setup

After plugging in a Fire TV device for the first time, press and hold Home (the middle button under the navigation ring) for up to ten seconds to pair the remote. Next, press the Back and Menu buttons (which are to either side of the Home button) for two seconds to enable VoiceView, and launch the tutorial. Once the tutorial is either completed or exited, the rest of the setup proceeds. This consists of connecting to Wi-Fi, creating or logging into your Amazon account, and possibly installing a software update. After that, you land on the home screen. It initially took a few attempts to pair the remote, but once that succeeded the rest of the process was routine.

Using the Fire TV

Like most of the devices we reviewed, the Fire TV has a grid of options and installed apps, with a tab bar across the top. Use the four sides of the navigation ring to move around the grid, and press the center button to select something. This layout is generally consistent for both the standard interface and apps.

Accessibility

Under the accessibility section of settings you will find the controls for VoiceView. These consist of on/off, volume, and voice rate. Under accessibility you will also find options for captions and a high contrast mode.

The voice that the Fire TV uses is from Ivona, a company bought by Amazon a few years ago. It is the same voice used on their Fire tablets and Kindle readers. VoiceView reads out items as they are focused, and there is a review mode that is accessed by holding the menu button to review onscreen text that’s not normally focusable. For apps which have been made accessible, everything works beautifully. However, the Fire TV is the first of these devices where we experience graduated levels of accessibility. In some apps, such as the MLV app, most of the buttons are unlabeled, though it is possible to navigate with VoiceView. Once again, the YouTube app and the Netflix create account screen both do not talk at all with VoiceView.

Browsing and playing content

Playing content works much like other devices reviewed here. Select the service and content you want with the navigation ring, and press the center button. Once content is playing, using the bottom row of three buttons controls playback, with Rewind, Play, and Fast Forward from left to right. Again, pausing the playback grants access to subtitle, language, and possibly audio description content when available in Netflix or Amazon video.

NVidia Shield

The NVidia Shield is a streaming box running Android TV. The Shield is definitely geared more toward gaming, as it comes with an Xbox style gaming controller in the box. The Shield remote consists of a navigation ring at the top, with Back and Home buttons underneath, and a Search button underneath that. The bottom of the remote has a touch-sensitive volume bar vertically down the center. While a neat idea in concept, in practice it is imprecise and often resulted in drastic volume changes when picking up the remote or even when the palm of my hand grazed it while navigating around the interface. Because this box is running on Android TV, it uses TalkBack as its screen reader. This has both benefits and drawbacks as we will see later.

Device setup

Setting up the device had to be done with sighted assistance. We attempted to enable talkback on the setup screen, and while the Shield indicated TalkBack was on, there was no spoken feedback. With sighted help, we proceeded through the setup screens which were simply the usual connect to Wi-Fi, install software updates, and sign into a Google account. Once the Shield was up and running, we were finally able to launch TalkBack through settings. Unfortunately, there were many navigation and focus issues until we updated TalkBack through the Play store. Finally, we were ready for testing.

Using the NVidia Shield

The home screen of the NVidia Shield has a grid of your installed apps at the top, followed by all the various Google Play apps, with links to various settings below that, and finally suggested games and apps you might like. As with other devices, use the navigation ring to move through the various screens, and press the center button to select something. Unlike the Roku or Fire TV, the layout is less consistent but is still generally straightforward. They usually consist of either a tab bar across the top with content below, or a vertical list on the left and a grid of content to the right.

Accessibility options

Since the Shield uses Android and TalkBack, many of the same accessibility options available on Android phones are present here also, including some that don’t apply such as the explore by touch setting. There is also the possibility to use alternate text-to-speech engines if desired. When using TalkBack, the first oddity that you’ll notice is that its accessibility hints are for a Bluetooth keyboard, not a remote. While this doesn’t break anything accessibility-wise, it could be confusing when a new user hears “Press Alt+Enter to activate.” Google should probably either come up with some generic hints for remote-based controls, or just do away with the hints entirely when using a remote. It is also important to make sure TalkBack is updated after initial setup. Before updating TalkBack, it wasn’t focusing some items, and I sometimes couldn’t activate some buttons in different apps. These problems went away once TalkBack was updated.

Browsing and playing content

The way you navigate with the Shield should be quite familiar by now. Move around with the navigation ring, and press the center button to play something. The difference here is there is no dedicated ‘play’ button. Instead, once content starts playing, pressing the center button brings up a set of onscreen playback controls, similar to how content is handled on a phone. Navigate to and press the desired button to pause, rewind, etc. Depending on the app being used, there is also likely a control to bring up a menu with the usual subtitle, language, and audio description options.

There were two main app accessibility issues encountered when doing testing. The first is, you guessed it, the inaccessible Netflix sign up screen, though this one adds in its own brand of extra fun. The Back button on the remote, which will back you out of the screen on all other devices, does nothing here. You either have to navigate to the inaccessible Back button and press it with no speech feedback, or press the Home button and go do something else until the Netflix app gets closed by the system and you can sign in properly. Once signed in, the app works beautifully as always. The second problem is not the YouTube app, which actually works quite well. Rather it is the Amazon video app. There seems to be a conflict between it and TalkBack, because there is an announcement that text-to-speech is active after signing in, but pressing any of the directional buttons does nothing, even visually. The only option from here is to press the Home button and go onto something else.

The Shield also has a large variety of games available, but they are largely inaccessible and are outside the scope of this article.

The Android TV Remote app

During testing we located a third-party Android TV remote app for iOS. This app provides an accessible way of remotely controlling the NVidia Shield from an iPhone. The app provides two different interfaces. The first shows the various buttons on the remote. It is possible to flick through and double-tap them with VoiceOver, and they’re all labeled. The second method has a touchpad which works with VoiceOver’s direct touch feature, where it is possible to flick left, right, up, or down to simulate pressing the buttons, and tap to activate. There is no ability to search for shows or stream audio to the app, but the remote functions are solid and accessible.

Apple TV

Since VoiceOver was introduced in the Apple TV second generation, it has been the first and often only stop for blind consumers looking for an accessible streaming box. With the second and third generation Apple TV, the user experience was tightly controlled by Apple, meaning that users could generally expect a solid, accessible experience no matter what channel was added. Things have changed somewhat with the current fourth generation. The App Store has come to the Apple TV along with third-party apps. This means that app developers now control the accessibility of their app rather than Apple. The good news is that many apps are at least as usable and often more accessible than their phone counterparts. But as with every other app and operating system, not everything is perfect. The remote on the Apple TV is also rather different than the rest. It charges via lightning cable and has a touch sensitive surface at the top. Below this are a column of three buttons on the left consisting of Back, Siri, and Play/Pause from top to bottom. To the right of this is another column consisting of a Home button at the top, then a long up/down volume button. Navigating the Apple TV is done with many of the same VoiceOver gestures you would use on the iPhone.

Device setup

On first setup, pressing the menu button three times quickly will launch VoiceOver. You can either set up the Apple TV by giving it the same account and network settings from a nearby iPhone, or you can enter things manually. The manual setup is a straightforward lineup of language, network, Apple ID, and permission setting. The only downside in this process, which isn’t necessarily related to accessibility, is that the keyboard is in one long line, and it doesn’t wrap. For example, to type just the first three letters of Washington, starting from the letter A, you’d need to flick twenty-two times right to W, twenty-two times left back to A, then eighteen times right to the S, continuing in this way through the rest of the word. This gets very tedious very quickly. A Bluetooth keyboard can be configured once things are up and running, but this doesn’t help during setup.

Using the Apple TV

The Apple TV’s home screen is rather different than some of the other devices. It is a grid with five columns and as many rows as there are apps to fill them. Swiping in any direction will move the cursor in that direction and read out the item in focus. To select something, use a single click of the remote. Apple refers to it as a tap, but just tapping the remote won’t do anything. You need to apply enough pressure to feel a slight click. Assuming you signed into an Apple ID, you can simply go to the App store, to the purchases tab, and download any prior purchases that have Apple TV apps. These will get added to your home screen at the end of the list of current apps, as will anything new you download.

Accessibility options

In the accessibility section of settings, there is a slimmed down version of the VoiceOver settings on a regular iPhone. You can adjust the speech rate, choose from several different voices, edit a pronunciation dictionary, turn on or off the triple press menu shortcut, and more. It is also possible to enable Zoom, Apple TV’s magnification, from the accessibility settings menu. You can specify to always display captions and/or always play audio descriptions when available. VoiceOver and Zoom can also be turned on or off from anywhere by asking Siri. Hold in the middle button in the left column and say, “turn on VoiceOver.”

VoiceOver on the Apple TV retains much of the feel of VoiceOver on the iPhone, with a few notable differences. Three finger gestures aren’t supported on the Apple TV, I suspect partially because there really isn’t enough room on the remote. The rotor is present with many of the usual options. In the default mode, called Explore, flicking in any of the four directions functions equivalently to using the directional buttons on the other devices. Once the rotor has been changed to another setting, flicking up and down will move by the selected unit, while flicking left or right will immediately return the rotor to its default setting and navigation will resume as normal.

Browsing and playing content

Apple TV is tightly integrated with other Apple services. Your purchased music and videos and your Apple Music subscription are all immediately available. All your purchased or rented TV shows and movies appear in the TV app. From here you can also browse and search for shows you may want to watch. Accessibility across many of the major services is very strong. Netflix, YouTube, Sling TV, ESPN, and others all were very accessible. In the case of Sling, it worked far better than the iPhone version. When playing music, the music will keep playing while you navigate the interface, but video will stop when you leave the playback screen. Finding and playing content from Netflix or any other app works much like the other devices discussed. Once something is playing, use the Play/Pause button in the bottom left in conjunction with the touch interface to manipulate the playback and select the usual options.

The Remote app

There is an Apple TV remote app for iOS. Similar to the Android TV app, it allows you to manipulate the Apple TV from an iPhone. The interface uses direct touch, but it was inconsistent. Focus kept moving to one of the surrounding buttons, it would interpret the wrong gesture, and things were just generally flaky. If you want to use a different interface than the remote, I’d recommend a Bluetooth keyboard over the app.

Xbox One

The Xbox One, unlike the other boxes discussed, is primarily targeted at gamers. All the main interface, the Microsoft account integration, and the main apps available are games and gaming-related. The Xbox has Narrator built in. Narrator works almost identically to the Windows 10 version if you’re using a keyboard. If using a controller, you can toggle between a mode controlling the Xbox and a special narrator mode for reviewing onscreen text. While the native interface works quite well, many of the apps we tried provided little or no accessibility. As such I would not recommend an Xbox for entertainment purposes at this time.

Conclusion

As you can see, several viable options are out there when it comes to streaming content to a TV. Whether you want the dead simple Chromecast, the very accessible Apple TV, the Alexa integration of the Fire TV, or the content availability on the Roku, the choice really comes down to personal preference. No device is perfectly accessible, but yet none are completely unusable. Apple, Google, Amazon, and Roku all have accessibility pages for the various devices where you can learn more, and I would encourage you to reach out to both device manufacturers and app developers to encourage them to continue improving the accessibility of their apps.

The Future of Equal Access to Technology: A Commitment to the Journey at Microsoft

by Jenny Lay-Flurrie

From the Editor: Here is the way President Riccobono introduced this address on Saturday morning, July 15, 2017:

"This next presentation is one that I've been looking forward to. It's ‘The Future of Equal Access to Technology: A Commitment to the Journey at Microsoft.’ You will remember that in January of 2015 I went to meet with Satya Nadella who is the chief executive of Microsoft. We had a very open and honest conversation about accessibility, what Microsoft needed to do, and how we could be involved. It was at that meeting that for the first time I met our speaker today. It was very clear at that time that she stood out as a passionate champion for accessibility and for making things happen at Microsoft. She's also a keen listener to the hopes and dreams and concerns that we have as an organization, and for that I'm grateful. You should also know that she's clearly someone who acts in the spirit of the National Federation of the Blind. Her biography includes a quotation from her—I can't say it in her accent, but she says, "My commitment is to face brick wall moments head on and climb the bloody wall rather than trying to resign." She faces the hard questions; she faces the hard situations in her own life, and she brings that to Microsoft, where she is pushing the company internally—in the style that we would want—to make sure that Microsoft maintains a high level of commitment.

Let me say this also: she has figured out a way to engineer resources to partner with the National Federation of the Blind, not just on technology, where we are having very honest conversations, but Microsoft, because of this lady’s efforts, has made a commitment to KNFB Reader for Windows, which is currently on sale thanks to Microsoft. Also Microsoft has put significant resources into our Youth Slam this summer, as well as other initiatives. So here for a presentation is Jenny Lay-Flurrie:”

Good morning, how are ya? I was terrified about which quote Mark was going to use. But I think he did it bloody well. What do you think? [Applause]

It is a huge pleasure to be here. I'm not from these parts; I'm not Australian either. I am from a small country across the pond where the temperature is significantly lower than it is here in Florida, but here I am, still with a leather jacket on, because it is so bloody cold in this room. [The ladies applaud and yell out, "I'm with you."]

It's seriously a pleasure to be here, and I've been really excited to come. To give you a bit of an introduction, I am British. I started working for Microsoft in 2005, but my background is actually as a music major. So I absolutely loved the talent show last night—my God there is some talent in this room. I came to information technology by mistake—I came to it because, while I realized I had a degree in music, I was a really bad musician, and I needed to earn money to pay my rent. So I started working at a company called The Daily Mirror; anyone heard of that? It's a really high-quality newspaper in the UK. It was edited at the time by Piers Morgan; I'm moving on. [The audience did not react, but Piers Morgan was the editor of a tabloid and was involved with a phone hacking scandal involving the use of ill-gotten voicemails.] So when I came to Microsoft, I found that I loved it. It's all about problem-solving and empowerment, and that is what grooves for me.

So when I came to Microsoft I was excited because of the opportunity ahead, and also as someone with profound deafness, I thought that Microsoft would be a company where I wouldn't have to speak to people every day—because email is such a good thing. I actually found that was not the case. People like to communicate, and it's such a tragedy for me, someone who is deaf, because I actually hit many of those brick walls. That got me into the deaf community, which, because I am nosy or curious depending on your lens, meant that I then joined every disability group at Microsoft. There were six of them at the time. In fact our VIP [visually impaired persons] community dates back over twenty years. There were six communities then; now there are fifteen. We joined them up, and I have had the sheer honor of being the chair of that community for the last ten years.

You know we talk about Satya Nadella; before he became CEO he was the executive sponsor of that community, and my first conversation with him involved me sitting down with technology on the table and him saying, "Okay, tell me how this works. Fill me in." We spent hours walking through what was great and what was not and looking at the opportunity that we had.

We have an annual conference every year called the Ability Summit which is for our employees, and we had about eight hundred to a thousand people in the last three years at that conference, and he spoke at five of the last seven ability summits. To say that we have a level of commitment is an understatement, and when he came in as CEO, he put a phrase in the mission statement of the company which is to empower every person in every organization, and I literally cheered and self-levitated because I think that is why you want to work in tech.

So when I had the insane opportunity to become chief accessibility officer in January of last year, I jumped at the chance. [applause] I'll take that applause—it's early. I've now been in Seattle eleven years, so I have an IV of coffee next to me—cheers to Washington State.

Now in the twenty years from the time when Bill Gates announced our commitment to accessibility in 1997 (Curtis Chong told me that he was at Microsoft in 1993), I was not in diapers, but I was significantly younger then. Sorry, Curtis. We've had moments in accessibility in technology of sheer bloody brilliance in that time, and we've also had moments of ugliness; we are very, very aware of that. But our opportunity has been to change that and to really move it forward. So we've been focused on a few things. Because if we are going to make this long-term, durable, and sustainable in the fabric of the company, then this isn't a one-hit wonder. This is about embedding it into the culture, making people with disabilities who are the challenge, who are the strength that we need at Microsoft—if we're going to create great, accessible products, services, websites, and more, we've got to make that something where we are truly inclusive. So I've been hiring some great people into Microsoft. Anil Lewis tells me that Anne Taylor is on loan to me—she's not! She is mine! Yes, I have the microphone and Anil doesn't. What I will tell you is that Anne is doing amazing work. [Applause] I know she is listening on the radio. Anne and every other member of our blindness and low vision community are working with products like Office, like Windows, like our buildings—we now have Braille in all of our kitchens: on coffeemakers, on microwaves, on tea. We have tactile strips going into our new building. We're working on a new unparalleled level of accessibility, and the Seattle Lighthouse is helping us with our new hires. What Anne has been able to do to make us more accessible and more transparent and accountable is absolutely fantastic. We also want to be approachable, so we redid the website Microsoft.com/accessibility. If you know the old one, microsoft.com/enable, it's dead. I apologize, but it's gone. We found that we needed to put a lot more information out there, so there are thousands of hours of videos and how-to content across the spectrum of our products. We put out user forums; we want to hear what works and what doesn't because your feedback is the gold dust that will help us do better in the future. We are also out there on social media. Who's heard of Microsoft Enable? This is our Twitter handle. Oh, you need to add it. My Twitter name is Jennylayfluffy; they asked if I was going to change my Twitter handle when I came into this job. I said no. But we've also expanded other services like DAD—our disability answer desk. Has anyone used our support service? [Applause] We now take over 20,000 calls to this desk every month from customers with disabilities, and the major customer base that uses it is the blind community. [applause]

So let's just talk about the products quickly, and then let's talk about the fun stuff. I think that with our products we've been working incredibly hard in the last couple of years to build a brand-new bar of accessibility that is across the span. Let me talk about Office for a minute. Who's heard of Office 365? You know, we're moving faster now. Office 365 is updated every month. In fact Matt and a few others let me know of a few issues with Skype with VoiceOver in the last couple of weeks, and we were able to ship a fix that is now in production this weekend. We are able to respond quicker, and in January of last year we actually relaunched all of those products—sixty-five different permutations of products across the Windows, Android, and iOS platforms. At Microsoft there is a brand-new bar of compliance: we put the VPATS [voluntary product accessibility templates] up for those who want VPATS. We put them all up on the website, and we updated everything. It meant that we had to rearchitect several products. We rearchitected OneNote to be far more accessible by design. Across the span of our products we again really dug down deep to make sure that we have the right level of content, whether you're using Narrator, JAWS, NVDA, or any of the other accessible technologies that are out there today. [applause]

There is some fun stuff as well. Automatic alt text is something we've been working on for a while. It's now embedded into Office. You can pull your picture in using PowerPoint Designer, and with one click put your picture in, and it will create the slide for you and put alt text in it automatically. It will even tell you how good it is: high confidence, low confidence—and it will give you the ability to edit it if you don't like what it says.

Windows 10 XP is dead. Can we move on? With Windows 10 we have this opportunity—and we were painfully aware of it—to really make sure that not only our first party screen reading and magnification came up to a brand-new bar, but also our partnership with third party providers. We can empower both, and that is our strategy. We've really been working on the usability of Narrator. Does anyone use Narrator? I see some waving. Waving really does help a deaf girl by the way. You can yell all you like—not hearing it. But Narrator will now read controls more accurately; it has scan mode turned on by default; there's a lot of stuff in here, and I'm probably going to blow up. But we added Braille, and Braille is something I know folks have been asking for a long time, and we put that in in the spring. You've also got twenty-seven languages now and six levels of verbosity. Coming up we've got a real big focus on magnification, on color filters, and the color filters are really cool by the way. The color filters came from a hack—who's heard of a hack? Anyone hacking? No. Hackathon! So I know that we're acronym rich at Microsoft. Hackathons are where you put a bunch of really smart people in a room with no light and a lot of pizza for two days, and you lock them in, and you go and tackle a crazy challenge that's going to empower. That's what a hack is, and some of this came from hack. Our vision and commitment to Narrator is clear and continues going forward, as does our relationship with third parties. We were also really honored to work with the NFB and KNFB to bring that to Windows 10, which launched earlier this year. [Applause]

Before I close or get kicked off the stage, let me talk about a couple of the ways in which we want to invest in the future. We've got this research division at Microsoft, and we have this hacking culture—in fact, I'm going back tomorrow to get ready for our company hackathon which kicks off internally at Microsoft in just over a week. Some of the projects really ground me back to that mission. One of them is a project called Project Torino. We like to give things funky names. Project Torino came from a mom in the UK who is one of our amazing researchers at Microsoft. She is the mom of a kid who is blind, and she saw education as key and particularly in empowering kids to learn how to code. So Torinos are really these tactile pods. Imagine holding your hand out and in it you have a cylindrical pod that has tactile waves and triangles and different things on them. Think about putting those into the hands of seven- to eleven-year-olds. If you attach different wires to each of the pods, you create music. By creating music you are learning how to code. So we put an app alongside it, and this is a project that is going into a school as a pilot this fall. [applause] Across the span of Office, Windows, and innovation, we want to empower people to be independent, to collaborate, to just create content. We want to empower kids, and when we put this out, the folks that signed up—a lot of them were teenagers who hadn't had the opportunity to learn to code in between the ages of seven and eleven. We need to work to build the pipeline of talent coming into tech, and this is one small but very significant step. And let me tell you: I'm hiring. Microsoft is hiring. We see disability as a strength. We want people with disabilities in the fabric of our company, and I can't get enough talent. I need your help to build that talent. [applause]

I'll share the last project, which some of you may have heard of. In fact on Wednesday there was a crew over in London, and they launched twelve projects in the area of artificial intelligence, which doesn't mean robots or scary movies. It means the ability to bring things like computer vision into the hands of people. Three out of those twelve projects were accessibility related; three of them—huge. One of those was about colorblindness, an app called Binoculars. Download it. It's in the iOS store now. The other was something that is very personal for me which is the ability to real-time caption. This is now embedded into PowerPoint. The third was a project called Seeing Ai. Who has heard of Seeing Ai? Give me a hand. That is awesome. For those who haven't, this is a brand-new research app. It's an example of how Ai can really be used to help people to achieve more. It features all the ways to bring in the cognitive services into one toolkit. What it means to you is that it is an app you can download. You can then point it at a barcode, and it will tell you what that barcode is. You can point it at a person, and it will tell you a couple of things about that person: it will tell you the color of their hair, whether they're smiling or not, and it will also tell you their age. [Amazed skepticism] It's not always accurate. I pointed it at me last night, and it said I was sixty-seven—I am not sixty-seven! We know we have work to do; that's why it's a research project. It's available in several markets, and I'd really love for folks to check it out. You can read documents with it, and it's right there on the iOS platform. Please check it out, because these technologies really help us to lead the future.

We have an unemployment rate that is criminal, in my point of view, for people with disabilities. [Applause] I'm one of them. There was a time when someone told me that I would never achieve much. Boy were they wrong. I'm proud; I'm so proud of who I am. I wasn't always honest about my disability, but I firmly believe that it is because of it that I am able to do what I do within the company and in a supportive company like Microsoft. So please, help us to do more, help us to get better. We want to get the word out; we want to get these products into companies, into governments, and we want your feedback. So, whether it's by Twitter, user voice, or calling our support line and telling us what is working and what is not, we desperately want your feedback. I believe that together we have the power to change that unemployment rate, and I think we should go after that goal. Thank you.

Independence Market Corner

by Ellen Ringlein

The National Federation of the Blind Independence Market is the conduit through which our organization distributes our empowering literature to our members, friends, and the general public. As a service we also operate a blindness products store, which sells mostly low-tech items, designed to enhance the every-day independence of blind individuals.

Thanksgiving is only a few weeks away and Christmas, Hanukkah, and other end of the year holidays are just around the corner after that. Preparing and consuming delicious foods is part of all these holiday traditions. Many blind cooks love making delectable meals as much as their sighted peers.

For some recipes it is important to measure ingredients accurately. The Independence Market sells various helpful tools. We carry two different types of measuring cups and spoons which are labeled in Braille and large print. If you need to weigh your ingredients, you can choose between two models of talking kitchen scales.

Timing the cooking or baking process and checking the temperature of foods are important techniques which contribute to the successful outcome of meal preparation. The Independence Market carries both talking and tactile timers. Our all-purpose cooking thermometer can be used to check the temperature of meats and candy. And with the pot clip accessory it is easier to monitor the temperature of soups and sauces simmering on the stove. The all-purpose infrared thermometer is a useful tool for those using a flattop range.

We have other kitchen gadgets you may find useful. The knife with slicing guide enables the user to slice many foods evenly. The guide is adjustable to vary the width of slices. The double-spatula/tongs make it easy to turn over items when cooking. And the nylon spatula tongs protect your non-stick cookware. The liquid level indicator makes it easier to pour hot liquids, particularly into a cup or glass. Our egg separator makes the task of splitting the yolk from the egg white easy.

And if you would like to prepare southern fried cornbread, a favorite of our former President Kenneth Jernigan, we have the cornbread kit devised by him. The kit contains a cast iron muffin pan which makes twelve scallop-shape muffins and a cooking template to guide you in getting the batter into the hot muffin pan. Print and Braille copies of the cornbread recipe are also included.

If you need to mark some appliances before you cook up a storm for the holidays, we have various stick-on bumps and tactile marking paint to help you to do so. Labeling foodstuffs makes it easier to stay organized in the kitchen. We carry adhesive labeling sheets, clear labeling tape, magnetic labeling tape, and Braillable food labels. We also recently started selling large-print stick-on letters with Braille characters, which allow the user to create their own print/Braille labels. If you would like to copy down a favorite family recipe, we carry Braille paper and various slates and styluses as well as dark line notepads and bold writing pens.

For more information about the products and literature available from the Independence Market or to request a catalog in Braille or in print visit us online at https://nfb.org/independence-market. You may also contact us using email at independencemarket@nfb.org or by phone at (410) 659-9314, extension 2216, Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM eastern time. Our staff will be glad to assist.

Recipes

Recipes this month come from the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho.

Taco Soup
by Susan Bradley

Susan Bradley is the president of the Treasure Valley Chapter in Boise, Idaho, and secretary of the Idaho affiliate. She has been a member of the NFB since 2000, when she found out she was legally blind due to retinitis pigmentosa. Susan works part-time at the Commission on Aging, and she loves working with seniors and blind people of all ages. This recipe is one that she and her sister like to share with friends.

Ingredients
1-1/2 pounds ground beef
1 small can stewed tomatoes
1 can kidney beans, drained
1 15-ounce can chili beans with juice
1 can corn with juice
1 small onion
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 envelope mild taco seasoning

Method: Boil these ingredients together for fifteen minutes. Serve on top of Fritos corn chips; then add shredded cheese and sour cream on top. This is a great fall and winter dish.

Green Beans with Onions and Almonds
by Dana Ard

Dana is the current president of the National Federation of the Blind of Idaho. She is also a member of two choirs and a thirty-five-year member of Toastmasters. She adapted this recipe and says that it is a good alternative to the traditional green bean casserole. Dana has used it as a part of Thanksgiving dinner with her family.

Ingredients:
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 cups sliced onions (about 2 large onions)
1 16-ounce package frozen green beans
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Salt and pepper to taste

Method: Heat the oil in a nonstick fry pan. Add onions and cook, stirring often, for twenty-five to thirty minutes until tender and lightly brown. Cook green beans according to package directions or until desired tenderness. Drain and add to onions. Toast almonds if desired and add to beans and onions.

Jan’s Brownies
by Dana Ard

Jan Gawith has been in the Federation since 1960 and has attended fifty-six consecutive national conventions. Jan taught home ec at the Idaho Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and Dana remembers her time in that class and the lesson she learned from her fellow Federationist: “Jan was a wise teacher. She knew I could learn to open a can, but she also knew that I didn’t have to open all the cans to be successful. She had high expectations, but she modified her curriculum to fit my abilities as a student. I am grateful for her wisdom.”

Ingredients:
1 stick softened butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 pound can Hershey’s chocolate syrup

Method: Cream together butter, sugar and vanilla. Add eggs one at a time, stirring after each addition. Add flour, baking powder, and salt, then mix. Add chocolate syrup, and mix to combine. Grease a ten-by-fifteen-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 for twenty-five to thirty minutes, checking with a toothpick after twenty-five minutes. Frost with recipe listed below.

Frosting:
6 tablespoons real butter, softened
6 tablespoons milk
1-1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of salt

Method: In a medium saucepan combine butter, milk, and sugar, bring to a rolling boil and cook for one minute. Remove from heat and add chocolate chips, vanilla, and salt. Beat until smooth. Pour evenly over brownies.

Grandma’s Potato Rolls
by Dana Ard

This is an old family recipe; Dana’s grandmother made these rolls every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Ingredients:
1/2 cup mashed potatoes (1 small potato)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg well beaten
1/3 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 cups flour
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 cup lukewarm water

Method: Scald milk. Add butter, sugar, salt, egg, and potato. Combine yeast and water and add. Add 1/2 cup flour and mix well. Add more flour to make dough that you can mix with your hands. Let rise for one hour. Roll out on floured board or pastry cloth. Cut dough using a glass. Fold each circle over and pinch edges to close. Let rise twenty to thirty minutes. Bake on cookie sheet at 375 for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Huckleberry Cream Cheese Squares
by Mary Ellen Halverson

Mary Ellen is a longtime member of the NFB and a current member of the Treasure Valley Chapter. She has attended numerous state and national conventions and is a much-loved and valuable member of the NFB of Idaho. Huckleberries are a variety of wild berry native to the northwestern United States and Canada.

Ingredients:
Graham cracker layer:
1 13-1/2 ounce package graham cracker crumbs
3/4 cup margarine, melted
1/2 cup sugar

Huckleberry filling layer:
3 cups huckleberries
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup sugar

Cream cheese layer:
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 12-ounce carton Cool Whip, thawed
2 teaspoons vanilla

Method: Bring huckleberries, cornstarch, and sugar to boil. It should be a little thick; if it's too thick to stir, add a LITTLE bit of water at the beginning. Set this aside to cool, or put it in the refrigerator. Combine graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and melted butter. Press half of the mixture into bottom of foil-lined nine-by-twelve-inch pan. Mash cream cheese until soft, and gradually beat in sugar and vanilla. Fold in whipped topping. Layer half of the cream cheese layer on top of the graham cracker mixture in pan. Then spread all of the cooled huckleberry mixture on top of the cream cheese layer. Then layer the second half of the cream cheese mixture and top with the second half of the crumb mixture. Refrigerate before serving.

Homemade Ice Cream
by Sandy Streeter

Sandy Streeter is a longtime member of the NFB and has served in many capacities and on many committees in several affiliates and chapters. She is the current president of the Snake River Valley Chapter and the first vice president of the NFB of Idaho.  Sandy says, “This is a homemade ice cream recipe, which my daughter Erin feels she has tweaked from her dad’s recipe. In our family, homemade ice cream was always a birthday tradition while my children were growing up.  It didn’t matter the time of the year. Enjoy!”

Ingredients:
5 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
2 cans condensed milk
4-2/3 cups milk
1-1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
1-1/2 tablespoons vanilla

Method: Beat egg yolks and heavy cream; then add sugar and mix. Add condensed milk and mix.  Add remaining milk and vanilla, and mix one final time. Pour into your ice cream container, and I like to add enough milk to bring the mixture up to the mark in your container. Have fun cranking your ice cream freezer or sit back and let the electric one do the work. Makes four quarts.

Monitor Miniatures

News from the Federation Family

Married:
Eric Duffy and Shelley Johns were married at the NFB Jernigan Institute on Sunday, September 10, 2017. Eric and Shelley have known each other since elementary school at the Ohio State School for the Blind. Eric is the director of access technology at the Jernigan Institute, and Shelley is the receptionist who greets us when we come to the Institute and politely answers our calls when we telephone. Congratulations to the new couple.

Elected:
The 2017 board of the National Association of Blind Merchants is as follows: president, Nicky Gacos; first vice president, Harold Wilson; second vice president, Edward Birmingham; secretary, Sharon Treadway; treasurer, Pam Schnurr; and board members Gene Fleeman, Melissa Smith, Zachary Snow, Melba J. Taylor, John Fritz, Lewanda Miranda, Joe Higdon, and Debra Smith.

Krafters Korner:
Do you have a favorite craft? Would you like to learn a new craft? Would you like to share your favorite craft with others? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then Krafters Korner is the place for you! Dues are $20 and entitle you to a host of free things throughout the year such as our email listserv where you can network with other blind crafters.

We also offer craft classes over the phone and by email. Classes have included: origami, knitting, crocheting, safety pin crafts, sewing, jewelry, soap-making, and plastic canvas.

Upcoming classes for November and December are listed below:

Wednesday, November 1, Thanksgiving Cloth, email
Thursday, November 2, Pony Bead Christmas Tree, phone
Tuesday, November 7, Pony Bead Indian Corn, phone
Tuesday, November 14, Pony Bead Pumpkin, phone
Wednesday, November 15, Knitted Miniature Cable Sweater Ornament, email
Wednesday, November 15, Pony Bead Snowman, phone
Tuesday, December 5, Holiday Pony Bead, phone
Thursday, December 7, Holiday Craft, phone
 
  Krafters Korner also holds Monday Chats. Join us at 8:30 PM EST for fun and information about all things crafts. We meet via phone conference and discuss issues related to the division and how others work at their craft from a blindness perspective. Call (605) 475-4000 and enter the code 966659# to join us.

For more information about Krafters Korner, contact President Joyce Kane by phone at (203) 378-8928 or by email at blindhands@aol.com. Join Us!

Elected:
The National Association to Promote the Use of Braille elected the following officers: president, Steven Booth; first vice president, Sandy Halverson; second vice president, Linda Mentink; secretary, Deborah Brown; treasurer, Peggy Chong.

A Group in the Planning:
Come, one and all, blind and visually impaired Federationists who have cerebral palsy, to assist in the development of an active, lively, independent, and vibrant group of blind and visually impaired Americans with cerebral palsy. The purpose of this group will be to provide techniques, networking, mentoring, problem-solving techniques, and mutual support for blind people with both of these disabilities. Our goal is to better understand the challenges these disabilities pose singularly and together.

Meetings will be held by conference call (phone number (712) 831-0000 followed by pin 999999 pound) on the first Monday of each month from 8 to 10 PM EST. The first meeting will be on December 4, 2017.  Exceptions in 2018 are: January’s meeting will be on the 8th; July’s meeting will be on the 30th; and November’s meeting will be on the 26th. 

We hope to hold a face-to-face meeting at the July 2018 national convention in Orlando, Florida. To assist in developing this group, write to Alexander Scott Kaiser in Braille at 52 Meadowbrook Road, Brick Township, NJ 08723-7850. Also, my email address is NFBCPGroup@aol.com, and my phone number is (848) 205-0208.

In Brief

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.

Seedlings Braille Books for Children's 2018 catalog now available:
Seedlings Braille Books for Children's 2018 catalog is now available! If you have not already received a copy in the mail and would like one sent to you, contact our office at (800) 777-8552 or info@seedlings.org with your name and address. Or, view our catalog online at http://www.seedlings.org/order.php for the most up-to-date offerings.

Seedlings' catalog features more than 1,300 classic and contemporary books for children ages birth to twenty-one, including more than 370 titles in UEB.

Introducing the Blind Mice Swap Shop—Sell, Swap, Buy, and Promote Services and Events:
The Mice receive calls every day asking if we buy or can help sell used or unwanted things in BlindMiceMegaMall.com. Unfortunately the Mice don't deal in used products, but here is the place they have built just for this purpose. The Blind Mice Swap Shop is the place for sellers, traders, and buyers to find each other!

Do you have something you don't want anymore? Post it on the Blind Mice Swap Shop. Have something you just don't use? Post it on the Blind Mice Swap Shop. Got something new to sell? Post it on the Blind Mice Swap Shop. Do you provide a service that might be helpful to other blind and visually impaired folks? Post it on the Blind Mice Swap Shop. Have an announcement about an upcoming event beneficial to the blind and visually impaired community? Post it on the Blind Mice Swap Shop.

Joining is easy and free! Just send a blank email to us at blindmiceswapshop+subscribe@groups.io, and you are on your way to the Blind Mice Swap Shop!

Here are some tips for a successful post to the Blind Mice Swap Shop:

Blind Mice Inc., its employees, and affiliates are not responsible for any transaction entered into between list members. All members are solely responsible for all decisions made when conducting business and deals on this list.

NFB Pledge

I pledge to participate actively in the efforts of the National Federation of the Blind to achieve equality, opportunity, and security for the blind; to support the policies and programs of the Federation; and to abide by its constitution.

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