presented by James Gashel
Thank you, Mr. President. In Hawaii, which is where I live now, we use the term “ohana” to refer to our extended family. So to you I say, greetings my Federation ohana. [applause]
This is the twelfth year for the Jacob Bolotin Awards. These awards are made possible with help from the Santa Barbara Foundation and the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. To date we have presented $630,000 to fifty-nine recipients. Five new recipients will be added this year. [applause]
Jacob Bolotin was a medical doctor. He specialized in diseases of the heart and lungs. As a child he attended and then he graduated from the Illinois School for the Blind. He wasn’t just kind of hard of seeing; Bolotin was really, really blind. And he didn’t do anything at all to try to hide the fact that he was blind. He was proud that he was blind.
He practiced medicine in Chicago, and he lived thirty-six years, from 1888 to 1924. His story has been told by his niece Rosalind Perlman. The biography, called The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story is something you can buy in print or in audio CD on Amazon, or you can just get it free at the NLS. You all need to read this book. No matter if you’re sighted or blind, it’s going to give you some new perspectives and change some of the perspectives you already have.
Jacob Bolotin’s story defines what it means to live the life you want. Students of today take note: Bolotin had no rehabilitation, he had no agency for the blind to deal with, he had no ADA, he had no section 504, and he had no NFB to back him up. He had himself and his own determination. But, in the spirit of Newel Perry, Jacobus tenBroek, Kenneth Jernigan, Marc Maurer, and Mark Riccobono, Jacob Bolotin broke down barriers and blazed new trails for us to follow. So in every way that counts he was in fact if not in name a Federationist before the Federation itself existed.
The annual awards program we conduct keeps Dr. Bolotin’s memory alive by recognizing exemplary people and projects that work on behalf of the blind. The awards include a cash prize for each recipient along with an engraved commemorative plaque and a medallion. The medallion is especially inscribed for the purpose. Here’s the text that appears on the plaque:
[name of the recipient]
by the National Federation of the Blind
and the Santa Barbara Foundation
The medallion suspended above the plaque has the NFB logo on the obverse side and says, “The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award/Celebrating Achievement, Creating Opportunity." On the reverse side of the medallion you have Dr. Bolotin’s bust appearing and the inscribed words as follows: “Dr. Jacob Bolotin/1888-1924/Celebrating his Life/The Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust."
Audio Introduction: Ladies and Gentlemen, the National Federation of the Blind is proud to introduce the 2019 recipients of our Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards. These five individuals and organizations have broken down barriers faced by blind people in innovative ways, changed negative perceptions of blindness and blind people, and pushed past existing boundaries to inspire blind people to achieve new heights.
Our two individual winners are: Libra Robinson, CEO and owner of N’Sight VIP Services of Washington, DC, teaching blindness skills to seniors and other people losing vision.
Libra Robinson: What we do in the Washington, DC, area is provide computer training for the blind and visually impaired using the screen reader JAWS. I also teach intermediate Braille; that’s just the basic, it’s called the Braille Club. It’s just the basic Braille letters and alphabet and words. I also have what is called the smartphone Bootcamp in which I teach alongside another gentleman. We teach the smartphone as well as iPhone instructions for blind and visually impaired persons. So often our seniors are left out when it comes down to rehabilitation services because they feel that they don’t need computer skills or need to learn any kind of new technologies because they’re beyond working age. With my program I’m able to teach students of all ages.
Audio Narration: Michael Nye, artist, creator of the My Heart is Not Blind book and art exhibit.
Michael Nye: The project is really two separate projects: it’s a book printed by Trinity University Press, and it’s also a traveling photography and audio exhibition. It’s about understanding. It was really the greatest privilege of my life to spend seven years interviewing and photographing men and women, blind and visually impaired. I spent two to four days with each person. It takes time to tell a story, and it takes time to listen. And when it opened at the Witte Museum—it’s a large museum in San Antonio—everyone in the exhibit speaks in their own voice, so there’s an audio box and headphones underneath each large black-and-white portrait. Between 25 and 30,000 visitors came into the Witte, put on headphones, and listened. And these stories are not from a distance; they’re close up; they’re very intimate. I think that as I started this project, I really became an advocate and realized how incredibly unfair the blind and visually impaired are treated. Justice is about fairness, and it’s really obscene the misunderstanding by the public of the capacity of all of us, but especially someone who is visually impaired.
Audio Narration: The three initiatives and organizations receiving Bolotin Awards this year are: Bristol Braille Technology of the United Kingdom, creators of a new low-cost multi-line Braille display. Here is founder and managing director Ed Rogers:
Ed Rogers: This is called the Canute 360. It’s called 360 because it’s a Braille e-reader with 360 cells. That’s nine lines of Braille on one device, forty cells per line. As you can tell, that’s a radical and quite revolutionary amount of Braille. It means that you can present spatial Braille information, even basic tactile diagrams. But, more importantly, you can present mathematics, music, tables, represent headings as being properly indented with white space, and be able to see two paragraphs, one above the other—it just opens up electronic Braille to a much wider range of users who previously had been restricted to paper Braille. The other exciting part of this for us is that it’s brand-new technology that we designed ourselves in Bristol in the United Kingdom. It’s very hard—the Braille itself is hard; it doesn’t compress; it’s not piezoelectric technology. And, because we’ve designed our own technology for this, the price of the Canute is going to be somewhere under—it’s going to cost less than any single-line forty-cell Braille display, despite having 360 cells of Braille on it.
Audio Narration: BlindConnect of Las Vegas, for establishing Angela’s House, Nevada’s only training center dedicated to serving adults who are blind or losing vision—founded in loving memory of BlindConnect board member Angela Hoffman. Here’s BlindConnect President Raquel O’Neill:
Audio Narration: BlindConnect has been in existence in Las Vegas, Nevada, since 1998, and our original mission is really to provide Nevadans resources and information about vision loss as soon as it occurs in the early stages of eyesight conditions. Then, as we grew as an organization, we recognized the need for additional education and training for blind Nevadans. So now our mission is really to increase independence and self-sufficiency for blind Nevadans across the board. In the aftermath of Angela’s loss, our organization and her family have been committed to finding a place—a training center in Nevada—where blind Nevadans can begin their journey of independence without having to leave home or leave their loved ones and supportive networks.
Audio Narration: The United States Association of Blind Athletes for its National Fitness Challenges—here is USABA Programs and Finance Manager Kevin Brousard:
Kevin Brousard: The USABA National Fitness Challenge purpose is to improve the health of blind Americans, and we use that in two main ways. The first thing we do is we provide Fitbit wearable technology, the fitness trackers, for 450 blind Americans in seventeen different cities. The Fitbit is great because it is a highly accessible smartphone application, so it allows all of our participants to easily access their information. A big part of the Fitbit is tracking how many steps you have per day, and 10,000 is the recommended level of steps per day; that’s kind of the overarching goal everyone wants to achieve. That equates to about five miles per day. The second portion is that we work with our local partnering agencies to provide those people in seventeen cities with programming to introduce them to sports and recreation and kickstart some lifelong healthy habits. So we give them the tool with the Fitbit to track their fitness, and then we work with our local partners to ensure that they are getting opportunities to stay active and learning some new skills along the way, hopefully leading to a healthier lifestyle.
Audio Narration: And here’s Pam Allen, director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, partner in the National Fitness Challenge:
Pam Allen: It’s been a great opportunity. We all know how important physical fitness is to overall wellbeing, so we were delighted to partner with USABA through the Fitness Challenge. We’ve done a variety of activities, anything from rock climbing to rowing. We’ve done several 5Ks. Also we’ve done yoga and a whole variety of different sports. We have had so many different opportunities to challenge our students and members of our affiliate to really push themselves, and the results have been incredible, both as far as better overall physical fitness and also just better wellbeing in general.
Audio Narration: Ladies and gentlemen, these winners will now receive their awards, which include a trophy and a monetary prize to advance their continuing work to help blind people live the lives we want. Please give each of them a warm welcome as the National Federation of the Blind proudly presents them with their 2019 Jacob Bolotin Awards.
Jim Gashel: Thank you very much. I’m going to ask our winners to form a line—we discussed, they got very specific instructions—so if you all will step forward in the order described. I tell you, no matter how many years we do this, these presentations always have an effect on me. So we have five more winners this year; you’ve heard from all of them. The thing you don’t know is how much money they’re getting. Now all together they’re getting $50,000, but not each one of them—don’t get your hopes up, guys. Please hold your applause while I announce each winner’s cash prize and President Riccobono presents each winner’s plaque.
Our first recipient is Libra Robinson for her inspired leadership of N’Sight VIP Services in Washington, DC. Congratulations Libra for your Jacob Bolotin Award in the amount of $5,000.
Our second winner is BlindConnect in Las Vegas to support its training center program called Angela’s House. Congratulations Raquel O’Neill, president, here to receive the award on behalf of BlindConnect in the amount of $5,000.
Our third winner is United States Association of Blind Athletes in recognition of its National Fitness Challenge Program. Congratulations to Kevin Brousard, programs and finance manager at USABA, here to receive the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award for USABA National Fitness Challenge in the amount of $5,000.
Our fourth recipient is Michael Nye for exploding the myths about blindness and helping blind people to tell our own stories in our own words. Congratulations to Michael Nye for your award in the amount of $15,000.
And now, for our highest cash prize—and this prize also comes with the opportunity to say a few words—this is the award that goes to Bristol Braille Technologies and its managing director Ed Rogers for the development of the Canute 360, the world’s first multi-line digital Braille e-reader—this has been a long time coming. [applause, cheers] The award to Bristol Braille Technologies is for $20,000. Here’s Ed Rogers.
Ed Rogers: Thank you very much to all the committee. It’s an incredible honor for the entire team and for the hundreds of people who’ve been testing, developing, trying, and showing us how the machine didn’t work in the past and helping us improve it. Thank you very much. I think it’s important to note here that not everyone knows the role that the NFB has played in the development of the Canute 360. Since I first took a prototype to Baltimore and showed it to President Riccobono in 2016, we have received guidance, we have received the support, and, very importantly, we have been sponsored by and had feedback from the Federation and the American Action Fund in the prototype pilot process, which has been what’s sustained us to this stage. So without the effort of everyone at the NFB and the Action Fund, this would not have happened. I would like to give my most heartfelt thanks, most especially, to President Riccobono and Dr. Maurer, and of course to all the Federationists here. Thank you. [applause]
Jim Gashel: Thank you, Ed Rogers. Now you guys get a chance. Here, standing before you, is the Jacob Bolotin Award winners’ class of 2019. Let’s hear a loud Federation cheer. [cheers, applause] Please visit our website, the Jacob Bolotin Award page at nfb.org, where you can listen to the full content of the audio text—we played shorter clips for this presentation, but the full presentation will be available on that page. Thank you to Ron Brown, to Mary Ellen Jernigan, to Everette Bacon, and to Marc Maurer for joining me on the Jacob Bolotin Award Committee this year, especially for their enlightened experience and wise judgment on picking through these winners.
Now also a special thanks to the people in our group who nominated these award winners. And all of you can do the same thing in the months and years to come. We know the projects that truly benefit blind people in the spirit of Dr. Jacob Bolotin. Our awards competition will open again in November 2019, and we will get ready to present the 2020 Jacob Bolotin Awards. The competition will close on April 15. Do your job, bring us the winners, and we will make the presentations. Mr. President, this is my report and the presentation of the Jacob Bolotin Awards for 2019. Mahalo. [applause]