Volume 34 Number 4 Convention Issue 2015
A magazine for parents and teachers of blind children published by
the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership
with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
Copyright © 2015 American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
For more information
about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230 • (410) 659-9314
www.nfb.org/nopbc • firstname.lastname@example.org • email@example.com
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Live the Life You Want
by Deborah Kent Stein
Convention 2015: The NOPBC Report
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker
by Mark Riccobono
Crossing the Threshold
by Anil Lewis
Crafting Your Diamond
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker
By Touch Alone
by Ann Cunningham
Braille Instruction Everywhere: Introducing the Cosmo Brailler
by David Pillischer
Everyone Can Play
by Richard Gibbs
Voices from the Future
by Naudia Graham and Ashleah Chamberlain
PRESENTATIONS AND WORKSHOPS
Adopting a Blind Child from Overseas
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain
The Nature of Blindness
by Dr. Marc Maurer
by Jean Bening
The Dan Ryles Memorial Award
presented by Carlton Anne Cook Walker and Barbara Cheadle
The Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards for 2015
presented by Jim Gashel
Meet the 2015 National Federation of the Blind Scholarship Class
presented by Patti Chang
Complete Future Reflections Audio File (Zipped MP3 Version) Coming Soon!
Complete DAISY Audio File (Zipped MP3 Version) Coming Soon!
Are you the parent of a blind or visually impaired child? Don’t know where to turn?
Founded in 1983, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is a membership organization of parents, educators, and friends of blind children reaching out to give each other vital support, encouragement, and information. We have thousands of members in all fifty states plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.
The NOPBC offers hope, encouragement, information, and resources for parents of blind or visually impaired children. NOPBC provides emotional support and a network of other families dealing with the same challenges you are facing. We also provide information, training, and resources to empower you to take an active role in guiding your child’s development and education. We can provide information on your child’s rights and on the laws and legislative issues that will enable you and your child to become strong and effective advocates.
Have you ever wondered what your blind or visually impaired child will be capable of when he or she grows up? The answer to that question is that blindness/visual impairment does not have to stop your child from doing anything he or she wants to do. We can connect you with other families and blind adults who can serve as positive mentors and role models. They can teach you the attitudes and techniques that will enable your child to become independent and to succeed in life.
What is different about the NOPBC?
Our status as a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest and most influential organization of blind people in the world, provides many benefits. Our members are well informed about the societal, legislative, and technological issues that affect blind people. We also enjoy the resources, support, and expertise of fifty thousand blind people who can serve as mentors and role models for us and our children. Finally, as our children grow up, they have the Federation to belong to.
No other organization for parents of blind/visually impaired children offers more programs, activities, and training to families, children, and youth. One of our most exciting activities is our annual conference. Every year since it was established, the NOPBC has conducted an annual conference for parents and teachers of blind children as part of the national convention of the NFB. The program has grown to include five exciting days of workshops, training sessions, activities for all family members, including sighted siblings, and countless opportunities to meet blind adults and other families and children from around the country.
What is the mission of the NOPBC?
The purpose of the NOPBC is to:
Most states have an NOPBC affiliate chapter. You can find your state chapter at <http://www.nopbc.org>. If your state does not have a chapter and you would like to start one, please contact us. We may be able to offer training and other assistance to start a state NOPBC chapter.
What are the programs, activities, publications, and resources of the NOPBC?
by Deborah Kent Stein
Orlando, Florida, can be unpleasantly hot and humid in July, even early in the morning. Nevertheless, thousands of Federationists filed into the parking lot of the Rosen Centre Hotel on the morning of July 8, 2015, each of us wearing a numbered wristband and carrying a folded umbrella. A dedicated team of marshals directed each person to the precise spot where she or he needed to stand for the creation of a vast umbrella mosaic which, we hoped, would break a Guinness World Record. For well over an hour we waited in the sun, resisting the temptation to open our umbrellas for shade, while Federationists Kevan Worley and Gabe Cazares provided commentary and encouragement from the podium in English and Spanish.
Finally, we heard the signal we had been waiting for: the shouted letters "N F B!" With a tremendous “whoosh!” more than two thousand umbrellas swept aloft. Together they formed the logo of the National Federation of the Blind and our tagline: “LIVE THE LIFE YOU WANT.”
With 2,480 people taking part, the NFB's umbrella mosaic broke the previous Guinness World Record of 2,100 participants. More importantly, it symbolized the spirit of the Federation and what we can achieve when we work together to change what it means to be blind.
The 2015 convention of the National Federation of the Blind was a celebration of the organization's founding in 1940 and of its seventy-five-year history of advocacy and empowerment for blind people. The umbrella mosaic was only one element of the celebration of the Federation's diamond anniversary. The convention also featured a Fourties-themed anniversary ball and a multimedia display with 3D panels depicting historic Federation figures and events. During the general sessions, longtime Federationists shared their memories and looked ahead to the future that the NFB has helped to make possible. In addition, our partners from the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) presented a host of speakers and activities for parents and teachers, sharing information about cane travel, technology, play, social skills, careers, and more. During the general sessions, Federation leaders and our allies in government, law, and the corporate world spoke about growing concerns and exciting new developments.
At every NFB convention, some of the best moments are those that happen spontaneously. While lounging beside the pool, standing in the registration line, or waiting for an elevator, strangers introduce themselves, and discover how much they have in common. Suddenly they are exchanging ideas, sharing resources, and building connections that may last for a lifetime.
If you attended the 2015 national convention of the NFB, the articles and photos in this issue of Future Reflections will bring back memories of this historic gathering. If you were not able to join in the fun, learning, and excitement in Orlando, we hope you will be inspired to join us in 2016.
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker
From the Editor: As the National Federation of the Blind celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) engaged in every aspect of the convention festivities. In addition, the NOPBC staged a host of presentations and workshops for parents and teachers, as well as fun-filled adventures for parents and teens. Here is a report on the convention from NOPBC President Carlton Anne Cook Walker.
The diamond spirit sparkled throughout the NFB convention for parents and their blind children as well as for our entire Federation family! The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind, imparted Federation philosophy to parents, families, and friends. Speakers and presenters stressed the vital importance of high expectations, respect, and love.
NFB President Mark Riccobono stepped into the lions' den with the youngest, toughest, and most fun NFB members during Kid Talk. President Riccobono matched the quick wits of the kids, answering the first question, "Lobster--do you like it?" with his own, "To eat or to play with?" Serious discussion followed when a rising ninth-grader sought advice about how to find her friends in the hectic high school cafeteria environment. Like Dr. Maurer before him, President Riccobono shared his intellect and his heart with the children and youth, making Kid Talk a highlight for all who were privileged to experience it. [See the article "Kid Talk" elsewhere in this issue.]
Next NOPBC President Carlton Anne Cook Walker spoke about the seventy-fifth anniversary of the NFB and the incalculable value of each of our children in her keynote address, "Crafting Your Diamond," which is printed elsewhere in this issue. At the conclusion of her speech, she presented a surprised Carol Castellano with the Dan Ryles Award, recognizing her years of service to the National Federation of the Blind, the NOPBC, and the field of blindness education. Dr. Fredric Schroeder next spoke to parents about his experiences as a blind child. He shared that he had typical vision until he was seven years old and became totally blind at age sixteen. In his youth, Dr. Schroeder found that blindness meant one thing: waiting. At family and school gatherings he would be placed in a seat and expected to be passive. He felt left out of life. Dr. Schroeder cautioned the parents and teachers in the room to guard against this type of overprotective "care" of the blind children in their lives.
Marcus Sands, a man who has recently become blind, shared his experience of resuming woodworking. He exhorted parents to keep their children's options open and not to allow doors to close upon their dreams. Blind graduate students Candice Chapman and Sean Whalen gave words of wisdom to the group. Candice encouraged parents and teachers to keep their expectations of blind children high, saying, "If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting." Sean echoed Candice's advice regarding high, age-appropriate expectations and advised parents to advocate for their children and "tap into the NFB support system."
After the morning meeting, parents broke into three sets of concurrent sessions, covering the following topics:
NOPBC registrants were also invited to attend workshops from Professionals in Blindness Education (PIBE) and the Fourteenth Annual Rehabilitation and Orientation and Mobility Conference, including:
Before and after lunch, children at NFB Child Care enjoyed "Music and Movement" with Conchita Hernandez, a teacher of blind students; and "Monsters and Me" with tactile artist Ann Cunningham and Debbie Kent Stein, NFB of Illinois. During these sessions, youth ages eleven to eighteen had the opportunity to experience icebreakers with the incomparable Garrick Scott, president, NFB of Georgia; and to learn about "A Dog in My Life" with Merry Schoch of the National Association of Guide Dog Users. After lunch, youth enjoyed "The Magic of Science" with Dr. Cary Supalo of Independence Science and Robert Jaquiss from American Thermoform, as well as "Fun and Games" with Richard Gibbs from 64 Oz. Games.
As if all of this were not enough for one day, families gathered once more to break bread (eat pizza and drink lemonade) at Family Hospitality Night. Parents, teachers, speakers, and session presenters enjoyed conversing and getting to know one another in this informal setting. Directly afterward, Laura Bostick and Casey Robertson of the Professional Development and Research Institute on Blindness (PDRIB) facilitated NOPBC Family Networking, which provided families of blind children with additional disabilities an opportunity to meet and network with one another. At convention, there's no time to rest.
Monday morning, July 6, started off bright and early with the first of two Cane Walks. Jeff Altman and his team of NOMC-certified orientation and mobility instructors took blind children and their parents on a structured discovery outing--with children, parents, and sometimes siblings under sleepshades using long white canes. Monday also brought the first of several "Tween Room" sessions, where young Federationists gathered to play games, snack on treats, and get to know one another better.
Monday afternoon brought the NOPBC Youth Style Show. Coordinator Kim Cunningham and her team, including photographer Bobby Cunningham and DJ Julia Gebert, put on a fabulous show. Our models strutted their stuff up and down the runway--with their long white canes, of course.
Despite the rains of Florida, the NOPBC Breaking Barriers FUN-a-thlon went on by the Rosen Centre pool. Participants faced an inflatable obstacle course that was followed by an alligator-strewn path, land sharks, and water guns. Each participant received a medal to acknowledge her or his accomplishment, and top fundraisers won fabulous prizes. Many thanks to coordinator Jean Bening and her unstoppable team.
Monday evening brought the first of two Bolotin Award-winning Parent Leadership Programs. We had several new families in attendance, including two from Hawaii! Our parents and blind children are spreading the word--we will live the lives we want!
Tuesday morning brought fun at NFB Child Care, including "Tinkering with Tools" presented by Dave Hutchins and Joe Naulty of the National Association of Blind Car Enthusiasts (AKA the Cars Division) and "Fun and Games" with Richard Gibbs from 64 Oz. Games. Youth Track activities included "Unleashing Your Inner Monster" with tactile artist Ann Cunningham and an afternoon of "Student to Student" with the National Association of Blind Students (NABS).
On Tuesday afternoon the NOPBC held its annual meeting, "Options and Opportunities." The NOPBC wishes to thank the Beulah Reimer Legacy (BRL) for its generous donation of our grand door prize. The prize was a $75 gift certificate for the purchase of Braille books from the BRL collection.
Anil Lewis, executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute, spoke at the meeting, sharing his metamorphosis from a highly sought after speaker who "played up the difficulties of going blind" and concentrated upon "pulling on heartstrings" to raise money into an even more highly sought after speaker who shared the positive message of the NFB philosophy--and raised even more money. Charlene Guggisberg, director of youth programs at BLIND, Inc., described the summer programs available at the NFB training centers. Natalie Shaheen, director of education at the Jernigan Institute, described to the assembled the wealth of programs sponsored by the Jernigan Institute, including the NFB BELL programs being held across the country throughout the summer. The Jernigan Institute sponsors a variety of programs in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Natalie spoke enthusiastically about NFB EQ, to be held in August, in which twenty high school students would learn about the engineering process, working in teams to solve real-life problems. She also talked about the second cohort of STEM2U, where blind students in third to sixth grade work with blind high school mentors while the parents of the younger children learn to facilitate their children's participation in the STEM subjects.
Kaitlyn Millen, specialty coordinator of No Barriers, USA, described her organization and highlighted the No Barriers youth division. No Barriers offers opportunities for blind students to hike and go whitewater rafting in the Grand Canyon, to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, and to engage in other adventure activities all over the world. Cathy Jackson exhorted parents to nominate outstanding teachers of blind students for the 2016 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award.
Most of us know that parents are good at keeping secrets. After all, many of us work closely with individuals such as the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny to ensure that the mystery and delight of the unknown remain a treasured family gift handed down from generation to generation. NOPBC put these secretive talents to good use this year, first with the above-mentioned Dan Ryles Award to the unsuspecting Carol Castellano; and, at the annual meeting, with three Twig Bender Awards to individuals whose untiring work has truly changed the growth pattern of the lives of blind children for many years. This year's recipients--Sharon Maneki, Joe Ruffalo, and Gary Wunder--were hoodwinked by their state POBC presidents into believing that they had but a few minutes each to share words of wisdom to guide healthy relationships between state parents' divisions and their affiliates. Gary even scheduled a conference call in which all three compared their notes so they would not duplicate one another's presentations! The Twig Bender Awards recognized the tireless dedication of these three Federationists to the future, and the lives of the children they have touched are their living legacies.
The names of the 2015 NFB Writers' Division Youth Writing Contest winners were announced, and the group heard words from our future, spoken by Naudia Graham of Maryland and Ashleah Chamberlain of Nebraska. Dr. Cary Supalo from Independence Science talked about the importance of mentorship and told us the secret of his work: "I'm inventing all the tools I wish I had as a kid." He was followed by Dr. Al Maneki of E.A.S.Y., LLC, who discussed the importance of early development of drawing and tactile reading skills for blind children. David Pillischer discussed his invention of the Electronic Brailler, a tool that makes possible distance instruction in Braille and allows a teacher's handout to be made available in real time in the classroom.
Mario Oliveros from Bookshare talked about Bookshare's growth and offerings. He announced that Bookshare is looking for student beta testers as it expands its work into new areas, including complex tactile diagrams and advanced math. Robert Jaquiss from American Thermoform shared information about his company's products, the Cosmo Brailler and 3D printers. He donated several of the door prizes given throughout the meeting. Dr. Matt Maurer of Butler University shared with the group his experiences with museum partnership in which a group of blind students was included in a "Dozin' with the Dinos" program. He and his colleagues "learned a lot" and will be "working toward more sustainability and systemic change" in this area. Colorado artist Ann Cunningham reminded everyone that we cannot substitute audio description for tactile graphics, and Richard Gibbs from 64 Oz. Games pointed out that games are a great way to socialize and practice Braille.
The annual meeting next moved to the treasurer's report from Pat Renfranz. She gave thanks to the NOPBC's generous contributors and encouraged everyone to support the organization through the Amazon Smile program and employers' matching gifts.
Finally, Kim Cunningham gave the Nominating Committee's report, and the election of new officers to the NOPBC took place. The following individuals were elected to the following positions on the 2015-2016 NOPBC board:
President--Carlton Anne Cook Walker, PA
First vice president--Kim Cunningham, TX
Second vice president--Holly Miller, NJ
Secretary--Pamela Gebert, AK
Treasurer--Sandra Oliver, TX
Board member--Kimberly Banks, GA (soon to be FL)
Board member--Jean Bening, MN
Board member--Carol Castellano, NJ
Board member--Penny Duffy, NH
Board member--Rosina Foster, MO
Board member--Jennifer Gandarias, WA
Board member--Frances Hammond, NM
Board member--Melissa Riccobono, MD
Board member--Pat Renfranz, UT
Board member--Terri Rupp, NV
The annual Braille Book Fair (BBF) followed the meeting, and the anticipation was palpable. Not only were there the usual offerings of Braille books for every age and interest area, but this diamond anniversary year held a special delight: 750 print/Braille books donated by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. These books were snapped up as quickly as they could be put out by our hard-working BBF volunteers. Two hours later, BBF coordinator Krystal Guillory, her NFB volunteers, and volunteers from UPS had sorted, distributed, and packed for home delivery over one thousand Braille books. After BBF, NOPBC board member Bill Cucco facilitated our annual Dad's Night Out.
Wednesday marked the setting of a Guinness World Record and the kickoff of the opening 2015 General Session. That evening, our children participated in crafts and games, and youth enjoyed "Deal Me In: Learning Poker and Other Card Games" with Jason Polansky and Ben Schuler from the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Concurrent NOPBC workshops included "IEP Workshop for Parents of Blind/VI Students" with Dan Frye, executive director of the New Jersey Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired; "Adopting a Blind/Visually Impaired Child from Overseas" with Merry-Noel and Marty Chamberlain, adoptive parents, POBC of Nebraska, and with Heather and John Fritz, adoptive parents, NFB of Wisconsin; and "Staying Calm," an advocacy workshop from Sharon Maneki, president, NFB of Maryland.
by Mark Riccobono
Introduction by Carlton Anne Cook Walker: Mark Riccobono has been dedicated to education and to blind children, long before he became the parent to two blind children himself. Now it's time for Kid Talk, so I invite all of the kids to come to the front of the room to ask questions of Mark Riccobono, the President of the National Federation of the Blind.
Mark Riccobono: Do any of you guys name your canes? What's your cane's name, Marly?
Marly: Mrs. Cane.
Mark Riccobono: Excellent! Does it have diamonds on it? Anybody else name their cane? Amelia?
Mark Riccobono: Is it musical?
Mark Riccobono: Well, every time I hear that tap-tap of those canes on the floor, it's pretty musical to me.
I'm glad you guys are here today. It's really a privilege to be able to sit with all of you. I have two daughters who are blind. They're five and three. They're not here at the convention. Isn't that sad? They're with their grandma. They're very happy with their grandma. Did you know we're celebrating our seventy-fifth anniversary? That's a long time, isn't it? Seventy-five years! You guys are the future leaders in our organization. You have a whole corps of people who have been working on your behalf. In fact, for seventy-five years blind people have been working for you to have the opportunities that you have right now and in the future. That means when you get above, say, four feet tall, you've got to start thinking about what you're going to do to make the world better for other people.
This seventy-five years is a diamond anniversary. Diamonds are really cool. They're one of the toughest substances on earth. It's hard to find anything that's tougher than a diamond. I think that each of you is tough. I think that no matter what you come across, you can overcome it. I believe all of you are diamonds. I've learned in the National Federation of the Blind that as blind people we're all diamonds. We're all tough, we all have beauty, and if we work together, we can really let our beauty shine. So next time you run into something that seems difficult or frustrating, just remember that you're a diamond and you're tough.
Do you guys have any questions for me?
Abby: Do you like lobster?
Mark Riccobono: Do I like lobster? To eat or to play with? To eat, yes! I love lobster!
Abby: Do you like to play with them?
Mark Riccobono: Well, my family went to Red Lobster recently. And they have all the lobsters in the tank there. They have their pincers with rubber bands on them, and the kids were speculating about which one would taste the best. Any other questions?
Anna: I'm going to high school next year, and in the lunchroom, how do you find people you want to sit with?
Mark Riccobono: How do you find people you're friends with? Here's what you can do. You can set up ahead of time with your friends that you're going to meet in a particular place; that's one way. Another way is to tell your friends ahead of time, "Hey, I'm coming to lunch, so look for me." It's okay to do that.
Anna: But what if I don't know anybody?
Mark Riccobono: Sometimes you just have to get into the mix and find out. One way you can get to know where your friends are is to ask other people if they know them. I know high school is particularly frustrating because everybody's wondering who's sitting with whom. Your goal should be to have the confidence to go in and talk with people and recognize that, regardless of what they may or may not think of you, remember that you're a diamond. Just get in there and talk to folks. Don't be shy about it, because you have something to offer them. All of us, as we're growing up, have times when we have to get into very difficult situations when we don't know people. It's a little uncomfortable. I have to go to big networking events where there are thousands of people! How do you find anybody? It's a process to learn how to start conversations and engage with folks, but it starts with believing that you have something to offer and not being nervous about what other people think. Does that help?
Anna: No, not really.
Mark Riccobono: Well, we'll talk about it some more. Any other questions?
Mikayla: I go to high school, and I want to tell Anna about it. I start talking to students that are next to me in class, and at the end of class I say, "Hey, what about lunch?" That's one way to start.
Mark Riccobono: It's been a long time since I was in high school, but I do remember high school lunch! Who else has a question?
Jackson: My name is Jackson, and I have two questions for you. First one, what are you going to do if you get to be president of the United States?
Mark Riccobono: Great question! I'm not prepared to speak on foreign policy, but I can tell you I would love to see a blind person in the office of president. I'd like to see more blind people in Congress. I once knew a blind guy who encouraged me to be president of the United States, but I don't have a great desire to be that. If you want to be the head of something, that is the first thing--you have to want to do it. You have to be willing to make the sacrifices; you've got to have the desire to do it. What's your second question?
Jackson: How many sit-ups can you do?
Mark Riccobono: How many sit-ups? Is this a challenge?
Jackson: I can do two hundred.
Mark Riccobono: Well, I've got a suit on. And I just had breakfast and all that. What kind of sports do you do besides sit-ups?
Jackson: I do swimming and wrestling.
Mark Riccobono: It's very important for people to be active. I think we should figure out how to get blind people into more sports that they haven't been in yet. And I'm going to practice my sit-ups in case you come back!
Jackson: Next year.
Mark Riccobono: Okay. We have to plan for this.
Arianna: Were you born blind?
Mark Riccobono: Yes. I have glaucoma and aniridia, so I have an eye condition that came from birth, but I wasn't legally blind until age five. Most of the time when I was growing up I didn't know I was a blind person. No one told me I was a blind person, and I was really good at faking that I could see. Anyone do that in here? Do you ever pretend you can see when you really can't? I heard someone say they used to. That's what I used to do. I was an expert faker. That was my sport, actually. It was very stressful. I was always worried about what I would have to see. When I met the National Federation of the Blind I learned that I didn't have to fake it anymore. That was so liberating! It was like a big weight lifted off me! I didn't have to fake it, and I could just be me. That's when I really started to do the things I wanted to do. So don't fake it. Remember you're tough, and let that beauty shine!
Danny: What other sports do you do?
Mark Riccobono: Right. Sports. Crosscountry skiing.
Danny: I do downhill skiing.
Mark Riccobono: You guys are always showing me up! I did downhill skiing one time. It was the bunny slope. I was not very good at it. Maybe you can teach me. Next year I'll be doing downhill skiing, so I won't be available for sit-ups. Sledding. I'm really great at sledding. And I went snowboarding once.
I really appreciate that all of you took some time to spend with me and challenge me to sports. I hope you all come by the Presidential Suite sometime this week. There is a LEGO box up there. It's very cool. I want you all to remember that each and every one of you is a diamond, that you're tough, that you have a bunch of people around you to create a beautiful setting where your beauty can shine. I'm looking forward to all the things you will do to make the National Federation of the Blind great.
by Anil Lewis
Introduction by Carlton Anne Cook Walker: Anil Lewis hails from Atlanta, Georgia. He earned a master's degree in public administration with an emphasis on policy analysis and program evaluation from Georgia State University. Anil has worked as a Braille and assistive technology instructor and as a job development and placement specialist. He used the NFB's positive philosophy to educate, motivate, and encourage blind people to achieve successful gainful employment. He developed and managed a job placement program for people with disabilities at one of the largest employment staffing companies in the world. He also worked for a law firm as the Georgia Client Assistance Program counselor advocate. Anil has served on the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind and has received awards from his alma mater, GSU. Presently he serves as executive director of the NFB Jernigan Institute. We are honored to welcome him today. [Applause]
Thank you for that wonderful introduction! I used to be very active with an organization called the Foundation Fighting Blindness, or the RP Foundation. I have retinitis pigmentosa, or RP, which is supposed to be a slow, progressive deterioration of the retinas. My older brother and sister both have it, and they gradually lost their vision over many years. I was twenty-five years old, I had a Mustang convertible, I had a job at the bank, and I was working on my bachelor's degree in computer information systems. I thought I had it licked; RP wasn't going to get me.
One Friday I went to work, and on Saturday I went to a movie called Look Who's Talking. That movie was so awful my vision went that weekend. When I went in to work on Monday, I couldn't even read my computer screen.
I used to use that story to play on people's emotions. "Oh, you poor guy! We should donate!" I worked at United Way on the speakers' circuit, and I was out there telling my story, making people feel sorry for me. I was highly requested that year.
Then I met the Federation. The Federation told me that what I was doing was really institutionalizing misconceptions that prohibited me from reaching my full potential. I was being used by a system that wanted me as a revenue generating source and did not have my best interest at heart. The NFB changed my whole spiel, and believe it or not, I was the most requested speaker that next year. I had a more upbeat message, and I helped them raise more money than I had before, because people were looking for positive outcomes.
Not long ago I went to a conference, and I attended a support group meeting for people with low vision. People were saying things like, "I went on a vacation to Paris. They took me to a dark restaurant, and I said, 'Why did you take me to this dark place? You know I don't like dark places!'" One lady said, "I don't want to use my cane. I don't want to be treated any differently." Then a guy said to her, "Let me correct something. You're being treated differently because you don't use a cane." He talked about how when he didn't use a cane he'd bump into stuff and trip over stuff, and people would think he was either drunk or on drugs. Then he said, "But now I use a cane." I thought, Wow, this is redeeming! This is going to be good! But then he said, "And now I get all kinds of help wherever I go!" [Laughter]
I heard all that and I said to myself, You were there. That was you. I went through that phase where you turn blindness--something people would feel pity about--into something you capitalized on. What helped me cross over the threshold? What helped me finally see that blindness is not the characteristic that defines me or my future? What got me to the point where I said that I can live the life I want? The Federation got me there, and I think this is very relevant for parents.
I came through that particular transition and that paradigm shift through my life experience. Long before there was a master's degree in orientation and mobility, there were blind people learning to travel using a cane. They learned to use echolocation and learned to listen for the direction of traffic. Through my life experience with my Federation family I learned what I could do. I recreated my definition of who I am.
My mom didn't have any of that. She didn't have the Federation. My brother and sister began losing their sight much earlier than I did. My mom went through stuff all alone. When my brother and I were little kids, they diagnosed us as educationally mentally retarded. I know that isn't the correct term today. I know we use the term developmentally disabled. But that's not what they called me out on the playground. They would call me retarded! It helped me build strength of character, but I wouldn't wish it on any kid! My mom told the school, "They're not retarded. But if they are, you have to find ways to teach them." The school provided a lot of services for us, and the next year we went from mentally retarded to the gifted program. Labels mean nothing to me now.
When my brother started losing his sight, my mother went and talked to the school. The folks at the school said, "Hey, we were wrong! This boy was never educationally retarded. He just can't see." He had experienced a reduction in vision that was so significant he couldn't read. There was nothing wrong with his intellect.
Well, the professionals told my mom that they couldn't provide services for my brother at that school. Had she known the Federation, she would have known that wasn't true. But she didn't know any different, so they sent my brother to the Georgia Academy for the Blind. Now, the NFB has no preference between mainstreaming and residential schools. What's important is for kids to get quality education wherever parents choose to have them attend school. My brother went to the residential school, and he was excellent in sports. They didn't teach him Braille because he had just enough vision to read print, using a magnifying glass and those big bottle-bottom glasses and a big bright light. I told him, "I'm surprised the book doesn't burst into flames!" [Laughter] Even then he was only able to read character by character. As far as the cane, no. The school subscribed to the hierarchy of sight. The students who had a lot of vision led the students who were totally blind around the campus. My mom didn't know. My brother didn't know.
My mom was filled with guilt. For some reason she thought it was her fault, first that my brother had the developmental disability diagnosis, and then that he became blind. It was nobody's fault! Stuff happens. That's life. We have to recognize that stuff happens, and we have a decision to make. Will we waller in the stuff, or can we push on through?
My mom pushed on through, without a lot of assistance. But because she did not have the Federation, because we were not around blind individuals who were living successfully, my brother became very passive. He ended up working at Georgia Industries for the Blind, earning subminimum wages, and he turned into a functioning alcoholic. He is not living the life he wants. He is living a life that's the consequence of some bad decisions. He is living a life that's a consequence of the lack of proper intervention. He's living a life that doesn't know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines a person.
My brother's name is Raphael. Even in his current existence he is awesome. He is hilarious, and he'd give you his last dime if you need it. But he is not where he should be. He should be here. We have to make sure that more Raphaels get here.
How do we do that? We're doing it right now. You guys have nothing to feel guilty about. If you're going to choose to waller in stuff, say "Aye!" [Silence] Good, because if anybody said aye, I was gonna take them out! [Laughter] We can't play with people trying to keep us backward. You want to move forward, you want to make some dynamic stuff happen! You want your kids to live the lives they want! You want them to go get a proper education and live independently, stand up in front of people and say, "Stuff happens!" Let me tell you how to do it. Here's the checklist:
Now, I'm going to close with a reality check. Yes, there's stuff that your child can't do. There are things I know I can't do, but I can't let society make that decision for me. I cannot do a full round-off cartwheel into a backward somersault lift. Can't do it! I used to be able to do stuff like that, but my center of gravity has changed. So we want to set high expectations, but we also need to be realistic about what a child's limitations may be.
After I knew the Federation, that twenty-five-year-old boy who went to see Look Who's Talking was back. He was believing in himself in a real way that he had not before. We want your kids to believe in themselves. We start by getting you to believe in them, and I think that you guys in the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children are already doing an excellent job. My hat's off to you for all of your effort and sacrifice.
I want to leave you with this. Never let anyone say that you're busy making your child look blind by teaching him Braille and cane travel. Those are the nonvisual access skills he's going to need. Don't let anyone tell you that your kids are not loved as much as anybody else's kids. I can unequivocally say that I love you and your children because you're here, helping us build the organization and changing the lives of future generations. If there's anything I can do to help you, please be in touch. Thank you, my NFB family!
by Carlton Anne Cook Walker
From the Editor: At the NOPBC Conference on the opening day of the 2015 NFB national convention, Carlton Anne Cook Walker delivered the following keynote address.
Good morning, and welcome. As president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), a proud division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), I am eager to share with you over this next week all that the Federation, including the NOPBC, has to offer. First, please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Carlton Anne Cook Walker, and I am the mother of a blind fourteen-year-old, Anna Catherine. In addition to serving as president of the NOPBC, I am a teacher of blind and visually impaired students in southwestern Pennsylvania, and I am an attorney with my own solo law practice. Of all my roles, being a parent is and will always be the most important. However, after faith and family, the most important passion in my life is the National Federation of the Blind.
Without the NFB and the parents' division, I would not have the information I need to be an effective parent for Anna Catherine. Indeed, it is the education from and support of my Federation family, in the parents' division and the membership at large, that has taught me how to provide my Anna Catherine with the tools and skills she needs to become the blind adult she has the right to be.
You may have heard that the NFB is celebrating its diamond anniversary, seventy-five years of the blind advocating for and serving the blind, seventy-five years and still going strong. On a personal level, this year's convention is the tenth for my daughter Anna Catherine and me. You might know that the traditional gift for a seventy-fifth anniversary is the diamond. We will encounter many of those this week. But guess what! The tenth anniversary gift is also a diamond! Coincidence? I think not.
When my husband, Steven, and I went to our first convention in Dallas, Texas, we thought that our "low-vision" five-year-old would probably be okay because she had some remaining sight. After just one week of learning from parents and blind adults, listening to new ideas that made sense, and seeing confident, successful blind people with varying levels of vision, we left Dallas with the knowledge that it would be our daughter's level of blindness skills and not her residual vision that would determine her chances for future success.
Diamonds are created from a common element, carbon, which has been subjected to uncommon external pressure. Most natural diamonds were created in the high-pressure environment of the mantle of the earth, about ninety miles deep, at temperatures of around 2,000 degrees Celsius, and were brought up toward the surface of the earth by deep-source volcanic eruptions. Other tiny diamonds have been found where asteroids have hit the earth. The necessity of high temperature and extremely high pressure render the natural diamond a rare gem. As parents of blind children, we know how rare blindness is. There is good reason it is called a low-incidence disability.
Diamonds also come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, like our children. Many people in the community at large have an image of what a diamond or a blind child should look like. While there will be many examples that fit the stereotype, there are many, many more that do not. The outside world often places a value on diamonds unrelated to their actual utility and functionality. But despite the external differences highlighted by society, every diamond has a core strength unmatched by any other gemstone.
I know that our children, blind or sighted, are the most precious gemstones we will ever encounter. Like diamonds they are strong and resilient. And like diamonds, they are often judged on factors that are not related to their actual potential.
When shopping for diamonds, buyers are taught to focus on the four Cs of diamond buying: cut, carat, color, and clarity. With our precious diamonds, our children, I submit that the four Cs of raising a successful blind child are competence, confidence, creativity, and community.
Like turning the cut of a diamond, the first step in rearing a successful blind child is to ensure that child's competence. In what areas should your blind child be competent? In all areas! As I mentioned, my blind daughter, Anna Catherine, has some functional vision. For some tasks her vision is somewhat useful. For others it is not. Under some circumstances--perfect ambient lighting, familiarity with the area--her vision is more functional than it is under other circumstances. Like Anna Catherine, blind children must be skilled in all situations in which they find themselves. The key to this is blindness skills. For children with blindness and visual impairment, vision is not their strong suit, and never will be. We hear terms used--visually impaired, low vision, partially sighted--to describe children with still-functional vision. But when we ask the low vision, partially sighted child to rely solely on that impaired, low, partial vision, we ensure that that child's progress and success will be impaired, low, and partial.
As a teacher of blind students, I am tasked with performing assessments. Part of the assessment involves interviewing teachers about my students in their classrooms. Far too often I hear, "She's doing great, for a low-vision student," or, "He's doing well, considering his eye issue." I know these teachers mean well, but I cringe whenever I hear them describe my students qualified by words such as for a or considering. My students need to perform at their optimal level, not considering their visual impairment or for a blind child, but at their optimal level, period. It is my job to teach them the skills that will help them accomplish this--blindness skills.
Blindness skills provide our children with the tools they need to be defined as individuals, not by their disabilities. Blindness skills include Braille--all forms of Braille--literary, math, science, music; orientation and mobility skills, including the use of a long white cane, and mobility in all areas--on escalators, crossing streets, buying food at a snackbar; technology skills, including nonvisual software, refreshable Braille displays, and audio output; and nonvisual skills that help our children maximize their independence, no matter if they are blind with or without additional disabilities.
This week you will experience an immersion in many different blindness skills. You will witness efficient, competent mobility with long white canes. You will hear brilliant, well researched sessions and speeches that were created and will be presented using Braille and accessible technology. You will watch blind adults performing everyday tasks without regard to their visual abilities and living their lives just as you do and as you want your children to do. Most importantly, you and your child will be enriched by learning the secrets of the blindness skills you will experience here this week.
Every child deserves to have the skills to achieve all that she or he can achieve. Anna Catherine's success, like that of your child, will be determined by what she can do, not by what she can see. This basic competence is the first C necessary in preparing a blind child for lifelong success. You will find a full range of opportunities to gain information about and practice blindness skills at the NOPBC conference as well as the NFB convention for the entire week.
The next vital C for all children is confidence. While confidence is important for sighted children, it is probably even more important to blind children. Blindness is a low-incidence disability, so blind children may have few same-age peers in their home communities. This can be isolating, and it can make it difficult for blind children to gauge their level of accomplishment accurately. For example, many blind children are bombarded by people telling them what they can't do because they are blind. Alternatively, they might hear how amazing they are for performing mundane tasks that come to them easily. Both of these scenarios can erode the self-confidence of a blind child. In either case, the child may lose the opportunity to try, fail, and try again, the very experiences that build learning and self-confidence. A child who is prevented from attempting "risky" activities may never be permitted to stretch into new areas, and a child who receives unfounded praise will never feel the need to do so. In both cases, these children's wings are clipped. They may never walk to and from school, cook a meal, or gain other skills of independent living, no matter how much they achieve academically.
Confidence is not something that can be taught or given. Confidence comes from within. Our children deserve to have the confidence to know that they can do or figure out how to do anything they need. Our children deserve to have quality instruction in Braille, long white cane skills, technology, and independent living skills. As parents we must support our children in the acquisition of blindness skills.
Intuitively I knew this ten years ago, but as a sighted adult with the first blind child I had ever met, how could I do this? Didn't I have to rely on the school? Aren't the professionals the experts? No. You as a parent are the expert on your child. Blind adults who have learned and are proficient in blindness skills every single day are experts. School officials have a great deal to share, and they may be experts in their fields, but they are not the experts on your blind child.
Instruction in skills leads to confidence. Confidence grows with the opportunity to use and master these skills.
Please do not hesitate to take advantage of the competent, caring blind adults you will encounter every day while you are here, and connect with Federationists from your own state. A strong network of experts in the home community and at school, along with the high level of expectations they will bring, will provide your child with a fertile field in which confidence may grow every single day.
The third C of diamond buying is color, and my third C is creativity. Like color, creativity is both unimportant and vitally important. In diamonds the color is irrelevant to actual industrial utility. However, the color of a diamond can significantly impact its value as a gemstone. Many people have strong opinions about diamond color, hating or loving colored versus clear diamonds, for instance.
In the lives of blind children, creativity is too often pushed aside in favor of academics. Many blind children are pulled from art and music and other classes for special time. Can you believe it? Art and music! These subjects are vital to the development of a well-rounded person. The lessons learned in creative arts start innovative thought processes that will help children overcome academic and real-life challenges.
Another obstacle to creativity is the pursuit of perfection. Anybody have a perfectionist in your house? I sure do! Too often children, especially blind children, are not allowed to fail. They're not allowed to have the experience of their ideas not working out. This robs them of the opportunity to problem solve and determine what they might do to achieve a different result. I encourage you and your children, too, in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, to do one thing every day that scares you. Today during our concurrent sessions, ask a question, no matter how scary it might seem at first. Tomorrow morning, you might try a cane walk under sleepshades with your child. This week go to the exhibit hall and experiment with some of the high-tech and low-tech devices, even if you don't know what they do. Explore the device with your child and guess at what it does, without asking--at least at first.
Once you encourage imagination, make it okay to be wrong. You may be quite surprised by the ideas your child comes up with. This is the beauty of creativity in action. Creativity cannot be measured on a standardized test, but its value outweighs that of any test score.
First your blind child gains competence and confidence through blindness skills. Then you help him nurture creativity that will serve him for a lifetime. These three Cs--competence, confidence, and creativity--are great, and we're almost there, but not quite. The fourth C in crafting your diamond is community. Wonderful blindness skills and terrific academic achievement are of little consequence if a blind adult merely goes to work, goes home, and repeats the cycle day after day. An important part of all of our lives is our interaction with others. Many blind children are always on the receiving end, and may not have the opportunity to serve others at all. Each of us needs to be needed, and each of us needs to have something to give back. No matter what your child's age, he or she can give to other people. Have your child make a "Thinking of You" card for someone in a nursing home or a soldier overseas. Maybe your child can volunteer to read, in Braille, to other children or to older adults. Maybe your child can make lunch for others at a local soup kitchen. It doesn't matter how your child uses blindness skills to give back to the community. It matters that your child does it.
Indeed, this last C, community, completes the circle.
Speaking of community, please know that you are a close, welcome part of our community. As a member of the NOPBC, you are a partner of the community that is the National Federation of the Blind, which is, to me, actually a family. Tonight please come to our Family Hospitality Night and talk to someone you don't know yet. This week go up to a blind adult and introduce yourself. Here in the National Federation of the Blind, you will not find any strangers, just friends you have not yet met.
by Ann Cunningham
From the Editor: Tactile artist Ann Cunningham is dedicated to bringing art within reach for blind children and adults. Each year at the NFB convention she hosts the Drop-In Art Room, where anyone can explore artworks by touch and make his/her own creations. At the annual meeting of the NOPBC, Ann spoke about her artistic journey and described some of the new tools that are making graphics more accessible.
My name is Ann Cunningham, and I teach art at the Colorado Center for the Blind. I've been there for about fifteen years. I started out as a stone sculptor, and the stone just felt so good to me! Naturally I thought that I'd love for people to touch it. At some point a question popped into my mind: Could somebody who is blind figure out what these pictures are?
Back in the early nineties I put on an exhibit called By Touch Alone. That's how we juried the show. We invited people from all over the United States to submit artwork, both sighted and blind artists. We put up this show in Boulder, and we had a pretty good turnout. We had sighted and blind patrons, but the general consensus was kind of lukewarm. It really wasn't very encouraging at all. But it was encouraging enough for me, and I stuck with it. I thought, If this doesn't work, maybe something else will. I started to explore.
Ten years later I met Julie Deden, who had become the new director at the Colorado Center for the Blind. I had been awarded a public art commission for the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind, and I felt I really needed to get it right. I wanted to have some people help me assess whether my ideas were working. People at the Colorado Center started to help me. I went back there several times, and people there started to ask me for help on their own projects. After a little while I said, "Why don't I teach?" and I started teaching there.
Over the years we have been exploring and discovering; we never rest on our laurels. Once we learn how to do something, we're on to the next thing, because there's so much to figure out.
I'm going to be working at the STEM program in Baltimore in early August. We're going to figure out how to teach students to draw engineering drawings. We're going to be doing orthoscopic and isometric perspectives. I'm so excited! The attitude and philosophy of the NFB is, "If we don't know how to do it, let's figure it out!" I love it!
You've been hearing from a lot of presenters about different ways of getting tactile images into students' hands. I can't express strongly enough that it's important to start with your children as early as you can. But from what I've seen, even if you start later, it's still a fast learning curve. When I create a book such as Sadie Can Count, it's a children's book, but the pictures in it are beginner's pictures for any age. You can begin learning to interpret a tactile picture at any time in life. I structure these pictures on the same principles that books for babies are structured. Sadie Can Count has "spot pictures." Spot pictures are unambiguous objects on a plain background. It's very clear exactly what you're talking about. From there you can build up to charts, diagrams, maps, and complex pictures. Also the child can begin to express himself or herself through artwork. Information in, information out. You can assess what your child understands about something if you can get her to draw a picture of it.
There are many methods for making raised-line drawings. One of them is the Sensational Blackboard, which my husband and I make and market. You can also make tactile pictures with everyday materials or materials you buy at an arts and crafts store. You can cut and paste. You can use foam. If you get your child used to interpreting pictures, he's going to build a vocabulary of shapes and objects in his mind, just as you build up a vocabulary of words. The sooner you help him do that, the easier it's going to be to talk to your child about concepts. You'll be able to incorporate the images that he has in his mind into your teaching.
I know that a lot of people like to substitute audio-descriptive text for images in textbooks. I have yet to see an audio description that couldn't be enhanced with even a rudimentary sketch. Every time I see someone get her hands on an actual picture, I hear a great "Oh!" of recognition and understanding. There is always more light shed on what you're talking about.
To help people get beyond the glass at museums, I take a photograph of something that's on exhibit. I print it out, and we can at least create an outline image. We can do this with some very large objects, too, such as dinosaurs. Even if you can touch part of a dinosaur skeleton, it's so big that you won't be able to get the whole image.
At convention this year you can see several wonderful examples of new approaches to tactile representation. In the exhibit hall there's a guy from 3DPhotoWorks, and he has one style. He uses 3D printing to make raised photographic images. He has a tactile image of the Mona Lisa on display. One of the exhibitors in our art room this year is a woman who has worked with the Prado Museum in Spain. She brought two tactile images based on paintings, and one of them is an interpretation of the Mona Lisa. And also in the art room is a woman who represents paintings through hand quilting. She's worked out a whole color system, with different fabrics and textures representing particular colors. She has an interpretation of the Mona Lisa, too. So here at convention we have three distinct examples of ways that the Mona Lisa can be represented in tactile form!
This is a very exciting time to think about tactile art. Interact with the people who are here. They are listening. They are looking for feedback about their new technologies. We can have a big say in how these things go if we give them our honest appraisal.
by David Pillischer
From the Editor: Because blindness is a low-incidence disability, blind children tend to be widely scattered. It can be challenging for a student in a rural area to get the Braille instruction he or she needs. At the annual NOPBC meeting, David Pillischer described a revolutionary new device that promises to bring quality Braille instruction within the reach of many more blind students, no matter where they live.
I want to read to you a summary from a group in Canada called Abisee. They supplied to me their internal report about a product we have called BERT, which stands for Braille Education Remote Tool. BERT is a completely interactive, cloud-based application that allows a blind or sighted teacher who teaches Braille the ability to communicate with a student of any age anywhere in the world. We developed this product to alleviate the shortage of teachers of the visually impaired who are qualified in Braille instruction. It gives students who need Braille the ability to access a qualified Braille instructor. I've heard every rumor, from that we are trying to put teachers out of business and others that are just as unbelievable. You can't teach Braille without a Braille teacher.
Here's the summary of the report from Canada. "The Cosmo eBrailler with BERT software will provide support to Braille students who live in remote areas throughout the Atlantic provinces. The Cosmo will make it possible for the Braille teacher to provide the student with daily instruction in Braille as well as immediate feedback through a distance education setup."
Our application and hardware works with both blind and deaf-blind students. Students can communicate with their teacher through Braille and voice, and if they are deaf-blind they can communicate entirely with Braille. Our Braille hardware puts Braille on paper. It's nearly silent. It is five decibels less than a laser printer on startup and three decibels less than a laser printer while embossing. A student who is mainstreamed with sighted students in a school near his home can emboss Braille on paper without disrupting the classroom. A student doing mathematics, a student learning sentence structure, a student doing science needs to be able to follow the flow on paper, especially with math.
Using BERT, a teacher in Oregon can tutor a student in New York State. A student in a mainstream classroom can produce Braille on paper as quietly as a student using a pencil can produce print. A classroom handout can be produced in real time from a Word document or PDF, and the blind student can have it in contracted or uncontracted Braille at the same time as the sighted students. As the teacher is handing out the assignment, she can be embossing it.
I take the approach that it's good for a parent to try to teach a student Braille, but there is no substitute for a qualified teacher. A teacher has been trained. She or he has the patience to deal with children, which is something that I don't have! [Laughter] Working with children is what they do. People like me, we make machines and software; that's what we do. It's that simple. We made something to give your children Braille education, no matter where they live, no matter how far away the school is.
You can learn more about BERT and the Cosmo Brailler at <www.ebrailler.com>.
by Richard Gibbs
From the Editor: For decades the number of board games available to blind players has been limited to a handful of beloved standards such as Scrabble, Monopoly, checkers, and chess. Richard Gibbs has ushered in a board-game revolution with a new company called 64 Oz. Games, which he described at the NOPBC's annual meeting.
My name is Richard Gibbs. I recently founded a company called 64 Oz. Games. I've been involved in the NFB for more than ten years now, but in the past year or so I've become even more involved by creating this company.
I've loved board games all my life. My family communicates by sitting around the table playing a board game, trying to hurt each other. [Laughter] Since I love board games so much, I wanted to find a way to make and sell them. I needed to find a way to stand out, and I was told many times that I should design a board game for blind people because I've been involved in the blind community. Whenever someone said that, I'd say, "I don't want to design a board game for blind people. I'd rather get board games that already exist into the hands of blind people." There's no reason you should come at board games with a preconception of what can and cannot be done.
My company ran a Kickstarter campaign. It was successful, and it enabled us to get an embosser, a 3D printer, and some other material. We have a website now called <www.64ozgames.com>. We sell what we call "accessibility kits." They consist of sticky Braille labels and the sleeves that fit around the cards for an existing retail product. People go to our website and buy our accessibility kits. They buy the retail game through Amazon or some other website. When everything arrives, they have to assemble the game, putting on the labels. But once it's assembled, they have all the necessary materials. We also have tactile graphics for games where those are necessary. Anything that's necessary to make the game accessible, we include it in our kit; you'll always know that this is a game you can play with your blind child.
We just formed a partnership with a company that makes games for little kids. These games aren't just another version of Candyland, where you just spin the spinner and go to a particular color. With these games, even a game for a two-year-old, you actually have to make decisions. We have one game called Ear Tub that has a lot of tactile objects. It builds color recognition, shape recognition, and logical thinking. All of our kids' games do that.
As your kids get older, we have games that are more advanced. We have games such as Sushi Dough that can be played by adults and children. Again, these games require players to make meaningful decisions. You win or lose based on how you play the game. It isn't like Monopoly, where you win or lose based on where you land your first couple of times around the board.
One of our more advanced games is called Resistance. It calls for five to ten players, and two of the players are secretly spies. Everyone is trying to figure out who the spies are. Another game, Apples to Apples, involves a lot of reading, and it can really help build Braille skills.
In our store we already have more than one hundred accessibility kits, and we're adding more every day. We plan to keep expanding. Our kits usually cost about the same as the game itself, so you get an accessible version for about double the price of the original game. The price varies, based on what we have to do to make the game accessible.
by Naudia Graham and Ashleah Chamberlain
From the Editor: The work of the NOPBC is all about the kids and their futures. By longstanding tradition, blind students have the chance to share some of their life experiences at the annual meeting of the NOPBC. This year the parents heard from Naudia Graham of Maryland and Ashleah Chamberlain of Nebraska.
Naudia Graham: Hi, my name is Naudia Graham. I am nine years old, and I'm going into third grade. I live in a small town called Ellicott City, just outside of Baltimore, Maryland, so of course I'm a huge fan of the Raiders.
I go to Waterloo Elementary School, and I have had the best teachers on the planet! I have made a lot of friends at Waterloo. Some of my friends are learning Braille, even though they're sighted people. They are learning Braille as fast as I am!
My favorite subjects at school are art, technology, music, and media. In art I get to use crayons and paint. In technology I go on the computer. I learn how to search on the Internet using JAWS. In music I learn to play the recorder, but it's kind of confusing reading Braille music. In media I learn about all the different kinds of genres.
Outside school I take lessons on the guitar and piano. I also go to Girl Scouts. I am a Junior Girl Scout. I like to camp and eat s'mores.
I also go to a lot of NFB activities. This year I went to STEM2U. STEM means science, technology, engineering, and math. We did a lot of fun things, like making a car out of wood, plastic, and tape. When I grow up, I want to be a veterinarian. I really want to take care of dogs. I want to be a vet because they make a lot of money. [Laughter] I also want to be a teacher. I want to teach multiplication, division, and abacus. [Applause]
Ashleah Chamberlain: Hi, my name is Ashleah. I just completed my freshman year at Ralston High School. The high school is a much bigger place than the middle school I went to the year before. A few days before school started, I learned how to get to all my classes, with the help of my mobility instructor, who happens to be my mother. [Laughter] By the second quarter I knew my way around the school and could travel without any assistance. In fact, I didn't even need my mobility instructor to help me find any of my classes.
Last year I lived close to the middle school, so I was able to walk to school, even though it involved two street crossings. This year I rode the bus and took typical freshman year classes such as biology and algebra. My favorite pastimes include talking to friends on Skype and Facebook and playing games on the computer with them. I use a program called NVDA, which is kind of like JAWS. NVDA stands for Nonvisual Desktop Access. I download games from a website called <audiogames.net>, which has a whole archive of games that are accessible for the blind. I play these games with people all over the country. I have friends who have put their own games on that website and have asked me to beta test them.
At school I'm the only blind student. Usually I hang out with my two best friends. As a requirement at my school, I must complete at least forty hours of community service. Some of the things I have done this year include helping out in child care during parent meetings, assisting with an Easter egg hunt, and cleaning up downtown Omaha.
I also enjoy being an aunt to my thirteen-year-old nephew and my niece, who is just getting into her terrible twos. I am always chasing after her to make sure she doesn't get into mischief. I've even changed her diaper a few times, which is totally different from the baby doll I took care of for twenty-four hours for my favorite science class! [Laughter]
My parents encourage me to be independent. At home most often I make my own breakfast, wash dishes, and fold laundry. My parents would like me to do more, I suppose, but I am sixteen and would rather hang with my friends. I do make my bed, though.
Blindness doesn't stop me from doing things that any other teen would be able to do, like joining clubs at school. After-school clubs have been a great opportunity for me to meet new people and expand my interests. Technology such as the BrailleNote, which I'm using right now, has enabled me to be successful in school. VoiceOver on the iPhone has helped me connect with friends and play games as well. I'm happy to be at this convention, mainly to meet up with friends that I talk to on Skype. [Applause]
by Heather Field
From the Editor: Heather Field is a passionate advocate for blind children. In her articles and workshops she often challenges conventional ideas about blind children's needs and abilities, encouraging adults to enter into the child's point of view. In this presentation she emphasizes the critical importance of play for the healthy development of all children, including those who are blind.
I'm originally from Australia, and I've lived in Tennessee for the past seventeen years. I have a master's degree in special education, and I have taught for over thirty-five years, working in early intervention, elementary education, tutoring, and consulting. I run a small private preschool and tutoring business from my home, and I happen to be blind.
Before I go on, let me define my terms. When I refer to blind children, I am not just speaking about those children who have no usable vision. I am referring to all children whose vision is not "functional." By saying that their vision is not functional, I mean that they cannot rely on their vision alone to perform the functions of daily life. They must also use alternative, nonvisual techniques. Low vision and visually impaired are other terms for functionally blind. Most professionals prefer to use these terms, but I use the term blind. Blind refers to the vision these children don't have, and that's really what's making the difference.
This workshop is about facilitating your child's learning and play, and, since it is sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), it's understood that we're talking about facilitating the play and learning of blind children. If you have had sighted babies or toddlers, or interacted with other people's very young children, you probably noticed that they played and interacted with you very naturally. You didn't feel that you were teaching them to play. They watched you and joined in with whatever you were doing. So the reasoning goes that because the blind child can't watch what we're doing, he or she will need to be taught how to play. This highlights one of the first ideas we'll be examining today. Here are some of the things we will cover in this workshop:
According to The Oxford Dictionary of British World English, facilitate means to "Make (an action or process) easy or easier." So we're not talking about teaching blind children what to do; we're talking about being part of the process to make it easy or easier for them to play. But what exactly is the process of playing? The dictionary says that to play is "to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation, rather than a serious or practical purpose." Yes, we play for enjoyment. Do sighted children enjoy playing? Yes, they get great joy from playing with others, even as very young babies. But how do they know which activities will bring them enjoyment? Do we facilitate the play of sighted babies? Oh, yes we do! We smile, make funny faces, make funny noises, tickle their hands and feet, and shake rattles. We present them with a range of activities that they might enjoy, and they choose which ones they will engage in with us. If they don't respond to your smile with a smile back, you make funny noises, blow raspberries, and stick out your tongue till you get a smile. You make the process of play easy for your sighted baby by giving him lots of possible play options and engaging with the ones he appears to enjoy.
This process continues throughout childhood. You might invite a toddler to brush your hair with a toy brush. When a preschooler brings you a cup of pretend coffee, you might say you'd like a bowl of cereal, too. With an older child you may suggest a board game, or offer to play catch out in the yard.
Children also facilitate play for each other. I remember observing some of my pupils playing “wedding” around the time of the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. One little boy, Raheem, didn't want to be the husband. The girls assigned him to be the uncle, but he didn't care for that, either. Then they assigned him to be a little brother, but he didn't like that idea any better. Finally he ended up being cast as the dog. Through all of these changes, the girls facilitated Raheem's play.
We certainly facilitate the play of sighted children, so naturally we need to facilitate the play of blind children, too. This is not something we need to do because the child is blind. We need to do it because we facilitate the play of all children. Can you guess why Raheem didn't want to play husband, visiting uncle, or little brother? He was an only child of immigrant parents, and his father worked nights. He didn't know what his father did as a husband, and he had no visiting relatives. He didn't have a pet dog, either, so he always ended up being sent outside of the playhouse for being a bad dog. This had nothing to do with vision; it had everything to do with lack of experience.
Having established all that, let's now look at how sighted adults play with blind babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. The scant research we have, including anecdotal records, suggests that most sighted adults play with young blind children as if they were broken sighted children. Most sighted people have interacted only with young children who are sighted, and they have certain expectations for how young children should interact with them. When blind children don't interact in the expected ways, the adults usually choose one of two responses. They may decide that the child isn't interested in playing with them and leave her to herself; or they may decide that the child should physically be made to interact as much as possible like a sighted child would. Neither of these options results in our dictionary definition of play, with the child "engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation, rather than a serious or practical purpose."
We have observed the tragically delayed development of young sighted children raised in institutions where they were not played with. Based on these outcomes, we know that the choice to leave the young blind child to his own devices--to invent his own play experiences--will not turn out well. The delayed development of deprived sighted children strongly suggests that the lack of appropriate interaction with adults and/or other children, and not the lack of vision, causes aberrant behavior and delayed development.
What about the second approach? What about taking hold of the blind child and moving her hands and feet, putting her arms and legs and body where they need to be to make her do what a typical sighted child would do? I am not referring to physical therapy, where this is usually just what needs to happen. I'm referring to playtime.
This approach of manipulating the child's body is based on the assumption that, because the blind child can't see what people do with the objects in the world around her, she must physically be shown what to do. Unless someone puts her through the motions, she won't know or learn, because sight is the only way to learn and she doesn't have sight. This way of thinking about blind children as lacking what they need in order to develop normally is known as the deficit model. It is promoted by many sighted professionals who advise parents regarding their blind children. Consider this passage in a handbook for parents published by a prominent blind children's organization: "Vision is the primary source of information for most children. No other sense can stimulate curiosity, integrate information, or invite exploration in the same way, or as efficiently and fully as vision does."
If the deficit model of blindness is true, then your blind child's curiosity will never be stimulated as much as that of a sighted child; he will never be as tempted as a sighted child to explore his world; he will never be able to integrate the information he gathers about the world as fully and efficiently as a sighted child. He won't be able to do any of these things because he doesn't have vision. Clearly, the writer of this handbook has never been lost at fairs and in shopping malls and in carparks with the sighted people I've had to provide with the information they needed to get unlost!
Here's another quote from the handbook: "Since 85 percent of all early learning is visual, the child who is blind or visually impaired is at great risk for developmental delays. Effective, intensive intervention is imperative in the early years. . . . Early vision loss affects every area of development, including cognitive, social, emotional, communication, self-help, and both fine and gross motor skills. The unique educational and developmental needs of children with vision impairments can best be assessed and interpreted by qualified educators." As you may imagine, I disagree strongly with these claims. I do so based on the evidence, which is more than what appears to have been used in composing this handbook. Firstly, many blind people grow up to be as normal as the next man or woman, without any effective and intensive early intervention from specially qualified educational professionals. I am one, and Dr. Jernigan was another, and there are lots of others at this convention. As children, these people simply had parents and other family members who found nonvisual ways to facilitate their learning and play experiences. Secondly, and I am constantly dealing with this phenomenon, many blind children emerge from these early intervention programs having received little or no effective assistance, but having acquired a bunch of antisocial behaviors. Too often they acquire attitudes of passivity and fearfulness that they must be helped to discard--not to mention the erroneous information and expectations that have been communicated to their parents.
The handbook claims that "85 percent of information is acquired visually." The inference is that without vision the blind child misses out on 85 percent of the information in his world. However, the blind child will only miss out if he tries to use vision to gather all this information, which, of course, he can't do, because he is blind. Vision is the sense through which a child gathers information if he is sighted. Given the innate, internal drives to move and to know, a child without functional vision will seek to gather information using his remaining senses. He is a fully functioning blind child, not a broken sighted child. From the child's point of view there is no problem. If people interact with him nonvisually, he will develop normally, even if for some children that development may take longer, particularly if they have additional issues. The blind child will gather information through nonvisual means. However, sighted caregivers aren't used to the nonvisual route, and they are used to taking cues from sighted babies.
In the beginning we don't expect any specific reactions from a newborn except for it to cry when it is hungry, uncomfortable, or afraid. As time passes and the baby grows, its brain and body develop, and it reacts in new ways. On cue we change what we do, based on the baby's changing reactions. The baby leads the dance and we follow, familiar with how sighted babies react. The baby makes the connection between his behavior and the responses of those around him. He realizes that he can cause people to do things that he likes. With his sighted parents following along, he makes the transition from being a reactor to becoming an interactor. His parents respond to smiles, eye contact, and directed gaze. The baby is doing other things as well, mind you, but the parents know to look for visual cues from a visual baby. They see them, they respond, and the baby learns to interact.
If a baby is to develop in a healthy way, it is crucial that she make the transition from being a reactor to being an interactor. A child who interacts will initiate games and verbal exchanges as ways to make things happen, to get the response she wants. If parents respond to the grunts, shrieks, or pointing fingers of their sighted children, these children take much longer to develop normal language. They don't need words because they achieve successful interactions through other techniques.
We know that blind children are not the only children who may be delayed in language development, and we know why certain sighted children are delayed. When a baby is blind, he doesn't use eye contact or directed gaze, and he doesn't react the way his sighted parents expect a baby to react. Though blind babies are perfectly capable of learning to become interactors, this transition is often prevented by sighted parents who don't know what nonvisual actions to look for. Even though the baby is responding to them and their actions, they don't realize it and don't, in turn, respond. The baby is interacting nonvisually, but his cues to make the transition aren't being understood. As a result, he stops trying out his nonvisual interaction because it doesn't cause anything to happen. The sighted adults expect him to interact like a sighted baby, and they fail to look for other signs that he is interacting.
In her landmark study on the development of blind babies, Selma Fraiberg filmed the interaction between blind babies and their mothers and the research team member once a month. Then the team reviewed the films to see what they could learn. There was one bright little boy whom they worried about because he didn't seem to be making the connection between sound cues and the objects they represented. They thought he wasn't developing an understanding of object permanence, i.e., the concept that an object continues to exist even when you can't see it or, in this case, touch it. When the researcher rang a bell, the child's favorite toy, the child's face remained motionless. He didn't smile, turn his head, move his body, or reach. It appeared that he had no clue what was going on.
Then someone noticed the child's hands. The researcher rewound the video and looked again, this time watching the child's hands carefully. The minute the bell rang, the baby lifted his right hand and curled his fingers into the shape they would form to hold the bell. Then he wriggled his hand as though he was ringing the bell. The child was interacting all the time, but the sighted people were handicapped by their preconceived notions of what to look for. They hadn't noticed the child's attempts to interact with them.
Now that we know that blind children, like sighted children, must have play facilitated for them, and that they can learn to play without vision, how do we do it? We start with physical contact. We place the child on our body, lying tummy down on our chest, and we react to his movements, a touch of the hand or the kick of a foot. We use routine songs, rhymes, or sets of words when doing the same things, e.g., stroking or patting the child's back or tapping his feet. Watch for nonvisual clues that he's enjoying the interaction; watch his hands and feet for wiggles. Sit an older child on your lap and play games that involve bouncing, swaying, leaning, or lifting, games played to a rhyme or song that has a clear beginning and end. Use routine words before initiating a game, such as "Ready, set, go!" or "Show me rock-a-bye-baby."
Children must learn to be interactors with people before they will move on to toys. I love The Little Room mini play environment, a nonvisual, multisensory equivalent of the hanging mobile, conceived and developed by Dr. Lilli Nielsen. The Little Room is an environment where a young blind child can explore and play with a variety of toys that make sounds or have interesting textures. You can learn more about Dr. Nielsen and her work by visiting <www.lilliworks.org>.
When you introduce new toys or equipment, talk about it and make its noise. Then place it beside the child, just touching a foot or leg. It is not necessary to force the child's hands to touch and engage with the toy. The child who has learned to be an interactor, who has grown beyond passively reacting, will investigate if she is interested. If you have fun playing with it, eventually she will take a look. Do sighted babies instantly engage with every toy we present them?
When blind toddlers and preschoolers are provided with role-play props such as hair brushes and cups, or with equipment such as swings, slides, and step stools, those who have learned to be interactors will investigate and experiment. However, their early games may not be those you expect; they may not be like those of their sighted peers. You can facilitate other choices by making suggestions and by role-playing with a favorite doll or teddy bear. Be willing to allow the child to find her own way to the game that she eventually makes up.
Even very young children can learn to take turns by having to wait for Bear, Dog, and Truck to go down the slide first. Blind children can learn to push their siblings on a swing or in a wagon. It doesn't matter if the wagon has a crash. The sighted children will scream with delight as they see the crash coming, and they'll ask for more. Soon the blind children will be shrieking right along with them. They can also learn to pull the wagon and give toys or siblings a ride, using a cane to prevent bumping into things. They don't need to be made to ride in the wagon before they can pull or push it.
One of the best ways to facilitate your blind child's play, and the learning that will result through that play, is by giving him lots and lots of normal experiences. Don't keep him strapped into the stroller when he is two or three and can walk. Let him experience the world by being in touch with it physically as he moves through it. Here are some of the things he may enjoy doing:
You can model splashing and jumping, and your child may or may not copy you. If you've given her enough experiences and nonvisual interactions, she will learn to play and play to learn.
by Merry-Noel Chamberlain
From the Editor: A growing number of families involved with the NFB and the NOPBC have adopted blind children, most of them from overseas. On the evening of July 8, as part of the NOPBC conference, Merry-Noel Chamberlain of Nebraska gave a presentation based on her family's adoption story.
I was a single divorced mother when I met Marty and fell in love. We got married when my daughter, Royene, was thirteen years old. She was at a difficult age to open her heart to a new stepdad, and it was also challenging for a childless man to become the instant father of a teenager. But through many ups and downs, trials and errors--often with me in the middle--the two of them worked hard to build a positive relationship.
Eventually Royene grew up and moved out, and Marty and I found ourselves with an empty nest. We wanted to have a grandchild or to raise a child together. Since it didn't look like we were going to become grandparents any time soon, we decided to become foster parents.
I guess it is time for me to mention that Marty has cerebral palsy. It really has not hindered him much. Cerebral palsy is to Marty what blindness is to us, simply an inconvenience. He got this philosophy from his parents, who treated him the same way they treated his four siblings. He was expected to wash the dishes, take out the trash, make his bed, and keep his grades up. He was expected to participate in school functions, too. Marty was on his school wrestling team and won the Rams Spirit award. If he came to a hurdle in the road, he would look for alternative techniques to solve the problem.
When I met Marty I was considered to be sighted. Now I am legally blind. We didn't know about my decreasing vision when we got married.
After Royene moved out on her own, Marty and I decided to become foster parents. We had plenty of room in our house for another person or two. In addition, we felt we had a great deal to offer a child with a visual impairment, as I am a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) and an orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor. Besides, everyone in our family was familiar with being around people with disabilities in general. There was no pity syndrome in our home. Everyone was held to the same high expectations.
In Iowa, where we lived at that time, a person had to complete a six-week course through the local college in order to qualify as a foster parent. The class really got to the core of foster parenting. It dug down into our souls to make sure we had what it takes to bring a foster child into our home.
After we got our licenses, I began to search the websites for children who needed homes. I soon learned it was almost impossible to find an older child who had a visual impairment with no other physical disabilities. We needed an older child with no physical limitations because of Marty's inability to pick up and carry a child.
So I began to search. First, I looked in Iowa, and then I looked out of state. The process went something like this. I would search and eventually find a child who touched my heart. Often, this child did not have any visual impairment. I would tell Marty about the child, and he would check out the website. We would have a lengthy discussion and, when we were ready to move forward, I would send an email to the child's caseworker. Sometimes we never heard back, and other times we would get an email from the caseworker with a list of requirements for us to submit. Often we were asked to write a two-page essay explaining why we felt we could provide the best home for the child. After laying out our hearts on paper, we sent off the essay, along with the other required items. Then we would wait and wait . . . and wait . . . never to hear back. A couple of times, we received a note asking questions about my blindness. I would answer . . . then wait . . . and hear nothing more. Needless to say, it was very disappointing.
In the meantime, Marty and I provided respite foster care. We would care for a child or two over the weekend to give their regular foster parents a break. We had a couple of foster siblings that we really enjoyed, and we concluded we had what it took to care for more than one child at a time. We decided to expand our hearts and our home, possibly to adopt siblings. Sibling groups are harder to place than a single adoptee. Perhaps we would have a better chance of expanding our family that way.
In 2006, we submitted the requirements for a sibling group of three just before I left for the National Federation of the Blind National Convention in Dallas, Texas. At convention I reconnected with John Fritz from Wisconsin. Marty and I had met him and his wife, Heather, while I attended Louisiana Tech in Ruston, Louisiana. John brought to this convention their newly adopted daughter, Katie, who came from China. Up to this point, Marty and I hadn't given much thought to adopting from China, although we had other friends who had done so. But there she was, little Katie. She was exactly what we were looking for, an older child who was blind.
I remember standing in the back of the room during General Session, mustering the courage to walk up to John and ask him about adopting through China. It was easy to find him, because I knew where he would be sitting. He was the president of the Wisconsin affiliate, so he would be sitting right next to the pole with the Wisconsin sign. Finally I walked up the aisle to the Wisconsin delegation, thinking to myself that my life was about to change. I felt it deep in my gut.
Just as I thought, there was John. I went up to him and said, "Tell me about adopting through China." He answered, "Better yet, I can give you the name of the adoption agency and their email address." He also informed me that there were grants available to assist with the adoption fees. I walked away with all the information I needed.
When I got home from convention, I told Marty about Katie, and I sent an email to the adoption agency, La Vida. I said that I am legally blind and a teacher of blind children, and that my husband and I wanted to adopt a blind child. The email I received back said it just so happened that they were going to put a child with a visual impairment on their website by the end of the week.
I checked every day, and a little girl appeared. As we had done before, Marty and I had a lengthy discussion that included the increased fees to adopt a child from China. Finally we decided to move forward. After all, the worst they could do was to deny us, as everyone else had done so far.
A couple of days later, I had a telephone interview with La Vida. At the end of the interview, the caseworker commented, "I think we've found the perfect home for this little girl."
After sixteen more months of preparations and paperwork, it was almost time for us to travel to China to get our new daughter. In talking to Heather Fritz, I learned that we should bring some clothes for her, but we had no idea of her size. The paperwork was not up-to-date, so we had to guess at her current weight and height, buying clothes based on those guesses. We figured we could wait until we got to China to purchase underclothes and any other necessities. We brought some adjustable clothing such as dresses with shoulder straps and waist ties, elastic or adjustable button waisted shorts, and an oversized children's t-shirt for her to sleep in. We brought a bundle of safety pins for making additional adjustments, as needed. We also brought our daughter a toothbrush and some children's toothpaste. Other items we brought along were a children's book full of short stories Marty could read to her in the evenings and some activities for us to do in the hotel. We brought a special fun bag for the long plane trip back to the United States, but our daughter ended up sleeping most of the way home.
While Federationists were attending the 2007 national convention, we went to China to pick up our new daughter, Ashleah, who was seven years old. Her first words to us on the phone and later, in China, were, "Hi, Mom and Dad." She had been learning English from her foster mother, Elizabeth, prior to the adoption, so she spoke the Queen's British when we got her. She referred to a trashcan as a bin and called an elevator a lift. I was quite pleased, because my father was British and my family lived in England when I was a child. I have dual citizenship with England and the United States.
We were lucky in the sense that we didn't have to deal with a language barrier when Ashleah came to us. She knew enough English to ask about terms she didn't understand. If we used a word she didn't know, she would repeat it, followed by "What's that?"
Before we went to China, we watched a video of Ashleah with Elizabeth and some La Vida staff. Ashleah held onto Elizabeth's hands the entire time, aside from when she demonstrated her ability to run around the courtyard of the orphanage. In the video, we noticed that she stopped running when she approached a shadow on the sidewalk. We wondered if we should bring a cane to China for Ashleah, but we decided against it after talking to Heather Fritz about her experience. She explained that many people in China look down upon others with disabilities. The cane would make Ashleah's disability more visible. We figured she could learn about the cane once we got home.
Upon our arrival at the first airport, Marty and I had to change planes. We were both carrying small suitcases and walking down stairs. I had my long white cane, and Marty had his support cane. Two young women passed us on the stairs and stopped at the lower landing. The first woman turned to the other, said something in Chinese, and handed over her bag. Then she came back up to us and offered to assist Marty by taking his bag. He graciously accepted. The women helped Marty all the way onto the plane and even had the flight attendant translate to us that they would help us when we got off the plane, too.
When we arrived in Chongqing on the evening of July 8, we were met at the airport by two men holding a large sign with our names on it. They took us to the Holiday Inn and helped us settle in. Some adoption agencies arrange for several families to travel together when going to China to pick up their children. However, when it comes to children with special needs, La Vida often arranges for a family to go with a single guide. In our case, La Vida provided us with two guides. For the most part, one served as the driver and the other served as our interpreter. The guides informed us that La Vida felt we needed two guides due to my visual impairment and Marty's cerebral palsy. Basically, China wants adoptive families to spend at least ten days in the country to learn about Chinese culture.
After a wonderful buffet breakfast the next morning, which was included with our hotel fees, we went to the market to purchase bottled water; we were strongly advised by La Vida and by our guides not to drink tap water. Then we went to the Children's Welfare Office, where we met Ashleah and Elizabeth. After our picture and fingerprints were taken, all the T's crossed and the I's dotted, Ashleah was ours!
We spent the next few days touring Chongqing and sampling its foods. We learned that Chongqing means "the joining of two rivers," and we visited the place for which the city is named. We requested to go to a bookstore to purchase Chinese music and stories on CDs for Ashleah to listen to and to help her maintain her Chinese language skills. The bookstore was filled with children sitting on the floor to read in the aisles. We were amazed by their longing for education. Outside the bookstore, many people stood with large signs offering their services as teachers of various subjects.
We requested and received permission to make a day trip to Fuling to meet the people at the orphanage and to see Elizabeth again. Although Ashleah had lived with Elizabeth for the past two years, we learned that she had to move back to the orphanage a week before our arrival as part of the adoption process. Ashleah told us they took her shopping for underwear and a couple of new outfits during that week.
While we were in China, Marty and I noticed that many people were not very accepting toward people with disabilities. Ashleah and I received some negative looks from the public. On one occasion we were exploring as two men were standing by. Ashleah said, "Let's go, Mommy." When we were away from the men, I asked her what they had been talking about. She said in a sad voice, "My eyes." At one small shop, we saw a gentleman with Down syndrome who appeared to spend his time picking up cigarette butts off the sidewalk.
Ashleah was fascinated with my cane. At the hotel I let her use it to get from the elevator to our room. Outside the hotel she enjoyed putting her hand on my cane as I used it. I explained to her that it was my tool, and that a cane was waiting for her at her new home. She was very excited! She asked about her cane as soon as she stepped into her new home. As an O&M instructor, I had a few recycled children's canes at my disposal. I had an assortment of sizes on hand, and we selected one based on Ashleah's height. This approach worked very well. By the time we got home, Ashleah really wanted her first cane.
One of the activities we brought for Ashleah to experience at the hotel was a simple children's card game, Dora Uno. I had Brailled the cards to give her an introduction to Braille. Ashleah played by holding the cards about an inch from her good eye. We also brought a large teddy bear in bright primary colors, thinking it would help us introduce color vocabulary. However, we learned that Ashleah had already learned those terms from Elizabeth.
From Chongqing we traveled via plane to Guangzhou, where the US embassy is located. Visiting the embassy was one of the steps in the adoption process. Again, all of the arrangements were made by La Vida. Two women met us at the airport, again with a sign with our name on it. A driver was waiting for us with a van with white curtains. Everything was white. We were a little worried that we were going to some hospital, but we ended up at a hotel called White Swan, hence all the whiteness.
In Guangzhou, we met with another guide, who helped us with the next steps in the adoption process. This time the guide also served two additional families. Ashleah and the other children, both babies, had to have physical examinations and go to the American embassy to be sworn in. Luckily she didn't need to get a passport. Elizabeth had already obtained one for her in order to take her out of the country to have her eyes looked at for second opinions. If Ashleah hadn't had a passport, she would have gotten one in Guangzhou.
We had more freedom to explore on our own in Guangzhou than we had in Chongqing. Nearby we found a park with a playground, a small grocery store, and several shops. A super nice brunch buffet came with our hotel at no extra charge, so we took advantage of that every morning. There was also a restaurant within walking distance that served American food such as good old hamburgers. By this time we were longing for American food!
By the way, we paid for all of our travel expenses, such as sightseeing, hotels, and planes, before we left for China. We were told to bring crisp bills for tips for the guides. We also were told to bring a gift for the orphanage, preferably something made in the United States. In addition, we brought a gift for Elizabeth.
Elizabeth truly made our adoption experience unique. I wish every child adopted from overseas had a foster parent like Elizabeth to help with transition and education. We keep in touch with Elizabeth to this day, and we pray she will come to the United States to attend Ashleah's high school graduation, college graduation, and eventually her wedding. We think of Elizabeth as a member of our family. We refer to her as Aunt Elizabeth, and we are ever so grateful for all she did for Ashleah.
Shortly after we arrived back at home in the middle of July 2007, Ashleah asked when she would start school. She was sad to learn that school didn't start for another month. She also asked about Braille. I got out a slate and stylus, and she began learning. Ashleah learned uncontracted Braille in just two weeks. She could tell you all the dot numbers and write the letters with the slate and stylus and on the Perkins. Since she did not attend typical school in China, she had a lot of catching up to do. Based on her age and my elementary education degree, I decided to place her in second grade. This put her slightly behind her same-age peers, but it was still acceptable. In addition, she received some assistance in an English Language Learners (ELL) group, although she could not take the assessment, which was only available in print.
That first year Ashleah worked very hard to learn Braille and catch up academically. The next summer she received the Jennifer Baker Award through the Braille Readers are Leaders contest. The award was given to a child who overcame unusual challenges in order to master Braille. With this award, Ashleah won a trip to the National Federation of the Blind National Convention. Coincidentally, the convention was held in Dallas at the same hotel where I had approached John Fritz about adoption through China.
We feel very fortunate to have Ashleah in our lives. Tomorrow, July 9, is her eighth "gotcha birthday," the anniversary of the day we met her. Ashleah is now sixteen, and she just completed her freshman year of high school. Recently we learned she is one of the top students in her class. This year she received the Academic Excellence Award for maintaining a 4.0 GPA, with such subjects as algebra and biology. She loves being a younger sister and now the aunt of two nieces and a nephew. We have enjoyed immensely raising our second "only" child.
We are thankful to be here this evening to share our story with our NFB family. Ashleah truly has been a blessing to us all.
by Angel Ayala
Introduction by Mark Riccobono: At the NFB Jernigan Institute, we try to dream about the programs that are needed to engage and inspire the next generation. I think that's one of the most important reasons to build the Federation. We have with us one of those young people that we're investing in, someone who I think is going to help change the future. This might be the first time we've had a convention item that starts with a hashtag. #NCBYS is our hashtag for the National Center for Blind Youth in Science, which has been operating now for a decade at our Jernigan Institute, inspiring and engaging blind young people in science, technology, engineering, and math. Some of them who were in our first programs are in this room. They have pursued PhDs in engineering and other areas. This young man is at the beginning of his journey. Here to talk about making connections and equipping the next generation is one of our apprentices from our National Federation of the Blind STEM2U program. He's from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Here is Angel Ayala.
My name is Angel Ayala, and I am honored to speak to you about the NFB STEM2U apprentice program. First I think I should tell you who I am. I was born in Paterson, New Jersey, and at the time I was a healthy little boy. Blindness was the last thing on my mother's and father's minds. All of that changed when I started to get sick. I was about eight months old, and the doctors were confused about exactly what was happening to me. The only thing that was clear was that I was losing my vision. My parents were extremely young, and now their firstborn was rapidly losing his sight. After a battery of tests, the doctors confirmed that I had a rare form of a genetic condition called ligneous conjunctivitis.
Soon after my diagnosis, my parents moved us to Philadelphia. I have lived in Philadelphia ever since. After years of checkups and tests and doctors, I finally realized that I wasn't going to get my vision back. At first I was depressed. I didn't think I would ever be on the same level as my brothers and sisters. I saw them playing outside or inside on the game cube, and I thought I was less of a person. I thought that my lack of sight was what defined me. But I eventually realized that I was wrong.
My mom enrolled me in the early childhood program at the Overbrook School for the Blind, where I started to learn Braille. That was the point when I realized that I loved to learn new things. I loved to challenge the things that I read, and I loved to ask questions about the things I didn't know. I learned about Louis Braille and Helen Keller, which gave me the hope to challenge what I had believed was a wall that I could never pass.
Fast forward four or five years. I was a troublesome kid when I came to school. I would get my work done, and I was left with nothing to do for the last thirty-five minutes of the class. So I would start to joke around and mess with the other students. I knew it wasn't helpful to the staff, or the students for that matter, but I was bored, and I had nothing else better to do. I knew what the issue was. I was not challenged. The work was way too easy, but who was I to say that? With no one listening to what I had to say, I was labeled a bad apple.
Two years and many parent middle school conferences later, I finally felt that someone was taking notice of the real issue. My IEP was restructured, and I was placed in a challenging classroom for the first time in years. It was great! I was challenged, I got the help I needed, and I got the materials I needed to succeed.
But public school came with its own set of battles. The physical education instructor told me that I couldn't participate in class because she didn't want me to get hurt. [Groans and boos] Let me paint this picture for you. There were thirty-five sighted students playing and exercising around me, and if I so much as made a move to do something productive, I got in trouble. My favorite time, honestly, was when the teacher got sick. [Laughter] A substitute would come in who didn't know the rules about me, and I was able to play basketball with my classmates. I was taught to jump rope. After that I was simply tired of people telling me what I couldn't do, so I made the extra effort to prove to them that I could.
My mom gave me the freedom to learn what I wanted. She let me do things myself, but the independence I enjoyed at home didn't carry over to my school environment, and that was frustrating. When I started high school I realized I was not as prepared for the transition as I should have been. My orientation and mobility skills were severely lacking, and I still had some issues when it came to my visual impairment. Despite feeling unprepared, I took advantage of all the opportunities high school had to offer. I joined the swim team. I began to wrestle. I played goalball, and I did track and field. I also got involved in many community service projects, such as the Thanksgiving canned food drive.
It was through community involvement that I came across the NFB STEM2U program, which focused on the development and mentoring of elementary and high school students. In the program, students in elementary school were called juniors, and the high school students were called apprentices. Each program was run in collaboration with a science museum. This past school year the NFB STEM2U program was held in Baltimore, Maryland; Columbus, Ohio; and Boston, Massachusetts. Each program had eight to ten apprentices and twenty juniors. All of the students learned a lot of STEM. For example, we learned how to build race cars out of recyclable items, and how to assemble circuits to power fans. In addition to learning STEM, the apprentices had another job to do. Our job was to help the younger students if needed--to make sure they were safe and to bring them information and knowledge throughout the program.
At the beginning of the school year in September, the apprentices from all the different regions met at the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore for the NFB STEM2U Leadership Academy. The objective of the leadership academy was to teach us how to be good mentors, role models, and leaders of the younger students. Among other things, we learned to interact with the juniors. We learned the nonvisual techniques for keeping track of kids. We also took time to set goals that we wanted to keep in mind during our regional program. We exchanged contact information so we could have weekly meetings until the program began, so we could prepare for the different activities and gather the information we needed to have a successful program.
Each of us was responsible for completing certain tasks to prepare ourselves for the regional programs with the juniors. We figured out which students would be with which mentor, and we determined the junior-to-apprentice ratio that would be most helpful. We also planned opening night activities for all of the juniors.
We spent a lot of time preparing ourselves for the regional program, but we still felt a little uneasy going into it. This was a new role for each of us, and we weren't sure how it would go.
It was finally time for the Baltimore program, which I had the pleasure of being a part of. I took an Amtrak train for the first time, and others took a plane or two to get to the NFB Jernigan Institute. We got to meet the juniors that we were responsible for, as well as their parents. We had to show the parents and their children how to get to the different activities. This meant posting mentors in the hallways as marshals to help the participants find their way to meals, lessons, and workshops. That weekend took a lot of teamwork and communication, not only between the mentors and the juniors, but between the juniors and the parents.
During the Baltimore NFB STEM2U, we taught the juniors that "I can't!" isn't an option. [Applause] We taught them to be advocates for themselves. We had to show the juniors that the possibilities are endless, and if you set a goal and develop ways to reach that goal, in order to complete that bigger picture, you will succeed.
The NFB STEM2U improved my self-confidence in several areas. It made me realize that with some help I can make a difference in these young juniors' lives. I didn't know how big an impact I made until the parent of a junior whom I mentored reached out to my homeroom teacher. She let my teacher know that, after the NFB STEM2U, she saw a boost in her son's willingness to try new things. The mom said that the mentors took a great amount of time with the juniors, allowing them to focus on the activities that were provided that weekend. When I learned what this mom had said about our work, it made me smile. I hadn't known that the lessons we taught that weekend would actually stick over time. This is when I figured out that I could really make a difference.
Another way the NFB STEM2U impacted me was through my travel skills. I had taken a plane several times by myself, but I had never taken Amtrak. It was a new experience that encouraged me to travel more and learn everything I could when it came to O&M. I plan on taking the confidence I have gained when I go off to community college. Recently I was accepted into the honors program, and I want to obtain my associate degree in music production. [Applause]
But I am extremely scared. I was starting to second-guess my decision. Music is a passion that I have had ever since I was a young boy. But I don't want to get a degree that I will do absolutely nothing with. Too many people achieve degrees that they do not end up using. They have a degree, and they also have a huge debt, and no way to pay it off! I don't want to be stuck in that position, but I also don't know what I can do that will make me happy and also pay the bills. I guess time will tell.
You already probably know, but I want to reinforce what a big impact programs like the NFB STEM2U have on everyone involved. Children are our future. In order to make sure that they have the skills they need, we must start the learning process early in their lives. A Hebrew proverb states, "A child is not a vessel to be filled, but a lamp to be lit." NFB STEM2U has lit many lamps.
I hope we can continue to have programs such as the NFB STEM2U so that we can reach children at a young age. I would love to remain involved in programs such as STEM2U, and I know I'm not the only apprentice who feels this way.
By the time the NFB STEM2U Baltimore program was over, many of the mentors asked if they could do it again. I enjoyed teaching. I enjoyed helping the young students, and I know that the other mentors did, too. I'd like to thank the NFB for hosting NFB STEM2U in order to prepare blind youth for the future. I'd also like to thank Natalie Shaheen, Mika Baugh, and Ashley Ridder for being part of our conference calls every week leading up to the program. Their insight into how to deal with the juniors was very much needed. Thank you to my fellow mentors. There was no way I could have done it by myself! It took a lot of preparation and teamwork. But because we each pulled our own weight, we were able to give the juniors tools they will use for the rest of their lives.
Thank you to Mark Riccobono for giving me the opportunity to speak to you about a program that has impacted so many people's lives. Words aren't enough to show the gratitude that I feel, so I will just stick with thank you.
If you are thinking about participating in a program involving youth, my advice is to just do it. It is an experience that I wouldn't trade for the world!
by Serena Olsen
Introduction by Mark Riccobono: This organization has made it possible for blind people to take on many challenges. We have fought many battles--not just for us to go to work, but for us to be able to volunteer, to provide service in many places around the globe. We have with us today a young woman who has participated in the Peace Corps, giving her energies and imagination in Kyrgyzstan. Here is Serena Olsen.
Thank you, President Riccobono. [She speaks a few lines in Kyrgyz.] Welcome, honored guests--or should I say, my Federation family! My name is Serena. I am thrilled to serve the organization by empowering blind people as a Peace Corps volunteer in Kyrgyzstan.
Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful little country in the heart of Central Asia. It's bordered by China, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. It is approximately the size of the state of Nebraska, and it has a population about that of the Greater Bay Area of California--about five and a half million people. The Kyrgyz language, which I have been learning, is a Turkic language. Kyrgyzstan is officially bilingual, using Kyrgyz and Russian. That is a legacy of its history as a former Soviet satellite.
My experience with the application process in the Peace Corps is very reflective of the advocacy that we still have to do, especially as it relates to web accessibility and the medicalization and low expectations of blindness that we are all way too familiar with. Finally I received my invitation to serve in the Kyrgyz Republic, boarded several long flights, and arrived there ready to begin my pre-service training. I naively assumed that my focus would be on changing what it means to be blind in Kyrgyzstan. I very quickly discovered that I still had a lot of work ahead of me in terms of advocating for myself, particularly within the Peace Corps system and also within Kyrgyzstan. I have blogged about these themes, and you can read my blog at <www.blindbroadabroad.com>. [Laughter]
Not coincidentally, there is a campaign currently being implemented by Mobility International USA. They have a Twitter account, #Blindabroad. They are encouraging blind people to live and work overseas. They're pushing this on social media. There will also be a series of podcasts in which I will be featured.
What I would really love to share with you today is the work of the organization Empower Blind People. I have been living and working in Bishtek now for fourteen months with two really dynamic ladies. Some of you may know them--Elnura Emilkanova, who unfortunately, due to visa issues, was not able to join us today; and Gulnaz Zhuzbaeva, whom some of you may know as a former student at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. These two ladies are taking on the entire country of Kyrgyzstan and the Russian-speaking world to bring the Federation to Central Asia.
We actually have a full delegation of folks from Kyrgyzstan with us at the convention this year. In addition to Gulnaz, we have our technology instructor, our Braille instructor, our new cane travel instructor, and a student participating in a pilot leadership training program. They've come a long way to be here. Let's give them a warm Federation welcome! [Applause and cheers]
In working with this great staff and the students who have come through our center, I feel a profound sense of connection to history, bringing it all together at the seventy-fifth anniversary convention. The idea of coming together with a handful of people in the face of low expectations and misconceptions about blindness, starting from almost nothing and building something great--it makes me feel like I have some idea what it might have been like to be with one of the Wilkes-Barre Seven [the original seven states that founded the Federation in 1940]. It is kind of an overwhelming feeling and a gratifying one.
We have two schools for the blind in Kyrgyzstan, and we have a fantastic relationship with one of them. The director has come here; she knows a bit about the Federation. She knows what we're doing, and she's moving in a direction to support our work. Unfortunately, the director of the school for the blind in Bishtek has decided that low-vision students do not need Braille and that there is no need for any of the students to waste their time learning English. We're not doing much partnering with them at the moment.
In Kyrgyzstan there is a modest stipend available to blind people, akin to Social Security. There's a bit of a housing subsidy, in the form of warehousing all the blind and deaf people in separate apartment buildings. This is also a legacy of the Soviet system. There is no federal protection such as the ADA. Braille is hardly known. A few blind people use it, but it is not very available, so we're doing a lot of Braille-focused work, to say the least. There are talking crosswalks around the parliament building in Bishtek. They were advocated for by a member of parliament who happens to be blind. We're not confident that he uses those talking crosswalks himself, because he doesn't seem to travel independently, but he decided that they were important for the blind folks of Bishtek, so there they are.
There are no specialized services for blind kids in school, so a lot of blind children either don't go to school at all or they're withdrawn at very young ages. They're functionally or totally illiterate. We have a modest amount of resources, but we have a long way to go to build the Federation spirit and create a paradigm shift in addition to building that important infrastructure.
What does Empower Blind People bring to the table? For one thing, we're bringing in services that never existed before. We're bringing them in by building an NFB-based training model, adapted a bit for our local needs. Our students learn both Russian and Kyrgyz Braille. They learn English and English Braille. Of course, they take computer and cane travel classes and lots of seminars. We keep them extremely busy on evenings and weekends. They run, they tandem bike ride, they swim.
The transitions I have seen in some of our students are extremely awe-inspiring. A poet who had been dependent on her family to read and write down poetry for her is now Braille literate, and she can read and write her own poems. A student who, at thirty-three, had never attended school, said he had prayed for ten years for someone to come and teach him something. He just wanted to learn, but nobody ever thought he was worth that investment until he came to our training program. He said that our program was the answer to his prayers. Our students who never went past the third form or maybe never attended school at all, after completing just five months of our residential training program, are talking about continuing their education, going to school and becoming lawyers.
My commitment as a Peace Corps volunteer is to live and work side by side with these fantastic people for two years. After I leave, they will still be working just as hard, and we will still be their Federation family.
A lot of people have said to me, "Wow, Serena! This must be so amazing!" Yes, it's really amazing to achieve this longtime dream of mine to become a Peace Corps volunteer, to be part of something that's so exciting, making history in the heart of Central Asia, and truly changing what it means to be blind. But you don't need to be a Peace Corps volunteer to be a part of this. I'll tell you about two ways that you can be involved. Either you can come to Kyrgyzstan or we can bring Kyrgyzstan to you.
A travel agency in Bishtek has agreed to contribute 50 percent of the proceeds for a selection of tour packages around this beautiful little country, but we don't benefit unless you book the travel through them when you come. We want you to come! Kyrgyzstan has breathtaking mountains called the Alps of Central Asia. It's a cool and lovely place where you can escape the heat in the summertime and drink the national beverage, khoumis, which, by the way, is fermented mare's milk. The same mountains can provide lovely skiing experiences. Joanne Wilson, here in the United States, has graciously offered to be a point of coordination for any of you who are interested in visiting Kyrgyzstan and want to go on a tour that will benefit this great organization. You can reach Joanne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, Kyrgyzstan is coming to you. We need to train leaders and instructors. We don't fully have the Federation in Kyrgyzstan yet, and the best way we can build it is to bring people here. We're in talks with Louisiana Tech and the Louisiana Center for the Blind to bring our young cane travel instructor back next year to earn NOMC certification. But the plane ticket and living costs are expensive, and also he will need to have health insurance. If you make a tax-deductible contribution to the Louisiana Center for the Blind and put Kyrgyz Republic in the memo line, Pam Allen will make those funds available to our students when they come. You can contact Pam at the Louisiana Center by phone at (800) 234-4166 or by email at email@example.com.
Let's go build the Federation in Central Asia! [Applause]
by Dr. Marc Maurer
From the Editor: We spend a lot of time at conventions critiquing our progress and planning for the future we intend to make for ourselves and those who follow. But sometimes we ask ourselves difficult questions, ones the world may think have already been answered, but which, with a bit of analysis, prove to be superficial and unimaginative. “Blindness, Handicap or Characteristic,” seemed an absurd title to many of us who saw it for the first time, but a quick read through revealed that there was more to know about this topic than we had thought, and a second and third reading revealed some of the wisdom contained in Kenneth Jernigan’s life altering article. What follows is another speech that may well change how people come to feel about blindness, and it is obvious that our former president has not stopped thinking about or exploring all of the ramifications, real or imagined, that are associated with it. Here is what he says:
What is the nature of blindness? When a person becomes blind, how does that person change? Inasmuch as blind people and sighted people do not have identical characteristics, how are blind people different from the sighted? After seventy-five years of work in the National Federation of the Blind, it may seem that these questions must already have been answered. We must already know everything there is to tell.
This speculation comes to mind because Gary Wunder, editor of the Braille Monitor, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Missouri, a former board member of the National Federation of the Blind, and a man who has been a very good friend of mine for a quarter of a century, sent me an email that he had received from Sabra Ewing dated April 29, 2014. A portion of the text in that email says:
I think someone should write an article about the advantages of being blind. You might be thinking that articles like this already exist, but the ones I have found are about people who use their blindness to avoid lines and do inappropriate things, which even if viewed as advantages, are a result of the way society views blindness rather than blindness itself.
Lots of people who were born blind, including me, want to remain that way even if given the choice to become sighted. We still want to be blind even though society sends lots of messages that this attitude isn't okay. Why do we still want to be blind even knowing that we could fit into society so much better as sighted people? In my case I don't know why I want to stay blind, but I know it doesn't have to do with fear, and it's not a coping mechanism like some sighted people would suggest. That must mean there are lots of advantages to being blind. I think it would also be good for sighted people to read the article so they can learn to avoid insulting people who are happy with their blindness.
In responding to this email, Gary Wunder said in part: You seem to hold that it [blindness] is a blessing, an unexplored territory that offers a great deal to those of us who are blind if only we would take the time to reflect upon it.
When I encountered this correspondence, I thought: fair enough—an interesting point of view, and one which suggests certain lines of thought. Maybe, Sabra, I wondered, you want to remain blind because you know quite well how to manage your life as a blind person. Maybe you are identifiably and interestingly different from people who are sighted. Maybe the thought of change, of becoming a sighted person, is challenging to you. But just maybe, being blind carries with it enough advantages to make it attractive to you.
A brief look at the internet tells us that the Yahoo company believes the three major advantages of being blind are: enhanced senses of smell and touch, an increased confidence, and a heightened capacity for sensuality. Although this list has a certain charm, I suspect that the reporter for Yahoo was not thoroughly informed. On the other hand, my own experience indicates that advantages do exist.
In 1940 Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, the founder and first president of the National Federation of the Blind, said that blind people are normal, useful, and self-respecting. However, he did not attribute these characteristics to the blindness itself.
In 1963 Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who later served as the second long-term president of the National Federation of the Blind, delivered an address to the banquet of the national convention of the Federation entitled “Blindness: Handicap or Characteristic.” He said that blindness is a characteristic but that it is not a handicap unless certain conditions make it one. Furthermore, other characteristics can also, under certain circumstances, become handicaps.
Dr. Jernigan pointed out that every characteristic is a limitation. He stated that ignorance and poverty are limiting, but he also asserted that the opposite of ignorance, intelligence, is itself a limitation. My daughter faced this limitation when she was urgently seeking work. When she applied to become a barista, she was refused the position because she had graduated from college. The owner of the coffee shop said that college graduates do not become baristas for very long, and she (the owner) wanted a permanent employee.
Because all characteristics are limitations, blindness is also a limitation. However, it is only a disadvantage if the activity being pursued by the person who is blind is one that requires sight. If the activity being pursued does not require sight, blindness may become an advantage. Furthermore, most activities of life do not require sight—even though many sighted people use vision to perform them. Thus, blindness, though a limitation, is not more limiting than many other characteristics.
However, we are here considering not the limitations of blindness but its advantages. What do blind people get that others do not? Blind people are free of the requirement to do things visually. I, a totally blind person, can read in the dark or perform other tasks without worrying about light. When I was working as a lawyer for the Civil Aeronautics Board, several of us visited the flight facility operated by the Federal Aviation Administration in Oklahoma. We were examining what is involved in emergency evacuations of aircraft. In one of the demonstrations, an official filled the fuselage of an airplane with nontoxic but very dense smoke. My colleagues were disoriented, but I was not. They were worried about my safety, and they offered me a great deal of advice about what to do to avoid collisions with obstacles. I had no problem finding my way, but they felt that I must be disoriented because they were.
All of the systems designed to provide illumination or present images are almost entirely irrelevant to me except when I am helping out my sighted friends. I do not need a computer monitor, a flashlight, or a candle except when the candle is being used as a votive offering or a dish warmer. Because I do not use visual mechanisms, my mind takes advantage of alternative methods of knowing about the world in which I live. When we were working on the construction of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, many of my sighted colleagues learned of the nature of planned construction by means of drawings. However, I often found myself making revisions to the plans with mental images instead of relying on paper.
This brings to mind the consideration of imagination. Inventive genius is often highly regarded. Inventions benefiting society have come into being (at least in part) to serve the blind. Thomas Edison wrote in his application for a patent on the phonograph that this product could be used to create talking books for the blind. Decades later, the long-play phonograph record was invented for the Talking Book program. The recording industry quickly adopted the long-play record which brought profound change in the music business.
Inventive genius intended to benefit the blind has been dramatically enhanced when the blind themselves have been involved. A good many of us, as blind students, invented symbols for writing concepts in Braille which had not previously existed. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek invented a shorthand system for legal writing in Braille that he used to keep notes on disability law and constitutional matters. The shorthand he devised is recognizable to me though the one I used in law school is much different.
Dr. Abraham Nemeth invented a symbol set for writing mathematical and scientific notation. The symbol set was big enough to be called a code, and Dr. Nemeth fought fiercely to ensure that it was adopted within the field of work with the blind.
When Dr. Raymond Kurzweil was inventing the Kurzweil Reading Machine for the Blind, we asked him to include blind engineers in the inventive process. Dr. Kurzweil told me later that this request was among the most beneficial he received. Having blind people work on the reading machine was useful because those who were building it could incorporate within the design the characteristics they wanted it to have.
To build a proper reading machine, Dr. Kurzweil had to invent a scanner, which came to be a necessary product for offices throughout the world. Scanning information, capturing it electronically, and making it capable of transmission by computer benefited the blind, but it also brought enormous benefit to the sighted. The reading machine for the blind changed substantially the possibilities for sighted people working in offices to gain access to information.
Those who possess disabilities know that the systems customarily used by others are not always readily available to them without adaptation. Consequently, using such systems often demands ingenuity. The necessity for imaginative thought becomes a pattern of behavior in many disabled people, and invention of systems, techniques, or products accompanies this imaginative thought. Invention is a necessity for disabled people who want to participate in society.
Can blind children play tag? Many people would think not. However, one small blind child in a schoolyard thought the answer should be otherwise. He altered the rules of the game slightly. He brought a small can to school which contained a stone. He required those who played tag and who were “it” to hold the can and to shake it as they ran. With this minor alteration, invented by a child in kindergarten, the game of tag was modified so that the blind and the sighted could play it together.
At the Louisiana Center for the Blind, Jerry Whittle and some of his colleagues invented a modified version of football that can be played by the blind. I learned of this when he asked me for some funds to obtain uniforms for the team. He told me that when you run out onto the field, smash into opposing team members, and knock your opponent base over apex, this is fun. Simultaneously an advantage and a disadvantage for the blind came into being. We can now play football, but we also know that a bunch of big ornery blind people are looking forward to smashing us into oblivion.
A common misunderstanding is that blind people have a perpetual experience of darkness, but I do not. The world I encounter contains light, shadow, and color along with occasional elements of darkness. These visual images come from my imagination, but language and literature tell me that these characteristics are essential—the world cannot be constructed without them. Therefore, the image that I project may be different from the image that a sighted person has, but I never touch anything without ascribing to it a color.
Many people fear darkness, but I do not. When I work at it, I can identify the difference between light and darkness, and I can speculate about the alterations that come with the change from one to the other. But most of the time the worry about darkness is unimportant. I do the things that I do without looking, and I regard this as natural. Perhaps this accounts for the Yahoo assertion that we who are blind have increased confidence.
Occasionally this pattern leads to unfortunate accidents. One time I invited a man into my office, a room without windows, for a meeting. Somebody had shut off the lights in my office to save money on electricity. My custom is to turn them on in the morning and to leave them that way. As I am totally blind, I did not know they were shut off. I closed the door to my office, and I discussed the business at hand. My companion seemed very tentative, but I did not know until the meeting was over that we were having our conference in the dark. Although the man with whom I was having the meeting had wanted to sell me some products, he never came back. Maybe he was afraid of the dark.
Numerous articles have been written about the plasticity of the brain. The visual cortex in blind people is not idle, they say. What are these people doing with their visual cortex? Are they thinking with it? I do not believe that blind people are noticeably more thoughtful or more intelligent than the sighted people I know, but I have never tested the hypothesis. On the other hand, I have found many thousands of blind people prepared to contemplate with equanimity altered patterns of understanding from those frequently encountered. These altered patterns of understanding provide a greater perspective than would otherwise exist, which necessarily requires a degree of imaginative work. I believe that the willingness to engage in this kind of mental exercise builds comprehension. I have also speculated that blind people, who must face challenges often not encountered by others, may be less fearful than some who have not faced such challenges. Independence for the blind demands a measure of rebellion, and rebellion cannot occur without mental effort.
One of the elements of the rebellion involves the insistence that we who are blind have the right to participate fully in our society on equal terms with others. We have demanded that systems for providing access to information be constructed such that they can be used either visually or non-visually. We have been told that this insistence limits creativity and stifles invention on the part of companies providing information. However, a senior official of one of the premier technology companies of the world expressed the exact opposite to me. He said that requiring his company’s systems to have multiple mechanisms for presentation of information helped his engineers to assure that internal mismatches between his company’s programs had disappeared. He considered that our demand for equal access to information was a significant assistance to his inventors in creating a more thoroughly integrated and manageable system of presenting information to any of the populations he serves.
Mr. Frank Kurt Cylke, the former director of the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped of the Library of Congress, told me that blind library patrons read more books than sighted borrowers. Many blind people listen to computer voices or recorded material at several hundred words a minute, faster than most sighted people can comprehend.
A good many blind people have devised mechanisms for ensuring that their socks match and that their items of apparel present a coordinated appearance without being able to look at the colors. Invention, rebellion, creativity, planning—these are words that I associate with the successful blind people I know.
What are the other advantages that come with blindness? We who read Braille can deliver speeches with the documents under our hands, which lets us “look” at the audience, but of course having your hands in one place does cut down on the gestures. We can read notes stashed in a briefcase or pocket without other people (at least most of the time) knowing we are doing so.
We are not troubled by visual appearance. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan liked very sweet bananas, and he was not discouraged from eating them by the color. When bananas are very ripe, they lose the yellow which is characteristic of them becoming brown or black. He was attracted by the taste but not deterred by the appearance. I am told that human beings who are pretty, slender, and white get more promotions than others. These characteristics, which are primarily visual, have generally not been a part of the decisions I have made. I suspect that discrimination based on visual appearance occurs less often with blind people than it does with others.
This offers a notion about some of the advantages of blindness, but undoubtedly there are others. Because some people believe that the absence of our vision causes other senses to be heightened, they suggest that we be placed in certain professions. A proposal made forty years ago recommended that blind people be employed as perfume testers because the absence of vision increased the olfactory capacity. Wine tasting has also been recommended because the taste buds of the blind are superior to those of the sighted. An article from a Hawaii newspaper offers the observation that our heightened sense of touch makes the blind better at kissing than the sighted. Could Yahoo be right after all about our sensuality? I can’t be sure, but it might be interesting to find out.
I do not really believe that blind people have enhanced senses, but I do think that blind people often concentrate on the use of some of them more assiduously than sighted people. Consequently, the experience of identifying objects by touch is probably more thoroughly developed in blind people than it is in the sighted.
How much would you pay to get your sight? The answer to this question is often a million dollars or more. When I have thought about the question, I know that I would not pay a million. The debt load I would have to carry would be just too great. If the price tag were smaller, I might think that trading the advantages I currently have as a blind person for those I would have as a sighted person would be worthwhile. However, becoming sighted would demand work. I do not know how to read print. If I became sighted, people would expect me to know this. I would also have to master all of the other things that sighted people do with sight. I believe that observing things visually is a learned experience, and all learning requires effort.
One of my good friends (unfortunately now deceased) was Ray McGeorge. He had been a blind person, and he gained his sight. He bought a car for himself, and I rode in it while he drove. One of the things he liked to do very much was read the advertising on boxes and bottles in the grocery store. The wide variety of what was available had not previously occurred to him. When he became blind again, he felt discouragement and depression, but the teachings and the experience he had obtained in the National Federation of the Blind got him through. Both in becoming sighted and becoming blind, he had no real serious problems in regaining his equilibrium.
I believe that the world is a more interesting place with disabled people in it than it would be without us. Although we in the National Federation of the Blind have emphasized how similar blind people are to sighted people—how our talents, our aspirations, and our capacity to function have not been diminished by our blindness—we are in certain ways different from sighted people, and the difference is sometimes a disadvantage and sometimes an advantage. As you know, I am not a broken sighted person; rather, I am a blind person. This expression indicates that I believe each of us has value, blind or sighted, and I believe that the value that each of us represents should be cherished.
Therefore, Sabra, when somebody wonders what there is about blindness that makes you think it is worthwhile, let your inquisitor know that the advantages are abundant. Blindness helps to teach me to know the world by touch, to read extensively in environments where others cannot, to imagine a world of possibilities that others have not attempted, to invent, to plan, to face the challenges that come, and to approach the world without the ancient fear of the dark. Let your questioner know that ours is not a restricted life but a liberated one. In the autumn when the leaves begin to fall, you may observe us chasing the pigskin. Furthermore, those of us who are blind never have to spend our hours hunting for a parking spot; well, anyway, not yet. This too is a place that will require our further thought and invention.
Those who believe that we live in a constant experience of darkness and despair do not know the joy that we have found, the excitement we have created, but we will tell them. The voice of the National Federation of the Blind rises in a thunderous declaration to proclaim what we know to be true. We will determine the destiny that must and will be ours. We will imagine the future as we want it to be. We will invent the techniques, the devices, and the programs that we need. We will use the advantages, the intellect, the energy, and the spirit within us to build a life of participation, equality, and joy for the blind—and nothing on earth can stop us. Our hearts are filled with gladness; we feel the power that rises within us. When we are together, the future is ours!
by Jean Bening
From the Editor: The NOPBC has discovered a great way to put some fun into fundraising!
On the afternoon of Monday, July 6, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children offered its second annual FUNdraiser: the Breaking Barriers FUN-a-thlon, coordinated by Jean Bening, Sandra Oliver, and Penny Duffy. Thirty-five children and teens raised funds in their communities and at convention by inviting friends and acquaintances to sponsor their participation in the activity.
The opening event of the FUN-a-thlon was an inflatable obstacle course. Participants squeezed between inflatable barriers, climbed to the top of the world, and slid down a slide to the next adventure. In the maze of wet fun, the participants tested their cane skills by maneuvering through a herd of alligators. Spectators and fellow participants added friendly rainfall to heighten the excitement.
The final adventure in the course was a swim through shark-infested waters (inflatable sharks in the hotel pool--no danger involved!). Unfortunately, Florida weather conditions put the shark-infested waters out of bounds, as the hotel closed the pool ten minutes before the start of the event. However, the participants were still able to enjoy the inflatable obstacle course and maze of wet fun. The inflatable obstacle course was a particular favorite, and participants asked to tackle the challenge multiple times.
Each participant received a medal, and prizes were awarded to the top fundraisers. Here is a list of the top fundraisers and the prizes they received:
First Place: Anna Catherine Walker--Bookport DT (donated by American Printing House for the Blind)
Second Place: Nick Oliver--$150.00 HumanWare gift certificate (donated by HumanWare)
Third Place: Abigail Duffy--KNFB Reader App (donated by KNFB Reader LLC)
Three participants tied for fourth place:
Aunya Anderson--JAWS Home License (donated by Freedom Scientific)
Aanor Benally--Bluetooth Speaker (donated by AT Guys) and $50 Gift Card (donated by Envision America)
Arianna Benally--Sensational Blackboard (donated by Sensational Blackboard) and Moshi Voice Controlled Talking Alarm Clock (donated by LS&S)
Additional donations for prizes were received from 64 Oz. Games and the NFB Independence Market. The FUN-a-thlon also sold ten-dollar commemorative T-shirts to celebrate the FUN-a-thlon and the seventy-fifth anniversary of the NFB. The event raised over twelve hundred dollars. Judging by the looks on the participants' faces, I believe that plenty of FUN was had by all.
Presented by Carlton Anne Cook Walker and Barbara Cheadle
Introduction by Carlton Anne Cook Walker: For more than thirty years, Carol Castellano has served the blind community through her numerous articles, her insightful books, and her many presentations around the country. She has served the NFB and the NOPBC through decades of organizational, logistical, and creative leadership, and she has served parents and their blind children as an advocate, as a mentor, and as a role model.
I have a few more words to say, but first Barbara Cheadle, the longest-serving president of the NOPBC, would like to speak to you.
[Amid much hilarity, the lights suddenly went out.]
Barbara Cheadle: Thank you. I felt very comfortable with that. I thought, This will be all right. What other conference can you go to where the lights go out and it's, Oh, it's all right, just carry on.
I am so pleased to be here today to honor Carol Castellano. She was a mainstay for me when I was in the presidency and she was vice president and serving in many other roles as well. After I stepped down, we've done some role reversal, haven't we? I want to say a few words about what has made Carol a very special leader.
It is rare to find someone who has the capacity to see the bigger picture, to see all the complexities of a situation, and to see into the future about what the possibilities are and how to get there; and also to be a detail person. You'll notice that of the five books we have on sale at our literature table, three are by Carol Castellano. We have her first one, The Bridge to Braille, a little spiral-bound book. We have Making It Work: Educating the Blind and Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School; and we have Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade.
When Carol came out with her first book, and we were negotiating with Dr. Jernigan about getting it published, Dr. Jernigan said, "We don't need that spiral. It will be cheaper to do it with a different type of binding." But Carol said, "Oh, no no no! Teachers need to use this book, and when they have to make copies or make notes from it, they'll want to be able to lay it flat." Well, we won that one, and ever since then I've heard teachers say, "That's such a great idea, that spiral binding!" Detail! That's Carol!
Carol comes out with the big picture, bringing out a book to show you the links between what you do now with your third grader that make a difference in preparation for college and for life. The big picture--that's Carol.
What we're building up to is an award presentation to you, Carol. This is the Dan Ryles Memorial Award, presented to Carol Castellano. For those of you who do not know and the many who do, Ruby Ryles was the first recipient of this award. Dan, her son, died far too young. His loss was a tragedy and a sadness for us all. As a way to honor and remember him, and to remember the marvelous work that Ruby has done, we decided to create this award. We give it only when appropriate, to someone whose contribution to the literature and the education of blind children deserve it. No one deserves it more today than Carol Castellano. [Applause]
Carlton Anne Cook Walker [reads]: The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children presents the Dan Ryles Memorial Award to Carol Castellano in recognition of a life's work teaching, inspiring, and mentoring countless parents and their blind children, and for invaluable contributions to the literature. You are a teacher, a role model, and our friend. Orlando, Florida, July 2015. [Applause]
Carol Castellano: Thank you! This is a surprise to me, and it is about the most meaningful thing this organization could give to me. I knew Dan as a kid. He was a wonderful young guy. I used to hang out with him at conventions, and his mom, Ruby, was an enormous help to me when I attended my first convention. To receive this award is really a special thing. I appreciate it so much! I will continue to serve. I love this organization. I love you all. Thank you so much! [Applause]
Presented by Jim Gashel
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 58, Number 8, August-September 2015
Introduction by Jim Gashel: It's my pleasure and privilege on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind to present the Jacob Bolotin Awards this year. The story of Jacob Bolotin's life defines living the life we want. He was born in 1888, he only lived thirty-six years, but in that time he accomplished twice as much as most of us do in living twice as long. Funds to support the Jacob Bolotin Awards are provided in part through a bequest left to the Santa Barbara Foundation and the National Federation of the Blind by the Alfred and Rosalind Perlman Trust. The other funds come directly from the National Federation of the Blind. The award includes a plaque and medallion, which each winner will receive, along with a cash award that I will specify.
Now for the Jacob Bolotin Award winners for 2015. First is the United States Association of Blind Athletes, a $5,000 award recipient. Now, you know some of the things the USABA does, but one thing you may not know--they set up the world's first training center for goalball athletes. This is a professional training center, and USABA is preparing these athletes to win the gold in 2016 at the Paralympics. You know, the USABA, following in the footsteps of Jacob Bolotin, thinks big and plays to win. Join me in saluting the USABA and Mark Lucas, its executive director.
Mark Lucas: This is truly a tremendous honor for the United States Association of Blind Athletes, and we absolutely look forward to collaborating with the National Federation of the Blind in the future. As Dr. Maurer has said, the future is ours. Thank you very much.
Jim Gashel: The next recipient: Nicolaas tenBroek, $5,000. Now I know you don't think you heard me right, but you did. Nicolaas tenBroek is Dr. Jacobus tenBroek's grandson. He's also a professor of computer science at Heartland Community College in Illinois. If you've ever found an app that is labeled right, and the buttons are logically organized, it's probably because Nicolaas tenBroek was that app developer's professor. He's developed an app accessibility training curriculum, and it's part of the computer science curriculum at Heartland.
Dr. Bolotin didn't confront apps that didn't work, but he did confront massive discrimination. He would be proud to have known Chick (that's Jacobus) and Nick tenBroek. Dr. Bolotin would be proud to know either one of these gentlemen. Please join me on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind and its founder, Jacobus tenBroek, in saluting the grandson, Nicolaas tenBroek, here to receive the award.
Nicolaas tenBroek: Okay, I have to say thanks really quick. But I do want to thank Cary Supalo and Independence Science for all their support in this, and we will donate these monies to continue offering this course. Thank you.
Jim Gashel: University of California at Davis and the Center for Molecular and Biomolecular Informatics: joint award of $10,000. These folks have developed not just an app, but a whole technology that makes it possible for blind people in a fully accessible way to create 3D models of any molecule imaginable. It makes it possible for blind people to compete and succeed in advanced scientific fields. Following in the footsteps of Dr. Jacob Bolotin, these award winners are making it possible for blind people to succeed in careers never before dreamed of. Success in advanced sciences will be the norm rather than the exception. Please join me in saluting UC/Davis and the Center for Molecular and Biomolecular Informatics, represented by Tim Newman, the chief of this program.
Tim Newman: Thank you for having me here, fellow Federationists! On behalf of the AsteriX BVI team I'd like to thank you for this generous acknowledgment. It's been a great honor working with Hoby Wedler over the last few years; I assume you've all heard about this man by now--you know about his personal accomplishments. Being his tactical assistant through his graduate career has truly been a rewarding experience. I've learned firsthand, not only how often the abilities of the blind are misunderstood, but also how blind people are very capable when given the equal right to succeed. Thank you very much, sir.
Jim Gashel: Let me announce our next award recipient: Seedlings Braille Books for Children, $10,000. Seedlings was started by its founder, Debra Bonde, in 1984, and let's look at the vital statistics: over 400,000 publications created since that time and over twenty million pages of Braille material developed since that time, and more every single day. Anybody who knows the NFB BELL programs knows Seedlings. Following in Jacob Bolotin's footsteps, Seedlings is removing barriers and helping blind people live the lives they want. Seedlings knows that literacy is the key to success, and they also know that Braille means literacy. Please join me in saluting Debra Bonde, executive director and founder of Seedlings.
Debra Bonde: Thank you so much. We are so deeply honored to be a recipient of this prestigious award, and we hope and believe that it comes with some of Dr. Bolotin's drive, tenacity, and compassion for others, that we will combine with our own and infuse into the books, which will make them extra special for those who receive them. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Jim Gashel: Southern Arizona Association for the Visually Impaired: this is our final and highest award this year, an award of $20,000. Now SAAVI is an agency for the blind, but that certainly wouldn't get them the Bolotin Award. You got to do more than just be an agency to get the Bolotin Award, that's for darn sure! They're an agency that represents and is modeled on a consumer-empowerment mission, and that's SAAVI. So it's a long, long way from Southern Arizona to central Florida, but let's just hear from the folks from SAAVI, a big, loud Federation cheer! [Cheers, noisemakers] They're all over the room! Rather than peaceful coexistence with the blind, SAAVI embraces our mission of living the lives we want. SAAVI executives and staff know that they succeed when their blind students live the lives they want. So please join me in saluting SAAVI and its executive director, Mike Gordon, for the Jacob Bolotin Grand Prize this year, $20,000. Here's Mike.
Mike Gordon: Where's JAWS when you need it? I want to thank first of all RSA from Arizona Blind Services for their flexibility, which has allowed us to be creative, to think creatively in our programming. Secondly, the Federation's Arizona chapter and in particular Bob Krezmer, the president. Thank you, Bob, thank you, Lynn. And finally I want to thank the SAAVI staff, both past and present, and our students, for without them none of this would be possible. Now I'd like to introduce Amy Porterfield, our associate director.
Amy Porterfield: So I think you all know that SAAVI is committed to building the Federation; let's hear it for the Federation and all our students! [cheers]
Jim Gashel: Thank you very much. So now, Mr. President, I also have a thank you, and that is to you for appointing us to be part of the Jacob Bolotin Award Committee. I want to thank Ron Brown and Mary Ellen Jernigan for reviewing the applications this year. Let's hear a cheer for Ron and Mary Ellen. [Cheer] Mr. President, this concludes my report and the presentation of the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Awards for 2015.
Presented by Patti Chang
Reprinted from Braille Monitor, Volume 58, Number 8, August-September 2015
From the Editor: With every passing year we recognize the increasing value of the National Federation of the Blind's scholarship program to our national organization. Members of previous scholarship classes stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done, including serving as mentors during the following year for the members of the current scholarship class. Each July everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing now and planning to do in the future. This year's class included two tenBroek Fellows, meaning that they have been previous recipients of an NFB scholarship.
In keeping with tradition, the first appearance of the scholarship class occurred during the meeting of the NFB board of directors. Members were introduced by Scholarship Committee Chair Patti Chang, who gave the finalist's name and home state, followed by the state where he or she attends school. Here is what the winners said about themselves.
Katie Adkins, Kentucky, Kentucky: Thank you, Madam Chair, and good morning, fellow Federationists. As several of you know by now, I'm in the second year of my master's at the University of Louisville in elementary education. Once I finish this degree, I plan on starting a PhD in education administration in hopes of becoming the first blind principal in Louisville, Kentucky. What many of you do not know by this point is one of the reasons why I will be the first. It is not because there haven't been other blind individuals who have come before me with those qualifications. It is because the district has established policies that make it impossible for blind people to be hired. The difference between me and these other individuals is that they backed down from these challenges, and I will not. Thank you.
Douglas Alt, Michigan, Georgia: Hi, thank you for inviting me. My name is Douglas Alt. I grew up on an apple farm in western Michigan. I dreamed one day of carrying on the family farm. A car accident tragically changed that. I've since gone back to school; my new goal is to be a professor at Michigan State University in the horticulture department. I may not be able to sit behind the wheel of a tractor anymore, but I feel that with education and extension I can do my part to feed the world. Thank you very much.
Karen Arcos, California, California: Good morning, everyone. My name is Karen Arcos, and I am a first-generation southern Californian of Colombian and Mauritian descent. I earned my bachelor of arts degree in psychology and a Spanish minor from the University of Southern California this past spring. Also during my time at USC I was co-founder of an experience-based support group and a mentoring program for visually impaired youth and their families in southern California called Survive or Thrive. I now plan on pursuing a PhD program at the University of California-Irvine in cognitive neuroscience. I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee and all those involved in selecting me as a scholarship recipient in this year's cohort. Thank you.
Annika Ariel, California, Massachusetts: Hi, everyone. It's really great to be here today. I just graduated high school about a month ago, and in the fall I'll be moving from sunny California to freezing cold Massachusetts to attend Amherst College. I'm planning on double- or triple-majoring in English; political science; and another major they have called law, jurisprudence, and social thought. In the future I really want to be a disability rights attorney, so hopefully you'll see me here in about ten years.
Liliya Asadullina, Pennsylvania, Colorado: Good morning, my Federation friends. I'm really happy to be here today thanks to the Scholarship Committee and President Riccobono. I was born in Russia. I immigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, when I was three due to cancer of the retinas. I immigrated here for medical treatment. Having this cancer (I had cancer twice) has made me a stronger person, and I am wanting to give back and help others in need. So I am majoring in integrative healthcare and minoring in pre-health in Denver, Colorado, at Metropolitan State University of Denver. I can't wait to open up doors for blind employees and to be able to work in the medical field successfully without discrimination. I just can't wait to make a difference in this world, so thank you for having me here.
Michael Ausbun, Nevada, Nevada: Good morning, Federation family. Thank you to President Riccobono, the members of the board of directors, and the Nevada affiliate. I am honored and humbled to be here before you today. I am studying at the University of Nevada in Reno--which is not near Vegas! I am studying political science with an emphasis on public policy and philosophy, with the hope to earn my juris doctor degree and a PhD in philosophy and to go on to do policy advocacy for marginalized individuals, including blind people and other marginalized groups. This is a really special day for me, actually, because this day specifically marks the seventh month of me being in the Federation. Seven months ago I attended my state convention for the first time and was advised by Mr. Anil Lewis to apply for the scholarship, and I did so. The subsequent day I was elected to the position of Nevada Association of Blind Students secretary. It followed that the second day of this convention I was elected to a board position for the national, so I'm here to stay for a while. I hope to assist in the development and establishment of a legacy and hope to continue the dream so that we can live the life we want. Thank you.
Brianna (Bre) Brown, Texas, Texas: Good morning, Federation family. I am so excited to be here, and I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee for allowing me this opportunity. I am currently a junior at Texas State University studying special education. And outside of school I have had the proud honor of teaching for the past four summers at the Louisiana Center for the Blind for our summer programs and at our Houston BELL Program for the past three years with the exception of this year. I am extremely passionate about teaching blind children. I feel that blind children deserve an equal education, and I want to play a role in helping our blind students get the education they deserve and showing that they can live the life they want, just like I have learned. Thank you.
Mary Church, California, California: Good morning, Federation family. My name is Mary Church, and I'm from California. I'm at a community college right now, and hopefully in a couple--maybe two, two-and-a-half years--I will be going to Stanford. I am a major in liberal arts right now, and then I will be moving into sports psychology. I am also a horse enthusiast, earning my license in equissage this summer. I am shooting for the stars with all of you because dreams do come true. I am so excited to be here. It is quite an honor to be with all these wonderful leaders and all of you. So thank you to the Scholarship Committee, thank you to President Riccobono and to everyone in my Federation family who has made this moment happen. Have a great convention, everyone, and I look forward to talking to you.
Chase Crispin, Nebraska, Nebraska: Good morning. My name is Chase Crispin. I'm from Blair, Nebraska; I'm a recent high school graduate--I'm one of the young ones of the scholarship class this year. In the fall I will be attending Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln, majoring in K-12 music education and minoring in Spanish. I plan to be a middle school (seventh and eighth grade level) band director and help students enrich their lives with music as I have been able to do. I am truly honored to be here and really excited to use the connections I am building this week at my first-ever NFB convention to make myself a much stronger student, teacher, and independent individual in the future. Thank you.
MarChé Daughtry, Virginia, Massachusetts: Good morning, my Federation family. I will actually be abandoning my home state to move to Massachusetts to go to school at Williams College. I will be majoring in women's studies and political science, with a double minor in African studies and justice and law studies. My long-term goal is to go to law school and earn a joint PhD and JD, and my even-longer-term goal is to help students in grades K-12 gain more access to Braille. I'd like to make Braille the go-to and a necessity--not a decision that is sometimes made too late--since Braille has changed my life, and I hope that it will be able to change the lives of every other blind child. I would like to thank my Federation family and the Scholarship Committee for helping me to live the life that I want, and I hope that everyone else will be able to do the same.
Bryan Duarte, Arizona, Arizona: Hello, everyone. I am Bryan. I attend Arizona State University as a software engineering undergraduate and also graduate--I was accepted into the program as a four-plus-one, so I'll be taking my graduate studies with my last semesters of my undergrad. Instead of giving you all my résumé here today, I wanted to share with you my reason. It's a little philosophy I came up with, saying that leaders lead, servants serve, but it takes both to make change. As I stand here alongside my fellow scholars and with the leaders of the NFB behind me, I have to say this competition has already won with me being a servant for these leaders. I want to thank you all, and I'm looking forward to it.
Alexandra Engraf, North Dakota, North Dakota: Good morning, everyone. Growing up on a farm in southwestern North Dakota, my parents instilled in me the concepts of compassion and hard work. And today I have definitely realized those are going to be concepts I use quite widely in my career, especially and specifically since I will be working in the human services field. But I have not shared with you yet why I do it. So, after an individual who was really significant in my life committed suicide, I decided that I wanted to be a counselor, focusing on suicide prevention and intervention in the university system with college students. So hopefully there I will use my compassion and hard work to make a change in this issue that I see, and I want to be the change. Thank you.
LaShawna Fant, Mississippi, Mississippi: Good morning. My name is LaShawna Fant, and I am from a state in which two kings were born: the king of rock and roll, Elvis Presley; and the king of the blues, B. B. King. This fall I will attend Mississippi College and work toward obtaining a doctoral degree in counseling. Again I want to say from my heart that I appreciate this royal opportunity.
Robert (Tripp) Gulledge, Alabama, Alabama: Howdy, y'all! Good morning, Federation family, thank you, President Riccobono and members of the board of directors. This is my first NFB scholarship and first convention, and I couldn't possibly have had more fun. I would also like to thank my state president, Ms. Joy Harris, whom you heard a little while ago. She obviously wrote me a really nice recommendation, and she's cool anyway. I have recently graduated high school--like some of the others I'm a baby. I'm headed to the loveliest village on the plains, Auburn University, this fall--War Eagle. I will be double-majoring in music performance and music education to teach first a little bit of high school, and then ultimately I'll pursue a doctoral degree and take a position at a university teaching music theory and directing wind bands. Thank you, and I'll be here all week--seriously.
Dezman Jackson, Maryland, Online: Good morning, Madam Chair. Thank you, board of directors. I'm Dezman Jackson of Maryland. It is truly a humbling honor to be a part of such a distinguished group and to be with my Federation family. In addition to my duties at Blind Industries and Services of Maryland, I will be continuing at the George Washington University with a master's in public health, concentrating on community health education and policy to help people live the healthy life they want to live. This truly has been a gift and an honor that I intend to keep giving away, being a part of the Federation. Join me in helping to keep building the Federation. Thank you.
Mary Abby Jusayan, Rhode Island, Rhode Island: Good morning, everyone. My name is Mary Abby. I was born in the Philippines, but now I live in Providence. I attend school at Rhode Island College. I'm a sophomore. My major is elementary education, and I strongly believe that the blind youth should be empowered and shown that blindness is not a limitation and does not dictate where you can go and what you can do. So I'm going to be a teacher for the blind, and, when I've graduated with my bachelor's, I will attend U Mass Boston, hopefully in a few years. This is my first convention as well; I'm really excited to be here, and I just want to thank everyone for giving me the opportunity to be here.
Kaitlyn Kellermeyer, Texas, Texas: Hello, everyone. As she said, my name is Kaitlyn Kellermeyer, and I'm an economics major at Texas A&M University. I'd like to start off by thanking the board and the committee for this amazing opportunity. Over the past year and a half that I've been a blind person, I've learned a lot about what it means to advocate for myself, and I've been able to be an advocate at my university as well. I'm hoping to go into the homeland security field because I really believe in the importance of professions and work that protect and empower people to live the lives that they want to live, even if they don't know who the people who are helping them do that are. So being here at my first NFB convention, it's been so wonderful to be able to see the ways in which this organization has protected and empowered the blind community so that we can go on to do amazing things and have opportunities like you've given me. So I just want to say thank you so much for everything that you've given to the blind community and to me, and I'm so excited to be here.
Miriam Lozneanu, South Carolina, South Carolina: Hello, everyone. Good morning, NFB family. I am from Clemson University in South Carolina, and I am the first deaf-blind student, and my major is computer science. I really enjoy learning this, and it is my goal to make apps that provide easier communication and improve living for those who are deaf and deaf-blind. I am learning a great deal, and I want to learn about a better life, and I want that for everyone else as well. Thank you so much for choosing me for this scholarship, and enjoy your time here and meeting one another. Thank you.
Nefertiti Matos (tenBroek Fellow), New York, New York: Good morning. I stand before you feeling extremely honored, privileged, humbled--oh my goodness--to be here once again. I am currently studying toward a bachelor's degree in community and human services with a double concentration in disability studies and mental health counseling. I am also an assistive technology instructor for the New York Public Library and a proud triathlete on a competitive level. I want to thank everyone who chose to believe in me yet again as I continue to forge meaning and identity through building upon this unstoppable, unparalleled, just amazing Federation. Thank you so much. Let's go!
Sarah Meyer, Indiana, Indiana: Good morning. I feel so thankful and honored to get to be a part of this incredible, momentous event this week. I especially want to thank the members of the board of directors for allowing us this opportunity to speak, and I really want to thank the Scholarship Committee and the state affiliates of Indiana and Colorado for investing in my life in so many incredible ways so far. Being a part of the Federation the last few years has truly taught me the meaning of family and has helped me to learn so much about myself, including the fact that I love advocacy and love to advocate for others. I will be pursuing two master's degrees at Ball State University in Indiana. I will be studying counseling psychology and social psychology because I have a passion for instilling hope and compassion into those who are struggling. And I am grateful to the National Federation of the Blind for instilling its belief in me so that I can instill that belief in others. Thank you.
Mark Myers II, Missouri, Missouri: Hi, everybody. My name is Mark Myers, and, as she said, I'm from Missouri. I will be attending Missouri University of Science and Technology in the fall, starting a double major in computer science and electrical engineering. I owe so much to the NFB. I actually got involved with the NFB when I was in seventh grade with the LAW Program back in 2009 and then again in the 2011 Youth Slam and the Project Innovation and STEM-X. I've just had so much experience with the amazingness of the NFB, and I am just so grateful for everything that they have done for me. Thank you.
Crystal Plemmons, North Carolina, North Carolina: Hello, everyone. It is a privilege to be here. I am a senior at Western Carolina University. I am majoring in English literature with a minor in professional writing. I am going to go on to get at least a master's degree, and then hopefully I will be able to work at my dream job of teaching English at a community college. There are two major things that I want to get done: one is to show everyone in my community, or to keep showing them, I should say, that blindness doesn't stop me from doing anything I want to do, and the other thing is to go out and show other blind people in my area that they can do the same thing. Thank you.
Jason Polansky, Maryland, Pennsylvania: Good morning, Federationists. My name is Jason Polansky. I grew up in the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, and I graduated from high school in 2014 (last year). I knew that before college I needed some good foundational skills of blindness, so I went to the Louisiana Center for the Blind and graduated last month. Then I had the great pleasure and opportunity of working in the Buddy Program teaching technology and being a mentor and positive role model for middle school students. In the fall I plan to attend Messiah College in Pennsylvania. I have a lot of different interests, so I'm going to go in an undecided for now and explore, but I just want to thank my state president, Sharon Maneki, President Riccobono, all of the great mentors who I've had the pleasure to meet and get to know and learn from, and my Federation family as a whole. Thank you.
Karolline Sales, Louisiana, Louisiana: Bom dia, good morning. Guys, I always had dreams, and I always did everything to achieve my dreams, but I could never imagine that this time it would be so perfect, really. Because this country [welcomed] me with wide-open arms and not only the country but at the Louisiana Center for the Blind where I took my training for a year, and Pam Allen, Ms. Pam Allen--thank you for everything. Also, right away after finishing my training, I stepped into teaching at the BELL Program, the little cute kids. After that the Buddy Program, where I helped with translation from English to Spanish, and now I have my students here and counselors for the STEP Program, it's very exciting. I took my undergraduate degree in Brazil in languages and arts, my postgraduate degree in accessibility, and now I'm planning to get my master's at Louisiana Tech in rehab teaching, about which I'm very excited. So again, thank you, Patti Chang; the committee; Ms. Pam Allen; Ms. Bethel Murphy, who helped me apply [applause]--yeah, she deserves that. Thank you to everybody for making my dream come true. Good luck, and have a great convention.
Kaitlin Shelton, (tenBroek Fellow), Ohio, Ohio: Good morning, everyone, and thank you so much to the Scholarship Committee. I'm really humbled and honored, and it's a pleasure to be in such a talented scholarship class this year. I am a senior music therapy major at the University of Dayton, and my goal is to work in a pediatric hospital using music's ability to accomplish nonmusical goals and overcome physical, language, and other barriers. I hope to ease discomfort for my patients as well as to help them gain the confidence to live the lives they want. I recently returned from a ten-day service trip for music therapy and music education students in Jamaica, where I did some clinical work in infirmaries and a school for children with special needs. This experience showed me that the NFB's conviction that no one should be ashamed of their disability or feel that they have a hindrance in their life is totally true, and especially so for people in a developing country. So in the Federation I am only growing stronger in this belief, and I am president of the Ohio Association of Blind Students currently. I aspire to do much more in the future, and I am so thankful and grateful to the mentors I have had thus far who have enriched my life so much. I totally intend to pay it forward in my career and in the Federation. Thank you so much, and have a great convention.
Christopher Stewart, Kentucky, Kentucky: I've never said this before; I'm a bit nervous, but let's see how it feels. Good morning, my Federation family. Feels pretty good--I look forward to saying it for many years to come. This is my first convention. My name is Chris Stewart, and I'm a third-year law student at the University of Kentucky. When I first spoke with Cathy Jackson a little bit over two years ago now, I got the feeling that something was going on in this organization. And as I attended my state convention, I got the feeling that a little bit more was going on in this organization. And now that I'm here at the National Convention, I've found out that there is way more going on in this organization than I could have ever imagined. I've met so many incredible people, so many incredible mentors, and to all the members of the Scholarship Committee, to every single one of you who has donated your time, your efforts, or to all of you who aren't involved in the Scholarship Committee and have ever given contributions to the fund or to the general fund, thank you so much for making this possible. I'll leave you with an anecdote rather than going through my résumé, but I'll be happy to give one to you. I have them in large print, and I'll Braille one if you want. But I'm the first blind member of the law review in the 105-year history of the publication, and, when the academic dean told me that, he said, "How does that feel? That's a pretty remarkable accomplishment." I thought about it, and I thought: You know, what's more important? What I've learned from this Federation, what's far more important than being the first blind person to do anything, is to make sure that I'm not the last blind person. Thank you all so much; I look forward to meeting as many of you as I possibly can. Thank you.
Teri Stroschein, Oregon, Oregon: Good morning, board of directors and Federationists. I'm Teri Stroschein; I'm from Oregon. I firstly want to thank everybody in the Federation for all of the work that they've done to date, because that's what's positioned me well for my future. Thank you very much. I lost my vision a couple years ago after completing my nineteenth year of teaching high school math. I love the high school environment, but I decided it was time for a change, so I'm currently pursuing a degree in school counseling at George Fox University in Portland, Oregon. I'm really excited about what my future presents. I thank you for your support in letting me pursue my dreams, and I hope to help tomorrow's youth and today's youth pursue theirs.
Kelsi Watters, Wisconsin, Minnesota: Good morning. My name is Kelsi Watters, and I believe in building bridges. I am a senior at St. Mary's University of Minnesota in Winona, where I am currently studying psychology and pastoral and youth ministry with the future goal of becoming a spiritual counselor. I have already built and crossed several bridges in my life, some exciting, some challenging, and some both. I am doing a double internship this summer, the first part of which is at Franciscan Mayo in La Crosse, and the second remaining half at Marywood Franciscan Spirituality Center in Minocqua, Wisconsin. I am truly honored to be here with my Federation family, building a bridge for a better future for the blind community. I'd like you to know that this scholarship is coming at a truly gift of a time for me. In December my brother was in an accident in which he sustained a traumatic brain injury. Kyle is on the road to recovery, and he is working hard. If Kyle can build the bridge to his own recovery, it almost seems fair and easy that I should build my own bridge with the support of my Federation family for a better future for the blind community. Thank you.
Hannah Werbel, Washington, Washington: Hello, everybody. Thank you so much for this opportunity again. This is an amazing organization. I've just recently graduated from high school and will be a freshman at the University of Washington this upcoming fall, studying electrical engineering. My goal is to be working on cutting-edge technology and to show that there is room for the blind in this ever-growing field. I've actually already had the opportunity to work on research through a fellowship program I was in last summer. The software I created is still being used to analyze data from research experiments. I've had the opportunity to talk to the National Science Foundation about my research, and I am now possibly going to be an author on a scientific publication, which is pretty cool to do before entering college. It just goes to show that we are just as capable as anybody else, and anybody can do anything as long as they put their mind to it. Thank you.
Tamika Williams, Alabama, Alabama: Good morning, Federation family. I'm so proud to be able to call all of you my Federation family for about ten years now, and I want to be able to call you that for a long time. If I had to choose one word to describe myself, it would be tenacious. I am very determined, strong-willed, and persistent. I'm sure Ms. Joy Harris and my local president, Ms. Minnie Walker, could back me up on that one. I'm very active in my state and local affiliate, and I'm ready to give all of that to the national level. I am going to the University of South Alabama to pursue a degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in human services. My short-term goal is to be a social worker with blind services, and my long-term goal is to become an entrepreneur. Thank you.
At the banquet Scholarship Committee Chair Patti Chang made the following remarks: "I thought that since we are celebrating our seventy-fifth convention and our fiftieth year of awarding national scholarships that I would take the time to share some of the history of the program with you and some of the facts that I find fascinating. We have given away 902 scholarships since 1965. Total monetary awards have exceeded $3 million. The highest dollar scholarship we have awarded was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship. It was first awarded in 2000, it was given in the amount of $21,000, and it was awarded to Angela Sasser. This $21,000 scholarship was awarded in recognition of the new century. It was the first time we renamed the Action Fund scholarship in recognition of Dr. Jernigan. The second-highest scholarship we have ever given was called the Distinguished Scholar. It was awarded in 1991, and it was awarded in the amount of $20,000 to our own Pam Allen.
"The very first scholarships were given out in 1965, and they were awarded to Jeffrey Henry Diket of North Carolina and Joyce R. Fields of Arizona. We gave two separate payments of $150 each. Now that's actually equivalent to receiving $2,257.80 in 2015 dollars.
"The longest-running scholarship was named after Howard Brown Rickard. It lasted for forty-five years, from 1965 through 2010. It was originally established by a bequest from Thomas Rickard in honor of his father. Thomas was a long-time Federationist who practiced law in Lander, Wyoming. Interestingly enough, the income from his practice and his interest in mines constituted the principal for the bequest. He attended school in California, and he in fact was taught by Dr. tenBroek at the University of California.
"The first scholarship application only required transcripts and a 250-word essay. We did not require proof of blindness. The first year we required convention attendance was 1971.
"A tenBroek Fellow is a student who has won more than one national scholarship. There have been fifty-seven tenBroek Fellows. It seems that the first reference to tenBroek Fellows is found in the 1996 Braille Monitor. No tenBroek Fellow has ever won a third scholarship. The state with the most tenBroek Fellows, appropriately, is California. They have seven.
"The first year that Ray Kurzweil presented the winners with additional awards was 2000. At the time Scholarship Committe Chair Peggy Elliott said, 'Dr. Kurzweil, as you can tell, was a friend of Dr. Jernigan. In honor and in memory of Dr. Jernigan, he will add to the money I've already told you about.'
"Finally, the committee has had only six chairpersons in its fifty-year history. This year we, the National Federation of the Blind, are awarding $124,000 in scholarships, but that's not all. We expend many resources to develop the next generation of leaders. In the scholarship program we use human capital in mentoring our scholarship finalists, and of course we use monetary resources in assisting our scholarship finalists to attend our convention. So allow me to present to you our fiftieth scholarship class."
After the scholarship class was introduced and the amount of each award was announced, Ms. Brianna (Bre) Brown was invited to address the convention in recognition of her winning the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship presented by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults. Here is what she said:
"Good evening, Federationists. I am truly honored to be the recipient of the Kenneth Jernigan scholarship. I would like to thank the Scholarship Committee for all of their hard work, dedication, and belief in us. I would also like to thank my friends and family for all of the support that they have given me over the years. About seven years ago I felt confused and worried, but that was only until a few of our dear Federation family members came into my life and truly showed me the possibilities for blind people. Shortly after I joined, I was strongly encouraged to attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind. Attending LCB helped me to build the skills, confidence, and self-advocacy that I would need to be successful in my life. It is because of all of you and our empowering organization and everything that we have accomplished over these past seventy-five years that I stand before you today with the opportunity to live the life I want. Thank you."
$3,000 NFB Awards: Katie Adkins, Douglas Alt, Karen Arcos, Annika Ariel, Liliya Asadullina, Michael Ausbun, Mary Church, Bryan Duarte, Alexandra Engraf, Robert Gulledge, Miriam Lozneanu, Nefertiti Matos, Mark Myers II, Crystal Plemmons, Jason Polansky, Christopher Stewart, and Kelsi Watters.
$3,000 Adrienne Asch Memorial Scholarship: MarChé Daughtry
$3,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Tamika Williams
$3,000 E. U. and Gene Parker Scholarship: LaShawna Fant
$3,000 Lillian S. Edelstein Scholarship for the Blind: Teri Stroschein
$3,000 Pearson Award: Dezman Jackson
$5,000 Larry Streeter Memorial Scholarship: Mary Abby Jusayan
$5,000 NFB Awards: Chase Crispin, Karolline Sales, and Kaitlin Shelton
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in Computer Science: Hannah Werbel
$8,000 Oracle Scholarship for Excellence in STEM: Kaitlyn Kellermeyer
$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Scholarship: Sarah Meyer
$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship (funded by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults): Brianna Brown
Following the convention, a number of our scholarship recipients sent letters of appreciation to Patti Chang and the Scholarship Committee. Here is a moving thank-you letter from one of the members of the Scholarship Class of 2015.
I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for all of your hard work on the Scholarship Committee to make convention such a wonderful experience for all of us. I know you put in many hours of hard work, and I truly appreciate it. I admit that I had no idea what to expect from my first convention and first real exposure to the NFB, but convention was one of the most amazing experiences that I have had. Our scholarship class really connected, found unique values and ideas to share, and bonded. I made many new friends that I will keep in touch with for years to come. Before convention I felt like I was going at many of these things alone--I did not know of anyone else who was blind and studying music education or who was teaching sighted students. I learned so much from each of my mentors, and meetings such as the Blind Educators Division and the Musicians Group gave me so many ideas. I left the convention with pages and pages of notes on my Braille Sense that will be extremely beneficial to me in the future. It was an honor to have this experience. The money will, of course, be a huge help and make it possible for me to avoid taking out a student loan this year. Though the money is awesome and truly appreciated, the people I met and the connections I made will be so much more valuable to me long-term. I would have never expected to learn so much in just a few days, to find so many new friends, or to feel so motivated and empowered by the ideas I discovered. I'm so thankful to you and all the members of the Scholarship Committee for making this possible, not only for me but for all of us in the 2015 scholarship class. Other experiences, including meeting Mr. Kurzweil, just made the convention experience perfect.
I am planning to return to convention next year with a few others from this year's scholarship class, and I am also planning to run for a board or officer position in the Nebraska Association of Blind Students. In Nebraska, youth are not encouraged to join the NFB. I always knew NFB existed but did not know just how much I could learn from other members. Our towns are spread far enough apart here that each district with a blind student reinvents the wheel on many simple issues. I hope NABS can connect students and teachers in the state to share these ideas and get youth into the organization to find mentors for their long-term goals, just as I did at convention.
Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to grow as an individual and realize how much support is out there. I hope you have recovered from convention and that we will meet again next year. Please pass along my greetings and thank you to the Scholarship Committee and to Ms. Dyer as well. They were all awesome!
Do you happen to have an address where I could send a thank you to Mr. Kurzweil for his generous contributions to the scholarship package?
Thanks again, and please keep in touch.
Kim Cunningham, longtime leader and former first vice president of the NOPBC, has assumed the position of NOPBC president. She steps in to fill the vacancy created when former president Carlton Anne Cook Walker accepted a position with the education department of the NFB Jernigan Institute in Baltimore. Carlton stepped down from the NOPBC board and from her teaching position in Pennsylvania to take the Jernigan Institute position. Kim and Carlton are committed and energetic members of the NOPBC and the NFB, and we wish them both the best of luck in their new endeavors.
Helping Disabled Children and Teenagers to Sleep
Contact: Peter Limbrick, firstname.lastname@example.org
Location: Birmingham, UK
Dates: February 9-10, 2016
This two-day conference provides knowledge of sleep theory and equips professionals with the skills to support families of children with disabilities. Topics include mechanisms of typical sleep, sleep disorders commonly seen in children with disabilities, preventing sleep problems and developing positive sleep habits, and strategies for sleep change. The training is specifically designed for professionals who work with families of disabled children.
2016 Gatlinburg Conference on Research and Theory in Intellectual Disabilities
Contact: Rebecca L. Shilts, (916) 703-0263
Location: Catamaran Hotel and Spa, San Diego, CA
Dates: March 9-11, 2016
The Gatlinburg Conference is one of the premier conferences in the United States for behavioral scientists conducting research on intellectual and related developmental disabilities. The conference strives to promote exchange of information about the causes, consequences, prevention, and treatment of intellectual and related developmental disabilities.
From the Margins to the Center: Pacific Rim International Conference on Disability and Diversity
Location: Hawaii Convention Center, Honolulu, HI
Dates: April 25-26, 2016
The Pacific Rim International Conference, considered one of the most diverse gatherings in the world, encourages voices from perspectives across numerous areas, including persons representing all disability areas, family members from across all disability areas, evidence from researchers and academics studying diversity and disability, and program providers.
2016 NASA Internships
Contact: Kenneth A. Silberman, (301) 286-9281
Application deadline: March 1, 2016
NASA is seeking to increase the number of students with disabilities pursuing science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers through its internship programs. Students can apply for 2016 summer internships beginning in November 2015. Offers will be extended to students in January 2016 and will continue until all positions are filled. All application material must be uploaded to the NASA website. Summer internships for college students run for ten weeks, and internships for high school students run for six weeks. Internships are also offered during spring and fall through the website. Applicants must be US citizens and must have a minimum GPA of 3.0. High school students must be at least sixteen when the internship begins.
Leading the Way: Grand Canyon Sound Academy
No Barriers USA
224 Canyon Ave., Suite 207
Fort Collins, CO 80521
Contact: Kaitlyn Millen, (970) 484-3633, Extension 322
July 24-August 4, 2016
Applications accepted until January 8, 2016
Twenty blind, visually impaired, and sighted US students, ages fifteen to nineteen, will have an amazing opportunity to participate in a nine-month program that culminates in a twelve-day expedition into the Grand Canyon. Students will journey into the heart of the canyon, learning about the importance of natural sounds, participating in meaningful science, learning about career opportunities with the National Park Service, and honing their leadership strengths. The cost of the program is $300 plus airfare to Phoenix, Arizona. Preference is given to those who apply early. The online application is available at <https://nobarriersusa.wufoo.com/forms/2016-leading-the-way-grand-canyon-sound-academy>.
Canadian National Blind Hockey Tournament
Courage USA Ice Hockey for the Blind
Contact: Amy LaPoe, email@example.com
Dates: March 11-13, 2016
Courage USA plans to spread the sport of ice hockey for the blind across the United States. It intends to establish a national competition and to work with Courage Canada to develop an international team sport for athletes who are blind or visually impaired. Blind hockey features an adapted puck that makes noise and is both bigger and slower than a standard puck. The game uses minimal rule adaptations to help with safety and gameplay. The Canadian National Tournament is open to Canadian and US players.
2015 Hands On! Award
National Braille Press
Fourteen-year-old Connor McLeod of Australia was honored with the 2015 Hands On! Award from National Braille Press. McLeod successfully petitioned the Royal Bank of Australia to add Braille labels to the nation's currency. Australia will soon introduce tactilely accessible banknotes due to this young man's advocacy.
2015 Envision Awards
Contact: Shamain Bachman, (316) 440-1551
At its tenth annual conference on low vision, Envision US honored outstanding achievements by those who are blind or visually impaired and the professionals who support them. The Envision Oculus Award was presented to the Hadley School for the Blind (<www.hadley.edu>) of Winnetka, Illinois. The Hadley School is broadly recognized as a global leader in distance education. Each year it provides tuition-free courses in multiple formats, including Braille, to nearly ten thousand students from more than one hundred countries. Envision presented the Envision Award in Low Vision Research to Robert W. Massof, PhD, founder and director of the Lions Vision Research and Rehabilitation Center, a division of the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute. Dr. Massof is the author of 160 scientific papers and book chapters and has edited a book on low-vision policy and service delivery issues.
(800) 563-0668, extension 1229
Are you a person who is blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted with experience requesting alternate formats from service providers? T-Base Communications, a full service accessible communications company, needs to hear about your experience receiving accessible information—in brochures, statements and bills—from your various service providers. Once T-Base has enough responses, it will share the results with its customers—the corporate community—and with end-userconsumers across North America. T-Base customers are keenly interested in this topic and want to know how to improve the user experience. Access the questionnaires by visiting the website listed above. Please contact us by phone if you would like the questionnaires in an alternative format.
All Book Corporation
All Book Corporation provides educational support to blind, low-vision, and deaf-blind students in Bangladesh. All donations are distributed to schools and individuals in need. Any and all Braille or large-print books or other educational materials will be deeply appreciated. Books and other materials can be mailed internationally as Free Matter for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.
Introduction to Braille: UEB Edition
Course ID: IBR-1113, IBR-123
Hadley School for the Blind
This introductory course provides the tools for those interested in learning to read and write Braille so they can communicate with family members who use Braille. It presents the fundamentals of the Unified English Braille Code (UEB), including letters, numbers, and punctuation. The goal is to enable students to read and write uncontracted UEB. The nine-lesson course is available in print and online, and a slate and stylus for writing Braille are mailed to the student. Interactive programs that simulate the Braillewriter and the slate and stylus are included in the online course only. These programs are included for practice purposes only and cannot be used to produce Braille.
Braille Reading Program--"I Do Like It"
"I Do Like It" is an immersive Braille reading program that introduces the learner to contracted Braille. The thirteen-book course starts with stories using stand-alone word signs and progresses to words containing two cells. Each story can be customized to include a student's name as well as the name of a story companion such as a friend or family member. The program is written for students who are learning Braille after acquiring print literacy. The downloadable Braille books are in Duxbury Braille Translator format (with both UEB and BANA versions); the download also comes with a print version in Microsoft Word. The books can be embossed from the Duxbury files or created manually from the print copies.
6dot Braille Label Maker
Voices of Xperience
584 Hancock Rd.
Harrisville, NH 03450
Contact: Jane Kronheim, (603) 827-3859
The new 6dot Braille Label Maker has a built-in Braille keyboard that produces high quality Braille. Labels are automatically scored and cut without the need for scissors. QWERTY keyboard connectivity allows people who do not know Braille to create labels.
New Books in UEB
Seedlings Braille Books for Children
1415 Farmington Rd.
Livonia, MI 48154
Seedlings is pleased to announce that all of its uncontracted print/Braille picture books are now available in UEB. In addition, four new uncontracted UEB print/Braille books for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers recently have been released. These are perfect for story time with any combination of blind, low-vision, and sighted family members. The books are listed on the Seedlings website.
National Braille Press
88 St. Stephen St.
Boston, MA 02115
The Great Expectations program is designed to encourage parents and teachers of blind children to help picture books come to life. The program is intended for children in preschool through grades 3 or 4, although many of the activities will be fun and interesting for older children as well. The latest book in the program is Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin. A fun tactile activity is included with the purchase of the book. The website includes suggestions for making tactile maps and mazes, tying shoes, and creating a scavenger hunt. There is even a Pete the Cat song and a selection of kid-friendly jokes. The first two books in the series, Dragons Love Tacos and The Day the Crayons Quit, can also be ordered from the website.
Slate & Style
Contact: Eve Sanchez, firstname.lastname@example.org
A publication of the NFB Writers Division, Slate & Style is a quarterly online magazine that features writing by blind children, teens, and adults. The magazine is dedicated to showcasing writers at all levels of writing skills. Contact Eve Sanchez for guidelines or to submit a story, poem, or essay.
Community Service Division Newsletter
The Fall 2015 issue of the NFB Community Service Division's newsletter is now available online. The newsletter contains articles by and about blind people who are volunteering in their communities. More stories of blind people involved in community service can be found on the division's blog, <nfbcommunityservice.wordpress.com>.
Tech Vision Newsletter on Student Success and Help with Technology
Contact: Denise M. Robinson, (423) 573-6413
This newsletter offers articles and videos that explain how blind students can master PowerPoint; how students can gain access to inaccccessible, secured textbooks; how teachers of the visually impaired can use Skype and JAWS to communicate with students; and much, much more. A trove of information is available at <www.mytechvision.com>.
Blind Living Radio
A series of podcasts that began as a way to spotlight issues involving blind people has morphed into a series of podcasts on a wide variety of topics. Guests have included the blind film critic Tommy Edison; blind photographer Tammy Ruggles; and Lucy Edwards, a blind woman who posts make-up tips on YouTube.
Blind Mice Mega Mall
Blind Mice Mega Mall is an online shopping mall "designed with the blind in mind." Stores include Blind Book Stop, with cookbooks and crafts manuals; Blind Mice Mart, with a variety of canes, cooking implements, and gadgets; Envision, Inc., with bar code readers; and Blind MiceILA, with a host of products to enhance independent living. As an added bonus, the Blind Mice Movie Vault contains thousands of audio-described movie soundtracks, available for free download.
Home Remodeling for People with Disabilities: What You Need to Know
This free online resource is a comprehensive guide for people with disabilities and their families. The guide aims to demystify the federal grants that are available to seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities for remodeling homes to make them fully accessible.
Comics for the Blind
Most people think that comics are a visual medium and believe that the visually impaired can't enjoy the experience. Comics for the Blind is here to change that notion, presenting comics in audio form, read by some of the world's top voice talent. Each 22-24-page comic is translated into 25-35 minutes of audio. New series are added every month. When you sign up for the newsletter, you can be informed of all the latest releases and updates. One series, Aurora, will always be available first for the visually impaired and later through other venues. In the Aurora series, the only person who can save the world from total destruction is blind.
It is time to begin planning for the 2016 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We will again meet in Orlando, this year returning to the beautiful Rosen Shingle Creek Resort where our national convention was held in 2011. The dates for the 2016 convention are June 30 through July 5.
Our hotel rates are enviably competitive for a resort hotel such as Shingle Creek. For the 2016 convention they are singles and doubles, $83; and for triples and quads, $89. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 12.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested. Please note that the hotel is a no-smoking facility.
For 2016 convention room reservations you can call the hotel at (866) 996-6338 after January 1. You may also write directly to the Rosen Shingle Creek, 9939 Universal Boulevard, Orlando, Florida 32819-9357. The hotel will want a deposit of $95 for each room and will want a credit card number or a personal check. If you use a credit card, the deposit will be charged against your card immediately, just as would be the case with a $95 check. If a reservation is cancelled before Friday, May 27, 2016, half of the deposit will be returned. Otherwise refunds will not be made.
All Rosen Shingle Creek guestrooms feature amenities that include plush Creek Sleeper beds, 40” flat screen TVs, complimentary high-speed internet capabilities, in-room safes, coffee makers, mini-fridges, and hair dryers. Guests can enjoy four outdoor swimming pools, a full-service spa, and fifteen dining/lounging options from fine-dining and elaborate buffets to casual dining both indoors and poolside.
The 2016 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will be a truly exciting and memorable event, with an unparalleled program and rededication to the goals and work of our movement. Make plans now to be a part of it. Preconvention seminars for parents of blind children and other groups and set-up of the exhibit hall will take place on Thursday, June 30, and adjournment will be Tuesday, July 5 following the banquet. Convention registration and registration packet pick-up for those who preregistered will begin on Friday, July 1, and both Friday and Saturday will be filled with meetings of divisions and committees, including the Saturday morning annual meeting, open to all, of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind.
General convention sessions will begin on Sunday, July 3, and continue through the banquet on Tuesday July 5. To assure yourself a room in the headquarters hotel at convention rates, you must make reservations early. The hotel will be ready to take your call or deal with your written request by January 1.
Remember that as usual we need door prizes from state affiliates, local chapters, and individuals. Once again prizes should be small in size but large in value. Cash, of course, is always appropriate and welcome. As a general rule we ask that prizes of all kinds have a value of at least $25 and not include alcohol. Drawings will occur steadily throughout the convention sessions, and you can anticipate a grand prize of truly impressive proportions to be drawn at the banquet. You may bring door prizes with you or send them ahead of time (identifying the item and donor and listing the value in print and Braille) to Sherri Brun, 1719 Baldwin Drive, Orlando, Florida 32806; phone (407) 898-6024.
The best collection of exhibits featuring new technology; meetings of our special interest groups, committees, and divisions; the most stimulating and provocative program items of any meeting of the blind in the world; the chance to renew friendships in our Federation family; and the unparalleled opportunity to be where the real action is and where decisions are being made—all of these mean you will not want to miss being a part of the 2016 national convention. We’ll see you in Orlando in July.