Vol. 47, No. 8August/September, 2004

Barbara Pierce, Editor

Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by



National Office

1800 Johnson Street

Baltimore, Maryland  21230

Web site address:

NFB-NEWSLINE® number: 1-888-882-1629

Letters to the president, address changes,

subscription requests, and orders for NFB literature

should be sent to the National Office.

Articles for the Monitor and letters to the editor may also

be sent to the National Office or may be emailed to

Monitor subscriptions cost the Federation about twenty-five dollars per year. Members are invited, and nonmembers are requested, to cover the subscription cost. Donations should be made payable to National Federation of the Blind and sent to:

National Federation of the Blind

1800 Johnson Street

Baltimore, Maryland 21230



ISSN 0006-8829

Vol. 47, No. 8 August/September, 2004


2004 Convention Roundup

by Christine Faltz

Federationists Feeling Peachy Keen In Atlanta

by Anil Lewis

Presidential Report 2004

by Marc Maurer

The 2004 Scholarship Class

of the National Federation of the Blind

The 2004 Awards

Partnerships in Rehabilitation: The Power of Combined Action

by Joanne Wilson

The Jernigan Institute, Our Challenge for the Future

by Betsy Zaborowski


by Kevan Worley

The Role of the Consumer in the Development of

Programs of Research and Training

by Fredric K. Schroeder, Ph.D.

The Assimilation of Crisis

by Marc Maurer

Advancing Civil Rights for the Blind: A Report on the 2004 Convention Resolutions

by Sharon Maneki

National Federation of the Blind 2004 Resolutions

Convention Miniatures

Convention Blues

by Fikru Gebrekidan

© 2004 National Federation of the Blind

From 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, July 1, a reunion of past Braille Readers Are Leaders participants took place at the 2004 convention. And what better place for such a group of committed Braille readers and their families to meet and renew friendships than at the second annual Braille book flea market? Everything but the huge crowd was kid-friendly. Eight tables were spread with Braille books for browsing and choosing. Sandy Halverson and her crew of Braille-reading volunteers had unpacked and organized the books earlier in the afternoon, and National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and National Association to Promote the Use of Braille volunteers stood ready to restock the tables as soon as space opened. Round tables in the center of the room invited folks to sit down for a talk or for refreshments of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cookies, and lemonade. Experienced Braille readers (Braille-reading adults and teens) circulated wearing badges identifying them as Braille mentors. They stopped to talk with kids about Braille and the books they had found and with parents who had questions about Braille.

The United Parcel Service (UPS) Foundation provided a grant that helped make this event possible. The American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults (AAF) and the TriCounty Braille Volunteers of Michigan donated many new Braille books to augment the gently used books contributed by Braille readers around the country. And UPS volunteers boxed up books for shipment Free Matter to people’s homes following the convention. Even with this service, which sent eighty-eight boxes winging their way across the country, lots more books were too precious to be parted with and walked out of the flea market in the arms of happy new owners.


About twenty-five Braille mentors took part in the flea market. They were enthusiastic about the event. Here is what Steve Hoad of Colorado wrote about his experience:

The event began with a crowded room. I was excited to see so many people, but why wouldn't there be a crowd? Books for free, only a donation needed! And these books are Braille--that combination draws blind readers and book lovers like a magnet.

So here I am, working the crowd (I love to do that anyway) and talking about Braille. I meet a whole family of youngsters who have found great pleasure while getting their books. "We know how to read," one little girl tells me; "We like to do it." A simple statement, but unfortunately not true for every blind youngster today. I feel sad when I think about those who don't learn Braille--tapes and computer speech just don't convey information as well, and they don't encourage reflection.

I talked with a college student about Braille, which we have in common, so that's what we talked about: what we like to read, the books she'd found. As we talked, I found myself wishing I had picked up that bread recipe book I'd seen fleetingly. I went back and looked--it was gone. Oh well, another Braille lover will be making bread soon.

Readers are usually learners, and parents who encourage readers are usually willing to take time so that their children can learn. Late in the event, as it was winding down, I met two young women (Kira and Meg), who are Braille readers. They were playing around, but when the topic turned to Braille, they got serious. We talked about my love for Braille. They wanted to know what I used it for. I talked a bit about work, notes (picture my desk with little Braille notes taped to the surface), favorite books, how to read and write. They talked about their electronic Braille devices, and I pulled out my slate and stylus. They were interested; Meg was going off to camp to learn to use the slate this summer, and we tried it out. I talked about how I use it every day for work, for pleasure, and for anything Mr. or Mrs. America might use a pen to write.

I carry my slate in a buckskin pouch made for me by my wife. It brings together the two things I love most: with some bits of paper included I have what I need for an independent life; to me Braille and family equal love and happiness.


Undoubtedly every family at the flea market had an interesting story to tell. Vejas Vasiliauskas of California was attending his first convention. He was this year’s first-place winner in the kindergarten through first grade category of the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. He read 3,313 pages. AAF President Barbara Loos, a life-long Braille reader, interviewed Vejas during the contest. They met for the first time in person and talked about Braille during the reunion.

The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children donated a refurbished Braillewriter as a door prize. The winner was Keao Wright of Hawaii, who read 5,900 pages to become the fifth-place winner in the high school category of this year’s contest. This was the Wright family’s first convention. Macy McClain of Ohio is thirteen and a past contest winner. She hunted up several younger Braille readers to talk about Braille. Macy was the youngest Braille mentor, but she knew her job, and she did it.

[LEAD PHOTO DESCRIPTION: At the left a girl of about eleven is reading a Braille book while standing on one side of a table being used to pack up books. Her mother holds another Braille book and talks to her. At the center of the picture a little girl leans across the table from the UPS side. Her back is to the camera, and her T-shirt has a large UPS logo on it. A tape gun can be seen beside her. A UPS volunteer stands across the table facing the Braille reader.]

[LEAD PHOTO CAPTION: Anne Naber and her mother Dory Miller of Minnesota (left) decide on one book to carry home. UPS volunteer Ron Aversa (right) waits to pack up the rest. A very young UPS volunteer, Morgan Davis, daughter of lead UPS volunteer Christie Davis, leans across the table. Anne Naber was the third-place winner in the kindergarten through first-grade category in 1999. This was her first convention.]

[LEAD PHOTO CAPTION: A stack of Braille books waits to be displayed during the Braille flea market.]

[LEAD PHOTO CAPTION: Happy browsers like these made their way down tables, accepting advice from volunteers behind the table.]

2004 Convention Roundup

by Christine Faltz


For those of us present at the 2004 convention of the National Federation of the Blind at the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, this recap will surely induce fond and vivid memories of jobs well done, agenda items well received, and time well spent. We hope that those who were not able to attend this year will seriously consider joining us next year after reading about our Atlanta phenomenon--work and play, information and entertainment, networking and nostalgia, commitment and camaraderie--the typical characteristics of a National Federation of the Blind annual convention.

The Georgia affiliate made our Federation gathering positively “peachy keen,” in the oft-reiterated words of host president Anil Lewis. The hotel staff was courteous and helpful; and the city of Atlanta provided opportunities for fine dining, fantastic shopping, and many sources of entertainment. More than thirty-five committees, divisions, and groups conducted elections and offered attendees many options for initiating or expanding involvement as members of the National Federation of the Blind.


[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Kenneth Jernigan Braille Carnival offered kids and their carnival buddies lots of activities and games. Here two kids contort themselves to play Twister with a tactile difference, while a volunteer operates the spinner.]

On Tuesday, June 29, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) conducted its annual seminar and daylong smorgasbord of activities for families and educators. President Barbara Cheadle welcomed all and invited them to participate in a morning program for adults and kids, followed by a number of exciting and informative workshops for youngsters and another group for adults. (While the adults were occupied in the late-morning session, children went off with volunteer Federation buddies to enjoy the Braille Carnival or to NFB Camp, a service provided to all preregistered children by Carla McQuillan, who operates Montessori schools in Oregon.)


[PHOTO/CAPTION: President Maurer sits on the floor, talking with the kids at the opening session of NOPBC activities.]

As usual President Marc Maurer greeted the families and educators of blind children, but he literally got down to business when he addressed the blind children directly. He chatted with them on the floor about his hope that they would let their parents know about the things they dreamed of doing as they grew up, and he assured them that mostly their parents would be the ones to prepare them to do the things they cared about.  President Maurer was asked by a sighted youngster what it was like to be blind and replied that this was a good question, but a hard one to answer. He informed the little boy that it was as if someone asked, “What is it like to be a boy?” because there were as many variables affecting what it is like to be a boy as there are in what it is like to be blind.

President Maurer grew up in a large family, and his brother Dr. Matt Maurer and a number of blind teenagers with whom he is working as a volunteer at the Indiana School for the Blind addressed the audience.


The COGS is a group of blind kids with a specific interest in all things technological-- Heather, Mika, Joel, and Riley, ranging in age from twelve through seventeen, shared with everyone their experiences at both public school and the Indiana School for the Blind and described various aspects of being blind. Following their presentations, the audience directed questions to the panel. The group assured questioners that COGS wishes to connect with blind students in other schools in order to expand the club.

The NOPBC seminar itself opened with a presentation by Joel Snyder from the National Captioning Institute discussing the Visual Made Verbal audio description program. Later that day interested sighted teens viewed videos, then wrote and performed their own audio descriptions for those videos in a competition sponsored by the NOPBC and the National Captioning Institute. The amateur audio describers were judged that evening by blind teens.


{PHOTO/CAPTION: Following Braille clues, blind and blindfolded teens searched high and low through the Marriott Marquis for scavenger hunt volunteers representing objects in the solar system. Luke Brackett tucks his cane under his arm to investigate a model of a comet held by volunteer Zach Rolfe.]

The entire day was filled with convention activities to meet every interest: technology demonstrations and seminars; workshops on Braille; production of tactile graphics, discussions of socialization skills for blind youngsters (aimed at families and educators); separate conversation groups specifically geared for teenage men or women; an Exploring-the-Solar-System Scavenger Hunt; an NOPBC-sponsored Hospitality Night; a welcoming event for all first-time convention attendees; a dance sponsored by the Georgia affiliate featuring D.J. Pat Andrews spinning hits from the Fifties to the present; karaoke night, sponsored by BLIND, Incorporated; and much more.

Several particularly significant discussions and seminars took place Tuesday afternoon. Topical discussions on rehabilitation and employment, technology, blind seniors, and education were held in an effort to shape the future programs and policies of the Jernigan Institute. Additionally, the Institute’s program officer Mary Brady provided an excellent workshop on grant writing to assist affiliates in fundraising efforts. A lament heard frequently throughout the day and the entire convention was the usual one that there were too many things to choose from, and many wished to attend multiple offerings. In some instances, such as the parent workshops and technology demonstrations, items were offered more than once, which made the difficult decisions slightly less taxing.


[PHOTO/CAPTION: Serena Cucco and her father Bill examine a monkey at the Sensory Safari.]

The pace diminished not at all on Wednesday. In addition to Sensory Safari and the Exhibit Hall, committees continued to meet; teens were able to drop in any time during the afternoon to a get-acquainted party, sponsored by NOPBC and Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM). The Resolutions Committee, chaired by Sharon Maneki, met to consider and discuss fifteen resolutions to decide which of them would be brought before the convention during the final afternoon of business. Their texts are reprinted elsewhere in this issue.

One of the anticipated highlights of our last seven conventions has been the mock trials presented by the National Association of Blind Lawyers. Federationists crowded into one of the convention-level rooms to be entertained and inspired by the dramatic presentation of a couple of cases merged for the mock trial, in which blind would-be jurors were denied consideration for jury duty; they subsequently sued. The Hon. Charles Brown, judge; bailiff Peggy Elliott; defense legal team Scott LaBarre and Bennett Prows; the plaintiffs’ lawyers Ray Wayne and Anthony Thomas; witnesses for the defense Curtis Chong, Eric Wood, and Dan Frye; and plaintiffs’ witnesses Noel Nightingale, Julie Deden, and Don Galloway used humor to instruct the audience about this chapter in our history.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Brandon Ball, Zach Ellingson, and Mike Sahyoon]

Wednesday afternoon convention activities were also enlivened by the appearance of a number of television news teams wishing to interview three Federationists (Zach Ellingson, Brandon Ball, and Mike Sahyun), who in all innocence had ventured out to Six Flags Over Georgia the evening before. They were looking for thrills and adventure, but they had not expected to get quite as much adventure or as little fun. After paying their entry fees, they found themselves apprehended by park security and held in a public area for an hour while they were questioned about their white canes and asked to demonstrate their blindness by providing “blind cards.” The security officers feared that the canes could be used as terrorist weapons and urged the three to leave their canes behind so that other visitors would not be made uncomfortable by seeing them. Doggedly the three men, all associated with our Minnesota adult training center, BLIND, Incorporated, demonstrated use of the cane, explained that neither they nor others would be safe if they left their canes at the gate, and courteously insisted on gaining entry. Eventually they were allowed to enter the park, but after one ride a downpour of rain put an end to the evening’s excitement. Wednesday, NFB Second Vice President and attorney Peggy Elliott went to the park to demand that park officials provide a written apology, which they eventually did, albeit grudgingly. Atlanta TV stations picked up the story, displayed NFB canes to their audiences, and interviewed the three Federationists. They also provided helpful information to the public about our convention.

On Thursday morning many attendees gathered for the meeting of the National Federation of the Blind board of directors, where this year’s class of scholarship winners was introduced.

Prior to this much-anticipated tradition, a few other significant items commanded our attention. As usual, President Maurer asked all in the room to participate in a moment of silence in memory of those who had died during the past year.

President Maurer then reviewed the names of those serving on the board of directors. Six at-large positions were up for election, and there were six hold-over positions. Board members Steve Benson (Illinois) and Carlos Serván (Nebraska) announced that they did not wish their names to be placed in nomination for re-election to the board.


[PHOTO/CAPTION: Steve Benson]

When making his announcement, Steve Benson told Federationists:


President Maurer, I have served on the board since 1982. It has been my pleasure and great honor to work with some of the finest human beings on the face of this earth. But it is my desire not to have my name placed in nomination for re-election.


[PHOTO/CAPTION: Carlos Serván]

Carlos Serván indicated that it had been his privilege to work with the greatest people he has ever known, serving the greatest organization in the world, and thanked us for the chance to have served on the board. He too, however, wished not to have his name placed in nomination.

President Maurer replied to both announcements that he was grateful for their service and friendship and would continue to depend on their contributions to the organization.

President Maurer announced that attendees had already registered from the Bahamas, Bermuda, Canada, Germany, India, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, Turkey, and the United Kingdom.

During the board meeting we were excited to learn of the locations of future conventions. The 2005 convention will of course take place at the Galt House Hotel in Louisville; singles, doubles, and twins will be $59; triples and quads will be $64. The convention will follow our customary schedule: Saturday, July 2, through Friday, July 8. In 2006 the Federation will return to a favorite city, Dallas, Texas–this time at the Wyndham Anatole, and again we will follow the customary Saturday-to-Friday schedule, July 1 to 7. Room rates will be one dollar a day more than the 2005 rates, and in 2008, when we attend convention at the same hotel from Sunday, June 29 through Saturday, July 5, rates will once again increase by only one dollar. President Maurer then announced that in 2007 we will once again be returning to the Atlanta Marriott Marquis, an announcement which was received with great enthusiasm. The dates for that convention are once again on a customary schedule from Saturday, June 30, through Friday, July 6.

When Diane McGeorge, board member and door prize maven, was introduced to give us information about arrangements for relieving dog guides, many of us learned for the first time with dismay that her husband Ray had been taken to the hospital and diagnosed with appendicitis. We were greatly relieved to learn that he was on the mend and chomping at the bit to get back to the convention. In fact Diane was certain that, if Ray was not back by banquet night, the hospital staff was going to be made rather unhappy.

 James Omvig, president of the National Blindness Professional Certification Board, presented two national orientation and mobility certificates (NOMC) to Brooke Sexton, formerly of California, and Mary Jo Thorpe of Utah. (Mary Jo Thorpe was also a 2004 scholarship winner, and we will meet her and her fellow scholarship winners elsewhere in this issue.)

 Following Mr. Omvig’s remarks, Tom Bickford performed a couple of rousing Whozit songs--a Whozit polka and an ode to Whozit sung to the tune of “If I Had a Hammer.”

Brad Caswell, representing an organization called Donation Exchange, announced that his group and the National Federation of the Blind now have an agreement. He explained that only 8 percent of wealth in the United States consists of cash. Including real estate and public securities, 92 percent of national wealth is in non-cash assets. Mr. Caswell added that the National Federation of the Blind is competing with about 950,000 other charities when we embark on our fundraising efforts. He suggested that we should solicit high-value items, such as boats and real estate, as well. Donation Exchange auctions off or otherwise turns such high-value items into cash for charities. Now that we have this relationship, we can invite such donations. Affiliates and chapters should note that, in addition to liquidation of assets, Donation Exchange is prepared to manage the assets and analyze the risks and benefits of such donations. If any chapter or affiliate has the opportunity to acquire such contributions, the president should contact the national office immediately for assistance.

President Maurer next explained that a proposal to establish a group specifically devoted to the concerns of African-Americans had come to his attention. Rather than debate the merits of forming such a group at the board meeting, President Maurer appointed a committee to study the proposal and make a recommendation to the board.

Steve Benson was then introduced to present the Blind Educator of the Year Award to Dr. J. Webster Smith. This presentation is reported in detail elsewhere in this issue.

Scott LaBarre, who chairs the Preauthorized Check Plan (PAC) committee, announced a new contest: the division with the most PAC Plan activity--either increased pledges or new members--would receive the PAC Mule. The state affiliate that met the same criteria would receive the PAC Rat. The first of these awards produced a truly interesting competition between the National Association of Blind Lawyers and the National Association of Blind Merchants, who were stubborn and steadfast as mules in their endeavors to win the PAC Mule. In the end, the merchants emerged victorious.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, proudly displays the PAC Mule.]

Additionally, throughout the convention a lively, often contentious rat race between Colorado and Maryland for the PAC Rat took place, but by the time of the final convention gavel, Maryland was victorious and was awarded the PAC Rat.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Maryland affiliate President Sharon Maneki holds up the PAC Rat.]

Sharon Maneki presented the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award to Jan Zollinger, and Norm Gardner presented an Outstanding Service Award to Steven Schechner during the board meeting. A complete report of these events appears elsewhere in this issue.

Gary Wunder informed us that the National Federation of the Blind and the American Red Cross entered into a partnership last May. He introduced Tim English, the Atlanta director of the American Red Cross, who said that the American Red Cross has blind volunteers working across the country, assisting in its mission to prepare for and respond to emergency situations. We now have a formal agreement between our two organizations in an effort to design a program that will make it easier for blind people to participate fully in the efforts of the American Red Cross.


[PHOTO/CAPTION: Tom Stevens]

For several months we have been told in presidential releases that a dramatic change in the Associates program would be announced at the convention. Tom Stevens, longtime chairman of the Associates Committee, was introduced to make the final associates report. His report appears in Convention Miniatures. Following this report, President Maurer adjourned the meeting of the board of directors.

 The afternoon and evening included many annual committee and division meetings. One of the most exciting was the NOPBC-sponsored “Braille: More Than Just Dots” seminar, which was an introduction to Braille for parents and older youth. Following this workshop were a Braille Readers Are Leaders reunion and Braille book flea market, sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille with a grant from the UPS Foundation and volunteers from its Atlanta office. (See the lead photos for details.)

UPS volunteers are a regular and appreciated presence at our conventions. They are a truly supportive group of people who know how to assist us without being intrusive and demonstrate with both financial resources and personal time that they believe in what we do and share our values.

Jerry Whittle’s latest original play, On the Long and Winding Trail, was performed by the Louisiana Center for the Blind Players. Proceeds support the LCB’s summer training program for blind children. In this play a young blind man must leave home to find trust and loyalty on the streets of New Orleans.


[PHOTO CAPTION: The general session dais of the 64th NFB annual convention with sponsor logos displayed across the front side. Special thanks go to convention sponsors (left to right) Marriott Worldwide Reservations Sales, Macromedia, Freedom Scientific, VisuAide, IBM, Microsoft, and UPS and partner NASA.]

On Friday morning Federationists flowed into the ballroom, filling chairs, selling all manner of items, and calling out state delegation names. The air rippled with the energy, commitment, and excitement that are the hallmarks of our national conventions, particularly on the first day of the general sessions. After the opening activities, President Maurer introduced Dwight Sayer, a Federationist from Florida and a former member of the United States Air Force. This was the first time during the convention that Federationists paid tribute to our brothers and sisters in the military who have made significant sacrifices to fight for the freedoms we too often take for granted, including the freedom to organize and promote the rights of all blind people, both here and abroad.


[PHOTO/CAPTION: Members of Conundrum electrify convention delegates.]

[PHOTO/CAPTION: The Lyke House Drummers from Clark Atlantic University make their instruments talk!]

Of course Anil Lewis addressed the convention as the president of the host affiliate. He introduced Atlanta’s mayor, the Honorable Shirley Franklin, who delivered an impassioned welcome. Following Mayor Franklin’s remarks, we were treated to two percussion groups, Conundrum and the Lyke House Drummers, that definitely added yet more life to the morning. President Maurer then acknowledged the gold and silver convention sponsors. He announced that IBM, Optelec, Freedom Scientific, and others were offering substantial discounts and promotions on their most popular products.

Of course the primary activity of the first general session was the roll call of states, during which affiliates announce delegates and alternate delegates; dates and locations of their state conventions; the identity of their national representatives, if assigned; and any other information they think worthy of announcement. A number of delegates announced the presence of Commission or other state agency directors in their delegations.

Following the lunch break, Federationists scurried to their seats to hear a presidential report replete with Federation philosophy, commitment, and promise. As usual, listening to President Maurer’s encapsulation of the previous year’s Federation activities raised our spirits and strengthened our resolve. The entire report can be found elsewhere in this issue.

Obviously, and with good reason, the Jernigan Institute played a pivotal role in many aspects of the convention, from workshops to discussion groups to agenda items--after all, the Institute is a dream realized after much planning and hard, diligent work. Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, its executive director, presented comments on “The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute and the Strategic Plan” and generated substantial enthusiasm as she proposed the many ways in which the Institute can become a force in shaping attitudes about and realities of blindness. Her remarks are reprinted elsewhere in this issue.

Federationists then viewed the video about the building of the Jernigan Institute, which those attending the grand opening saw in January. This video engenders a genuine feeling of accomplishment and pride in what we have already accomplished and what we plan to do.

Melanie Sabelhaus, deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration, came to the podium to discuss the benefits of entrepreneurship. Her title was “Entrepreneurship: Opportunities for the Blind.” She was a lively and engaging speaker who encouraged blind women particularly to follow their entrepreneurial dreams and demand that agencies like the Small Business Administration recognize their right to assistance. The Small Business Administration funds and supports individuals, particularly those belonging to marginalized groups, with loans and mentorship in an attempt to assist them in realizing their dreams of owning their own businesses and becoming their own employers.

 “Self-Propelled Vehicles: One Possibility for the Blind” was the intriguing title of remarks by Ray Johnson, senior vice president and manager for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). He described the remarkable progress being made in creating self-propelled vehicles.

The Jernigan Institute has been built and some programs already developed and executed, but our strategic plan is still in the works. In order to bring the policies and programs of the Institute to fruition, they must be funded. Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, has been named to chair the Imagination Fund, devoted to raising ongoing funds and building a database of donors. The goal of the fund is to solicit the financial resources essential to enable the Jernigan Institute to shape the future of the blind positively. Kevan Worley asked that each affiliate appoint an Imagination Fund representative to work with him in the coming months. A number of affiliates, divisions, and individuals came to microphones and stopped by the Imagination Fund table to make contributions and pledges of money and contacts. Throughout the week the small bells presented to these donors could be heard ringing whenever the Imagination Fund was mentioned.

Accessible voting has been a Federation priority for some time, and the passage of the Help America Vote Act provided an excellent foundation for our energies to be more directly focused on our goal for a secret ballot. Two individuals discussed “The Blind Deserve a Secret Ballot: It’s the Law” on Friday afternoon as the concluding item on the day’s agenda. Dr. DeForest Soaries, Jr., is the chairman of the Election Assistance Commission, established pursuant to the Help America Vote Act to facilitate our receipt of a secret ballot at long last. Cathy Cox, Georgia’s secretary of state, also weighed in on this vital issue. Both public officials urged listeners to work for implementation of accessible voting machines.

Plenty of celebration, Federation division business, information, and entertainment were available Friday evening. The National Federation of the Blind in Judaism celebrated the Sabbath. The National Association of Blind Musicians hosted its annual Showcase of Talent. The National Organization of Parents of Blind Children sponsored four extremely informative workshops: a fun-filled Discovery Time drop-in for families with blind infants, toddlers, and preschoolers; a how-to and forum on sleepshade training for partially sighted children and youth; the annual IEP workshop; and a riveting drop-in-any-time workshop called “Astronomy Is for Everyone.” The last workshop was ably coordinated by Dr. Noreen Grice, author of Touch the Universe, and Dr. Dennis Dawson, her husband and chairman of the astronomy department at Western Connecticut University. They answered questions and described hands-on models and tactile maps for children and adults.

[PHOTO CAPTION: Emily Kuhnwald and James Vallo enjoy a dance.]

 Federationists from Texas invited one and all to STRUMS 2004, an acoustic music fundraiser benefiting the Texas student division. A fine, talented band called Rockin’ Good News provided “Rock and Roll: The Way It Was” for rockin’ and rollin’ Federationists; this musical trip down Memory Lane was sponsored by the Georgia affiliate.

For the first time we conducted a special evening in the exhibit hall featuring Sponsor-Level Exhibitors: VisuAide, Inc.; Freedom Scientific Blind/Low Vision Group; IBM; Macromedia; Marriott Worldwide Reservations; Microsoft; UPS; Optelec; and Roche Diagnostics Corporation. Federationists had an opportunity to visit these displays without the clamor of the daytime shopping sessions.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Carl Jacobsen]

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Chris McKenzie]

On Saturday morning the ballroom was filled with energetic voices awaiting the report of the nominating committee, chaired by Sharon Maneki. The report was as follows: president, Marc Maurer (Maryland); first vice president, Joyce Scanlan (Minnesota); second vice president, Peggy Elliott (Iowa); secretary, Gary Wunder (Missouri); treasurer, Charlie Brown (Virginia); and board positions Pam Allen (Louisiana); Sam Gleese (Mississippi); Carl Jacobsen (New York); Diane McGeorge (Colorado); Chris McKenzie (Arkansas); and Carla McQuillan (Oregon). The report was accepted and elections were duly held. All candidates were elected by acclamation, and the two newest members of the board were welcomed warmly.

At each national convention we hear remarks from a representative of the World Blind Union, a group of which the National Federation of the Blind is a member in the North America/Caribbean Region. This summer Dr. Susan Spungin, a frequent convention attendee who serves as vice president of International Programs and Special Projects for the American Foundation for the Blind and is a candidate for treasurer of the World Blind Union, spoke to us about “The World Blind Union: A Study in Contrast.” The World Blind Union represents 180 million blind, partially sighted, and deaf-blind people in 158 countries. Dr. Spungin cited sobering statistics about poverty and unemployment throughout the world, obviously focusing her analysis of these data on how blind people are affected globally. Eighty percent of blindness is caused by preventable or treatable conditions, including glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, cataracts, and vitamin A deficiency. She discussed briefly the structure of the WBU and highlighted nineteen organizational position statements. Those interested in learning more should visit the WBU Web site at <>.

NFB-NEWSLINE® is no longer news to Federationists. But the next agenda item did provide some new information, the most significant being that NEWSLINE® now makes available to its subscribers two magazines: the Economist and the New Yorker, with more to come. Many affiliates are making a concerted effort to include regional and community newspapers and periodicals as part of NFB-NEWSLINE®’s content. NEWSLINE® is popular and always expanding--an unmistakable fact bolstered by the remarks of both James Gashel, executive director of strategic initiatives, and John Paré, director of sponsored technology outreach.

Gilles Pepin, president of VisuAide, Inc., from Quebec, Canada, then discussed “The Digital Talking Book Player and Other Emerging Technologies for the Blind.” Mr. Pepin reviewed the last fifteen years of information technology for the blind and discussed the efforts of both RFB&D and NLS to convert users and borrowers to digital recordings.

Trekker, VisuAide’s GPS device, will tell blind users not only their orientation in a particular city, but what is around them as well: shops, restaurants, parks, and office buildings.

Mr. Pepin informed us that there would be a Trekker navigation contest that afternoon, and the two participants on the winning team would take home their own GPS devices. In addition Mr. Pepin talked about a truly palm-sized PDA which will be accessible to the blind: VisuAide’s Maestro. All of these products were available for demonstration in the Exhibit Hall throughout the convention.

Following Mr. Pepin’s remarks, President Maurer spoke positively of his hopes for the VisuAide-National Federation of the Blind partnership and expressed his hope that Mr. Pepin would continue to attend conventions for many years to come.

GPS technology is one application that is useful to everyone but is of particular interest to blind people because of its tremendous potential for providing dramatic improvements in our ability to navigate unfamiliar surroundings with minimal or no sighted assistance. Therefore any discussion of GPS technology is a sure winner in virtually every group of blind people. “Global Positioning Systems (GPS): The Product Today and Developments for Tomorrow” was discussed by Frank Boynton, vice president of technical sales, Navtech GPS Seminars and Supply. He provided an excellent history lesson on GPS technology and discussed what the technology is and is not at present and where the technology is going. He gave us a rather exciting glimpse into a not-too-distant future where blind people will use this technology to gain independent mobility on par with our sighted peers, including the ability to travel unfamiliar cities and find streets and addresses with ease and independence.

By the time you read this Roundup of Atlanta 2004, two groups of blind youth--one of middle school age and the other of high school age, will have completed separate but equally exciting science camps sponsored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Federation of the Blind. These opportunities represent initial efforts and innovations in our partnership with NASA in promoting scientific exploration, knowledge, and career opportunities for young blind men and women. Dr. Adena Williams Loston, NASA’s associate administrator for education, made it clear that NASA is not only committed to furthering and building upon these nascent efforts, but intent upon mobilizing its many departments in seeking and hiring qualified minority group members. She has no doubt that the twenty-first century is the one during which blind people will make the greatest strides ever in pursuing diverse careers in science and technology.

Saturday afternoon was replete with tours and several hours of time during which we could pursue our own interests and preferred leisure activities. For those who wished to take advantage of them, however, there were seminars on Social Security and SSI, Meet-the-Blind-Month activities, and a Job Exchange Committee gathering for networking; a “Guide Dog in Your Life” seminar; and an informational forum for those interested in blindness training, sponsored by the Colorado Center for the Blind. A night at the movies for families was offered by NOPBC and the National Captioning Institute featuring the audio-described version of Lilo and Stitch. In addition, the National Association of Blind Students sponsored its usual Monte Carlo Night, where Federationists could play all sorts of games and mingle with other fun-lovers.

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Dwight Sayer addresses the convention while veterans stand behind the head table on the dais.]

[PHOTO/CAPTION: Michelle Gittens sings “God Bless America.”]

The morning of Independence Day was powerfully bittersweet. Along with celebrating the progress toward independence of the blind, which the National Federation of the Blind has made and continues to make possible, we spent some time honoring current armed services personnel and veterans who have fought for our freedom throughout the 228 years of our nation’s history. Dwight Sayer once again led delegates in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Past members of our armed forces joined him on the stage. Cheryl O’Brien, from Florida, read a poem written by a friend, Mary Shock, when she learned that her brother was being deployed to Iraq. Michelle Gittens of Minnesota then sang “God Bless America.” The energy and feeling she brought to her performance were truly moving. The names of the veterans on stage were then read.

The morning appropriately proceeded to “The Federation in the World.” Mr. Lokman Ayva, a blind member of the Turkish Grand National Assembly, spoke of his life, both its complications and its triumphs, and expressed his intention to keep in close contact with the National Federation of the Blind and to attend future conventions. Daniel Frye, an American Federationist now living in New Zealand, spoke as the national advocate of the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand. He discussed the tremendous changes in the attitudes about blindness and opportunities for blind New Zealanders, weaving once again the common thread of a long struggle toward public understanding, cooperation, and acceptance.

Jim Sanders, president and CEO of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and president of the North America/Caribbean Region of the World Blind Union, then presented an intriguing item titled “Underwater Baseball.” The title is derived from Mr. Sanders’ first Talking Book, received in 1959. Mr. Sanders discussed the evolution of the Talking Book from large, vinyl records to digital audio technology. Because of the emerging international standards, Mr. Sanders looks forward to exchanging materials from all over the world. He asked us to notice that throughout his comments he had used the pronoun “I.” He stated that we cannot sit back until “we the blind” includes all blind people. Out of the one hundred and eighty million blind people in the world, only a few hundred thousand have access to such technologies.

Having kept us in suspense about the title of the first Talking Book he received, apparently about underwater baseball, Mr. Sanders finally informed us that the title of that book had been 20,000 Leagues under the Sea.

Though talking products which make life more convenient are not a prerequisite for the blind to live independent, productive lives, we certainly appreciate accessing the conveniences of home, work, and travel. It is frustrating, for example, not to be able to keep from freezing or roasting because hotel room thermostats are not marked tactilely. Marvin Sandler, president of Action Talking Products, introduced the Talking Thermostat, which he says will be sold for $129.95. It is fully accessible to blind people. It speaks the ambient temperature, allows the user to set the thermostat to desired temperatures for different parts of the day for efficient fuel use, and has a timer to facilitate this function. Moreover, it requires no sighted assistance to set. Mr. Sandler demonstrated the thermostat and was received with much appreciation.

Another of the convention’s much-anticipated items was “An Overview from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.” This year it included “Highlights from the Music Section.” Frank Kurt Cylke, director of NLS, introduced several members of the NLS staff who were present, then introduced the man responsible for overseeing the library’s music section, John Hanson. Mr. Hanson described his work inputting the library’s repository of Braille music and cataloguing it for easy service to patrons. He said that current patrons (those already registered with NLS) could of course access the various services of the music section. If an interested person is not registered, he or she can either apply to become an NLS borrower or merely a user of music section resources. Resources of the music section can be accessed directly by calling or emailing, without having to go through one’s cooperating regional library. NLS is working with the Danish and Italian Library Services for the blind to acquire more music.

Mr. Hanson also indicated that anyone who had additional music to add to the library’s collection should contact NLS. They are particularly interested in adding to the Braille music books and scores. Recorded books on music appreciation as well as recorded instructional manuals for playing instruments are available. NLS offers three music magazines: Musical Mainstream, for classical music fans; Contemporary Soundtrack, for rock, pop, and jazz fans; and Popular Music Lead Sheets, which is in Braille and contains five songs with each edition. Web-Braille now contains music which can be downloaded, with approximately six hundred titles and thousands more being added.

A significant concern is a shortage of Braille music transcribers and proofreaders. Liner notes of some commercially available music will start becoming available this summer. This is a pilot program, and all of these items can be made available in hardcopy for any patron who requests them.

Joanne Wilson, commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration, former director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and former NFB board member, then addressed the convention about “Partnerships in Rehabilitation: The Power of Combined Action.” Her remarks are reprinted elsewhere in this issue.

Dr. Wilson’s excellent and comprehensive discussion was followed by one of the most well-received items on this year’s agenda. Amy Phelps, a candidate in the masters program in orientation and mobility at Louisiana Tech University, offered her remarks as “A Recovering Rehabilitation Professional.” Filled with heartfelt and hilarious detail, Ms. Phelps described her evolution from a supposedly well-educated professional armed with papers and the best in pedagogical theory and techniques of rehabilitation to a skilled professional in the alternative techniques of blindness, which are the real tools of superior rehabilitation training.

 After the lunch recess a long-time Federationist with quite a few years of experience at all levels of the rehabilitation system, Dr. Fredric K. Schroeder, discussed “The Role of the Consumer in the Development of Programs of Research and Training.” His informative and inspiring talk can be found elsewhere in this issue.

Despite the wealth of important and stirring content, the afternoon of Banquet Day sometimes seems to move more slowly than other days. After nearly a week of hectic activity and mounting anticipation, a bit of restlessness can be generated by the middle of the afternoon session. However, such an atmosphere never settled in because Miles Hilton-Barber blasted the audience into the stratosphere as he chronicled his adventures as a blind pilot flying the English Channel. Everyone was in high spirits and alert for the presentations on employment and for welcoming a legislative ally, Representative Danny Davis of the Seventh Congressional District of Illinois.

Dr. Raymond Kurzweil is a familiar name to anyone with basic knowledge of assistive technology. Dr. Kurzweil’s presentations are always informative, always inspiring, and never fail to leave us dreaming of the technological advances to come, including his own inventions. Dr. Kurzweil posed the question, “What will the next thirty years bring?” His answers take one’s breath away.

The next item on the agenda was a panel of Federationists consisting of entrepreneur Mike Bullis, vendor Nicky Gacos, and civil engineer Nathanael Wales. Mike Bullis has established eleven companies. He said that, although business is not the employment answer to every problem and is not right for everyone, it could be an answer for some. But the strength of one’s personal self-concept will likely determine whether or not it is the employment solution any given individual should even attempt. Once you have determined that you can do it, you must prepare, prepare, prepare. You must plan ahead, learn all you can about what you are planning to do, and be organized and disciplined. As a blind person you do not necessarily have to work harder than others; you just have to work smarter.

Nicky Gacos, a blind vendor in the Business Enterprise Program and a board member of the National Association of Blind Merchants, was full of good humor and Federation spirit as he shared folksy reminiscences of his childhood, his introduction to the National Federation of the Blind a little less than a decade ago, and his contention that becoming a blind vendor within the Randolph-Sheppard program is a viable option for employment for blind men and women.

Nathanael Wales described his fascinating work as a civil engineer in California, a profession about which most of us know little, but one which is essential to the smooth and healthful running of a municipality.

It is always a sign that times have changed dramatically for the nation’s blind when we are addressed by one of our elected officials. Politicians are busy people and rarely attend functions in person unless they feel that the constituency requesting their presence not only has a legitimate agenda but is powerful enough to affect their current and future status as legislators. We have forged many legislative alliances over the years, and this becomes increasingly apparent both at our Washington seminars and in the quality of the remarks made by officials who graciously accept our invitations to speak at Federation functions. We thank Representative Danny Davis of Illinois for joining us in Atlanta and spending Independence Day with us.

Federationists hurried from the convention room promptly after session recess to allow Atlanta Marriott Marquis staff to transform the room into one suitable for our 2004 Convention Banquet. Federationists gathered with friends, colleagues, and fellow delegates for the food, fun, presentations, raffle drawings, door prizes--and of course President Maurer’s banquet address.

This year’s master of ceremonies was Dr. Frederic K. Schroeder. Naturally, because it was our nation’s birthday, this theme permeated the spirit of the remarks made throughout the evening and the atmosphere in the room. The Sligo Creek Consortium led banquet attendees in some spirited singing.

Eventually it was time for President Maurer’s banquet address, which is reprinted elsewhere in this issue. It was stirring, humorous, and filled with the conviction and inspiration we in the Federation rely upon from President Maurer, whatever he does and says on behalf of the blind.

As the scholarship class of 2004 made its way toward the front of the room, Allen Harris rose to present the Newel Perry Award, the highest honor the Federation bestows to someone who is not a member of the Federation, but who has partnered with us in our efforts to achieve equality, security, and opportunity for the blind. Dr. Newel Perry inspired Dr. tenBroek and therefore the rest of us. Allen Harris presented the award to Congressman Danny K. Davis of Illinois. A full report of this presentation appears elsewhere in this issue.

Peggy Elliott, chairman of the Scholarship Committee, then introduced the scholarship winners and presented the awards the committee had painstakingly chosen to present to each one, including the $12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship, which this year went to Darrel Kirby. A complete report of the 2004 scholarship program appears elsewhere in this issue.

Ramona Walhof then presented Priscilla Ferris of Massachusetts with the fourteenth Jacobus tenBroek Award. This award presentation appears in full elsewhere in this issue.

Late in the evening Federationists spilled from the banquet hall to pursue an after-banquet party listed in the agenda or parties of their own making. With yet another day of vital Federation business ahead of us, wise Federationists eventually found their way to a few hours of much-needed sleep.

Monday morning consisted of the usual business taken care of on the final day of convention: our financial report, Washington report, and various other reports and announcements. Monday afternoon was taken up with discussion of the fifteen resolutions which the Resolutions Committee had recommended do pass.

It is no wonder that many of us anticipate the 2007 convention with particular excitement, given that we will be returning to the fine city of Atlanta and the outstanding Atlanta Marriott Marquis. However, we have many things to do, many challenges to overcome, and many goals to strive for before then. In Louisville in the summer of 2005 we will gather for our next national convention, celebrate our victories, and redefine our tactics in order to address the skirmishes and obstacles which remain stubborn and unyielding. But we are more stubborn, unyielding, and committed than they, and we will continue to change what it means to be blind directly and positively.



[PHOTO CAPTION:  Anil Lewis presents an award to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Virginia Everett, director, Information Services, accepts the plaque.]

Federationists Feeling Peachy Keen in Atlanta

by Anil Lewis


From the Editor: Every convention boasts a few unsung heroes: the behind-the-scenes staff people who troubleshoot problems, the flexible attendees who make light of inconveniences, and the host-affiliate members who bend over backwards to make certain that visitors to their state have a memorable stay. Anil Lewis, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia, epitomizes this last group. He was everywhere during the convention, finding solutions, smoothing ruffled feathers, and spreading good humor and cheer. Always on the run, he was sometimes a minute or two behind schedule but eternally kind and thoughtful. He must be relieved to have the convention slipping into history, but you would never know that from reading the following report. Here is Anil’s backstage take on the convention:


It was indeed an honor to serve as the host affiliate for the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind. We were determined to make the experience as enjoyable as our 1999 and 2000 conventions, and the members of the Georgia affiliate stepped up to provide the trimmings on an excellent convention, coordinated by the dedicated staff of our national office. I just want to take a little time to share with you some of the peripheral happenings of the convention from a very tired but well-pleased affiliate president.

My goal was to ensure that everyone had a good time by mingling as much as possible, answering questions, making people feel welcome, and solving problems. The beautiful part was that I had a team. Veteran Georgia affiliate members had worked hard to plan and worked harder to execute all the tasks necessary. Even our newest members worked to meet needs as they appeared. Moreover, longtime Federationists from around the country worked together to make the convention a success.

The crowd came in earlier and in larger numbers than we expected. The volunteers slated to work the Georgia information table had to be pulled away for other tasks. Members of the Sligo Creek chapter of the NFB of Maryland pitched in to staff the Georgia information table, helped to pass out preconvention agendas, and made conventioneers feel welcome. This willingness of Federationists to pitch in and help wherever needed set a tone of family and a spirit of cooperation which gave me comfort throughout the rest of the convention.

Planning the opening ceremony was a joy. Our goal was to make it inspiring and memorable. We hope that we accomplished this with the two drum groups, Conundrum and the Lyke House Drummers. The welcome from Atlanta mayor Shirley Franklin was icing on the cake, and we greatly appreciated her altering her schedule so that she could attend. The presentation from our secretary of state, Cathy Cox, was a motivating end of a long first day of convention that demonstrated how important it is to build productive partnerships with our public officials. In short, convention week was filled with many memorable events and learning experiences.

The accommodations of the Marriott Marquis were excellent, and the staff was courteous and helpful. Our public transportation service, MARTA, supplied us with Braille schedules, extended route assistance, and quality service that gave conventioneers an opportunity to explore many parts of our wonderful city. 

The Georgia affiliate celebrated several milestones at this convention. Never before has Georgia placed as high as third in the ranking of registered attendants of the national convention. We hope that this is reflective of the growth our affiliate will experience in the near future. In addition, it was great to be able to celebrate the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as the one hundredth paper available on our NFB-NEWSLINE® service. We hope to build on this accomplishment as we seek to secure long-term funding in our upcoming legislative session.

The most important milestone for the Georgia affiliate was the participation of thirty blind high-school-age youth from the Center for the Visually Impaired’s Social Therapeutic and Recreational Services (STARS) program.  They spent all day with us on July 1 and were able to visit the exhibit hall, tour the convention hotel, and meet with blind leaders of the Federation.  Many Georgia Federationists serve as mentors for a number of these kids, and it was a landmark experience for them to attend the national convention. Many have already expressed their intention to join the National Federation of the Blind, and this fact gives us a tremendous boost in starting our student division in Georgia.

I was determined to be in the mix of convention activities as much as possible and took every opportunity to meet as many people as I could. While working the Georgia information table, I met a young man of about eight years old that read Braille with great proficiency and used his cane well. Seeing blind youth developing these skills so early in life fills me with hope and re-energizes my commitment to the goals of the Federation.

I demonstrated what I believe to be the advantages of the Braille watch over the talking watch to another Federationist. One of the largest benefits of convention is being able to share experiences with blind people from around the world. Sometimes time can be altered (or at least the watch hands can be accidentally moved) while giving a Braille watch demonstration; therefore I recommend that you check the time before and after the demonstration of your Braille watch. As a result of my demonstration, I was about ten minutes late for the board meeting—a rather embarrassing experience for the president of the host affiliate and a relatively new member of the NFB board of directors.

I rarely got a chance to visit the Georgia hospitality suite, except for late-night runs to replenish the food supply. The hospitality of Georgia affiliate members takes second place to none. Georgia affiliate members made sure that each visitor to the hospitality suite felt welcome and was given something to please the palate and quench his or her thirst.

The tours presented the greatest challenge to affiliate planners. Last-minute logistical problems left us with insufficient transportation for the Planetarium tour and required me to improvise a new Civil War tour. The makeshift alternative was enjoyable to some, but certainly not what people expected. On the positive side, if this problem had not manifested itself, I would not have been exposed to the other side of Federationism--the side exemplified by the graciousness of those who were disappointed, yet understanding. Federationists are truly able to turn lemons into lemonade, and some even enjoy lemons.

Of course there was the incident at Six Flags amusement park. It is frustrating that, although blind people have visited the park on many occasions with no problems, park security personnel waited until Atlanta had blind guests from around the world to forget everything they have been taught. Still, in the true spirit of the Federation, we even turned this into an opportunity to educate and promote the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind.

It takes a lot of work to put together such a momentous event, but everyone working together makes it look easy. I can truly say I have seen a completely different side of the convention and have gained a greater respect for our national staff. My only regret is that I missed a lot of the information offered by the convention presenters.  I can’t wait to read the Braille Monitor to see what happened at the convention. This Federationist is still feeling peachy keen in Atlanta and can’t wait to see you all back here again in 2007.



[PHOTO CAPTION: President Marc Maurer]

Presidential Report 2004

National Federation of the Blind

July 2, 2004

by Marc Maurer

The time since our last convention has been one of intense effort, of accelerating growth, of increasing accomplishment, and of tremendous challenge. Through it all we have maintained harmony and unity of purpose. It has been an extraordinary year for us, and the reason for our success is the commitment we share with each other--the spirit of the members of the National Federation of the Blind.

At our convention in 1999, we talked about a plan to build an institute to conduct research and to create innovative training programs for the blind. We set about dreaming of the programs that would be conducted in this new facility, and we commenced raising money to make the dreams real.

On January 30, 2004, the members of the board of directors met to talk about what we have done and to consider the name for our institute. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our former president and beloved leader, had before his death formulated many of the plans for the institute and talked with me and with others about the value of building it. The board decided to name our building in honor of our beloved president. It is the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.

Later that day we cut the ribbon for the grand opening of the Jernigan Institute. More than fifteen hundred people attended, including officials of programming for the blind from Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore, and the United States. NASA's administrator, Sean O'Keefe, announced a partnership with the National Federation of the Blind to encourage blind students to study mathematics and science and to invite blind scientists to participate in programs that will stretch the mind and produce innovative ideas and products.

The executive director of the Jernigan Institute is a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind. Her accomplishments were featured this winter on the cover of Smart Woman Magazine. Several weeks after the opening of the Jernigan Institute, she was invited to be a guest on the nationally broadcast “G. Gordon Liddy Show.” Possessing the intellect, the judgment, the management skill, and the generosity to initiate and sustain multidimensional programs of a kind that have never previously existed, Betsy Zaborowski is an altogether fitting executive director for the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.

At the grand opening we announced the first in a series of National Federation of the Blind online courses. Continuing education is essential for teachers, and one course that is now available is the one that we have created, which gives basic information to public school teachers about what to expect of blind students and what tools and techniques exist to assist in the education of the blind.

Another innovative program presented at the grand opening is science camp, which will occur later this summer. One planned activity is the dissection of a full-grown shark. Another is the creation of a payload for a rocket to be launched from the NASA Wallops Flight Facility. It is not the minds of blind students but our opportunities that have been limited; through our Institute we are seeking additional ways to change this. NASA's associate administrator for education, Dr. Adena Williams Loston, will be with us later during this convention to discuss the work we are doing together. At our last convention Mr. A.V. Diaz, the director of the Goddard Space Flight Center, made a striking presentation. Last fall several of the leaders of the Federation were invited to participate in an event hosted by NASA at the Smithsonian Institution and were introduced to the hundreds of participants, officials from companies in the aerospace industry, college presidents, scientists, and congressional leaders. We plan to produce educational videos from the joint effort we are making at the science camp for the blind. We believe this collaboration will significantly enhance opportunities for the blind in the scientific arena.

Advisory working groups conducted at the 2003 convention helped in the drafting of the strategic plan for the Institute that was later considered by the board of directors. Members of the Federation are participating in groups dealing with technology, online computer courses, early childhood development and education, and science education. Other groups will be created to give direction to the work we are doing in such areas as training for seniors, developing enhanced employment opportunities, and building the Jacobus tenBroek Memorial Library. At the time of the grand opening, construction of the new Institute had not been completed--there had been unavoidable delays, we were told. Through the spring additional delays were encountered. However, we took possession of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute on the afternoon of June 11, 2004.

An extensive presentation regarding the work of the Jernigan Institute will be taking place later during this convention. However, the Institute we are creating will be different from other entities in the blindness field because the blind will run it. We invite researchers, scholars, students, professors, and others interested in the problems of the blind to participate with us in building our Institute. We need the best ideas we can get, and we welcome partnerships. We especially welcome them because the blind will be a part of them, and we will give direction to what is being done. 

In April we conducted our first major activity after the grand opening in the Institute--a technology conference for technology trainers, sponsored jointly by the National Federation of the Blind and the Mississippi State University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision. The technology conference for teachers was extremely successful. We are planning to conduct future conferences of this kind in the years to come. Not only did staff members of the National Federation of the Blind conduct training sessions, but we also invited technology experts from the Iowa Department for the Blind, the Colorado Center for the Blind, the Louisiana Center for the Blind, and the Federation training center in Minnesota—Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions--to participate.

I opened the conference with a major statement about the approach the National Federation of the Blind takes with respect to technology and accessibility. Dr. Joanne Wilson, the commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the United States Department of Education, addressed the conference about the needs of technological development and the rehabilitation process. Dr. Raymond Kurzweil, one of the most prolific inventors of our time and a philanthropist, addressed the conference at length about future trends in technology and the likely alterations within society that will occur because of them.

Dr. Kurzweil has been working with the National Federation of the Blind since the mid-1970's. At that time he was devising the first print-to-speech reading machine--the Kurzweil Reading Machine. Our work with Dr. Kurzweil continues. He will be addressing the convention, and he will undoubtedly discuss the handheld reading machine, a device so small, so portable, and so powerful that it will revolutionize access to information for the blind. A prototype of this machine has already been fabricated, and it is likely that a form of this product will be available for distribution in less than a year--the Kurzweil / National Federation of the Blind Reading Machine.

In 2002, at our urging, Congress adopted requirements for nonvisual access to polling places as part of the Help America Vote Act. Every polling place in America must have at least one system equipped for nonvisual use by January 2006.

Accessible, direct recording electronic computerized voting machines are now on the market. Every polling place in Georgia has this equipment, and the government of Maryland voted to buy them for almost every polling place in the state. However, a controversy has been created to block the use of direct recording electronic voting devices. One of the manufacturers of these machines is Diebold Incorporated, the multibillion dollar ATM manufacturer that has committed itself to producing accessible electronic machines. Several years ago we entered a partnership with Diebold in which Diebold contributed a million dollars to the construction of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, and we agreed to work with the company to assist it in making bank machines accessible to the blind. Diebold later pledged to produce equally accessible voting machines.

An editorial which appeared in the New York Times on June 11, 2004, tried to paint the relationship between Diebold and the National Federation of the Blind as devious and underhanded--The Times sought to imply that the good opinion of the National Federation of the Blind was available for sale and that Diebold was buying. The New York Times asserts that "a handful of influential advocates for the disabled" opposed electronic voting machines that produce paper receipts because the requirement that these machines be provided will slow the installation of accessible voting devices. "The National Federation of the Blind, for instance, [says the Times] has been championing controversial voting machines that do not provide a paper trail. It has attested not only to the machines' accessibility, but also to their security and accuracy--neither of which is within the Federation's areas of expertise. What's even more troubling is that the group has accepted a $1 million gift for a new training institute from Diebold, the machines' manufacturer, which put the testimonial on its Web site."

These are the words from the editorial in the New York Times, and many of them are inaccurate. Furthermore, the tone of the article is completely false. We have worked with Diebold for several years, and we have examined their machines. We believe their machines are accessible. We have talked with officials who run boards of elections, and they tell us that the Diebold electronic voting machines are as accurate and safe as any on the market. We have not insisted that paper receipts be produced, but neither have we insisted that they be avoided. If they are produced, we want them to be accessible to us, and we insist that blind people get the right to a secret ballot along with everybody else. Too often we have been told that later is good enough for the blind and that accessibility is just too hard.

In Maryland we participated in a court battle a few months ago to secure the right for the blind to have a secret ballot. Now the state is being sued by so-called experts like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Campaign for Verifiable Voting to abandon its commitment to a statewide accessible system of voting because of alleged newly discovered security flaws. The National Federation of the Blind demands that the promise made in the Help America Vote Act be kept. The right to vote is fundamental in democracy, and the blind must have equal access to it. Furthermore, it is reprehensible that a newspaper would misrepresent our purposes and our statements. I have written an editorial response and submitted it to the New York Times. I have corrected the misstatements in the Times article, and I have pointed out that supporting accessible electronic machines that give blind people equal access to the same information that sighted people take for granted is not dubious but laudable.

Furthermore, we will not permit trumped up charges of inadequate security to keep us from having equal access to the polling places. Electronic voting machines are going to be installed in the United States. The technology exists to make them accessible to us. We insist that this technology be used and that they be accessible. Our right to vote is no less important than the right of every other citizen, and we will protect it. One other thing should be said: when you have influence, you get criticized. The New York Times was right about at least one thing: the National Federation of the Blind is an influential organization.

In 2001, shortly before the convention of the National Federation of the Blind, we worked with Senator Christopher Dodd and others to have the Instructional Materials Accessibility Act (IMAA) presented to Congress. This act declared that textbooks would be provided in a medium that would make them accessible to the blind at the same time they became available to sighted students. We have continued to press for this legislation, and as we gather for this convention, both houses of Congress have included provisions on this subject in their respective versions of amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The Senate version of the IMAA amendments includes a provision to place electronic texts of all books in a national access center which will catalog and redistribute them. This is a vital provision to achieve the goal of on-time access for each blind student. Therefore we are working hard to have the Senate provisions included in the bill that goes to President Bush. We believe this proposal will become law before the end of this Congress.

The Instructional Materials Accessibility Act would have been law years ago except for the interference of an official in the Department of Education, Dr. Robert H. Pasternack, assistant secretary of education. In 2001, Dr. Pasternack persuaded the Bush Administration to oppose passage of the bill that would let blind students have their books on time. He said that such a bill would violate principles of federalism. I am able to report to you that, for whatever reason, effective the beginning of January 2004, Dr. Pasternack ceased employment in the Department of Education. Now perhaps blind children will get their books.

The growth of NFB-NEWSLINE® has continued at a dramatic pace. With 105 separate papers now available each day and more to come, NFB-NEWSLINE® is by far the world's largest program for providing rapid access to current information for the blind. NFB-NEWSLINE® has over 49,000 registered readers (6,500 new readers since our last convention), who called the service for 703,497 reading sessions between June 1, 2003, and May 31, 2004.

Two magazines, the New Yorker and the Economist, have recently been added. Anyone registered from anywhere in the United States can call NFB-NEWSLINE® and read these magazines. Because NFB-NEWSLINE® has been outstandingly successful, we are pursuing additional development. We expect to add content to the system, and we expect to create new distribution methods that will be a part of NFB-NEWSLINE®.

The Medicare Prescription Drug Improvement and Modernization Act (legislation to establish a prescription drug benefit under the Medicare program) authorized two studies of interest to the blind. One will examine a proposal to make rehabilitation a Medicare service. This one has posed significant problems because, although doctors should know about rehabilitation, most of them do not. To assign them the task of designing rehabilitation programs for the blind is to ask them to become involved in a specialty for which they have no training and no experience. Many members of the National Federation of the Blind are rehabilitation experts--some of us provide rehabilitation, and many more of us have received it. The medical model assumes that the professionals know what to do, and the patients receive the services offered. The rehabilitation model demands much more interaction. Professionals and clients work together to achieve a goal established by the client. We must impress our positive view of rehabilitation and blindness on the officials of the Medicare centers who are conducting the rehabilitation study.

The second study examines existing and emerging technologies to make prescription drug information accessible to the blind. The Food and Drug Administration is in charge of the technology study, and we provided comments on the need for greater access to prescription information.

During the past few months NISH, formerly known as National Industries for the Severely Handicapped, has tried to diminish opportunities for the blind under the Randolph-Sheppard Act. NISH would like to control all large military mess hall businesses. Although NISH talks about jobs for the disabled, it pays its disabled workers a pittance while it lavishes hundreds of thousands (in some instances well over half a million) in cash and fringe benefits on its sighted, able-bodied managers. The bosses don't want to lose the cash, and they're willing to give a little to the disabled to get it.

In May a section of the National Defense Authorization Act was reported to the Senate floor, seeking to make the Randolph-Sheppard Act inapplicable to any troop dining services provided on military bases in the United States. It doesn't take much imagination to realize that the same rule, if adopted, could eventually apply to federal office building cafeterias or other businesses as well. This is what we told members of Congress in a massive grassroots response challenging the Senate provision.

On May 19, 2004, the National Federation of the Blind and NISH reached an agreement that the Randolph-Sheppard Act priority would apply to all military installations in the United States where troop dining services are provided, except locations currently operated by NISH affiliates. We expected this agreement to be enacted in law, but the Department of Defense objected. Because blind people have an unemployment rate better than 70 percent, we must try to protect opportunities that currently exist, and we will. Our agreement with NISH could have provided more than two hundred locations in which the blind could make very substantial incomes. Because it is important for the blind to have at least some chance for the lucrative opportunities that sighted people seek, we will do our best to protect this program.

Employment practices of some sheltered workshops that are affiliates of National Industries for the Blind (NIB) have been a source of concern for many years. Cari Dominguez, who currently chairs the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, attended our convention last year and expressed interest in discriminatory employment practices affecting the blind.

Charges have been filed by the National Federation of the Blind on behalf of blind workers against the Louisiana Association for the Blind, located in Shreveport, Louisiana, and Lions Volunteer Blind Industries, located in Morristown, Tennessee. These charges describe discriminatory employment practices subjecting blind employees to less favorable terms and conditions of employment than their sighted colleagues. The practices include paying blind employees less than the sighted; not making reasonable accommodations necessary to permit blind employees to be promoted; laying off blind employees while retaining the sighted; prohibiting blind employees from transferring, while permitting the sighted to do so; and, in the case of the Louisiana Association for the Blind, classifying laid off blind employees in a way that prevents them from receiving unemployment compensation benefits. The sighted who are laid off get them.

The agencies in the NIB system receive tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts, and some of the employment practices that can be found in them cannot stand examination. The time for reform is long overdue.

Meleah Jensen is a blind senior at Louisiana State University (LSU) and a former National Federation of the Blind Scholarship winner. Last year she applied for and secured a job as residence hall assistant. When she arrived for training at the beginning of the school year, LSU changed its mind and took the job away, stating that it would be too dangerous. With the help of Scott LaBarre, president of the National Association of Blind Lawyers, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, Meleah Jensen filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. A settlement has been reached. Meleah Jensen will be receiving three times the salary and benefits she would have had working as a residence hall assistant. This is one more reason for the National Federation of the Blind.

Lee Martin is blind and lives in Indianapolis, Indiana. Before becoming blind in 1999, he worked as a foundry technician at the DaimlerChrysler Foundry, where he helped to manufacture engine blocks. After getting some blindness training, he attempted to return to work, but DaimlerChrysler said it was too dangerous. How tired we get of hearing that the world is a place too dangerous for us. State vocational rehabilitation officials said that they would provide on-the-job assistance, and they were invited to visit the DaimlerChrysler facility, but Lee Martin was excluded because DaimlerChrysler said it would be too dangerous for him to walk around the plant.

Eventually Lee Martin entered the manufacturing facility and performed one of the jobs there, but DaimlerChrysler continues to say it is too dangerous for him to work. Consequently we have filed a lawsuit on his behalf in the federal district court. Does DaimlerChrysler run a manufacturing operation that is inherently dangerous? Can DaimlerChrysler demonstrate that the blind have more accidents or more injuries than the sighted? Having us in the workplace does not increase the danger, and we will not let prejudice keep us out.

Larry Povinelli, a blind lawyer and a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind, represented a blind woman, Rauihya Idarus, in a hearing to determine whether she should receive a license to become a practical nurse. Ms. Idarus had met all of the requirements, but she is blind. At the end of the hearing she received her license, but it would not have happened without the help of the National Federation of the Blind.

Larry Murphy was a blind man living in St. Joseph, Missouri, and a longtime member of the National Federation of the Blind. He had been the yard supervisor in the maintenance department for Buchanan County. When he applied for a promotion to head the road and bridge department, a job he had been doing for some time, he was refused the opportunity on the grounds of blindness. We helped him with an appeal, and we were making substantial progress when Larry Murphy contracted cancer. Before the case could be concluded, he died. However, Pauline Murphy, also a longtime member of the Federation and Larry Murphy's wife, has carried the matter forward, and I am pleased to report that she has received a very substantial settlement--$165,000.

Last year I reported to you that the Federation and the attorney general of Massachusetts were suing E*TRADE, an outfit with over fifteen thousand ATMs, to make those ATMs accessible to the blind. E*TRADE sued the NFB in Virginia in an attempt to keep the case out of Massachusetts. The federal judge in Virginia recognized this stratagem and dismissed the case. We continue to pursue the matter in Massachusetts, although E*TRADE has tried to obstruct, delay, and obfuscate. When their legal maneuverings failed, they tried other strategies. In June they announced that they were selling their ATMs for $108 million to another entity called Cardtronics. We will hold E*TRADE accountable for failing to be accessible to the blind, and we will pursue matters with Cardtronics.

Last year the NFB of Pennsylvania got a surprise. A disability law center in Pittsburgh had purported to have negotiated a deal on behalf of the NFB of Pennsylvania with National City Bank, which operates thousands of ATMs in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. However, the NFB of Pennsylvania had not been involved in the negotiations, and the so-called settlement was horrible. It would have required National City to make only a tiny fraction of its Pennsylvania ATMs accessible to the blind over an extended span of time. Of course this alleged settlement had to be rejected. We told National City that it must make all of its locations accessible, and it must do so within thirty months. National City agreed to do it, and it also gave us a contribution to support our movement. 

Harriet Go was a senior at Temple University’s College of Education. She is a bright lady, who has won a National Federation of the Blind Scholarship as well as the National Federation of the Blind of Pennsylvania’s Ted Young Memorial Award and a Temple University academic scholarship. For her student teaching requirement she was placed at a nearby public elementary school. When Ms. Go went to meet the supervising teacher in anticipation of her teaching assignment, she encountered the principal, who complained that he should have been told that she was blind. The principal called the university, and Temple pulled her student teaching assignment. When the National Federation of the Blind intervened and provided Ms. Go with a lawyer, Temple and the Philadelphia schools each denied responsibility and blamed the other. Harriet Go was quickly reinstated to her student teaching assignment. She has completed the task and has graduated summa cum laude.

The state of Arkansas several years ago acquired a brand spanking new statewide computer system to handle all state government computer-related functions. This system was not accessible to the blind even though state law required it to be and even though blind employees had urged, prior to the acquisition, that an accessible system be purchased. I reported to you last year that the National Federation of the Blind filed suit on behalf of blind state employees. Since then we have secured an injunction prohibiting the addition of any more components to the state’s computer system until that system is accessible. The judge also ordered the state to make the system accessible or to shut it off by July 1, 2004.

This is July 2nd, 2004. Has the state of Arkansas complied with the court order, or are further proceedings required? If more effort is necessary, we are equal to the challenge. We are confident that Arkansas will soon have a computer system accessible to the blind or pay a hefty price for failing to do what the law requires.

One of the opposing lawyers in Arkansas told our lawyer that we had better settle this case and agree to accept an inaccessible computer system. If we did not accept his agreement, he said, matters would be set in motion to repeal the law requiring accessible technology. However, we did not succumb to the threat. We also know the way to the Capitol, and we can talk to legislators about our needs as easily as they can. We will meet them in the offices; we will meet them in the legislative halls; we will meet them in the corridors of power. The blind will not be forgotten or ignored, and we will have access to information. This is the determination of the National Federation of the Blind.

In July 2002 the National Federation of the Blind filed an action in the United States district court in Arizona against American Blind Products and its officers for trademark infringement and deceptive telemarketing practices. American Blind Products had been using the name of the Federation in telephone solicitations and telling people that purchases of their products would help us. We settled this case in December 2003. American Blind Products will no longer be using the name of the Federation and will not refer to the blind in any of its dealings. It has also paid the National Federation of the Blind $175,000.

Mike Jones is a doctoral student in the rehabilitation department at Auburn University in Alabama and, until recently, was also a graduate teaching assistant. He serves as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Alabama. During the fall of 2003 Mike Jones was chivied by a professor in the department about his advocacy on behalf of the blind. The comments of the professor became so strident and offensive that Mike Jones filed a complaint of harassment. Three days later he was terminated from his teaching position without any explanation, without any opportunity for reviewing the decision, and without the rights of due process. Professors in the department are also refusing to work with him to complete his doctoral degree.

Although Auburn claims that Mike Jones was fired because of lack of funding, he was the only teaching assistant who was not continued for the spring 2004 semester, and he is the only student with a disability in the entire rehabilitation department. Auburn cites Mike Jones’s “attitude” as a reason for the termination. Apparently blind students are supposed to be passive, conciliatory, patient, meek, and not too demanding.

We believe that Mike Jones was fired because of his outspoken advocacy on behalf of the blind and in retaliation for his filing of a complaint of harassment. We believe he has claims for damage because he was not accorded the constitutional right to free speech. We further believe that Mike Jones has a constitutionally guaranteed right to serve as the president of our affiliate in Alabama and to speak for the blind. We in the National Federation of the Blind join with our blind brothers and sisters to take collective action, and when necessary, we serve as outspoken advocates. Furthermore, we intend to keep it up. We will not let anybody tell us that this kind of behavior is wrong--not even the professors at Auburn University.

Anil Lewis, a blind person from Atlanta, Georgia, who serves as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Georgia and as a member of the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind, applied for the position of director of the Business Enterprise Program in Georgia. He made it to the final round. During the interview he was asked to take a writing test on a computer that had no access technology installed. He was also asked a lot of questions about how he could be president of the Georgia affiliate of the Federation and still do the job for the state. While he was waiting to hear whether he would be hired, Anil Lewis continued his advocacy for a vendor who had been wrongfully terminated from the program.

The application of Anil Lewis was rejected; a less qualified applicant got the job. It seems as though the state agency expects blind people to know their places. It seems as though the state agency does not approve of blind people who are aggressive advocates. It seems as though the state agency refuses to hire a leader of the Federation because he is a leader of the Federation. However, our right to organize is a fundamental element of our citizenship, and we will not permit it to be eroded because of the prejudice of certain officials in state government. We will defend our right to free association--to join with our blind brothers and sisters--and we will ensure that the abilities we possess are not belittled or rejected because we have decided to take collective action. If necessary, we will meet officials of the state government in court, and we will not rest until we win!

In 1990 we established the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind and pledged to display in it at least one of every piece of access technology or software that provides tactile or spoken word information to the blind. We have kept this pledge and expanded it. Our technology center houses the most comprehensive collection of access technology for the blind in the world. It is available to inventors, to students, to entrepreneurs, and to the members of the Federation for examination and comparison.

During the past twelve months we have obtained upgrades to computer software programs such as JAWS, Window-Eyes, SuperNova, MAGic screen magnification, ZoomText screen magnification, the Kurzweil 1000, and OpenBook. We have purchased new PAC Mates; the Braillex EL 40S Braille Display; the Alva MPO 550 Phone Organizer with Braille Display; the Extreme Reader from Guerilla Technologies along with a keypad and a scanner; a VideoTIM, a device with a camera and an array of pins which is used to display tactilely the image on a printed page; Global Positioning System (GPS) hardware and software with street maps; a Mimeo, a device which allows a blind person to capture images drawn on a whiteboard and save them to a file or print them; a Sharpe Talking Cash Register; a BookPort; three digital book reading machines--the Victor Classic, the Victor Vibe, and the Telex Scholar; and upgrades for the BrailleNote and VoiceNote.

As we have worked to initiate the development of technological products for the blind, we have established partnerships with a number of entities. VisuAide is a company in Canada that produces the Victor machines and the Trekker, which is a Global Positioning System operated through a personal data assistant such as the Ipaq. This GPS unit has potential for considerable computing power.

The National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped is soliciting proposals for the design of the digital talking book player. The National Federation of the Blind and VisuAide have agreed to work together, along with others, to submit a proposal for this design. We believe that we must work with technology developers to ensure that the interests and the wishes of the blind are considered when products for our use are in the design stage. Because the VisuAide company believes we can be helpful, we are submitting a joint proposal. The president of VisuAide will be with us during this convention to talk about the work of his company.

During the past several years we have developed a strong working relationship with Louisiana Tech University. The teacher shortage in the field of blindness is chronic, and we are taking steps to assist in addressing it. Louisiana Tech is planning to do joint work with us to increase the number of teachers of the blind graduating from college and to prepare innovative educational opportunities for those seeking to enter the field of work with the blind. Dr. Jo Ann Dauzat, dean of the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University, is with us at this convention and will be participating in our meetings and working with us in the years to come.

Our public education program continues. This year we sponsored a documentary about us entitled "Fulfilling Futures: Helping the Blind Achieve," which aired on public television stations throughout the United States. It is available for use in local communities. We also created a fourteen-minute video called "Building Our Dream," which was presented originally at the grand opening of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. These two videos along with many, many public service announcements about our numerous programs have been displayed on television throughout the length and breadth of America.

Last August we convened at the National Center for the Blind an education summit to consider methods and techniques for enhancing educational opportunities for blind students. One proposal considered during that summit was the establishment of the National Center for Blind Youth, which will undoubtedly become a part of the program activity of our newly established Jernigan Institute.

The National Federation of the Blind is an active participant in the World Blind Union. For ten years Dr. Jernigan served as president of the North America / Caribbean Region, and I have also held that office. The World Blind Union brings together agencies for the blind and organizations of the blind. Because within the entities that make up the organization there are strikingly different approaches to the subject of blindness, this amalgamation of groups sometimes creates frustration. However, we learn much about programming for the blind from throughout the world, and we have an opportunity for interaction with leaders of the blind in other countries. Mrs. Mary Ellen Jernigan and I are the delegates of the National Federation of the Blind to the World Blind Union, and we will be participating in the general assembly that takes place in South Africa later this year.

Through our Materials Center we have shipped information to approximately a hundred countries. Over a thousand packages of literature and specialized products for the blind are distributed to individuals in our own nation and throughout the world each month. 

Our recognition as the center for information about blindness is continuing to grow. More people have come to the National Center for the Blind this year than ever before in our history--over 3,600 of them.

This past spring we conducted the most successful conference for blind vendors that we have ever put together, entitled "Business, Leadership, and Superior Training." From all reports, the vendors had a blast. From this conference a five-and-a-half-minute video has been developed, depicting the energy, the resourcefulness, and the success of blind vendors.

We continue to operate the most extensive scholarship program for blind students of any organization of the blind. Through this effort we have encouraged blind people to enter professions previously thought closed to the blind, and we have stimulated academic achievement far beyond the program itself.

A little more than a year ago we initiated the NFB Corps, a mostly volunteer group to seek to build Federation chapters and affiliates. Although there has been an interruption in the activities of the Corps, reports from throughout the country indicate that there have been notable successes, and we will be re-energizing this effort within the next few months.

We continue to distribute the Braille Monitor, with a circulation of more than 35,000 each month; Future Reflections, with a circulation of more than 10,000 each quarter; Voice of the Diabetic, with a circulation of over 325,000 each quarter; the American Bar Association Journal recorded edition; and the newsletters of divisions, state affiliates, and local chapters. And we are sending people our Kernel Books, those small volumes of firsthand accounts of blindness that are a central element of our public education campaign. With more than five and three-quarter million of them now in circulation, these books have provided more information about blindness to members of the public than any other set of documents produced in the last quarter century. The twenty-fifth volume, entitled Reach for the Stars, was released last November; and the twenty-sixth, The Lessons of the Earth, is being released at this convention. Volume twenty-seven, entitled Imagine! will be released before the end of 2004.

As I contemplate what we have done and as I ponder the time ahead, I feel a thorough tranquility. The Federation is a boisterous, restless, tumultuous organization with a sense of purpose and an objective to be met. Within the past year we have done more than ever before in our history, but we recognize that this is only the beginning of what must be accomplished. The record of our performance since our founding in 1940 is one of astonishing growth, but the obstacles we have determined to overcome have been monumental. Despite the enormousness of the task we have set ourselves, it is being met, and the record of our progress is clear. What we seek is the complete integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality. Although we have not yet finished the job before us, we have been hard at it for more than sixty years, and in the past twelve months we have intensified the effort.

In the National Federation of the Blind we have a shared bond from me to you and from you to me. It is a bond of trust and a bond of faith. I believe in what we do, and I believe in you. You must share the belief that I have in what we are seeking to build, and you must believe in me and in each other. If we keep the faith--which we always have, which we always will--we will continue the extraordinary growth that is part of our heritage. I will not waver or equivocate in the effort to bring equality to us all, and you must not. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek began our movement along with a few others more than sixty years ago. Dr. Kenneth Jernigan carried the trust forward and passed it to us. We hold the future in our hands; the task to build tomorrow is our own. With determination to achieve independence, with the dedication to meet the task ahead, with the commitment that we must and will have freedom, we march to the future with joy. I have been throughout the Federation this year, as I have been for so many, and I tell you what I have observed. The National Federation of the Blind is a vital force that is moving forward at an ever increasing pace. Ours is a spirit that cannot be denied! This is what we know; this is what we are! This is my report for 2004.



Life Insurance


Life insurance constitutes a very special gift to the National Federation of the Blind. A relatively easy and direct form of planned giving is a new life insurance policy. You can make the NFB the beneficiary and owner of a life insurance policy and receive a tax deduction on the premium you pay.

For example, at age fifty you purchase a $10,000 whole life insurance policy on yourself and designate the NFB as beneficiary and owner of the policy. The premium cost to you is fully tax-deductible each year. You may even decide to pay for the entire policy over a specific period of time, perhaps ten years. This increases your tax deduction each year over the ten-year period and fully pays up your policy.

You may, however, already have a life insurance policy in existence and wish to contribute it to the NFB. By changing the beneficiary and owner to the National Federation of the Blind, you can receive tax savings, depending on the cash value of the policy. Your attorney, insurance agent, or the National Federation of the Blind will be able to assist you if you decide to include the NFB in your planned-giving program through life insurance. For more information contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.




[PHOTO CAPTION: The Scholarship Class of 2004: (left to right) back row: Darrel Kirby, Kagan Nuss, Domonique Lawless, Stephanie Brown, Amelia Cavallo, April Davis, Doronne Walker, Lynn Heitz, Lindsey Palumbo, and Laurel Henry; middle row: Sharon Giovinazzo, Yolanda Garcia, Amber Chesser, Kallie Smith, Nicholas Hoekstra, Tai Tomasi, Jerry Rodabaugh, Victor Wong, Ricardo Flores, and Rebekah Blackburn; front row: Lia Jacobsen, Thomas Page, Reanne Tangedal, Monty Anderson, Ahmed Salem, Mary Jo Thorpe, Caitlin Snyder, Lili Stansberry, Stephanie Hirst, and Rachel Werner.]

The 2004 Scholarship Class

of the National Federation of the Blind


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--ninety-one past winners this year--stream back to take part in convention activities and assume responsibility, doing anything that they can see needs to be done. Everyone looks forward to meeting the new scholarship class and to hearing what its members are doing and planning to do with their lives.

On banquet evening, while we are still sky-high after listening to President Maurer's address, Peggy Elliott comes to the podium, presents the year's winners, giving an academic and personal sketch of each, and announces which scholarship the person has been awarded. This year each winner crossed the platform and shook hands with President Maurer and Ray Kurzweil, whose foundation presented each with an additional $1,000 scholarship and the latest version of the Kurzweil-1000 reading software.

The final scholarship awarded in this year's scholarship extravaganza, which took place at the banquet on July 4, was the Kenneth Jernigan Scholarship of $12,000, which was presented to Darrel Kirby, who then spoke briefly to the audience. His remarks appear later in this article.

But earlier in the week, at the meeting of the NFB board of directors, each 2004 scholarship winner came to the microphone and spoke directly to the Federation. Following is what they said about themselves. Each speaker was introduced by Peggy Elliott, who announced first the student's name and then both the home and school states. This is what was said:


Monty Anderson, Hawaii, Hawaii: Aloha, everybody. I'm attending the University of Hawaii at Manoa on the island of Oahu. I'll be entering a graduate program in clinical psychology with a dual in cognitive psychology in the fall. I plan to research therapies for people who have newly acquired disabilities.


Rebekah Blackburn, Indiana, Indiana: Thank you. My name is Rebekah Blackburn, and I am excited to be here. I'm currently enrolled at IV Tech State College in Indiana, and I am getting ready to finish my internship in the fall. Then I will pursue my master's degree at the University of Indianapolis with a master's in social work. After that I hope to practice working with and helping people, just giving them hope.


Stephanie Brown, Kentucky, Kentucky: Hello, everyone. I'm Stephanie Brown. I am currently attending the University of Louisville, where I am pursuing my bachelor's degree in elementary education and learning and behavior disorders. I plan to get my master’s degree at Louisiana Tech, where I will get the master of education in teaching blind students and possibly the mobility certification. Thank you.


Amelia Cavallo, New Mexico, New Mexico: Hi, everybody. I am attending the University of New Mexico and going into my junior year. I am majoring in theater with an emphasis in acting and musical theater. I am planning on going on an international exchange through my home university to England this fall. I hope to go to grad school and become a professor of theater and also work with either existing theater companies or create a new theater company that works specifically with blind and disabled actors. Thank you.


Amber Chesser, Louisiana, Louisiana: Good morning to the board of directors. It's great to be here. I will be a freshman at Louisiana Tech in the fall, majoring in psychology. I hope to work with children and their families. Thank you.


April Davis, Illinois, Louisiana: I am currently working on a master’s degree in education with a concentration in teaching blind students, and I am really excited about this because I didn't have the opportunity to learn the skills of blindness until after I finished my bachelor’s degree and attended the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I'm really excited about reaching out to blind children and their families.


Ricardo Flores, Texas, Texas: I am a senior at Texas A&M University, majoring in history and minoring in geography with plans to pursue a master's in education administration. Some may be of the opinion that history belongs in the past. With my future credentials I plan to improve the future through education and political means. I will be certified to teach, and I have a long-term goal of participating in local and state politics. I will owe a large part of my success to this organization, and I am grateful for your generosity.


Yolanda Garcia, Texas, Texas: Good morning, everyone. I am currently attending the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, where I am a senior pursuing a double major in psychology and sociology. I plan on attending grad school in the near future after graduating to become a licensed professional counselor for adolescents. Some day I hope to have my own private practice. The Federation has given so much to me, and coming here six years ago after two weeks of being blind instilled a philosophy in me to give me hope that I can pursue the dreams I had before. Now blindness is not a hindrance. Thank you.


Sharon Giovinazzo, New York, New York: I'm attending Mohawk Valley Community College. I'm getting ready to finish my associate degree in human services with plans of pursuing my bachelor’s in health sciences and then going on for a graduate degree in occupational therapy with an emphasis on technology.


Peggy Elliott: The National Federation of the Blind scholarship program also welcomes reapplication from people who have once before won a national scholarship. We term these people tenBroek Fellows in honor of the founder of our organization. This year we have four tenBroek Fellows, the first of whom is:

Lynn Heitz, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Good morning, everybody. I will be attending the University of Pennsylvania in the fall for a graduate degree in social work, but, most importantly, I'm going to use the degree to work with older adults who are losing their vision and their families to spread the word of the only positive philosophy of blindness, that of the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you.


 Peggy Elliott: Also a tenBroek Fellow, here is:

Laurel Henry, Wyoming, Florida: Good morning, everyone. It's great to be here. This fall I will be a first-year graduate student at the University of South Florida, working on my master’s in social work with certification in marriage and family therapy. I would eventually like to become a licensed clinical social worker. I would just like to say that it's a wonderful honor to be here as a tenBroek Fellow. I won my first scholarship in Atlanta in 1999, and it's great to be back. I look forward to seeing you guys for many more years. Thanks so much.


Stephanie Hirst, Alabama, Alabama: Hello, everyone. I am a sophomore at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where I study biology and chemistry. After I complete my undergraduate studies, I would like to go to graduate school and pursue a doctoral degree in biochemistry because I want to do research. I just want to thank you for letting me be here. It's my first convention, and I am very excited.


Nick Hoekstra, Michigan, Michigan: Good morning. I'm Nicholas Hoekstra attending the University of Michigan. I'm going to be a junior in the fall. I am majoring in philosophy and psychology, and this coming winter I plan to study in Chile, so I hope to major in Spanish. This is my first NFB-related activity in my life so I am really excited, and I figured, so far in my life I have managed to rock a high school, rock a university, and now to rock the rest of the world.


Lia Jacobsen, Florida, Vermont:  Hello. I will be a freshman at Middlebury College starting in the fall studying comparative linguistics, which is the shortest track to get six languages so that I can be working in translation, politics, and as a professor. I am also going to be minoring in psychology, so hopefully I will be able to use that to aid in both the situation culturally dealing with blindness in different nations and politically.


Darrel Kirby, Iowa, Iowa: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am up here today because a group of Iowans believed in me. Two years ago I became blind. I did not have the NFB. I was out to dinner with a friend, and a waitress came up to me, looked right past me, and asked my friend what I wanted to eat. The NFB has given me back my voice, and I am thankful for that. I currently serve as the president of the Iowa Association of Blind Students and was newly elected as the president of the Old Capital Chapter. I will be starting my master’s degree in social work in the fall at the University of Iowa, where I will show many people that they too have a voice that can be heard.


Domonique Lawless, Tennessee, Tennessee: Hello. This past May I graduated in the class of 2004 from high school, and in August I will be entering Belmont University as a freshman. Right now I am planning on double majoring in psychology and German with a music minor. I have an inkling about what I want to do--I can either open up a practice or do criminal profiling. Then there is a possibility I could teach German. I am looking forward to that, and I still have enough time to decide. I am honored to be here. Thank you.


Kagan Nuss, Delaware, Virginia: Good morning, everybody. As a first-time convention attendee, it is a great privilege to be able to speak here in front of the group, albeit for a brief moment. This year I will be an incoming freshman at the newly dubbed University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia. They accepted me in the honors program. I was kind of happy about that. I plan on obtaining an undergrad in business administration, and later I would like to go to graduate school for law.


Tom Page, Kansas, Kansas: Thank you. I am so honored to be here today. I am pursuing a master’s degree in interdisciplinary research methods--got about three semesters left. I want to thank the NFB of Kansas, especially Donna Wood, and also the KRCB for helping me be here today, and all of you for everything you do here. Thank you so much.


Lindsey Palumbo, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania: Thanks, guys. Apparently some of you out there have heard of me. I'm attending Clarion University. I will be a senior there this fall. I'm double majoring in special education and rehabilitative sciences. I'd later like to go on for my master’s and explore a career as a diagnostician. If you don't know what that is, it's people who administer and score tests. I'm also attending the Colorado Center for the Blind this summer. I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to be up here today. Thank you.


Jerry Rodabaugh, Idaho, Idaho: Good morning. I am currently attending the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, Idaho, trying to achieve a degree in psychology with hopes of becoming a rehabilitation counselor. Thank you.


Ahmed Salem, California, New York: Good morning. Can everyone hear me all right? Awesome. I am from California. This is my first time in the National Federation of the Blind. Actually I've been in the United States for four years, and this is my first involvement with any organization which is for the blind and by the blind, so I am extremely, extremely happy to be here. I am going to be attending Cornell University in the fall, hopefully triple majoring in economics, psychology, and government. I am planning to go to Yale Law and practice international law or civil rights law. That's what I plan to do, and I am very honored to be here. I am very honored to call myself a Federationist. Thank you very much.


Caley Smith, Iowa, Iowa:  Good morning, fellow Federationists. This fall I will be attending the University of Northern Iowa as a freshman. Right now I would like to pursue a career in social work, so I am majoring in social work. I am going to keep my options open and see what my interests are really like. I would like to say that without all of you I would not be where I am today, so thank you.


Caitlin Snyder, Michigan, Ohio: Good morning, fellow Federationists. I am Caitlin Snyder, and this fall I will be a freshman at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I'm planning to study political science and philosophy. I would just like to thank the scholarship committee and especially the board of directors for giving me the opportunity to come here this year. Thank you.


Lili Stansberry, Washington, Washington: Hi, everyone. First of all, I'd like to say that I am grateful for this opportunity to be here and deeply honored to be a scholarship recipient. I am a senior seeking a master's degree in business administration with a specialization in human resources and a minor in pre-law. It is my goal to attend law school and become an attorney. In closing I'd like to say that prior to the Federation I lived my life using the word "if." What if I could drive? What if I could see? But now I live my life saying "when": when I get my bachelor’s, when I get to law school, when I become an attorney. For this I am deeply grateful.


Reanne Yvonne Tangedal, Montana, Montana: Good morning, fellow Federationists, board of directors. It's an honor to be here. It's my first national convention. I've had a very positive, fulfilling, wonderful experience so far. I know that I will be coming back to national convention for many years to come. I am currently attending Montana State University in Billings. I will be a senior this fall. I am double majoring in elementary and special education. My plans eventually are to attend a graduate program (I am not sure where yet, but I will decide eventually) to receive a specialty in low vision teaching at the elementary level. I became involved with the NFB in 2001 shortly after I graduated from high school, so I am on my fourth year of being a member of the Montana affiliate of the NFB, the Montana Association of the Blind. It is a great honor to be here. I plan to learn a lot, and thank you very much.


Peggy Elliott: Next we have another tenBroek Fellow. This is Mademoiselle NOMC and tenBroek Fellow:

Mary Jo Thorpe, Utah, Louisiana: Hello again, I am a graduate student at Louisiana Tech University. I am pursuing a master’s in education with a concentration in teaching blind students in orientation and mobility. I recently received my orientation and mobility certification, which I am very excited for and very proud of. I hope after graduation to work with blind students in the school system to teach blindness training to them. I just want to thank everyone for the opportunity to be a tenBroek scholar this year. This organization has come to mean such a great deal to me over the last few years that I have been part of it. Thank you.


Peggy Elliott: Tai Tomasi. This is another tenBroek Fellow:

Teresa A. Tomasi, Utah, Arkansas: President Maurer, board of directors, fellow Federationists. It is an honor to be here as a tenBroek scholar this year. My first Federation convention was in 2000 here in Atlanta. I have just graduated from the University of Arkansas with honors with a degree in political science, and will be going on in the fall to pursue a joint degree program in law and political administration at the University of Utah. As one of twenty-three adopted siblings with a single mother, I learned at a very young age the importance of staying tenacious. With this tenacity came the desire to be treated equally. Our Federation has taught me to understand that I cannot expect equal rights without assuming equal responsibility. This concept has seen me through many challenging situations, and it will allow me to achieve my goals. It is for that that I wish to thank my Federation family.


Duronne Walker, Illinois, Illinois: Hello, everyone. I am extremely honored to be here. I am attending the University of Illinois and working on my Ph.D. in educational policy studies. I am currently writing a dissertation on student disability in higher education. My goal is to show the world that people with disabilities can be an asset rather than a liability. Thank you.


Rachel Werner, Oklahoma, Oklahoma: Hey guys, how's it goin’?  You guys are great. I am a senior at the University of Central Oklahoma, where I am pursuing a double major in psychology and sociology. I will be attending graduate school at the University of Oklahoma. I will pursue a doctorate in psychology with a focus on children who have experienced rape trauma and been the victims of other deviant acts. I really want to do counseling with those kids and their families and just try to get to the bottom of that whole psychological mentality behind that. Louisville was my first convention last year. I had really thought I was alone in wanting to be a blind person who was successful, who had a competitive edge with her sighted peers, but I came to Louisville and found out I was dead wrong. I had a family, and I thank you guys for that.


Victor Wong, New York, New York: I'm deeply honored to be here. Thank you for this chance. I am currently attending Cornell University at the graduate level, studying physics--to be specific, space physics--and doing the solar-system-type things. So I am hoping either to teach or to end up being a researcher somewhere, like NASA, if I cannot find a job as a faculty member. Thank you.


Peggy Elliott: There, Dr. Maurer and fellow Federationists, is the class of 2004. [applause]


On July 4, Scholarship Committee Chairman Peggy Elliott announced the 2004 scholarship awards. As each winner crossed the platform, President Maurer offered congratulations, and Raymond Kurzweil presented each with a $1,000 check from the Kurzweil Educational Foundation, the latest version of the Kurzweil-1000 reading software, and a beautiful plaque. The winner of the 2004 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship of $12,000 was Darrel Kirby of Iowa. He spoke briefly to the banquet audience. This is what he said:


[PHOTO CAPTION: Darrel Kirby]

I would just like to say I hope everyone in this room gets the chance, at least once in their life, to feel the way I do right now. I am honored. I would like to thank all Federationists--my family, my friends, my brothers and sisters. I am here because of your love and support. I'd also like to extend a thanks to the leaders in our movement both present and past. They'll never be truly past; they still live in us today--Dr. Jacobus tenBroek and Dr. Kenneth Jernigan. I'd also like to thank Dr. Maurer. He's worked hard up to this point and has convinced us that he's going to work hard into the future.

I sat in a room much like this just one year ago in Louisville, Kentucky. It was my first convention. I was new to blindness, and I listened to the address of Dr. Maurer. After his address I made it a priority to remove one phrase from my life. That phrase was, "But I'm blind." I had said, "I want to return to school, and I want to do well, but I'm blind. I want a job. I want to be successful, but I'm blind. I want to have a family, but I'm blind." I realized that I must remove that one phrase if I was ever to go anywhere in my life.

This year, since I removed that phrase from my life, I've adopted a new one. With the help of my mentors this week and every person in this room, I've adopted the phrase, "because I am a Federationist." I have found myself saying, "I will succeed because I am a Federationist. I will never be alone because I am a Federationist, and I will not be lost because I am a Federationist." Like everyone in this room we will succeed, we will never be lost, and we will never be alone because we are Federationists.

I encourage you to take tonight, this day, this week, or all of your accumulated experience in the National Federation of the Blind and let them motivate you. Let this be your independence day. Thank you. [applause]


Here is the complete list of 2004 scholarship winners and the awards they received:


$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Monty Anderson, Rebekah Blackburn, Stephanie Brown, Amelia Cavallo, Amber Chesser, Sharon Giovinazzo, Nicholas Hoekstra, Lia Jacobsen, Lindsey Palumbo, Kallie Smith, Caitlin Snyder, Reanne Tangedal, Duronne Walker, and Rachel Werner


$3,000 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Contractors Association Scholarships:  Stephanie Hirst, Thomas Page,  and Victor Wong


$3,000 National Federation of the Blind Educator of Tomorrow Award: April R. Davis


$3,000 Hermione Grant Calhoun Scholarship: Domonique Lawless


$3,000 Kuchler-Killian Memorial Scholarship: Ahmed Salem


$3,000 Howard Brown Rickard Scholarship: Kagan Scott Nuss


$3,000 E. U. Parker Scholarship: Jerry Rodabaugh


$5,000 Michael and Marie Marucci Scholarship: Ricardo Flores


$5,000 Jennica Ferguson Memorial Scholarship: Yolanda Garcia


$5,000 Sally S. Jacobsen Scholarship: Lili Stansberry


$5,000 Hank LeBonne Scholarship: Laurel Henry


$7,000 National Federation of the Blind Scholarships: Lynn Heitz and Mary Jo Thorpe


$10,000 Charles and Melva T. Owen Memorial Scholarship: Teresa A. Tomasi


$12,000 Kenneth Jernigan Memorial Scholarship: Darrel Kirby



The 2004 Awards

Presented by the National Federation of the Blind


From the Editor: This year the National Federation of the Blind presented five awards, three at the July 1 board of directors meeting and two at the July 4 banquet. Here are the presentations as they occurred:


Blind Educator of the Year Award


During the board meeting President Maurer called Steve Benson, chairman of the Blind Educator Selection Committee, to the microphone to make the presentation. This is what he said:


Thank you, President Maurer, and thank you, members of the selection committee--Sheila Koenig, Judy Sanders, Adelmo Vigil, and Ramona Walhof--for participating in committee deliberations. The 2004 recipient of the Blind Educator of the Year Award is one whose talent, teaching skills, contributions to the field of education, and leadership in the community and in the National Federation of the Blind merit such singular recognition.

This year’s honoree will receive a check for one thousand dollars and a plaque reading:


National Federation of the Blind

Blind Educator of the Year

presented to


in recognition of outstanding


in the teaching profession

You enhance the present

You inspire your colleagues

You build the future.

July 2004


This year’s award recipient has taken seriously lessons learned from Dr. tenBroek, Dr. Jernigan, and President Maurer:

Blindness is a characteristic, not a handicap;

Blind people compete on terms of equality with sighted people;

Mastery of the skills of blindness and self-confidence are essential ingredients for success;

It is respectable to be blind.

The winner of this year’s Blind Educator of the Year Award emulates Dr. tenBroek, founder of our organization, in a number of ways. He teaches speech and communication. There is great demand for his classes. He has set high standards for himself and for his graduate and undergraduate students. He is a gifted, rigorous instructor--tough-minded and compassionate.

The nominating letter from the dean of the university college at which this year’s honoree teaches comments that he has “taught with distinction.” Further, he says, “he has developed and taught courses” and is a “caring and effective advisor.” He is a “splendid colleague,” and “excellent ambassador” for his university.

According to the honoree’s state president, our winner has not only organized a chapter but “has stimulated a great deal of public education in the community and on campus about the abilities of blind people and the nature of the discrimination we still face.” In whatever community or professional activity this year’s honoree has involved himself, he has done so as a Federationist, and he makes it very clear.

He is involved in membership recruitment, ably chairs the state scholarship program, and serves as the state affiliate first vice president. In all of his leadership capacities he works well with other leaders. He has published numerous papers and articles and presented several papers at professional conferences. He has also garnered professional awards for his excellent work. Fellow Federationists, this year’s Blind Educator of the Year is Dr. J. Webster Smith.

While J. W is making his way to the platform, I will tell you that he is associate professor of speech communication at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Indiana University, his master’s degree at Purdue University, and his Ph.D. at Wayne State University.

Dr. Smith, here is a check for $1,000 and this beautiful plaque. Fellow Federationists, here is Dr. J. Webster Smith.


[PHOTO CAPTION: Dr. J. Webster Smith displays his plaque.]

To President Maurer and to my boss and colleague President Pierce, and Chairman Benson of the committee, and fellow Federationists. For years I have sat where you are sitting and observed outstanding educators come up here and wrestle with their emotions and their ability to articulate what they are feeling. I said, "I wonder what that feels like?" Now I know. This is the most meaningful award in my twenty-plus years of teaching, and I'm thinking now about 1992. It was about May of that year. I was sitting around in my house. The phone rang. I picked it up, and this lady said, "Hold for a call from Dr. Kenneth Jernigan." It took him almost seven minutes to convince me and make it possible for me to attend my first national convention. As they say, the rest is history.

I want you to know I am rarely speechless, and now I know how so many others have felt here. It is indeed an honor. It will only make me work that much harder. Thank you so very much.


Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award

A little later in the board meeting President Maurer invited Sharon Maneki, who chairs the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Selection Committee, to present that award. This is what she said:


Good morning Mr. President and fellow Federationists. The committee of Allen Harris, Joyce Scanlan, Dr. Edwin Vaughn, and I is pleased to bring the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award to you this morning. This award began in about 1987 to recognize vision teachers in the field who teach not only the skills of blindness but the philosophy of self-confidence and excellence. Our recipient (as she makes her way to the podium) is from the great state of Idaho. She has been teaching for twenty-eight years. She'll begin her twenty-ninth year in September. While she hails from the Idaho State School for the Blind, she travels the realm of Idaho going out to the vision programs and the students in their districts. She said that she has to spend at least an hour a day just getting to the individual before she actually begins her teaching-- Jan Zollinger.

I want you all to know that Jan is wearing a pin that says, "Read for fun." This is a Braille pin, and she says it was her lucky charm. That's just one example of why she is our recipient this year. First of all, Jan, I have for you a check for a thousand dollars. I'm going to present the plaque to Jan, and then I will read it:


The National Federation

of the Blind


Jan Zollinger

Distinguished Educator of Blind


For your skills in teaching

Braille and

Other alternative techniques of


For generously devoting extra

Time to meet

The needs of your students, and for

Inspiring your students to rise

Beyond their expectations.

You champion our movement,

You strengthen our hopes,

You share our dreams.

July 2004


Ladies and gentlemen, here is Jan Zollinger. [applause]


[PHOTO CAPTION: Jan Zollinger poses with her award.]

Dr. Maurer, board of directors, and all of you Federationists: Thank you so much for this award; it is a great honor. Who dares to teach must never cease to learn. I want all of you people to know that I have learned much the last few days. It started back in Minneapolis/St. Paul several days ago when I met the Markses in the airport. They were so excited to tell us all about the National Federation meeting. I've met many people over the last three days who have taught me much. I have taught blind children for twenty-eight years, and I have learned a lot the last few days.

Barbara Pierce spoke the first day to the children's group--what a classy lady she is. She talked on socialization [applause], and I learned from her. Then, as I was choosing classes to go to, I saw a Braille class. I love teaching Braille; Braille is so much fun. I decided to go to a Braille class. I went to Carolyn Rounds and Nancy Burns's Braille class. Somebody said, "Why are you going to a Braille class? You teach Braille already.”

I said, "Because I can always learn more." I did. Their class was so much fun. Thank you, Nancy and Carolyn--your class was fun; I enjoyed it.

Then I met Theresa and Anna from the Bahamas, a mother and daughter. They got me so excited about being here and about learning all that was here. I met a special young lady the other night at the Karaoke, Sophie, who is a college student, and it was so fun to visit with her.

I am thankful for this award. I'm thankful for Larry Streeter, who is the Idaho president of the National Federation of the Blind, for nominating me. Sharon, I want to thank you and the committee. This is a great honor, and I appreciate it. Thank you very much.


The Outstanding Service Award


Near the close of the board of directors meeting President Maurer called Dr. Norman Gardner to the podium to make a special presentation. This is what Dr. Gardner said:


[PHOTO CAPTION: Steven Schechner (left), holding his award, and Dr. Norm Gardner]

Fellow Federationists, a little over twenty years ago we started the vending outreach program in the National Federation of the Blind. This is a program in which people go into the business of placing and servicing small bulk candy vending machines. These are the kind that you simply put in a quarter, turn a crank, and get out some candy or nuts or other things. Those who are going into that business may sign a contract with the National Federation of the Blind to place our service and outreach message on their machines. This message informs the public about the National Federation of the Blind and makes them aware of our services to blind people. These vendors, who are in the business of placing these machines, by contract make contributions to the National Federation of the Blind each month.

This program has resulted in significant funding for our movement over the years, and those funds have gone into such things as our scholarship program, our many publications, and other services for blind people and parents of blind children. We have received that funding, and we have also found many new blind people who learn about us when their friends or relatives read those messages on the machines and put us in touch with blind people who are in need of our services.

Today we are making a special presentation to someone who has distinguished himself as one of the major contributors in this program. This is a person who takes very seriously his association with the National Federation of the Blind. This is a person who has worked with great dedication over the years in this program and has been a significant partner with us. Incidentally, Dr. Maurer has brought me a copy of a major trade publication in this field that has spoken very favorably of the vending outreach program of the National Federation of the Blind. This person is a true professional in serving on major committees of the National Bulk Vendor Association. So it gives me great pleasure to present the National Federation of the Blind Outstanding Service Award to Mr. Steven Schechner of Capital Vending. Would you join me in welcoming him? [applause]

I have a plaque which I will present to Mr. Schechner and ask him to hold it while I read what's on the plaque.

National Federation of the Blind

Outstanding Service Award

Presented to

Steven Schechner

of Capital Vending

In recognition of your outstanding

participation in and contribution to

the vending outreach program

of the National Federation of the Blind.

Your hard work and dedication

have resulted in major financial

support for the valuable work of the

Federation in changing what it

means to be blind in America.

The blind of this nation are proud

to call you a partner and a friend.

Atlanta, Georgia, July 1, 2004


Here is Steven Schechner.


Thank you all very much. I'd like to thank Dr. Gardner and President Maurer. I am very proud of my association with the blind since 1988. There is no other organization I've ever seen like it, and I have always stood behind them, and they've always stood behind me. I'm very grateful. Thank you very much.


The Newel Perry Award


During the banquet on Sunday, July 4, Allen Harris, chairman of the Newel Perry Award Selection Committee, came to the microphone to make a presentation before the entire convention. Here are his remarks:


The Newel Perry Award is the highest honor that the Federation bestows to recognize anyone who is not a part of the National Federation of the Blind but who has partnered with us in our effort to achieve equality, security, and opportunity for the blind. We named the award after Newel Perry, because after all he was the individual who inspired, taught, and caused Jacobus tenBroek not only to create the National Federation of the Blind but to help us all learn the truth about blindness--that it is not eyesight that determines who you are, what you become, what your capacity is, or your ability to dream, to achieve, or anything else that you choose to do. Rather, eyesight is a characteristic. We in the Federation have worked to mature and develop that philosophy so that we understand it further to mean that with proper training and opportunity a blind person can compete on terms of equality and be fully integrated into society.

The Newel Perry Award is, as I said, the highest recognition that we give to anyone who has partnered and worked with the Federation. Newel Perry winners in the past have included Jennings Randolph, U.S. senator and author of the Randolph-Sheppard Act; Hubert A. Humphrey, U.S. senator and vice president of the United States (a Democrat); and the current governor of the state of Maryland, Robert Ehrlich. The company you are in if you receive a Newel Perry Award is people who have had influence on and been able to achieve dramatically on behalf of others. The Newel Perry Award stands for education, community involvement, and civil rights. As we work in local communities in our council chambers and in our state houses and in the Congress, we need partners and individuals with whom we can work. In the Congress it is especially so for us in the Federation as we have been successful over the years despite the crises and resistance that Dr. Maurer spoke about this evening. We have prevailed and been successful so many times.

One more example of this can be seen in the Help America Vote Act, which was passed by Congress following the election of 2000. One of the things that we as the blind insist upon is the right to equality, and equality for us means equal--not sometimes equal, not separate and equal--but equal. Part of what we insisted on was not just accessibility but nonvisual-specific language that says blind people will be able to cast a secret ballot in a fashion that has integrity. This was important to us, and we got a member of Congress to help us with that when there wasn't a lot of interest. When we were told that the ink was dry and the bill was ready to roll, we were still banging away at the last minute. We did not accept defeat. We found the person to whom we will present the Newel Perry Award tonight. We found Congressman Danny K. Davis. Congressman Davis, do you want to step up here?

Congressman Davis is holding up the plaque so that you can see it and it can be photographed. The plaque says:





In recognition of courageous leadership

and outstanding service,

the National Federation of the Blind

bestows the Newel Perry Award


Danny Davis

our colleague; our friend; our brother

on the barricades;

you champion our progress;

you strengthen our hopes;

you share our dreams.

July 4, 2004


 [PHOTO CAPTION: Congressman Danny Davis displays his plaque while Allen Harris looks on.]

Thank you very much on behalf of my ninety-three-year-old father, who taught me some values I continue to hold. One of those was to have faith, to believe that you can do whatever it is that you set out to do. I shall never forget once‑‑I grew up in rural Arkansas, where my father was a farmer--one year he decided he wanted to put his mule in the Kentucky Derby. So he took me with him to Louisville [cheers and laughter]. When we got there, he went to the registration desk. The gentleman asked him what he could do for him, and he said, "I want to register my mule."

The man said to my father, "Sir, this is the Kentucky Derby. It's a thoroughbred race, and we don't accept mules. And even if we did, don't you know that your mule couldn't possibly win?"

My father said, "Well, yeah, I understand that, but I just wanted him to know what it feels like to be in such good company" [laughter]. Listening to who the former recipients of this award have been‑‑people like Hubert Humphrey and others‑‑I  know what it feels like to be in such good company. So I thank you for what you have done, for the inspiration that you have given to each other and to millions of others. I leave you with the words of Langston Hughes, who said:

"Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die,

Life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.

Hold fast to your dreams, and don't let go, for if you let go,

Life becomes as a broken field covered with snow.”

Hold fast to your dreams.  I thank you so much. God bless you, and thank you. [applause]


Jacobus tenBroek Award


At the banquet on Sunday evening, July 4, Ramona Walhof came to the podium to make the following presentation:


The National Federation of the Blind voted in 1974 to establish an award in memory of our beloved founder Dr. Jacobus tenBroek. This award is to be given to a leader of the Federation as often as merit directs. In recent years there have been an increasing number of high quality leaders to consider. Thus this award when presented is given to one who has truly made outstanding contributions to the blind of the entire nation, one whose example we all may wish to know about and emulate.

Since 1974 this award has been given to leaders from only thirteen states. Tonight we are adding a fourteenth state, a person from another place. This year the selection committee consisted of Jim Omvig, Joyce Scanlan, and me. We had no difficulty agreeing on the person to receive the 2004 Jacobus tenBroek Award.

Priscilla Ferris, why don't you make your way up? [applause] Yes, giving awards is a lot of fun. Priscilla Ferris first joined the National Federation of the Blind in 1973 and was elected president of her local chapter in 1976. She was re-elected to this position for fifteen years. She was elected vice president of her state affiliate, the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts, in 1977 and served in both vice president positions for several years. In 1983 she was elected as president of the National Federation of the Blind of Massachusetts and has continued to serve in that capacity for more than twenty years. Priscilla was first elected to the board of directors of the National Federation of the Blind in 1987 and has been re-elected every two years, eight more times.

Priscilla is proud of her family. She has two grown daughters, three grandsons, and one granddaughter. I well remember Priscilla at the microphone during one NFB convention, announcing the birth of one of her grandchildren. In tears she said that she felt compelled to share with her larger Federation family this wonderful news of the birth of the new baby. Her husband Jack passed away in 2002; Priscilla continues on. Her employers have included a cookie factory, a curtain factory, and the school district of Fall River, Massachusetts, where she worked as a secretary.

Her volunteer work includes many organizations besides the National Federation of the Blind, but she is best known as a Scout leader. She has been working with the Girl Scouts in various capacities for forty-five years. She has led Scout groups; she has administered the entire Scout program in Somerset, Massachusetts; and for six years she served on the board of directors for the Girl Scout Council of Plymouth Bay. She is often quoted as saying that she can light a fire in the rain, set up a tent in a hurricane, dig a latrine wherever it is needed, and teach anyone else to do those things as well.

Priscilla Ferris has made contributions in many parts of the Federation outside New England. She has served for many years on the Scholarship Committee, and she has held office in the National Association of Guide Dog Users. At this convention she was elected president of that division. Priscilla is a reliable, loving leader in New England. When she travels across the country, she is appreciated for her wisdom, her imagination, and her experience. It is with joy and pride, Priscilla, that I give you this award tonight. We respect you for what you are and what you do, and we love you with all our hearts.

Now I am going to give Priscilla this plaque, and then I will read it to you:


Jacobus tenBroek Award

National Federation of the Blind

Presented to

Priscilla Ferris

for your dedication,

sacrifice, and commitment

on behalf of the blind of the nation.

Your contribution is measured

not in steps, but in miles,

not by individual experiences,

but by your impact on the lives

of the blind of the nation.

Whenever we have asked,

you have answered.

We call you our colleague

with respect;

we call you our friend with love.

July 4, 2004


[PHOTO CAPTION: Priscilla Ferris holds her plaque.]

Priscilla Ferris: I honestly can't believe this. I certainly wasn't prepared. This is my twenty-sixth annual convention, and I have sat here and watched and guessed who was going to win a tenBroek award. Please believe me, I never believed this was ever going to be mine because I knew so many other people who have given and done so much for the organization.

I want to thank you all for everything, and I will continue as long as I can to do what I can for our organization, the National Federation of the Blind. Thank you so much. [applause]



[PHOTO CAPTION: Joanne Wilson]

Partnerships in Rehabilitation: The Power of Combined Action

by Joanne Wilson


From the Editor: Sunday morning, July 4, Commissioner of the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Joanne Wilson addressed convention delegates. Her address was filled with useful information for those interested in working to improve rehabilitation for blind people. After an enthusiastic welcome from the audience, this is what she said:


An old carpenter was looking forward to retirement, but a few days before he was scheduled to leave, the head of the construction company came and asked him to stay on long enough to build one more house. The fellow grudgingly agreed. But he was in a hurry to be finished. As a result he used whatever materials came readily to hand, and he often did not do his best work. But he got the job done in record time and went to his boss with the keys to the house. His boss accepted the keys with a smile and then handed them back explaining that the house had been a gift from the company to him for all the faithful years of work he had put in. The carpenter said, “If only I had known it was for me, what different materials and craftsmanship I would have used.”

I tell this story to our rehabilitation professionals around the country. I tell them to imagine that their loved ones are going to become consumers of the services offered by the rehabilitation agency. What policies and practices would they like to have in place for their sons or daughters? What would the system look like if it was going to serve their loved ones?

This question is much more pressing for you because you either have lived or will live in our rehabilitation house. You, the organized blind, must help us build our rehabilitation house. You need to become carpenters who will construct a system that will truly serve blind people. For the past eighty-four years the organized blind have helped frame the rehabilitation law. You must continue to give of your knowledge and offer your craftsmanship to build our system.

Today I want to outline a blueprint showing how you can help in building our rehabilitation system. Our law lays the foundation for our house. Section 2 (b) of the Rehabilitation Act states that the purpose of rehabilitation is “to empower people with disabilities to maximize employment, economic self-sufficiency, independence, and inclusion and integration into society;” and also “To ensure that the federal government plays a leadership role in promoting the employment of individuals with disabilities, especially individuals with significant disabilities, and in assisting states and providers of services in fulfilling the aspirations of such individuals with disabilities for meaningful and gainful employment and independent living.” So what does the law say; what does our foundation establish? It says that we must have a system that empowers blind people, that changes people’s lives. How can we do this?

I recently heard about a cab driver who kept his cab immaculately clean. When he picked up customers, he leaped out of the car to hold the door for them and carefully seated them. Before starting the car, he called their attention to a neatly folded newspaper on the back seat for them to read if they liked. He offered them a selection of music during their drive. In short, he gave them a memorable trip. When asked why he went to such lengths, he replied that he had learned long before that, no matter how well you do the job people expect you to do, they will never consider that you have done more than a good job. But if you surpass their expectations, they will immediately recognize that you have done a great job. He concluded by saying that he liked the sound and the returns of being considered great far better than being thought average because he was just getting by.

You can help provide the materials and the techniques to help the rehabilitation system to become great, to exceed expectations. We need your help. We need thousands of you to network and work with us, to give us your knowledge and your expertise to supplement the work of the rehabilitation system. For years the voices of organizations of consumers have been ignored in our system because of fear, so-called professionalism, or simple failure to think. We have vastly underused our resources.

My boss, President Bush, has articulated his commitment around the country to community-based organizations, organizations like the National Federation of the Blind. He says that federal agencies need to work in close partnership with community-based organizations. The New Freedom Initiatives emphasize that we need to empower people with disabilities, raise expectations, and thereby raise opportunities.

Several months ago I gave to all our state agency directors a commissioner’s memorandum on how they could include consumer organizations in the rehabilitation process. Today I want to give you these same ideas so that you can be proactive in getting consumers involved in our rehabilitation system. The organized blind can give the experienced-based information, the technical assistance, the role modeling and mentoring, blindness training, job matching, advocacy for consumers and the agency, and many other services that can benefit our agencies. We need to merge vocational rehabilitation with consumer organizations like the National Federation of the Blind if our system is to be strong and is to succeed.

I want to talk to you about the first piece of this blueprint: mentoring and role modeling. As blind people we are likely to model ourselves on someone else. We learn about blindness from someone. Our experience as blind people influences the choices we make. Sometimes these choices are self-limiting. Consumers come to our system because they want the experts on disability to tell them that there is hope for their lives. Who better to give that kind of hope than consumer organizations of blind people? Let’s think specifically how you can get involved in your state agency in role modeling and mentoring.

First of all, mentoring services can be included in the plan for rehabilitation for consumers who come into our system. Requirements for such services can be written into the plan. You need to make sure that brochures about this organization are in every rehabilitation office, that the counselors in your state agency realize that they need to refer consumers to your organization so that they can experience good role modeling and mentoring. We have transition grants available through either your state or the federal government that give money to organizations like the National Federation of the Blind to help provide mentoring and role modeling. Making sure that the rehabilitation agency knows about the Federation’s scholarship program is a way of exposing young people to effective role modeling. The older blind programs are always saying that they need peer mentors to be involved with older blind consumers. You have materials that are extremely valuable to the rehabilitation of blind people: the Braille Monitor, the Kernel Books, the speeches and other literature--these are materials that need to be available to our rehabilitation system.

Mentoring occurs at conventions like this one, at the state and local levels, at chapter and division meetings, and at seminars and training centers. If the funding is written into the Individualized Plan for Employment (IPE), the vocational rehabilitation (VR) program can pay for a consumer to attend conventions and seminars. VR can help sponsor student seminars and parent seminars. Probably the greatest resource available to the rehabilitation system--the ultimate in mentoring--will be the new Jernigan Institute, where the programs generated are all by blind people for blind people. Whether it’s science camps for students or senior programs, conferences or courses, the building has been built, and now it is ready to do business. This business needs to be done in conjunction with the rehabilitation system. We need to recognize such valuable resources. Role modeling and mentoring are a necessary part of any successful rehabilitation.

The second part of our blueprint is adjustment to disability. These are comprehensive and intense services offered to consumers to help build positive attitudes, confidence, skills--the things necessary for true rehabilitation. Even the best rehabilitation counselors can go only so far in providing this adjustment to disability. Society tells a broken story about disability, a story of low expectations and what people can’t do. But the blind tell a different story about rehabilitation, a story of personhood and ability to work and live as equally contributing citizens with their sighted neighbors.

In the rehabilitation system the blind have an advantage in that we do offer residential training centers, where adjustment to disability can take place. Such training centers must work in conjunction with the organized blind. October 4 to 6 of this year RSA will sponsor the second conference dealing with residential training centers. It’s called “Challenges of Change: Strategies for Successful Outcomes in Residential Training Centers for the Blind.” We need you to participate as presenters and as active participants at this conference to help build up our adjustment-to-disability components in the rehabilitation system.

The third part of our blueprint deals with the development of the Individualized Plan for Employment. This is a planning tool used by rehabilitation counselors to identify the employment goals, the services, and the providers needed by a consumer who comes into our system. Our rehabilitation law says that any consumer can develop his or her own plan, work with a counselor to develop a plan, or bring in representatives of consumer organizations or other consumers to help develop the plan. Tell me, who would have a better perspective to help both the counselor and the consumer in developing a plan than people who have experienced blindness and who have successfully completed their own rehabilitation?

The fourth part of our blueprint deals with program evaluation. Who better to evaluate the rehabilitation system than those who bring to the job the collective thoughts and experience of blind people around this country? All successful businesses listen to what their consumers have to say. You have to begin thinking of yourselves as the mystery shoppers in our rehabilitation system. Go to the public forums held by state agencies when they are thinking about adopting new policies. Go to regular meetings. You need to participate in the statewide assessments that each state is required to conduct.

A tool that will help you in the evaluation of programs is understanding what we call our standards and indicators. These are measures of the numbers but, more important, of the quality of employment outcomes in our programs. Get familiar with these. The first standard has six indicators.  Three of these are critically important: how many people were placed in competitive jobs, how many of these were people with significant disabilities, and what kind of wages did these people earn? A state agency can fail to meet some of the other indicators if it’s for the right reasons.

You need to know many things when evaluating a program. Here are a few things that inhibit an agency from doing the best job it can in working with consumers. Look at your agency’s performance appraisal system. Is it focused on the number of people who go through the system? Does your agency limit its budget so much that it does not allow high-cost pieces of equipment? Does your agency have either formal or informal processing standards, standards that go beyond the federal requirements in determining eligibility and in developing the Individualized Plan for Employment? Does your agency have formal or informal policies that limit the support given for educational programs and training? Does your agency have large caseloads for each counselor? Is there a lack of emphasis on post-employment services? Finally, is your agency’s main goal “first job, any job”? These are all issues you need to look at in evaluating your agency’s service delivery.

The fifth part of our blueprint has to do with policy development. This is central to the rehab process. Just last evening I was talking with a convention delegate here who is on his state rehabilitation council. He said, “Those meetings are so boring. All they do is talk about policies.”

After I stopped clutching my heart, I emphasized to him how important dealing with these policies is. You need to get at this in your state rehab councils, on your advisory committees, your commission boards. Get involved in dealing with the heart of the rehabilitation program: the older blind program, the Randolph-Sheppard program, handling homemakers, RSA monitoring of state agencies, generating ideas about reauthorization.

I want to pause here to give you some terms you need to understand if you are going to be effective in shaping the policies of your agency. The first term to understand is “Eligibility.” Ours is an eligibility program. Anyone with an impairment that constitutes a substantial impediment to employment and who can benefit from VR services in order to get employment is eligible for services. You may not know that the Rehabilitation Act amendments in 1998 included one that stipulates that anyone receiving SSI or SSDI is automatically eligible for VR services. It is really hard to prove that services should not be provided. You have to demonstrate clear and convincing evidence that the person is too severely disabled to benefit from VR services.

“Choice” is another word that you need to know. Due to the work of the organized blind, due to the work of this organization, choice is now a basic principle. Consumers must receive all the information necessary to make informed decisions about the various aspects of their rehabilitation. Choice is particularly important in determining employment outcomes, services, and providers of those services.

Another term you need to know about is “PD (Policy Directive) 97-04.” This is guidance promulgated by RSA about employment goals. It reinforces the concept that a consumer can select an employment goal based on individual interest and informed choice. This policy directive also clarifies the notion that VR services can be used to advance a person’s career, even if he or she is already employed or has had previous educational services.

Here is another term you should know about. It is “Regulation (that means it is part of the law) 361.50.” The RSA is monitoring states for compliance with this regulation this year. It prohibits agencies from developing policies that limit the nature and scope of services, that place financial caps on services, that restrict access to out-of-state services, and that limit the number and duration of services. Agencies can have such policies, but they cannot have them unless the policies provide for exceptions for individuals based on individual needs. Your job is to make sure that consumers know that they can ask for these exceptions. Then you need to make sure that these exceptions are uniformly and fairly implemented to all consumers.

The next term you need to be aware of is “Financial Participation.” RSA does not mandate that people participate financially in defraying the cost of their rehabilitation, but we do permit states to develop their own policies about financial participation. Remember, however, if people are on SSDI or SSI, they are not required to participate financially in their rehabilitation costs.

Those are all terms you need to know in order to participate effectively in shaping state agency policy. Now let’s return to the blueprint for building a sound rehabilitation program. You can provide immersion experiences. You know that the main problem that blind people face is negative attitudes and stereotyped views of blindness. These notions can exist in blind people themselves and the professionals in the field of rehabilitation. This is why immersion experiences for both consumers and rehab professionals are critical. Both groups must understand the blind culture and have positive attitudes about blindness. They must know about employment potential and understand about alternative techniques for getting things done. They also have to learn to be comfortable around blind people.

The immersion experiences I am speaking about can occur at conventions like this one, meetings, social events, and training programs that require their staffs to undergo intensive training with consumers. Louisiana Tech now has a graduate program for rehabilitation professionals that uses immersion experience, and this is available to people across the country. And of course one of the goals at the new Jernigan Institute is going to be training the trainers. People will have immersion experience as part of this training.

I recently went to a convention of the blind. I listened all day long to the presentations. I began grabbing brochures and napkins for making Braille notes about what I was hearing. As I go through this list of the things I heard, I want you to consider whether these items constituted rehabilitation. What impact would exposure to this experience have had on a new consumer listening to such information for the first time, or on a rehabilitation professional sitting in the audience?

People got up to talk about state agencies and the services provided--training and transition programs, library services, NFB-NEWSLINE®, Jobline. They talked about what was happening in the state legislature. Another woman got up and talked about her trip to Russia and how as a blind woman she taught English to teenagers. A man talked about how he did his job as a totally blind social worker. A group of students got together to talk about dating--blind and sighted, getting around, tips on how to behave. I heard people talking about how hard it was to be active in a consumer organization, but how much harder it was not to be. I heard statements like, “You must be willing to change and grow”; “You must learn to reject over-protection”; “You must come to say, `I do it all the time,’ and not `Well, I can do it sometimes’”; “Get in there and learn by doing it; we can’t let sighted people get in ahead of us.” I heard people saying, “I don’t have to feel alone anymore.”

I heard someone say, “It’s okay to look different.” I also heard someone say, “All of you were there with me in my head when I went to interview for my job”; “The first time I decided to go down to the cafeteria alone, you were there in my head.” I heard people say, “We all need to learn from other blind people, even if sometimes it’s a kick in the pants”; “We need to learn by teaching others”; “We need to give”; “We need to have pride in ourselves, and we need to care about other blind people.” Don’t you think that is rehabilitation? Our rehabilitation system needs to take advantage of that one day’s worth of knowledge.

The next part of our blueprint deals with in-service training. All state agencies do in-service training of their staffs. You need to be a part of that training. You need to help develop the training modules, the materials, and the newsletters.

At RSA headquarters, last week we had consumer organizations in to talk with our new state agency directors. We developed two training documents last year--one on empowerment and one on strategies for orientation and mobility. This year we are going to produce a new document in the rehabilitation world called the IRI (Institutes on Rehabilitation Issues), about how to involve consumer organizations in the rehabilitation system. We are now looking for people who would be interested in helping to write that document so that it can be used for years in the rehab world in training staff. We are also looking for consumers to help write articles for RSA’s publication, American Rehabilitation. We are looking for input from consumers in many of the projects that we are doing.

The next part of this blueprint has to do with communication and outreach. You are the best grapevine in the world. The blind grapevine stretching across this country passes along information about what services are out there, which ones are good, and which ones aren’t. You inform consumers about changes and trends in rehabilitation. You can go to state and national policy makers and let them know what you think about reauthorization, budget issues, and policy consolidation. You have ten times more publicity value than anybody else in the rehab system. You can use that visibility to broadcast the success or the problems in the system. Remember that you can always write to our regional offices or to RSA to ask questions or to tell us what you need to know about policy.

I also want to remind you about your opportunity to review grants at the state and national level. We need peer reviewers, people who will review grants for OSERS. Most of you are not going to pay any attention to what I am saying now. You will dismiss it saying, “She is going to ask me to send in my resumé; I’ll let somebody else do that.” But we need you to sign up to be a peer reviewer so that you can help determine who gets grants and what kind of projects get funded in the rehabilitation system. To be a peer reviewer you must email your resumé to <>.

You can also apply for funding from rehabilitation services at both the state and national levels. A part of the rehabilitation law, 103(b), permits establishment grants. You can establish programs that will serve people in your state. You can also set yourself up as a vendor and be paid a fee-for-service from your state agency. These services can be things like the mentoring grants, working with older blind people, and so on. One other section, Section 12, provides for grants to the states from the central office of RSA to provide technical assistance to the state agencies. In order to improve their services, these agencies can work with consumer organizations to develop programs aimed at doing so.

The last part of our blueprint deals with how to get quality rehabilitation professionals into our system. You can help by influencing the hiring of rehab professionals; by working with the university training programs; by working with our rehabilitation continuing education programs (RCEPs), our training programs for rehabilitation professionals, (you can offer courses through them); and, most important, you can become a rehabilitation professional. I was very glad to see Louisiana Tech here at this convention. This is one of the programs in which you can earn a professional degree which will enable you to help change our system.

In conclusion I want to say that for the rehabilitation system to exceed expectations and to be really great, we need for the organized blind to become joint carpenters in helping us build our rehabilitation house.



[PHOTO CAPTION: Dr. Betsy Zaborowski]

The Jernigan Institute, Our Challenge for the Future

by Betsy Zaborowski


From the Editor: Friday afternoon, July 2, NFB Jernigan Institute Executive Director Dr. Betsy Zaborowski reported on the plans and programs of the Institute. This is what she said:


In 1999 we began the capital campaign to build what we now know as the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. After a process of thoughtful design by Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, creative giving by thousands of members of the National Federation of the Blind and friends, and the diligent management of the entire process by President Marc Maurer, we have now created the first research and training facility designed and operated by an organization of blind people. This is truly revolutionary, the first time in the history of the blind that we, blind people ourselves, will direct the focus of research and programs, guaranteeing that best practices really do result from the research and that our collective practical knowledge is reflected throughout.

It has been a remarkable journey, but one that has only just begun. Up to this point many of us have thought of the Jernigan Institute as a large $19.5-million building, but it is much more. The Institute is our chance to move our philosophy to the next level. The Institute is all about attitudes and imagination. It will take form in the impressive building at our national headquarters, but it will also take shape through the activities that we all can implement in our local communities. In the Institute we will develop many innovations that we will all have to work hard to have adopted in our local areas. Therefore the success of the Jernigan Institute is a shared responsibility.

Now we are challenged to build the programs and activities of the Jernigan Institute--programs and activities that truly address the real problems of blind people and incorporate our collective knowledge and experience. These initiatives will include programs that cultivate the development of innovative technology, educational programs, employment strategies, and research useful to blind people of today and into the future.

This will all be accomplished with our continued collective effort. Who would have predicted in 1940 that, as a new century began, the organized blind of America would be poised to revolutionize this society's image of blind people forever. The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind has always been to serve as a vehicle for self-organization among blind people so that we could reach our goal of full opportunity and involvement in all aspects of our society. Now we are challenged to move this purpose to a new dimension--to lead in ways never undertaken before.

In order to expand our horizons, we need to stimulate creative minds and engage broader audiences: engineers, scientists, educators, medical professionals, parents of blind children, rehabilitation professionals, elder care workers, and many others. We need to build the infrastructure of this new Jernigan Institute. That infrastructure includes hiring and training highly qualified staff, equipping the facility with needed technology, and developing and operating our first projects--in other words, launching this venture.

At the conclusion of our session this afternoon, you will receive a copy of the new Jernigan Institute brochure. Here we outline the goals and objectives and organizational structure for the next five years of the development of the Institute. This structure has evolved directly from discussions with you, our members and our elected leadership. What will make this new Institute truly revolutionary will be the continued involvement of all of us. Some will contribute with ideas, others with contacts with potential partners or sources of financial contributions, while others will help spread the word about our programs and initiatives.

 We have already started educational and technology programs within the Institute. In addition to those you will hear more about later in the agenda, I am pleased to announce that we recently learned that we will be receiving a grant from NASA Goddard which will enable us to assemble a group of NASA scientists and engineers, who with university researchers will in accordance with our guidance develop the protocol for the development needed to create the first nonvisual user interface for a vehicle that blind people will operate someday. We anticipate that this will launch us into a new venture certain to result in a variety of technology breakthroughs.

Some inquire, why a vehicle for the blind? Many asked in the sixties, why the moon? Just as early space travel led to the development of many useful technologies, the research and development we will coordinate with our NASA and university friends will have many applications for the blind. As we learn how to present information nonvisually about our surroundings in real time, advances in mobility aids and other information dissemination technologies may result.

Later this afternoon you will hear from Dr. Ray Johnson, senior executive vice president of SAIC, one of this nation’s largest engineering firms, thanks to our wonderful friend John Frances Mergen, chief scientist for Verizon. Dr. Johnson, who leads SAIC’s very successful self-propelled vehicle project in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, will share with us his thoughts on the potential for technology useful for all of us.

At this convention GPS ambassadors are exposing many of us to the advances in global positioning technology. Already VisuAide and Pulse Data  have GPS products, and others will launch new applications in the near future. Many of us will not purchase this technology now, but we all should know about it, so don’t miss the presentation tomorrow by Franck Boynton of Navtech, this country’s foremost GPS company.

Education in many forms is a high priority for the Institute, especially educating professionals working with the blind. We all should be proud of the first technology conference held at the Institute, in partnership with the Mississippi State University Research and Rehabilitation Center on low vision and blindness. At the Institute this past April over one hundred technology specialists from throughout the country learned about the latest in technology useful for the blind.

As a result of the success of that training conference, we have been approached by the low vision section of AER, the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, to coordinate and conduct a workshop for professionals working with individuals with low vision. You may ask, “low vision?” We are an organization of blind people, right? And who better to conduct a workshop on the benefits of nonvisual technology and techniques for those with some vision? This conference will be held in the Institute, November 4 and 5, and is entitled “Bridge to Total Efficiency: A Pragmatic Approach to Visual and Nonvisual Technology.” This bridge will be different; it will be built on the collective knowledge of blind people--not simply some experts overly focused on vision.

I am proud to say that, along with our growing partnership with Louisiana Tech University, we are collaborating with the Whiting School of Engineering Science and Math Outreach Center of Johns Hopkins University and the Lions Vision Rehabilitation and Research Center of Wilmer Eye Institute. Also at this convention we have another partner, Dr. Jonathon Lazar, professor in the computer science department of Towson State University. Dr. Lazar and his graduate students are here conducting an efficiency study which we hope will prove that blind people are as efficient with technology as sighted people if given the chance.

Assisting seniors who are losing vision is a high priority of the Federation. Thus programs for seniors are an important part of our five-year plan. This past May we held our third annual seniors fair. Over 300 seniors losing vision attended along with many professionals working with these seniors. Leaders from several of our affiliates interested in improving services for seniors also attended, and we all shared what we have learned about how to do more for these members of the greatest generation. This coming year we will secure funding to move forward with a number of programs designed to assist seniors throughout the country.

We have formed advisory working groups with a focus on our science camp, early childhood education, online courses, and technology. These groups combine expertise from our membership, our professional staff, and individuals from outside our organization representing fields such as telecommunications, engineering research, law, education, and business.

When I think about what makes our organization so powerful, a number of factors come to mind: determination, tenacity, advocacy, unity, and, most important, our love of our cause and of each other. I know that under the leadership of our committed president, dedicated board, and active membership we will stand up to the challenge. It is an exciting time of imagination, a time that can stretch us to the stars if we are willing to be focused, patient, determined, and ever ready to teach others, give more than we thought we could, and love one another from a place of respect. I pledge to you my energy and optimism, and I ask you to join with me as we imagine and create a future full of opportunity.



[PHOTO CAPTION: Kevan Worley]


by Kevan Worley


From the Editor: On Friday afternoon, July 2, Kevan Worley, president of the National Association of Blind Merchants, first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, and newly appointed chairman of the Federation’s Imagination Campaign, came to the podium to announce the organization’s fundraising program for the months and years ahead. Replacing both the Associates program and the capital campaign, the Imagination Campaign will focus fundraising efforts within and beyond the organization. Announced by pealing bells, Kevan delivered his rousing speech and periodic progress reports throughout the convention. This is what he said:


“We have dreamed, we have planned, we have built; now we devote ourselves to a future full of Imagination.” That is what the back of the program said at the grand opening of our National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute on January 30, 2004. Of course the National Federation of the Blind has always sparked our imagination. When we think back over the sixty-four-year history of this wonderful and dynamic Federation of ours, it is amazing to contemplate just how far we have come. It has taken the imagination, determination, and love of thousands and thousands of blind and enlightened sighted people for generations to bring us to where we are today.

Today we are on the brink of a revolution, and with your help and with the support of our family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues the National Federation of the Blind will again change the world. In the beginning blind people could only imagine that basic needs might some day be met. Later the imaginings and concerted efforts turned to basic civil rights, acceptance on terms of equality, greater educational opportunity, and more and better jobs for the blind. Then it was on to access technology and information, from scanners and screen readers to NFB NEWSLINE®--projects which were just imaginings at first but now are part of the daily lives of many. We have worked to mainstream Federation dreams. And always we have made progress--progress through innovation, progress made possible by our understanding of and commitment to a dynamic and living philosophy—a philosophy which we cherish and gladly share. We share it because we know it has changed tens of thousands of lives. It is the philosophy that changes what it means to be blind.

As we imagine an even brighter future for blind people, as we take the steps necessary to create that future and move forward to meet it together, we are mindful of all we have achieved. We are also mindful of and focused on what we the blind must still achieve: basic needs, still, for many; civil rights; jobs; timely and truly equal access to information and technology; and full and complete acceptance in society. We have made much progress together, and we dare to dream even bigger dreams because we are one diverse and dynamic, united organization--the National Federation of the Blind, truly a grass roots organization of chapters, state affiliates, divisions, special interest groups, and networks. We have a fully equipped, state-of-the-art National Center for the Blind, staffed by caring, talented, and energetic people. We have been and continue to be richly blessed with highly intelligent, gifted, articulate, caring, and dedicated leadership. This Federation of ours is an organization which has always been and continues to be characterized throughout by imagination, unwavering determination, and love.

A number of years ago, springing from the keen intellect and inspiration of our great leaders Dr. Kenneth Jernigan and President Mark Maurer, we all began to imagine a new institute which we would build, an institute we would infuse with the spirit, generosity, and love of the National Federation of the Blind. We would build a training and research institute based upon the collective experience of real blind people, an institute that would further our collective vision through an exciting array of research and training programs inspired, imagined, invigorated by the blind ourselves. Never in the history of the world had this been attempted before. Our individual and collective imaginations were sparked, kindled, impassioned. We all began to imagine, to dream, to work to raise the money, and to build.

Now we have built a world-class facility. We raised the money to build this new building, this edifice of imagination, the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. NFB Jernigan Institute--I love the sound of it, don’t you? And I love to imagine what we will accomplish through it. I love to imagine its magnificent purpose, potential, and power. Innovative research programs from social research to new technologies, research which will be inspired, guided, focused, and supported by all of us. Training and education programs for blind children, blind job seekers, blind scientists, blind seniors, blind parents, lawyers, teachers, and maybe even blind merchants.

This is our Institute. This training will be developed, informed, and taught by us, for us. Imagine, just imagine what we will be able to accomplish. The Institute will be an extension of our organization, our philosophy, our beliefs, our passion, our commitment, and our dreams. We will dream up new technologies. We will conduct social research that will help blind children more effectively integrate on terms of equality in school and community. We will do the research to make the transition from sight to blindness more tolerable, more comfortable, and more supported for our blind seniors. We will dream up techniques to help blind people get and keep employment. We will develop new partnerships that will change the world in truly significant and magnificent ways, not only for blind people, but for all of humanity. We will; if we imagine it, if we dream it, if we do the hard work. We always have in the past, and we know we will again.

This past January many of us were able to attend the gala grand opening of our new Institute. There we heard Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, recently appointed executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, and our president, Dr. Marc Maurer, speak of their hopes and dreams for our new Institute. That glorious and symbolic evening of achievement and celebration marked the finish of our successful capital campaign, so necessary to build the building. And with great flourish and fanfare, appropriate to such a historic occasion, we embarked on a new era. That evening we also began a new and vitally important fundraising effort. On that historic night we established the Imagination Fund. The purpose of the Imagination Fund will be to launch and establish the programs we imagine at our new Institute. Some of the money raised will be available to state affiliates. Some of the dollars can be targeted to make possible activities at the grassroots level: Federation projects, seminars, and other programs. Many of these targeted dollars can be spent on collaborative and innovative projects--NFB state affiliate/NFB Jernigan Institute partnerships. What an exciting time we are entering!

Fellow Federationists, our goal is to raise at least one million dollars before the time of the next convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Louisville, Kentucky, during the summer of 2005. As Dr. Zaborowski said at the grand opening, “If we can get 1,000 people to contribute $1,000 … .” But, friends and colleagues, what we really need is for everyone from throughout our great movement and beyond to give what they can. We’ll do it the way we’ve always done it, by asking each and every one of us to dig deep to fund the future. And we will learn from the lessons of our other campaigns: our Associates program and our capital campaign.  We must and will increase our effort to reach beyond our Federation family to our individual families and friends, neighbors, and associates to ask them to help us change the world.

We must all give what we can, but we need something else; we need everyone who is able and willing to help us build an Imagination Fund donor base from people you know and people who know you. Those who know you from your family, church, community, school, fraternal organization or workplace are likely to want to help you build a better world for you, other blind people, and the blind of generations to come. If we can reach them with our Imaginative message, our history tells us they will offer their support, their ideas, and their contributions. We’d like to mail Imagination Fund and NFB Jernigan Institute materials directly from the National Center on your behalf, on our behalf, explaining what we do--educating our families, friends, and associates about our philosophy and programs, and inviting their participation, contributions, and support.

From the proceeds of the grand opening and additional contributions, we’ve already built a fund of a little over $180,000 coming in to this convention here in Atlanta. What a great, great start. Thank you, thank you to all of you who have already contributed. Thank you to all of you who have already talked to your families and friends and colleagues. Thank you to all of you who gave to help us build the building during our highly successful capital campaign to “Build It Now.” Now that we have built it, we must fund the programs which will change the world.

We have an Imagination Fund table, which will be open throughout this convention.  You can go there to make donations and pledges to the fund. You can go to the table to give us lists of people you know to whom we can then send materials. If you don’t have lists with you, give us your name and contact information; we will contact you after convention to get your Christmas card list or client list, family reunion or class reunion lists--whatever you feel able and excited to provide. At the table you can pick up material to use in this effort. You can ask questions about the Imagination Fund and our new Institute, and you can give us your imaginative ideas and make your contribution. President Maurer has appointed an energetic Imagination Fund Steering Committee, and we are already hard at work in true Federation fashion. However, we need each state president to identify and appoint an Imagination Fund point person or coordinator from each affiliate. Please tell us at the Imagination Fund table or get in touch with me after convention to let us know who your state’s Imagination Fund spark plug will be.

Fellow Federationists, do you have friends and family who you believe will help us raise more than a million dollars? Can we do it? Of course we can! From the beginning we have done the hard work to change what it means to be blind, and we have dreamed of brighter days. As Dr. Jernigan used to say, “Of drudgery and dreams.” My brothers and my sisters, “We have dreamed, we have planned, we have built; now we devote ourselves to a future full of imagination.” Thank you.



[PHOTO CAPTION: Dr. Fred Schroeder]

The Role of the Consumer in the Development of

Programs of Research and Training

by Fredric K. Schroeder, Ph.D.


From the Editor: On Sunday afternoon, July 4, Dr. Fred Schroeder, research professor at San Diego State University and past commissioner of the United States Rehabilitation Services Administration, came to the podium to deliver a brief but powerful address to the Convention of the National Federation of the Blind. These were his words:


Five years ago, in this very room, we committed ourselves to raising nearly twenty million dollars to construct a new, state-of-the-art research and training institute for the blind. At the time the task seemed overwhelming, yet today, only five short years later, we again come together, this time to celebrate our accomplishment, our fulfillment of that dream. The new institute, which bears the name of Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, now stands as a monument to our collective dedication and determination. On January 30 of this year we celebrated the grand opening of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.

It was not a celebration of a new building, not a celebration of bricks and mortar, of steel and concrete, of tile and paint; when we stood together in Members Hall, we were there to celebrate the physical expression of our collective action. We were there to remember all we have achieved together and to renew our commitment to meet the challenges ahead. A building must be adequate to serve the purpose for which it is intended, but its importance lies not in the building itself but in the hopes and dreams that led to its creation, the sacrifice and commitment it represents.

When we think of the United States Capitol, we do not simply think of a building, a place to conduct business, to meet and to plan and to forge agreements; but of course all of these things take place in the Capitol building. When we think of the U.S. Capitol, we think of democracy and our way of life. We think of freedom and the right of people to guide their own destinies and to govern themselves through elected leaders. The United States Capitol is a building, but its significance is as a symbol of freedom and liberty.

Similarly, when we think of Vatican City, we do not think of it merely as a collection of buildings, a place to administer the affairs of the Catholic Church, a place to preserve and protect archives and sacred relics. We understand that its importance transcends function.

Yet the importance of a building, its symbolic power, is not a product of its size or grandeur. Great importance is not reserved for imposing structures, buildings on the scale of the Taj Mahal, Buckingham Palace, the United Nations, or the Pantheon. Indeed, the most humble of buildings can be powerful and enduring symbols, inspiring people to do great deeds, evoking passionate feelings of loyalty and patriotism. Two years ago I had the distinct honor of participating in a ceremony in Coupvray, France, at the birthplace of Louis Braille. The home was modest, but its impact on me was powerful. Standing in the morning sun, I was profoundly moved, reflecting on the impact one person's life can have on the lives of many others. Yet to the public the significance of the Louis Braille home is narrowly conceived as an interesting, humble monument to a clever reading system for the blind. What then is the true legacy of Louis Braille, the lesson of his life?

When, at the age of ten, young Louis Braille entered the Royal Institution for Blind Youth in Paris, he found a library containing only fourteen books made of raised letters. Although he was determined to learn to read, the system of raised letters was agonizingly slow. Two years later, when Louis was twelve, he began modifying a system of raised dots and lines developed for the French army. But his new reading system was not immediately embraced or accepted. Indeed, it was first dismissed, then vilified, and finally banned from use. It was not officially recognized or taught at the school until after his death.

The significance of Louis Braille's life goes far beyond that of the creator of an efficient reading medium for the blind, although that contribution is powerful enough in its own right. Rather the important lesson is found in the opposition, the depth of resentment Louis Braille encountered when he sought to offer his reading system to others. At that time it was assumed that the blind were the wards of their sighted caretakers, not able to guide their own lives, not able to create for themselves or find solutions to their problems. Louis Braille's efforts to improve on the reading system available to the blind were seen as ungrateful, pretentious, and insulting to sighted school officials. Yet the school officials were not bad or evil men. They did not wish him ill. Their views about blindness merely reflected society's assumptions about the inherent limitations of blindness and the inherent inferiority of the blind. The lesson of Louis Braille's life is the hard yet powerful truth that we must liberate ourselves, not wait for others to bestow liberty on us.

The resentment of the master for the ward who dares to challenge his or her subservient status is not unique to the blind. At about the same time Louis Braille was suffering censure for daring to presume that he could improve on the reading system created by the sighted for the blind, another expression of the oppression inherent in the master-ward relationship was taking place across the water in America.

Beginning in the 1830's in the United States, medical journals began describing a type of mental illness peculiar to African slaves. At that time the dominant society assumed that the relationship of master to slave was implicit in the natural order of life. For society to flourish, its members had to recognize their appointed place and accept it as inevitable and preordained. Accordingly the medical literature at that time reported that a slave who ran away from his master must be mentally ill, since by running away the slave had demonstrated that he was unaware that he actually preferred slavery to freedom. Yes; it was assumed that the slave preferred slavery to freedom, and to run away was proof of mental illness. Society's assumptions ran so deep that no other explanation could be imagined.

Sound familiar? In 1951, at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind, our then president Dr. Jacobus tenBroek reported on a scholarly presentation made the year before by a well-known psychologist, Dr. Thomas Cutsforth, to the effect that the condition of blindness invariably imposes psychological devastation, a neurotic personality, on the blind person resulting in either compulsive compensation or hysterical withdrawal. According to Dr. Cutsforth, both responses are fundamentally neurotic. So, if we accept our diminished status, we are neurotic, and if we reject it, we are neurotic. Any attempt to assert our normalcy is dismissed as compulsive compensation and therefore, by definition, neurotic.

As with the African slave, society assumed that attempts to assert our most basic human worth, to assert our normalcy, to assert our dignity and right to freedom and equality were incontrovertible evidence of our maladjustment, our neurosis, our inability to recognize and accept our inevitable lot in life. But of course, as with the runaway slave, we are not neurotic by virtue of our claim to equality.

There are other institutes devoted to research and training for the blind. Why then create a new institute, a new center to conduct training and to develop new technology? The simple answer is that no one can give us freedom; no one can grant us equality; we must claim them for ourselves. In the early 1800's it was not the sighted officials at the school for the blind in Paris who gave us literacy; it was a blind person, Louis Braille. A century later another blind person, Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, opened the door to freedom when he founded the National Federation of the Blind. This time, however, it was not a single blind person working alone. In 1940 Dr. tenBroek opened the door to freedom by creating a means by which we could come together and begin working collectively to change conditions and open new opportunities for ourselves. He inspired us and gave us hope for the future.

In the 1950's we were deemed to be neurotic, relegated to lives of isolation or lives spent futilely struggling against our inferior status. Yet by that time, only a decade after our founding, we already knew better. We were no longer willing to have others decide for us our place in life, no longer willing to have others define our abilities or prescribe our opportunities. We knew we could live normal lives and compete on terms of equality with others. Accordingly, soon thereafter in 1958 Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, our longtime leader, demonstrated that we could integrate our philosophy into the operations of a state program when he assumed the directorship of the Iowa Commission for the Blind and, by so doing, transformed the lives of countless blind people.

Each of these individuals--Louis Braille, Jacobus tenBroek, and Kenneth Jernigan--was a pioneer; each was an individual of great strength and ability; each was a person of great personal integrity and character; yet each encountered opposition, suspicion, and resentment from the established blindness system. Rather than aiding the blind in their struggle to expand opportunities, the profession posed an additional and powerful obstacle--an obstacle bearing the legitimacy of the professional, presumed to possess the knowledge and experience to know what was best for the blind. The established blindness profession did not give us dignity and a belief in our right and ability to direct our own lives; we took these things for ourselves.

And that pattern continues. In 1986 Dr. Marc Maurer became our president. He has led us through times of struggle and through times of growth and accomplishment. Some of the challenges we face today are new, and others familiar, but the pattern of needing to seize opportunities for ourselves remains unchanged. When we worked to have blind people admitted to university programs of orientation and mobility, the profession fought us. When we introduced the idea of teaching young blind children to use canes, the profession fought us. When we introduced Braille bills in the states to combat the growing tide of illiteracy among the blind, the profession fought us. When we worked with the Library of Congress to develop a Braille competency test for teachers of blind children, the profession fought us. When we began a university program in orientation and mobility based on our philosophy, the profession fought us. For more than thirty years we have sought to eliminate the shameful practice of paying blind people sub-minimum wages in sheltered workshops, yet until very recently the profession fought us.

Of course this does not mean that the blindness profession is our enemy any more than society at large is our enemy. This does not mean that no good has flowed from the professional blindness system; of course it has. Indeed, our relations with the blindness system are better and more productive today than at any time in our history. What it does mean is that we bear the responsibility to strive for ourselves to attain our goals (we hope with the aid and support of the blindness system), but nevertheless the responsibility remains ours to strive for our goals with or without the help of others. Our struggle is not against bad or evil people who wish us ill; rather it is against the limited assumptions implicit in society's thinking about blindness, whether those assumptions are held by society generally, by blindness professionals, or for that matter by us as blind people ourselves.

At the grand opening celebration, when Dr. Maurer announced that our new building would be called the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, we knew the name had not been given casually or without thought. We knew it had not been done merely as a polite remembrance of a respected past leader. The name “Kenneth Jernigan” represents our most fundamental beliefs, our shared history, and our most fervent hopes for the future. No man can live forever, but the hope and courage his life inspired can and should live eternally. By giving our new institute Dr. Jernigan's name, we have made a solemn pledge to continue the work he began. Will our actions honor Dr. Jernigan's memory? Will we show ourselves worthy of the trust and confidence he placed in each of us?

What will we have accomplished one year from today? What will we have achieved a decade from now? If we have achieved much, the accomplishment will be ours; if we have achieved little, the shame will be ours. No one can give us freedom; we must claim it for ourselves. The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute opens a bold new chapter in our struggle for first-class status, our struggle to live free from prejudice, free from isolation and dependency. It stands as a monument to our collective hard work and dedication, as a monument to our past, and as a symbol of our determination to meet the challenges that lie ahead. We will meet those challenges; we will honor Dr. Jernigan's memory and faith in us; and we will commit ourselves individually and collectively to help the Jernigan Institute realize its full potential.



[PHOTO CAPTION: President Marc Maurer delivers the 2004 banquet address.]

[PHOTO CAPTION: The Independence Day banquet crowd filled the Marquis Ballroom to capacity.]

The Assimilation of Crisis

An Address Delivered by

Marc Maurer

at the Banquet of the Annual Convention

of the National Federation of the Blind

Atlanta, Georgia

July 4, 2004

Crisis is possibility made manifest. Inherent in crisis is potential change--large or small, positive or negative, welcome or disheartening. Without crisis incremental change can occur, but fundamental alteration in a political system, a structure of belief within a culture, or the functioning of an institution comes only when forces have been so concentrated in opposition to one another that the balances within the social fabric can shift. We call this moment “crisis.” Crisis is often associated with disaster, but it can also portend positive transformation.

We in the National Federation of the Blind have been facing crises throughout our history. The first of them occurred at the formation of our organization in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 1940. We proclaimed to all who would listen, but also to ourselves, that matters involving the blind would change because we would make them change. Before the founding of the National Federation of the Blind, blindness had meant (although there were notable exceptions) inability, immobility, and inferiority. The solution to the problems of the blind was to restore vision. Otherwise blind people were almost always written off. This was true even though schools for the blind existed, sheltered workshops for the blind had been created, many states had established programs to serve the adult blind, and the Randolph-Sheppard Program to provide vending opportunities for blind people had been brought into being. One bright spot was the growing program to provide books to the blind through the Library of Congress.

Part of the crisis at our beginning was one of confidence, and it was one of our own making. Would we have the internal fortitude to sustain us in the effort to bring others to believe what we said we believed about blindness? Blind people have capacity, and we expect it to be recognized. The problems of blindness can and must be solved, and one of the elements of that solution will be the blind themselves. We intend to take a hand in our own destiny. All of this was part of the founding of the Federation. The presentation of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek, our founder and first president, to the inaugural gathering of the Federation was clear and direct--it left no doubt that the organized blind would speak and act for the blind of the nation.

At the beginning the National Federation of the Blind was mostly ignored, but we persevered. When it became clear that our organization (and our philosophy) would play an active part in the field of work with the blind, a second crisis occurred. This was a crisis of fear and repression led by a few hidebound administrators of programs for the blind who felt threatened that the blind should seek to speak for themselves. Dr. tenBroek spoke to our convention in 1957 saying, "The National Federation of the Blind stands today an embattled organization. Our motives have been impugned; our purposes reviled; our integrity aspersed; our representative character denied. Plans have been laid, activities undertaken, and concerted actions set in motion for the clear and unmistakable purpose of bringing about our destruction. Nothing less is sought than our extinction as an organization." Despite the concerted action reported by Dr. tenBroek, the Federation survived, and in the long run it gained strength.

The first crisis confirmed in us the conviction that we could speak and act on our own behalf as the unified voice of the blind. The second crisis made us recognize that we would continue to exist, making our own plans, thinking our own thoughts, expressing our own views, and bringing inspiration to the field of work with the blind regardless of opposition. The crises that would come in the decades to follow would teach us much about the strength that comes from maintaining the independence and self-expression that are essential to the organized blind movement.

These first crises made us know that the possibilities for change are inherent in uncertainty, that we can manage the uncertainties when they come, and that if we intend to achieve altered possibility for us, we must help them come. Living with uncertainty is never easy, but living with the positive guarantee of discrimination and lack of opportunity is worse. We can solve the problems faced by the blind, and we must and will have change. To those who believe that blindness means immobility, inability, and inferiority, we say this: we are on the move; we are equal to the challenges before us; and nothing on earth can hold us back. If change comes through the instigation of crisis, we demand --we insist upon--crisis!

Just as the uncontrolled combustion of hydrocarbons can wreak havoc, so can the unmanaged crisis. We do not seek chaos but only the uncertainty that permits positive alteration of the fundamental belief system in our society. We want our crises to fuel advances for us in much the same way that the energy contained in a rocket engine lifts a payload into space. But make no mistake, despite the uncertainty, despite the risk, and despite the opposition, we will seek the critical points of change. With risk there is always opportunity. Our obligation is to make those opportunities real for blind people everywhere. We will manage the crises that come, and we will use the power they possess to create independence. If we manage uncertainty well and if we believe in the potential for change that exists, nothing can hold us back, and tomorrow belongs to us!

At the heart of Federation philosophy is the proposition that the problems blind people have can be solved. How do we do it? Begin with a dream of the time when the opportunities we seek are within our grasp. Describe the characteristics of this time, and imagine the differences in public attitudes about blindness, in training programs for the blind, and in the determination of the blind to participate fully in society. Consider what technologies are needed for the advancement of the blind. Discuss the hopes and dreams for the future with others so that they can catch the imaginative spirit and add details to the description. Contemplate what steps must be taken to implement the pattern or parts of it. Find methods to challenge the assumptions that tell us these things are impossible. Hunt the means (both financial and otherwise) to initiate new activities. Invite like-minded sighted people to join with us in an effort to inaugurate new methods of thought. Take a leap of faith to create new programs or new systems or to build the technologies required for easy integration of the blind. These are the elements for the instigation of crisis.

When the crisis occurs, do not lose heart. Face the uncertainty, and press forward until what we have considered in our wildest imaginings comes true. Dream; have faith; build; and share the spirit. This is the National Federation of the Blind!

Last April (only a few months ago), Dr. Raymond Kurzweil, the man who built the first reading machine for the blind and who has been hailed as a restless genius, spoke at a technology conference for technology trainers held at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute--the first organized activity other than the grand opening to occur in our new building. Dr. Kurzweil said that as computers become smaller and more powerful, the capacity they have will be integrated into human systems. He said that our memories will be enhanced by the total recall that is part of computers. He told us that tiny repair systems will be released into our bloodstreams to take steps to improve our medical conditions. He speculated that mechanical information-gathering techniques will supply data to computers, and the information so gathered will be present in our consciousness. He did not say that mechanical vision will be created, but his comments implied that some form of artificial vision will likely be available.

Many blind people are waiting for their vision to be restored. Their approach to blindness is to hope that somebody will find a miracle. When I was a boy, I heard many grownups tell me that medical science might find a cure for my blindness. Maybe so, I thought, but it doesn't look as though it will happen any time soon, so I guess I won't count on it. As I've thought about it, I haven't changed my mind. I don't have anything against waiting, except that it takes so long, and it seems so dull.

In the National Federation of the Blind we do not wait; we plan for tomorrow; and we work to build the programs that will give us the chance to use the talents we possess. If we find ways to enhance our information-gathering techniques or to improve our lives in other respects, we will use them. In the meantime we will use the techniques at hand, and we will work with others to develop new ones, or we will devise them ourselves if we need them. It is not visual acuity or physical prowess or appearance that determines what we are (though these have their place) but the spirit of independence, the determination to make a contribution, and the will to overcome whatever obstacles may exist. The mind-set that waits for a miracle is passive, but we are not. We will not have our talents and abilities ignored or forgotten, and if positive change can be had only through crisis, we will instigate the change to precipitate the event. The independence that comes with change must be ours, and we will permit nothing to prevent us from achieving it.

With great opportunity great risk must be expected. We are facing today one of the greatest challenges that has ever existed for us, though no apparent disaster looms in our immediate future. What we do to address this challenge will have an overwhelming impact on our future.

During much of history blind people have not only been ignored but almost unobserved. Research on blindness has been conducted by somebody else, and we have been the subjects,  who were sometimes quantified but rarely questioned. Our views have not been sought because it has often been thought that our intellect, our training, and our experience were irrelevant. Even when one of us invented Braille, the communication system that is used by the blind throughout the world today, the teachers and administrators of programming for the blind resisted. (Some of them are still resisting.) Invented in France by Louis Braille in the 1820's, Braille was not adopted as the reading system for the blind in his own country until after Louis Braille's death in 1852. When Braille was introduced in the United States, officials at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, led by Superintendent William Bell Wait, thought that they would improve on the system. They invented New York Point, a dot writing system with a cell two dots high and up to four dots wide. Braille, the invention of the blind, according to the officials at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, was not good enough; it had to be improved by administrators.

We have been working diligently to change the pattern, and we now intensify the effort. We ask not only that the blind be observed but that we be consulted. We insist that the problems of blindness must be addressed, and not just superficially, and we insist that we be included as an essential element in addressing them. To advance the processes of interaction and exploration, we have created our own institute, named for our beloved president, Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was the greatest builder of programs for the blind of the twentieth century. We must be a part of the acquisition of knowledge, not just onlookers; our inventive genius must be a vital element in the planning and in the direction of research on programs and products for the blind. We are outlining the programs of research, of training, and of inventiveness that we think have the greatest potential. However, there are dangers in what we do. One of these is that we the blind will place more faith in the technology than we place in ourselves. Sighted people already ask for the miracle device or the magic system that will make blind people like sighted people.

It is not the technology that creates our ability but our own minds and hearts, and we must not be misled into thinking that the machines are more important than we are. We will use the new technologies and the innovative programs of education, but these will not change our fundamental being. We have already determined what the blind will do, and we will accept no argument that tells us we lack the capacity to be an integrated part of the society in which we live. We are the blind--imaginative, articulate, determined, persistent, and productive. We will not let anybody forget it.

The speed at which technology is advancing has advantages, but it also has its dangers. As knowledge is gained, its relative importance has to be assessed; and when evaluations have been made, it must be assimilated into the social consciousness. Although facts themselves may be neutral, the underlying assumptions that integrate facts into a pattern of knowledge are not. The preconceived stereotypes about the inability and inferiority of the blind may as easily be at the base of new research on blindness as the demonstrable reality that the blind have the same fundamental abilities as anybody else. The speed for gathering facts has increased, but this does not signify that the way these facts are used is any better than it has been in former times. If the assumptions about us are as bad in interpreting today's research as they have sometimes been in the past, the faster we get new conclusions, the more problems we will have.

Beyond all of this, new information will seem better than the older generations of knowledge because it's new. A tendency will exist among some people to accept the newly devised product or the newest theories without critical evaluation. Already blind students are frequently told that they need not learn Braille or some of the other established alternative techniques for the blind because more up-to-date technologies make these older techniques obsolete. Sometimes we are told that Braille is slow and cumbersome and that the long white cane is less effective than newer electronic travel aids. Using white canes and reading Braille are said to be stigmatizing to the blind--not the liberating experiences we know them to be.

Furthermore, with the development of new programs for the blind, many students on college campuses are taking less initiative in managing their own programs than they did in former times, leaving the scheduling of readers, the acquisition of technology, the procurement of books, and the negotiation with professors to the so-called experts, the administrators who run the programs. These administrators have access to technology, which is both expensive and complex. Students who need this technology must meet the requirements of the administrators. Sometimes the technology is used as a lever to induce the students to fall into line and behave as others demand.

Of course this is not true in all programs or for all administrators, but it is an observable pattern in some of them. When the administrators tell the readers what to read for the blind and the bookstore personnel and the technology vendors what to sell to the blind and the professors how to teach the blind, they run not only the programs to serve the blind but also the blind themselves--they become the custodial caretakers of the blind.

Most assuredly we do not oppose the development of new technology or new training programs for the blind--we are in the midst of such development ourselves, and we often urge others to pursue such endeavors. However, the blind have a responsibility to be a significant part of such development. If blind people are not at the center of designing and promoting programs and products for the blind, these programs and products may help to emphasize negative stereotypical thinking about blindness. This cannot be permitted; we must prevent it. Technology will not be used against us, for we will not let it be. Our objective is always the same--self-sufficiency and independence for the blind. If there is no other way, we will stimulate a crisis.

One other element of the challenge we face is growth. As we diversify our activities, take on additional responsibilities, and increase our staff, we must not alter our focus. Because of our increased real estate and staff some people will think of the National Federation of the Blind as the National Center for the Blind or the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, but this is not what we are. Our primary goal is to serve as a means for the blind to take concerted collective action. Our policies are set by the blind, and the hopes, the problems, the experiences, and the spirit of individual blind people from throughout our movement must be incorporated into everything we do. We are not creating yet another entity to provide services for the blind; we are the blind building a movement controlled by the blind, directed by the blind, owned by the blind, serving as the collective expression of the blind.

Because the blind run the Federation, we can undertake any activity with equanimity; the good judgment of the rank and file membership will ensure that we stay on the right track. The Convention is the supreme authority of the Federation; it is the blind organized from throughout the nation. The Convention directs our efforts, determines our policies, and serves as a check and balance system for the officers it elects. This is the fundamental democracy of the National Federation of the Blind.

The popular myth is that inventing technology is good, and inventing technology to help the blind is even better. However, consider the results when the inventor is completely without information about the blind people for whom the invention is intended. An article entitled "Good Vibrations: Shoe Helps Blind to Walk," written by Susan McMahon, a staff member for the Sun, a newspaper from Lowell, Massachusetts, has been circulated around the Internet and published in various places within the last year and a half. This article describes the project of an engineering student to create a mechanical travel aid for the blind--specifically, shoes for the blind that incorporate vibrating motors. Do these motors help the blind walk faster or jump higher? No, their objective is more limited. The motors vibrate when the shoes get near something that the wearer might bump into. These special shoes for the blind were invented so that blind people would no longer need to carry white canes. Some of what the article tells us is so bizarre that it is hard to believe, but let the article speak for itself. Here are excerpts from the text:


The shoes look innocuous enough, black with wires and gadgets glued and Velcroed across the faces.

But put them on, and walk around, and suddenly the walls of the shoes begin to shake. Get a little closer to that couch, and they shake faster. Move around, and the vibrations move to different parts of the shoe.

Designed [the article continues] by recent UMass Lowell graduate Richard Namay Castle as a way to assist blind people, the shoes work by transferring objects from a visual plane to a vibrating one.

The infrared sensors can detect things from a meter away.

The model is only a prototype, but Castle hopes to find a possible buyer and then develop more sophisticated shoes. For a blind person, the new and improved shoes could provide a way to get around without a walking stick or seeing-eye dog.

Then, rather than using a cane around the house, a blind person could rely on the shoes to tell him where a doorway or the coffee table is located.

If the prototype moves to the final stages [the article continues], Castle hopes to create some kind of sensor that would detect when the wearer is walking down stairs.

Currently, drops in elevation are not registered on the shoes. [Although they may be registered on the blind person, especially if they happen unexpectedly--I admit I added this last bit myself.]


These are excerpts from the article about the inventor of the special shoes for the blind. The images portrayed give a whole new meaning to the expression “shaking in your shoes.”

But I think this inventor has only scratched the surface. What might blind people learn from expanding this technology to other items of clothing and to other parts of the body? The vibrating hat, the vibrating shirt, the vibrating pair of trousers might all be employed. In an information-rich environment, the blind person might jiggle all over, wearing the innovative vibrosuit for the blind. Vibromotors could transmit information by Morse code or in combinations of Braille dots on this or that part of the anatomy. And just imagine, if a blind person were looking for a chair and one came into the immediate vicinity, there could be a special vibration to guide the blind person to the correct location--right in the seat of the pants. When the vibration is strong enough and centered, sit down.

What a ridiculous bunch of nonsense! Has this engineer met any blind people? Has he formed the opinion that we don't already know where the couch and the coffee table are in our own houses? Does he think we are idiots?

The vibrating instrument that gives data to us is not new; many of them provide valuable information. However, putting vibromotors into our shoes so that we can find the couch is beyond the mine-run of nutso ideas that blind people often have to face. If we depend on inventors like Richard Namay Castle, the future for us is bleak indeed. But of course we will not depend on him or his uninformed ilk. We will reject his research and his peculiar summation of our incapacity. Beyond that we will tell him in no uncertain terms that he must not foist upon us his ignorance or prejudice. We need new technologies, but not vibrating shoes. We have already found the couch, and we are now looking for something else--something like business success, political capacity, or high adventure. Our aspirations are much expanded beyond the vibrating shoe and beyond the environment in which it is depicted. We will not let the engineers tell us that our lives are circumscribed, that our mobility is limited to the couch and coffee table, or that we need them to help us learn to walk down stairs. We expect to be observed but also to be consulted, and if we are not, we will precipitate a crisis.

Our experience tells us that blind people possess the normal range of wants and wishes, faults and foibles, aptitudes and abilities that others have. In our spoken and written language, we try to describe blind people as they are, not as others think us to be or want us to be. Because language is the observable expression of thought, we have objected to simple-minded, pejorative, one-dimensional descriptions of the blind. We want to be depicted not through the single characteristic of blindness but as the multifaceted interesting human beings we are. Are some blind people malevolent, parsimonious, duplicitous, avaricious, or indolent? Yes, but most of us are not. Some of us are also benevolent, generous, honest, charitable, and diligent. Some of us even possess prestidigitive powers with a capacity for feats of dexterous legerdemain. The reason we object to many of the descriptions of the blind of the past is that the authors describe their blind characters in terms of one primary characteristic alone--blindness.

In a misguided attempt to be politically correct (the politically correct would say “fair and just”), the supervisors of language appear to be attempting to eliminate the blind from literature. Because we quite evidently exist, this attempt will undoubtedly fail; but the effort to keep us out of the books will cause argument; confrontation; frustration; annoyance; and, to speak directly, anger. A book entitled The Language Police by Diane Ravitch published in 2003 declares that certain words may not be used in textbooks intended for sale to public schools. With considerable insight the author points out certain dangerous trends in the publishing business. It is not only swear words that are forbidden but also terms that might have been used in connection with people with disabilities (not “the disabled,” but “people with disabilities”). "The blind" may not be used at all. Instead, the euphemism "people who are blind" is to be substituted.

The list of disability-related terms, which contains thirty-one items, includes helpless, passive, dependent, naive, segregated from mainstream society, victims, objects of pity or curiosity, sinister characters, saintly, laughable, endowed with magic powers, unproductive, sharing common needs or problems, burden to others, heroic, inspirational, invalids, patients, bitter, and sickly. These are some of the things (according to the language supervisors in the publishing houses) that cannot be said about the blind; so what can we say? If we are not passive, are we aggressive? If we are not naive, are we sophisticated, wise, or sly? The list tells us that we are neither sinister nor saintly, leaving the impression that we are neither good nor bad but possessing only some nondescript character in-between.

That the editors of textbooks have created such a list implies that they believe authors and teachers will use these forbidden terms about the blind and that (in the view of some) we really are helpless, passive, naive, and the like. The list also suggests that textbooks must be sanitized so that the tender, impressionable minds of children are not twisted or injured by descriptions of the blind or assertions about the blind. But we protest. We are not trying to be kept out of society but included within it. We do not want blindness or blind people eliminated from the textbooks; we want them described in fluent detail. We do not want blindness hidden in a closet but brought into the open for all to observe. Perhaps we should insist that the word "editor" be removed from the language. We could sanitize the books by eliminating any reference to editors. Instead use the term "people with editing." Then we could write into the textbooks that people with editing are not helpless or naive or passive. If this is the way they would like to treat us, let us try it on them.

We will not have the blind categorized in a way different from everybody else and treated as if we were pariahs subject only to ostracism. We will not be forced to abide by special rules that insist we be depicted in a nondescript way. We will not have blindness or the blind expunged from the language.

This list of special rules implies that others believe there is shame in being blind. We feel no shame, and we will not let others force their misguided understanding and the shame they feel upon us. We will tell it like it is, and we will glory in the energy, the vibrant character, and the multidimensional spirit that we have. If we must, we will write our own books, demonstrating that the blind are as much a part of our cultural experience as anybody else. We will be observed as we are. But this is not enough; we will also be consulted about the way we are portrayed. We will do this in peace and harmony if we can--but we will do it. If necessary, we will precipitate a crisis.

In the course of the work that I have done in the National Federation of the Blind, I have been in the homes of many thousands of blind people--often at the kitchen table. Blind people from throughout the nation have told me about their lives and shared their hopes and dreams for a brighter future. They have also described the obstacles they have sought to overcome and the privations they have faced. Often our work is intensely personal, fraught with frustration, intermixed with trials, and occasionally adorned with triumph. Some of our effort is directed toward technical matters, but much of the time we are working to instill an attitude of hope, of belief, of exploration. We distribute canes, encourage the learning of Braille, and discuss high-tech systems for getting at information. But we also concentrate on helping people to understand that there is something for us, and with the proper training and the right spirit, we can get it. Can blind people obtain an education, establish homes, attract spouses, and raise families? Can blind people find employment, participate in social events, engage in political activities, and contribute in other ways to our society? Our answer to these questions has always been, and remains today, an emphatic and unequivocal Yes. I myself have been in the midst of our activities, and I have worked to bring hope and faith to others. In the bringing of these, I have reinforced my own hope and faith. The Federation is intensely personal not only for others but also for me.

As you know, my wife Patricia and I are both blind, and we have been blind all of our lives. In 1984 our first child, David Maurer, was born. A significant part of our lives has been devoted to the raising of David and of his sister Dianna, who was born three years later. The children have been a great joy to us and, of course, from time to time a trial.

In January of 2004, Patricia and I faced a living nightmare that parents everywhere hope will never happen to them. At about five in the morning a neighbor knocked on our door to tell us that David was in the hospital--that he had been severely injured in an automobile accident. We went immediately to the hospital, not knowing what we would find. David was unconscious, but he was alive. We asked the doctors if we could see him, and we prayed. Then came hours (that turned into days) of waiting, hoping, questioning, and more waiting. David was severely injured, but we did not know the extent of the damage. We knew his jaw was broken, but we did not know if there was injury to his nerves or his spinal column or his brain.

Eventually we learned that not only would David survive but that his mind would be all right and that he would be able to move all of his limbs--even his fingers and toes. We could help him return to the kind of active, productive life that he had known before the accident. We are still in the process of the medical reconstruction, but David is coming along.

Inevitably when such things occur, the questions arise. What might have been done to prevent the injury, to avoid the accident? What was the failure that led to the damage? In the hours I spent in the hospital I had much time to think about what we have done and what we have shared with each other. The overwhelming impression from those times is one of love and caring and support. No life can be lived without adversity. What is needed is the strength to face it. Our colleagues and our friends in the Federation have helped us to find that strength.

Inherent in the recommendation that blind people (or anybody else for that matter) live full and productive lives is the reality that something may happen to disturb the tranquility of those lives. However, without the risk there can be no joy. You have helped us face the risk, and we share much joy. I thank God for preserving David's life, and I thank God for something else. If He had not given me the opportunity to be in the Federation, I might not have had the courage to believe that a family could be mine and that I could share the responsibility for raising children. It is a great gift, and I am immensely blessed.

As we gather tonight in our thousands at this banquet, the prospects before us are enormously bright. We have a monumental challenge to meet, but nobody is better suited for it than we are. Knowledge gained is useless unless it is put to work. This concept demands that it be assimilated into the thought processes of the culture. Although the speed at which knowledge is being gained today is extremely high, the assimilation of this knowledge has not kept pace; at least it has not for the blind. We ourselves must learn what we can and serve as the agent for assimilation of knowledge about blindness.

Some blind people are still waiting for their sight to be restored, some inventors are still creating oddball gadgets like shaking shoes they tell us we need, and some editors are trying to prevent the blind as an organized group from being recognized in textbooks. But most of the blind are active, most of the inventors are listening, and an increasing number of the editors are getting the message that the blind will not be segregated. Our experience has taught us that we have talent and the capacity to give. We must now help others to assimilate this knowledge--we must teach them what we know.

Part of our responsibility now incorporates the development of research and training programs. We intend not only to be observed but also to be consulted, and we must be prepared to show the teachers what we have learned. This too is part of our task as the agent for assimilation.

As we take these steps, we will meet uncertainties and take risks. If we do our work well, along with the uncertainties will come positive alterations and along with the risks will come enhanced opportunities for the blind. Nobody else can meet this challenge--nobody else has the personal interest, the talent, or the will. If we fail, the blind will drift back into obscurity. But we will not fail. We are on the move, and we will not turn back. We are filled with a fighting spirit; we will not waver or equivocate; we have the imagination, the perseverance, the strength, and the guts to take whatever action is necessary for freedom. When the challenges come, we will meet them. When the obstacles arise, we will surmount them. We have kept faith with our blind brothers and sisters of the Federation throughout the decades, and we have an unquenchable determination to bring equality, self-esteem, and independence to the blind of this generation and the next. Change will come because we will make it come--slowly through negotiation or quickly through crisis--but it will come. This is our decision; this is our commitment; this is our declaration.

Join me, and we will make it come true!



[PHOTO CAPTION: Sharon Maneki reads over a resolution in Braille during the meeting of the Resolutions Committee.]

Advancing Civil Rights for the Blind: A Report on the 2004 Convention Resolutions

by Sharon Maneki



From the Editor: Sharon Maneki chairs the National Federation of the Blind Resolutions Committee. Here is her summary of the 2004 resolutions:


During the 2004 convention of the National Federation of the Blind in Atlanta, the nation also celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. President Johnson signed this landmark legislation on July 2, 1964. The Federation has been the leading civil rights organization for the blind.  It was most appropriate for our convention to take place during an overall celebration of civil rights.

This year the Convention considered and passed fifteen resolutions. As the reader will observe from the descriptions of this year’s resolutions, our commitment to civil rights for the blind has not wavered. The Convention passed resolutions on such rights as voting, education, employment, and access to information and technology.

The Help America Vote Act is the first federal law in history to recognize the right of the blind to vote privately and independently by requiring nonvisual access through the use of electronic voting machines. In Resolution 2004-01, we call upon Congress and state and local government election officials to uphold this law and to implement voter-verified paper trails only if such a system includes nonvisual means of voting verification. Dan Burke, first vice president of the Montana affiliate of the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored this resolution.

The Convention passed three resolutions concerning education. The first covers primary and secondary education. Tai Tomasi, a board member of the National Association of Blind Students, president of the Utah Association of Blind Students, and a 2004 tenBroek Fellow, sponsored Resolution 2004-02. In this resolution we urge Congress to enact the Senate version of the provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 because it will make instructional materials available to blind and print-disabled students at the same time they are available to other students. Blind students will be able to obtain an equal, appropriate education only when they have access to textbooks and other learning materials at the same time as sighted students.

Resolutions 2004-03 and 2004-10 concern higher education. Jim Marks, a longtime leader in the NFB affiliate in Montana, proposed Resolution 2004-03. In this resolution we affirm the right of blind students to direct their own reader service. Current regulations need to be changed because they do not distinguish between using a reader for personal services and using a reader for study. Many colleges deny students reader services because they falsely accuse the student of using the service for personal benefit rather than for study. The Federation does not object to the prohibition against using readers for nonacademic purposes.

Blind students, however, not the institution, should have control over accommodations that they may need in college. Resolution 2004-10 outlines our arguments for this position. Darrel Kirby, president of the Iowa Association of Blind Students and winner of this year’s $12,000 Jernigan Scholarship, was the proponent of this resolution.

The Randolph-Sheppard program, the most effective employment program for blind people, was the subject of Resolutions 2004-06 and 2004-11. Carl Jacobsen, newly elected national board member and president of the National Federation of the Blind of New York, proposed Resolution 2004-06, in which we declare our unwavering commitment to preserve and strengthen opportunities for blind people to provide troop dining services at military installations throughout the United States. In Resolution 2004-11 we call upon the secretary of the U.S. Department of Education to eliminate understaffing in the Randolph-Sheppard Program, which is part of the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Bob Ray, president of the merchants division, National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, sponsored this resolution.

The Convention passed another resolution concerning employment. In Resolution 2004-14 we urge Congress to bring the Javits-Wagner-O’Day Act into the twenty-first century. The resolution proposes five areas of reform to improve employment opportunities for blind people in the sheltered workshop system. Curtis Chong, president of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science, sponsored this resolution.

Most years the Convention passes resolutions about Social Security. This year was no exception. Jim McCarthy, director of governmental affairs for the National Federation of the Blind, sponsored two resolutions about Social Security, 2004-08 and 2004-15. Both resolutions call the Social Security Administration to task for its poor practices in handling benefit questions. Blind people who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are frequently placed in limbo, where they receive no benefits as they wait for Social Security to determine if they are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) only or for both SSDI and SSI. We call for an end to this practice in Resolution 2004-08.

The Social Security Administration wastes taxpayer dollars because of its incorrect determinations of eligibility for benefits to self-employed individuals. Many blind vendors in the Randolph-Sheppard Program who remain eligible for their Social Security disability benefits are forced to appeal because the Social Security Administration fails to apply its own rules correctly. Resolution 2004-15 calls for better training for Social Security employees so that the law is correctly enforced.

The Convention passed four resolutions on access to various types of information. Gary Wunder, secretary of the National Federation of the Blind and president of the NFB of Missouri, sponsored resolution 2004-04, concerning access to controls on appliances. In this resolution we urge the United States Department of Commerce to convene a conference as the first step in an ongoing dialogue between the National Federation of the Blind and the home appliance and consumer electronics industry to work together to make products accessible to blind consumers.

Resolution 2004-05 covers access, not only to home appliances, but also to other electronic devices used for work and life activities. This resolution states that the National Federation of the Blind should seek federal legislation to mandate equal and total access to modern electronic devices for the blind if voluntary efforts fail. Mickey Fixsen, treasurer of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa, sponsored this resolution.

Michael Gosse, first vice president of the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland, sponsored Resolution 2004-07. The 24/7 Reference is an innovative reference service offered throughout the U.S. in partnership with many public libraries to provide real-time Internet access to a librarian. Unfortunately this service is not accessible to the blind. In Resolution 2004-07 we call upon the Office of Library Services to ensure that this valuable service is as useful for the blind as it is for the sighted.

Access to the multiple listing service used by real estate brokers is the subject of Resolution 2004-09. Blind people who wish to be employed in the real estate field should have the opportunity to use the same tools as our sighted peers. We recommend that the National Association of Realtors encourage its members to purchase only accessible multiple listings services. Paul Kay, a longtime leader in the National Federation of the Blind of the District of Columbia, sponsored this resolution. Rodney Barker, a leader in the National Federation of the Blind of Oregon, introduced Resolution 2004-12. In this resolution we commend Congressmen Michael Castle and Bob Ney for soliciting recommendations from the National Federation of the Blind for nonvisual identification of dollar coins.

Air travel to Britain with guide dogs was the subject of resolution 2004-13, introduced by Peter Donahue, an active member of the National Association of Guide Dog Users and the National Federation of the Blind of Texas. In this resolution we commend the British Parliament for changing its rabies law to permit the transportation of guide dog teams to England in the passenger cabin. We also call upon major airlines operating routes to England from the United States to comply with this new legislation so that blind people can travel with their guide dogs in the passenger cabin.

This information is merely an introductory description of the resolutions considered and passed by the Convention. Readers should examine the complete text of each resolution to understand fully our policy on these subjects. The complete text of all resolutions approved by the Convention follows.



2004 Resolutions of the

National Federation of the Blind



Regarding: Maintaining Accessible Voting for Blind People


WHEREAS, the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) is the first federal law in history to recognize the right of the blind to vote privately and independently by requiring nonvisual access for the blind through the use of electronic voting machines, known as Direct Recording Equipment (DRE), to be in place throughout the United States by 2006; and


WHEREAS, concerns about the security of such machines have arisen in recent months, resulting in calls for their production of paper ballots so that voters can verify the accuracy of the votes they cast; and


WHEREAS, some have called for this voter-verified paper trail to be in place in time for the November 2004 presidential election, even though no voter verification systems are currently certified; and


WHEREAS, there is pressure in some states to return to paper ballots until an electronic voting system with a voter-verified paper trail is certified, thus denying blind people the right to cast independent, secret ballots as guaranteed by the HAVA; and


WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind recognizes that voting security is vital to the public interest, but so too is the mandate to provide nonvisual access to the ballot box to America's blind citizens, who have never had the right to cast secret, independent votes: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization reaffirm its commitment to the provisions of HAVA, requiring nonvisual access, presently achievable only through the use of DREs; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call for implementation of voter-verified paper trails only so long as they also include nonvisual means of voting and verification; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call on Congress and state and local government elections officials to uphold the law and preserve nonvisual access and to avoid any hasty changes in the name of security that would compromise the right of the blind to vote independently and privately by the time fixed in the law and thereafter.



Regarding: Instructional Materials Accessibility Provisions in the Reauthorization of IDEA


WHEREAS, timely access to textbooks and other learning materials is fundamental to the academic success of blind children who must receive their books in alternative formats to ensure equal and appropriate education; and


WHEREAS, no federal law specifically mandates procedures to assist school districts in making books and other educational materials available in appropriate alternative media to blind students in a timely manner, leaving many blind elementary and secondary students without appropriate instructional materials and textbooks for much or all of the academic year, causing them to struggle to keep up and frequently to fall behind their sighted peers; and


WHEREAS, school districts must currently obtain or produce materials for their blind students on a case-by-case basis and therefore are wasting precious educational resources on costly, time-intensive, single-copy transcription; and


WHEREAS, modern technology would make local production of Braille books simple and cost-effective if an electronic version of a book were made available by the publishers in a standardized file format and held in a central repository from which all United States school districts could order their materials; and


WHEREAS, the establishment of a National Instructional Materials Access Center to serve as such a repository for all educational materials is supported by the nation's publishers as the preferred solution to the current patchwork of varying state requirements and mandates: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization strongly urge Congress to enact the Senate version of the provisions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (H.R. 1350) that will make instructional materials available to blind and print-disabled students at the same time they are available to other students; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization strongly urge the House members of the House-Senate conference on IDEA to accept the provision for the National Instructional Materials Access Center and the other provisions of the Senate's version of H.R. 1350 concerning instructional materials for blind students.



Regarding: Readers for Study in Higher Education


WHEREAS, federal law requires higher education institutions to provide auxiliary aids and services to blind students, including readers, who constitute a primary tool for blind college students to access academic programs on an equal footing with their sighted peers because technology and alternative formats alone do not create a level playing field; and


WHEREAS, 34 Code of Regulations, Section 104.44(d) regarding personal services, makes sense because personal service bears no relevance to accessing academic programs, but the regulations do not distinguish between study of a personal nature and study required to learn and to pass a college course; and


WHEREAS, higher education institutions are denying or limiting the use of readers because these offices believe the disability support office is better suited to control services than are blind students and because they contend that alternative formats and technology make readers obsolete; and


WHEREAS, many state vocational rehabilitation agencies that have previously covered the cost of reader services for blind students now mistakenly believe that they are no longer required to pay for such services because institutions of higher education take care of auxiliary aids and services through their mandate for accessibility; and


WHEREAS, blind college students are being disadvantaged by the denial of readers for study directly linked to academic success by a lack of decision-making control over the types of auxiliary aids and services available to them and a loss of funding to pay for the vital services needed to ensure complete access to a program of higher learning: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the United States Congress and the Department of Education to eliminate the loophole that permits colleges and universities to deny readers to blind students for study; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon disability support offices to develop best-practice models that embrace blind-student-directed reader services for study; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon state vocational rehabilitation agencies to pay for readers as a routine rehabilitative service.



Regarding: Access to Controls on Appliances


WHEREAS, independence for blind people is grounded upon our ability to develop alternative

ways to do what others do with vision; and


WHEREAS, home appliances, consumer electronic devices, and point-of-sale machines that have traditionally relied on knobs, buttons, and switches that blind people can touch, memorize, and use are increasingly being produced with touch pads and displays that can only be read visually, thus reducing the blind to dependency as older appliances wear out and must be replaced and as completely new devices are invented; and


WHEREAS, technological solutions exist with controls that can be detected and operated and status information that can be heard or read using Braille or audio output; and


WHEREAS, independent access to this equipment by the blind and the creation of new equipment that better meets the needs of all the buying public can best be addressed through a cooperative relationship between the organized blind, who understand the challenge of achieving and maintaining independence, and the manufacturers, who design, build, and sell quality products to American consumers: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization urge the United States Department of Commerce to convene a conference as the first step in an ongoing dialogue between the National Federation of the Blind and representatives of the home appliance and consumer electronics industries with the express goal of working together to make these life-enhancing products accessible to blind consumers.



Regarding: Access to Electronic Devices


WHEREAS, electronic devices are becoming ever more essential in the lives of all citizens, including the lives of blind people; and


WHEREAS, these devices include toys, telephones, kitchen appliances, heating and cooling controls, PDAs, home audio equipment, home video equipment (including cable TV and satellite TV systems), security systems, laundry equipment (including laundromats), health care devices, electronic test equipment in all professions, and many, many more; and


WHEREAS, modern electronic devices are growing more complex in operation as each new model is introduced with additional features; and


WHEREAS, many of the controls on modern electronic devices have multiple functions, requiring the user to read a display visually in order to use the device at all, let alone to take advantage of its many functions; and


WHEREAS, virtually all of these modern electronic devices are impossible or at best very difficult  for the blind and large numbers of others in the general population to use because of lack of access to information on the visual displays; and


WHEREAS, the technology is readily available and the cost of adding speech output to inform the user of what is being shown on the visual display is very inexpensive today and would be beneficial to the general public and the blind alike; and


WHEREAS, it is no longer acceptable for the blind to be denied access to home electronic devices, be denied access to electronic devices at work sites (resulting in unemployment), and be denied equal access to all other electronics as they go about their communities and their lives; and


WHEREAS, there is a high priority today at all levels of government, especially at the Federal level, for equal access and equality for all citizens, including the blind; and


WHEREAS, no single site exists where the blind can work with the electronics manufacturers directly to persuade them to build devices fully usable by everyone, and working with thousands of manufacturers individually is an impossible undertaking: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED, by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization seek Federal legislation mandating equal and total access to all modern electronic devices by all consumers, including the blind, if voluntary efforts fail.



Regarding: Opportunities for Blind Businesspeople to Provide Troop Dining Services


WHEREAS, the Randolph-Sheppard program is aimed at creating entrepreneurial opportunities for blind people through management of small business enterprises, described as vending facilities, for which the blind have a priority on federal property; and


WHEREAS, provision of troop dining services at military installations in the United States fulfills the goal of the Randolph-Sheppard Act to assist blind people in achieving their maximum vocational potential; and


WHEREAS, in the last several years proponents of direct-labor employment for people with disabilities under the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) Act have attempted to block application of the Randolph-Sheppard Act to military dining services, but the courts have upheld the Randolph-Sheppard Act as having a stronger priority, specifically relating to food service; and


WHEREAS, failing to win in the courts, NISH, the umbrella organization for nonprofit employers of people with disabilities, has taken its vendetta against the Randolph-Sheppard program to Congress, trying to exclude blind entrepreneurs from troop dining opportunities altogether; and


WHEREAS, seeking to resolve this conflict in Congress, representatives of the NFB and NISH negotiated an agreement which would continue to recognize the priority for blind vendors while not contesting troop dining contracts already awarded to NISH and its affiliates; and


WHEREAS, Senator John Ensign of Nevada announced support for this agreement and prepared an amendment to enact it as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2005, but opposition from the Department of Defense led to lack of support by other Senators, preventing the amendment from being offered on the floor; and


WHEREAS, the conflict over military dining contracts will now be considered by a Senate/House conference committee, with an outcome expected to be negotiated this summer: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization declare its unwavering commitment to preserve and strengthen opportunities for blind people to provide troop dining services at military installations throughout the United States; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the conferees on the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2005 to join with the nation's blind in upholding the value of the federal Randolph-Sheppard Act to provide blind people opportunities to achieve their maximum vocational potential.



Regarding: 24/7 Reference, a Library Ready-Reference Service via the Internet


WHEREAS, 24/7 Reference is an innovative reference service offered throughout the country in partnership with many state public libraries, public university libraries, and several private universities, providing real time Internet chat-based access to a librarian for anyone with a computer and an Internet connection; and


WHEREAS, the National Federation of the Blind is optimistic that the opportunity for equal access to information which this system is able to deliver can be realized by the blind as well as by our sighted neighbors; and


WHEREAS, at this time in its development and implementation 24/7 Reference falls woefully short of its tremendous potential for providing equal access because of inaccessible design and site-construction techniques; and


WHEREAS, federal accessibility requirements including Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, have been in place for several years, providing reasonable guidelines for making products accessible, resulting in the development and promulgation of materials and tools that effectively and easily address requirements for accessibility; and


WHEREAS, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in federally funded programs; and


WHEREAS, the initial development of the technology behind 24/7 Reference was predominantly funded through the Federal Library Services and Technology Act Grants; and


WHEREAS, librarians and library service systems have an historic record of leading the advancement of access to information by all, and must surely share our disappointment that 24/7 Reference retreats from the pattern of equal access to information that library professionals traditionally demonstrate; and


WHEREAS, claims by the software developer regarding design issues or having to postpone accessibility remediation until the next version of the product is available are unsatisfactory excuses for lack of access: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the Institute of Museum and Library Services to cooperate with the National Federation of the Blind in bringing the inaccessibility of this service to the attention of state and local libraries throughout the United States; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon the Office of Library Services to live up to its obligation under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended, to ensure that any 24/7 Reference subscription is as useful for the blind as it is for the sighted; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon all publicly funded libraries to withdraw their subscriptions to this service if these accessibility issues cannot be resolved in a timely manner.



Regarding: Unjust Benefit Withholding by the Social Security Administration


WHEREAS, blind people lacking a work history and having limited income and assets are eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), while those who have worked, but are not currently performing substantial gainful activity, are eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance, once they have acquired the needed quarters of coverage; and


WHEREAS, the Supplemental Security Income program requires recipients to apply for any other benefits for which they are eligible in order to reduce the cost burden of that program, a requirement that remains in place while the individual receives assistance, meaning that changing circumstances each month can render the person eligible, ineligible, or worse; and


WHEREAS, a working blind Supplemental Security Income recipient will inevitably become eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance after working the minimum number of quarters needed by that person, reducing or eliminating the individual's Supplemental Security Income benefit; and


WHEREAS, the Social Security Administration has the entirely unreasonable expectation that individuals could possibly know and then must inform the programs that they have become eligible for Social Security benefits; and


WHEREAS, the Social Security Administration places individuals in limbo (referred to as a "special disability workload"), where neither Social Security benefits nor Supplemental Security Income benefits are provided for a period lasting two or more years, once the Social Security Administration discovers that the individual has, at some point in the past, become eligible for Social Security benefits; and


WHEREAS, this policy results in more than a half million disabled and blind individuals, most of whom because of their desire to work, eventually learn that they are in this limbo and receive no help and no benefits while they wait for the Social Security Administration to figure out when they became eligible for Social Security and perform the administrative offsets to balance the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income programs; and


WHEREAS, the Social Security Administration is in no hurry to resolve these cases because, while these individuals are in limbo, no benefits are provided: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the Social Security Administration to continue to make SSI payments to eligible individuals until the matter of dual benefit eligibility is resolved in each case or, if necessary, to seek authority from the Congress to do so.



Regarding: Nonvisual Access to Real Estate Multiple Listing Services


WHEREAS, the rate of unemployment and underemployment among the working age blind is a deplorable 70 percent; and


WHEREAS, with proper training and opportunity to work, blind people can perform most of the same tasks as well as their sighted peers; and


WHEREAS, the real estate industry is a lucrative field of employment in society today; and


WHEREAS, the multiple listing service is the major source of information available to real estate brokers; and


WHEREAS, while moving from a paper environment to an electronic environment should have improved access to the information for blind people, blind individuals report that these multiple-listing service Web sites are inaccessible because of poor construction and design; and


WHEREAS, the knowledge and tools to provide nonvisual access have been available for several years and many corporations have not only made their Web sites accessible but have also obtained accessibility certification from the National Federation of the Blind; and


WHEREAS, the National Association of Realtors, whose headquarters is in Chicago, Illinois, exerts influence on the activities of state and local boards of realtors: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization strongly recommend that the National Association of Realtors encourage its members to purchase only accessible multiple-listing services; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization urge developers of multiple-listing service software to obtain certification from the National Federation of the Blind to ensure nonvisual access.



Regarding: Student Responsibility in Higher Education


WHEREAS, the right of blind students to be admitted to institutions of higher education was established by the Higher Education Act amendments of 1972; and


WHEREAS, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 require that blind students receive an education on equal terms with the sighted; and


WHEREAS, blind students often begin college without many of the life-coping skills needed to succeed in a higher education environment including the experience of getting their own books and arranging their own classes, tasks that are made even harder by the necessity to gain access to information, tests, and handouts using alternative means in order to accomplish the same objectives as their sighted peers; and


WHEREAS, in all too many cases Disabled Student Services Offices plan, organize, and control accessibility accommodations for blind students using a one-size-fits-all approach to serving students with multiple disabilities rather than responding to the specific needs of blind students, thus encouraging dependency rather than fostering independence and responsibility in the nation's blind students; and


WHEREAS, it is essential for blind students to gain the life-coping skills of self-advocacy and independence through their college years just as their sighted peers are doing in order to ensure future success in the workplace: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization urge Congress to amend the Higher Education Act to improve opportunities for blind people by promoting the self-reliance that gives them responsibility to control blindness-related services and ensuring the original intent of federal laws, which was to provide equal opportunity to participate in educational programs and courses; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization support an amendment that ensures that institutions of higher education have procedures to encourage responsibility and self-reliance, make certain that students (not institutions) have ultimate control over accommodations, and guarantee that decisions about modifications of courses and programs shall not be made unless requested by students.



Regarding: Inadequate Staffing in the Randolph-Sheppard Employment Program


WHEREAS, for over sixty years our nation's single most effective employment program for the blind has been the Randolph-Sheppard program, a federal-state partnership providing self-employment opportunities for blind people to provide food service in public buildings and facilities; and


WHEREAS, the Rehabilitation Services Administration in the United States Department of Education provides significant funding for the program and has commensurate authority for oversight, an authority which protects the rights of blind vendors and is also essential in spurring state partners to obey the federal law and to apply it creatively to the advantage of their blind clients; and


WHEREAS, for the past two years the Rehabilitation Services Administration has not had sufficient staff to administer the program, resulting in diminished opportunities for blind people to reap the full benefits of the law and in destabilizing several state programs that are desperately in need of the steadying hand of the federal government, which should monitor compliance and spur growth in lucrative new sales and marketing trends in the fast-changing food-service industry; and


WHEREAS, as long as this understaffing persists at the federal level, the Randolph-Sheppard program nationwide is threatened with stagnation due to lack of leadership: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call upon the Secretary of the United States Department of Education to remedy this weakness in the Randolph-Sheppard program before irreparable damage is done to the program in the several states by ensuring that the program will be fully staffed at the Rehabilitation Services Administration central offices and better staffed, region by region, to the end that opportunities for the blind of this nation will be protected and fostered instead of ignored and missed.



Regarding: Nonvisual Identification of Dollar Coins

WHEREAS, the United States Dollar Coin Act of 1997 mandates that the dollar coin be golden in color and have a distinctive edge with tactile and visual features making it readily discernible, leading in January of 2000 to the introduction of the Sacagawea dollar--a coin which is nonvisually identifiable but, for a variety of reasons, has not achieved widespread use; and

WHEREAS, with the goal of increasing the circulation of the dollar coin, Representative Michael Castle of Delaware has introduced H.R. 3916, which would create a series of one-dollar coins featuring the presidents of the United States; and

WHEREAS, prior to moving forward with this legislation, Representative Castle along with Representative Bob Ney of Ohio consulted the National Federation of the Blind to discuss the statutory standards that should be included to ensure that any newly designed dollar coins would be identifiable by blind people using nonvisual means; and

WHEREAS, this legislation calls for edge-incusing, the placing of inscriptions such as mottos and emblems, the inscription of the year, and the mint marks, on the edge of coins, which allows larger and more dramatic artwork to appear on the faces of the coins, reminiscent of the Golden Age of coinage in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century; and

WHEREAS, coins can be edge-incused in a manner which preserves the nonvisual distinctiveness necessary for them to be identifiable by the blind: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization urge Congress to apply the provisions for nonvisual identification in the Dollar Coin Act of 1997 to the series of coins created by H.R. 3916; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization commend Representatives Michael Castle and Bob Ney for soliciting recommendations from the National Federation of the Blind prior to passing legislation which specifically affects blind people.


Regarding Air Travel to Britain with Guide Dogs

WHEREAS, on February 28, 2000, the United Kingdom launched the Pet Travel Scheme, a program that permits pets, including guide dogs from certain countries and territories, to enter the United Kingdom without undergoing a six-month quarantine, a requirement in place since 1901; and

WHEREAS, under the Pet Travel Scheme all cats and dogs, including guide dogs, entering the United Kingdom from long-haul countries such as the United States were required to fly directly to the United Kingdom from their country of origin and could be transported only in a sealed container in the cargo hold of the plane, thereby damaging the relationship of some teams and resulting in the injury and deaths of some guide dogs; and

WHEREAS, new amendments to the United Kingdom's Rabies Legislation that took effect on April 13, 2004, removed the requirement that all dogs and cats from long-haul countries be transported as manifest cargo in sealed containers, making it legal for airlines to permit guide dogs to accompany their blind owners in the passenger cabin and allowing the animals to enter the United Kingdom via qualifying Pet-Travel-Scheme countries other than their country of origin; and

WHEREAS, airlines wishing to transport guide dogs with their owners in the passenger cabin of the plane to the United Kingdom must establish a contract with the British Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), to secure a permit to do so, but to date no U.S. or the United Kingdom carrier operating passenger service from the U.S. to the United Kingdom has begun transporting guide dog teams together in the passenger cabin: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization commend the British Parliament for amending the United Kingdom's Rabies Legislation and the Pet Travel Scheme to permit the legal transportation of guide dog teams to the United Kingdom in the passenger cabin; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization call upon all major airlines operating routes to the United Kingdom from the United States to secure contracts from the British Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to permit transportation of guide dogs with their owners in their airplane cabins.


Regarding: Reform of the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act

WHEREAS, the Javits-Wagner-O'Day (JWOD) Act was originally conceived to provide production jobs for the blind and for people with severe disabilities by requiring federal agencies to purchase goods and services from a network of agencies associated with National Industries for the Blind (NIB) or NISH (formerly known as National Industries for the Severely Handicapped)--two central nonprofit agencies designated to perform certain responsibilities under the Act; and

WHEREAS, since the inception of the JWOD program, member organizations have used their status as sheltered workshops to deny blind and disabled people, the very people whom they were designed to help, the rights and privileges that are taken for granted by workers employed in private industries; and

WHEREAS, the most flagrant example of the denial of basic rights and privileges is illustrated by the continued practice by some sheltered workshops of paying blind workers less than the federal minimum wage; and

WHEREAS, NIB, NISH, and their member agencies have often used their nonprofit status to hide from public scrutiny even though both organizations are essentially federal agencies with huge multimillion-dollar budgets; and

WHEREAS, the JWOD Act conditions sales of products to the federal government on a workshop's employing blind or disabled workers for at least 75 percent of the direct-labor hours worked at the facility, but the Act is silent about any employment of blind or disabled people in management positions, a practice which remains as a paternalistic holdover from the past in which able-bodied persons were seen as taking care of the blind and disabled; and

WHEREAS, the requirement for production jobs and the silence about management jobs together reflect an outdated assumption that blind and disabled people should be employed primarily in direct labor as opposed to management and leadership positions that are more lucrative to employees and are more in keeping with the state of today's workforce; and

WHEREAS, the JWOD Act currently prevents for-profit entities from participating in the program even though such entities could conceivably meet a federal standard for hiring blind and disabled workers and offer the federal government products at more competitive prices than the prices offered by the NIB/NISH member agencies: Now, therefore,

BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization urge the United States Congress to bring the Javits-Wagner-O'Day Act into the twenty-first century by enacting reforms based on modern-day principles regarding blindness and disability; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this organization adopt the position that the following provisions are essential to any positive reform of the JWOD Act:

1. Blind or disabled people must be employed in at least 51 percent of all full-time and part-time positions and receive at least 51 percent of all pay and fringe benefits resulting from the sale of products or services;

2. Participation in the JWOD program should be open to both for-profit and nonprofit organizations as long as they meet all other eligibility criteria;

3. Eligibility criteria must include required procedures to ensure promotion and upward mobility for blind and disabled people;

4. Eligibility criteria should require compliance with the Fair Labor Standards Act and acceptance of jurisdiction under the National Labor Relations Act as conditions for any nonprofit or for-profit employer to participate in the program; and

5. Eligibility criteria should mandate full disclosure of hiring and promotion records to enable program administrators, lawmakers, and the public to determine that the objectives of the program to employ blind and disabled people are being met.


Regarding: Social Security Self-Employment Eligibility Determinations

WHEREAS, the federal Randolph-Sheppard program, a program involving food service vending, creates the context for the single greatest concentration of viable self-employment opportunities for blind people in this country; and


WHEREAS, the Social Security Disability Insurance program offers special deductions for self-employed beneficiaries, but due to a lack of training and appropriate instructional materials about self-employment in general and of the deductions available to blind people self-employed under the Randolph-Sheppard program in particular, Social Security staff, who determine continuing eligibility for benefits, initially deny these deductions; and


WHEREAS, upon appeal, these denials are routinely overturned, thanks to a significant investment of time, energy, and resources on the part of the individual involved and the National Federation of the Blind, which represents many blind self-employed individuals in these appeals--resources that could be better used if Social Security staff received proper training--leading to far fewer denials being issued in the first place; and


WHEREAS, many taxpayer dollars could also be saved by reducing the number of cases in which appeals are necessary: Now, therefore,


BE IT RESOLVED by the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this fifth day of July, 2004, in the City of Atlanta, Georgia, that this organization call on the Social Security Administration to add to relevant sections of its Program Operation Manual Systems examples that actually apply to blind self-employed vendors under the Randolph-Sheppard program; and


BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this organization offer its expertise to assist the Social Security Administration in crafting examples to assist its claims staff in gaining the needed understanding of the Randolph-Sheppard program and the deductions that are commonly used by blind self-employed vendors in that program.



Convention Miniatures


[PHOTO CAPTION: Paul Alfred Baillif]

New Baby:

Michael and Lynn (Mattioli) Baillif, both past National Federation of the Blind scholarship winners, were missing from convention this year. An announcement from President Maurer on the opening day revealed why. At 4:54 p.m. on Friday, July 2, Paul Alfred Baillif was born weighing seven pounds, one ounce and measuring twenty inches long. The entire Baillif family is doing well. Congratulations to all three.



A number of divisions conducted elections at their annual meetings in Atlanta. Here are the results we have received:


National Association of Blind Office Professionals (NABOP)

NAPOB conducted its annual meeting on Tuesday, June 29. Officers elected for the 2004-2006 term were president, Lisa Hall (Texas); vice president, Louis Montgomery (Illinois); secretary, Sherri Brun (Florida); and treasurer, Debbie Brown (Maryland).

Those interested in learning more about office jobs blind people are doing should contact Lisa Hall at (210) 829-4571 or email her at <>. Her personal home page is <>. Send correspondence to her at 9110 Broadway, Apt. J-102, San Antonio, Texas 78217. NAPOB dues are $5 per year. Anyone wishing to pay by check can send it to Debbie Brown, treasurer, National Association of Blind Office Professionals, 11923 Parklawn Drive, Apartment 104, Rockville, Maryland 20852. Call her at (301) 881-1892. Her email address is <>.

The next NABOP meeting will be held on Saturday, July 2, 2005, in Louisville, Kentucky. Watch future issues of the Braille Monitor for more information.


National Association of Blind Merchants

Elected this year were president, Kevan Worley (Colorado); first vice president, Nick Gacos (New Jersey); second vice president, Bob Ray (Iowa); secretary, Pam Schnurr (Indiana); treasurer, Don Hudson (Colorado); and Charles Allen (Kentucky), Raj Mehta (Georgia), Gary Grassman (New York), Kim Williams (Tennessee), Don Morris (Maryland), Carl Jacobsen (New York), Lynn Reynolds (New Jersey), and Mark Harris (Texas), members of the board of directors.


Performing Arts Division

The Performing Arts Division was re-established June 30, 2004, with the following officers: president, Adrienne Snow (New Jersey); vice president, Dennis Holston (New York); secretary, Cherian Shipmen (Texas); and board member, John Ferry (New Jersey).


National Association of Blind Musicians

Serving two-year terms will be president, Linda Mentink (Wisconsin); first vice president, Deborah Brown (Maryland); second vice president, Karen McDonald (West Virginia); secretary, Cindy Ray (Iowa); and treasurer, Bee Hodgkiss (Minnesota).


National Organization of the Senior Blind (NOSB)

The NOSB officers are president, Judy Sanders (Minnesota); first vice president, Ray McGeorge (Colorado); second vice president, Roy Hobely; (Nebraska) secretary, Jim Willows (California); treasurer, Paul Dressell (Ohio); and Clayton Hyde (South Dakota) and Don Gilmore (Illinois), board members.


Diabetes Action Network

Officers for the coming year are president, Paul Price (California); first vice president, Lois Williams (Alabama); second vice president, Sandie Addy (Arizona); secretary, Joyce Kane (Connecticut); treasurer, Joy Stigile (California); and Ed Bryant (Missouri), Josie Armantrout (Minnesota), and Bruce Peters (Ohio), board members.


National Association of Guide Dog Users

At its business meeting NAGDU elected the following officers: president, Priscilla Ferris (Massachusetts); vice president, Marion Gwizdala (Florida); secretary, Melissa Riccobono (Maryland); and treasurer, Robert Eschbach (Arizona).


Travel and Tourism Division

Officers of the Travel and Tourism Division elected on Thursday, July 1, 2004, were Douglas M. Johnson, president (Washington); Stephanie L. Scott, first vice president (Georgia); Don Gallaway, second vice president (Washington, D.C.); Milt Taylor, treasurer (Utah); Kay Burrows, secretary (Washington); and Don Gillmore (Illinois), Mary Donahue (Texas), Donna Ring (Maryland), and Kevin Daniels (Texas) board members.


National Organization of Parents of Blind Children

Changes: After sixteen years of active service in the NOPBC, Marty Greiser stepped down as second vice president. However, he still plans to be active and supportive in whatever way he can. His shoes will be ably filled by another dad from western region, Brad Weathered, father of Hannah. The Weathereds, currently of Montana, are moving to Wyoming this fall. Elected to the board position left vacant by Brad is Maria Garcia (New York, New York). Maria, mother of Elora, is the dynamic president of the revitalized POBC of New York.


 [PHOTO/CAPTION: The Jernigan Institute as pictured on new note cards]

NFB Note Cards Available:

At the convention the National Federation of the Blind of Ohio introduced cards and envelopes suitable for thank-yous and other brief notes written by affiliates, chapters, and individuals doing Federation business. A full-color picture of the Jernigan Institute appears on the front of the cards, and a large Whozit in black adorns the top of the message area. These cards will pass through a printer with no difficulty.

Sets of ten cards and envelopes are available for $10, plus $2 for handling. Checks should be made payable to NFB of Ohio and sent to National Federation of the Blind of Ohio, 237 Oak Street, Oberlin, Ohio 44074. For more information contact Barbara Pierce at <>.


Golden Wedding Anniversaries at Convention:

Ron Gardner, president of the National Federation of the Blind of Utah, reports that the Utah delegation to the 2004 convention included two couples who celebrated their golden wedding anniversaries during the convention. Primo and Marci Foianini and Al and Doris Hicks were the guests of honor at the Utah caucus held on June 30 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.

Longtime Federationists will recognize the name of Primo Foianini. He was a leader in the sheltered shop employees division of the National Federation of the Blind for many years. The Utah affiliate invited convention attendees to come by and congratulate these two couples who, combined, represent one hundred years of marriage. Among the most honored guests were President and Mrs. Marc Maurer. Dr. Maurer gave some remarks and shared some reminiscences of these two longtime Federation couples. He made a toast (albeit with fruit punch) that marriage is like a fine wine; it gets better with age.

All the guests enjoyed an opportunity to visit informally with Dr. and Mrs. Maurer, savor great refreshments, and extend best wishes for another fifty years of marriage to both golden wedding anniversary couples.


Spanish Translation at Convention:

Dr. Norman Gardner reports that a record number of people were involved in Spanish translation service at this year's convention. Eleven people donated their time and worked very hard to provide this valuable service. These included Mariana Flores and Daniela Rubio, both from Mexico and both attending their sixth consecutive convention. Patti Homan from Spain also worked very hard at the translation table. She was attending her second convention. Our thanks to everyone who made it possible for Spanish speakers to follow convention presentations more easily and completely.



Writers Division Report:

The Writers Division conducted a stimulating workshop on magazine-article writing, presented by Julie Boston, a 2004 graduate with a master's in journalism from the University of Georgia-Athens. Ms. Boston presented a candid picture of her job search and of the necessity for extensive research in article preparation. An open reading of poetry took place after the workshop with an especially touching poem by Bob Eschbach to his wife Pat and by Mary Brucker.

The annual meeting featured a discussion by Jerry Whittle of Louisiana regarding the writing of his fourteenth annual play. Jerry's marked success is due to his understanding of blindness and his wonderful creativity. The players in the play, all of whom did an excellent job, were students at the Louisiana Center for the Blind at Ruston.


[PHOTO CAPTION: Sunish Gupta and Buna Dahal stride past an outdoor café during a GPS treasure hunt in Atlanta.]

GPS Treasure Hunt:

At the national convention the NFB Jernigan Institute, along with VisuAide and Pulse Data Humanware, initiated a GPS Technology Awareness Week. Throughout the week twenty GPS ambassadors received one-on-one training from both VisuAide and Pulse Data Humanware. The ambassadors were divided into ten teams of two. The first five teams represented Pulse Data Humanware, and the other five teams represented VisuAide.

During the week the ambassadors’ task was to demonstrate their GPS devices to as many convention attendees as possible. On Saturday, July 3, the ambassadors gathered at the CVS Pharmacy on North Highland Street to start the treasure hunt. The winning team was the first to locate all of the points of interest.

 The ambassadors received their first clue, "I taste better when I'm peeled," and off they went. Their task was to find the Banana Republic point of interest, located at 1145 Briarcliff Road. The second clue, “It’s brown, sweet, and delicious," sent the ambassadors to the Chocolate State located at 1118 St. Charles Street. Ambassadors found themselves in Orange County located at 806 North Highland Street when they followed the third clue, "I'm not yellow or green, but I'm citrus." Keeping in tune with the humorous clues, "Continue south and you will find a bean" sent ambassadors to Lima located at 751 Federica Street. The last clue was, "From a cow I'm coming your way." At the final destination the winning team had to say that they were looking for the Milky Way.

 Because of the excessive heat, two of the teams dropped out. The competition lasted for about two and a half hours. The winning team was comprised of Kelly Prescott from South Lebanon, Ohio, who took home a Trekker from VisuAide, and Kelly's teammate Robert Smith from Atlanta, Georgia, who took home a BrailleNote GPS.

The NFB Jernigan Institute would like to thank VisuAide and Pulse Data Humanware for making this event possible. From the enthusiastic feedback we received from the GPS ambassadors who participated in the tournament, we anticipate that a similar event is likely to occur again.



Committee on Associates 2004 Sunset Report:

As the Committee on Associates disbands, Tom Stevens provides the following information for 2004:

A total of 1,355 associates were enrolled during this contest year, raising $31,075.50, having been enrolled by 174 recruiters. The top Associate-recruiting state was Ohio with 188. Following were North Carolina, Maryland, New Mexico, Michigan, and Missouri, the last state to recruit more than 100 Associates. North Carolina had the most recruiters--thirty-two. Individually, J. W. Smith of Ohio won the gold ribbon with 108 Associates. Arthur Schreiber of New Mexico, Sharon Felton of North Carolina, John Stroot of Indiana, and Tom Stevens of Missouri completed the top five. On the money track the largest amount raised was $2,637 by John Paré of Maryland. Following him were Sharon Felton of North Carolina, Patricia Maurer of Maryland, Dr. Smith of Ohio, Joe Ruffalo of New Jersey, and Bill Isaacs of Illinois, all having brought in more than $1,000; Betty Woodward of Connecticut raised $999. To those who have participated in this program through the years, I express my profound appreciation. Chairing this effort has been my privilege.


[PHOTO CAPTION: Fikru Gebrekidan]

Convention Blues

by Fikru Gebrekidan

The deafening hubbub at the Atlanta Hartfield Jackson International Airport echoed in every direction, submerging the words from the public address system that never seemed to shut up. I strained my ears for any sound of a white cane or dog in harness, but all I could make out was the cry of a toddler in the distance, the rhythmic steps of a woman wearing high heels a few yards away, and the endless procession of suitcases rolling in both directions. The friendly tap-taps of white canes were long gone as was the good-natured pushing and shoving of my fellow Federationists. The relatively well-trained and eager-to-help group of volunteers at the Marriott Marquis seemed a world away and from another century.

"Does he have his ticket?" inquired a voice, addressing the airport agent whose arm I held as he escorted me past the security gate. Under normal circumstances I would have insisted that I be spoken to instead of the person with me, but given my foreign name and the paranoid nature of airport security, I chose to forego this commonplace courtesy. I reached for the ticket in my shirt pocket, reminding myself that this was the way the world had been before the convention and the way it would continue to be afterwards.

In 1992, while a first-year graduate student at Michigan State University, I attended my first annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind (an organization of the blind speaking for themselves) then held in Charlotte, North Carolina. I have since traveled to six more conventions, which roughly translates to one convention every other year. When I missed a convention it was usually the result of being abroad doing research, and last summer I was moving to Canada, having just landed a faculty position at a university there.

As I finally eased myself into a window seat in a Boston-bound Boeing 737, I began to reflect on my decade-long love affair with National Federation of the Blind conventions: the friendships I have established (some temporary, some permanent); the lazy strolls through the exhibit halls, where samples of the latest adaptive technology are always on display; the tears and laughter at the professionally executed plays performed by the Louisiana Center Players; the hypnotizing eloquence of the late Dr. Jernigan; and the climactic banquet addresses by President Maurer, often punctuated with light-hearted humor.

Although these are in themselves enough reasons to make one a regular attendee at the conventions, I admit that one other factor overrides all other explanations for my frequent participation. During fifty-one out of fifty-two weeks of the year, I live my life and work by the standards and expectations of the world at large. At the National Federation of the Blind convention, however, where thousands of blind people converge to strategize about their struggle for acceptance and equality, I am part of the majority. It is a world without stares and prejudgment, a world of freedom; it is my world, where I can afford to be myself and still be understood--liked or disliked for what I am and not feared or avoided for what I am not. It is also the place where blind people speak up with power and confidence.

As my plane taxied and took off into the dusky Atlanta skies, I knew I was leaving behind another memorable week of convention. On the entire flight to Boston I found myself reliving my Atlanta experience with wistful nostalgia, in the same way one replays an old graduation video. Everyone I met had that youthful air of sweetness and vigor. Everything seemed to fall in place. Even the vast and open lobby of the Marriott, where nothing seemed to be in the same place twice, exuded beauty and elegance.

As we descended into Logan International two-and-a-half hours later, a gentle tap on my left shoulder roused me from my reverie. It was the flight stewardess advising me to stay behind until everyone was out, at which time she would come and get me. I remembered walking past the same flight attendant as I preboarded the plane. Why are we the first to board and the last to deplane, I silently wondered. It reminded me of some of my friends’ kids who like to dash into my high-rise apartment before their parents and are the last ones to be cajoled out.

Do the sighted perhaps think that the blind enjoy the tube-like atmosphere of the plane? Are the extra minutes in the plane a sympathetic gesture to prolong our experience of flying? I did not know the answer, nor did I follow the stewardess's advice to stay put. I waited for my turn in the aisle, got up, opened my collapsible cane, collected my bags from the overhead bin, and headed for the exit, humming to myself Ray Charles's classic, "Georgia on My Mind," although what I really had in mind was not the Peach Tree State, but the convention.



National Federation of the Blind Pledge


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