THE BRAILLE MONITOR
Vol. 48, No. 5 May 2005
Barbara Pierce, editor
Published in inkprint, in Braille, and on cassette by
THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
MARC MAURER, PRESIDENT
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National Federation of the Blind
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THE NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND IS NOT AN ORGANIZATION
SPEAKING FOR THE BLIND--IT IS THE BLIND SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES
[PHOTO CAPTION: the skyline of Louisville]
Louisville Site of 2005 NFB Convention
The 2005 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Louisville, Kentucky, July 2-9, at the Galt House and Galt House East Tower. The Galt House West is at 140 N. Fourth Street, and the Galt House East Tower, or Galt House East, is at 141 N. Fourth Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202. Our overflow hotel is the Hyatt Regency at 320 W. Jefferson Street, Louisville, Kentucky 40202.
The 2005 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins $59; and triples and quads $64 a night, plus tax. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $60-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2005. The other 50 percent is not refundable. For reservations call the Galt House at (502) 589‑5200 or the Hyatt Regency at (502) 587‑3434.
Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2005, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotels will not hold their blocks of rooms for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
A covered pedestrian walkway connects the two hotels, and guest room amenities in both include hair dryer, coffee pot, iron and ironing board, and dataport. Those who attended the 2003 convention can testify to the gracious hospitality of both the Hyatt and the Galt House. Our headquarters hotel has excellent restaurants, first-rate meeting space, and other top-notch facilities. It is in downtown Louisville, close to the Ohio River and only seven miles from the Louisville Airport.
The 2005 convention will follow what many think of as our usual schedule:
Saturday, July 2 Seminar Day
Sunday, July 3 Registration Day
Monday, July 4 Board Meeting and Division Day
Tuesday, July 5 Opening Session
Wednesday, July 6 Tour Day
Thursday, July 7 Banquet Day
Friday, July 8 Business Session
Vol. 48, No. 5 May 2005
Maxi-AidsHeld in Contempt of Court
by Barbara Pierce
The Blind Man's Harley: WhiteCanes and Gender Identity in America
by Catherine Kudlick
NowWhat Am I Going to Do?
by Karl Smith
BlindnessConsumerism In New Zealand
by Daniel B. Frye
All Roads Lead to the GaltHouse
by Nickie Priddy
by Maryiam Cementwala
OneMore Exchange from Curtis Chong's Email Basket
A Matter of Principal
by Suzanne Sataline
Ask Miss Whozit
by Miss Whozit
MedicareOutreach to People with Disabilities
Copyright© 2005 National Federation of the Blind
First Anniversary Celebration
National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute
Friday, April 8, 2005
Shortly after 5:00 p.m. Federation leaders from around the country stationed themselves at various entrances of the Jernigan Institute to welcome celebration guests and direct them to Members Hall on the fourth floor, where the festivities began at 5:30. Some of Baltimore’s best restaurants provided cuisine from around the world for people to sample. The more than five hundred guests could place bids on a whole range of get-away weekends, dining opportunities, and entertainment activities at the silent auction table. Magicians strolled through the crowd doing tricks, and artists played background music.
At 7:30 the master of ceremonies, Gerry Sandusky of WBAL-TV 11 Sports, opened the program with a live auction that raised a considerable amount of money in only a few minutes. Several speakers then addressed the crowd, and Mark Riccobono, manager of education programs at the Jernigan Institute, introduced a new video about the Science Academy for blind youth, highlighting the science camps last summer at the Institute. Jordan Richardson from Minnesota, a graduate of the Circle of Life camp, and Nikki Singh from Maryland, a graduate of the Rocket On! camp, described their camp experiences and stole the show from the adults.
Gerry Sandusky did a brilliant job of keeping the program moving and everyone energized. Exactly on time Roberta Flack, well-known jazz singer and musician, and her band mounted the stage and provided ninety minutes of musical masterpieces. Flack has been a fixture on the jazz scene for more years than she or we would like to admit, but she still sounds great, and she commands the program wherever she performs. In all, it was a memorable first anniversary celebration.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Barbara and Brad Loos (Nebraska) stand in front of the welcoming banner in the first-floor lobby of the Jernigan Institute, prepared to welcome guests.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Jackie and Charlie Brown (Virginia) inspect a sounding rocket, like the one launched by Rocket On! campers last summer. It is on display in the first-floor atrium of the Jernigan Institute.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: NFB staff member Chris Danielsen provides background music on a keyboard at the celebration.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Magicians Ken Horsman (left); Chad Allen, an intern on the NFB staff (center); and Spencer Horsman (right) pose with their card tricks.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Celebration guests study item descriptions at the silent auction table.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: President Maurer (left) with daughter Diana (center) and wife Patricia (right).]
[PHOTO CAPTION: A chef from Matsuri’s Teppanyaki arranges sushi at the restaurant’s booth.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Jordan Richardson of Minnesota addresses the celebration audience.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Nikki Singh (Maryland) describes her experience at the Rocket On! camp.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Woody Collins, honorary chair of the first anniversary celebration, inspects the $1,000 bill before presentation to Mike Ziegler, while Gerry Sandusky, master of ceremonies, and President Marc Maurer look on.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Roberta Flack with two of her singer/musicians.]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Maxi-Aids logo]
[PHOTO CAPTION: Independent Living Aids logo]
Maxi-Aids Held in Contempt of Court
by Barbara Pierce
For a decade now we have been reporting periodically on the more questionable activities of Maxi-Aids and its owner Eliot Zaretsky and various family members. In their most recent adventure Maxi-Aids, Elliot Zaretsky, and his son Harold have been adjudged guilty of contempt of court in a matter that suggests attempted identity theft by using the name of Independent Living Aids (ILA), a competitor company owned by Marvin Sandler, in Internet advertising in such a way that a relationship or link appeared to exist between the two companies.
Major Internet search engines like Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, and others were flooded with listings that read “Maxi-Aids-Independent Living Aids” and that advertised an “Independent Living Aids Catalog.” Of course, when potential customers asked for an Independent Living Aids catalog, they received a Maxi-Aids catalog. Maxi-Aids’ home page and other Maxi-Aids Web sites also contained similar listings, and with only one exception the words were spelled with initial capitals, as though referring to the name of the company Independent Living Aids.
Considering that this was neither Zaretsky’s first nor last appropriation of other organizations’ names and trademarked products, this seems a disturbing new direction in Maxi-Aids’ continued efforts to take unfair advantage of blind people, companies, and organizations serving the blind community. This article is a report of some of the issues brought to light in this latest confrontation between ILA and Maxi-Aids, which even included a charge of witness tampering made by Marvin Sandler, the president of ILA, against Elliot Zaretsky, the driving force behind Maxi-Aids. As we have done in previous reports of battles between ILA and Maxi-Aids, we rely on material directly from documents quoting the participants, with notes providing clarification and context so that our readers can form their own opinions. The article concludes with a summary assessment of the issues. We have not interviewed the principals in the story. Their views of each other have not changed nor have their assessments of Maxi-Aids’ behavior and Independent Living Aids’ response. As background to the contempt motion on which we are reporting, readers will recall that in December of 1997 Maxi-Aids, Elliot Zaretsky, and his son Mitchel were found guilty in federal court of copyright infringement, trademark infringement, false and misleading advertising, and unfair and uncompetitive business practices. This resulted in a jury award of $2,400,000.06 to ILA. Because of the serious nature of the case and its revelations of Maxi-Aids’ unethical conduct in our field, we devoted the entire Braille Monitor issue of March 1998 to the proceedings. This issue, as well as other editions mentioned in this article, can be accessed through the NFB Web site <www.nfb.org>.
Judge Arthur D. Spatt, who presided over the trial, affirmed the jury’s verdict and the monetary award and added reimbursement of legal fees, out-of-pocket expenses, and interest and issued a monetary judgment in favor of ILA against Maxi-Aids as a corporation and also against the Zaretskys personally in the amount of $2,779,806.96. In an effort to avoid paying ILA, Maxi-Aids and the Zaretskys then declared bankruptcy. The bankruptcy judge forced a settlement, and ILA eventually collected $1,600,000.
Simultaneous with the monetary judgment, Judge Spatt issued an injunction against Maxi-Aids, prohibiting the company from engaging in certain unfair business practices and activities. At about the same time the Veterans Administration (VA) issued a proposed debarment against Maxi-Aids because it had submitted documents claiming to be woman-owned in order to receive a competitive bidding advantage, and evidence at the ILA vs. Maxi-Aids trial showed that no woman had held even a single share of Maxi-Aids stock at the time this false claim was made. Along with the VA action the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) issued a directive that effectively eliminated Maxi-Aids from participating in federally funded state vocational rehabilitation programs.
In an attempt to circumvent these actions by the VA and the RSA, Elliot Zaretsky created a sham company called Able-Vision, naming his daughter-in-law, under her maiden name, as the president. Documents later submitted to the court by ILA showed that Able-Vision had submitted bids in one state on which they won over $150,000 in contract awards. Since Zaretsky’s daughter-in-law’s alleged signature appears no fewer than thirty-three times on bid documents and since that signature is different from one that appeared on a sworn, notarized affidavit she later submitted to the court, one is prompted to wonder whether Harold’s wife even knew what was going on. Surely, if she had truly been part of Able-Vision and the bidding process, she would have signed the bid documents herself.
Adding to the unscrupulous conduct during the same period, Maxi-Aids and the Zaretskys began diverting charitably subsidized Perkins Braillers from South Africa to their U.S. customers, thus cheating the Perkins School for the Blind out of more than $400,000, of which more than $150,000 was a charitable subsidy contributed by the Hilton Foundation to help bring down the price of Perkins Braillers to underprivileged blind people in developing countries. So, not only did this damage Perkins, but it deprived blind people, particularly children in the developing world, since the Braillers that wound up in the Zaretskys’ hands did not go to their intended market.
Marvin Sandler of ILA learned of the Able-Vision and Perkins Brailler capers and through his attorney brought a motion to have Maxi-Aids and the Zaretskys held in contempt of court for violating the terms of the injunction issued by Judge Spatt. Although the case against Maxi-Aids had been thoroughly researched and documented, Judge Spatt reluctantly declined to hold the defendants in contempt of court, because his original injunction had been overly broad, and the law requires that an injunction be clear and unambiguous. When making this ruling, he said in open court, “...ILA has presented a thorough and persuasive presentation that strongly suggests that the defendants are indeed improperly obtaining subsidized Braillers intended for use in developing countries and selling them at retail prices in the United States... .” He then added, almost apologetically, that the fault was his own for issuing an overly broad injunction. We reported extensively on the contempt issue in the Braille Monitor issues of December 2001 and January 2002 and even included a victory statement written on the stationery of Maxi-Aids’ attorney beginning with a banner headline that triumphantly proclaimed “Maxi-Aids Is Vindicated.” The “vindication” did not last long, however, since the Perkins School for the Blind then sued Maxi-Aids (see the July 2002 Braille Monitor), and Maxi-Aids paid an unspecified amount of money to Perkins to settle the matter, as we reported in the January 2005 Braille Monitor.
It was during the contempt issue involving the Perkins Braillers that the first episode of Maxi-Aids and the Zaretskys’ confiscating someone else’s name came to light. Sandler learned and reported to the court that Elliot Zaretsky had incorporated a charity in New York State using the exact name of a legitimate overseas charitable organization and even using a copy of the organization’s stationery with his own name and the names of members of his family printed down the side of the stationery as members of the board of directors. In response Elliot Zaretsky submitted a sworn and notarized affidavit to the court stating that he had no connection with or relationship to the charity and gratuitously adding that he “is not on the board”--this despite the stationery with his and his family’s names listed as board members. Remember that at the original trial in 1997, having sworn to tell the truth under oath, Elliot Zaretsky testified before the jury that his daughter was the majority owner of Maxi-Aids. When confronted with federal income tax returns showing that his daughter didn’t own a single share of stock, he explained, “That’s only on paper.” It seems clear that, as demonstrated in 1997 and again in the Perkins Brailler matter, Mr. Zaretsky is often inclined to say what he finds convenient without much concern for the truth.
Having briefly reviewed the history, let us turn to ILA’s second and more successful motion to have Maxi-Aids and the Zaretskys held in contempt of court. Since Judge Spatt had issued the original injunction, he presided over the initial hearings and made the final decision about whether the defendants had violated his injunction and were therefore in contempt.
The first hearing was held on March 15, 2002. Elliot Zaretsky was not required to be present, so he didn’t bother to attend. As a result his attorney Michael Solomon took the heat, and there was plenty of heat because Judge Spatt was breathing fire. The matter began with Jack Dweck, the attorney representing ILA, stating the complaint that “... Mr. Elliot Zaretsky and Maxi-Aids are using the Independent Living Aids name all over the Internet and on their own Web site.” Judge Spatt had already read the legal papers submitted on behalf of ILA. Following are some of the exchanges that took place between the judge and Mr. Solomon, beginning with Mr. Solomon’s asking for an adjournment because he needed more time to prepare. Judge Spatt responded, “Why do you need an adjournment...other than to give your client time to sell more products over the Internet using the words ‘independent living aids’?” This pretty much set the tone for the entire hearing, with Judge Spatt expressing a great deal of anger at what Elliot Zaretsky had done.
Mr. Solomon began by saying to Judge Spatt that the words “independent living aids” were generic and maintaining that other companies used the phrase. Judge Spatt responded:
“Your client was directed not to use the phrase ‘independent living aids.’ That’s what your clients was (sic) directed not to do by this court. I don’t care if fifty other companies use it, your company, your clients were directed not to use the phrase ‘independent living aids.’ And if a reasonably prudent company wanted to use that, notwithstanding this injunction, Mr. Solomon, if they came to you, you would say, ‘We’d better go back to Judge Spatt and see what he meant before we start plastering the world with the words ‘independent living.’”
Mr. Solomon then began an explanation of the Internet, and Judge Spatt told him: “This is a subject that you are much more familiar with than I am, obviously, so I’m learning about this. One thing I do know is about contempt law. I may not know the Internet well, but I know about violating a clear and definite order. That I know about. And I also know about the penalties for doing that.”
In explaining the workings of search engines, Mr. Solomon said that the words “independent living aids” constituted a generic phrase and repeated his claim that, without the ability to use that phrase, Maxi-Aids could not successfully advertise on the Internet. He concluded with the statement, “I don’t believe that the court ever intended to stop us.” Judge Spatt fired back: “The court intended to stop you from using the words ‘independent living aids.’ That is what the court intended because that is what it says. And I had my law clerk look up in the Webster’s Dictionary the word ‘living.’ It covers almost a half a column, where at least fifteen or twenty different words could be used for the word ‘living.’ And then we looked up ‘independent,’ and almost an equal amount could be found in Webster’s Dictionary. But strangely your client decided to pick the very words, at least concededly two of them, that I directed him not to use. Don’t you find that unusual, Mr. Solomon? If a client came to you in your office and showed you this judgment, told you that the client had just paid $1,600,000 to settle the case after a four-week trial, and said, ‘I want to use the same words,’ I think you would be cautious about that, wouldn’t you, Mr. Solomon?”
Judge Spatt then continued: “But of all the words in the dictionary for ‘independent living,’ synonyms, your client picked two of the words at least, and perhaps three, that I told him not to use. Now, if anything is contemptuous, that is.”
Mr. Solomon continued to ask for an adjournment so that he could have more time to prepare his case. Judge Spatt seemed to agree to allow more time but asked, “Is your client going to stop using the words ‘independent living aids’?”
Mr. Solomon responded, “What I will do is advise my client that... .”
Judge Spatt cut him off and roared, “No. You are not going to advise him anything. You are going to say that I’m directing them.”
Mr. Solomon backed off and said, “I was going to advise them that you directed, is what I’m going to tell them, Your Honor, that this is the court’s position with regard to this matter, and this is the law of the case as we speak. You have been advised not to, directed not to use ‘independent living aids.’ To the extent I can control it.”
However, Judge Spatt finished the colloquy with the words, “You will advise your client that, if I find your clients were in contempt, they will be subject to, one, disgorging profits; two, attorneys’ fees, including everything that is going on now and will enter the future; three, a substantial fine, which has been approved by the Second Circuit of up to $10,000 an (sic) a day in a copyright case. You will please advise your client of that, also.”
[Note that throughout the quotations above, the words “independent living aids” have been written in lower case, as transcribed by the court reporter. As mentioned earlier, all the listings on the Internet search engines used the words with initial capitalization, as in the name of the company, Independent Living Aids. The Maxi-Aids Web sites also used initial capitalization as in a name, with one exception. This one exception became the technicality that resulted in Maxi-Aids being let off the hook in one of the three areas in which ILA had alleged contempt.]
Because contempt of court is such a serious matter, the hearings were held under the criminal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which worked to Maxi-Aids’ advantage. Since the court had to adhere strictly to the criminal standard, Maxi-Aids was not found guilty of contempt for the listings on the Internet search engines. As described above, one of the main issues involved the listings on Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, and other search engines. The quotes from the transcripts seem to indicate clearly that Judge Spatt wanted them removed. Jack Dweck, the lawyer representing ILA, suggested that Maxi-Aids be required to notify the search engines in order to expedite the removal of ILA’s name in conjunction with Maxi-Aids and requested that this be included in a written order. Although Judge Spatt agreed in court, his written order did not include this requirement, and Maxi-Aids’ attorney later claimed that the written order was not clear and unambiguous. In other words, there was a reasonable doubt as to whether Maxi-Aids was required to notify the search engines. He made his point successfully with the court, and Maxi-Aids escaped being found in contempt on this point.
However, in the third area of contempt, regardless of how clever he was, Maxi-Aids’ attorney could not ward off a finding of contempt. Forty-five days after the original hearing in which Judge Spatt castigated Maxi-Aids and ordered it to remove all references to Independent Living Aids immediately from all advertising, ILA discovered that Maxi-Aids had created a new Web page called MaxiAids.com Affiliate Corner. Its purpose was to encourage companies with Web sites to link them to Maxi-Aids by using the words “Independent Living Aids” and promising a commission for all sales made by Maxi-Aids as a result of those links. Jack Dweck was outraged and told Judge Spatt that he saw this as an absolute challenge to the court’s authority. Judge Spatt concurred and said, “...if they recruit people to do things they are not permitted to do themselves under a court order, of course they may be responsible for that themselves as well... .” In the end, on November 26, 2004, Eliot Zaretsky was held in contempt in this matter.
The litigation stretched over two-and-a-half years, and a number of disturbing practices and improprieties came to light, but reporting them would be to little purpose since they were mostly isolated examples of arrogance and avarice. Two statements, however, made before Judge Spatt by Jack Dweck, the ILA attorney, may be worth reporting. Knowing of Judge Spatt’s love of football, Mr. Dweck made reference to Gayle Sayers, who Judge Spatt had argued was, pound-for-pound, the greatest halfback who ever lived. Mr. Dweck compared Elliot Zaretsky to Gayle Sayers and pointed out the ability of both to change direction with incredible ease and speed. Mr. Dweck could not have known at the time how prescient his remark would turn out to be. After reporting the discovery of the MaxiAids.com Affiliate Corner end run, Mr. Dweck also said, “Elliot Zaretsky is like a stalker, your Honor. That’s the only analogy I could make. He’s stalking Independent Living Aids. . .”.
A recent incident of which we have just been made aware seems to justify both of Mr. Dweck’s remarks. Even while the decision was pending in the ILA contempt motion, Elliot Zaretsky submitted an application for a federal trademark registration for the name “Say When” and has thrown in a registration application for “Hi-Mark 2000,” both applications submitted by a Zaretsky company called Reizen.
Say When liquid level indicators were invented at Kentucky Industries for the Blind (KIB) under the leadership of Dr. Tim Cranmer, until his death a leader in the National Federation of the Blind and a person whose memory is treasured by all those who knew him and respected the work he did in the blind community. The Say When liquid level indicator was patented and the name trademarked in 1985, before Maxi-Aids was even established. It is an insult and an affront to the memory of Dr. Cranmer that the name of a product that he developed in response to a need of blind people, which was then manufactured by blind workers, should now fall into the hands of a company that has distinguished itself by ethical practices that appear to many to be beneath reproach.
If Jack Dweck’s reference to Elliot Zaretsky as a stalker of Independent Living Aids is true, Zaretsky’s conduct toward Kentucky Industries for the Blind should be even more accurately described as stalking. As we reported in the March 1998 Braille Monitor coverage of the ILA vs. Maxi-Aids case, the director of Kentucky Industries for the Blind reported that in the early 1990’s Maxi-Aids began marketing a product called “Say Stop” at a lower price than Say When’s, and the similarity of the names was causing confusion among consumers. Kentucky Industries did nothing to protest, apparently in the hope that the problem would go away, but it didn’t. Evidence and testimony at the ILA vs. Maxi-Aids trial showed that Maxi-Aids then began counterfeiting Say When liquid level indicators by making a product similar to the Say When and advertising and marketing it under the name of Say When. Because the counterfeit was lower in price, Kentucky Industries for the Blind suffered a dramatic drop in sales. The director of Kentucky Industries told the Braille Monitor at the time that they eventually had to lay off several blind workers because of decreased sales. As reported in the March 1998 Braille Monitor article, Maxi-Aids had also begun to use the name of a KIB product named Hi Marks. This time KIB protested, so Maxi-Aids stopped using the name in its catalog. KIB continued marketing Hi Marks, but later changed the name to Hi-Mark 2000.
Kentucky Industries for the Blind has gone through several metamorphoses since the period when Maxi-Aids was counterfeiting Say Whens. KIB first became New Vision Industries for the Blind, and it has now been reorganized as part of LC Industries, a division of National Industries for the Blind. It is still located in the same building on the campus of the American Printing House for the Blind in Kentucky. We called Mike Johnson of LC Industries, who told us that its legal department was looking into the matter, and that they hoped and believed that they still owned the names, but that it was possible their trademark registrations for Say When and Hi-Mark 2000 might have lapsed during the transition in which the original Kentucky Industries for the Blind transformed itself into New Vision Industries for the Blind and then into LC Industries.
Should this be the case, it may be that Maxi-Aids’ appropriation of the name is legal, but surely not moral. Is it moral to counterfeit a product, then, when the manufacturer stops making it, grab the name and register it as your own? The name “Say When” has been instantly identified for so many years as a product made by the blind for the blind that surely it deserves the status of a star athlete’s number that is retired from use when the athlete no longer wears it. It is certainly in reprehensibly poor taste for the company that did much to cause KIB’s financial woes to appropriate the names of two of its best known products.
We conclude by summing up the three issues discussed in this article. The facts drawn from the documents have been laid out without inviting personal comment and accusation from the principals. Based on the documents in the case, if we were to award grades for what Maxi-Aids and Elliot Zaretsky have done, they would be three D’s--despicable, disgraceful, and disgusting. We rate the establishment of a so-called charity using the name of a legitimate charitable organization as despicable, especially since the action occurred at the beginning of the diversion of Perkins Braillers--so close to the beginning that we cannot help concluding that this scam was part of Zaretsky’s plan to acquire Braillers for sale in the States at the charitably subsidized price intended for people in the developing world. The attempt to use Independent Living Aids’ name in juxtaposition with Maxi-Aids’, so that some sort of relationship appeared to exist between the companies, was disgraceful. But we reserve our harshest word--“disgusting”--for the blatant appropriation of a recognized and respected name in our industry.
It is commonly acknowledged that God forgives; it’s the nature of the business He’s in. We in the National Federation of the Blind, however, are in a different business. We are the blind speaking for and acting on behalf of the blind--advocating, helping, protecting, and encouraging. The Braille Monitor reports the news as we see it, and we believe that we have an obligation to alert blind people to wrongdoing when we find it in our community. We have condemned Elliot Zaretsky’s use of the name of a legitimate overseas charity for his own purposes as despicable, and we hope that the real charity will take appropriate steps. We have labeled the attempted identity theft of the name of Independent Living Aids as disgraceful, but we do not feel compelled to protect Marvin Sandler or Independent Living Aids. They seem to be doing a pretty good job on their own, and they have a lot of Elliot Zaretsky’s money to prove it. But we do believe that the appropriation of the names of Say When and Hi-Mark 2000 is a direct attack on blind people and on the blind community and should be condemned in the strongest terms. It is time for good people to say “no,” and it should be a loud and clear “no” so that Elliot Zaretsky will get the message once and for all.
To those who read this article with bemused interest but do nothing, we say, as long as you deny that a problem exists or simply ignore it, you are shirking the duty we all have to deal with it, and it will continue to plague our community. As for those who believe that diverting Perkins Braillers from needy people in developing countries and cheating the oldest school for the blind in this country out of more than $400,000 is okay, who believe that setting up a so-called charity using the name of a legitimate charitable organization is not so bad, who believe that counterfeiting a product and then taking over the name of that product is acceptable business practice, we think you are tacitly supporting activities that will eventually hurt you if they have not already done so. We took our stand more than ten years ago when Dr. Jernigan wrote in this magazine that the National Federation of the Blind would not buy anything at all from Maxi-Aids, even when they had the lowest price, until they cleaned up their act. We hope that people of conscience will write, call, or email Maxi-Aids to express their moral outrage and that they will do whatever else they can think of to let Elliot Zaretsky know that cutting ethical corners and taking advantage of others in our industry are unacceptable. Blind people face enough challenges in obtaining equal opportunity that we do not need people within the field placing obstacles in our paths.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Cathy Kudlick, photo by Kevin Bryant]
The Blind Man's Harley:
White Canes and Gender Identity in America
by Catherine Kudlick
From the Editor: The following article is reprinted by permission from Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 2005, vol. 30, no. 2©. It was first published by the University of Chicago. All rights reserved. Cathy Kudlick teaches history at the University of California at Davis. Dr. Kudlick brings the academic's reserve and objectivity to this discussion of her experience at an NFB adult training center. Her perspective may be helpful to those who are uneasy when confronted with unreserved enthusiasm about the NFB training centers' methods. Others will find some of her observations disturbing; they are certainly thought-provoking. CCB staff members consulted about this article said that they enthusiastically recipricate the affection and admiration Dr. Kudlick clearly feels for them. This is what she says:
Several years ago I completed a six-month residential rehabilitation program at the Colorado Center for the Blind (CCB), just south of Denver in Littleton. As someone who is legally blind but with much usable vision, I wanted to learn a set of skills that would help me function better with the vision I have; at the same time I hoped to change my attitudes about blindness. Thus I picked--as far as I know--the most adventurous blindness rehabilitation program in the world, one that required me to be blindfolded all day in classes (wearing what we call "sleepshades"), where I learned such things as cane travel, Braille, and living skills, all the while engaging in confidence-builders such as going downhill skiing and participating in bizarre treasure hunts to the far reaches of Denver. The final graduation requirement consisted of being dropped alone somewhere unknown in the metropolitan area and having to make my way back to the CCB, being allowed to ask only one question.
Here I want to tell about one tiny aspect of my time at the Colorado Center: traveling through the streets of Denver using a long white cane. As a professor in the humanities, I am programmed to step back from my experiences and analyze them through the comfort of scholarly abstractions. For example, I might write of the program's particularly masculine reading of rugged individualism as part of mainstream American culture grafted awkwardly but firmly onto shifting gender identities transformed by blindness. Or I might cast everything in terms of "performativity" and "gender play," revealing how contested ideas of masculinity and femininity can be created even--and especially--for something as seemingly fixed as blindness. But first I would have to point out that terms such as "masculinity" and "femininity" are problematic, open as they are to interpretations contingent on social and cultural expectations that change over time. And who could resist describing the cane as a blind person's phallus? All of these observations have their place in this essay and may even be the abstract forces that ultimately shape it.
Still, my struggles in "blind boot camp" demanded that I come face to face with something much more visceral: my own deep-seated fears about blindness and how these anxieties related to being a woman in a program that called upon me to "take it like a man." Such gender tensions constantly played themselves out in the choices I made between being safe and embracing the risks that make life worth living. These decisions shape the way all human beings confront difference, as we read the actions or inactions of others through the internal lens of our dread. For a low-vision person like me, blindness represented the consummate defeat and blind people the embodiment of my failure. The blind of my imagination begged with tin cups in the street or groped in the dark, their heads raised and their arms stretched out in desperation. Above all, they stayed home, angry and bitter, passively accepting what fate had handed them. My blind were so emasculated that femininity did not have a safe dwelling place.
Six months at the Colorado Center blew away all my assumptions. The adventure put an end to my lifelong self-image as the pathetic little blind girl, at the same time destroying any illusions I might have had of one day discovering a conventional feminine self. Through their unbridled audaciousness my fellow students and teachers--all of them blind--rescued blindness from the depths of pity and helped turn it into simply another way of being in the world. At the same time I had to change the way I thought about myself as a woman in order to triumph over adversity in this particular way. Yes, part of me wanted to kill off the helpless blind girl. But did this mean I would have to renounce femininity altogether? Would I have to come up with something completely new? And when all was said and done, who would take the little girl's place?
Public responses to the white cane as the ultimate symbol of helplessness and powerlessness only increased my dread of being associated with blind people. When I first started to use a cane, I was dumbfounded by the dramatic change in the way most in the sighted world treated me just because I held a long thin piece of carbon fiber in my hand. It might be the flip side of what young powerless street kids must feel when they enter a room pointing a gun. One minute I stood there, an innocuous, competent, responsible adult, and the next my stickmata brought the wrath of human condescension raining down upon me as people's voices grew artificially soft and solicitous. Most sighted people assumed I could do very little for myself and treated me like a dependent child or a delicate porcelain doll.
Being female, I found these responses troubling enough. But the men around me at the Colorado Center--from my young biker buddies who proclaimed themselves my Guardian Hell's Angels to my closest friend and confidant, a gay psychologist in his late fifties from the East Coast--all complained bitterly about how the sighted world's treatment of them as helpless dependents was robbing them of their masculinity.
To counter this image, the Colorado Center consciously sought to make the cane not just a symbol of independence but a means of achieving it. In operation for nearly a decade, the CCB was founded by members of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the country's largest organization run by and for blind people. The organization has a seductive philosophy that speaks to men and women alike at the same time that it sets the tone for a particular kind of masculine assertiveness. The real problem for blind people is not the lack of eyesight, the NFB philosophy claims, but rather social attitudes; given opportunity and proper training in alternative techniques, blindness can be reduced to a mere physical nuisance, and blind people can compete on terms of equality with their sighted peers doing just about anything.1
People in the blindness field, as well as the blind man or woman on the street, tend to have strong feelings about the organization, either as enthusiastic defenders or as fierce critics decrying Federationists as unthinking fanatics. The NFB constantly infuriates people because it takes unpopular and uncompromising stands, some of them seemingly at odds with the needs of the blind. In the early 1990's, for example, the organization generated huge controversy when it lobbied passionately against installing tactile warning strips along train platforms. Federationists saw such measures as special treatment, more ammunition for the sighted world to see blind people as different; the more practical and less expensive solution, they argued, was good cane technique. But disagreement over who is qualified to teach this technique and how the requisite mobility skills should be taught has created another major rift within the blindness field.
Behind the dispute lurks a deep philosophical question that divides the world of rehabilitation training unmistakably along gender lines. On my first day at the center my travel instructor, Dirk, who had been totally blind for ten years after the sudden onset of diabetes, leaned back in his squeaky chair and bellowed: "Okay, Doc. Let me guess. If you learned to use a cane from someone at the state department of rehab, she was a very well-meaning middle-aged sighted lady who drove you to a quiet parking lot somewhere and made sure you didn't get lost."2 My jaw dropped because it seemed he had been following me before he even knew who I was.
The majority opinion holds that sighted people are better equipped to teach someone mobility because they can see obstacles and have a better perspective on the big picture, which will help a blind traveler figure out certain complicated situations. For example, a blind instructor might not be able to know that one cannot enter a raised train platform without using a stairway located way down the block or might not be able to tell when a pedestrian crossing is only on one side of a busy intersection whizzing with cars. The bottom line of this argument rests on safety issues: a sighted instructor is in a better position to keep a new blind traveler out of danger. And as long as travel stays within the confines of predictable challenges, it's women's work.2
The NFB-inspired centers such as the one I attended have shaken up the rehab world because they exclusively employ low-vision or blind travel instructors. During my time at the CCB all of them happened to be men, though over the years several women have taught travel as well. Those who favor the blind-leading-the-blind approach argue that a blind person is in a better position to train and instill confidence in other blind people than a sighted person, however competent and enlightened that sighted person might be. If you do not have faith in a blind teacher, the reasoning goes, how can you possibly convince new travelers to believe in themselves? Anyone who has taken a gym class and watched the coach sip soda while students puffed their way around the track will appreciate the way I thought about the well-meaning sighted professional who gave me my first cane.
As for the argument that sighted people can offer help that a blind person cannot, the NFB points out that you will not always have a kind rehab lady to act as your guardian angel, so you had better learn how to puzzle out complex situations on your own. It is an appealing notion, one that too often seemed better in theory, such as the countless times we wandered around some godforsaken corner of Denver with a blind instructor, lost in the snow. On the other hand, we learned that it was okay to be lost, that people eventually find their way. Not just an extreme example of the masculine compulsion to avoid asking directions at any cost, this approach also underscored the search for self-sufficiency in a sighted world that often denies such independence to blind people, be they men or women.
Perhaps not surprisingly in our post-Freudian times, the NFB tries to reclaim masculinity for blindness via cane length. This makes it possible to discern a person's blindness politics based on the type she or he might use. Most favor the red-bottomed cane offered by agencies that do not adhere to the NFB philosophy. These canes reach the middle of the chest and collapse by folding into sections, much like tent poles. At the top they have a black rubberized grip like that of a golf club, while for the bottom one can choose from a variety of nylon tip shapes and sizes described as marshmallows, cylinders, mushrooms, and balls, some of which roll and therefore require constant contact with the sidewalk while others remain stationary to facilitate tapping back and forth. For something that folds, they feel quite solid.
Many travelers--both men and women--find these canes the best compromise between strength and portability. You can stuff them into your back pocket or lay them discreetly on a chair next to you in a restaurant. And if you don't feel like drawing attention to your blindness for every minute of your public life, these folding models offer an option. I have friends who passionately try to convince me that they are easier to use and transmit information more effectively, not to mention that they are about 30 percent cheaper ($33 vs. $40) than the NFB canes. [Fiberglas straight and tellescoping canes are actually $25; their carbon fiber counterparts are $35; both have $3 handling charges for one cane.]. Alas, I found the folding canes heavy and tiring to use for any length of time. And, I should confess, they didn't seem as cool to me--I tended to think of them as akin to orthopedic shoes or thick glasses in the days before optometry became chic.
About thirty years ago the NFB modified the style and use of the cane by coming up with a thin, rigid model made [first of fiberglas and now] of carbon fiber. These sleek, all-white canes with a metal tip at the bottom generally come to the bridge of one's nose. One CCB staff member, a woman from Nepal well under five feet tall, sported a cane that towered over her head. Users assert that the long canes enable you to walk more quickly because they give you more information sooner, like wearing a stronger pair of glasses that allows you to see farther away. As for the rigidity, the NFB philosophy seeks to make a point: you should not be ashamed of your blindness, and if a rigid cane is light and durable, why settle for anything less?
These canes have major drawbacks, however. Their length makes it more likely that a user will get tangled up with fellow pedestrians, sometimes tripping them, causing the rigid cane to snap and splinter. Also, imagine going through life (restaurants, concerts, airplane trips, car rides, to name but a few situations) with the equivalent of a fishing pole that you constantly need to find places to store, particularly when you already feel obtrusive enough as a blind person. The NFB's arguments about strength and lightness shaped the cane industry so that folding ones have improved enormously on both counts, yet Federationists still chide people for using them to hide their blindness. For the situations where rigid canes are impractical, the organization finally caved in to popular demand by making a very lightweight and compact telescoping cane, an elegant but (deliberately?) poorly designed object that collapses when you least expect it.
[Actually, when the telescoping cane is extended and twisted open section by section, it is nearly impossible to close again without great effort.] Students at the CCB were required to use the long, rigid canes, though several registered silent protests against the school and the NFB more generally by buying the shorter folding ones. The teachers, who could tell the difference between NFB and non-NFB canes by the sound of the metal tip, tried to tease people who used them in a friendly way ("What, you want to walk like an old lady?"), but usually the offenders ignored them. A few others, such as Jason, a tall guy whose sixty-nine-inch cane kept getting run over by buses, reverted to the folding models because they thought these canes held up better. Jason liked the length of the rigid NFB canes, though, so he had to mail-order extralong folding ones from a special place in Canada because the longest American ones were only sixty inches.
"I should think about getting me one of these folding canes," Dirk once admitted to me as we headed off to explore Littleton, causing me to stop dead in my tracks. A prospective student was visiting the center, and Dirk had traded canes in order to give him a sense of what the NFB ones were like. "The nylon tips are quiet, so I could use them when I want to follow some slacker," he explained. But usually Dirk just turned his rigid NFB cane upside down, using the plastic top as the tip as he followed behind at a discreet distance. "Of course the handle turns to crap pretty fast," he admitted, "but that's what duct tape is for." He rattled around in his snuff bag, spat, and added, "Never go anywhere without duct tape, one of the little-known miracles of the blind guy's tool kit. I've pasted up one or two canes with the silver stuff, enough to get me home and even add a couple hundred miles on 'em before they really give out."
The NFB's sense of rugged independence also translated into its philosophy and policies that discouraged using dog guides. Because numerous schools across the country specialize in working with dogs, a rehab center like the CCB could reasonably argue that it should specialize in teaching cane travel. Besides, people should first have good cane mobility skills, lest they find themselves without their dog for some reason. But I think something else was also at work: the NFB seemed to be engaging with the sighted world's long-held belief that dogs served the more needy--and therefore less competent, more feminized--blind, that the dog leads the person rather than the person controlling the dog like any other tool. Rightly or wrongly, we internalized the message that using a dog was tantamount to copping out and creating unnecessary barriers with the sighted world because animals are intrusive.
Still the center didn't rule out dogs altogether. Among the students the ex-Hell's Angel Gavin had a dog, an unpleasant, high-strung German shepherd that wore a bandanna. Keyla had to spend most of her days curled up under one of the tables in the meeting room while her owner learned to travel with a long, rigid cane outside. I never understood why Gavin had Keyla in the first place, especially since he was clearly such a talented cane traveler; I could only figure that her surly growls helped maintain his tough-guy biker persona in a way a white cane never could. More often our travel teachers gave certain students, including Harriet and Don, who had both experienced serious hearing loss, their blessing for getting dogs after they graduated. But the general message was clear: canes were about independence, confidence, assertiveness, and full social integration, while dogs were not.
Such a macho cane environment spawned an interesting culture that ran counter to everything most sighted Americans have thought about blind people and blindness. In public the long, rigid canes clearly managed to surprise sighted people because the circumstances in which we used them confounded expectations of helpless blind people flailing alone in the world. Sometimes, for example, the whole center would go on chaotic outings that brought some twenty-five or thirty of us with our long canes fanning out through an unsuspecting Denver. Sighted culture never quite knows what to do when more than one blind person shows up, particularly if unaccompanied by sighted help.
Sometimes I got the impression that we terrified people on the street, that they drew only the thinnest of lines between fearing for our safety and fearing for their lives. I would hear concerned mothers hurrying their intrigued children away or groups of African-American teenage guys shouting to us: "Go brothers and sisters!" More often sighted people's anxiety manifested itself through bewildered and awkward questions about why the canes were so long. Unconsciously, anyway, they seem to have picked up on the NFB cane's more potent macho dimensions.
In the hands of someone like my instructor Dirk, the cane became a Harley of sorts, with a whole vocabulary and series of rituals to match. For example, every couple of weeks people who use the NFB canes must change the metal tip that meets the sidewalk. Tough guys such as Dirk and my biker friends referred to the mundane fact of the tip wearing out as "blowing a tip" and had a whole classification system for describing what had caused it. If one blew out on Dirk just a few days after he had put it on, it was "sissy" or "wimpy"; I think I once even heard one of the guys use the word "pussy" in this context. If someone like me went through one too quickly, however, it was my fault and not the tip's. Novices, particularly women, seemed to "burn through" tips at an alarming rate, because, the guys claimed, we scraped them too much along the sidewalk. But a tip's significance could also lie in the eye of the beholder: a few years ago I met a guy--no sissy--who saved every one he ever changed as a sign of all the miles he'd traveled with a cane.
Then there was the whole issue of actually changing the tip. Novices heard that we should first lick the base where the old tip had been before attaching a new one, a disgusting thought if you imagine all the places a cane goes in a day. I must confess to wondering if this was really necessary, dismissing the advice as one of our rare boot-camp hazing moments. I later learned that some form of lubrication helped matters considerably, but, like most of my women friends at the center, I decided this was a man's work and cheerfully resorted to traditional flirtation rather than spit. Certain people--mostly men but also a few women--developed a reputation for being good tip changers, so the rest of us would go to them for help. Women had tested various makeups, skin creams, Vaseline, and even K-Y Jelly, whereas men simply spat and hoped for the best as they muscled the spent, old tip off and a new one on.
The CCB offered a particularly macho environment in which to learn such basics. When I arrived for my training, the center had just relocated to a former YMCA, where the travel office had settled into the men's locker room, which still smelled distinctly of jock sweat. Moreover, the travel teachers and a few of the male students thought nothing of heading for the urinal well within earshot of our class. Several of us (both female and male) complained, but to little avail, since the guys didn't want to be bothered by having to troop upstairs only to wait in line. Within this bunker-like setting Dirk began with the essentials by giving informal lectures about urban planning; stoplights; traffic control; and, for anyone who cared to listen, how cement was mixed and poured. He taught us about parking lots and traffic patterns by guiding our hands to a collection of matchbox cars he kept on his desk, which he'd arrange to create various complex scenarios.
"The best class a blind traveler could ever take would be driver's ed.," he stated matter-of-factly one day. "I've been thinking about assigning the State of Colorado's driver's handbook to all you students and making you pass that sucker of a test. In fact, if I had time, I'd introduce a bill before the state legislature to require all blind kids to take it."
I bristled. Driver's education class had been a huge emotional nemesis for me as a legally blind teenager in high school. "What's the point of making a bunch of blind people do that," I blurted out, for once not being the well-behaved student.
"Well, Doc," he said, leaning back in his squeaky chair as he always did when he knew he was about to win, "it's a jungle out there, a goddamned jungle. But there are rules of the jungle. In theory, anyway. You, little speck of a blind person, are out there surrounded by wild beasts, wild two-ton metal beasts whose lives just happen to be explained in a book like this very one provided for free by the marvelous state of Colorado. I don't know about you, but before I go out there, I'd want a fighting chance, and the only way to have it is to know what rules govern the jungle."
After such lectures, Dirk would take two or three of us out to an intersection to make us listen for the logic of traffic patterns. One frosty morning I found myself heading out with him and Jason, a pleasant young man who had started his training shortly after I had. Blind from birth and sheltered by his overprotective family until he had finished college, he was smart and articulate. But this poor kid from Oregon knew surprisingly little of the world, so among other things the CCB was teaching him to travel alone for the first time in his life.
As we walked north on the Prince Street overpass and heard a train pulling out of the light-rail station slightly ahead and to the right, Dirk stopped abruptly. The sun felt warm on my right ear, but even though I wore the thickest gloves imaginable, I already feared my frostbitten fingers were going to have to be amputated. "Okay, my friends," he ordered, "turn to your left, and tell me where we are. Hint: you have to listen."
I had been around Dirk long enough by that point to know that the obvious answer was seldom correct, but having racked my brain, I couldn't come up with anything better: "At the light-rail station?" I ventured.
"Perhaps. Mr. Krug?"
"I'd have to agree," Jason said, also sensing that this wasn't what Dirk wanted.
"Listen more carefully. The train is gone. What do you hear now?"
We stood fixed to the spot, concentrating.
A car somewhere to our left had stopped and was idling. "You can cross!" the person I assumed to be its driver shouted at us. "It's okay to go!"
I felt something long and thin brush my kneecaps. "No need to go anywhere just yet, Doc," Dirk said, gently pushing me back with his cane. "In fact, we won't cross anything today." I hadn't even realized that I had inched into the street. "Rule number one: don't listen to drivers. Like all our sighted friends they mean well, but you need to understand your environment first. Rule number two: when you get to an intersection, stop and figure it out. What is your line of traffic, where are the cars headed? How fast are they going? When do they stop? Where? How long? Take as long as you need. Don't let anyone push you into going before you're absolutely sure where you are, where you want to go, and how you'll get there. Now what can you tell me about this intersection? First of all, what kind of intersection is it?"
"Busy," I joked, more out of fear than wit.
Jason chuckled in nervous agreement.
"That's right on the mark," Dirk said without sarcasm. "That's your first important piece of information. Now what kind of busy is it? Listen."
I thought hard about all the details of the environment, but truth be told, all I could hear were big, roaring cars that sounded chaotic and dangerously close to where we stood. I figured just as long as I remained a little behind Dirk, I would be okay. Things grew quiet, and I actually thought I heard the wind rustling in the trees across the street. Then one or two cars honked as they drove by, followed by a driver who shouted, "You folks need any help? I can pull up to that parking lot and walk you across."
"No thank you, sir," Dirk replied in his deadpan way. "We're just three blind people out for a nice walk in the country." Then turning to us, "Don't mind them. Your job is to listen to the flow of cars. Are they going all the time or are they stopping?"
As I concentrated, the reality of the intersection began to take shape. When Dirk asked if I thought it had a traffic light, a stop sign, or nothing at all, I could tell instantly that it was a light because the cars clearly streamed through in batches. When the vehicles going perpendicular to where we stood came to a stop, those facing us would come toward us. I felt immensely pleased with myself for figuring this out.
"What if I told you that's only part of the story?" Dirk inquired. I sighed. "Good, it's a light," he allowed, perhaps sensing how defeated I felt; then, "But what kind of light? What kind of intersection is this? Is there anything special about it?"
The cars fell completely silent so that once again I noticed the strange mechanical clanging of the light-rail bell behind us and heard the hum of a train as it glided into the station. I stiffened with excitement as I collected the pieces of a puzzle and began snapping them into place: one set of cars passed back and forth in front of us, and when these stopped, another batch came straight toward us but turned either right or left rather than going through; they couldn't go through because Church Street dead-ended into Prince Street at the light-rail station tracks!
Ever the eager student, I blurted out my answer, half expecting it to be wrong.
"Excellent," Dirk said in the flat way he reserved for his highest praise. I felt I had been awarded a medal. "This is what is known as a ‘T-intersection,'" he explained. "It's named after the print letter ‘T.'" Then turning to Jason, he asked, "You ever seen the print letter ‘T,' Mr. Krug?"
Jason seemed a little embarrassed. Blind from birth, he knew Braille better than most of the rest of us, but he had never written with pen and ink. Consequently he had never had reason to learn the print alphabet. "No, I'm afraid not," he admitted.
"Here, my friend," Dirk said gently, "give me your back so I can draw it for you." I heard Jason step toward Dirk, who traced the letter first for Jason then for me on my own back. "Like this," he said to each of us as he ran his glove over the fabric, first down and then across at the top. "That's the print letter ‘T.' Now imagine it being upside down like this." This time he drew the vertical line first, then put the horizontal one at the bottom, pushing harder where the two lines met to indicate where we stood. His touch was quick and direct, delicate and informative all at once.
"This is heady, important stuff," he growled, as we stood giddy with terror at the prospect of actually having to apply this knowledge. "But it's worthless crap if you don't put your cane out there to let them know you're intending to cross. As a blind guy, I could hold a line of twenty-five cars back all day long if I wanted just by putting my cane out there and showing with body posture that I want to cross. Your cane is your key to roam the road, to make the road yours. It's the simplest and most elegant tool, so you'd damn well better use it."
"But, Dirk," I protested, "it's easy for you to put your body on the line; guys are encouraged to do that beginning with when you're first starting to walk! We girls never learned to ‘just put ourselves out there.' If anything, I'm hardwired to ‘just keep my body in there,' thank you very much." I tried to make it light and funny, but I didn't like this kind of vulnerability one bit.
"Ah come on, Doc!" Dirk shouted over all the traffic. "For someone who's supposed to be so smart, you don't use that brain of yours very much; or maybe you use it too damn much. I'm not asking you to put your body on the line; I'm just saying use your goddamned cane!" At that moment, I smelled his habitual snuff, heard the distinct sound of expectoration, and cringed as I wondered where his spit had gone. "Blind people can't afford to be sissy-wimps if they want to be free in this world," he announced. "The way I see it, you can either put yourself out there, or you can sit at home and wait for some well-meaning sighted person to come and rescue the damsel in distress. It's your choice, Doc."
A few days later Dirk wanted me to accompany him and a more advanced student to downtown Littleton so we could "visit the damn birds," Dirk's expression for audible pedestrian signals. Like Gavin, Finn was a tattoo-covered ex-biker, a large man in his early thirties who, like Dirk, had become blind suddenly from diabetes. We had bonded on my first day at boot camp when Finn had given me a tour of the center. Even though he was a decade younger, he always called me "little sister," while still managing to treat me with genuine gallantry and respect.
"Rule number one," Dirk barked as we approached the chirping at the corner of Prince and Alamo, "ignore those things. They're put in by poor, clueless sighted people and their lazy blind friends." The chirps and cuckoos have been a big bone of contention in the blindness community, making the NFB once again seem like it has taken a ridiculous stand against the better interests of blind people. After all, who in their right minds would attack a street signal that--at least in theory--allows a blind person standing at an intersection to hear exactly when the light changes? Once you learn that cuckoo means cross north-south and chirp-chirp east-west (or is it that chirp-chirp means north-south and cuckoo means east-west?), all you have to do is arrive at the corner and wait patiently for the signal.
"My point exactly." I heard Dirk's voice ringing in my ear as he instinctively understood my confusion. "Plus, most audible signals are designed with vision in mind. They want you to know what drivers are seeing, when what you really need to know is what you should be doing. And no two of these suckers are ever alike. One might be way up top of a pole, and another practically on the frickin' ground or far away from the intersection. Some ping, some chirp, some do one thing one minute and another thing the next, and sometimes you have to push a button to activate them. And where's the button?" We laughed as Dirk noisily banged his cane into various poles and other nearby obstacles, including an innocent bystander who shouted "Hey!" when Dirk hit her. "Thank you for helping me make my point, ma'am," Dirk said by way of apology, turning back to us.
"I suppose if cities really wanted to help, they'd raise crosswalks just slightly so your cane could lead you in the right direction, but it wouldn't matter that much once you learned how to use your cane." He claimed that the NFB metal tip's sensitivity allowed one to distinguish the paint of a crosswalk, a lesson I would master by the end of my training, though I wasn't completely confident. Dirk admitted that audible signals might be useful at irregular intersections or in the growing number of situations where traffic lights are geared toward maximizing traffic flow at the expense of pedestrians. "But if we have to have them, then they've got to be consistent, and everybody plays by the same rules. And the bottom line is having good cane technique."
Dirk took me to the corner, spun me in a circle, told me an off-color joke, walked me to a store entrance, spun me around again, then plunked me at the corner. "Okay, Doc. Wait for the birdie, then tell me where you think you should go." By that point I was disoriented, not to mention that I remained preoccupied with simply finding the actual line that separated the sidewalk from the street. I felt around with my cane in a panic as the cuckoo started up, but I still couldn't get oriented. "Here, Doc," Dirk said, taking me by the shoulders. "Now you're pointed in the right direction. Now what?" I stood through several cuckoo/chirp cycles, but even though I had a pretty good idea of what I thought must be north, the sun wasn't out that day, and the more I listened for the signal the less certain I was about my line of direction.
"Finn, my man, I'm going to step over here for a bit of snuff," Dirk announced and then headed off, fishing in his pocket. "Show our friend the doctor how it's done."
I could hear Finn's cane exploring to my right. "Here's the curb," he reported in his raspy voice, "give me your cane," whereupon he put his enormous hand on top of mine and ran the cane back and forth over a small indentation. "Here's the lip," he explained as my cane skipped over a small ridge and then down. "It's one of those blended curbs that my boys dig so much for skateboarding, so it's really hard to find, but here's the low point." I remembered one of Dirk's mini-lectures where he had described how city streets had been constructed to facilitate drainage. Just beyond the curb was a smooth area that gradually headed upward, then got rough. "Feel the difference between cement and asphalt?" Finn asked, guiding my cane first to one, then the other. The cement was definitely smoother, while the asphalt not only felt rough but grated more on my cane tip. I had the strange sensation of not knowing whether I was getting this information through sound or touch.
"Now here's the thing, little sister," Finn said as we stood there, "I know you're probably scared to death, but don't worry. I'll be right with you all the way, and I'll stand between you and the traffic." I felt much better, but my heart still pounded. When the cars started up after sitting at a light, they roared like a pack of lions that I knew was preparing to charge at me. We stood through several cycles, this time listening to the traffic patterns rather than the signals. We waved off the usual well-meaning drivers and occasional pedestrians. I was beginning to have a sense of the intersection now, realizing that Prince Street went two directions while Alamo went one way.
"Okay, sis, you say when we should go." My cane hand shook and my feet felt like blocks. The cars coming toward us started to roll, so I stepped into the street with all the enthusiasm of heading for my own execution. "You're doing great," Finn said. "Just keep those cars and me on your right, and you'll be fine." Dirk had come up on my left, so that both men kept me in line with their canes when I strayed a little to the right or the left as we crossed. I felt this incredible sense of warmth and protection just from the occasional gentle tap of their canes against my shins. When we arrived at the other side, I heaved a huge sigh of relief.
About a month into my training, Dirk announced that the time had come for me to cross a busy intersection on my own. This put me into a panic far worse than anything I'd ever felt about setting foot in a formidable research library for the first time, walking into my Ph.D. qualifying exams, or going on my first job interview. This was, after all, literally about life and death. "Doc, you've got what it takes," Dirk reassured me. "But I'll let you off easy this time. You just cross that intersection at Prince and Alamo--the one you did already with Finn here--continue up one more block, and we'll meet you after you've reached the next corner. You leave now; we'll follow in ten." Somehow, knowing that my mauled body would be found reassured me enough that I set off.
I realize blind people travel busy intersections all the time without holding a press conference. But I freely admit that I burst into tears when I made it to the right spot, determined when to go, and walked a straight line to the other side, all this without being run over. I'm not talking figure of speech here: there was a lump in my throat, and soon the outer foam covering of my sleepshades was soggy. Few peacocks have displayed more pride than I did walking to the next corner, where Dirk and Finn came up from behind to congratulate me, slapping my back and giving me high fives.
Then a terrifying thing happened. Just after Dirk asked me to analyze the traffic pattern of the new intersection, I felt something heavy collapse against my legs. Even before regaining my balance and tearing off my sleepshades, I realized that it was a human body. Finn, my biker buddy and protector, a large man of considerable bulk and a serious diabetic, was having some kind of seizure. He had slid down onto the pavement, where he lay motionless at my feet. Dirk reached into his pocket for a handful of sugar candies that he always carried for his own emergencies and tried to feed them to Finn, who seemed barely able to chew, let alone swallow, and who was definitely not lucid. I pulled out my cell phone, ready to call 911, but Dirk dictated a number, which I immediately dialed, assuming it was some diabetic hotline. But it turned out to be the number of the CCB. "Doc, just hold the line," Dirk commanded in a calm, authoritative voice. "When someone picks up, have them send one of the sighted employees with a car to the corner of Prince and Main. Our friend here just needs to get his blood sugar up; that's all."
Meanwhile, cars were driving up and asking if we needed help--we must have looked pretty needy at that point, three blind people at a street corner, one of them horizontal among the hardened chunks of dirty snow. Dirk waved them off, saying that we had the situation under control. I didn't feel so sure, but he was my teacher and seemed knowledgeable about diabetic crises.
I felt torn in many directions as I found myself in voice-mail hell waiting for a live human to answer. Sure, I had never experienced this kind of thing before, but here was a guy on the sidewalk, someone who I heard had just been in the hospital for a minor heart attack. Were we carrying this macho independence thing too far: blind people can do anything, so why ask for help in the face of death? To my relief, I heard a siren--apparently a passing motorist had called 911 anyway--and within seconds paramedics had pulled up. They loaded Finn into the van, sped off to the hospital, and that was the last I saw of him.
Until later that afternoon, when my big brother strolled into the center bitching about them cutting off his Harley shirt so they could give him injections. "Shit, man," he said in his gravelly voice, "that was my favorite shirt. But hey, I needed the shots. Oh well, gave up the bike and now the shirt. Fair trades for my life, I guess."
Not surprisingly, the experience with Finn prompted some soul searching on my part. Would I have felt the same way if a sighted person had been there all along? Was I unable to trust someone's judgment merely because he was blind, and did this tap into my own lack of confidence, which I'd felt since childhood, the very thing that had brought me to the Colorado Center for the Blind in the first place? Or could my biker friend have been the victim of Dirk's NFB machismo, his need to prove that blind people could survive on their own? If this was so, then blindness could have killed Finn--not because it made him pathetic and powerless but rather because someone had selfishly sought to prove that blindness was not these things. Could I trust Dirk not to make me a martyr to the Cause by leaving me in a similar circumstance if I really needed help? Suppose the ambulance had not arrived when it did.
As much as I wanted to vilify him, I had tremendous respect for Dirk, who, it turned out, had been completely on target regarding Finn's situation. In fact he had been on target about everything, just as he had been thorough, serious, and measured as a teacher. And ultimately I knew I had agreed to take certain risks by participating in the program to begin with; if I truly wanted to confront my worst fears about blindness, this was not the time to walk away.
With a strange combination of caution and renewed resolve, I threw myself back into my training. Once I could get a little distance, the experience taught me that the desire to be safe and the drive toward taking risks conflict with each other at the same time that they operate in tandem, not unlike our "masculine" and "feminine" sides. We humans must feel safe enough to take the risks that make life worth living. But at times we must also put ourselves in difficult, unfamiliar situations to find the safety we crave. Blindness--and perhaps other disabilities--puts this dynamic into a new perspective, forcing us to see how complex something like safety really is.
This is why, a few days later, when Dirk barked, "Okay, Doc, show us the way home!" I eagerly turned to lead him, Gavin, and Finn back to the center in time for lunch. I wanted to push past my fears of collapsing and struggling alone. I wanted to prove that I didn't have to be the helpless little blind girl who preferred to follow just to be sure I would be safe.
But simple resolve is never enough, as I learned all too quickly, for in my distraction and need to appear confident, I missed some irregularity on the sidewalk and pitched forward, falling flat on my face. Thanks to the protection of the thick, foamy sleepshades, I had only a few minor cuts on my chin, lips, and hands, and a mouth full of gravel that I tried to remove with little delicate flicks of my tongue. "Just spit, Doc," Dirk said, almost tenderly. I hesitated. Good girls don't spit, especially not good little blind ones who have no way of knowing where it might go. "Well, Doc, what are you waiting for, the Red Sox to win the World Series?" Clearly now I had no choice but to gather up the full contents in my mouth and let it fly. "Hell, woman!" he exclaimed, "I believe you just spat on my cane!"
Later in our travels Dirk's cane, which he said with pride had been held together with his infamous duct tape, finally split in two. "I've put hundreds of miles on this baby, all kinds of weather, all kinds of streets," he said with what could only have been nostalgia. "Now the old duct tape won't even hold her." He guided each of our hands to the damaged portion so we could see how well it had held up until the bitter end. When I asked Dirk if he would miss that particular cane, he said, "Nah, I'll just get a new one and call it ‘Widow-Maker,' the same thing as the one before and the one before that."
Heading home to the center, Gavin announced, "Hey, you've got some pretty powerful spit there, Cathy K."
"Positively toxic," Finn chipped in. "Took Dirk's cane clean apart!"
Dirk spat what I imagined to be a wad of well-chewed snuff into the street. "Not bad for a girl," he laughed, patting my shoulder, "not bad at all."
It all did come down to spit. Dirk, a sensitive guy who had experienced firsthand the fall from mainstream society's masculine grace, showed both men and women how to cast off our feminine selves to counter the stereotypes of helplessness triggered by the sight of a white cane. Even though I suspect that my teacher's macho approach to travel covered over real fears, I gladly took up his invitation to march across the gender line. But of course I could never be a man. Instead, if I wanted to emerge from the nongendered hinterlands to which the double stigma of femininity and blindness had banished me, I would have to make my way to some new place where I could consider different ideas for my feminine self. Holding my cane, I wondered what a woman could possibly do with one in public to make it her own in a way analogous to Dirk's Harley. There was always fashion. But even if a long, elegant cane seemed more chic than a short, stubby one that folded into pieces, I still wanted to strut and spit and fix my fragility with duct tape.
Okay, so maybe it is about the phallus.
But it's also about acting in the world. Each time I trudged through Denver's ice and snow, faced packs of roaring cars, and picked myself up from a spectacular fall, I confronted the fact that I choreographed my gendered role to ensure my survival. So if Dirk had taught me to perform a new part as a blind woman, who was my audience? And would this be a onetime show or a lifelong run?
Years later, as I wait at a corner with my white cane, I realize that as much as my CCB show was for the entire world, a poor little blind girl still sits in the front row. Pathetic, but wanting to be bold, she is the ghost I could finally embrace after completing blind boot camp. And she is not about blindness; she is the little girl that every woman carries within, as all of us--blind or sighted--face the same choice: when and how do we take risks to strike that delicate balance between living safely and being a prisoner of an abstract place known as "home"? Dirk helped me understand that because blindness exaggerates so many expectations and fears, the blind-girl-turned-woman who wants to live a normal life has to push especially hard, perhaps even playing with gender now and then. So with my teacher's voice ringing in my ears, I step into the street. And with the grace of an elegant diva, I flaunt my long white cane, knowing I can spit like the best of the bikers.
Special thanks to Emily Abel, Tony Candela, Sumi Colligan, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Sandra Harding, Georgina Kleege, Kim Neilsen, Kate Norberg, the participants of the Cross-Cultural Group in Women's History at the University of California, Davis, and the organizers of the session at the American Anthropological Association Meeting in 2001, where I first presented this work. Above all, I thank the students and staff of the CCB, especially "Dirk," to whom I dedicate this essay. All names and some identifying details in this essay have been changed.
1 This is a compilation of statements from various NFB pamphlets available at <http://www.nfb.org/>. For the CCB's take go to <http://www.cocenter.org/>.
2 Statistical data from the organizations that represent those who teach blind people to travel support my firsthand impressions. The current directory of the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals (available at http://www.acvrep.org/directory.aspx) lists 1,977 orientation and mobility instructors, approximately 1,504 of whom are women (418 are men, and thirty-five are of indeterminate gender based on first names), while the National Federation of the Blind's National Orientation and Mobility Certification (NOMC) lists thirty-nine certificate holders, eleven women and twenty-eight men (e-mail correspondence with Ronald Ferguson, Chair, NOMC Examination Committee, May 25, 2004).
[PHOTO CAPTION:Karl Smith]
Now What Am I Going to Do?
by Karl Smith
From the Editor: Karl Smith is a longtime Federationist who lives his belief in the competence and confidence of blind people to solve their problems. Transportation is always a challenge to those who do not drive. I often hear people say that they just don’t know how to solve their travel problems, so they have no choice but to stay home. In the following little story Karl demonstrates that where there is a will, there is a way. This is what he says:
I am the owner and operator of Axis, a small company in the business of selling all types of assistive technology and training for people who are blind or have low vision. During the course of my work I travel throughout Utah and into Wyoming and Idaho. I employ a full-time driver and lease a twelve-passenger van to carry large pieces of equipment. But it hasn't always been this way. Ten years ago, when I first started my business, I couldn't afford a full-time driver or a vehicle, so I used alternatives like buses, taxis, and part-time drivers using their own vehicles when the load was too large.
In the summer of 1995 I scheduled a trip to St. George, Utah, a town 360 miles south of Salt Lake City, where I live. To get there I planned to take the Greyhound bus, carrying several large, low-vision reading machines as luggage. Once in St. George I had arranged for a local resident with a van large enough to carry my equipment to drive for me for the three days I would be in the area.
Arriving in St. George in the early afternoon, I hauled my suitcase and several large boxes the short distance from the bus stop to the hotel and finally checked into my room. Once settled in, I called Scott, my part-time driver, to let him know I had arrived safely and to arrange for pickup the next morning. "Oh I'm really sorry; I have a problem," said Scott as soon as I had identified myself. "My van is broken down and will be in the shop for several days. I tried to call you but only got your answering machine."
"You don't have any other vehicle we could use?" I asked, desperately trying to salvage the trip somehow.
"Only my wife's little Honda, but she drives it to work every day. I'm really sorry about this."
I hung up the phone, disheartened. Now what am I going to do? I thought to myself. I had money and time invested in this trip. I had appointments scheduled for the next three days and no way to get to them. Who could I call? I had contacted Scott through a newspaper ad, but there was obviously no time to try that again. Since it was about dinner time, I called to order a pizza. When the young delivery man arrived a half hour later, I paid him. Then, just as he was about to leave, I said, "Say, what are you doing tomorrow?"
Somewhat perplexed, he replied a bit nervously, "Well, I'm working. Why?" I explained my sudden need for a driver, but he repeated that he had to work. I asked if he knew anyone else who might want a job for a couple of days. He thought for a minute and then said that he did not.
As I ate my pizza, I considered my situation carefully. I didn't know anyone in town, so I had no one I could call. After a few minutes I picked up the phone and called the front desk. I asked the desk clerk if she knew of anyone who might be available to drive for me. She said she did not. She asked a couple of the other hotel employees with no success.
Finally I called the local taxi company. I thought that perhaps they might have an off-duty driver who might like to make some extra money. At first the dispatcher said she didn't know anyone who could help. Then she mentioned that her father was visiting for a few days and that he had nothing to do during the day. Perhaps he might be able to help. She promised he would call back in a few minutes.
A short while later my phone rang, and, when I picked it up, an elderly man told me that he was the father of Jan, the taxi company dispatcher. His name was Roger, and he said he could help me for the next couple of days. I told him that I paid by the hour plus mileage, and we agreed to meet the next morning at 9:00.
Roger arrived promptly the next morning. The pick-up truck he was driving had definitely seen better days and, among other things, had no air conditioning, which in this desert town only two hours out of Las Vegas could be quite uncomfortable this time of year. It also had no odometer, so Roger and I agreed just to estimate the miles traveled to calculate his pay. Roger turned out to be a friendly and helpful sort. He knew the area well, having grown up there, and he had many interesting stories to tell.
For the next three days Roger and I hauled equipment in the dusty back of his truck all over the St. George area. I kept my appointments, demonstrated equipment, and made a couple of sales. When it was time to go, I paid Roger and thanked him for helping me out at such short notice. He said that he had enjoyed having something to do and that I should call if I ever needed him again. I boarded the Greyhound back to Salt Lake City, content in the knowledge that my trip had been successful even with the problems at the beginning. I also felt good that I had not let unforeseen events disrupt my plans.
Operating a business, whether you are blind or not, is risky, particularly early on. The solution to the problem I faced in St. George was not so much a matter of my blindness as it was a challenge to my ability to think of and try different solutions until I found one that worked. Businesspeople continually face problems, changes in plans, and other unforeseen circumstances which require them to review their actions and make necessary changes to meet their goals. How successful they are often depends on how well they meet these challenges.
A deferred charitable gift annuity is a way for donors to save taxes and make significant donations to the National Federation of the Blind. (The amounts here are illustrative, not precise.) It works like this:
James Johnson, age fifty, has decided to set up a deferred charitable gift annuity. He transfers $10,000 to the NFB. In return, when he reaches sixty-five, the NFB will pay James a lifetime annuity of $1,710 per year, of which $179 is tax free. In addition, James can claim a charitable tax deduction of $6,387 of the $10,000 gift in the year the donation is made.
For more information about deferred gift annuities, 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: Dan Frye]
Blindness Consumerism In New Zealand
by Daniel B. Frye
From the Editor: Dan Frye is a longtime Federationist and a past NFB scholarship winner. For several years he was employed by the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand as its national advocate. Last summer he addressed the NFB national convention, describing the history of the consumer movement in New Zealand and the activities of the organization for which he then worked. He has since returned to the United States, but he clearly has great affection and admiration for his colleagues in the Association and the people of New Zealand. What follows is the full text of the remarks Dan prepared to deliver in Atlanta. It is interesting and useful to note the similarities and differences between the blind consumer movements in New Zealand and the United States. This is what Dan said:
On October 8, 1945, a group of about a hundred blind people met in the Municipal Hall in Newmarket, Auckland. Their purpose was to discuss their future welfare. At the time outside observers could not have imagined what brought about this impassioned gathering. Since 1890 the needs of the blind seemed to have been well catered for by the New Zealand Institute for the Blind. The Institute was a respected charitable organization, and its governors were leaders in the community. What could be the trouble now?
In truth discontent among the blind had been festering for some years. By 1945 autocracy, paternalism, and the Institute's refusal to listen to its clients had created a virtual impasse. The response of the blind was to form a group to lobby for their interests and concerns. The group originally called itself the Dominion Association of the Blind (DAB).
The New Zealand Institute for the Blind, now the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind (RNZFB or Foundation), was then and remains today a monopoly service provider of education, rehabilitation, library services, adaptive technology, aids and appliances, and everything else that the blind community of New Zealand could reasonably be expected to want or need. In short the Institute of 1945 was the dominant agency for the blind, and if you didn't get what you wanted or needed from the Institute, you simply didn't get it at all.
The Institute's cultural attitudes about blindness closely paralleled the American experience of the middle 1940's, i.e., agencies for the blind know best. But the oppression experienced by blind Kiwis of this era was exacerbated particularly by the womb-to-tomb dominance of this single agency. Where in the United States there was some potential for an innovative spark to take hold under the auspices of a particular agency, owing to the fragmented nature of service delivery, in New Zealand all power and authority was vested in the management of the Institute alone.
Historically blind New Zealanders went to the Institute early in childhood for their education, graduated to the adult-living accommodations of the Auckland campus, and often spent their entire lives as custodial wards of the agency. The management style of the day was authoritarian, a posture adopted even by the two notable blind directors, who served the Institute during its early days, John Tighe and Clutha Mackenzie.
Personal liberties were regularly infringed. Permission to marry needed to be granted by the Institute's Board of Governors, what little personal money blind people possessed was micromanaged by the Institute's leaders, and people worked long hours for low wages in the organization's workshops. While occasionally today those who lived at the Institute share nostalgic reminiscences of “the good old days” with the younger generations of the New Zealand blind community, it is generally acknowledged that the middle forties represented a Spartan and hostile time for blind people affiliated with the Institute.
So the blind of New Zealand, like the blind of America, drew upon their depleted emotional reserves and found intuitive kernels of self-determination and personal strength to buoy them. When their wages were low, they organized. When their treatment was poor, they strategized. And when they had had enough, they had had enough and formed the first advocacy organization of the blind in New Zealand, the DAB.
When I met with Jack Short, one of the charter members of the Association, he explained to me in poignantly succinct language just how significant and revolutionary the founding of the DAB was in the context of the New Zealand blind community. "DAB men were brave. If somebody walked into the Institute with a DAB pin on his lapel, it was understood that he was someone to be reckoned with. It was clear that he was a person who stood for principle and was probably willing to jeopardize himself both personally and professionally through blatant association with the DAB. In the eyes of Institute authorities such people were marked as trouble makers and dangerous agitators. Yes, DAB men were brave."
The DAB has dramatically evolved and matured during the fifty-nine years of its existence. Undergoing several name changes to reflect the tenor of the times and the purposes of the organization, the former DAB is today the Association of Blind Citizens of New Zealand (ABC NZ or Association). The one constant aim of the Association throughout its almost six decades of existence has been its unwavering devotion to the cause of advocacy on behalf of the blind community through the vehicle of collective action. Peer support, public education about blindness, and all of the other functions traditionally aligned with an organization of the blind had and have their place in the dynamic life of the ABC NZ, but advocacy, in one form or another, has been the mainstay of its existence.
In its governance the ABC NZ is administered by a president, two vice presidents, five directors, and a World Blind Union representative. Collectively these people are known as the national executive, and they function much as does the board of directors of this organization. For particularly crucial decisions that warrant conference-level endorsement, an appointed representative from each of the sixteen local branches, entities comparable to chapters here, join with the National Executive to form the National Council. While still in existence, my impression is that its purpose remains largely an anomaly of organizational history. The National Council was called to act more often when the ABC NZ met in national conference every three years, but now that national conference is an annual affair, there is less need for National Council to act in conference's stead between meetings. As in the American consumer organizations, the deliberations of the delegates in attendance at national conference represent the supreme governing body of the organization. The official communications organ of the Association is its quarterly publication, Focus.
The ABC NZ is organized into local branches. Mostly branches are based on designated geographical regions of the country, but recently provision has been made for the development of Special Interest Branches to consist of ABC NZ members with common personal or professional interests. These local entities are charged with promoting the policies of the national organization in their communities and working on issues of particular local concern to their members.
The exercise of grassroots influence by Association members on the policy positions espoused by the organization stems from a historically deep-seated respect for transparent and democratic processes. Individual members and branches shape the messages of the ABC NZ through a formal system of remits and resolutions that are submitted to national conference directly from branches or are adopted at the direction of conference duly assembled. Branches are required to convene meetings of their general membership minimally three times a year in addition to their annual general meeting (AGM).
Members of the ABC NZ must be affiliated with a branch of the organization. Five types of membership can be held or bestowed within the ABC NZ: Ordinary Membership, Associate Membership, Junior Membership, and both Honorary and Honorary Member for Life. Membership reflects the diverse demographics of the blind community currently existing in New Zealand and internationally. A disproportionate number of members are older, and many experience the social disadvantages of blindness manifested through high rates of unemployment, inadequate training in the skills of blindness, and social isolation. But the blind people who choose to affiliate with the ABC NZ represent the strongest core of the community passionately interested in effecting positive social change through collective action.
The ABC NZ is today able to pursue its goals because of the financial sponsorship of the RNZFB. As you will see, the cool and then warm relationship between consumer and service provider in New Zealand has been a central characteristic and focus of Kiwi consumer activism. Since the early 1960's the Foundation has contributed some financial support to the ABC NZ to supplement its administrative operations, and in the early 1980's the Foundation, through agreement, became the exclusive funder of the organization.
Naturally this symbiotic rapport is quite different from the experience of American blind consumers. To the discerning person, at first blush this arrangement may reasonably raise questions of consumer autonomy. The rationale for the financial relationship between the Foundation and the ABC NZ has more, in fact, to do with the economics of a small country and the finite resources available to benefit blind people than anything else. Because the Foundation has always operated primarily on the charitable dollar and not as a state-funded entity, the successful fundraising of the ABC NZ began to have a discernible impact on what the Foundation was able to attract from the general public to devote toward its programs of human service. The Foundation approached the Association with a proposition that it fully fund the organization in exchange for the Association foregoing any public fundraising. In this way, they reasoned, vigorous competition for the charity dollar, limiting both organizations' capacity to offer optimal services to their constituencies, would be eliminated.
Not wanting to harm service delivery to blind people in New Zealand and eager to devote its energies to issues of social significance instead of to the dominant distractions of fundraising, the ABC NZ agreed to be exclusively funded by the Foundation. An understanding was firmly established that there would be no correlation between the receipt of funding from the Foundation and the right of the ABC NZ to substantively challenge the Foundation when necessary. Other reciprocal conditions apply to the financial agreement, but the principle that the consumer voice is not to be compromised by this arrangement and that a single entity attracts the charity dollar for the vocational and educational advantage of blind New Zealanders justifies the practice and preserves it to this day.
What then has the Association accomplished that distinguishes it and warrants consideration of blindness consumerism in New Zealand by the delegates of this convention? Many organizational achievements come immediately to mind, but I will briefly focus today on three notable victories. These successes offer a commentary on the collective resolve and conscience of blind consumers in New Zealand; promise to promote measurable improvement in the quality of their lives; but, most significantly for our purposes at this convention, represent an innovative model for self-empowerment that can be emulated by the interested international blindness community.
In 2003 the Foundation underwent a process of significant governance reform that was the culmination of almost eight years of sustained pressure by the members of the Association. The twin objectives of the organized blind community in New Zealand were to sever the control held by the state since 1963 over the composition of the Foundation's board of trustees and to enable blind people to determine for themselves who should represent their views and interests in the governance of the primary service-providing agency in the country.
Without exhaustively detailing the substantive grievances of the blind community toward the Foundation, I will say merely that ABC NZ leaders like Jonathan Mosen, Geraldine Glanville, and Clive Lansink, legitimized by a groundswell of support from the rank-and-file membership of the Association, led the charge to take governance ownership of the Foundation on behalf of the blind community. With faith in the collective wisdom of blind people to identify their own basic needs and to mold responsibly the principles and culture of the nation's largest vendor of blindness-related rehabilitation and social services, the Association relinquished its two designated seats on the Foundation board of trustees in exchange for the prospect of direct member influence and control of the agency.
Members of the Foundation, blind people eligible to receive services from the agency, are now entitled to vote for members of the newly constituted board of directors and, of course, to stand as candidates themselves to this board. A variety of new constitutional provisions affirm the general right of Foundation members to exercise sway over service delivery and organizational direction. In short, the eight-year struggle against member disenfranchisement has been satisfactorily resolved by a fundamental shift to understanding that blind people will dictate their own destiny when it comes to the functioning of the Foundation.
The consumer-driven, revolutionary nature of this rehabilitation reform should not be underestimated. It did not come easily. It was not won without personal sacrifice, and it stands as a testament to the resolve of determined Association members. It is a symbolic gift to the international blindness community from blind activists in New Zealand.
It is still too early for any thorough evaluation of the success of this experiment in governance reform, but all current signals suggest that the blind will be equal to the challenge of governing for themselves. By contrast, then, governance reform in New Zealand rehabilitation adds a significant dimension to the work of American blind consumers to advocate for informed choice in rehabilitation.
A second landmark change brought about by the Association occurred in the middle 1950's. Through the sophisticated lobbying efforts of leaders like Cyril White and others, blind consumers of New Zealand managed early on to persuade officials of New Zealand's government to remove means testing from the benefit received by blind people. This universal benefit provides a meaningful work incentive for blind benefit recipients and helps to defray the additional social costs of blindness encountered by Kiwis of our community. Some aspects of the benefit warrant improvement and reform, but earlier than most, the Association secured for its members a substantial government benefit, which has helped to improve the overall quality of life for its membership.
Finally in July of last year  the ABC NZ published an access audit that surveyed existing facets of Kiwi society and evaluated their relative accessibility for blind people. This policy document addressed such topics as civil rights, education, employment, public transportation, and environmental and information access. Following a detailed analysis of existing New Zealand law, a comparison to other international jurisdictions, and an assessment of whether or not New Zealand met reasonable access standards in these identified areas, policy recommendations were offered at the conclusion of each subject chapter with the aim of promoting necessary change or improvement in these areas. Members are beginning to see various segments of New Zealand government rely on the ABC NZ’s signature policy publication as a definitive resource for what must be done to create an accessible society for blind people in New Zealand. The exertion of such influence is a noteworthy accomplishment of which the Association can feel justifiably proud.
Stemming from this policy work, the Association has devoted its energies in the last year or so to the development of major special education reform with the goal of creating a model national learning support network for the education of blind children in the country. This national system aspires to marry appropriate residential instruction with mainstream academic tutelage and concentrates on ensuring that blind learners receive quality tuition in blindness skills instruction. Similarly the ABC NZ is keen to find a solution, as a small country disadvantaged by its limited capacity to create or access digitally recorded books, to the perceived legal obstacles in sharing these specially formatted materials across international boundaries. These and other matters currently occupy the energy and commitment of the ABC NZ.
New Zealand is a lovely land. Its people are warm and friendly, and a touch of British formality characterizes day-to-day life there. If I have learned anything, though, as a result of immigrating to New Zealand, it is that both the positive and negative aspects of blindness are surely universal.
My wife Renee and I were approved to be foster parents by the Child Youth and Family Ministry of the New Zealand government. Naturally there were questions initially about our capacity to parent in view of our blindness, but with a little advocacy and education the officials, in typical Kiwi fashion, said "fair enough" when it became clear that we were well suited to the task. We successfully fostered our first eighteen-month-old baby just before coming home this summer. This strikingly illustrates one example of the willingness of a culture that prides itself on the promotion of principles of equity to apply these practices to blind people as well as others.
Conversely I have devoted myself in the last year to championing the trampled rights of New Zealand guide dog owners who have been denied entry into taxis, planes, and restaurants. I have fought to ensure that a blind immigrant to New Zealand was not denied permanent residency based on the prospect that as a blind person he was more likely than his sighted colleagues to lose his high-paying job and become a social parasite on the taxpayers of the country.
In short, the experience of blind people in both the Southern and Northern Hemispheres is similar, and our consumer organizations, while different, share in common a basic spirit of consumerism that should forge a lasting bond across the globe. Our different experiences and successes can and should inform one another's advocacy. Through the forum of the World Blind Union or by bilateral relations, the Association is eager to fashion a mutually beneficial relationship with American consumers. Together we can work in common cause to advance our mutual interests. Together we can make life better for blind people around the world.
[PHOTO CAPTION: The skyline of Louisville]
All Roads Lead to the Galt House
by Nickie Priddy
From the Editor: Nickie Priddy is a life-long Louisville resident who has been on the board of the Greater Louisville Chapter of the NFB of Kentucky for two years. She will also be hosting Kentucky’s Hospitality Suite at this year’s convention. Here is what she says about the area around our convention hotels:
The streets of Louisville are laid out in a grid pattern, running either north-south or east-west. Turning left outside the Galt House East and traveling south on Fourth Street, you cross these streets: Main, Market, Jefferson, Liberty, Muhammad Ali Boulevard, Chestnut, and Broadway. Traveling east on any of these streets from Fourth Street, you cross these north-south streets: Third, Second, First, Brook, Floyd, and Preston. Traveling west from Fourth Street, you cross Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth.
Let’s take a walking tour and see what we can find. Walking three blocks south on Fourth brings you to the newly renovated 4th Street Live!, which offers dining, shopping, and entertainment. 4th Street Live! occupies the entire block between Liberty and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. Continuing south on Fourth after crossing Chestnut, you find a Walgreen’s drug store and in the next block the Palace Theater and plenty of lunchtime favorites. Walking east on Chestnut then left (north) on Third and traveling four blocks, you come to the Old Spaghetti Factory, located on the northeast corner of Third and Market. If you head west on the north side of Market, at the next corner, which is Fourth, you find Kuntz’s restaurant, a Louisville favorite for lunch and dinner. Continuing west on Market then turning right (north) on Fifth for two blocks, you come to the Belvedere, which is a great gathering place for festivals and where the world-famous Thunder over Louisville is held. The Belvedere offers benches, tables, fountains, and great views of the Ohio River. It is also easy to get to the Belvedere from the Galt House West.
West of the intersection of Main and Fifth is the Kentucky Center for the Arts. The Louisville Science Center is located at Eighth and Main and boasts a wide variety of exhibits, including the IMAX theater. The Louisville Slugger Museum stands on the south side of Main at Ninth Street. You won’t be able to miss the four story bat on display outside the museum.
Louisville is home to many more attractions and entertainment. Please stop by the Kentucky information table in the lobby of the Galt House East if you have questions or need ideas for planning outings. You may also want to visit the Louisville Convention and Visitors Bureau, located in the Kentucky International Convention Center on the southwest corner of Third and Market, (502) 584-2121 or (800) 626-5646.
There are several different ways to get around downtown Louisville. One is the Fourth Street Trolley, which runs from the Galt House to Fourth and Broadway. Another is the Main Street Trolley, which runs west on Main to Eighth and east on Market Street to Slugger Field. The trolley fare is twenty-five cents. Cabs are always available outside the Galt House, or you can call Yellow Cab at (502) 636-5511. TARC (Transit Authority of River City) has fixed-route service throughout the city. Its phone number is (502) 585-1234 and its Web site is <http://ridetarc.org.> The closest routes to the Galt House are the #2 Second Street, #4 Fourth Street, and #6 Sixth Street buses. You can catch them at the southeast corner of Fourth and Main Streets. You can get to and from the airport directly using the #2 Second Street bus. The bus stop at the airport is at the east end of the lower-level terminal. Regular TARC bus fare is $1. If you are eligible for paratransit in your hometown, you can arrange for service while in Louisville. You may call one week in advance for rides. The reservations line is (502) 560-0333.
Look forward to seein’ y’all this summer.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Mariyam Cementwala]
by Mariyam Cementwala
From the Editor: When Dr. Jernigan first began teaching me how to edit a magazine, he instructed me on the value of seed corn, tucking away several articles to hold in readiness in case they are suddenly needed in a pinch. I adopted his practice and try always to have a few pieces that I can drop into an issue if necessary.
In a week or two I am scheduled to upgrade my computer, which means sorting through files and deleting the things that are just sitting around, taking up cyberspace. This morning I found the following bit of seed corn and decided that it is still as valuable as it was when I first read it. Mariyam Cementwala is now a student at the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley. She is still benefiting from the decision she describes making in the following story. It first appeared in the Winter 2000 issue of the Student Slate, the publication of the National Association of Blind Students. This is what she says about her experience:
The first time I heard about adult training centers was at the 1997 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. At that time I met Joanne Wilson, director of the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I had thought that perhaps someday I would go, but right then I did not think I needed to be at a center. I was on my way to the University of California at Berkeley. I believed that I had enough skills in living and travelling independently to survive on my own without first going to a center. I pushed the thought to the back of my mind and left it in cold storage. I was a long way from believing that I needed training in the alternative techniques of blindness.
Four months after convention I was sitting at Giovanni's Italian Restaurant in downtown Berkeley with a friend who is a graduate of an NFB training center. It was here that the initial realization came that I needed to go to a training center. Sure, I was using a cane, but it was a short, heavy aluminum folding cane. I was not as comfortable with my blindness as I could have and should have been--as I am now.
The restaurant was dimly lit, and at that time I thought I needed light to do everything. The struggle came when it was time to order and I dismissed the idea of letting the waitress read the menu for us. Even though it took me minutes to decode each menu item, I wanted to read it myself. My hungry dinner companion finally asked the waitress to read us the menu. Then he remarked, "You need to go to an NFB training center, and quickly!" I may have been living alone, but in many ways I wasn't living independently. That's when the first bells rang in my head. Perhaps I shouldn't put off going to a center until I reached some landmark time such as after finishing my undergraduate degree and before law school.
Then, later in that same school year, I was sitting at a board meeting of the California Association of Blind Students. Because the lighting was really dim, I could not read my fifteen-point bold capitalized notes, which my duties as the secretary required me to use. At that point I decided I would learn Braille, and quickly. However, I wasn't even sure how to begin. In college I used readers, took my own notes when I could, and went to the occasional study group. In short, I skated by well enough. But from associating more and more with people in the NFB, I was realizing that life is not about getting by but about living well and to the fullest.
By this time I was becoming much more open to the idea of going to a center sooner than I had planned. The fact that my two best friends were at a center and raving about the experience certainly helped. Yet I still thought that I would have to wait because I simply could not take a break from college. I finally became convinced to make the time for training after hearing from many training-center graduates who regretted that they had not gone sooner because their undergraduate years would have been so much easier.
That summer I decided to visit the Louisiana Center for a week. By my third day at the center I knew that I was going to come that year and do so by the end of the summer if I could manage it. The rest of my life could wait. We often impose artificial limitations upon ourselves like thinking we can go to a center only after getting a degree or completing this or that project.
There is never a convenient time to go to a training center, because something is always going on in the rest of our lives--school, family, a job, or something else. Sometimes we just have to push those other priorities aside for the real priority: becoming independent. So, after making the arrangements with my vocational rehabilitation counselor, I entered the adult program at the Louisiana Center for the Blind at the end of the summer.
Where do I begin in describing the center experience? I could write a book. It would include the bowling nights, the baby shower, the cramped vanloads of anxious, excited, tired, and just plain loud blind people heading off to Mardi Gras or rock climbing or whatever other adventure was in store for the group.
The center taught me survival in a big way. It taught me what it means to compete on terms of equality, to hold my ground, to keep my control, and to look directly at an employer and say with confidence, "I can do this job." The center taught me skills such as cane travel and Braille. I also learned punctuality, openness, diplomacy, discipline, confidence, and giving. It taught me that I have a lot more to learn and that this learning is never-ending. The center challenged me and taught me that I must challenge myself. It is difficult to sum it up in words except to say that the months in Ruston were some of the most difficult and wonderful times I have ever experienced. The center taught me how to learn--how to go full circle.
The center experience was very rich, almost as rich as the chocolate raspberry cheesecake I had at Giovanni's last Friday night. It was an autumn evening almost two years before when I had walked into Giovanni's Italian Restaurant in great trepidation with my friend; I hadn't dared to return since that night. Now, on a fall Friday just as before, I walked in again--this time without the trepidation and with a new friend. Using my long white cane, I followed the waitress to a dim table towards the back. This time I asked her to read us what was on the dessert menu for the night. My friend was comfortable with my blindness because I was comfortable with it.
The National Federation of the Blind, through its positive philosophy and excellent training centers, gave me a new, better quality of life. Each day at an NFB training center is like the slow process of unwrapping a great gift. The only constant is that there are lots of surprises. Each day following center graduation is better because you get to enjoy the gift you were given and get to share it with others.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Curtis Chong]
One More Exchange from Curtis Chong's Email Basket
From the Editor: In the December 2004 issue of the Braille Monitor, Curtis Chong, president of the NFB in Computer Science, reported on a meeting he and Anne Taylor had last fall with the access folks at Microsoft. Then, in the March issue, we reprinted an exchange of messages about the article that Curtis had with Doug Geoffray of GW Micro. Now we have a second exchange on the same subject, this time with Madelyn Bryant McIntire, at the time director of the Accessible Technology Group at Microsoft. For those interested in the future of access to Microsoft products in coming years, it does seem to provide a bit more clarification. Here it is:
February 21, 2005
It was a pleasure to host you and Anne Taylor last September at our corporate headquarters in Redmond. I recently read your December article in the Braille Monitor about the visit with great interest.
As the Greek philosopher Heraclites said, "The only constant is change," and a few things have changed since your visit, so I thought I should update you.
Corporate commitment: You expressed the concern in your article that it was "difficult to comprehend how accessibility is being mandated at the highest levels of the corporation." Since the visit was intended to be a technical discussion directly with the individual engineers that are designing and writing the software, we did not spend time on the managerial aspects of running the company. I think that was the right approach to the meeting, given the time constraints, but that may have left you with an inaccurate view. Accessibility has become part of the way we do business. That does not mean we will always get it right, but we are trending up, and all of our executives are well aware of the importance of this work.
Automation, MSAA, and Longhorn: Another concern you express in your article is that "no one knows for sure how this new concept will be implemented in Longhorn." In that section you share your worries that we will remove old mechanisms. In the six months since your visit, several things are more clear. The implementation of UI [user interface] automation will be completed by ATG [Access Technology Group] and will ship with Longhorn. It will exist side‑by‑side with MSAA [Microsoft Active Accessibility] and AT [access technology] vendors will have the opportunity to evaluate and adopt UI automation based on the merits of the new interface. Some things that simply could not be implemented using MSAA given its design will be available with UI automation.
Terminal services: To ensure that users of screen access technology take advantage of what is available on the market today, let me clarify the Terminal Server accessibility solution. Terminal Server and Citrix are currently accessible, due to efforts by Citrix, Microsoft, and the screen access technology companies. The solutions from Dolphin and Window Eyes have been available to their customers since 2003. Freedom Scientific's Jaws for Windows version 6.0 includes compatibility with Citrix.
For Longhorn the Terminal Server team is building support for UI automation. The screen access vendors continue to be involved in Longhorn design and technical briefings. End users will reap the benefits of this work when Longhorn is released, which is currently scheduled for 2006.
Follow-up: After your visit to Redmond, I accepted Dr. Maurer's invitation to visit the NFB headquarters in Baltimore and the Jernigan Institute. I deeply value the time and hospitality extended to me by Dr. Maurer. The visit gave me an opportunity to meet key members of NFB and to hear their concerns.
All of the meetings reinforced the fact that we have common goals. Technology can and should be an equalizing force, and our work is not done until that vision is realized.
Madelyn Bryant McIntire
Director, Accessible Technology Group
February 27, 2005
Thank you for your comments about my article in the December 2004 Braille Monitor, reporting on our productive meeting in September of last year. I would like to take this opportunity to comment on some of the points you raised in your email.
Microsoft's commitment to accessibility: In your comments you point out that, since during our meeting we did not focus on the managerial aspects of running the company, I might have come away from the meeting with an inaccurate view of Microsoft's management policy on accessibility. Let me begin by saying that the focus of our September meeting was, from my perspective, right on target. I was deeply appreciative of the opportunity to discuss accessibility with engineers involved in designing and writing software. I was not interested at the time in talking about policy and management strategies to promote accessibility.
Based on past meetings I have attended at Microsoft during which Microsoft's policy on accessibility was discussed at great length, I believe that, while corporate executives may be required to address the issue of accessibility, they are not prohibited from releasing products that are not accessible to people with disabilities. Accessibility is not the overriding priority that drives the company but is instead one of many competing priorities that corporate executives must consider. Fortunately for the blind, at Microsoft accessibility is more of a priority today than it was years ago. You say that accessibility has become a part of the way Microsoft does business, that you may not always get it right, and that the company is trending up. This is essentially what I believe I said in the article.
UI automation, MSAA, and Longhorn: You say that, when Longhorn is released, both UI automation and MSAA will exist side-by-side in this new operating system. You remain silent on the question of undocumented video hooks, which historically have enabled screen access technology to extract much of the information they provide to blind computer users. During our September meeting I was given to understand that these hooks would continue to work‑‑at least in the first release of Longhorn. Now it would appear that they will not. If this is indeed the case, then the blind have much to be concerned about. Many of the applications we use today work only because of the undocumented video hooks that have been implemented by screen access technology.
Terminal services: In the article I did not point out that at the time of our meeting both GW Micro and Dolphin Systems already had screen-reading software that provided access to the Citrix/Terminal Server environment. As you point out, today a Citrix/Terminal-Server access solution is also available from Freedom Scientific. What neither of us said, however, was that in order to have full access to this environment, access technology must be installed on the terminal server platform. While I fully appreciate the technological necessities that make this necessary, I do wish to point out that this requirement will increase the complexity of the technological issues that must be considered when a company is hiring someone who is blind.
I can also tell you that network administrators and information technology managers may have natural concerns about screen access technology running on desktop computers which we may be able to overcome, but they will most certainly resist the installation of what they perceive to be foreign software in their highly‑valued servers. Nevertheless, the access to this important platform does exist, and I plan to devote a major portion of the 2005 meeting of the National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science to a discussion of Citrix and the various technologies that are now available to use it.
General comments: Our meeting last September, my article in the Braille Monitor, and our exchange of correspondence are healthy signs of the times in which we live. You and I must continue to communicate frankly and productively with each other. Blind computer users must understand what awaits them in the future, and Microsoft must continue to receive information from people who are blind so that it can better judge the impact of the decisions it makes.
Thank you for continuing this fruitful exchange of information. It would seem that indeed change is the only constant. I truly hope that change does not result in adversity for the community of blind computer users and professionals and that Microsoft continues to play a positive role in our ability to use technology on an equal basis with everybody else.
President, National Federation of the Blind in Computer Science
A Matter of Principal
by Suzanne Sataline
From the Editor: The following lengthy article first appeared in the January 30, 2005, Boston Globe. The school principal in the story is beginning to work with the Cambridge chapter of the NFB of Massachusetts. It is important not only because a blind educator is solving problems and bringing hope to his school but because the school he leads is finding ways to reach and educate a diverse population of students, including a number with disabilities. Where one school and one man lead, surely others can follow. Here is the article:
As Boston's public schools fight to regain the faith of parents who see the suburbs or private schools as the only options for their children, a remarkable principal shows how one public school can be special for every student.
The wooden door's brass handle bangs into the cinder‑block wall, the echo skidding down the empty hall. The principal of the Patrick O'Hearn Elementary School in Dorchester hustles through, elbows jutting outward, skinny roadrunner legs bounding over the vinyl floor. A bit of chaos heralds every opening day, and three hours into the new school year the O'Hearn is approaching full tilt. Several children are absent, school buses are late, and the janitors need their schedules. And principal William Henderson is still reeling from the news that more fifth‑graders than usual bombed their mastery tests last spring. Yet the most pressing issue at the moment is stopping kickball chaos.
Outside of Room One Henderson calls Jamauree Haygood out of class. At ten, he is a huge kid, with David Ortiz's cheeks and expansive stomach, which stretches taut his nylon Fila shirt. But his breadth isn't his only characteristic drawing attention. On the playground last year, Jamauree had been one of the kickball hotheads, shouting and pushing one another.
Teachers say the child towers over all but one other student. The principal touches Jamauree's shoulder, his gaze hovering somewhere between the wall and the boy's sweaty forehead.
Bill Henderson oversees an educational jewel on Dorchester Avenue in a neighborhood that for too many children marks the dead end of frustration and failure. The O'Hearn demands more than most public schools, and it gets more, from students and parents. That the school's principal is blind may be one of the O'Hearn's more mundane features or its greatest selling point.
Most Boston schools share monstrous burdens: exhausted teachers, paltry supplies, creaky technology, weak to awful test scores, little parental help, fractious labor‑management relations, and families struggling with blistering poverty--all run by a haggard central administration. These are problems pulsing in every big city's school system, and their persistence encourages upheavals. In Boston that means the periodic storms over race and integration and whether it's proper for a still‑segregated city to assign children to failing schools close to home or ones a bus ride away. The city has worked mightily to shed the taint of court‑ordered busing and urban school failure, but it hasn't altogether succeeded.
What outlasted busing and riot police is the quiet march of sneakered feet. Every year a good number of parents opt out, choosing between private and parochial, charter and suburban, sending their youngsters away and leaving public schools filled with ever more students with even bigger learning troubles. Study the Boston system for a short while, and you expect to find nothing but some random successes and a lot of wishful thinking--until you discover the O'Hearn, with its award‑winning arts program and stew of skill levels and backgrounds. In past years the O'Hearn has ranked among the top‑performing elementary schools in state test results. Each year families queue up on waiting lists, pleading that their children be allowed to slip into the kindergarten‑through grade five classes. It is the fifth most‑requested elementary school in Boston, and, as one of the smallest, with just 225 students, it offers the fewest seats each year. Why aren't there more public schools like the O'Hearn? What juice does this school have that others don't?
For starters, Bill Henderson. On opening day Henderson touches Jamauree's shoulder, and the boy inhales, sure that a scolding has arrived-‑yet again. We know how good you are at kickball, Henderson says to him softly. A lot of little kids get into trouble because they don't know the rules. They need some help. "We'd like you to be our peer tutor kickball coach." The boy's brown button eyes glance at his principal, then dart away, unsure how to look at an adult who doesn't stare back.
"It's a big responsibility," Henderson warns. Others might ask how a fourth‑grader who can't keep himself out of scrapes could summon the diplomacy to manage seven‑year‑olds. But Henderson calculates differently: trust Jamauree, give him a task, and he'll mature.
"Would you like that job?" Henderson asks. The boy breathes, "Yeah." "You'll be our first," Henderson says exultantly. He grabs Jamauree's hand and shakes vigorously, as if the kid has just won the pennant.
Henderson strides down the hall, reviewing the details with teacher's aide Tony Lopes. Give Jamauree a few minutes to eat lunch, and then send him out to the courtyard to supervise recess. Henderson grins at the brilliance of the plan. Less time to eat will be good for Jamauree, Henderson says: "He could miss a few lunches. That's a win‑win."
The principal bursts through the double doors, white cane levitating. Even for a school with the O'Hearn's reputation, these are not easy times. For the first time in years, there was a substantial increase in the number of the school's fourth‑graders who failed the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exams‑-10 percent in English and 22 percent in math. At the same time Boston schools failed to meet federal education standards under the No Child Left Behind Act. Boston has appealed, but repeat performances could lead to state supervision. In his State of the State address this month, Governor Mitt Romney addressed these problems by pushing for a slate of changes to improve learning in the classroom. Henderson attributes the O'Hearn's sour news to money and competition. The O'Hearn lost $40,000 after Massachusetts cut the tutoring budget. By the strange calculus of federal regulations, the O'Hearn would have to be deemed a failing school‑-it isn't currently-‑for three consecutive years to qualify for tutoring aid. At the same time the O'Hearn has lost some of its smartest children in that same fourth‑grade group, who decided to enroll elsewhere in accelerated programs at K‑8 schools. The students who replaced them had struggled to learn or fit in at their previous schools. Several are still shell‑shocked by the O'Hearn's unfamiliar culture.
"They're afraid to raise their hands. They're afraid to take risks," fifth‑grade teacher Mindy Hoffert says to Henderson one September afternoon. Her teaching partner, Terri Wellner, agrees: "They haven't been O'Hearn‑ized."
Henderson attacks the problem in the first week of school: scheduling time with his math coordinator and untangling testing data over dinner with teachers to decipher which math concepts are confounding which students. He invites parents to a meeting to consider school changes, among those a longer day. And he shares his concerns and hopes in a letter to O'Hearn parents, taking responsibility for the drop in scores: "We expect more of ourselves than we expect of others."
Henderson knows that, for the O'Hearn to be a school of excellence, he must boost the performance of every child, including the brightest ones. A place with a leaking watercooler and cracked playground still can offer advanced‑student programs like Challengers, where students complete extra work before and after school. Just recently parents and teachers voted to recommend that the O'Hearn add a sixth, seventh, and eighth grade, allowing the school to hold on to students for three more years.
"We're on a mission!" Henderson likes to say when he stops long enough to expound. "To find whatever is humane and helpful to kids. It's getting to all the kids."
Teachers and parents who know the O'Hearn ask the same question: if the O'Hearn is so good and so popular, why aren't there more schools like it? Given the constellation of things that need to happen, a more apt query might be: Could there ever be another O'Hearn?
"We're going to start talking about memoirs." Hoffert--blond, spunky, and very pregnant--sits in a rocking chair in Room nine, her fifth‑graders spread at her feet like chickens. One of her goals this year is to get her crew to write their memoirs before she gives birth in December. To explain, she turns to a favorite storybook, Betty Doll, by Patricia Polacco, about a rag doll's adventures. Several of the boys look glum. They are ten and can already read chapter books. But Hoffert asks for their attention, and her chirpy voice transports the class back a century, into a blizzard. When the girl in the story realizes her doll is lost, a couple of the boys gasp.
By the end the class starts to understand that the doll is a totem, a witness to each generation's success. Hoffert asks the children to jot down objects important to them which could be story fodder.
"A list, right? Not a story?" asks Wellner. She is a handsome woman with high cheekbones, who looks elegant even when seated at a child's desk.
Not a story yet, Hoffert says. "Anything that holds meaning. A ribbon. A trophy. Anything you'd hate to lose." Robert Lopez leans against the front wall and begins. A big, sensitive boy with owlish glasses, he likes to get his work done fast so he can dive back into reading. (Last year he tackled Jack London's White Fang.) Immanuel Lambert scratches some words listlessly. He lost interest in school after his father died last year, and he hates to write. Several children need a push. Hoffert teases out of one youngster a tale about how he crashed his bike. She jots down his phrases on a pad and asks: "Where do you want to end this? This is a great story!" and sends him off with notes. The boy sits, and despite all the direction, he is utterly lost.
Naila Rodrigues peers out from drooping eyelids, and her head rolls in its plastic protective helmet. Words trail from her mouth like sleeptime babble. Naila was born with water on the brain, requiring a shunt in her head and leading to a host of developmental delays. She has had seizures, and her limbs are bent; yet she bubbles with warmth. The school requires that she wear a helmet to protect her misshapen skull. "Uh. Ahhh!" Naila calls out.
Wellner gets down on the rug and chats quietly with the girl. The teacher then writes in Naila's notebook in large letters: dog, cat, candles, and shoes. Wellner highlights the words in yellow. With a pencil, Naila copies in faint, loopy letters. Hoffert calls everyone back to hear the results. The children call out: "My favorite bike!" "My room!" "My cat Anthony!"
"Naila?" Hoffert prompts. "Birthday!" Naila says, the consonants and vowels landing exactly where they should. That formula of struggle mixed with success is a component of each O'Hearn class. It's emblazoned in a logo overlooking Dorchester Avenue: "We Are All Special." It shows three childlike figures, one in a wheelchair. Wheelchairs are just the start. The O'Hearn is poly‑everything: racially, economically, linguistically, developmentally. You will find children born overseas and American kids of single mothers; children of teachers and children whose grandfather is Boston's mayor. Kids who can chatter and run on the playground take recess with kids who have never uttered their own name, taken an independent step, or seen their handwriting.
Some O'Hearn children are the results of truncated pregnancies, bad genes, missing chromosomes, and medical mysteries that have stunted limbs and stolen speech. A third of the O'Hearn's 225 children receive special education help and some of the most intensive therapeutic services offered by any of Boston's public schools. Pat Dennehy, the school nurse, offers daily medical care to several youngsters. There are children like Mia, who speaks by pointing to pictures, and Quentin, who gets fed through a gastric tube. Mary paces the hallway with a walker, with her legs wrapped in braces, while Chanel commands everyone from her wheelchair to be careful not to break her soft bones. For some of these children, the only alternative to the O'Hearn would be hospital schools. Students learn alongside children whose brains reverse letter orders and others who cannot sit still. To this add the challenges of poverty, for two‑thirds of the O'Hearn students qualify for a free or discounted lunch (actually, a low proportion by Boston standards).
Leading this flock is a man who reads Braille and sees blurry shapes. Teachers say Henderson is an inspiration, but for kids used to wheelchairs and flailing hands and drool, a man with a white cane just fits in.
Kindergartner Olivia Fenton chatters to her mother about songs she sings with her classmate Mary, books she reads with Mary, or a play date she wants with Mary. Olivia never mentions that pixieish Mary doesn't speak, read, or walk without help. Some O'Hearn parents insist that their children are learning tolerance, but for most students dealing with difference just isn't a big deal.
Which is how Henderson wants it. "I don't want this to be a school for children with disabilities, because then it's not inclusive," he says. "Inclusion only works if you have a balance." In academic parlance inclusion schooling means that children with physical, mental, and learning impairments are taught alongside students who are developing more typically. Some schools use the term to describe their mixed classrooms, but at the O'Hearn inclusion also means adapting lessons so that every child in a room is learning aspects of the same curriculum.
Urban principals are focused on aiding their poor and minority students. Henderson's challenge is more complicated. "We've got to close the gap between the scores of kids with disabilities and no disabilities," he says. That means more of everything: more teaching time, more accommodations for disabilities, deeper involvement with families. "We've got to push kids to take responsibility. People say, what about the kids with Down’s syndrome? Do they have to do the reading? The answer is yes."
Of course disabled children might thrive when tended by a squadron of aides guiding their speech, reading, and movement. But why would inclusion benefit average or even gifted students? The answer is as intricate as a Room Nine lesson.
The district hands out boilerplate curriculum, but O'Hearn teachers re‑engineer each part. Lessons are elaborately choreographed, adapting moves and pace to individual strengths and abilities. It starts by having two teachers in each room who use their daily planning period, negotiated into their contract, to hash out adaptation so everyone learns.
The district wants students to improve in writing, so Hoffert has divided the year into genres, starting with the memoir. When she asks the class to read-‑and there is much time set aside for students to explore books they've chosen-‑some will read bound books. Some will listen to an audiotape. Others will use a computer program that shows and speaks the words of a scanned book. Wellner will type an even simpler adaptation that includes pictures for students like Naila. They're all reading, and sometimes they're reading the same story. Only the depth and detail vary.
Hoffert then will invite everyone back to the rug for a "mini-lesson," when they will discuss as a group the single concept she wants them to grasp. At night Hoffert reads each of the student‑selected books. She and each child discuss them, in letters back and forth. If a lesson doesn't work, the teachers rip it up and try again. Meanwhile every child reworks his or her memoir for the fourth time. It's guerrilla theater--fast, fluid, and unexpected. "What I have to do," Wellner says, "is keep the plates spinning, so none of them drop."
This process unfolds in all ten O'Hearn classrooms. "You'll see curriculum turned upside down and realigned, over and over . . . to figure out how everyone can achieve the curriculum goals," says Nancy Zollers, a consultant and former Boston College assistant professor who has studied the O'Hearn. Every child benefits, she says. "You can't go unnoticed in an inclusive environment."
Parents recognize that those extra eyes on all children help even the typical and gifted students move ahead. La Dawn Strickland says that classwork can be easy for her nine‑year‑old son, Abanu, but the teachers give him extra challenges at a before‑school academic program and enrich her son's schooling with a host of arts classes. For that reason she did not move him to an advanced‑work class elsewhere. "He gets attention. He gets a lot of feedback," Strickland says. "His needs are met."
Boston has several other schools that mix special‑needs children with those learning at standard and accelerated rates, and one, the Mary Lyon Elementary School in Brighton, is considered excellent, but it's less diverse than the O'Hearn. And no other school assigns two teachers per class schoolwide, one a standard elementary teacher and the other certified in special education. Collaboration means you share everything. Parent-leader Sharon Williams says, "Whether you're a parent, a teacher, a secretary, or a nurse, when you have inclusion, you're going to wipe up poop. You're going to wipe up throw‑up, you're going to wipe up things you're not sure what it is. There's no ‘They don't pay me to do that.' . . . If you don't buy into it and say that's beneath you, you don't buy into inclusion."
Henderson will tell parents that the O'Hearn might not work for every child, especially children who dislike so much stimulation. In recent years the school has enrolled more children with emotional and learning problems. Henderson believes this shift contributed to the test‑score drop. ("There's a bottom line in life," he says, "and we didn't make the bottom line.") Buying in means every child joins in. Cyndi Archibald, whose husband Tim also teaches at the O'Hearn, stretches the children in yoga and dance, the school's phys ed substitute. In the elaborate school plays, she has choreographed children in wheelchairs to twirl in time with other students.
"Imagination is power," Cyndi Archibald says. Tests "are not the only indication of a child's success." Some teachers do wonder how much children with severe needs progress at the O'Hearn. Fourth‑grade teacher Rosemary O'Brien has worked with many disabled children, including one who only responded when his cheek was stroked: "Sometimes you'd wonder if the kid was getting anything out of this. And then you think there are probably other kids out there who could benefit more."
O'Hearn parents can summon every detail of their first visit to the school. For most it happened after many months spent pleading with and cajoling the Boston public schools' special education office and glimpses of other schools with sterile rooms and shouting in the halls. A small girl chirped to Roxanne Hoke‑Chandler: "Welcome to the O'Hearn!" The child had Down’s syndrome, just like Hoke‑Chandler's daughter. The mother burst into tears, right there in the foyer. She had fought for months to get Faith admitted and finally enlisted city councilors to call school administrators until they said yes. "My feeling was, God gave me this child. It's my job to advocate for her," Hoke‑Chandler says.
Like a trip to Willy Wonka's, the struggle to win a ticket to the O'Hearn has become something of legend. Some parents are convinced that those who know the right people can push their child's name up the wait list. Boston school officials vigorously deny this. Mayor Tom Menino's grandchildren got in, but the mayor's spokesman says his office had no involvement. The family lives in the neighborhood, and the children's mother, Susan Fenton, says the only intervention came through prayer.
With about twenty seats available in kindergarten and usually a couple of vacancies in the upper grades, the O'Hearn's exclusivity pushes parents of children with special needs to extraordinary means. When Carolyn Kain's child was assigned to the Condon School in South Boston, Kain wasn't satisfied with what she saw there. "It was segregated," she says. "All the children in the classroom were handicapped." With a lawyer the Kains appealed to the state, spending considerable time and money until everyone had agreed on the O'Hearn.
Partly out of gratitude, partly because of a fierce loyalty to Henderson, parents stay involved in the life of the school, sometimes after their children have grown. Moms, and they are mostly moms, raise money, answer phones, write grants, run after‑school programs, organize raffles, visit new parents, and sometimes take jobs at the school. Parents, after all, are the reason the present O'Hearn exists at all.
The courts have forced most seismic changes in Boston schools, and inclusion was no different. Under pressure from activists the Legislature enacted a law in 1972 requiring districts to educate children with disabilities. Congress followed suit three years later. Boston fell woefully behind completing education plans, and by 1976 activists sued. Allen v. McDonough dragged on for twenty-two years, with a judge prodding the school district to comply with the law.
At one point a judge required the Boston School Committee to pay for a special needs parent advisory council. In 1987 the council advocated for Dorchester parents who wanted a new kind of school where disabled children would not be segregated in basements but be part of regular classrooms. Kathy Ryan, whose twenty-two‑year‑old son Owen is mentally retarded and has cerebral palsy, argued at the time that "kids need kids." Thomas Hehir, then Boston's special education director, recalls thinking that given her child's cognitive skills, she was being unrealistic. "I was not in denial," Ryan says. "I knew what Owen's disability was. I was interested in Owen's strengths." Hehir now credits her as a visionary thinker. The School Committee agreed to remake the O'Hearn in 1989, ceding not just to civil rights arguments but to financial ones. Parents argued that the new school would save the district money.
The ultimate goal for many parents and educators was to put a similar school in each district zone, but it never happened. Why didn't this happen? I asked Janet Williams, a deputy superintendent. She replied: "I don't know." She added that creating such a school requires Herculean efforts by parents and staff, and few schools could muster such commitment.
Hehir, now a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, says inclusion is still a threatening concept. It forces people to confront preconceived notions about education, as well as prejudices. "There are still people who react very negatively to people with disabilities, and part of that reaction is to segregate them."
To lead a special school, Boston Public School administrators and the O'Hearn parents knew they would need a special person. Henderson, then a Dorchester resident and assistant principal at Roxbury's Hernandez Elementary School, was struck by the struggles of the children with disabilities he had met. He was part of a task force that lobbied hard for the new O'Hearn and presented curriculum plans, with budget figures to back them up. He seemed the perfect fit.
Henderson darts through the auditorium, passing a boy squirming on the wooden floor in dance class. The child calls out to him. "Who's this?" Henderson says gently, his eyes searching. Children giggle. "It's Malcolm!" "Hi, Malcolm," Henderson says warmly, and his hand skims the air at his waist, looking to pat a child he's known for years. But the head's not there, and the principal drops his hand still lower. "You're so small!"
"I'm on the floor." Henderson's brain is a Palm Pilot of information about everything O'Hearn. He knows the names of each child and recognizes most of them by voice. He remembers their siblings, the pupils who must have surgery, those whose mothers are pregnant. You get the sense that if the enrollment files were consumed in flames, the principal in the shabby Birkenstocks munching on home‑grown arugula could re‑create them from memory.
He greets everyone with "It's so good to see you!" in a voice as Boston‑nasal as any Kennedy's. Some children stare, but teachers say most of the younger children don't notice Henderson's waning eyesight or comprehend it. "Tell him in words, honey," teacher Darlene Jones‑Inge tells one wide‑eyed child. "He can't see you nod." Henderson relies on twentieth‑century technology to move him through a long day. He stays on schedule with a talking watch--really a face with numbers that long ago lost its hands. He attacks email with vigor, using software with an electronic voice that reels off messages at an auctioneer's clip. When he can't do it alone, he isn't fussy about who lends a hand. Children will read memos, answer the phone, fetch supplies. I made Braille labels for the mailboxes.
Caitlin Sullivan, now a sophomore at Williams College, remembers the morning in the first grade when she found Henderson pacing. He had given a speech earlier and knew something wasn't right. "Catie," he sputtered, "what color are my shoes?" She told him: One was black and one was brown. He groaned. Just as he'd suspected. "They're probably saying, ‘Look at the dumb blind guy.'"
The egalitarian spirit that fuels the O'Hearn was forged when Henderson was a Yale undergraduate, helping city kids in tough New Haven schools. In 1970, two years before graduation, he took a semester off to help with earthquake relief in Peru. Later he joined a commune in Boston's South End, where he met his wife, Margie, a public health worker.
He found work as a bilingual instructor. Henderson was twelve when he started to lose his peripheral vision. Doctors diagnosed retinitis pigmentosa, a slow deterioration of the retina. He figured he wouldn't have to worry about it until he was sixty. For years he read newspapers, traveled, and drove, but his night vision grew worse. Just before he became an assistant principal at the Hernandez in Roxbury, kids pointed out that he was scrawling over words he'd written on the chalkboard. He couldn't read mimeographs. A physician advised him to get out of education. Instead he earned his doctorate from the University of Massachusetts.
Henderson hadn't accepted that his very colorful world was fading until one day, holding his toddler son, he stepped into whooshing traffic. A car missed, barely. "You vain son of a bitch," he scolded himself. "You won't use a cane because you're afraid of what people will say." He's become comfortable mentioning his deficit. "He'll play the blind card in a minute," says teacher Arlene LaSane. "That's how he gets things." His charm has garnered tutors, computer gifts, text‑to‑speech software from Kurzweil Educational Systems--all for free.
His weathered face and pointy nose are blasted with freckles and carved with deep lines from his long hours running and kayaking in the sun. Occasionally there are cuts, from collisions with walls and doors. (A guide dog, he's decided, would distract students.) His blue eyes are still clear, and at fifty-four he moves with the verve of a man in his twenties.
He needs the energy. With no assistant principal and just the help of the school secretary, the O'Hearn works because everyone pitches in. Last spring members of the Boston Teachers Union, locked in tortuous contract talks with the administration, voted to cease helping with some after‑school work in protest. Without a fuss O'Hearn's teachers stayed late, working bus detail. What? Leave Bill to do it by himself?
One of the rarely spoken worries is: What will become of the O'Hearn without Henderson? He would like to move on in three or four years. He's considering outfitting his kayak with a global positioning system that will allow him to tackle ambitious trips. And Latin America calls; he would like to advise a school, perhaps in Peru. He has assured the O'Hearn community that he will give ample notice before that. By district rules a committee of staff and parents will interview candidates. "We have strong teachers and parents," Henderson says. "I'm very confident the school will be fine." But the transition will no doubt be rough. Running the O'Hearn "is rocket science," Hehir says. "It does take someone like a Bill Henderson."
One night after a long day of tweaking essays, fifth‑grade teachers Wellner and Hoffert head to dinner at a Dorchester pub. I bring up the subject of Henderson's retirement. They change the subject, once, twice. They hope that the O'Hearn will become a K‑to‑8 school so that Dr. H will stick around. The two recall the myriad ways he has boosted them as teachers. "It will be hard and so different without him," Hoffert says quietly. "Bill's vision has gotten us through."
The day before Thanksgiving Room Nine invites family members for a memoir reading. With cheesecake and brownies waiting, Robert reads a paean to Anthony, his feline mouser. Naila recites her six sentences about a purple birthday cake. And Immanuel-‑the boy who hated to write-‑stands before his audience, a sheaf of paper blocking his face. "Were you ever so scared you were going to die?" he says, dropping his voice for effect. "I was." Playing dodgeball indoors, he scooted out of the way of an oncoming hit and fell through a plate‑glass window. It took twenty stitches to patch up his body and, he adds with a 200‑watt smile, almost no time to realize that his mom was sometimes right.
For a few minutes chairs don't scrape, voices are hushed. For Immanuel it is a huge success.
[GRAPHIC DESCRIPTION: A place card reads “Miss Whozit” and includes the Whozit logo.]
Ask Miss Whozit
From the Editor: Since my invitation in the February issue to send Miss Whozit questions of etiquette and social behavior associated with blindness, she has received several responses with questions. Below are a couple of those letters and her answers. She asks me to remind readers to send questions or comments to her attention care of <email@example.com> or by mail or fax to the National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
Dear Miss Whozit,
Here is a quotation from Barbara Pierce’s February column: "So I will simply say that we can all help each other by maintaining a proper distance and reserving our tactile exploration and observation for inanimate objects."
This is a point well worth making. However, it is also worth pointing out that sighted people can be pathologically disrespectful of our personal space. If you were a woman moving through a crowded subway station in a big city and a strange man suddenly came up behind you, grabbed, touched, or put his arm around some part of your body and started pushing or pulling you in a given direction, a normal reaction might be to scream, right? Unless you're a blind woman, in which case you're expected graciously and gratefully to accept every stranger's unprompted assistance, no matter how uncomfortable or invasive the method. Blind people are routinely touched and handled in a way that sighted people would never permit, and objecting can prompt deep offense or even anger on the part of the would‑be good Samaritan. Lately my pat response has been, "Excuse me. Please don't touch me without asking," said directly but cordially, unless someone has done something particularly outrageous like tried to pull me into a street crossing (at which point, sorry, but I dispense with all pretense of civility, because my life is at risk).
Miss Whozit, might you or your readers have a more effective response to this daily intrusion into our personal space?
Tired of Being Pushed Around
Goodness knows Miss Whozit wishes that she could suggest a one-size-fits-all response persuasive to would-be sighted guides so that they would wait for permission before grabbing, patting, or embracing a blind stranger. The truth is that most members of the sighted public have virtually no previous experience of blindness when they meet a blind person. Your strategy of being courteous but firm in requesting not to be touched is the obvious solution.
The single exception that comes to mind is intervening in an emergency. As you say, being pushed into the street is a matter of safety, and the person pushing deserves an adamant response. By the same token a blind person who is stepping into the path of a moving vehicle should be grateful to be stopped, even if by an unsolicited grab. The truth is that human beings do not usually think quickly enough in an emergency to formulate accurate warnings or instructions. Helpful as it would be to receive correct and precise directions from those who wish to assist us, in Miss Whozit's experience it rarely happens.
People are less likely to impose unwanted assistance when a cane user walks with poise and uses his or her white cane confidently. Miss Whozit often takes the opportunity to explain to would-be helpers that when the cane comes in contact with an object or barrier, she gets accurate information that allows her to avoid it. If she continues to move while demonstrating and explaining this technique, she finds people less likely to exhibit distress as they watch.
Miss Whozit regrets to admit that blind people will never be free of the need to educate inexperienced sighted people until they cease to travel or take part in social life, which would defeat everything we stand for. But she urges everyone to remember that practicing courtesy will make the lesson more palatable. And that in turn should make our lives more pleasant and spread civility.
Dear Miss Whozit,
I did not have enough proper blindness training when I was young, so I’m never sure when it is appropriate for me to touch food—when I’m eating food on my own plate or serving myself from a buffet. Can you help?
You have asked a good question. Miss Whozit believes that two basic considerations determine appropriate handling of food: sanitation and the rules of etiquette. Some foods are appropriate for touching—fried chicken on the bone, French fries, breads, and most relishes (celery, radishes, olives, carrot sticks, etc.), as well as cookies, candy, and small tarts and quiches.
However, it is Miss Whozit’s firmly held opinion that most other foods should not be touched but maneuvered with knife, fork, or spoon. You should never touch food being passed until you have served yourself. If you’re unsure what is on the platter or in the bowl being passed, quietly ask the person who passed it to you.
Miss Whozit is painfully aware that some blind people have not learned to serve themselves. She suggests that, if you can’t do so confidently, you should ask a person near you to place a serving on your plate rather than skipping the item altogether.
You can eat the food on your own plate quite easily without inordinate touching by using a dinner roll or biscuit to stabilize what you want to slide on to the fork. The same thing can be accomplished using the European method of using the knife in the nondominant hand to cut and stabilize food while wielding the fork in the other hand in the usual way.
Miss Whozit insists that everyone—and she does mean everyone--needs practice in handling table etiquette gracefully and competently. It is a necessary art if one is to be accepted socially, and like all others the skills must be mastered.
Miss Whozit has heard the rumor that the NFB argues that blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance, and she believes that it is a nuisance—nothing more—for a blind person to go through a buffet line. Because it is never acceptable to put your fingers in someone else’s food, the blind person must accept the nuisance and learn how to cope with it.
Miss Whozit finds two ways acceptable: If an attendant is staffing the table, ask that person to assist you by telling you what is in each bowl and on each platter so that you can find the serving piece and serve yourself. Or, alternatively, simply have someone serve your plate for you.
When all is said and done, Miss Whozit dreams of a world in which all blind people are properly trained and graciously accepted by others.
Medicare Outreach to People with Disabilities
From the Editor: The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services staff has requested that we publish the following important information. If you receive Medicare or Medicaid, you should read the following article:
If you have a chronic or disabling health condition, it's important that you stay as healthy as possible. A good way to stay healthy is to get preventive services to help keep secondary health conditions from developing or to find health problems early, when treatment works best.
If you have Medicare, you can take advantage of Medicare's many preventive services, Medicare-approved drug discount cards, and special Medicare programs called "demonstrations." Unfortunately, records from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), the federal agency that administers Medicare, show that not many people with disabilities take advantage of the preventive services or Medicare-approved drug discount cards.
Medicare was created in 1965 as the national health insurance program for people age sixty-five or older, people under age sixty-five with certain disabilities, and people of all ages with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), permanent kidney failure requiring either dialysis or a kidney transplant. In most cases people under age sixty-five with disabilities are automatically enrolled in Medicare after they get disability benefits from Social Security for twenty-four months. There is a shorter wait period for people with ALS or ESRD. People with ALS may receive immediate coverage, but special eligibility rules for Medicare apply for people with ESRD.
Some people may also qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that helps pay medical costs for some people with limited incomes and resources. Medicaid programs vary from state to state.
Medicare benefits are divided into Part A and Part B benefits. People who are already getting benefits from Social Security will automatically get Medicare Part A starting the first day of the month they turn age sixty-five. Medicare Part A covers medically necessary hospital stays, skilled nursing facility care, home health care, and hospice care. Enrolling in Part B is a choice and requires a monthly premium. Medicare Part B helps cover doctors' services and outpatient care and pays for some services that Medicare A doesn't cover, such as physical and occupational therapy and some home health care. While a yearly deductible and 20 percent co-payment exist for most Medicare Part B services, some preventive services don't cost anything.
When Medicare was created, it provided services only to diagnose and treat illness or injury. Preventive services to keep people healthy were not covered at all. However, as the value of preventive services has become better understood, Congress amended the Medicare law to pay for several preventive services for all people with Medicare.
Information about Medicare's preventive services can be found in the Guide to Medicare's Preventive Services (CMS Pub. No. 10110). You can get this booklet at <www.medicare.gov> on the Web or by calling (800) MEDICARE (800-633-4227). TTY users should call (877) 486-2048. Starting in 2005, Medicare covers three new preventive services:
· A one-time only Welcome to Medicare physical exam for people whose coverage begins on or after January 1, 2005. You must get this exam within the first six months you have Medicare Part B.
· A cardiovascular screening to check cholesterol and other blood fat (lipid) levels. Talk with your doctor about how often you can get this screening.
· Diabetes screenings (blood sugar tests) for people who are at high risk for diabetes because of obesity, high blood pressure, a history of abnormal cholesterol and triglyceride levels, or a history of high blood sugar.
The Medicare deductible and co-payments apply to these new preventive services. A fact sheet about the new benefits is available at <www.medicare.gov> on the Web.
Medicare-Approved Drug Discount Cards
Using a Medicare-approved drug discount card helps you save on your outpatient prescription drug costs. If you choose a Medicare-approved drug discount card and have a low income, you can also apply to get up to a $600 credit from Medicare to help pay for your prescription drug costs. The amount of the credit you get will depend on when you join. Here's how you can get more information about Medicare-approved drug discount cards:
· “Order Call, Enroll, and Save” (CMS Pub. No. 11081), an easy-to-read brochure with basic information about Medicare-approved drug discount cards. You can get this brochure by looking at <www.medicare.gov> on the Web or by calling (800) MEDICARE (800-633-4227). TTY users should call (877) 486-2048.
· Call the toll-free helpline or your local State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for specific information about Medicare-approved drug discount cards and the $600 credit. You can find the phone number for your local SHIP in the Medicare and You Handbook, which is mailed each fall to people with Medicare.
· Look at the Prescription Drug database at <www.medicare.gov> on the Web.
CMS conducts a number of projects to look at potential new services and new ways to provide or pay for existing services. These demonstration projects evaluate the effects program changes might have on people with Medicare and providers and the cost to Medicare before making changes to the Medicare program. If you live in an area where CMS is conducting a demonstration, you may be able to get additional services. For example, the Medicare Replacement Drug Demonstration (MRDD) is a national demonstration project that is trying to simplify how people with Medicare with certain life-threatening health conditions get prescription drugs. Medicare has traditionally reimbursed for some drugs used to treat certain illnesses, but only when these drugs are administered in a doctor's office. However, if you are part of this demonstration, you can get other drugs that are self-administrable that you can take in your home instead.
Some examples of health conditions covered in this demonstration are multiple sclerosis, pulmonary hypertension, Paget's disease, and hepatitis C. Recently the application date for admission to the program was extended, and more health conditions and drugs were added. Here's how you can learn if you qualify to take part in this demonstration:
· Visit <www.cms.hhs.gov> on the Web. Look for the link for "Demonstrations." Then click on the link for the Medicare Replacement Drug Demonstration. You should be able to view and print out a pamphlet and application for this demonstration.
· Call (800) 563-5386. A representative will tell you about the program and send you an application if you are eligible. TTY users should call (800) 563-5387.
If you have questions about Medicare, you can get help from your local SHIP, the customer service staff of your Medicare carrier, or (800) MEDICARE (800-633-4227).
2005 List of CMS Alternative-Format Publications
This document provides the name and a brief description of the publication, the order number, and the format. Keys to the format are as follows: Braille (B), English Audio-Tape (RE), Spanish Audio Tape (RS), Large Print English (LE) or Large Print Spanish (LS). Individual copies may be ordered by calling (800) 633-42273 MEDICARE.
2004 Choosing a Medigap Policy: A Guide to Health Insurance for People with Medicare: A comprehensive guide to Medicare Supplement (Medigap) Insurance.
Braille--02110-B, English Large Print--02110-LE, English Audio--02110-RE
Choosing a Doctor: A guide to help Medicare beneficiaries choose a doctor for quality care. Braille only. 10908
Choosing a Medicare Health Plan: A guide to help Medicare beneficiaries make health plan choices for quality care. Braille only. 02219-B
Choosing Long Term Care: A guide to help Medicare beneficiaries make long term care choices for quality care. Braille only. 02223-B
Choosing Treatments: A guide to help Medicare beneficiaries make treatment choices for quality care. Braille only. 10910
Does Your Doctor Accept Assignment? An explanation with examples of how assignment can save you money in the Original Medicare Plan. Braille--10134-B, Audio Tape English--10134-RE, and Audio Tape Spanish--10134-RS.
Guide to Choosing a Medicare-Approved Drug Discount Card: Detailed information on how to choose a Medicare-approved drug discount card. Braille--11062-B. Audio Tape English--11062 RE.
Guide to Choosing a Nursing Home: Detailed information about how to choose a nursing home. Braille--02174-B, Audio Tape English--02174 RE, Audio Tape Spanish--02174 RS.
Guide to Medicare’s Preventive Services: Description of preventive services covered by Medicare. Braille--10110-B, Audio Tape English--10110 RE.
Medicare and You 2005: National version of Medicare’s beneficiary handbook. Braille--10050-B, Large Print English--10050 LE, Large Print Spanish--10050-LS, Audio Tape English--10050-RE, Audio Tape Spanish--10050-RS.
Medicare and Home Health Care: An explanation of Medicare’s home health coverage. Braille--10986, Audio Tape English--95152, and Audio Tape Spanish--95153.
Medicare coverage of Kidney Dialysis and Kidney Transplant Services: Information about coverage for those with End Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure treated with dialysis or a transplant). Audio Tape English–10128 RE, Audio Tape Spanish–101028-RS.
Medicare Coverage of Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF): Information on Medicare coverage of care in a skilled nursing facility. Braille--10153-B, Audio Tape English--10153-RE, Audio Tape Spanish--10153-RS, Large Print English--10153-LE, Large Print Spanish--10153-LS.
Medicare Hospice Benefits: An explanation of Medicare’s hospice care coverage. Braille--10942, Audio Tape English--95156, Audio Tape Spanish--10166, Large Print English--02154-LE, Large Print Spanish--02154-LS.
The Facts About Upcoming New Benefits in Medicare: Highlights changes in the Medicare program expected 2004-2006 as a result of the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. Braille--11054-B, Audio Tape English--11054 RE.
Your Medicare Benefits: An explanation of Part A and Part B benefits for people in Original Medicare. Braille--10116-B and Audio Tape English--10116-RE.
From the Editor: This month’s recipes have been contributed by members of the NFB of California.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Nancy Burns]
Apple Pecan Bread
by Nancy Burns
Nancy Burns is president of the NFB of California. She enjoys entertaining and especially loves to bake. This recipe is one of her favorites, and she varies the ingredients to create different flavors with any of several fruits and nuts.
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 cup low fat buttermilk
1/2 cup apple sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
4 medium tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1 cup pecans, chopped
Method: Mix or beat first six ingredients together in a medium bowl and set aside. Combine flours, salt, soda, baking powder, and cinnamon in another bowl. Stir dry ingredients into egg mixture, just enough to blend. Fold in apples and nuts. Pour batter into two greased 9-by-5-inch bread pans. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for fifty to sixty minutes. Cool loaves slightly on wire rack before removing from pans to cool completely.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Don Burns]
Corn Tortilla Soup
by Don Burns
Don Burns is the legislative representative for the NFB of California. Don loves to barbecue but created this fast rainy-day soup that is low in fat, sodium, and calories. His signature touch is the Rotel tomatoes with green chilies. Since Don is originally from New Mexico, he savors the flavors of home.
1 can fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 can fat-free, low-sodium refried beans
1 can Rotel diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 cup frozen or canned corn
2 white corn tortillas
Method: Cut tortillas into quarter-inch strips, place on a cookie sheet coated with cooking spray, and bake at 400 degrees for five minutes. Mix remaining ingredients in saucepan and simmer until heated through. Ladle into bowls and place a few toasted tortilla strips on top of each before serving.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Joy Stigile]
Joy’s Pasta Salad
by Joy Stigile
Joy Stigile has been a member of the NFB since 1993 and has held several positions in her local chapter. She is currently vice president of the Diabetes Action Network of California and treasurer of the national Diabetes Action Network. Joy also enjoys working in the NFB of California office answering phones and helping on many different projects.
1 can large pitted black olives, drained
1 medium purple onion, coarsely chopped
1 bunch celery, coarsely chopped
1 red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, coarsely chopped
1 small can water chestnuts, sliced and drained
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound cheddar cheese, cubed
8 ounces zesty Italian salad dressing
8 ounces rotelli or other pasta, cooked and drained
Method: Combine all ingredients except pasta in a large mixing bowl. Stir well, add pasta, and stir again gently. Let salad chill overnight in refrigerator and stir once again before serving. This recipe serves fifteen generously.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Kevin Smalley]
by Kevin Smalley
Kevin is the Development Director for the NFB of California. His passion is cooking, and he loves to fatten the waistlines of his friends and families. He is encouraging members in California to participate in Bon Appétit Month during May, in which members serve their favorite meals to guests at fundraising dinners in their homes.
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely julienned carrots
1/2 cup finely diced onion or shallots
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger root
3 cups fresh carrot juice
1 1/2 cup Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
2 to 3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Cracked pepper to taste
Method: Place carrot juice in small saucepan and warm, but do not boil. Heat oil in large saucepan over medium heat and add carrots, onion, and ginger. Sauté lightly for several minutes, until very fragrant. If mixture becomes dry, add a little more olive oil. Add rice to pot and stir until rice is coated with oil. Add wine and cook and stir frequently until wine is absorbed. Ladle in one scoop of warm carrot juice and stir frequently until liquid is absorbed. Continue adding juice to cooking rice, one ladle at a time, stirring until liquid is absorbed each time before adding the next. When carrot juice is gone, continue to cook using same method, but using chicken stock. Stop adding stock when rice reaches a creamy consistency but is still firm to the bite. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese and season with pepper. Serve hot.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Juliet Cody]
Easy, Yummy, and not too Fattening Yogurt Chocolate Pie
by Juliet Cody
Juliet Cody loves the beach, her small surf board, her guide dog, and a good tan. Since she is a student, her time is occupied with exams, research papers, and scholarship applications. She loves public speaking and has developed a passion for community work and the NFB of California.
1 large vanilla or plain yogurt
5 packets sugar-free cocoa mix
1 deep graham cracker pie crust
1/2 cup chopped nuts or slivered almonds (optional)
5 large sliced strawberries, sprinkled with a little of your favorite sweetener
Method: In large bowl mix yogurt and packets of cocoa thoroughly, but do not over mix. Scoop yogurt filling into pie crust. Refrigerate for at least one hour. Sprinkle with almonds or other nuts or both. Arrange sliced strawberries in the center. Serve with a smile. Variations: use different fruits and different flavors in plain yogurt. Be sure to use sweetener in the yogurt filling.
Grilled Corn on the Cob with Jalapeño, Lime, and Maple Butter
by Kevin Smalley
2 or 3 jalapeño chilies
3/4 cup butter
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons grated lime peel
2 teaspoons lime juice
1/2 cup maple syrup
4 ears fresh corn, with husks
Pull corn husks back from corn without detaching. Remove silk. Soak ears of corn (don’t take those husks off yet) in fresh water for fifteen minutes or longer while preparing the butter. Grill chilies directly over hot barbecue grill until charred on all sides. Cool. Using small knife (if you have sensitive skin, you may wish to wear gloves), scrape out seeds and membranes of chilies. Place chilies in food processor with butter, garlic, syrup, and lime juice, and peel. Process until smooth. Remove corn from water, shaking off excess water. Rub butter mixture over corn, reserving 1/2 cup. Push husks back up around corn and secure with string. Grill corn until husks are thoroughly blackened, approximately fifteen to eighteen minutes, turning frequently to cook evenly. Wearing oven mitts to protect hands from steam, remove husks from corn. Serve with reserved butter mixture and salt.
News from the Federation Family
The Web address listed in the Monitor Miniature, “Volunteers Needed for National Survey,” in the April issue was incorrect. If you are a blind woman who is interested in taking part in one or both phases of the sleep survey conducted by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard University, please go to <www.bvihealthsurvey.bwh.harvard.edu> to express your interest. The rest of the contact information was correct, so refer to the April Miniature for details.
Resolutions for Convention:
Here is a message from Sharon Maneki, who chairs the NFB Resolutions Committee:
Do you think we should change a government policy, take a stand concerning an agency for the blind, or create new regulations? If you do, consider writing a resolution. At the 2005 national convention the Resolutions Committee meeting will be held on Sunday, July 3. The committee will debate and discuss resolutions on a wide variety of subjects. These resolutions will become the policy statements of the organization.
To ensure that your resolution will be considered by the committee, please send it to President Maurer or to me by June 17, two weeks before the committee meeting. If you miss this deadline, you must get three members of the committee to sponsor your resolution and then get it to the chairman before the meeting begins. I will be pleased to accept resolutions by email, <firstname.lastname@example.org>; fax, (410) 715-9597; or snail mail, 9013 Nelson Way, Columbia, Maryland 21045.
Noel Nightingale reports with joy that Dexter Cope Peterson was born on January 20, 2005, weighing seven pounds, eleven ounces, to Noel Nightingale and Jim Peterson. He joins his sister Leila, five, and his brother Cosmo, two, in the Peterson family. Everyone is doing well.
Giving for the Future:
At national convention learn about the different planned-giving opportunities available through the National Federation of the Blind, as well as other giving options. Come and meet our panel of experts and get answers to your questions.
Seminar on Charitable Estate Planning and Giving Strategies
Wednesday, July 6, 2005
1:30 to 3:00 p.m.
Room to be announced
Cathy Jackson, president of the NFB of Kentucky, passes along the following information:
The Kentucky affiliate wants your stay here in Louisville to be a pleasant one. For your convenience here are the names, addresses, and phone numbers of agencies and pharmacies that will lend or rent wheelchairs and other medical equipment and supplies. You are responsible for making the necessary arrangements for delivery, return, and payment for any equipment you use. Any chairs that belong to the hotel or the affiliate are intended for emergencies only and cannot be claimed for personal use during the week of the convention. The time to make these arrangements is now.
▪ Center for Accessible Living, 305 W. Broadway, Louisville, KY 40203, (502) 589-6620. The Center has wheelchairs to lend on a first-come, first-served basis.
▪ Harrison Medical, Inc., 721 S. Preston, Louisville, KY 40203, (502) 589-9325
▪ Holdaway Medical Services, 11305 Bluegrass Parkway, Louisville, KY 40299, (502) 266-0092
▪ Rehab Design: 1700 Commonwealth Dr., Louisville, KY 40299, (502) 266-9061
▪ Hume Pharmacy, 10216 Taylorsville Road, Louisville, KY 40299, (502) 267-7453
▪ Stephens Drugs, Inc., 4200 Shelbyville Road, Louisville, KY 40207, (502) 895-5446.
Annual NAPUB Meeting:
Nadine Jacobson writes to say that the 2005 annual meeting of the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB) will be held in conjunction with our national convention on Monday, July 4, at 7:30 p.m. in Louisville. Join us to catch up on all the latest news concerning Braille and learn who were the winners in this year's Braille Readers are Leaders contest. See you there.
Agriculture and Equestrian Division:
Hope to see y'all in Louisville July 2 through 8. The following is the schedule of activities of the NFB's Agriculture and Equestrian Division during our 2005 convention. You are invited to attend and participate.
Monday, July 4, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.(Dues: $5)
We are growing by leaps and bounds. Come snack on bioregional produce, network, share stories, and meet some locals. Kentucky is one of the nineteen states with an AgrAbility Project. You'll hear from advisors and participating farmers. Learn about resources you can tap into to start or expand a career in agriculture's myriad fields. Our membership has a wide array of interests and a wide geographic distribution. Agroforestry, apiculture and aquaculture, composting, gardening and landscaping, firearms and hunting, dairies and milk products, ranching and riding, tack and tractors, vermiculture and zymurgy: we cover the map. Blind people are working, studying, and hobbying in every field while feeding and clothing the world. Put your boots on, roll up your sleeves, and join us.
Always a highlight and a bargain; Louisville, here we come! We offer two tours: one on seminar day and the other on tour day. Stay tuned or contact one of the officers because our tour arrangements are still up in the air at press time. President, rancher, and riding instructor, Diane Starin, Starin and Johnson Enterprises, 1042 Hawthorne Street, Redding, California 96002, phone (530) 223-9084
Tour coordinator and aquaculturist, Fred Chambers, phone (760) 505-8500, email <email@example.com>
Notices and information in this section may be of interest to Monitor readers. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the information; we have edited only for space and clarity.
Roger Behm is treasurer of both the Rock County Chapter of the NFB of Wisconsin and the affiliate’s merchants division. He frequently contributes training and fundraising items to assist the Wisconsin affiliate. This is what he says:
Want to save $100 and own the rock-solid screen reader, Window-Eyes Professional, and, in doing so, also contribute $100 to the National Federation of the Blind? Contact Adaptive Information Systems, identify yourself as an NFB member, and say that you want the Window-Eyes Professional special for $695. For every copy of Window-Eyes Professional sold to an NFB member at this price, $100 will be contributed to the National Federation of the Blind. This is an ongoing offer until further notice. So to save $100 and give $100 to the NFB, call Adaptive Information Systems at (877) 792-4768.
New VoiceNote QT or BT PDA notetakers and much more from Pulse Data and Adaptive Information Systems for $1,695, including shipping by UPS Ground insured anywhere in the forty-eight lower United States. Quantity is very limited--only three left. These are new (still in the box) with the latest version of Keysoft (version 6.11k), AmbiCom wireless CF card, and all accessories. So don't delay; save $900 off list price. When they are gone, they are gone, so call Adaptive Information Systems at (877) 792-4768.
Braille Greeting Cards Available:
At last! Personalized greeting cards in Braille at an affordable price. Order any number you wish; no minimum order required.
Four cards are currently available:
1. Masculine Birthday (with sailing ship graphic), inside text reads: “Happy Birthday! Hope your day is great!”
2. Feminine Birthday (floral design) with the same message inside.
3. Thank You (star design), inside it reads: “Thank you for your”(choose: “thoughtfulness” or “gift”) “I really appreciate” (“you” or “it”).
4. Graduation (cap and diploma graphic), inside text reads: “Congratulations, Graduate! I’m so proud of you!”
All cards are handcrafted with raised or textured designs, envelopes included. Allow five to seven days for delivery within the U.S. Cost is $3.50 per card plus $1.60 postage for up to three cards. For additional cards, add $.30 per card. Reverse cards may also be ordered. These have the message in print with a Braille notation on the back describing the type of card, e.g., “Feminine Birthday” You may also add a brief personal message and your name at the bottom (in Braille) or request a raised signature line on the printed cards.
When ordering, include your name and mailing address, number and design of cards desired, and a money order made payable to Tammy Burton. Mail to 13120 Ivy Mountain Court, Rapid City, South Dakota 57702. You can also pay using PayPal by emailing <firstname.lastname@example.org>. Be sure to include postage and any personal message desired. For more information contact Tammy Burton by email. Type the words “Braille Cards” in the subject line.
[PHOTO CAPTION: Back row: Bill Daugherty, superintendent of the school for the blind; Andy Tompkins, commissioner of education; and Dick Edlund. Front row: Carol Clark, president of the Johnson County chapter of the NFB; Matt Rayburn; and Raymond Peed.]
Twelve-Year-Old Helps Blind Kids:
The following letter was sent to a family friend and reports on a project to help blind students. Matt Rayburn’s mother and grandfather are blind, which is probably where his interest began. Here is his letter describing his project:
Hello, I hope you are doing well. I am working on my Change the World project for the seventh-grade social studies class. I have picked a project to help blind kids get free canes. I am calling my project "Kanes for Kids."
I emailed the National Federation of the Blind and spoke with Mrs. Patricia Maurer, and she donated ten canes from the national office. I also wrote to AmbuTech and spoke with Mr. Terry Russell, and he donated sixteen canes to my project.
I contacted the Kansas State School for the Blind and asked if they would be my partner in setting up a Kansas Cane Bank for kids’ canes. I am working with Mr. Daugherty, the superintendent, and he has agreed to help me run the cane bank out of his school.
The kids at the school already get a cane supplied to them by the school, but there are kids across the state who do not go to school there, and they can use the program. Mr. Daugherty and I are going to put a letter together and send it out to all of these kids and to each public school system in the state telling them about this program and how to use the cane bank.
We are having a lunch next Wednesday, April 6, at 11:00 a.m. Then we are going to have a ceremony where I am going to donate the canes to the program. Some important people are going to be there. The Johnson County NFB President, the Wyandotte County NFB president, a former state representative who is blind named Mr. Edlund, some O and M instructors, and the Kansas State commissioner of education. Also the students and staff of the school will be there. I think my mom is working on getting the local newspaper and TV station there. I am excited.
If you know of anyone who would like to donate a new or used cane to my project, I will take any they want to send me. They can mail it to me free of charge. They can put it in a box unsealed, mark it "Free Matter for the Blind" and mail it to my home address: Matthew Rayburn, 22118 W. 52nd Street, Shawnee, Kansas 66226.
In October is White Cane [Safety] Day, and I am going to go help promote the project. Thank you for all of your advice and help in giving me people and places to contact to help my project. I hope it helps lots of kids.
Preorder Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
From National Braille Press: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling, in Braille (anticipated 9 volumes) or PortaBook, special preorder sale price: $17.99 until July 16. (After July 16 the price jumps to $29.99.)
The sixth book in the Harry Potter series--Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince--will be released this summer. In celebration NBP is giving you the chance to preorder the Braille book at a big discount: only $17.99 (it's the same price if you preorder the print version on Amazon.com). Please note that we will charge your credit card now if you preorder. We'll send out the Braille books as soon as they're ready in late August and we'll send the PortaBook version as soon as it's ready in late July. And on July 16, the date the print book goes on sale, the price will jump back up to the print price of $29.99, so order now and save.
We've also lowered the prices of the first five Harry Potter novels to reflect the actual paperback book prices. They're all available in either Braille or PortaBook versions. It's an unbelievable deal--here are the new low prices:
Book 1: Sorcerer's Stone, $6.99
Book 2: Chamber of Secrets, $6.99
Book 3: Prisoner of Azkaban, $7.99
Book 4: Goblet of Fire, $8.99
Book 5: Order of the Phoenix, $9.99
Or order the whole set for only $40
To read more about the upcoming book--or place an order--visit our Web site: <http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/HALF.html>, or send payment to NBP, 88 St. Stephen Street, Boston, MA 02115-4302, or call and charge it: (800) 548-7323 toll-free or (617) 266-6160, ext. 20, outside the U.S. and Canada. Fax an order to (617) 437-0456. Please note that a $5 processing fee will be added to all purchase orders; no charge if prepaid.
Experience a new kind of sci fi/action adventure entertainment: GraphicAudio. GraphicAudio is a virtual movie in your mind. It is intense images generated by full-cast action, 3-D sound effects, and original music. GraphicAudio is also fun stuff like ringtones you can download from the Internet from the actual stories. “It’s like Jurassic Park in your mind,” says one listener. These unabridged, vivid series intended for mature audiences include Deathlands, Outlanders, Stonyman and The Executioner. Coming this fall, also in GraphicAudio, the Deathstalker series. You can get GraphicAudio from Potomac Talking Book Services--single purchase or subscription rates--in two formats: 4-track 15/16 IPS and MP3CD. For a free GraphicAudio catalog on cassette, please call (877) 848-4354 or email <email@example.com.>.
New Day in Indiana:
Pam Schnurr, vice president of the NFB of Indiana and a leader in the state’s Business Enterprise Program, writes with the following hopeful news:
On March 30, 2005, the Indiana Licensed Blind Vendors Committee were informed that the state agency was organizing a conference call later that day. Present on the call with the vendors committee were Peter Bisbecos, director of the Division of Disability, Aging, and Rehabilitative Services; Michael Hedden, deputy director of Vocational Rehabilitative Services; and Kris J. Pierce, director of the Business Enterprise Program. The purpose of the call was to update the committee on Blind and Visually Impaired Services (BVIS) issues. Peter informed the committee that Linda Quarles, deputy director of BVIS, had submitted her resignation.
Peter reassured the committee that he was committed to keeping us informed and part of the process. He said that there is no grand plan for the department. He asked for our views and seemed very receptive to our suggestions. This is a very refreshing change for vendors in Indiana. We are all very excited to see what the future holds for the blind of our state. After many years of asking for change through letters, emails, and phone calls from vendors and members of the state affiliate, I am delighted to report that we are seeing a new beginning in Indiana.
The notices in this section have been edited for clarity, but we can pass along only the information we were given. We are not responsible for the accuracy of the statements made or the quality of the products for sale.
Looking to Buy:
I would like to buy two items: 1. A slightly used talking blood pressure monitor and 2. The Grolier's Electronic Encyclopedia to be used with either DOS or Windows. If you have either of these items for sale, contact me at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
I am selling a little-used PowerBraille 80 electronic Braille display. It is currently selling at <freedomscientific.com> for over $10,000, and I will sell it for only $1,925. I also have an Index double-sided embosser with very little use that currently sells for almost $5000. You can have it for $1,950. Call CJ Sampson at (801) 367-2559 or <email@example.com>.
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.