by Marc Maurer
Although the past year has been one of economic uncertainty for our country, and indeed for most of the world, and although the National Federation of the Blind has felt the influence of this economic uncertainty, our unity as an organization has remained as strong as it has ever been, our dedication to securing progress for the blind remains unshakable, and our purpose is the vital force that makes the National Federation of the Blind an unstoppable agent for change. Problems may abound today, as they have in the past. However, we will not let them inhibit our progress. We will not let them dampen our enthusiasm. We will not let them alter our determination to achieve equality for all the blind. We are the National Federation of the Blind.
In 1987, after serving as president of the National Federation of the Blind for one year, I delivered the first of the banquet addresses to our national convention that it has been my honor to give, entitled “Back to Notre Dame.” In that speech I gave certain details about what it was like for me to be a student on the Notre Dame campus in the early 1970s. On March 6, 2009, I was welcomed back to the Notre Dame campus to give a keynote address entitled “The Mythology of Discrimination” to a disability symposium being conducted by the university. In the 1970s I had felt alone on campus. Nobody understood the normality of blind people the way that the members of the National Federation of the Blind do. When I returned in 2009, I was not alone. I was accompanied by certain officers and members of the National Federation of the Blind. Those who attended the seminar met a kind of philosophy that is unusual and refreshing—they met the National Federation of the Blind.
Louis Braille, who was born two hundred years ago, invented the reading and writing system for the blind used around the world before he was out of his teens. This invention is of such great significance to the blind that we in the National Federation of the Blind asked the Congress of the United States to recognize Louis Braille by instructing the Mint to create a Louis Braille Commemorative Bicentennial Silver Dollar. The Louis Braille commemorative coin launch occurred at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute on March 26, 2009. The director of the Mint described the coin and presented a plaque to the National Federation of the Blind on which four of them are mounted. The front of the coin bears the image of Louis Braille. The back contains a picture of a blind child reading Braille along with the Braille symbols that constitute Louis Braille’s last name. This is the first silver dollar minted in the United States with regulation-sized, readable Braille embossed upon it.
At the Louis Braille coin launch on March 26, the assistant administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) addressed the assembled gathering. The National Federation of the Blind has been working with NASA on education programs for blind children for several years. The assistant administrator promised that the commemorative silver dollar would be included in the payload of the space shuttle to be launched at the Kennedy Space Flight Center on May 11, 2009. On that date I was one of several Federation members who were present in Florida to observe the second Louis Braille coin launch. Braille—the symbol of knowledge, the symbol of energy, the symbol of education—has lived, thrived, and flown into space. We will hear more about the meaning of this adventure later during the convention.
In 1829 Louis Braille published the first version of his code in a volume entitled Procedure for Writing Words, Music and Plainsong Using Dots—in French, of course. Today, for the first time ever, we are making available to those attending this convention a fully digitized and translated version of this historic manuscript recreated on CD. This CD includes images of the half-title page, the title page, three unnumbered prefatory pages, and the thirty-two numbered pages of the book. For those who do not read French, we also include a page-by-page translation.
Also on March 26 the National Federation of the Blind issued a report to the nation on the status of Braille education in the United States. This report details the crisis in Braille literacy. The number of blind children being taught Braille is devastatingly low, the number of teachers who know Braille well is astonishingly small, the need for Braille literacy is great, and the failure of the educational system to meet this need is evident in the dismal graduation rates for blind high school students. The Associated Press carried an article on the Braille literacy crisis, and newspaper and television outlets reported the story throughout the nation. The importance of Braille was emphasized not only by our report but by the Louis Braille coin, which was featured on CNN Headline News.
Last summer I travelled along with a number of other Federationists to the meeting of the general assembly of the World Blind Union held in Geneva, Switzerland. Our participation in the World Blind Union offers us the opportunity to meet leaders of the blind from around the world, to gather information from programs serving the blind in other nations, to cooperate with others to stimulate development of technological aids or programs fostering independence for the blind, and to provide information that we have gathered to blind people throughout the world. I was featured on the program as the keynote speaker. The address, entitled “Breaking the Mold: The Power of the Unpredictable,” expressed the philosophy of independence of the National Federation of the Blind.
Some time ago the Google Corporation announced that it would be digitizing books in some of the world’s largest, most prestigious libraries, including those of the University of Michigan, Oxford University, and a good many others. Soon after this announcement challenges were raised to the Google plan. We visited with officials of libraries to point out that providing access to these books in an electronic form to the sighted but withholding them from the blind would be a violation of the law. We made a friend with a blind lawyer at the University of Michigan who was charged with managing this digitization process for the library there. When a lawsuit was initiated against Google on behalf of the authors in the United States, Jack Bernard, the blind lawyer from the University of Michigan, became one of the negotiators. A tentative settlement has been reached. Within a reasonably short time it is estimated that seven million books will be readable by the blind through technology to be implemented by Google, and eventually the number will exceed twenty million. We will be hearing from Jack Bernard later during this convention.
The Apple Corporation produces technology used for educational programs and entertainment. People can buy music from iTunes. A recent technological development is iTunes U, Apple’s technology used by colleges and universities to provide access to course material. This technology has not been usable by blind students or professors. In September 2008 the National Federation of the Blind, together with the Massachusetts attorney general, reached a landmark agreement with Apple to make iTunes, the iTunes Store, and iTunes U accessible to the blind by June 30 of this year. Apple has also created a download for the new iPod nano to make that device accessible to the blind.
Automobile manufacturers are developing and distributing vehicles that make almost no sound as they operate. These pose danger to pedestrians, including the blind. At the urging of the National Federation of the Blind, the United Nations World Forum for Vehicle Harmonization has formed an official task force to propose an international solution to the problem of quiet cars. We have also enlisted the support of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act has been reintroduced in the House of Representatives, and a companion bill has been filed in the United States Senate. We will not be denied the right to safe and independent travel. We will not become prisoners in our own homes. We have as much right to participate fully in the communities of our nation as these quiet cars and their drivers. We believe that our right should be protected by law.
On February 9, 2009, Amazon released the second version of its electronic book reader, the Kindle 2, which included a text-to-speech function. Although this device is not accessible to the blind, the text-to-speech program built into it can produce a hearable version of electronic books. The Authors Guild argued that the reading of a book out loud by a machine is a copyright infringement unless the copyright holder has specifically granted permission for the book to be read aloud. Amazon agreed to let the authors turn off the text-to-speech function.
The National Federation of the Blind responded to the conspiracy to impose censorship on the blind by creating the Reading Rights Coalition, representing over fifteen million people in the United States who cannot easily read print. The Reading Rights Coalition, led by the National Federation of the Blind, picketed the Authors Guild offices in New York City on April 7, 2009.
The authors say that people who buy electronic books are entitled to look at a visual image presented by this technology but are not entitled to hear an auditory rendering of the information contained in the digital file. People who buy these books do not receive a visual image. They get a file containing digital information, and they also get the right of access to that information. Buying a book, electronic or otherwise, means buying the noncommercial use of the intellectual property contained in it. Preventing us from gaining access to this intellectual property is an act of discrimination.
Electronic texts are being more widely used on college campuses than ever before in history. Some states have declared that electronic information will be the format of material used in grade schools and high schools. Unfortunately, many of the texts are being presented in formats not usable by the blind. A large-screen version of the Amazon Kindle is currently being introduced on a number of college campuses. If the electronic text programs continue to proliferate and if these programs continue to be built without accessibility for the blind as an element of them, blind students will be unable to compete. These trends are not merely disturbing, they are ominous, and they must not be permitted to continue.
If universities require students to use electronic reading systems for their education, the universities must ensure that they are accessible to the blind. We are challenging the action of these universities in promoting censorship for the blind. We declare that the blind shall not be shut out of our educational system, shall not be regarded as negligible, shall not be relegated to second-class status. This is the nature of the lawsuit currently pending in federal court to protect the rights of blind students. This is the nature of the education complaints we have filed in the last few days. We have said it before, and we reiterate it now: we must have access to books, and we will take every step necessary to ensure that we get it.
Several years ago the National Federation of the Blind notified the Target Company that its Website was not accessible to blind customers. A lawsuit ensued, but a settlement has now been reached. Target will ensure that blind customers have access to the products it sells on its Website. Target has agreed to pay our legal fees, and it has also agreed to pay blind Californians up to six million dollars to compensate for the inaccessibility of its Website—the largest blindness-related disability settlement reached to date.
Increasingly, an important method of getting at information in the electronic realm is the cell phone. I reported last year that complaints were being prepared to be filed against a manufacturer of this technology before the Federal Communications Commission. We are currently in the midst of promising negotiations. We expect accessibility of cell phone technology to increase dramatically in the near future.
Those who want to become lawyers must attend law school. The Law School Admissions Test is administered by the Law School Admissions Council, and the Law School Admissions Council requires all law school admissions applications to be made through its Website. However, the Website is not accessible to the blind.
Deepa Goraya is a blind member of the National Federation of the Blind who wants to become a lawyer. She has asked that the Law School Admissions Council make its Website accessible to her, but the Council has refused. This is not a newly discovered problem. The Council has taken this attitude for years. We have filed a lawsuit against the Council in the circuit court for Alameda County, California. When I think about this lawsuit, it occurs to me that the laws of our country apply to all human beings. Discrimination is prohibited for everybody—even the lawyers.
When the State of Arkansas installed an inaccessible statewide computer system in 2001, we filed suit and won an injunction preventing the state from using certain parts of the system. It took seven years, but the case was settled last summer. A new, completely accessible version of the computer program is being installed, which will be tested by the National Federation of the Blind later this summer. As part of the settlement, SAP, the company that built the inaccessible system, agreed to reimburse the Federation for its legal fees.
Aaron Cannon is a blind member of the National Federation of the Blind of Iowa who wants to become a chiropractor. He was accepted for study by the Palmer College of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa, but before he received his degree, the Palmer school changed its graduation requirements to say that "Candidates must have sufficient use of sense of vision.” This is precisely what they said. In the hearing that occurred before the local Civil Rights Commission, the school said that nonvisual techniques could not be used, those seeking degrees must be able to see. The decision of the Civil Rights Commission found a violation of law and charged the school with discrimination, but Palmer has ignored the decision. Court action is imminent. Blind people have been serving as chiropractors for more than half a century. However, proof does not impress bigotry. The only thing such folk understand is force. We will gather the energy to provide the only measure of comprehension that these people seem to know.
The Imagination Fund encourages all of us to raise money for programs of the National Federation of the Blind at the local, state, and national levels. Every state received funding through our Imagination Fund. We raise this money together. We do it through tenacity, perseverance, and dedication. During periods of financial hardship, the task is more demanding but no less important. The Imagination Fund campaign incorporates our March for Independence. Many people have told us that, because we are blind, we should sit and wait. However, waiting does not build programs or create opportunity, and we have long since decided to bestir ourselves. Marching to the sound of our own independent voices, we have made a statement in action. We are developing for the blind more opportunities today and within the foreseeable future than have ever before been available. This is the meaning of our Imagination Fund; this is the meaning of our March for Independence; this is the irresistible determination of the National Federation of the Blind.
On October 3, 2008, the National Federation of the Blind conducted a nationwide public education campaign against the Miramax film Blindness, because it depicted blind people as disgusting, immoral, stupid, and dangerous. This campaign consisted of seventy-two protests in thirty-seven states in front of theaters showing the film. Articles about the protest appeared in over one hundred news outlets. Some of the newspapers carrying the story included the New York Times, USA Today, theBoston Globe, and the Chicago Sun-Times. Fifty-one television stations across the country featured video clips about the protests, and many radio stations broadcast the news. The movie itself was really awful, but our protests helped it to disappear from theaters within a very short time, and our message about the capacity and energy of blind Americans reached the homes of millions.
NFB-NEWSLINE®, the newspaper service that provides the content of newspapers and magazines to the blind by telephone and through other methods, is currently available in forty-two states and the District of Columbia. Through the service we provide more than 285 newspapers and magazines along with television listings to more than 65,000 subscribers. Almost 6,000 new subscribers have joined the service within the past year. The number of calls to the service has increased by 35 percent, and news has been distributed through almost one and a half million email messages.
On March 31, 2009, NFB-NEWSLINE® launched the Website <nfbnewslineonline.org>. Two new NFB-NEWSLINE initiatives released in conjunction with this Website are “WebNews on Demand” and “NFB-NEWSLINE® In Your Pocket.” “WebNews on Demand” offers a customizable reading experience with the ability to send entire publications, particular sections, or single articles to an email inbox. “NFB-NEWSLINE® In Your Pocket” is a dynamic software application that permits automatic loading of newspaper content onto a digital Talking Book player.
On February 4, 2009, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia (a renowned champion of civil rights and a great friend of the National Federation of the Blind) introduced HR 886, the Blind Persons Return to Work Act of 2009. This proposed legislation would alter the Social Security Act to eliminate disincentives to work, which would return tens of thousands of blind people to productive employment.
Another piece of legislation being promoted by the National Federation of the Blind is the Technology Bill of Rights for the Blind. Visual displays are increasingly a part of the operating systems for products that use electricity. In the past operating a stove required turning a dial. Today operating electrical products often demands observing a screen. Refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers have been added to the growing list of products being built in a way that the blind cannot use. Many of us have found ourselves with the thought, “I want my oven back.” Our legislation would require accessible control systems.
In the past year the public relations department of the National Federation of the Blind continued to advance our mission of educating the public about the true capabilities of blind people. Media outlets throughout the country increasingly contact our public relations department with questions about blindness, blind people, and the issues that affect the blind. The National Federation of the Blind is often quoted in stories relating to blind people. Furthermore, we also receive questions from outside the United States. We have been featured this year in news reports carried by the BBC, the Associated Press, the New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, theBoston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Good Morning America, CNN, CNN Headline News, the Baltimore Sun, the New York Post, and hundreds of others.
During this convention we release Bridging the Gap: Living with Blindness and Diabetes, a new publication addressing the interests and needs of blind diabetics. Drawn from articles originally published in Voice of the Diabetic, our former magazine for blind diabetics, this book is divided into five sections, including Personal Portraits, Diabetes Basics, Secrets of Success, Continuing the Journey, and Resources. This volume is produced in fourteen-point font and is distributed with a CD that contains MP3 and electronic text versions of the print content. For as long as they last, these books are available free.
We continue to maintain and improve our headquarters facility in Baltimore. We completely remodeled our kitchen, installing a new walk-in refrigerator, up-to-date restaurant-style cooking facilities, and all necessary accoutrements to provide food service to the thousands who come to participate in our programs. In our original building we have replaced twenty-year-old carpet in a number of offices, created an allergy-free sleeping room which has a high-efficiency particulate arrester installed in the heating and air conditioning system, placed reflective film on the windows to save energy, and replaced heating and air-conditioning systems in the harbor area to give individual thermostatic control to each sleeping room. In addition, we have replaced the roof on our original building and installed insulation in the process. Our new roof is a membrane type held in place with fasteners every few feet. Twenty-five years ago the standard for commercial roofs required laying down roof material and putting rock ballast over it to hold it. To prepare for the new roof, we vacuumed the rock from the one that we had installed in the early 1980s—more than 90,000 pounds of it.
In our new building we upgraded the computer system to control the heating and air conditioning and installed insulation mostly on exposed undersurfaces of the third floor. The cost for all these repairs is in the neighborhood of $1,600,000. We are in the midst of contracting for the installation of signage at the front entrance of our property at 200 East Wells Street, which also bears the honorary name Jernigan Place. This signage will declare the name of our building “The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute.”
We participated this year in the Consumer Electronics Show, the largest gathering of its kind in the nation, to heighten awareness of access to consumer electronics for the blind. The National Federation of the Blind cosponsored the Vision Free booth with Sendero Group and presented the Wonder Vision awards with Stevie Wonder, honoring companies that have done significant work in making consumer electronics usable, such as Audible, NPR, and Olympus.
In March we presented access technology information at the California State University annual Technology & Persons with Disabilities Conference (CSUN). In November 2008 we presented similar information at the Accessing Higher Ground conference in Boulder, Colorado. We hosted visitors from the American Society for Engineering Education in the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, and Anne Taylor, director of access technology, presented blindness-related technology information to the plenary session of the ASEE convention. We and Towson University collaborated on the first symposium on accessing CAPTCHA [Completely Automated Public Turing Test to Tell Computers and Humans Apart] nonvisually at Carnegie Mellon University.
During the past year we have certified the Websites of Independent Living Aids; Diagnostic Devices, Inc.; CARF; and You Can Do Astronomy, LLC. We also conducted a workshop on Web accessibility for the Practicing Law Institute. We have consulted with companies on nonvisual access, including Microsoft, Google, eBay, Oracle, Amazon, Olympus, Adobe, HumanWare, Freedom Scientific, GE, GW Micro, IBM, JetBlue, Walgreens, and Newegg.
As part of the initiative to provide unbiased product evaluations to blind and low-vision consumers, we continue to maintain the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind, the world’s most extensive demonstration and evaluation center for computer-related technology for the blind. On our Website we offer technology tips, a technology resource list of usable consumer electronics, and an access technology blog. In the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind this year we have purchased forty-seven new items, including a Sunshine e-Book Player, an iPod nano media player, and a SpeakEasy Media System and reading machine.
Programs for blind youth have become a substantial part of the work we do. Last summer we held our first Junior Science Academy for elementary-school-age children and their parents. Blind children want to participate in science, and their families are hungry for information about how this is done. Students learned about astronomy, meteorology, ecosystems, and alternative energy resources. One of the favorite activities was the making of fruit batteries. Students stuck a nickel and a copper nail into a lemon, lime, or apple and connected a talking multimeter to test the energy potential and acidity of the electrical system.
While we are on the subject of talking multimeters, I reported to you some years ago that a company making such devices had decided to take them off the market when they learned that blind people were using them. They said it was too dangerous for blind people to have their hands on such devices, and they thought they would be subject to liability when the accidents they thought would be inevitable occurred. We have discovered another source of talking multimeters, and we have brought them to the convention. The price for the multimeter of the past was several hundred dollars. We will be able to distribute our newly discovered supply at a price below fifty dollars.
At the end of this month the National Federation of the Blind will welcome approximately two hundred blind high school students and eighty blind mentors to the University of Maryland for the NFB Youth Slam II. This science, technology, engineering, and math academy will engage participants in hands-on activities that will expand their horizons. Students will participate in activities such as forensics, engineering, architecture, and chemistry. One of the engineering endeavors will be to test and further develop the first prototype of a vehicle that the blind can drive. Youth Slam participants will operate this vehicle. The Blind Driver Challenge is not finished, but the idea has its motor running. NFB Youth Slam II will end with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., a march down the Capitol Mall, and a closing ceremony in the Capitol Visitors Center, during which members of Congress will address the students, and NASA officials will present the Federation with the coins that flew in space.
Two years ago we conducted the first Youth Slam, a concept developed by Dr. Betsy Zaborowski, the first executive director of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, and carried into execution by our current executive director, Mark Riccobono. The work performed in that one week changed educational possibilities for blind children in the United States because it demonstrated that having belief in the capacity of blind children and collecting the resources required for education could easily bring advanced education to young blind people. The message of Youth Slam traveled from Baltimore to dozens of states throughout our nation. Mutual of America heard the extraordinary story of what we had done and during this past winter granted us the Mutual of America Community Partnership Award.
The 2009 Jacobus tenBroek Disability Law Symposium, “New Perspectives on Disability Law: Advancing the Right to Live in the World,” took place in the Jernigan Institute on April 17, 2009. Almost one hundred people from throughout the United States and around the world attended. Representatives from a total of fifty-seven academic, advocacy, and governmental organizations were present.
Kareem Dale, special assistant to President Obama for disability policy, headed the list of leading national and international advocates and scholars who made presentations at the 2009 symposium. Other presenters included Assistant Attorney General Maura Healey, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, who helped us in crafting the agreement with the Apple Corporation for accessibility of iTunes, and Professor Gerard Quinn, National University of Ireland, Galway, who spoke of the importance of the recently adopted international convention on the rights of people with disabilities, which was crafted in part by our own Dr. Fred Schroeder. Dr. Jacobus tenBroek invented disability rights law, and his leadership stimulated an entirely new method of thought in the legal community. The tenBroek Law Symposium advances the work that he began, and his spirit along with ours and those from many sectors of the disability community gives shape to the discussions and form to the plans for change that arise from this dramatic intellectual effort.
We are among the strongest supporters of Braille in the world. On January 4, 2009, we launched NFB ShareBraille, developed to facilitate the exchange of Braille books through a community-run library, <nfbsharebraille.org>. At this convention we are making available a DVD that includes four new Braille-related videos that we have produced: Braille: Unlocking the Code, Measure for Measure: Achieving Equality through Braille Music Literacy, Change with a Dollar, and What Braille Means to Me.
We continue our contract work with the Library of Congress, administering the courses leading to certification in Braille transcribing and proofreading. Since taking on the project, we have forwarded the names of approximately six hundred individuals to the Library of Congress, indicating that they have successfully completed the certification courses in literary, mathematics, or music Braille.
For many years we have been conducting the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest. Twelve of the participants in this contest are here at our convention because they have demonstrated excellence in reading Braille. Our Braille Reading Pals section of the Braille Readers Are Leaders program is an early literacy readiness program. Print/Braille books and Beanie Babies have been mailed to families in forty-one states and the District of Columbia. Very small children have a pal to help with the reading and a book for parents in this effort to encourage reading for blind children under the age of seven.
During the past year we have been implementing an integrated library system that provides nonvisual access to all of the materials in our Jacobus tenBroek Library catalog. This is the first step in making our research library available across the World Wide Web. This is one of the elements that will make the tenBroek Library the most dynamic, fully accessible, digital research library on blindness anywhere in the world. We are committed to full accessibility in all administrative functions of our library. Although we are still at the very beginning of building a great research collection on blindness and although we are at the beginning of the task of entering records for the material we already own, we are very pleased to be demonstrating the online library catalog for the first time at this convention.
Last month the National Federation of the Blind received a federal grant that will assist us in improving the organization of the professional and personal papers of Dr. Jacobus tenBroek as well as the archives of the Federation. We will make finding aids for these collections available through the Federation Website, greatly facilitating research on the history of the blind and the struggle for equality in the United States and around the world.
This year, as an effort to reach more young people, we have entered the world of online social networks. We created two Facebook groups—Blindness 411 for blind high school students and NFB Cafe for blind college students and young professionals. We established a listserv for chapter presidents, giving them a forum in which to exchange ideas for effective membership building. In January our Affiliate Action department conducted two “Dwell in Possibilities” membership-building seminars. A number of Federationists returning to their affiliates from these seminars have started new local chapters and state divisions, pioneering new techniques for building membership.
This year we instituted the College Leadership Program, to bring more promising college students who would benefit from learning about the Federation to the convention. We have brought more than twenty of these new, enthusiastic students to Detroit. Our Affiliate Action department worked with our National Association of Blind Students to conduct a seminar for fifty of our student leaders and led leadership seminars for our state affiliates in California, Missouri, Delaware, Iowa, and Virginia.
Those new to blindness or the Federation are often daunted by the sheer volume of literature that we have available. We have, therefore, developed a CD, entitled “Messages of the Movement: A Selection of Classic and Contemporary NFB Literature and Publications,” to give people some understanding of blindness and the NFB without overwhelming them. This CD contains a selection of banquet addresses, Kernel Book stories, and brochures about Federation programs in MP3 and text formats.
In May we held the second Beginnings and Blueprints conference for parents of blind children ages birth to seven. Conducted with the inspiration of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children and blind role models from around the nation, this conference featured educational program ideas inspired by the philosophy of the Federation. The curriculum included presentations about orientation and mobility for small children and early Braille literacy.
A summer program named Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (BELL) will begin immediately following the national convention, first in Georgia and then in Maryland. This program delivers instruction in Braille to blind children ages four through ten. If the schools will not teach these children Braille, we will do it ourselves.
Do blind children learn Braille? Some do, but most do not. Do the school systems in the United States offer Braille education to blind students? Some do, but most do not. Do blind students have their books in accessible formats at the same time that sighted students have theirs? Some do, but most do not. Do blind children have adequate education in access technology for the blind? Some do, but most do not. Do the school systems take the problems posed by these questions seriously? Some do, but most do not. For more than a year the National Federation of the Blind has been examining the serious lack of an adequate education for blind children in the public schools. Some of the difficulty in achieving a quality education for blind children can be charged to individual detrimental decisions made in individual cases. However, the lack of quality education is sufficiently widespread to demonstrate that some of the decisions with respect to education for the blind are systemic, and we are seeking system-wide alteration of programs to provide first-class education for blind children. We are filing two complaints, one in Utah and one in Maryland, to change the way school districts provide services to blind students. Blind students have a right to an education, and we intend to see that they get it.
With support from the United States Department of Defense, blinded veterans such as those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan will have access to the high-quality training and empowering Federation philosophy offered by our NFB training centers. The Louisiana Center for the Blind, the Colorado Center for the Blind, and Blindness: Learning In New Dimensions will work closely with the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech University and the National Federation of the Blind to equip these remarkable men and women with the skills and attitudes necessary for lifelong success.
There are a number of other programs. This year we have continued to operate the National Center for Mentoring Excellence, which brings together aspiring young blind people with successful blind role models. We have assisted Santa Claus by helping him prepare Braille letters to be sent to blind children who have written to him. We have conducted a pilot study of the effective use by blind individuals of an insulin pen, and we have coordinated efforts to solicit submissions for the Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. More than 4,200 people have visited the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute this year to work with us in developing innovative programs for the blind in our own country and throughout the world. We have served our visitors almost 7,000 meals.
Last year we initiated the Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award Program. The award selection committee reviews nominations and determines from among them those people who have in the last year made significant contributions to the lives of the blind. Last year we gave $100,000 to the selected nominees. Although the funds that we hold for this program have been diminished severely by the economic slump, we will this year be giving $50,000 because the spirit of Dr. Bolotin exemplifies the spirit of the National Federation of the Blind, and this spirit gives life and energy to the programs we conduct today and those that we intend to initiate in the years ahead. We will be hearing from our chairperson, Gary Wunder, later during the convention.
We talk; we think; we act. The beginning of change is in conversation of a kind that is frank, direct, and open. We have set for ourselves an ambitious goal—we want recognition for the equal human beings that we are. We have the capacity for self-reliance, and we have an independent spirit.
In the position I hold as president of the National Federation of the Blind, I find myself in meetings with people who believe they know about blindness and the needs of the blind. However, when I want to know about the reality of blindness, I talk with my colleagues in the Federation. Federationists tell me openly, frankly, directly, and insistently about the hopes they have, the needs they must fulfill, and the dreams of excitement they want to make real. One child, one blind senior, one blind merchant, one blind professional, one blind student at a time—we are changing the society in which we live to bring acceptance and freedom to the blind.
Together we have made much progress this year, but much still remains to be done. However, as I have examined our dedication to a philosophy of independence, our commitment to one another, and our willingness to meet the demands that lie ahead, I have no doubt of our ultimate success. Nothing can stop us because we will not permit it. We know our minds and our hearts, and we are on the move at an ever increasing pace. We have taken command of our own lives, and equality will be ours. This spirit has been reaffirmed for me again this year; this certainty has come to me from each of you; this unwavering resolve is at the heart of our Federation! This is my report for 2009.