Braille Monitor                                                   March 2010

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What Should I Imagine?

by Parnell Diggs

Parnell Diggs and his son, JordanFrom the Editor: Parnell Diggs, an NFB national board member and president of the National Federation of the Blind of South Carolina, is chairing our 2010 Imagination Fund campaign. In the following article he announces the short- and long-term access technology goals that are the focus for our fundraising initiatives for the next several years. Follow the developments in the Race for Independence as they are announced in coming months in the Braille Monitor. Here is Chairman Diggs's comprehensive description of our 2010 Imagination Fund campaign:

My son Jordan was still just a toddler on the first night it happened. We tucked him into bed, and I retreated to my leather recliner. I put on my headphones and became engrossed in music as I sometimes like to do in the evenings before going to sleep.

My wife Kim tapped me on the leg. “Jordan’s calling you,” she said into one ear with music still blaring in the other. I got up and trudged back down the hall, certain that this would be one of those nights when Jordan wouldn’t get to sleep until midnight.

“Yes, little buddy?”

He raised his head from his pillow and asked, “What should I imagine?” We had been talking about our imaginations that day.

“Well…” I began as I got down onto one knee. “You can imagine anything you want to; imagination is the only thing in the world that has no limit.”

“It is?”

“Yes, your imagination can do anything.”

“It can?”

For the next several years we knew that it would be only a few minutes after we tucked Jordan in before we heard the inevitable beckoning from down the hall, “Da-a-addy.” It seemed that I had to dream up something different for Jordan to imagine every night.

The word “imagination” can be defined as “a mental image of a thing that does not exist then and there.” As children we have a natural ability to imagine, but, as we grow older, we become trapped by our knowledge of the world as we know it, and our imagination becomes limited. However, as adults we do maintain some capacity for imagination. If we did not, the world would never change. And the world has been changing or progressing for thousands of years. For the blind the most notable progress has occurred since 1940. When the National Federation of the Blind was established, some two or three blind Americans out of one hundred were gainfully employed. Today the employment ratio is twenty-six out of one hundred.

In the intervening seventy years no individual accomplishment has equaled the opening of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute on January 30, 2004. With its programs of research, training, and technological development, the Institute has engaged some of the brightest minds in the world to create opportunity for the blind.

At a meeting cohosted by the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 2004, we issued a challenge to university engineering schools across the nation to develop a technological interface that would make it possible for the blind to drive a car without sighted assistance. If such an interface could be installed in a car, it would follow that any technology could be made accessible to blind users with only a little effort.

The Blind Driver Challenge was enthusiastically accepted by students at the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory at Virginia Tech University’s mechanical engineering department, and work on the interface began. The first generation interface was installed in a dune buggy at the second National Federation of the Blind Youth Slam at the University of Maryland at College Park in 2009. Fifteen blind teenagers and three blind adults successfully navigated the modified dune buggy through an obstacle course and received significant coverage on the front page of the August 1 Washington Post. The Blind Driver Challenge received coverage in USA Today and the New York Times. The experiment was also featured on the CBS Early Show, ABC News, Fox News, and the Discovery Channel. In short, more than thirty million people were introduced to this groundbreaking work through media coverage of the 2009 experiment.

As we began 2010, work on the second-generation interface was already in progress. Our goal is to complete development of the second-generation interface during 2010 and be ready to debut it installed in a road-ready vehicle in 2011. This summer at the 2010 national convention in Dallas, Texas, we will have the opportunity to examine the interface before it is installed. The work of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute has been made possible by the men and women across the nation who have made a commitment to support the annual Imagination Fund campaign.

Since 2004 the Imagination Fund has distributed over one million dollars to National Federation of the Blind affiliates, divisions, and chapters, and an equal amount has been used to support the programs of the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute. In this year’s campaign we will follow the same procedure we have used since the inception of the Imagination Fund. Specifically, 50 percent of the proceeds raised by July 31, 2010, will be used for programs at the National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute, 25 percent will be distributed equally among the fifty-two affiliates, and 25 percent will be awarded in the form of grants to be funded this fall based upon applications filed by September 1, 2010.

But the Imagination Fund campaign has a new look in 2010. Now we are not just marching for independence--we are racing for it. The Race for Independence is quite simply the expression of our desire to speed toward our goal of first-class citizenship in society at an ever-increasing pace.

When you think of the annual Imagination Fund campaign, think of the Race for Independence. They are one and the same. Visit <> and register to be an Imaginator for the 2010 campaign. The Race will not happen on a fixed route early in the morning before the convention opens. Instead it is a state of mind that we will maintain for years to come as we focus on our commitment to support the Movement at the national, state, and local levels and on the need for full and equal access for blind Americans to modern technology.

In 2010 we are facing a reality that we simply cannot deny. As technology develops, it is becoming increasingly inaccessible to the blind because, generally speaking, technology is being developed without nonvisual access. It is urgent that designers make technology accessible, and we must persuade them to do it now.     Technology interfaces at home and in the workplace must be made accessible by nonvisual means. If you believe that blind people should have full and equal access to airport kiosks, fax machines, and home entertainment systems, you should sign up to become an Imaginator for the 2010 campaign.

The Race for Independence Website has tools to aid you in your fundraising effort like sample emails, letters, and printed materials about the campaign. We are also planning some new incentives for those who achieve their fundraising goals of $250 or more in 2010. The first incentive is in keeping with the development during 2010 of an interface which will soon be installed in an automobile. At the $250-level Imaginators will receive a key ring with one car key and another key for each additional $250 raised. Fill up your key ring and show fellow Federationists how well you did in the 2010 campaign.

At the $500-level Imaginators will receive a Race for Independence backpack in addition to a key ring and two keys. And we will award those who reach the $1,000 level a key for each $250 raised (you can do the math), a key ring, a backpack, and a Race for Independence medallion. You can retrieve your spoils in Dallas. Other surprises will also be unveiled at the convention. If for some reason you are unable to attend the Dallas convention but you would like to be an Imaginator in the 2010 campaign, we will gladly mail your key ring, keys, backpack, and medallion to you after the convention. The books will officially close on the 2010 campaign on July 31.

Then divisions, affiliates, and chapters will have one month to prepare and file their Imagination Fund grant applications for 2010 distribution. In 2009 approximately $100,000 was awarded to thirty-three grant recipients. I believe we can do just as well or better in 2010. Remember the more we raise, the more we can give away.

We have great things to look forward to in 2010 and 2011. I will be there with you to drive the car in 2011 when we install the interface, but we don’t want to jump the gun in this Race for Independence. Come and join me in Dallas. Put your hands on the interface before it is installed, and help me prove how accessible technology can be. Let’s race.

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